Going to another Country in Europe

Last update : November 2023

European Borders

Officially, until you have a residence permit in Spain or another EU country, you are not allowed to travel in Europe. Even if you have applied for asylum and have a Tarjeta Roja (Red Card ⇒ ch. Glossary), this does not allow you to leave Spain legally. However, thanks to the Schengen area (⇒ ch. Glossary), the borders between EU member states are theoretically open, and can be crossed without being subjected to identity checks. However, controls have been installed at certain border crossings, and especially on some means of transport crossing the borders.

Remember: If you are hosted by an NGO, it is possible that they will pay for your transport to another city in Spain. If you want to leave Spain, they may pay for your ticket to a city near the border (e.g. Barcelona or Bilbao).

Attention: Once your departure from Spain and your stay in another European country has been registered, it may be difficult to re-enter reception facilities in Spain.

Border with France

The entire northern part of Spain borders France. Most of the border is across the mountainous Pyrenees region. The most-used border crossings are in the areas closest to the coast, in the regions of Euskadi/Basque Country and Catalonia.

French police operate along the entire border with Spain. If you are identified and do not have an identity document that allows you to travel between EU countries, it is possible that you may be returned to Spain. This can happen up to 30km from the Spanish border, although it is possible to be pushed back even from further away.

Irun border (Euskadi/Basque Country)

People trying to cross the French-Spanish border at Euskadi without an identification document or residence permit cannot do so on public transport, as these papers are a requirement for buying a ticket. For this reason, many people try to cross on foot at Irun, the last town at this border in Spain before French territory. These people are usually checked at the bridges over the Bidasoa river connecting Irun (Spain) and Hendaye (France). Checks have been extended in recent years to the outskirts of the city, in that roving checks are also carried out on public transport on the road, at bus and train stations, and to a lesser extent on private cars. On French territory, checks take place between Hendaye and Bayonne (see Guide to France: Contacts at the borders: French-Spanish Land Border).

In the vast majority of cases, if the French police find an undocumented person trying to cross, or within a 30km radius (from the Hendaye border to Bayonne), they will return them to Irun (Spain) without any official procedure.

If you arrive at the emergency centre “PAUSA” in Bayonne (Address: 18 Quai de Lesseps 64100 Bayonne), you will normally not be returned to Spain.

People arriving in Irun for the first time, or people who have been pushed back from France who find themselves without a sleeping place can try to stay at the temporary reception centre run by the Red Cross (⇒ch. Contacts).

La Junquera and Portbou borders (Catalonia)

There is a lot of land traffic at the La Junquera border. A motorway runs across this part of the border, and there are many cars and trucks travelling back and forth between Spain and France. The Spanish police often carry out checks on public transport, stopping buses once they have crossed into France. On trains travelling through the area, the Spanish national police often carry out document checks at Figueres and La Junquera.

The Portbou border crossing is on the Catalan coast. There are train lines connecting the border with cities further south, such as Barcelona.

All trains stop in Portbou before continuing on to France, and it is necessary to get off the train. The Spanish national police carry out frequent document checks at Portbou train station. If you manage to board a train, the French police carry out checks on the train at Cerbere, and you will most likely be returned to Portbou.

Attention: It is very dangerous to cross into France by walking on the railroad tracks, especially in the tunnels. Several deaths have been reported over the last years as people were run over by trains in the narrow tunnels.

Many people try to cross into France on foot from Portbou. It is common for the French police to carry out checks on the road and in villages near the border. If they find you, they will identify you and you are likely to be sent back to Portbou. It is still possible to cross this border.

If you get stuck in Portbou, you can seek help from Caritas (⇒ch. Contacts).

What can happen if you are stopped by the police near the border?

In many cases, when the French police identify you near the border, you will be returned to the Spanish side of the border.

In some cases, when they return you to Spain, the French police will hand you over to the Spanish police. In this case the Spanish police may carry out further checks. If you have never been arrested in Spain before, they will open a deportation order (⇒ch. Glossary). If you already have a previous deportation order, you may be sent to a CIE (⇒ch. Detention and Deportation / CIES). In such cases, contact a lawyer.

Another option is that instead of sending you back to Spain, the French police send you to a Centre de Retention Administratif (CRA) where you will be detained. In the CRAs there is often a social organisation such as CIMADE that can help you explore your legal options.

Remember: Despite the above, and even if some people have to try several times to make it, many people still cross the border!

Situation in other European countries

If you do not have a Spanish residence permit, you will be undocumented when you arrive in another European country. Contact local migrant support organisations as soon as possible to find out about your options. In each country the legal regulations and social rights for migrants are different, you can also find out about your possibilities in other countries before leaving Spain from Spanish organisations, or here: www.w2eu.info.

If you want to apply for asylum in another European country, you can do so, whether you have already applied for asylum in Spain or not, but it is likely that the Dublin regulation will apply and they will try to send you back to Spain (⇒ ch. Dublin).