EXPLAINED: The new alcohol rules for tourists in Spain’s Balearic Islands

Mallorca and Ibiza are well known to many as booze tourism destinations but after new legislation was introduced in 2020, it's only now that the crackdown on excessive drinking by holidaymakers is being enforced.

EXPLAINED: The new alcohol rules for tourists in Spain's Balearic Islands
Local policemen patrol the crowded Punta Ballena street in Magaluf, Mallorca. Known among some tourists as 'Shagaluf', the resort has suffered particularly bad press in recent years due to its boozy tourism model. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

The Balearic Islands, made up of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera, are well known not only for their beautiful coastal resorts but also their booze tourism spots.

Long famous for cheap drinks, pub crawls, and booze cruises, tourists from across Europe have descended on the islands for cheap drunken fun for decades.

Yet new rules cracking down on excessive drinking and disorderly behaviour on the islands are making that harder, with authorities attempting to change the Balearics’ image and model of tourism.

The rule changes came into effect in January 2020 but owing to the total shutdown of international travel and tourism during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, its impacts are only being felt now.

On the islands of Mallorca and Ibiza, the crackdowns are focused on the popular tourist areas of Magaluf, El Arenal and Sant Antoni that are synonymous with drunken revelry and boozy getaways.

The new rules

  • Legislation means that 2-for-1, happy hour, and free bar offers are now banned. Advertising of these kinds of cheap boozy deals are also prohibited in the hotspots.

  • The sale of alcohol in shops has been scaled back as they are now forced to close between 9:30 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.

  • The rule changes ban the granting of new licenses for booze cruise style ‘party boats’ and the limiting of alcoholic beverages to six per day in all-inclusive hotels.

  • The infamous tourist practice of ‘balconing’ – when drunken tourists launch themselves from balconies into swimming pools – has also been banned and will, according to the official government bulletin released in 2020, “expel with immediate effect” those partaking in the popular and often lethal activity. 

  • Restaurants and bars that serve food are also limited in how much alcohol they can serve, in addition to all-inclusive resorts. The new rules state the maximum per lunch or dinner is three alcoholic beverages. 

READ MORE: Spanish islands crackdown on booze tourism model

  • A favourite of many British tourists, pubcrawls, have also been banned, with fines handed out to establishments advertising their bars or restaurants as part of boozy routes through the islands. According to the official bulletin, “the advertising, organisation, sale and realisation of the so-called routes (pub crawling) is prohibited, where the objective is the tour of different venues in which drinks of alcoholic beverages are included continuously and on the same day.”

Establishments that don’t follow the rules will face hefty fines, according to the legislation. The government texts outlines fines of between €1,000 and €600,000, plus the possibility of shutting down offending establishments for up to three years.

Tourists queue to take part in a boat party on Figueretes Beach in Ibiza. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

Feeling the effects

Many tourists arriving in the Mediterranean islands in 2022 are unaware of the new changes.

Easyjet is warning all its potential customers flying to Sant Antoni of the new crackdown, and the British press is also publishing stories of disgruntled tourists unhappy they can’t go on pubcrawls and are limited in how many drinks they can order in hotels and restaurants. 

The Balearic government say it is the first legislation in Europe to ban the sale and advertising of alcohol in specific tourist areas. Yet because the island’s economy – much like the Spanish economy more broadly, of which tourism makes up a sizeable 13% chunk of GDP – is so dependent on tourists, and welcomes over 13 million of them every year, it will have to strike a balance between the revenue that comes from booze tourism and realising its aims of ‘sustainable tourism’.

English holidaymakers in Magaluf having drinks while watching Euro 2020. The holiday spot is popular among young European revellers, most of them British. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

READ MORE: 13 mistakes in Spain tourists are bound to make

It is unclear if other tourist hotspots in Spain, such as the Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol, will follow similar models and try to shift away from being the default destination for cheap, boozy getaways. The changes in the Balearics come amid broader debate in Spain about the role and model of tourism, and how it aligns with the Spanish economy as it heads into the first non-COVID summer season and tries to recover from the pandemic. 

Freed from COVID-19 restrictions it may be, the Spanish tourism sector – or more specifically, the tourists coming to enjoy it – now face newer, self-imposed restrictions aimed at rebranding its imagine and moving away from its long-held booze tourism model.

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Which countries does Spain have working holiday visa agreements with?

The working holiday visa is perhaps the best option for young non-EU foreigners who want to take a gap year in Spain. But which countries are part of this reciprocal scheme, who's eligible and how do you apply?

Which countries does Spain have working holiday visa agreements with?

Getting a visa to temporarily live and work in Spain can be a tricky process if you’re a non-EU national, with everything from proof of high levels of income to medical insurance or specific job skills being required. For young third-country nationals, it’s often not possible to meet such requirements.

However, there are some young foreigners who can come to Spain for one year, travel around the country, learn Spanish and take on a part-time job thanks to reciprocal agreements that exist. 

Enter Spain’s working holiday visa, also called the Youth Mobility visa, a scheme that allows young people from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and South Korea to live and work in Spain for a one-year period.

READ ALSO: Worker, retiree or investor: What type of Spanish visa do I need?

What are the visa rules?

Keep in mind that your primary goal when applying for this visa should be to travel and live in Spain. Working should be a secondary motive to be able to earn money for your travels.

You will only be able to have a job for a total of six months during your one-year stay in Spain. You can also only work for one employer for a maximum of three months. This means that you will have to find a minimum of two different jobs during your stay.

The visa also allows you to visit other EU countries during your stay in Spain if you wish to travel within the bloc too.

Alternatively, you are also permitted to study or do an internship.

Note that the scheme is only for individuals. You cannot bring children along with you,  partners or spouses will have to apply for their visas separately. 

Who can apply?

Unfortunately, not everyone can apply for the working holiday visa for Spain. The Spanish government only has agreements with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and South Korea, meaning this visa is only available to those from these five specific countries.

These agreements are reciprocal, meaning that young Spaniards can also get a working holiday visa to live in any one of the above countries for a specific amount of time.

Unfortunately, for those in Spain who want to have a gap year abroad, these reciprocal schemes are only available to Spanish citizens, not foreign residents in Spain.

Keep in mind though, your country (the country of which you are a national) may already have a working holiday visa agreement with one of these five countries.

For example, the UK has agreements with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan, so you may be able to apply on the basis that you’re a UK citizen.

Other than your nationality, one of the main prerequisites for the working holiday visa to Spain is age. You are only eligible to apply if you’re between the ages of 18 and 30 (or 35 for Canadians).

Keep in mind that only a certain number of these visas are available each year. For example, from 2023, there will be a total 2,000 available to those from New Zealand, while there are 3,400 available to those from Australia. Once this number has been reached, Spanish consulates will not grant anymore for that year and you must wait until the following year to apply again.

READ ALSO: Spain and New Zealand to increase number of working holiday visas

Visa pre-requisites

There are certain documents you must produce and certain criteria that you must meet in order for your visa to be approved. These include:

  • Having a return or onward ticket out of Spain
  • Having the necessary funds to support yourself during at least the first three months of your stay. (The amount required may be slightly different depending on which country you’re from. Canadians for example need to show they have savings of at least €1,857 or CAD 2,504.75).
  • Medical insurance
  • A police check or clear criminal record
  • A certificate showing you have completed at least two years of higher education
  • A basic level of Spanish (Be aware that this is not a requirement for those from all five countries, but it is a requirement for those from Australia and Japan. There is no mention of this requirement for those from Canada or New Zealand).
  • Some consulates may also require you to have proof of accommodation for at least the first week of your stay. This rule doesn’t apply across the board, but certain consulates such as the Spanish Consulate in Toronto, Canada will ask for it.

What types of jobs can I get?

You are eligible to apply for casual and temporary jobs. You should be aware that unemployment levels are very high in Spain (currently at 13.65 percent), so it will be difficult to compete against locals for jobs, who will always be given priority.

The key is to rely on your native language skills to find jobs that locals may not be able to do such as:

  • language teacher
  • waiter in a tourist restaurant
  • tour guide
  • receptionist in a hotel or resort
  • bar staff in nightclubs for tourists
  • nanny for families who want their kids to learn other languages

How to apply?

You can apply for Spain’s working holiday visa through your local Spanish consulate. Some consulates will allow you to apply online, while others require you to make an appointment and go in person.

You should be given a checklist from the consulate of all the specific documents they need from you, but the list above gives you a good idea of what you’ll need to show.

You will also need to pay the application fee. The amount varies depending on which country you’re applying from. For example, the fee for those from Canada is CAD 150. 

Make sure to check online or phone ahead to find out when the applications open for the year you want to apply, so that you don’t miss out.

Once your application has been granted and you have arrived in Spain, you will need to apply for a Número de Identidad de Extranjero or NIE within the first month, in order to be able to work.

You can apply for this by making an appointment at your local police station or Foreigner’s Office (Oficina de Extranjeros), filling out the necessary forms and presenting your visa. You may also need to show your other documents again such as private medical insurance.