Planning a trip anywhere has become a bit of a minefield. Even Spain, the number one most popular overseas destination for British holidaymakers, suddenly feels a lot further away than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like most western European countries, Spain has been hit hard by the pandemic and is experiencing a worrying second wave as winter approaches. The one million confirmed cases to date are slightly higher than the total figure recorded in the UK and transmission seems to be increasing at a similar rate.
As a result, the Spanish government declared a State of Emergency in late October, re-introducing some of the tough lockdown measures imposed over the spring and early summer.
So where does that leave plans to travel to Spain in the coming months?
Obviously right now, until December 2nd, as a Brit you’re not allowed to go anywhere abroad, but let’s take a look at after that.
Here are five things you should know before you make a booking.
1. You will have to quarantine on return
Spain was briefly included in one of the UK government’s ‘travel corridors’ in the summer, which allows people to travel to and from a specified destination without having to quarantine on their return. But that proved to be a short-lived experiment – with cases in Spain showing signs of rising again by late July, the country was removed from the list.
What does that mean for travellers?
It doesn’t make any difference to your travel plans, but it does mean you will be expected to self-isolate for 14 days when you return to the UK. This is a legal obligation, and failure to do so could land you with a fine of £1000. The penalty for not providing accurate address details of where you will quarantine is even steeper, up to a maximum of £3200.
2. Rules for The Canary Islands are different
The only exception to the quarantine rule for Spain is if you are planning on travelling to the Canary Islands, which were recently added back on to the travel corridor list. This is great news for British holidaymakers looking for an escape to some winter sun, as it means you can book a trip without worrying about disruption to work and so on when you return.
It is worth noting, however, that authorities in the Canary Islands are looking to introduce a law requiring arrivals to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test as a condition of being allowed in. According to proposals, the tests would have to be taken before holidaymakers set off. In the UK, tests are only meant to be available to people displaying COVID-19 symptoms, so it is not yet clear how this would work in practice.
3. Spain is currently subject to a night-time curfew
If your idea of a holiday is partying to all hours, you will be sadly disappointed travelling to Spain right now. As part of the State of Emergency measures, the government has imposed a national curfew between the hours of 11pm and 6am, requiring all businesses to close and all residents and visitors to remain indoors in their accommodation.
Authorities have said they expect this curfew to remain in place for six months at least.
4. Last-minute cancellations are a real possibility
With the exception of the Canary Islands where the tourism industry is more or less open for business as usual, there is no guarantee how long hotels, restaurants, bars and other amenities will stay open, or on what terms, across mainland Spain and the Balearic Islands.
Although the night-time curfew is the main restriction on businesses opening so far, the government could easily decide to tighten things if case numbers don’t start to fall. In the spring, Spain was subject to some of the tightest lockdown restrictions in Europe, with the wholesale closure of businesses and strict restrictions on people leaving their homes. The country also closed its borders to visitors.
If similar measures are enforced again, if hotels are shut down and foreign travel banned, any trip you had booked would obviously face cancellation. The prospects of getting your money back would depend on who you had booked with, and also on the travel insurance you had taken out. If you book a package holiday which ends up being cancelled, you are in a good position due to ATOL protection.
It is, however, strongly advised to take out travel insurance for Spain with a high level of cancellation cover. If, for example, you find yourself in the country when stricter measures are imposed affecting your flights and accommodation, or if you cannot travel because one of your party contracts COVID, good insurance will cover you for the cost of new flights to get home, or for cancelling the trip yourself on medical grounds.
5. People cannot gather in groups of more than 6
Like past rules in England, you can’t hang around in Spain in groups of more than 6. Yet, it’s even stricter in that in many cases this rule does not apply as only cohabitants can be together. No big group holidays this year.
6. Many restaurants and bars are closed
At least six autonomous communities have decreed the closure of bars and restaurants, which makes having lunch or dinner a daunting task unless your order take away. And with food being such an important reason to travel, are you sure really want to deal with this?
7. Keep up to date with local lockdowns
Travelling across the country is also impossible right now as there are lockdowns everywhere but in Galicia, Extremadura, and the islands. Madrid is trying to set itself apart declaring lockdowns only on long weekends and national holidays. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes not.
– thanks for the extra tips Inma, from aworldtotravel.com
8. Pay attention to FCDO travel advice
Finally, on the subject of travel insurance, be aware that official UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice warns against all but essential travel to Spain at the moment, with the exception of the Canary Islands. While this doesn’t amount to a legally-binding instruction not to travel, it is important because you could find it invalidates your travel insurance if you decide to travel anyway.
If you are considering or have already booked a trip, keep checking the official advice, and check the small print on insurance policies to see how your cover is affected.