Visiting Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain? Making this mistake could land you in jail.

Dec 7, 2022

I’m obsessed with buying local when I travel. Who isn’t? We’re all after authenticity when we leave home to explore new places, and Barcelona is a great place to do it.

It feels good to do good, and one of the most important aspects of sustainable tourism is taking into account the economic needs of local communities. Taking genuine care to spend your money in a way that supports locals is important because how you spend your dollars is a vote for something, whether you know it or not.

So when I arrived in Barcelona, Spain (and wanted to visit the famous Park Guell) and locals warned me that I could go to jail or be heavily fined for purchasing anything from unauthorized street vendors, I had a LOT of questions. 

  • Are there legal consequences for the purchaser, even if you don’t know that the vendor isn’t authorized? 

  • How can you tell an authorized seller from an unauthorized seller in Barcelona?

  • How is tourism supporting illegal sellers and why does it matter?

Can you go to jail or be fined for purchasing something from an illegal street vendor in Barcelona unknowingly?

The short answer is YES. It’s illegal in Barcelona for anyone to buy (what are usually counterfeit) products from unauthorized sellers, whether knowingly or unknowingly. You could be fined up to 500 euros. 

If customs catches you at the airport, your purchase could be confiscated because it’s also a crime to buy counterfeit products. 

How can you tell if a street vendor in Barcelona is illegal or not?

Illegal sellers are going to be present in any high-traffic tourist area. One Barcelona attraction that is particularly crowded with illegal sellers with a huge variety of random tchotchkes is Park Guell

One way to tell if a seller is illegal is if all of their goods are spread out on a blanket. In Barcelona, illegal street sellers are known as manteros, which translates to blanketman

This illegal street selling is also often referred to as top manta, because the goods are presented on top of a blanket. 

The blanket usually has strings at each corner so that the manteros can grab all four corner strings quickly and run from the police carrying this huge blanket bag of counterfeit goods.

Why are unlicensed street vendors in Barcelona a problem?

  1. Looking out for yourself in this situation, know that you’re getting shitty, counterfeit goods. 

  2. The sellers are typically illegal immigrants, meaning they don’t pay taxes. This causes unfair competition with local shops that are run by legal residents in the community who are selling legal goods and bearing tax burdens. 

  3. Illegal street sellers are often selling goods that were made while engaging in other criminal activity, like illegal factories that are not licensed by the real brand owners. This is just my opinion, but I can’t imagine that the working conditions in those factories are up to any kind of humanitarian or ethical standards.  

  4. The manteros take up a large part of pedestrian walkways, so there are frequent problems with tourists disturbing their blankets. This can easily spark a conflict and has led to violence in the past.

What do you think? Is this an opportunity for the local government to find ways to help illegal street vendors by creating some kind of permitting and taxation system? Are manteros dangerous? Or do you agree with those who are compassionately questioning if it’s a crime for someone to try to make a living- criminally?

Disclaimer: Tourism ethics are layered and complex. Buying anything anywhere can have inadvertent social, economic, environmental, and humanitarian consequences. For example, consumerism in general destroys the environment. However, consumerism also creates demand that supplies jobs. There are always trade offs to consider in an intelligent ethical discussion about tourism and consumerism. This article is specific to the unauthorized sellers in Barcelona.

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