IN PICS: Madrid becomes haven for fun-starved Europeans but locals can’t leave

With bars and restaurants open and its 11pm curfew, Madrid has become a highly-prized haven for hoards of leisure-starved Europeans in a reality that has rankled residents who remain restricted from leaving the region.

Bars in Madrid.
Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

“We left France to come to Madrid and it’s completely surreal to drink a beer on a terrace when Paris is in lockdown… it’s magical!” smiles Mathieu de Carvalho, a 22-year-old student who landed in the city just two hours ago.

Visiting with three friends, he raises his glass, the tables around him packed with people on a warm spring evening.

Since the end of the first national lockdown in June 2020, Madrid has kept its doors firmly open to foreign visitors with a steady stream of tourists coming to enjoy the sense of normality at its museums, bars, restaurants and theatres.

Bars in Madrid. Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

And it’s not only in the Spanish capital. With Easter on the horizon, large numbers of German tourists are expected to fly into Mallorca in the coming days, one of their favourite haunts in the
Balearic Islands.

But it’s a reality that has annoyed and angered Spaniards who are banned from leaving their own regions until April 9 to avoid a resurgence of Covid infections over Holy Week, a hugely popular holiday when people routinely travel to see family. 

‘The pandemic affects all of us’

With Madrid in the middle of a crucial campaign ahead of regional elections on May 4th, the laissez-faire attitude of the current authorities, who for months have insisted on minimising Covid restrictions, has drawn some sharp criticism.

“Putting up neon lights and telling Europe: ‘Here in Madrid we’re Covid-free’ has a pull effect which encourages binge-drinking and anti-social tourism,” said Monica Garcia, candidate for the hard-left Mas Madrid party.

Bars in Madrid. Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

“They’re asking us Madrilenos to behave responsibly and not letting us even visit our families while in the flat next door they’re holding illegal parties,” she railed, referring to those who rent AirBnB apartments just to party with no respect for the ban on social gatherings or other health and safety norms.

Madrid’s rightwing mayor José Luis Martinez-Almeida, who has backed regional moves to keep the economy open at all costs, defended the visitors, insisting “they don’t come to drink” but rather to enjoy the city’s theatres, cinemas and culture.

But the city’s residents are furious. “The pandemic touches everyone. We can’t go and visit family members, and I don’t like the fact that a foreigner can come here who could have Covid just like I could,” argues José Rodriguez, a frustrated 28-year-old photographer who is unable to go and see his family in the southern Andalusia region.

“It’s a very strange decision which is difficult to understand,” agrees Felix Domingo, 65.

Bars in Madrid. Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

Even the European Commission has pointed out the contradiction with spokesman Christian Wigand on Monday calling for more “coherence” with regards to travel restrictions.

Questioned in parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez insisted that Spain’s policies were “in line with the recommendations” from Brussels.

‘Missed having a life’

And in the streets of Madrid, the visitors keep coming, the only barrier to arrival being a positive PCR test.

Among them are Germans, Italians, Portuguese and French nationals, who are often singled out, prompting a response from the embassy’s charge d’affaires Gautier Lekens who on Thursday warned people not “to stigmatise” French visitors nor “exaggerate a phenomenon which does not exist”.

Bars in Madrid. Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

But such controversies are far from the mind of Melanie Ben, a 24-year-old French student who is already planning to come back.

“People think you can’t travel when in fact you can. I think we’re going to go away for quite a few weekends because we need them,” she told AFP, beaming. “It’s having a life that we’ve missed, the life we had before.”

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FACT CHECK: Do residents still need Covid documents to travel back to Spain?

Spain has dropped most Covid-19 restrictions, but do foreign residents in Spain travelling back to the Spanish territory from an EU or non-EU country still need to show proof of vaccination, testing or recovery in September and October 2022?

FACT CHECK: Do residents still need Covid documents to travel back to Spain?

The Covid-19 pandemic no longer dominates daily life or travel in Spain.

In recent days, the Spanish government has scrapped the Spth health control form for all travellers and soon it will stop carrying out temperature and visual checks on non-EU arrivals

That’s not to say that all of Spain’s Covid-19 travel restrictions have been lifted. Non-EU tourists still need to show Covid-19 documents to be allowed into Spain, and on planes that are bound for Spain passengers must wear face masks

But how about for foreign residents in Spain who are travelling back to the Spanish territory after a holiday abroad or a visit to their country of origin? 

For example, would a UK or US national who legally resides in Spain and who has just spent a couple of weeks back in their country of origin need to show proof of vaccination, testing or recovery when they arrived back in Spain?

The question is not so much whether you’re a resident in Spain, but rather which country you’re travelling to Spain from. 

If it’s a non-EU/Schengen country, then you technically have to show Covid documents. If you’re completely unvaccinated or more than 270 days have passed since your last Covid-19 vaccine, you’ll need to present proof of a negative PCR or antigen test. That’s irregardless of whether you’re a Spanish national or foreign resident in Spain. 

Do residents still need Covid documents to travel back to Spain
Screenshot from showing how an unvaccinated UK national who is resident in Spain needs to get a Covid test before arrival in Spain if travelling from a non-EU country such as the United Kingdom.

If on the other hand you’re returning to Spain from another EU/Schengen country, then you will not have to show a Covid-19 certificate or equivalent document. Again, that’s irregardless of whether you’re a Spanish national, a resident of Spain (EU or non-EU national) or even a non-EU tourist who was already in the EU/Schengen Area before visiting Spain.

do residents need covid documents to travel back to spain
Screenshot from showing how an unvaccinated US national who is resident in Spain doesn’t need to show Covid documents or get tested before arrival in Spain if travelling from another EU country.

This is according to Spain’s website, where on its homepage section there is a section which allows you to choose “origin” (city/country you’re travelling from), your nationality and your vaccination status. 

When you fill in the categories and click through, it tells you whether or not you need to get a Covid-19 test. 

It also states your country of residence, even though you’re not given the option of filling this in (although, we reiterate, residence isn’t what counts). 

Are Spanish airport officials still rigorously checking the Covid documents of arrivals from outside of the EU/Schengen Area? No. 

Whether or not you get asked is up to chance. Some travellers have said they have been asked to show proof, whereas others have not.

“I went to the United Kingdom, vaccinated with the third dose more than 290 days ago (20 days over), so I needed a negative diagnostic test to return to Spain. I got a PCR in London, it cost me €80, and in Barcelona I didn’t even get asked for it”, one Spanish national wrote on Twitter.

Keep in mind as well that if you’re travelling back to Spain from a non-EU country, but you have a layover in another EU/Schengen country first before reaching Spain, it will be that country’s rules that apply in terms having to show Covid-19 documents. You will already have entered the EU/Schengen Area before reaching your final destination (Spain), so you will not be asked to provide proof of Covid certificates when you land in Spain.

Is there a risk of being refused entry as a resident if you don’t have any Covid-19 documents upon arrival in Spain and you get asked to provide them? 

The worst-case scenario is that you will be required to take a Covid test there and then at the airport. Spain has allowed legal Spanish residents (whether they’re EU or non-EU nationals) to return home to Spain even at the worst stages of the pandemic when travel was heavily restricted.

So, if you’re travelling back to Spain as a resident from a non-EU country, what Covid proof do you technically have to be able to show? Only one of the following:

  • A Covid-19 vaccination certificate – Your vaccination status must meet the Spanish authorities’ validity period requirements. If more than 270 days have passed since your initial vaccination, you need to show proof of a booster shot.
  • A negative Covid-19 test – This should be either a PCR taken within 72 hours prior to departure, or an antigen test, taken within 24 hours prior to departure. 
  • A recovery certificate – This must be dated within the last six months. You can use a medical certificate or recovery record to prove your Covid-19 status. 

You can prove the above by showing a digital or paper certificate issued by the relevant authorities of the country in which you were vaccinated. If you were vaccinated in Spain, this can be Spain’s EU Digital COVID Certificate.