Is Spain a Safe Place to Live? | Travel Safety for Expats in Spain
Spain is the safest place I have ever lived. In fact, before visiting Spain, I had no idea that such a carefree life was even possible.
As I traveled in Mexico, Brazil, Cambodia, China, and other developing countries, I was always alert to lurking danger, and sometimes I encountered it. When I first visited Spain, I felt flooded with relief as a dark cloud of caution was lifted from my shoulders. Friends assured me that it was safe to walk home alone at night. When I did, the streets were filled with friendly faces. The sidewalk cafes overflowed with laughter and camaraderie. Plenty of people were always around and willing to help if needed. Police are firm but always polite (as well as universally fit and handsome).
The combination of Spain’s social safety net and strict gun laws creates a welcoming cocoon of safety. The 2020 Global Peace Index, which considers crime, as well as war and terrorism, named Spain the 38th safest country in the world. The U.S. was ranked 121 out of 163.
Transport Crime in Spain
Women can ride the metro and buses without fear of being groped or accosted. Public transportation has a constant security presence as well as being clean and comfortable.
Even now, one of my favorite Madrid moments is taking the last metro at 1.30 a.m. The young students and mature professionals who crowd the platform are well-dressed and slightly tipsy. The train becomes a mobile party as the ongoing celebration heads home. I have never heard harsh words, much less seen punches thrown. I have heard ebullient laughter and seen many hugs and kisses.
Violent Crime in Spain
Spain has almost no violent crime. Although salaries are low, poverty is minimal. People’s basic needs are taken care of by a universal healthcare system, government pensions, and unemployment insurance.
To own a gun, you must document that your life is in danger. Even then, you are subject to an annual medical and psychiatric examination as well as a home inspection. It’s so difficult to get a permit that only professional bodyguards and jewelry shop owners bother. Knowing that you will never have to dodge a bullet does a lot to help you feel secure.
Petty Crime in Spain
All that being said, Spain has its share of artful pickpockets. They can unzip your backpack and remove your cellphone or passport without you feeling a thing. They can slip a hand into your coat pocket on a crowded metro and lift anything of value that may be there. A seemingly drunk stranger may throw his arm around your shoulders pretending to be a long-lost friend as his other hand slides into your coat pocket and extracts your wallet.
General Tips in Spain
Gentleman should always keep their wallet in a front pants pocket, never in a backpack, back pocket, or coat pocket. Leave your passport in the hotel safe or Airbnb room, and carry a copy with you. Women should wear a small cross-body purse and keep one hand on it in crowded places like the metro, El Rastro flea market in Madrid, or Las Ramblas in Barcelona. I notice that young travelers are wearing fanny packs slung diagonally across their torsos like bandoleros.
Cellphones left out on restaurant tables are easy pickings. A passerby can easily reach out and take it. Watch out for hucksters with a stack of brochures. They set the papers on top of your phone and include your phone when they pick them up. Another diner with a sweater or jacket might put it down on your table for a moment and lift your phone when they collect it. Keep your cellphone in a pocket or purse, and don’t sling your purse over the back of a chair in a sidewalk café. It’s easy for a passerby to grab the strap and take off.
Beware of beggars as it can be a set up for robbery. The beggar sometimes works with a partner. When you take out your wallet to donate, the partner suddenly appears, grabs your wallet, and runs.
Especially suspect are women in folkloric dress who offer you a sprig of rosemary as “a blessing”. When you take it, they ask you for money. When you pull out your wallet, they or an associate grab it and disappear. Just say “no” to rosemary.
An exception to the beggar scam is refugees in sanctuary programs that have a waiting period before they are allowed to seek work or enter the public system, so they are in a desperate situation. Sometimes they ask for donations outside supermarkets. I usually buy some extra food (a can of tuna, a bunch of bananas, a bag of peanuts) and give it to them on my way out. They are always polite and grateful.
Areas to Avoid in Spain
The more touristy an area, the more likelihood of crimes of opportunity. Speaking English tips off pickpockets that you are a tourist. Obviously, you can’t and don’t want to avoid tourist attractions, so just be especially alert in those areas.
Nightlife Safety/ LGBTQ+ Safety in Spain
When I go to a dance club, I wear a holster-like belt-purse with Velcro and zipper closings and take only keys, phone, cash, ID, and maybe lipstick. Some pickpockets specialize in lifting cellphones off unsuspecting dancers. As tempting as it may be to take a selfie on a crowded dancefloor, be sure your phone is always out of reach.
Finally, keep your eye on your drink in bars or nightclubs. Spiked drinks leading to robberies have been an occasional problem. Although Forbes rated Spain the 8th safest country for LGBTQ+ travel, pay particular attention in the gay bars of Madrid’s Chueca neighborhood, but drinks can be spiked anywhere.
Women’s Safety in Spain
Sexual assaults against women are rare in Spain, but they do happen. Don’t accept drinks from strangers, and don’t leave your drink unattended.
These cautions are common sense, and they apply everywhere. Crimes of opportunity can happen at home as well as in unfamiliar parts of the world. Fortunately, such unfortunate experiences are rare, and the vast majority of people are good-hearted and helpful, especially in Spain.