Is proof of accommodation REALLY required for a US citizen to enter Spain as a tourist?
December 6, 2012 7:24 PM   Subscribe

US citizen visiting SO's family in Spain for Christmas: will I be asked to show proof of accommodation? Do I really need a letter of invitation to pass customs?

I am a US citizen, boyfriend is a Spanish citizen who is in the US with a J1 visa. We are traveling to Spain for three weeks over Christmas, and we will be staying with his family. I have zero intention of overstaying, trying to get married, looking for work, etc, basically I want to go, meet the folks, see the sights, and come back.

Unfortunately I didn't do my homework, and now I am reading on the US embassy website:
"Spain is a party to the Schengen Agreement. This means that U.S. citizens may enter Spain for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. Your passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. You need sufficient funds, evidence of hotel reservations or an official letter of invitation if you will stay with family or friends, and a return airline ticket. For additional details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen Fact Sheet."

Funds, return ticket, valid passport, etc. are no problem, but I don't have a letter of invitation from SO's family. And what's worse, it seems that the invitation letter is only valid when it's completed and notarized at a Spanish Police Station, and can take up to two weeks to be issued. Given that my trip is in less than two weeks, there is pretty much no way this letter could be made and mailed to me here in the US in time.

However, searching other unofficial sources of information, like the Lonely Planet forums, seems to indicate that non-visa tourists are rarely if ever asked for proof of accommodation, and that I should be able to with only my passport.

So globe-trotting Mefites, please share your experience with Spanish customs! Were you asked to provide proof of accommodation for a non-visa tourist stay? Will I be OK with just the names and addresses of my hosts, or should I make a fake hotel reservation to cancel once I get there, just to be on the safe side? Will they be more suspicious if I let on that I am travelling with a SO rather than just a friend? Thanks everyone!
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total)
I entered Spain twice, for stays of six weeks and three months. The former on a tourist visa, the latter on a student visa. Had a letter of invitation for the longer stay but was not asked to present it. No letter the second time. No problems.

But this was ten years ago. Maybe things have changed, but I doubt it. In my experience, embassy warnings are always ridiculously conservative and entry requirements usually later than they are made out to be.
posted by skewed at 7:40 PM on December 6, 2012

Could you reserve a hotel and then cancel it, just to be safe?
posted by muddgirl at 7:42 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

US citizen here. I've been to Europe several times and mostly nobody has ever looked twice at me. I don't think I've ever even been asked where I was staying or what the purpose of my visit was.

One of those times I was mostly staying with friends (for around the amount of time you'll be staying), and nobody noticed/cared. I forget what I put down on my entry card though -- I don't think I stayed with a friend the very first night. (this was about two years ago, so since 9/11 for sure.)

You could lie and write down the name of a hotel in your destination city. Nobody will notice or care. You could just write "family of traveling companion" or whatever and probably nobody will blink.

The only thing that makes me think someone could look twice is that you're traveling with your boyfriend who is a Spanish citizen. They might think you intend to get married in Spain, which could be a thing (this is a thing for travel to the UK and some other countries.)

Frankly, if I were in your situation I'd be more worried about the boyfriend's ability to travel seamlessly back and forth rather than myself.
posted by Sara C. at 7:42 PM on December 6, 2012

I traveled all around Europe (though not Spain) by air this summer on an American passport and not once was I asked about where I was staying or to show proof of funds or return tickets. I wouldn't have even thought to bring that stuff. I even did things like fly into countries on one airline and fly out from another city on a different airline booked at a different time, so I don't think they could have been quietly and quickly looking up my incoming ticket at the immigration desk to make sure it was round trip. If I were you, I wouldn't even worry about this.
posted by Nickel at 7:48 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

A thought -- if you're staying at your boyfriend's home (or the home he grew up in) during your stay, wouldn't a "letter of invitation" from your boyfriend work?

You could have him type something up, if it would make you feel better.

I frankly think it's ridiculous that they would quibble with the fact that such a letter was not notarized by a Spanish police station. If they do, your boyfriend will be right there to say, "Yep, that letter is from me! I invited her to stay at my home in Spain!" Presumably the notarized thing is to confirm you didn't just invent a person and write the letter yourself.

You could have it notarized in the US if you wanted to really cross your i's and dot your t's.

It wouldn't hurt to make sure that nothing about your visit makes it seem like you are trying to immigrate to Spain. Because that's what they're really worried about, here. Pack light, make it very clear that this is a vacation. Have a confirmation for your return ticket printed out and ready to show them. If you have any appointments in the US after your return (dentist, work meetings, stuff like that) maybe print out emails to that effect. Be prepared to tell them all about how excited you are to visit the Prado or the Sagrada Familia or whatever.
posted by Sara C. at 7:50 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Australian previous tourist and visitor to Spain: I have never been asked to show anything about residency.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:03 PM on December 6, 2012

Yep, me neither. I've never heard of this and I've entered many times.
posted by 3491again at 8:29 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was just in Spain 4 weeks ago for the third time, all you need is an address to put on the form when you go through immigration. The first time I went, I only knew the name of my hostel and of the street address (don't ask, I was 19), and I was still fine. Have fun!
posted by justjess at 8:32 PM on December 6, 2012

nthing that you just need an address for the form.
posted by holgate at 8:54 PM on December 6, 2012

Will Spain be your entry point into Schengen or are you flying via Frankfurt or Amsterdam or some such?
posted by infini at 12:45 AM on December 7, 2012

I've needed Schengen visa's in the past. I followed what muddgirl is suggesting - made a booking at a hotel (for the documentation for the visa application), and then cancelled it afterwards. You'll need to keep in mind cancellation policies of the places you're booking.

My personal experience is that different consulates (and even officers within those consulates) will have varying levels of strictness. By other's experiences here, it sounds like you should get away without it, as an American visiting Spain.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 1:56 AM on December 7, 2012

You have nothing to worry about. Just write the address you're staying at on your immigration card and say you are visiting friends for Christmas.

Please note that you're not applying for a Schengen visa per se, as you are covered under the Visa Waiver Programme for visits under 90 days.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:13 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hate to be the one to say it, but here goes:

Are you an inoffensive-looking white or East Asian person with middle-class clothes and luggage? Then you'll have no problem. These checks are to make sure a destitute foreigner doesn't come in and squat on their social welfare systems, and no customs official is going to raise a stink about someone who is clearly a tourist.
posted by Etrigan at 3:59 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I (Canadian) went to Spain last year to walk the Camino de Santiago. I didn't have any hotel reservations or letter of invitation or anything and I didn't have any problems. Nobody asked me any questions about what I was going to be doing.
posted by oranger at 5:56 AM on December 7, 2012

I was virtually an illegal alien in Spain for 8 years. No one ever took more than the barest cursory glance at my passport despite multiple overstays of the 90 day period, sometimes by entire years. You will be traveling as the partner Spanish citizen holding a Spanish passport - sorry for potentially offensive assumptions here, but I am guessing you are a white female? They're not going to look twice at you.
posted by elizardbits at 6:09 AM on December 7, 2012

I live in Europe and have residency here. With my US passport, I just get waived through every airport I've gone through excepting Geneva. I am supposed to show my residency permit as well, but no one even wants to see it. I don't think you have any reason to worry.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:50 AM on December 7, 2012

You surely have nothing to worry about. However, as someone who has gotten worked up about the, at least, theoretical potential for something to go wrong at customs, here are two options that could assuage your fears:

1) Have your boyfriend's folks send you and him an email with their address, and saying how long you'll stay. Print it out. Yeah, it's not notarized by the Spanish Police, but I think you can quite credibly claim ignorance on that one.

2) If you're really worried about the notarization thing, book a room in a hostel for your first night and then cancel it. Hostel beds are usually like $25-30, and you only need to put a down payment when you book; you pay the full amount on arrival. The down payment is usually like 10% or so, so you'll only be out around $3-$5, and you'll have the peace of mind of knowing that there's really nothing that could go wrong at customs.

That said, I know people who have overstayed visas in Spain. My impression is that their customs enforcement is very, very lax. It's not Spain, but when I went to Italy, the customs agent just stamped my passport and gave it back to me - he literally didn't ask me a thing.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:37 AM on December 7, 2012

I flew into Barcelona in May, nobody asked to see anything but my passport.
posted by benbenson at 6:07 PM on December 7, 2012

different consulates (and even officers within those consulates) will have varying levels of strictness

To clarify, OP is a US Citizen and thus does not need a visa to enter the Schengen zone as a tourist for under 90 days.
posted by Sara C. at 6:37 PM on December 7, 2012

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