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NEW LAWS: What changes about life in Spain in May 2021

A new month often brings with it changes to daily living in Spain, but this May will see developments that affect the life of most of the country’s 47 million inhabitants. 

NEW LAWS: What changes about life in Spain in May 2021
Photos: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP, Doris Metternich/Pixabay, RAYMOND ROIG/AFP

Spain’s state of alarm ends 

May 9th 2021 marks the end of Spain’s state of alarm and potentially a return to normality in many ways. 

The country’s second state of alarm started in October 2020 and has given regional governments special powers to implement curfews, border closures and other restrictions without having to get the measures approved by a judge.

Many of the daily restrictions will no longer be in place on May 9th, the Spanish government has reiterated, although some regional authorities do intend to push for some of the measures to be reinstated through fears it will send Covid infections rising again, especially as the country is currently undergoing its fourth wave. 

We’ve covered the end of Spain’s state of alarm in detail, so you can find out much more in the following articles. 

Millions of doses, millions more vaccinated?

Spain’s Health Ministry has said that it will receive 1.7 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine every week of May. 

They’ve set the pace already after receiving 2 million doses on April 26th alone – a daily record for Spain – with 1.7 million from Pfizer, 188,000 Moderna doses and 103,000 AstraZeneca inoculations.

If deliveries by pharmaceutical companies go as planned and new hold-ups due to side effect concerns don’t put a spanner in the works of the vaccination machine again, Spanish health authorities believe they will be able to vaccinate with at least one dose all over 60s by the end of May, which number 12 million people. 

For this to happen, 8.2 million doses would have to be administered over the 31-day period. 

Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

Due to side-effect concerns, the Spanish government has decided that the AstraZeneca vaccine is now only going to be given to those aged 60 to 69.

READ MORE: What next for the 2 million people in Spain who had the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine?

Health authorities have mainly given the Pfizer inoculation to over-70s, so around 2.6 million people are due to get their second dose in May. 

Driving in Spain is about to get slower

On May 11th 2021, Spain’s new speed limits for urban roads come into effect across the whole country. 

From that date, roads in Spain with one lane in each direction will go from having a general speed limit of 50km/hour to a maximum of 30km/h. Single lane roads with one-way traffic where the pavement is raised above the road will also have a new speed limit of 30km/h.

On single one-way lanes and double lane roads with two-way traffic where the pavement and the road are at the same level, the speed limit will be reduced even further, down to 20km/h. 

Roads with two lanes or more of traffic in each direction (minimum four total) will keep the speed limit of 50km/h (except for vehicles carrying dangerous goods, for which the limit is 40km/h).

In essence, regardless of whether it’s a road inside a village, in the countryside or a road inside a big city where the limit is currently 50km/h, the new speed limits apply. 

You can find out more about the reasons why this is happening, the fines for speeding and other useful traffic in the links below. 


New rules for overtaking cyclists 

Spain’s traffic authority also has new rules for overtaking cyclists on Spanish roads which come into effect on May 11th 2021. Here’s what you need to know and how to avoid fines of up to €200 for not overtaking properly.

If a driver in Spain wants to overtake a cyclist, they will now have to leave a space of 1.5 metres between their vehicle and the cyclist as well as reduce their speed by 20km/h.

For example, anyone wanting to overtake a cyclist on a 90km/h road will have to reduce their speed to 70km/h as well as abide by the pre-existing safety distance.

The head of Spain’s Directorate General of Traffic Pere Navarro justified the move by saying that when it comes to overtaking, many drivers tend to speed up rather than slow down, which increases the risk for cyclists. Find out more here

The end of temporary unemployment benefits?

“The will of the Spanish government is to extend the Temporary Employment Regulation Files (ERTEs) until whenever necessary,” Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto, and her counterpart Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz have both said. 

Despite this, the furlough scheme which allows employees who have been temporarily laid off due to the coronavirus crisis to get 70 percent of their wages is due to end on May 9th, after Díaz brought it forward from the initially scheduled May 30th enddate. 

The government has so far extended the scheme four times. Companies that take part in the scheme are banned from making layoffs in the six months after it ends.

Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

The latest State bulletin (BOE) from April 13th suggests that even if ERTEs aren’t extended again at the last minute,  complementary measures will be adopted to help businesses that aren’t ready yet to bring their staff back full-time yet. 

If this is the case with your business, you are advised to contact Spain’s State Public Employment Service (SEPE) before May 9th.

Similarly, Spain’s Plan Mecuida, which helps employees who care for dependants at home to adapt their work timetable, ends on May 30th 2021.

Important tax dates to remember 

In terms of important tax return dates, these are the ones to keep in mind in May 2021 in Spain:

May 4th: The date by which you can request an appointment to be attended by telephone.

May 6th: From this date, you can submit your tax return by phone.  

May 27th: The deadline by which you can request to submit your tax return in person.

For self-employed people in Spain, May 20th marks the last day to declare intra-community operations (model 349) from April.


Labelling for new wheels in May

Another change for drivers in Spain in May is the introduction of a new labelling system for tyres across the EU. 

The labelling features a new design with more information for drivers, including their energy efficiency (fuel consumption, emissions), noise pollution or safety on wet surfaces, and their grip on snow or ice.

Overall, it’s good news for drivers as they’ll have a better idea of the quality of any tyres they buy for their vehicle in future. 

Public and regional holidays in May 

May 1st, which marks Workers’ Day in Spain as it does in other countries, falls on a Saturday this year and won’t count as a day off work. 

However, Madrid will make May 3rd a regional holiday as May 2nd – Day of the Madrid Region, falls on Sunday. 

A number of Spanish municipalities will also make May 3rd a local holiday to mark El Día de la Cruz (The Day of the Cross), including Alhaurín el Grande, Barbate, Caravaca de la Cruz, Cieza, Coín, Figueres, Hellín, Jávea/Xàbia, Melilla, Motril, Puente Genil, Pulianas, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Villacarrillo.

Mother’s Day in Spain also falls on May 2nd this year.

Member comments

  1. Overtaking cyclists. For instance on a road where 30 kmh is the limit, and the cyclist in front is doing about 10 kmh, the car driver would then have to reduce speed by 20 kmh to 10 which would mean that it would be impossible to overtake that cyclist without breaking the law ! So now there could be the crazy situation of a cyclist enjoying a nice peaceful ride, followed by a line of law abiding car, van, lorry, tractor drivers behind all doing 10 kmh > How crazy is that ? Think of all the extra pollution that would cause. Then just imagine the group of holiday cycling groups on their electric bikes behind. Would they have to obey the speed rules, or would they all start overtaking this queue of 10 kmh traffic. The mind boggles. I am certain this sort of situation would cause an increase in accidents as there are bound to be drivers who simply would refuse to try and drive, possibly for miles, at 10 kmh.

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Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.