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Security Briefing

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Travel Essentials

Security Briefing: Threats to Safety and Security

The information below has been excerpted from the following: 1) the US Department of State's "International Travel" website (, 2) the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's "Smartraveller" website (, and 3) the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office's "Foreign Travel Advice" website ( Additional information is available from these sources. World Trade Press annually assesses the information presented on this page.

Australia: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Travel Advice


We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions. Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

There is an ongoing risk of terrorism in Europe. In the past, terrorist attacks have occurred in a number of European cities, such as Glasgow, London, Madrid and Moscow. Targets have included public transport and transport hubs, and public places frequented by foreigners. In addition, a number of planned attacks have been disrupted by European security services in recent years, underscoring the continuing interest of terrorists in attacking European locations.

The Basque terrorist group ETA has waged a terrorist campaign in Spain for five decades. On 20 October 2011, ETA announced a “definitive cessation of armed activity”. However, the group remains armed and has broken ceasefire agreements in the past.

ETA has targeted Spanish tourist destinations, including coastal resorts and transport hubs such as airports, seaports, train stations and motorways. Government infrastructure and interests have also been targeted, including the police and civil guard.

Attacks by ETA have not focused on any particular city or region and travellers should therefore exercise caution and monitor developments that might affect their safety in all parts of Spain. Disruption to travel plans may be a consequence of a real or hoax terrorist attack. A bombing which occurred on 30 July 2009 in Mallorca resulted in the temporary closure of transport in and out of the island. In the event of a terrorist attack, you should follow the advice of police and other local authorities.

Spain has also been the target of attacks by Islamic extremists. A series of coordinated bomb attacks occurred on the Madrid commuter train system in March 2004, killing 192 people and injuring over 1400.

In response to terrorist attacks, both by ETA and Islamic extremists, the Spanish Government has increased security on Spain's transport systems and in key tourist areas. However, further attacks could occur, including in places frequented by expatriates and tourists.

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Civil unrest/political tension

Demonstrations and strikes occur in Spain and they can disrupt traffic and public transport services, including air and train services, leading to delays and cancellations. Recent demonstrations in the city centres close to tourist areas in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and other large cities have, on occasion, resulted in clashes with police. Demonstrations in the Basque Country can spark violent incidents. You should avoid all demonstrations as they may turn violent and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office Foreign Travel Advice

Lottery scams

There have been reports of lottery scams in Spain. A person receives what appears to be official notification from the Spanish Inland Revenue office (Hacienda) that they’ve won the Spanish lottery and should deposit money in a bank account to receive their winnings. It’s likely to be a scam if you haven’t entered a lottery, you’re asked to pay anything up-front and the contact telephone number is for a mobile phone.

Balcony Falls (Balconing)

There have been a number of very serious accidents (some fatal) as a result of falls from balconies. Many of these incidents have been caused by British nationals being under the influence of drink or drugs and most should have been avoidable. Your travel insurance probably won’t cover you for incidents that take place while you’re under the influence of drink or drugs.

Outdoor activities

Take care when swimming in the sea. Some beaches, especially around Spanish Islands, may have strong undercurrents. Most of them have a flag system. Before swimming, make sure you understand the system and follow any warnings (a red flag means you mustn’t enter the water). You should take extra care if there are no life-guards, flags or signs. Follow local advice if jellyfish are present.

You should avoid swimming at beaches that are close to rivers. Don’t dive into unknown water as hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death.

Take care when walking along unmanned beaches close to the water’s edge as some waves can be of an unpredictable size and come in further than expected with strong undertows.

Temperatures in some parts of Spain can change very quickly. Take extra care when planning a hike or walk to check local weather reports for warnings of extreme heat or cold temperatures.

If an accident occurs whilst mountaineering, canoeing, potholing or climbing, or if you become lost in the mountains or other areas requiring mountain rescue, call 112 for the emergency services or 062 for the Civil Guard.

For advice on safety and weather conditions for skiing or other outdoor activities call the Spanish National Tourist Office in London on 020 7486 8077 or see the Goski or European Avalanche Warning Services.

The Catalonia region has started billing negligent climbers, skiers and other adventurers who have to be rescued.


Spanish border checks can cause delays when crossing between Spain and Gibraltar. There is no charge to enter or leave Gibraltar. Don’t hand over money if you’re approached by anyone claiming that there is a charge.

Political situation

Demonstrations and strikes have taken place in response to government reforms. These may affect local services. Follow developments in the media and check for possible transport delays before you travel. Avoid all demonstrations and follow the advice of police and local authorities.

Timeshare and holiday clubs

Timeshare ownership is well established in Spain with many respected companies, agents and resorts operating legally and fairly. However, there are also many unscrupulous companies, some of which claim to provide various incentives, which don’t always materialise. Further information and advice is available from the Timeshare Consumers Association (TCA) and on the British Embassy website.

United States: Department of State International Travel Information

Spain and Andorra share with the rest of the world an increased threat of international terrorist incidents. Like other countries in the Schengen area, Spain's open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering and exiting the country with anonymity. Spain’s proximity to North Africa makes it vulnerable to attack from al-Qa’ida terrorists in the Maghreb region. We remind U.S. citizens to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution at all times.

In March 2004, Islamist extremists bombed four commuter trains entering Madrid, causing 191 deaths and over 1,400 injuries. Spanish authorities tried the suspected terrorists and their co-conspirators in February 2007 and they were convicted in October 2007.

In 2011, the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) terrorist organization publicly announced a “definitive cessation of armed activity” and there have been no attacks attributed to ETA since. While recent arrests have seriously weakened the organization, and despite the announcement, ETA has not disarmed or disbanded. ETA has historically avoided targeting foreigners, instead directing their attacks against the police, military, local politicians, and Spanish government targets as well as towards disrupting transportation and daily life. However, foreigners have been killed or injured collaterally in ETA attacks, and the risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time in event of an ETA action is a concern for foreign visitors and tourists. U.S. citizen tourists traveling to Spain should remain vigilant, exercise caution, monitor local developments, and avoid demonstrations and other potentially violent situations. Prior police approval is required for all public demonstrations in Spain, and police are present to ensure adequate security for participants and passers-by. Nonetheless, spontaneous demonstrations do take place in Spain from time to time in response to world events or local developments. Even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become unpredictable and even violent; you should avoid them if at all possible. Be alert and aware of your surroundings, and pay attention to what the local news media have to say. In general, larger public demonstrations are announced on the Demonstrations page on the U.S. Embassy Madrid website.

To stay connected:

  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements.
  • Follow the Bureau of Consular Affairs on Twitter and Facebookas well.
  • Bookmark the Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution.
  • Follow the U.S. Embassy in Spain on Twitter  and visiting the Embassy’s website.
  • In the event of an emergency, contact us at 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the United States. and Canada, or via a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries.
  • Take some time before traveling to consider your personal security and checking for useful tips for traveling safely abroad.