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The laws foreigners in Spain are bound to break

Spain is generally a lenient country when it comes to lawbreaking, but there are many offences foreigners don’t know exist that can land them in trouble.

The laws foreigners in Spain are bound to break
Photos: AFP

Not carrying ID 

Whereas in countries such as the UK there is no legal obligation to carry photo ID with you , in Spain you must provide it if requested by a police officer.

Spanish authorities have the right to hold you at a police station until your identity is confirmed, whether it’s the Guardia Civil or national, regional or local police forces.

The fine for not having photo identification with you in Spain is €1,000, so for those who don’t want to lug their passports around, make sure you keep a biometric card or driving licence with you at all times.

Walking around shirtless

Some foreign tourists enjoy Spain’s good weather so much that they choose to walk without a top all the time, even once they’ve left the beach or the pool.

A number of local town halls in popular beach spots have rolled out municipal decrees which make the topless practice in urban areas illegal, including Barcelona, Salou, Palma de Majorca and Sant Antoni de Portmany in Ibiza.

Fines for this type of behaviour deemed uncivilised or antisocial range from €150 to €500.

The general rule is that once you’ve reached the beach promenade, get dressed (if you’re a woman, cover your bikini top too).

Not declaring international assets

Anyone who is a tax resident in Spain has to declare their assets and bank accounts abroad when they surpass €50,000 in value.

This is a legal obligation that doesn’t exist in all other countries, so foreigners in Spain often fall off their seats when they find out.

Spanish tax authorities take it pretty seriously and reportedly hand out hefty fines of €10,000 and upwards for assets not declared on the 720 form.

Do your research before contacting a gestor or fiscal accountant.

Drinking in the street

Street drinking is so intrinsic to Spanish going-out culture and festivities that it’s easy to fall in the trap of thinking that it’s legal. They even have a word for this outdoor boozing practice: el botellón.

The Spanish government has been debating whether to ban street drinking since 2002.

Although a nationwide decree was technically approved in 2019, most regions had already rolled out their own legislation and fines by then.

In Madrid it’s €600 if you’re caught having a drink away from a bar or restaurant’s premises, in Barcelona it’s anywhere from €30 to €1,5000 whereas in Bilbao it can range from €750 to €3,000. And many other towns, cities and regions have anti-botellón laws in place.

However, in certain festivities such as Pamplona’s San Fermines running of the bulls, a footballing celebration or other festivals where outdoor drinking is prevalent and to some extent traditional, police are more likely to turn a blind eye.

Sleeping on the beach

Spain may have more beaches than any other country in Europe but that doesn’t mean you can camp out or sleep on them.

Health and safety restrictions mean that anyone caught doing so will face a fine between €60 and €601.

Some beach lovers have tried to get round this by parking their camper vans on the road by the beach, but in most cases local authorities have caught onto this trend and have their own legislation to clamp down on all forms of dozing at the beach.

Giving your child an abstract name 

Apart from not being able to name their babies anything objectively detrimental – from the obvious “Hitler” or “Judas” to unfortunate name-surname combinations (ie Dolores Fuertes, “Strong Pains”), there’s one other thing foreign parents in Spain should know.

Giving your child a name which doesn’t clearly define their gender is considered illegal according to Spain’s Civil Registry (never mind that in Spain José María is a man’s name and María José is a woman’s.

There are also some exceptions being made for place names and celebrity names, but new parents might run into trouble if they go for something abstract such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s choice of calling their daughter Apple.

So if you're a foreigner from a country where names sound very different to those in Spanish, you may have to provide justification.

Driving in flip flops 

Driving while wearing flip flops is considered ill-advised when driving in Spain, supposedly because flip flops could get stuck under the pedal therefore causing you to lose concentration or even provoke the direct loss of control of the vehicle. 

If caught doing so, you could be fined up to €200 and lose 2 points on your licence. Likewise if you are barefoot or wearing other footwear deemed unsuitable by a traffic cop, such as stilettos.

READ MORE: Driving in Spain: The things that can land you in trouble with the law

Playing football in the street 

That’s right. Spain, the country with the silky, quick-feet skills that are often associated with playing in confined spaces, has had a law in place since 2014 which bans football and other sports from public spaces that aren’t equipped for that purpose.

There are only a few reports in the Spanish press of youngsters or adults being fined for breaching this clause of Spain’s Citizen Safety Law, which has fines from €100 up to €600,000 for the most serious offences.

If there is physical or material damage as a result of a street kickabout that you’ve taken part in, that’s when you’re most likely to get into trouble rather than a formal telling-off by police. 

READ MORE: Spain's weirdest laws


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Spain’s Civil Guard police officers allowed to have visible tattoos

Spain on Monday relaxed its policy banning officers from the country's oldest police force, the Guardia Civil, from exhibiting tattoos.

civil guard spain gun
The increasing popularity of tattoos has led police forces around the world to regulate their use. Photo: Rafa Rivas/AFP

Officers will now be allowed to display tattoos anywhere on their bodies “as long as they do not contain expressions that violate constitutional values or harm the discipline or image of the force,” the interior minister said in a statement.

“For the first time visible tattoos will be allowed on uniformed officers,” it added.

On the other hand, the decree prohibits hoop earrings, spikes, plugs and other inserts when they are visible in uniform, “except regular earrings, for both male and female personnel”.

The Guardia Civil mainly patrols and investigates crimes in rural areas, while Spain’s National Police focuses on urban areas.

Last year Spain’s leftist government appointed a woman to head the force for the first time in its 177-year history.

The increasing popularity of tattoos has led police forces around the world to regulate their use.

Los Angeles police are required to ensure that tattoos are not visible to the public while on-duty, while France’s Gendarmes police force also requires that they be covered.