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Moving to Mallorca

Expats moving to Mallorca will find few destinations more desirable or effortless than this, the largest of the four Balearic islands of Spain. Since the fifties the Mediterranean island has proved a magnet for tourists and this has created a sound and safe infrastructure benefiting both visitors and residents alike. 

The capital of Palma has grand architectural sites, art galleries, shops and museums. It also provides excellent international schools, private and state hospitals and transport links, with most European capitals reached by air within two hours.

Despite Spain’s troubled economy, Mallorca remains reasonably buoyant thanks to its thriving tourism industry, which accounts for approximately 80 percent of the island’s income. Construction and agriculture - particularly potato and almond production for export - represent the island’s other main industries. For this reason most expat employment is to be found in tourism and related service businesses. 

The islanders speak Mallorquí, a dialect of Catalan although all speak Castilian Spanish with many understanding English, German and French.

The joy of living in Mallorca, an island steeped in history, is that the climate is typically Mediterranean with dry hot summers and cool, wet winters, and it offers a fantastic variety of landscapes. From the furrowed and imposing Tramuntana mountain range in the northwest - now a UNESCO heritage site - to the Llevant hills in the east, the scenery is both wild and gentle with orchards and ancient stone terraces laden with olive, almond and fruit trees. 

The sunny southwest coast attracts the greatest number of expat residents, particularly for its well-maintained and golden beaches, although those seeking a more authentic, rural existence choose the agricultural central Es Pla, or the north and east of the island. 

Property prices and the cost of living are relatively high, partly because of Mallorca’s island status but also because it is increasingly becoming a destination that attracts affluent holidaymakers, yachties and new five-star hotel developers. All the same, the likes of Magaluf and Arenal remain value for money resorts for younger visitors.

Mallorca has a long and turbulent history from prehistoric times through to Roman and Moorish reigns culminating with the Kings of Aragon and Spanish rule. Culturally the island is famous for its Talaiotic settlements, Myotragus ‘mouse-goat’ - now extinct for 3,000 years - and for its lively traditional folklore, fiestas and local gastronomy, as well artistic and literary heritage. The English poet Robert Graves set up home in the celebrated village of Deia in the northwest, and Frederick Chopin and his lover, George Sand, once spent an uncomfortable winter in the mountain village of Valldemossa. Many celebrities flock to this area of the island for its natural beauty, tranquillity, orchards brimming with oranges and lemons and its rugged coastline. Despite its small scale, Mallorca has an efficient railway network and a historic train that runs from Palma to the hidden valley of Soller in the northwest. 

Culinary delights include the snail shaped, ensaimada pastry, a throwback to Moorish times, almond cake, and the famed sobrasada sausage, cured with paprika and spices. Mallorca is also developing viticulture of a very high quality.

Lifestyle in Mallorca

Mallorca offers many benefits to those who decide to relocate. This scenic island is around two hours’ flying time from the UK and other northern European destinations; it has the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tramuntana mountain range, 262 beaches, and a Mediterranean climate. It’s also very cosmopolitan. In the southwest municipality of Calvià, foreigners of around 100 nationalities make up some 40 percent of the population. Island-wide, foreign residents total just over 20 percent of the population. For expats open to the possibility, living on Mallorca can broaden their social and cultural horizons.

Increasingly, young couples and families are moving to Mallorca for a better quality of life, and a different upbringing for their children. The lifestyle in Mallorca is more relaxed and healthier than in northern European countries: Mallorcans generally work to live, rather than live to work, and everything seems to revolve around the family. The Mediterranean climate also makes it possible to spend more time outdoors. 

There are plenty of opportunities to make new friends through various clubs, networking groups, the English Speaking Residents’ Association (ESRA), and international organisations such as the Lions, Rotary Club and Toastmasters – all represented on the island.


Shopping on Mallorca

For serious shopping – fashion and accessories, in particular – Palma is a solid contender. The heart of the city has everything from small traditional family-run shops to two branches of the Spanish department store El Corte Inglés. As well as small independent boutiques, there are designer stores - including Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, Cartier, Loewe and Carolina Herrera. The best-known shopping streets are Borne and Jaime III.

There are several large trading estates around Palma and, in Santa Ponsa, Polígono Son Bugadellas has a number of retail units selling quality home and garden products. For DIY requirements, there are two branches of Leroy Merlin in the Palma area, and the recently opened Brico Depôt – under the same ownership as B&Q in the UK. Furniture is manufactured widely in Mallorca’s second city, Manacor. Swedish giant Ikea also has a large store on the outskirts of Palma.

In towns and villages, expats can enjoy old-fashioned personal service from traditional local bakers, butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers – surviving, so far, despite the increasing number of supermarkets. The Eroski, Mercadona, and LIDL chains are widely represented. Palma has out-of-town Alcampo and Carrefour supermarkets on its main site near the airport. In both the north and southwest of Mallorca, there are independent mini-marts selling British brands of foods, toiletries and household products – although many of these items are also now available in local supermarket chains.

Festival Park, near Marratxí, is an outlet shopping centre, with eateries, multiplex cinema and other leisure amenities, but it doesn’t offer the discounted high-end brands found at some better-known European outlet centres.

Every town and village has a fresh produce market at least once a week, and many of these also sell other goods. 

The inland village of Consell has a large Sunday morning flea/collectors’ market, where one can find pretty much everything under the sun – from books, to unwanted antiques and curios.

Outside the resorts, many shops maintain the Spanish tradition of closing for a few hours at lunchtime, although the number staying open all day in Palma de Mallorca is gradually increasing. The majority of shops close from Saturday lunchtime until Monday morning.


Restaurants on Mallorca

There are around 2,500 restaurants on Mallorca, so expats are sure to find several to suit their taste and budget. Numerous restaurants cater mainly for holidaymakers, and close for a few months in the winter. Generally, one can find better quality and value if seeking out the places where locals or resident foreigners eat.

Lunch is the most important meal of the day and many restaurants offer a menú del día – a three-course set lunch (often with a choice of dishes for each course) at a very reasonable price. Even in Palma it’s possible to eat a decent three-course lunch.

Mallorcans are keen on out-of-town roadside establishments – usually very large, brightly lit, noisy, and with enormous car parks – serving traditional country fare such as roast suckling pig, frito mallorquin (a fry-up of vegetables and meat or fish), and sopas mallorquinas (a soup dish containing thin slices of rustic bread). 

At the other end of the scale, there are five restaurants around the island – Es Fum, Es Molí d’en Bou, Es Racó d’es Teix, Jardín, and Zaranda – serving Michelin-starred cuisine for special occasion dining.

No dining experience on Mallorca is complete without one of the island’s many excellent wines. There are some 60 bodegas, producing around 300 different wines.

Tipping isn’t generally expected, but is appreciated. Ten percent would be generous. 


Nightlife on Mallorca

It's not necessary to be a holidaymaker to enjoy Mallorca’s renowned nightlife – the best of which is centred in Palma de Mallorca and, particularly, along the Paseo Marítimo. The city has numerous bars, pubs and clubs to satisfy every taste.

One can dance until 6am at Tito’s – an institution for more than 50 years, and in its heyday, a magnet for Hollywood A-listers such as Frank Sinatra, Kirk Douglas and Grace Kelly. It’s worth a visit to ride the glass lift to the top for views of the harbour full of glitzy boats. For a flutter, head for the smart Casino de Mallorca, in Palma’s Porto Pi Centre; it has a restaurant, café and cocktail bar, and is open daily until 5am.

Expats can party hard in the resorts of Magaluf (alongside British holidaymakers), and Can Pastilla and Arenal – two places with nightlife geared to German tastes. Magaluf is also the home of Mallorca Rocks (both hotel and music venue) – where British bands, singers and DJs perform live in the summer – and the renowned BCM nightclub.


Sports on Mallorca

Given the island’s almost year-round favourable climate, expats could be tempted to take up a new sport or outdoor activity – and there is plenty of choice on Mallorca. 

For golfers, there are no fewer than 23 courses on the island, and it’s easy to find an instructor if looking to improve one's game. Many towns and large villages have good municipal general sports facilities, and there are numerous private gyms offering membership, for those who prefer exercising indoors. Tennis clubs abound – Mallorca being the birthplace of Carlos Moyá and Rafael Nadal – and the related sport of paddle is also widely played.

For an adrenalin rush, there is mountaineering, hang-gliding or kitesurfing. Many beach resorts offer opportunities to learn or practise water sports, such as sailing, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, scuba diving and snorkelling.

Thousands of cycling enthusiasts take advantage of Mallorca’s varied terrain and relatively light traffic. Professional teams from all over Europe use Mallorca as a training ground. The island has an extensive network of cycle routes. The Palma Arena velodrome hosts indoor cycling events, and is also used as a venue for concerts and exhibitions.

If one is more of a spectator than a participant, one can support La Liga football team, Real Mallorca, at the ONO Stadium in Palma.

Trotting is horse racing Mallorca-style: the horse pulls a two-wheeled ‘chariot’ known as a sulky, on which the jockey sits, and must race at no more than a trot. The short but exciting races are held year-round at Palma and Manacor hippodromes.

The MCC – Mallorca Cricket Club – plays visiting teams (usually from the UK) on its own ground in Magaluf, and always welcomes new players and spectators.

Getting Around in Mallorca

Mallorca is large enough to offer a variety of landscapes, yet small enough to make getting around relatively easy. The island measures 110km from Cap de Formentor in the north to Sant Elm in the southwest, and is some 70km wide. 


Driving on Mallorca

In general, main roads on Mallorca are very good and – with the exception of Palma and its environs, and commuter times – traffic is often fairly light. Not surprisingly, the main road through the Tramuntana mountain range has many hairpin bends, so journeys take longer than one would expect for the distance; driving through the mountains calls for particular care in the summer months, when traffic is heavier and tourist coaches (which need extra space on the bends) use the route.

Palma de Mallorca has a motorway ring road known as the Via Cintura. From this road, motorways link Palma to the southwest (Ma 1), the north (Ma 13), and the southeast (Ma 19). The road from Palma to the second city, Manacor, in the east, is a very good dual carriageway (Ma 15). The speed limit on motorways is 120kph; main roads 100kph. Look for speed limit signs on smaller roads and in towns and villages – and be aware that speed cameras (fixed and mobile radar) are increasingly being used.

Potential hazards when driving on Mallorca:

  • Some Mallorcan drivers.

  • Inaccurate indicating – particularly at roundabouts.

  • Double parking in towns and villages.

  • Large pelotons of cyclists at certain times of the year.

  • Pedestrian crossings located just off roundabout exits and near corners. 

Legal issues to bear in mind when driving on Mallorca:

  • Seat belts must be worn by all vehicle occupants.

  • Drivers should always have their licence and insurance papers with them.

  • A fluorescent waistcoat must be carried inside the vehicle, to wear in the event of an accident or breakdown.

  • Drink/drive laws are strict. Random breath tests are carried out.

  • Guardia Civil officers often do spot checks for sobriety, papers, etc, and are often found waiting on roundabouts of main roads.

If parking on the street – anywhere on Mallorca – check whether a pre-purchased ticket is necessary. Palma has 16 municipal car parks, offering a total of more than 4,500 parking spaces.


Importing a car into Mallorca

If intending to bring a vehicle when moving to Mallorca, it’s recommended that one seeks advice from a local specialist company that can assist with this type of operation, as the bureaucratic process of obtaining new Spanish registration plates can be quite time-consuming and complicated – and there are costs involved. Residents driving foreign-plated vehicles from EU countries can do so for only 30 days before they must have their vehicles re-registered with Spanish plates. There can be large fines for those who don’t comply.


Public transport on Mallorca

Palma’s Intermodal Station in Plaza d’España is the hub for train, metro and bus services. The Intermodal Card can be purchased for use on any of those services and offers significant savings for regular public transport users. The station is located underground and can be accessed by escalator, lift or stairs.

Buses

Two main bus companies operate on Mallorca: EMT (the municipal transport company) covers routes across Palma and outlying areas; TIB buses and coaches (with their distinctive yellow and red livery) cover the whole of the island and, in Palma, use the Intermodal Station – where tickets can be bought from machines or the ticket office. Tickets for EMT buses can be purchased at in the city. Regular bus users buying a bono covering multiple journeys will save money. An integrated travel system means that bus services are found at most of the island’s railway stations, so that passengers can complete their journey to outlying destinations.

Trains

There are two train routes on Mallorca served by Transports de les Illes Balears (TIB): Palma-Sa Pobla and Palma-Manacor; both services use the same electrified line which passes through the large central town of Inca before reaching the junction station of Enllaç, where the line splits for Sa Pobla in the north, and Manacor in the east. Passengers must change trains here: beyond Enllaç, older diesel trains operate on the still non-electrified part of the line.

Trains run hourly between Palma and Sa Pobla, and Palma and Manacor, with a journey time of a little over an hour. The shared line means more frequent trains on the Palma-Inca stretch, with some express services during the morning rush hour. One disadvantage of the service is that the last trains from Palma are very early by Spanish standards. The latest, for Manacor, leaves at 10:15pm. Fares are reasonable.

“Orange Blossom Express”

Mallorca’s traditional narrow gauge rail service is operated by the private company Ferrocarril de Sóller from its own station in Plaza d’España, linking Palma and the mountain valley town of Sóller. Started in 1912 to transport citrus fruit from the Sóller valley to the port of Palma, it’s now one of the island’s most popular tourist attractions, as the 27.3km route features spectacular scenery and no fewer than 13 tunnels. There are five trains daily from Palma, and four from Sóller. A tram service links Sóller and its port. The line is usually closed for a part of winter for maintenance.

Metro

Mallorca’s metro services one route, between Palma and the university, stopping at seven other stations on the way. The full journey takes just 13 minutes, and frequency varies between every 15 minutes and hourly, depending on time and day; it’s operational on weekdays only. The service isn’t heavily used, so don’t expect the crush of the London Underground.

Taxis

Taxis on Mallorca are white, metered, must display the taxi licence and number and, on the passenger window, the fares. The latter depend on day, time, distance and luggage, with supplements for certain journeys. In Palma, there are plenty of taxi ranks and it’s possible to also hail an available taxi (displaying a green light) from the pavement. 

Other taxi companies operate elsewhere on the island. In the most popular expat municipality of Calvià, Radio Taxi Calvià’s cars are white with a blue stripe on the front doors.


Cycling on Mallorca 

Mallorca has an excellent network of cycling routes and a road network of some 1,250km, so it’s no surprise that the sport is popular on the island. There are around 170 cycling clubs on Mallorca and, during the cooler months, keen cyclists and top professional teams travel to Mallorca to take advantage of the favourable climate and bike-riding conditions. Large pelotons can often be seen taking up lane space on the roads.

In Palma, it’s easy to travel around on a bicycle, and there are plenty of official bike parks to secure the two-wheeled steed while not using it. 

BiciPalma 

Adults residing in Palma (with resident’s card) can apply to join the BiciPalma scheme, which entitles them to use any of the scheme’s blue, white and green bicycles, which can be found at (and returned to) any of the 28 bike stations in 15 different areas of Palma. To join the scheme there’s an annual fee and a tariff for each time the bike is used. 


Walking on Mallorca


Walking and hiking are popular activities on Mallorca, which boasts some excellent signposted routes in the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tramuntana mountain range. Palma is also an easy city to walk around, being compact and with several pedestrianized shopping areas.