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Most tourists in Spain never encounter any problems with crime. For us tourists, thievery is the most likely crime we will encounter.

"I feel I have to write you this note. Thanks to the info you put up on your website Travelinginspain.com regarding pickpockets, I saved my wallet today!"
Mu, Greenwich, CT

Read Mu's story here
From everything I have read, physical harm is less likely to occur to you in Spain than in the U.S.A.
Good sources for safety issues related to Spain:
USA Consular Information Sheet.
Register your visit with the USA embassy
Australian Government Consular Advisory
UK - FCO Spain Advisory.

 

Thieves come in the form of pickpockets, scam artist burglars and more frequently muggers. The bad news: As tourists we are prime targets for these thieves. We tend to carry valuable objects and are unlikely to hang around to be witnesses at trials. The good news: With a little forewarning and exercising some foresight we can significantly reduce our chances of becoming targets.

While only a, relatively, small number of travelers each year are victimized by Pickpockets. Dealing with pickpocketing is a fact of life in large cities of Spain, Europe, and the USA. As a tourist, it is best to look at it as part of the adventure of visiting a different place.

Pickpockets - Many if not most pickpockets work in groups. All take advantage of your attention being on something other than your pocketbook, usually by providing their own misdirection.

Forewarning:

  • Beware of the man that steps on your leg and then wants to brush off the dirt. While you're watching him, his partner is going through your pockets. my experience
  • Beware getting on a full Metro car, particularly when carrying something. After some confusing jostling you might find your wallet missing.
  • Beware the colorful character that comes up to you to sell a scarf, flower, tell your fortune, give you an herb, etc. If you take out your wallet to buy or give money, you will be amazed to be told "no, not necessary" as her hand zips or shuts your wallet for you. Later, of course, you will find your money is gone and again be amazed by this colorful character's sleight of hand.
  • Beware if coins or other objects are accidentally dropped in front of you. (As you assist in picking them up, another person is assisting in the removal of your wallet).
  • Beware if groups of individuals (usually women or kids) suddenly surround you, sometimes holding a paper in front of your view.
  • Beware if an individual tries to polish your shoes without your permission.
If you encounter any force being used by the thief, it is best to cooperate. At least one tourist has been killed trying to resist a pickpocket. Even if you have to give up the items in your front pockets you most likely will still walk off with your money belt intact.

If any of the scenarios listed to the left should occur, just put your hands in your pockets or grab your bag tightly, keep walking, and just say "No!".

Note: In my experience most Spaniards are law-abiding citizens who will go out of their way to help a tourist in need.


Following the advice here should lower the chance of your becoming a victim, but there are no guarantees. If you have access to a hotel safe, use it.

Read about my personal experiences with pickpockets here.

Read about other peoples experiences with pickpockets here

I learned the hard way not to go cheap on a money belt. Check out money belts at my Travel Store money belt page.

Reporting your theft
Many tourist do not report their pickpocketing experience but in most cases it is a necessity.

Many people will say I'm way too paranoid when it comes to pickpockets. I have learned, however, that pickpockets identify me as a target, most likely because of my arthritis, which at times makes me walk like an old man, and because I am often traveling alone. I have also realized a number of people come very close to being pickpocketed but don't ever realize it.

Burglary

Simple theft occurs when you leave a valuable object unattended or barely attended. This can be as simple as having your purse sitting next to you on the table as you eat or having it slung off the side of the shoulder, making it easy to snatch. Camera bags and purses need sturdy straps of significant length to go across your body. Also hang the bag in your line of sight, not on your back.

Car break-ins also happen a lot. Don't leave anything in your car. Items will be safer in your hotel than in the car (use the hotel safe for the real valuables), even if items are kept out of sight in the car they are at risk of theft. An August 2000 report to the Spain travel mailing list indicated thieves are breaking into cars even when nothing is visible, just to check for hidden valuables.

Foresight

  • Keep your passport, most of your money and backup credit card in a money belt under your clothing. (Note: there are times you will need to anticipate the use of your passport, airports, money exchange, hotel check in.) Use a second "bag style" money belt to hold your daily use credit card and money (they are easier to use but not as secure). And, if you really want to be secure, keep a little money in an old wallet in your pocket to misdirect the pickpocket. Being able to give up something of little value may keep you from losing anything important.
  • Never place anything of value in your back pants pockets. If you carry items in your front pockets try to wear pants that have pockets opening to the front ( a horizontal cut as opposed to a vertical cut where you can't see the opening easily). A inner pocket with a zipper is likely better than a front pocket. The tighter the front pocket fit the better, if you have problems getting the item out then a pickpocket will too.
  • Never get on a full metro train, particularly if you have luggage. Just take a cab.
  • If someone appears too friendly or does something odd, just put your hands in your pockets and keep on walking.
  • Consider prepaying for accommodations. You likely will feel more comfortable knowing you have a place to spend the night if the worst happens. My recommended Spain Travel Agent is an option for prepaying. Also, some of the hotels (I believe they are the ones listed as specials) on TravelNow require prepay. (Credit cards can usually be replaced in 24 hours.)
  • My suggestion: Take steps to limit your risk. Accept that the worst can happen (make certain you have the phone numbers for replacing the credit cards; make copies of your plane tickets and passport; stash copies in as many locations as you can think of, including a set with a trusted friend at home) and just enjoy your time in Spain. Chances are you will come back from Spain thinking, "That TravelingInSpain guy got me excited over nothing. I never felt safer in my life."

Scams I have heard of:

Man posing as an official (police), wearing a badge, stops your car and reports the road is blocked. The officer escorts you around the blockage. He then tries to extort money for his help. This scam was reported to be active in Grenada near the Alhambra during May and June of 2000.

(from Consular Information Sheet ) - A number of American citizens have been victims of lottery or advance fee scams in which a person is lured to Spain to finalize a financial transaction. Often the victims are initially contacted via internet or fax and informed they have won the Spanish Lottery (El Gordo), inherited money from a distant relative, or are needed to assist in a major financial transaction from one country to another.

Read about other peoples experiences with pickpockets here

 

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This page last updated July 2007