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What are the new rules for international travel to and from Spain this Christmas?

Rising Covid cases in Europe and the appearance of the Omicron variant are already leading to more international travel restrictions to and from Spain for the festive season. Here are the new rules and potential changes for travel between Spain and the UK, the EU and outside of the EU this Christmas.

passengers queue at airport during christmas, will spain have more travel restrictions?
Will there be tougher restrictions for you if you're travelling to Spain this Christmas? Photo: ROLAND WEIHRAUCH / DPA / AFP

Covid cases are surging in many countries across Europe, leading to the introduction of new restrictions in many places. Spain is, for the moment, seeing a resurgence of the virus much smaller than many of its neighbours.

However, as we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, a lot can change in very little time, and the appearance of the Omicron variant is already having an impact on international travel, including for Spain. 

READ ALSO: Spain reports first case of Omicron Covid variant

In an interconnected world, even if Spain’s epidemiological situation isn’t unfavourable and the country favours easy and open travel for vaccinated people, there could be changes ahead of Christmas.

Here we take a closer look at the current travel rules and restrictions for travel between Spain and the EU and the UK and the rest of the world.

Within the EU/Schengen Zone

Current rules: If you’ve been fully vaccinated for more than 14 days with one of Spain’s approved vaccines (same as those across the EU), you can travel to Spain and demonstrate your vaccination treatment with your country’s Covid health pass.

If you have not been vaccinated, whether you need to take a PCR or antigen test 48 hours prior will depend on where you’re travelling from in the EU. 

Spain’s Health Ministry has a list of high-risk areas in the EU which it updates weekly. You can check the latest update here under “listado de países/zonas de riesgo”.

If your country or region is on the list, then you’ll need to get tested if you haven’t been fully vaccinated. 

Accepted tests include PCR or antigen tests, which have to be carried out within 72 or 48 hours respectively prior to your arrival in Spain.

In terms of rules for travel from Spain to another EU country, as things stand the rules are practically the same across the bloc and involve being able to prove vaccination, testing or recovery through the EU-wide Digital Covid Certificate.

The latest ECDC map showing the 14-day notification rate, testing rate and test positivity across the EU on November 25th 2021. Map: ECDC

New restrictions? In countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany Covid-19 infections are at some of their highest levels since the pandemic began. 

Before the appearance of the Omicron variant, EU nations’ focus hasn’t been so much on preventing imported cases but rather on ensuring that their own unvaccinated people get inoculated or are prevented from spreading the virus further.

All 27 Member States have quickly agreed to close their borders to travel from southern African nations affected by the new “very high risk” but largely unknown variant, with the first cases already detected in several European countries.

But within the common EU travel framework, it currently seems unlikely that travel to and from Spain will be completely closed over Christmas, unless Covid-19 vaccines are found to be ineffective against the Omicron strain.

It can’t be ruled out that Covid-19 tests in addition to full vaccination may be introduced and the EU has proposed that the Covid Certificate for travel have a validity of 9 months without a booster shot, but neither of these extra measures have been confirmed. 

It also seems unlikely that Spain will change its current rules for EU travellers given the country’s high vaccination rate, dependence on tourism and currently relatively low infection rate and hospitalisations. 

To and from the UK

New rules: As of December 1st, it is no longer possible for unvaccinated UK tourists to visit Spain.

Last week the Spanish government announced that a negative Covid test will no longer be accepted from British visitors looking to spend their holidays in the country.

Only those that can show proof of being fully vaccinated will be allowed in.

Up to now, Spain had made an exception for the UK as its status as a third country and its high infection rate should have meant non-essential travel for unvaccinated travellers was not possible. 

But the appearance of the new variant has forced the Spanish government to introduce further restrictions for its primary tourism market. 

As for travel from Spain to the UK, on Saturday December 4th the British government announced it would demand pre-departure tests for all arrivals from 4am on December 7th onwards.

These tests, which were scrapped only weeks ago, must be taken within two days of travel to the UK. They can be PCR or antigen tests and must be carried out by all travellers regardless of their vaccination status.

The requirement applies for those arriving in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Recently, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced that PCR tests and self-isolation for UK arrivals would be reintroduced amid concerns of the new Omicron variant that was first identified in South Africa.

The new requirements came into force on November 30th. This means that travellers need to book and take PCR tests instead of lateral flow tests, which will no longer be accepted.

People arriving in the UK from Spain will need to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after arriving in the UK and self-isolate until they get a negative test result.

They can only leave home if you need to buy essential supplies, such as food or medication (but only if no one else can buy them for you), to take a test or for urgent medical care.

If you want to read in more detail about the new rules for travel between Spain and the UK this December, click on the link right below.

KEY POINTS – What are the new Covid travel rules between Spain and the UK?

The UK’s Covid travel rules are complicated, vary between its different countries and are changed regularly, so make sure you read them carefully here.  

passengers travelling to spain from the us
The UK is a lot more unpredictable than Spain when it comes to introducing new travel restrictions at short notice. Photo by SCOTT OLSON/AFP

Further restrictions? The new restrictions already represent major changes for travel between the UK and Spain, especially for Spanish authorities, as they have so far given British visitors preferential treatment and are now effectively preventing millions of unvaccinated UK tourists from visiting throughout December. 

Tougher restrictions on the Spanish part seem unlikely, and the country’s less severe epidemiological situation currently means any stricter requirement by the British government for arrivals from Spain would seem unnecessary and unjustified. 

However, the UK government, as has been the case throughout the pandemic, is a lot more unpredictable.

Much will be decided by the impact the Omicron variant has on the pandemic. 

READ ALSO: Christmas travel between Spain and the UK: What can I not pack in my suitcase?

To and from outside of the EU/Schengen Area

New rules: For the first time in months, Spain has travel bans in place, even for vaccinated travellers. 

The emergence of the Omicron variant saw Spain suspend flight connections with South Africa and Botswana last week, making travel between Spain and southern African nations almost non-existent until more is known about the new coronavirus strain worrying health experts. 

Since then, Spain’s Health Ministry has put Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe on its new high-risk list.

Travellers who are able to reach Spain from these nations will have to present a negative PCR or NAAT test taken within 72 hours prior to travel to Spain even if they are fully vaccinated. 

They must also go into quarantine for 10 days upon arrival in Spain, or for their whole stay if it’s under 10 days. 

This period may end earlier if on the seventh day the traveller takes a PCR test and gets a negative result.

For the rest of the arrivals in Spain from third countries, if you’re fully vaccinated and can prove it through an official certificate, you can visit the country from any third country.  

If you haven’t been vaccinated against Covid-19 however, there’s a high chance you won’t be able to visit Spain as non-essential travel isn’t allowed for these travellers.  

There is a list of third countries whose travellers are exempt from the usual requirements (vaccination, testing) due to their favourable epidemiological situation.

The list which is updated regularly currently includes Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, New Zealand, Peru, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

As for travel from Spain to outside of the EU/Schengen area, it really depends on each individual country’s rules, but by and large full vaccination allows entry to most nations around the globe. 

Further restrictions? Given the current concern over the Omicron strain, it can’t be ruled out that there will be further international travel restrictions over the Christmas period. 

Even if there are few cases of the new variant in Spain, that’s not to say there won’t be countries that operate with a total closed borders policy such as Morocco and Israel have already done in reaction to Omicron. 

It seems more likely that if Spain were to tighten restrictions as a result of rising Omicron infections, authorities would first limit travel with third countries rather than with the EU, and in particular the African continent, where only 7 percent of the population of 1.2 billion has been vaccinated. 

The governments of the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also keeping a close eye on Europe as it is currently the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic, so if they were to tighten restrictions for the EU, there’s a high chance Spain would be included in that even if the situation is more under control. 

One way or another, it looks like we’re heading towards a Christmas period of uncertain travel globally, with many nations ready to implement new measures without a moment’s notice. 

Here’s to hoping Omicron doesn’t become the “very high risk” variant the World Health Organisation fears.

READ ALSO: The latest Covid-19 news and updates from Spain

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Spain to allow unvaccinated non-EU tourists to enter ‘in matter of days’

Spain’s Tourism Minister on Thursday announced that “in a matter of days” unvaccinated third-country nationals such as Britons and Americans will be able to travel to Spain for a holiday with proof of a negative Covid-19 test. 

Spain to allow unvaccinated non-EU tourists to enter 'in matter of days'

Spanish Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto on Thursday May 19th confirmed that it won’t be long before unvaccinated non-EU/Schengen nationals will be allowed to travel to Spain for non-essential reasons such as tourism, visiting friends or family or spending time in a second home in Spain. 

“It’s a matter of days before we eliminate a restriction that could be discouraging tourists from outside the European Union from visiting us,” Reyes told Spanish radio station Onda Cero.

“And that is that we are going to stop requiring the vaccination certificate and allow them to enter with a negative test”. 

Maroto then stated that this would have to be a PDIA test, which in Spain refers to both PCR and antigen tests. If it’s a negative PCR or similar test (NAAT-type test) it must have been issued less than 72 hours prior to arrival in Spain, or if it’s a negative antigen test, less than 24 hours before arriving in Spain.

The surprise announcement comes just days after Spanish health authorities decided to extend the ban on non-essential travel for unvaccinated non-EU holidaymakers until June 15th

Spain’s current Covid-19 travel restrictions only allow in third-country tourists such as Britons, Americans or Indians who have been fully vaccinated (including a booster shot if initial vaccination was more than nine months before travel) and those who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months. 

But for practically the entirety of the pandemic, unvaccinated non-EU tourists have been unable to travel to Spain, with only exceptional reasons for travel allowed. 

Reyes’ comments came about when asked by the Onda Cero interviewer when all of Spain’s Covid-19 travel restrictions will be lifted, as there are still other measures in places such as mask wearing on public transport (including planes) and proof of vaccination, testing or recovery.

“There’s a degree of safety with travel that we have to preserve. We’re still co-existing with the pandemic but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been gradually lifting restrictions,” Maroto argued.

The minister spoke of allowing unvaccinated non-EU holidaymakers in soon as being another way of boosting the country’s recovering tourism industry, adding that her ministry was putting the finishing touches to the legislation, which will be approved in the coming days. 

A number of EU/Schengen countries have already lifted all their Covid-19 travel restrictions, including Greece and Austria most recently, as well as Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland.

Other countries such as France and Italy, Spain’s competitors in the tourism stakes, have also already allowed unvaccinated third-country tourists in with proof of a negative Covid-19 test for more than a month now.