Most of us have spent the last year diligently staying close to home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Even at the start of the year, travel lovers weren't confident they'd be heading to international destinations anytime soon. But with the rapid rollout of the COVID vaccine in western countries, things are finally looking up as it was recently announced that Americans will be able to travel to Spain this summer.
One of the most dynamic and beautiful countries in Europe, Spain offers something for every traveler. No matter if you're seeking a city rich in culture and historic architecture, prefer to relax by the beach and take surf lessons from the locals, or want to lace up your sneakers and hike up a volcano there are regions that offer all of those options at once.
But simply choosing where to visit in Spain, booking a ticket, and breezing through border control is a thing of the past. You'll also have to factor in the health precautions and requirements before booking your trip.
There's no destination off-limits for a determined and prepared traveler. Being aware of Spain's entry requirements, the precautions within the country, and how to not only protect yourself but also the local communities can help us adjust to travel during a pandemic. By factoring in any COVID rules while planning your trip to Spain you'll be making up lost travel miles and practicing your español by the end of the summer.
When Can I Travel to Spain?
Since last spring the usually open pathway for Americans to visit Spain as tourists has been closed. Like much of the world, the borders remained closed to non-citizens and residents unless they had proof of specific urgent and extenuating circumstances. A year later, with the increased access to COVID vaccines in western countries, Americans can look forward to stepping foot back on Spanish soil beginning in June—with just a few extra stipulations.
The entire European Union (EU) is ironing out the details of a Digital Green Pass for EU citizens and residents. This mobile health certificate won't act as a substitute for your country's legal travel document but instead will accompany it to facilitate safe movement across borders until the pandemic is officially behind us. Instead of pulling out your vaccination card, the Digital Green Certificate will show if a traveler has been vaccinated against COVID-19, has a recent negative test result, or previously recovered from the virus.
While the rollout and specifications of these EU-wide efforts are still TBD, Spain is looking to implement its own version of a COVID passport that extends to all countries. As much of Spain's economy relies on tourists, they are hoping to make it easier for all visitors to travel to Spain, especially Americans.
In between surges in COVID cases, Spain's borders have periodically been open to tourists from within the EU. The current entry rules require a negative rapid, PCR, or other molecular viral RNA detection test as well as the completion of a Spain Travel Health Public Health Form for contact tracing.
Instead of regulating entry from specific countries and keeping track of individual forms, Spain plans to allow COVID passports, a print or digital QR-code certification, that will easily show that every traveler is free from, vaccinated against, or recently recovered from COVID-19. There will be a pilot program rolled out at select airports in May and a full launch expected for June.
Spain has been a longtime favorite of British tourists, but with a deepening need for economic recovery, the country is hoping to draw from a new pool of sunny vacation seekers from overseas.
What are the COVID Rules in Spain?
While the restrictions across the States have varied ever since the start of the pandemic, the COVID rules have been unified throughout all of Spain. On multiple occasions, the national government—led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez—implemented a state of alarm that controlled the COVID rules and restrictions of all 17 autonomous regions in Spain. From a 3 month full lockdown to a mandatory mask mandate and rolling curfews the entire country was required to follow the same rules.
After the initial national response, the autonomous communities have regained control over certain restrictions under the state of alarm, including those that infringe on freedom of movement and other rights. When the state of alarm ends on May 9 the leaders of each region will no longer have sweeping rights to implement curfews, close borders, etc. to maintain control of the pandemic. However, that doesn't mean there will be no COVID rules to comply with.
A state of alarm or court approval is needed to enact measures like curfews or border closures but health officials believe that other preventive tactics will still be enforced. Wearing masks are currently required in any public space including restaurants when you're not eating or drinking and on beaches when not swimming or sunbathing. Social distancing will also likely be common practice.
Plan to pack a mask for each outfit and review the COVID rules of the region that you're planning to visit in Spain to see if any curfews or other preventative measures are in effect.
Stay Updated During Your Trip to Spain
Even if you no hablas español, there are plenty of ways to stay updated on all things COVID and beyond during your visit to Spain. Whenever you're traveling to a destination you'll feel a sense of reassurance by staying connected. There are plenty of resources Americans can rely on that offer local and national information or tips that they can understand.
Before traveling to any international destination, the first step (pun intended) you should take is to notify the US Department of State of your trip. After you book your flight, register your travel dates online using the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) website. Not only will you receive safety and informational alerts based on your location but it's also a way for US officials to locate and help you in case of emergency. It takes just a few minutes to complete and is a free service provided by the Bureau of Consulate Affairs.
You will receive alerts from STEP in more extreme circumstances but for everyday local or regional level news, you're going to want to seek out other sources. Here are a few Spanish outlets that offer English versions of their website or even apps to download:
The Local offers English language news alternatives for many countries including Spain. You'll only be able to access a certain amount of free articles per month without a subscription.
In certain cities or regions, you can also find English news sites to learn the local COVID rules, discover more about the place you plan to visit, and even get inspiration for the best areas to stay in or restaurants to visit. If you're looking to stay in the country's most populous city you can check out Madrid Metropolitan, when heading to Barcelona consult the Catalan News site, or visit Canarian Weekly for updates on all of the Canary Islands.
If you're more interested in connecting with locals or fellow travelers during your visit to Spain there are several Facebook groups based on location, interest, and more. Join the largest online expat community Nomadness Travel Tribe to get tips or advice for Spain and beyond or search "English speakers in (insert your destination)" and "Expats/Digital nomads in (city of your choice)". Not only will the people residing in these areas be able to advise you on the current COVID rules but they can also share some of their favorite, lesser-known places to dine or explore.
Remember that while many of Spain's official government pages or news sources don't offer an English version, when browsing in a Google browser, you can automatically translate any website into the language of your choice.
COVID Tips When Staying in Spain
If you love to travel as much as I do, you'll be eager to resume racking up stamps in your passport. But even though you'll soon be able to travel to Spain, the pandemic still isn't over.
As a visitor in any country, it's important to be mindful of the COVID rules in your destination. Even if you're vaccinated and feel like you should be free to forget about the restrictions we've faced over the last year, you're still a guest of the local community. Just like you would respect your friend's desire to social distance in their own home, do the same when you're in another country.
Since much of Spain's economy relies on tourism, they're still asking residents and tourists alike to continue to wear their masks and social distance so that they aren't rocked with a rise in COVID cases that will cause them to reclose their borders. The rollout in vaccinations has had a slower start than in the US and some region's incidence rates are at high risk. So even though you're encouraged to let loose and enjoy yourself, eventually you'll get to leave...but the locals will have to deal with the fall out of any COVID outbreaks.
But since you've even made it this far in the blog, you're clearly a mindful traveler who doesn't need to be reminded of how to be a respectful tourist.
Now that you're vaxed and versed, all that's left now is to decide where you want to visit in Spain!