Since the border closures due to COVID-19 began in March 2020, knowing when one could or could not travel to a country had become a Herculean task. The world suddenly became an incomprehensible tangle of certificate applications, closed borders or open customs as long as the traveler provided a negative PCR. Even the various golden visa allocation processes in the EU underwent changes during this time.

Spain, of course, was no exception in this regard: the state of alarm that lasted until May 9, as well as the different laws and rules that have regulated entry into the country, have been a puzzle for any traveler. Was it possible to enter Spain? Yes, but with certain conditions.

But now it seems that, at least temporarily, the coronavirus pandemic has finally come to an end. And to the question of whether it is possible to travel to Spain from outside the EU Schengen area, the answer is yes, without requirements or exceptions. This has been made official by the resolution of October 18, 2022 of the Directorate General of Public Health, which has eliminated border controls in the country.

Is the pandemic over?

This news has been received in Spain as yet another sign that the end of the tunnel is just around the corner. After two years of exceptional measures, the use of face masks on public transport and travel restrictions were still two reminders that the bad times were not yet over. But at least the latter are now a thing of the past, and it could almost be said that this brings us closer to the end of the pandemic as we understood it until now. Travelling to Spain is as easy now, in October 2022, as it was in November 2019, when the coronavirus was a foreign term to most people.

In a context in which the epidemiological situation is no longer newsworthy, and in which the incidence of the pandemic worldwide has declined considerably, mobility restrictions had already lost much of their significance.

With all this, and as expressed by the Directorate General of Public Health, in the Resolution of 18 October 2022, I quote: "in order to promote the normalisation of international mobility, with the least possible impact on public health, [...] considers it appropriate not to apply health control measures to persons from countries outside the European Union or countries considered as Schengen associated countries".

Of course, this does not mean that mobility restrictions will not be lifted if the epidemiological situation worsens. In fact, the government has left a door to this in the BOE: "However, it should be noted that a possible worsening of the pandemic may lead to the reactivation of health measures in the field of international travel". Let us hope that such a reactivation does not have to take place.

How did we get here?

It must be said that the road that has brought us to this point of ending the restriction on travel to Spain has been far from straightforward. Rather, it has been a continuous change of legislation in which even the most expert jurist could have gotten lost.

The start of it all was the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to EU and Schengen area countries from third countries, implemented by the European Council in March 2020. From then on, each country applied its own measures.

In the case of Spain, these began to be applied through the entry into force of the State of Alarm on March 14, 2020. Although the State of Alarm ended in Spain on May 8, 2021, the entry restriction measures were prolonged. These measures included the denial of entry to all persons from third countries, with certain exceptions. These exceptions were prolonged in time.

These exceptions for entry into Spain, until the recent elimination of restrictions, were as follows:

  1. Be a regular resident of the European Union, Schengen partners, Andorra, Monaco, the Vatican (Holy See) or San Marino and go to that country, with documentary proof. That is, if you live in France and arrive on a flight from Argentina to Madrid, you are allowed entry.
  2. Hold a long-stay visa issued by a Schengen member state or a state associated with that country. To continue with an example similar to the previous one: if you have an Argentine passport but a two-year residence permit issued by the French State, you could travel through Spain to reach France.
  3. Be credentialed as a health professional, including health researchers and elder care professionals, and be directing or returning from such work.
  4. Transport, marine and aeronautical personnel required to perform air transport activities. If you are a professional in road transport, marine or aeronautical services, you have no problem entering Spain.
  5. Diplomatic, consular, international organizations, military, civil protection and humanitarian organizations personnel, in the performance of their duties.
  6. Students studying in Spain, in the Schengen member states or in the associated states, and who have the corresponding long-stay permit or visa. This, of course, provided that they were going to the country where they were studying, and provided that the entry took place during the academic year or the previous 15 days. Or if the destination was Spain and the duration of the stay was up to 90 days, it could be accredited that the studies were carried out in an authorized educational center in Spain, registered in the corresponding administrative registry, following a full-time classroom program during this phase.
  7. Highly qualified workers whose work was necessary and could not be postponed or performed remotely, including participants in high-level sporting events held in Spain. These circumstances had to be documented. To give an example that had a lot of spice: unlike what happened at the Australian Open in early 2022, Djokovic was able to play the Madrid Masters.
  8. Persons traveling for duly accredited imperative family reasons. Here the casuistry is varied, but we have already seen how the Spanish Consulate refused to support the entry to Spain, to a mother who came to accompany her daughter in the birth of her son, because the father was also going to accompany him at that moment.
  9. Persons who present documentary evidence of force majeure or necessity, or whose entry is permitted for humanitarian reasons.
  10. Residents of certain third countries. Provided that they came directly from them, transited exclusively through other countries included in the list or only made international transits at airports located in countries not included in the annex. The list consisted of: Bahrain, Chile, Colombia, Indonesia, Kuwait, New Zealand, Peru, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, China, Hong Kong SAR, Macao SAR and Taiwan.
  11. And persons with a certificate of vaccination against COVID-19 or a certificate of recovery or a certificate of negative diagnosis of this disease, recognized by the Ministry of Health. In addition to persons under 12 years of age. (Order INT/884/2022 of September 14, 2002).

But be careful, because it was not enough to be part of one of these exceptions to be able to enter Spain. In addition, the traveler coming from a third country had to meet the following requirements:

  • Passengers arriving in Spain by air or sea, including those arriving in transit to other countries, were required to complete a health control form prior to departure and obtain their QR to present at boarding and health controls upon arrival in Spain. 
  • And if they came from a country or area considered at risk (all those not included in the list of countries mentioned above) they had to present: a) a certificate or document proving vaccination*; b) a diagnostic test for active infection (PDIA); or c) a certificate of recovery of COVID-19.

Vaccines and variants

To understand this evolution of legislation and the current elimination of travel restrictions, there have been two key elements. On the one hand, the emergence, in a positive way, of vaccines. On the other, the emergence of variants of particular concern.

Since the early 2020s, these years have seen a kind of cyclical process of eternal return. Just as the effect of the vaccines has succeeded in relaxing certain entry processes, the different variants have made these more restrictive again. Now, however, it seems that the expansion of vaccines and a kind of collective immunization have allowed the country to open its doors completely.

Only the key question remains to be answered: will they remain open for long?

Conclusion

It seems that, albeit at an enormous cost, Spain and the surrounding countries have emerged victorious, for the time being, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Borders have been opened, daily life has returned to almost total normality and few aspects take us back to the dark times of 2020 and 2021.

All this is not to say that restrictions will not return, that the world will not come to a standstill. But, it seems, the light always ends up appearing at the end of the tunnel. And the fact that human beings are migrants by nature will not be changed by any pandemic either.

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