It is no secret to anyone that many of the countries in Europe are facing financial hardship, and Spain is no exception. If you’re planning on a holiday or extended stay, whether at a hostel or in a rental apartment in Barcelona, expect to experience the fallout of this financial strain. Spain is currently in the middle of a recession, with many people either out of work or struggling with tax hikes and low wages. The most evident proof of this near universal hardship is the amount of beggars on the street. If you can understand a bit of Spanish, you’ll notice that much of them have something similar to say– “I have a family at home and I need to feed them, but I don’t have a job.” As depressing as it is, it is a reality of a country with a poor economy. The knock-on effects of no work a city that is frequented by tourists, especially leading in to the summer months, is that the proliferation of pick-pocketing increases.
You may have been warned about the pickpockets here in Spain, but until recently it was really more of a problem on trains and buses during transit through the smaller towns and villages – it tended to be a problem solely for the poor regions of Spain. Due to the current financial crisis these days, unfortunately, Barcelona and Madrid consistently rate as two of the worst cities in the world for pick-pocketing. Partly because of the financial difficulties faced by most people here in Spain, but also due to the disincentive for pick-pocketing being a fine, not jail. Petty theft and pick-pocketing are crimes of opportunity, so to be safe from pickpockets, the best approach is to be aware of the problem, and take steps to ensure that you don’t present yourself as a target.
If you are planning on spending any time at all in the tourist centres and major attractions of Barcelona – the Raval, The Ramblas, the Placas Reial, Catalunya or Espanya or the barrios of Borne, Jaume or Gotic in general, be aware that these are centres of attention for many pickpockets. The most common way for people to be robbed stems from naivety. You are more likely to have a bag or coat taken from you whilst sitting in a cafe or bar when you are most comfortable and relaxed than you are to have your wallet lifted directly from your pocket. This is because your attention is not centred on your belongings. There are entire families that work the Placa Reial who will scout and attempt to steal any careless tourists dining in the cafes around the Placa. Be aware of where you’ve put your bag or coat – keep all your belongings on your lap or with you instead of hanging off the back of a chair unattended where prospective thieves can profit from your inattention. Surprisingly, thieves will be more interested in things like smart phones and cameras than wallets as it is uncommon for even tourists to carry much cash with them. That being said, there are several different approaches many pickpockets may take if they feel you are vulnerable.
More uncommon that simply attempting to lift unattended bags, but still prolific in the tourist areas is the approach on the street. Pickpockets will often simply try to get you to give them money through a litany of scams, many of which are listed here if you’d like to make yourself more familiar with the approaches. Don’t be mislead, however, as they are still willing to simply life your wallet or purse. The common practise for pickpockets is to distract you while they do it. Whether this is bumping or tripping into you whilst walking or spilling something on you and helping you to clean yourself off, they will attempt to focus your attention elsewhere while they clean out your pockets. Again, the best way to prevent from becoming a victim is to be familiar with the approaches, but also to not present yourself as a target. Wherever possible, try to fit in with the locals rather than standing out as a tourist. If you’re lost and need to find out where you are, find a cafe and sit down before consulting a tourist guide or map. Here is a guide on how to dress/look like the locals which should help you understand what is best to wear to blend in. The added benefit of this will be that by not standing out as a tourist, the locals will be more inclined to speak in Spanish of Catalan with you which will help you quickly gain a familiarity with the language.
Despite Barcelona’s reputation for pickpockets and the drastic advice that many sources will offer to ensure that you don’t become a victim, it is still a safe city to live in, so don’t be dissuaded from finding an apartment to rent in Barcelona. The chance of being pick-pocketed is no worse than in the other major cities of Europe like Paris, Berlin or London if you are aware of the risks and take steps to ensure that you are safe. Keep an eye on your belongings and don’t present yourself as a potential victim and you’ll enjoy your stay in Barcelona so much more. You’ll be safe from pick-pocketing, and also enjoy the immersive experience of not being treated like a tourist.