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What’s the law on camping in Spain?

Spain is full of beautiful spots in nature, but is it possible to camp anywhere you want? What are the rules for wild camping, the potential loopholes and the fines to avoid?

What's the law on camping in Spain?
Can you go wild camping in Spain? Photo: Dominik Jirovský/ Unsplash

Camping is a popular pastime in Spain and there are many great dedicated campsites dotted all over the country.

But with so many natural and national parks, mountain ranges, forests and rivers, many people want to make the most of them and wild camp overnight.

So, is wild camping permitted in Spain?

Unfortunately, the short answer is that wild camping in any area in Spain is generally forbidden.

The reasons for restricting camping in natural areas ranging from health and safety to security and respecting the environment.

The general rule is that you must find an appropriate campsite to stay the night.

READ ALSO: Can you camp or sleep over at any beaches in Spain?

What about camping in a campervan or caravan instead of a tent?

Wild camping, even in a campervan, is not allowed, however, you are allowed to sleep in your own vehicle overnight, according to article 93 of the General Road Traffic Regulations and Manual 08/V-74. This means that you can actually park your campervan somewhere and sleep in it, as long as you don’t appear to be camping.

Practically it means that you can’t set up awnings, chairs and tables or barbecues outside your caravan and must look as though you are simply parked.

Be aware that parking by the coast is forbidden. General Traffic Regulations state that they “prohibit parking and circulation, as well as camping and camping sites, 20 meters from the beach in an urban area or 100 meters in a rural area, counted from the seashore”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Spain’s campervan and motorhome rules

Are there any exceptions? What if I camp without a tent?

Vivac in Spanish or bivvying, as it’s referred to in English, is the practice of sleeping outside in the wild without a tent or a campervan. This is a bit of a grey area when it comes to camping law in Spain and you may be able to get away with it in certain rural areas where you can’t be seen. 

Are there any other situations I might get away with wild camping?

Wild camping is strictly prohibited in national and natural parks, on beaches, or by the coast, but there are similar grey areas when it comes to free camping on private land.

Technically you can camp in someone’s garden or field if you get permission from the owner. Remember, they may ask for a small fee for doing so.

Wild camping may be more accepted in some rural areas such as in the Pyrenees, but remember it’s still illegal so you can be fined if you’re caught.

What are the fines for camping illegally?

If you are found to be wild camping, you can be slapped with some hefty fines. According to the Coastal Law, you can be fined from €40 for each metre square of space you occupy if you’re caught camping near the coast.

You can also be fined between €50 and €150 for not parking properly near the coast.

Like most rules in Spain though, each region has its own when it comes to how much you can be fined. Here’s what you might have to pay for wild camping in nature in certain regions.

Madrid: €60.10 up to €601.01.

San Sebastián municipality: From €50 to €3,000.

Asturias: From €60.10 to €601.01. 

Murcia: Anywhere up to a maximum of €1000.

Valencia: Between €751 and €1500 for camping on the beach during high season. 

Catalonia: A minimum of €60.10, but if you’re found camping in natural areas, such as the Delta del Ebro, this can rise to €6000, the highest camping penalty in Spain. 

Extremadura: From €30 to €150.

Granada provice: €100. 

Be aware that the fines could be higher for wild camping in natural or protected areas.

General camping rules 

Campfires or bonfires are strictly prohibited in wild and natural areas, particularly due to the risk of forest fires, which caused devastation across many regions of Spain in the summer of 2022. Starting a fire is considered a criminal offence and you may get a lot more than just a fine if it gets out of hand. 

Remember to take all rubbish away with you and leave the place exactly as you found it and to bury all human waste away from water sources. 

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TRAVEL NEWS

REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

A number of countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EU border checks that will be introduced next year, a new document reveals.

REVEALED: Countries fear non-EU travellers face delays under new EES border checks

Schengen countries are tightening up security at the external borders with the introduction of a new digital system (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens in May 2023.

The EES will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. It will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit. The data will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that is re-set at each entry. 

What the EES is intended to do is increase border security, including the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors. EU citizens and third-country nationals who reside in a country of the Schengen area will not be subject to such checks.

READ ALSO: Foreigners living in EU not covered by new EES border checks

But given its scale, the entry into operation of the system has been raising concerns on many fronts, including the readiness of the physical and digital infrastructure, and the time required for border checks, which could subsequently cause massive queues at borders.

A document on the state of preparations was distributed last week by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties.

The paper contains the responses from 21 (out of 26) member states to a questionnaire about potential impacts on passenger flows, the infrastructure put in place and the possibility of a gradual introduction of the new system over a number of months.

This is what certain the countries have responded. Responses from Denmark, Spain and Sweden do not appear in the report but the answers from other countries will be relevant for readers in those countries.

READ ALSO: What the EU’s new EES border check system means for travel

‘Double processing time’

Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.

“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.

“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.

Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.

France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.

Italy is also “adapting the border operational processes… in order to contain the increased process time and ensure both safety and security”.

“Despite many arguments for the introduction of automated border control systems based on the need for efficiency, the document makes clear that the EES will substantially increase border crossing times,” Statewatch argues.

‘Stable service unlikely by May 2023’

The border infrastructure is also being adapted for collecting and recording the data, with several countries planning for automated checks. So what will change in practice?

France will set up self-service kiosks in airports, where third-country nationals can pre-register their biometric data and personal information before being directed to the booth for verification with the border guard. The same approach will be adopted for visitors arriving by bus, while tablet devices such as iPads will be used for the registration of car passengers at land and sea borders.

Germany also plans to install self-service kiosks at the airports to “pre-capture” biometric data before border checks. But given the little time for testing the full process, German authorities say “a stable working EES system seems to be unlikely in May 2023.”

Austria intends to install self-service kiosks at the airports of Vienna and Salzburg “in the course of 2023”. Later these will be linked to existing e-gates enabling a “fully automated border crossing”. Austrian authorities also explain that airport operators are seeking to provide more space for kiosks and queues, but works will not be completed before the system is operational.

Italy is increasing the “equipment of automated gates in all the main  airport” and plans to install, at least in the first EES phase, about 600 self-service kiosks at the airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice and in those with “significant volumes of extra-Schengen traffic,” such as Bergamo, Naples, Bologna and Turin.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen area, is also installing self-service kiosks to facilitate the collection of data. Norway, instead, will have “automated camera solutions operated by the border guards”, but will consider self-service options only after the EES is in operation.

Gradual introduction?

One of the possibilities still in consideration is the gradual introduction of the new system. The European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months.

According to the responses, Italy is the only country favourable to this option. For Austria and France this “could result in more confusion for border guards and travellers”. French officials also argue that a lack of biometric data will “present a risk for the security of the Schengen area”.

France suggested to mitigate with “flexibility” the EES impacts in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, France calls for the possibility to not create EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later.

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” French authorities said.

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