Here are my tips on how to use Gibraltar Airport instead of Malaga and cross the Gibraltar Spain border on foot or by car
When we bought our new Summer home near Sotogrande in Southern Spain, there was a very interesting aspect to it: we could fly into Gibraltar airport instead of Malaga, and our transfer time would be under 30 minutes, as opposed to over an hour. And another plus, we could fly from Heathrow Airport (instead of Gatwick, as Gibraltar being a British Overseas Territory is not a bucket and spade destination), which meant a lot to us. (You can fly to Malaga from Heathrow too, but most flights are from Gatwick, but you can always mix and match).
But obviously when something sounds just too good to be true, it always is, and obviously flying to Gibraltar is not as straightforward as it sounds.
My family and I have used this option over 10 times in the last year, and 80% of our visitors also chose to fly to Gibraltar (for the above mentioned reasons) – so the information I am providing below is based on that, provided in good faith and absolutely free of any political aspects or commentary.
So, first things first…
Where is Gibraltar?
Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory and city located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. It has an area of 6.7 km2 (2.6 sq mi) and is bordered to the north by Spain. (you can google this easily).
At the time of writing, and really not getting into any detail, Gibraltar is not part of the European Union or the Schengen area (just like the United Kingdom, who used to be a member of the EU prior to Brexit but was never a part of Schengen). There is a hard land border between Gibraltar and Spain where your ID/passport is checked and you also go through customs.
The map below (which I plan to populate over time) gives you an idea of the exact location of Gibraltar and, in this case, Gibraltar International Airport – which is located probably 100 metres from the Gibraltar Spain border.
Who can fly into Gibraltar?
Only flights originating from the United Kingdom can land in Gibraltar. Currently both British Airways and Easy Jet fly into Gibraltar from Heathrow (BA), Gatwick, Manchester, Edinburgh and Bristol (Easy Jet). You can find out more details at Gibraltar Airport’s website.
Anyone is free to fly into Gibraltar (as long as you take a flight from the UK). Passports are required by all visitors to Gibraltar, except EU nationals who are in possession of a valid national identity card. As a general rule, those persons who require a visa for entry into the United Kingdom will also require a separate visa for entry to Gibraltar. You can find out more information on the Gibraltar Borders and Coastguard Agency website.
Where is Gibraltar Airport located in relation to the Gibraltar Spain border?
The Gibraltar Airport terminal is located probably 100 metres from the Gibraltar Spain border. This could be very easy, but it is not if you have luggage or children.
How do I cross the border between Gibraltar and Spain?
If you are lucky to find a single taxi outside the Gibraltar Airport terminal (I have seen queues but never more than a taxi), don’t get too excited: those taxis cannot take you over the border. Gibraltar taxis can only transport you around Gibraltar (the town centre is located around 2km from the airport).
If you do not have a friend who can kindly cross the Spain Gibraltar border, wait for you at the terminal car park and then take you over the border by car with your luggage, you only have one option, used by the most passengers who land at Gibraltar airport: you walk across the border.
The walk seems very short, but sadly no one in Gibraltar really cares about the passengers who just use the airport and pay the relevant airport taxes. If you have more than 1 item of luggage, it is not going to be easy. And if you have a small child travelling with you, it is even more challenging.
Why? No one seems to have walked the ‘route’ and see how suitcases and strollers would fare. I travelled for the first time alone recently, with one single suitcase and hands free and it could be a lot easier.
For example, you cannot take the trolley from outside the airport area. If you try to take it to the Spanish border, it won’t get you very far because the floors are so bad, it won’t go up and down the pavements and crossings. As I said previously, with a 4-wheel suitcase and alone, it required some muscle.
You then cross the road towards the border and you will find the door that takes you into Spain (literally!). If you cross from Gibraltar, you will have done passport control and customs at the airport, so the formalities are just for Spain.
You will get your passport checked by the Spanish authorities – and stamped if you are a non EU citizen (UK citizens are not anymore and therefore need to have the passport stamped). EU citizens do not need to be stamped but all the automated machines only accept Spanish IDs. Spanish authorities do tend to spot those with European ID cards and wave them through.
You then leave the first building and walk to a second one following the signs to Aduana (Customs). We got asked about what we were taking into Spain (by car and on foot) but no one ever checked anything.
The border is open 24 hours a day and you can cross as many times as you would like.
You walk 50 metres more and you get to La Linea and you see the Taxi rank which will take you anywhere you would like to go in Spain.
Getting a taxi from La Linea (Spanish Border)
I do not know if there are always taxis – we had no issues twice, but now we tend to pre book a local taxi (as we know he will be there and what car he has). Thankfully we are very lucky that we have a friend that will pick us up if they are around (and has many times) or our concierge at our development can do a private transfer and come into Gibraltar but his availability isn’t stellar so we have learned to not count on it.
We have used a taxi driver called Domingos (+34651990328) who so far has been reliable and charges around 40 Euros and have used a luxury transfer company called Luxury Autos Estepona – it is the company used by Finca Cortesin and So Sotogrande. They are more expensive but the cars are obviously nicer. From our place, they charge 70 Euros to Gibraltar but only 120 to Malaga (which is the same charge as a taxi). The number we have is +34670884394.
Renting a car from Gibraltar Airport
Renting a car at Gibraltar Airport can also be fun! All car rental agencies are located across the border in Spain, so when you cross the border you will see the various offices (not all companies usual companies are present at this location).
We tend to rent with Avis and one should pick up the car at the Santa Barbara car park in Spain. However, Avis does not have an office in Spain: their office is at Gibraltar Airport concourse – and last time I travelled… I left the airport and Gibraltar without picking up my car key. I forgot about it.
I walked to the car park and asked the attendant if there was an Avis office, who told me I had to go back to Gib to get it, so I did. Round trip was 20 mins, as I had no queue crossing either border but was a bit of a pain. But note to Avis – you should really make this clearer on the emails you send prior to pick up. I asked the gentleman working there and he said this happens all the time as it says pick up in Spain. This also means by the way if you just happen to be in Spain and need to rent a car from this location, you will have to go to Gibraltar Airport to get the keys.
But Avis offers something extraordinary – worth every pound of the 30 Euros it charges for this service. If you choose to, you can drop off your car at Gibraltar Airport’s car park and save yourself all the hassle when returning to the airport. But this only works IF there is no queue to cross the border. To make sure we take advantage of this, we allow an extra hour to cross the border (maximum it has taken us was 45 mins, but we did not have to lug around any bags or strollers).
EDIT: I have recently learned that if you call Avis 2-3 days before, they will also now provide a pick up service at Gibraltar Airport for an additional 30 Euros (I wished for this all Summer but it is now a reality). The number to call is +34657984535.
Our friends have also used Autos Aguirre, a local company, which rumour has it you can actually pick up your car at Gibraltar, but all our friends who have used them have picked up at Sotogrande Port (as it was 300 Euros cheaper on occasion and worth the 40 Euro taxi ride). I will update this bit when someone I know has rented a car from this location!
Crossing the Gibraltar border by car
This is the easiest way, but impossible to organise if you do not have any local friends willing to do this for you. Gibraltar Airport is very small and the car park is right outside the terminal building.
You can park, load the car and drive the short distance to the border where you will join the other Gibraltar traffic crossing into Spain. You will have your passport checked and stamped if you are not from a EU country, and then you will get your car checked by customs. Our car has always been full to the bream (with the amount of stuff we brought from the UK), but as they were personal items, we said so and never had an issue.
Duty Free in Gibraltar
Gibraltar is Duty Free and you can get significant savings on items like alcohol and tobacco products. You are limited to 4 litres per person (I thought it was 1!) and a bottle of Martin Miller costs £11.50 at the Gibraltar Airport Arrivals Shop (a very small shop by the luggage belt where you are not allowed to go in).
You have to ‘study’ the stock via the window before locating your prize (and the outliers as the gin for example isn’t all side by side). If you have the blonde lady working when you land, she may not be very pleasant (it has happened to us every time we asked ‘if she had this or that’.)
Crossing into Gibraltar from Spain
Doing the reverse route, i.e. crossing from Spain to Gibraltar is as third world as the reverse route, i.e. uncomfortable to the modern traveller in 2022.
If you don’t take your Avis rental into Gibraltar (or drop it off at the Santa Barbara Car Park), you will be dropped off at an area where your luggage is not welcome and zebra crossings do not matter. Once you lift your luggage to the main road and back on the pavement, you then walk to the Spanish border control building (where queues can begin outside because too many British are crossing and need to have the passport stamped, and there is no way outside to differentiate between EU and non EU visitors outside).
You then have some Spanish who absolutely know what they are doing and look like they are cutting the queue, but they actually are not as there is no queue for them.
You then leave that building and go through the Gibraltar Passport Control (they just wave you through if you are British or have a EU ID card) and finally customs.
You have formally entered Gibraltar and if you want to go to the airport which would be on your left, no one kindly added a zebra crossing there (there is one 100m away which no one really uses). So what you will see, is people crossing the road with their luggage (lifting it up and down the pavement) to make the journey to the airport terminal shorter.
By car, you go through Spanish Immigration (and customs). Please ensure you have your passport stamped again if you are a UK citizen – so that your EU stay days end there. This is really important (and applies to any airport too).
For info, since Brexit, UK citizens can only be in the European Union 90 days out of the previous 180. Many have not had their passports stamped on departure (from any airport in Europe), to then find themselves not allowed to reenter the EU on a subsequent trip because the previous trip never ended officially and the 90 days were reached).
Once you drive past Gibraltar Immigration and then Customs, you may have hoped there would be a little roundabout that would enable you to turn left to the terminal, but no. You are made to drive into Gibraltar, cross the runway, then go to a roundabout and then drive back. This is when you pray that no random plane is landing as you will not be able to do that journey as traffic is interrupted.
Weather issues landing into Gibraltar
Well, these happen and can be a pain. If winds are stronger than they should be, or if visibility is not as expected, your flight can be diverted to Malaga. That is a pain for every reason in the world, mostly because the whole point of this exercise was to avoid flying into Malaga. Obviously safety first – but just be aware that this is possible.
Also lately it seems that Gibraltar Airport is having some air traffic control staffing issues and if someone is sick, the flights get diverted to Malaga (it happened a few days in September 2022 with the evening Easy Jet flight). This caused some uproar in Gibraltar as obviously reflects badly for tourism. I hope they can sort this out.
What happens if your flight to Gibraltar is diverted to Malaga?
On a recent flight to Gibraltar, we were told by the crew that there was a 25% chance we would be diverted because of strong winds. As BA foresaw this, they proceeded to remove everyone on a flight who required a Schengen visa (i.e. cruise workers from outside the EU who were joining a cruise stopping in Gibraltar).
When you land in Malaga, you are then treated as a normal passenger landing in Spain (go through passport control, get your luggage etc) but technically the airline will organise a bus to then take passengers back to Gibraltar Airport.
I always wondered about this, but it seems that you do NOT have to take that bus, and can source alternative transportation if you would wish to do so (but have to tell the airline reps so they don’t wait for you).
Luckily, we did manage to land in Gibraltar on this occasion and I did not test this scenario myself (but I know now to prepare more for it). Renting a car with Avis would be still a good call as they would let you work some magic if there were cars available). I called to check and they said they would cancel the original booking with no penalty but you’d have to get a new car at the new rate (which could be better or worse). Avis number at Malaga Airport is +34 902 10 93 84.
What is Gibraltar Airport like?
Gibraltar Airport is modern and it is quiet – and it offers quite a nice experience. There will be a maximum of 2 flights checking in, everyone working there has always been very pleasant and it really is stress free.
When you depart, after check in, you have to show your passport before going up the escalators to security – there can be a bottleneck here.
There is no fast track security (a shame, as there could be), and we have had 20 minute queues on occasion (which we don’t normally have), but usually you are done under 10 minutes.
One thing worth noting: the staff are very nice and they don’t scream at you like at other airports. They follow their rules, we do as we are told and it all works. Everyone is always very pleasant with our daughter and we are grateful for it.
The terminal itself is a bit limited – it has a duty free shop, a cosmetics shop and, a world first, ladies and gentlemen: a newsagent that does not sell newspapers. The local branch of WHSmith is unique in that sense. I keep asking why but they said ‘since covid, they didn’t bother getting them back in’. I cannot comment on this as I do not know where to begin.
There is a little cafe and there are toilets with baby changing facilities. But the waiting area is made nicer as there is a viewing balcony and you can just sit there and catch the last rays of sun.
There is also a lounge (also open to Priority Pass + Lounge Key members) which is basic but perfectly functional. They serve limited food (sandwiches, toast), have crisps and drinks (wine not great, gin OK). They do have very good coffee (Delta), which is always a nice treat for us.
There is a viewing balcony and toilet facilities – but none for little ones. That pissed me off a few times as they have a disabled toilet and could easily add a changing table like they did in the normal terminal… so if you have children who need a nappy change… you will have to queue in the main terminal, which is a shame and unnecessary.
Is this all worth it?
Once you get your head around it and done it once, it is simple. And for us, it means we can leave home in England in the morning (very early), drive to Heathrow (40 mins away), land at 11am local time in Gibraltar and everything going well, we will be home by 12.30pm ready for a dip in the pool or with enough time to unpack before lunch.
If you are going to Estepona, a taxi will be 70 Euros from La Linea instead of 120 Euros from Malaga (plus the tolls). To Sotogrande, a taxi is 40 Euros maximum.
It would be really nice if someone from either side of the border retraced the passenger steps and made it nicer as it wouldn’t be impossible (and each side does not even have to speak to each other).
It would be a dream if someone actually had a trolley service (costing whatever) serving Gibraltar Airport passengers that would allow you to cross the border and drop it off safely on the other side, but that would be asking for too much.
Just getting the pot holes and pavements fixed would be a good start.
But we are grateful for Gibraltar Airport (and it certainly helped us make the decision to buy in Spain).
Until the next time!