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Moving to Spain

With a stunning location on the idyllic Iberian Peninsula in Western Europe, Spain not only attracts countless tourists every year, but also those keen to make it their permanent home. It’s a fascinating country rich with history, mesmerising architecture, deliciosa cuisine, scintillating fashion trends, music, sport and art. It’s therefore no surprise that Spain sees an annual influx of expats who want to experience the exciting sights, sounds and tastes of this pretty Iberian country for themselves.

Living in Spain as an expat

Spain is defined by its distinctive cultural core, with the individual characteristics of each of its 17 autonomous regions contributing to the country's unique cultural identity. That said, Spain shares important cultural roots with other Western European countries and, as such, most Westerners wouldn’t experience too much of a culture shock when relocating.
 
The country’s most widely spoken language is of course Spanish, but other local languages such as Catalan and Basque are also common. While a basic command of Spanish is certainly useful and will help foreigners integrate into Spanish society much quicker, English is also widely spoken.

Those who move to Spain not only have the picturesque Iberian Peninsula on their doorstep, but are also ideally placed to experience the rest of Western Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa. Getting around in Spain itself is also straightforward and painless, with good roads, extensive rail services and busy airports.

Cost of living in Spain

While Madrid's cost of living is rather expensive, the rest of Spain is surprisingly easy on the pocket. In recent years the employment environment has been improving steadily and, the effects of Covid-19 notwithstanding, Spain’s vibrant economy is ripe with opportunities. While salaries may generally be slightly lower than elsewhere in Europe, the lower cost of living means Spain is a great country to live and work in.

Expat families and children

More often than not, it’s the pull of an irresistible, unhurried lifestyle and the affordable beachside accommodation that trigger expats to finally take the plunge and start a new life on the gorgeous sun-soaked coasts of Spain. But more and more families are also relocating here for the good schools, safe neighbourhoods and wonderful array of family-friendly things to see and do.

Climate in Spain

It may be famed for its sunny coastline, and sprawling, olive-rich countryside, but Spain’s topography – like its climate – is actually rather diverse and includes Europe’s only desert in the barren interior of the Costa de Almería, as well as its southernmost ski resort in the Sierra Nevada. 

The Spanish are known for both their relaxed attitude to life and exuberant social personalities. Spain keeps its own time, and expats are encouraged to follow the lead of the locals and try to enjoy the slower pace of life. Those who arrive in Spain with an open mind and a sense of adventure are sure to have a vibrant and fulfilling experience in their new home.


Fast facts

Population: About 47 million

Capital city: Madrid 

Other major cities: Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza

Neighbouring countries: Spain shares borders with Portugal to the west and France to the north. To the south, across the Strait of Gibraltar is Morocco, while Algeria lies to the southeast.

Geography: Spain's terrain is varied, ranging from sandy beaches to flat desert-like areas and high mountain ranges. Most of the country's borders are occupied by sea, with the Pyrenees Mountains forming a natural frontier with the rest of Europe. It also occupies a number of islands in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean.

Political system: Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy

Major religions: Catholicism. Spain is a secular state that guarantees freedom of religion.

Main languages: Spanish. There are several regional co-official languages such as Catalan and Basque. English is widely spoken and understood.

Money: The Euro (EUR), which is divided into 100 cents, is the official currency. ATMs are widely available and usually accept foreign cards. A Spanish tax identification number is needed to open a local bank account. 

Tipping: Most locals do not tip more than small change. Ten percent is considered generous and would be appreciated, but is not necessary.

Time: GMT +1 (GMT+2 from the end of March to the end of October)

Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. Standard European two-pin plugs are used.

Internet domain: .es

International dialling code: +34. 

Emergency numbers: 112 (the European emergency number), 061 (health emergencies), 091 (police)

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right. Roads are usually in good condition. Drivers are required to flash their lights before overtaking another vehicle.

Weather in Spain

Expats often imagine the weather in Spain to be marked by magnificent sunny skies, Mediterranean temperatures and cool ocean breezes. Though this certainly happens to be the case in parts of the country, Spain has its fair share of geographic diversity and, as a result, the temperature in Spain varies considerably.

Most of the country does see hot, sunny summers, but winter weather changes depending on locale, and the central and Alpine areas can experience their fair share of frosty temperatures and snowfall. Expats should pay careful attention to what patterns are associated with each region.

The Spanish east coast typically enjoys mild winters, abundant sunshine and rainfall only off-season. Spain's southern region, Andalusia, is considerably hotter and many expats will find the peak summer months of July and August quite uncomfortable; hot winds from the nearby African deserts often make an appearance. The northern part of Spain experiences moderate summers and cold winters but is prone to a large amount of rainfall. The Spanish mountain region is subject to harsh winds, cold winters and mild summers.

Overall, though, the climate in Spain is enjoyable, and expats won't find too much to complain about in the way of weather. There are also lots of low-cost shopping opportunities for those who need to beef up their winter wardrobe or supplement the summer options in their closet.

 
 

Embassy contacts for Spain


Spanish Embassies

  • Spanish Embassy, Washington, United States: +1 202 452 0100

  • Spanish Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7235 5555

  • Spanish Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 747 2252

  • Spanish Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6273 3555

  • Spanish Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 460 0123

  • Spanish Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 269 1640

  • Spanish Consulate, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 04 802 5665


Foreign Embassies in Spain

  • United States Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 587 2200

  • British Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 714 6400

  • Canadian Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 382 8400

  • Australian Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 353 6600

  • South African Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 436 3780

  • Irish Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 436 4093

  • New Zealand Embassy, Madrid: +34 91 523 0226

Public Holidays in Spain

 

2021

2022

New Year’s Day

1 January

1 January

Epiphany

6 January

6 January

Good Friday

2 April

15 April

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Feast of the Assumption

15 August

15 August

National Holiday of Spain

12 October

12 October

All Saints' Day

1 November

1 November

Day of Spanish Constitution

6 December

6 December

Immaculate Conception

8 December

8 December

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

Working in Spain

Finding work in Spain can be very difficult as an expat, and those already working in Spain would do well to hold onto their jobs.

Although unemployment in Spain has improved steadily over recent years, it's still among the highest in the European Union (EU). The national government has even created financial incentives to encourage jobless foreigners already in the country to return home.

The country’s strict policies protecting workers' rights also means that many stay in their positions long-term and turnover rates remain low – creating a limited amount of openings. This can certainly work to an expat’s advantage once they secure viable employment. 

Non-EU citizens need a work permit to be legally employed in Spain, while EU citizens and EEA citizens do not need a work permit.


Finding a job in Spain

Those lucky enough to secure employment prior to arrival will thankfully avoid the crunch of the job hunt, but many who arrive in Spain without a job offer will quickly discover that finding work can be more difficult than they anticipated.

The job prospect horizon will broaden tremendously for those with a good command of the Spanish language. If an expat happens to know German, there are even more opportunities to be filled – especially with real-estate agencies, travel companies and tour operators.

Otherwise, English-speaking expats should strongly consider taking a course in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) so they can take advantage of the demand for teachers in private enterprises and language schools.


Job market in Spain

Overall, the tourism and construction sectors are Spain’s most important industries and are the best areas to look for employment.

The country has also historically attracted large interest from entrepreneurs looking to set up their own businesses. Anyone planning to migrate to Spain to do so should, however, hire a local gestor to help them negotiate the sticky bureaucracy spun from Spain’s web of rules and regulations, particularly in Catalonia.

Qualifications obtained in Europe and the UK are widely recognised. Salaries are generally less than in the UK and northern Europe, but the standard of living is higher and the cost of living is lower. Plus, typical Spanish working hours include a two-hour break for lunch in the afternoon, although the traditional siesta is slowly being done away with in many Spanish cities in favour of sociable working hours.


Work culture in Spain

Spain's business culture is strongly rooted in tradition, and some business practices may seem old-fashioned to expats. Nevertheless, once they adjust, expats should find it relatively easy and pleasant to do business in Spain.

Hierarchy is paramount to business in the country. Spanish managers generally have the authority to make important decisions without consulting their employees. That said, the business culture is evolving, and those of a younger generation may uphold slightly different ideals and subscribe to more egalitarian practices.

Making contacts and networking in Barcelona is also important. The power of connections is not to be underestimated and is a principle ingrained in the Spanish working world. Expats should take advantage of any attempt to interact with decision makers and should make an effort to attend job fairs and group events.

It is also important for foreigners to learn at least some Spanish, or Catalan if planning to work in Catalonia. International business may be conducted in English, but other transactions will most likely be in Spanish.


Being self-employed in Spain

Given the poor state of the economy and lack of decent job opportunities, and even more so after Covid-19, many expats have had to turn to self-employment to work in Spain – many finding success in the IT sector or in improvements and repairs.

The actual process of working as a self-employed person in Spain (known as an autonómo) is quite straightforward, but expats interested in doing so will need a financial consultant called an asesor to help them get established, and handle their income tax returns and IVA (the Spanish equivalent of value-added tax). 

Anyone from another EU country can come to Spain and start work without any special requirements, but this is not the case for non-EU nationals (which includes UK citizens after Brexit), who will need a Cuenta Propia permit to legally do this kind of work. 

Being self-employed also legally requires contributions to the health and pension system, the cost of which increases with age. There is no sliding scale of contributions whereby someone pays more as they earn more. This is a significant hurdle for someone who aims to set up a business but does not have much money behind them.

Earnings tend to be lower in Spain than elsewhere in Europe, and monthly costs are high from the get-go. Expats will also need to take into account that their asesor will charge them for their three-monthly IVA returns and a yearly tax return. Expats planning on raking in the cash as a self-employed worker should therefore think twice, since it will cost several thousand euros a year just to operate legally.

Expats can also choose to increase their monthly contribution payments to provide for unemployment and illness benefits.

Doing Business in Spain

Expats and businesspeople moving to Spain will find that business here – much like Spanish culture as a whole – is entrenched in tradition. It also may take time and patience to establish a firm foothold in the Spanish business environment.

Nevertheless, Spain remains a relatively easy place in which to do business, as demonstrated in its ranking of 30 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020. Factors for which Spain ranked well include trading across borders (1st), resolving insolvency (18th) and enforcing contracts (26th).


Fact facts

Business hours

Business hours are highly variable. Generally, offices open at 9am and close mid-evening, with two hours set aside for lunch in the early afternoon. This is slowly changing though, as the traditional siesta is becoming a thing of the past.

Business language

Spanish is the main language of business, although some multinationals in the main cities may do business in both English and Spanish. 

Business dress

Business attire is usually formal, conservative and of high quality. Dark or linen suits with white shirts and ties for men, and modest dresses and tailored suits (including pantsuits) for ladies.

Gifts

Gifts aren't expected but are appropriate after successful negotiations and at Christmas time. The recipient of a gift generally opens it in front of the giver. Gifts should be of high quality.

It is wise to check the gift-giving policy of a company as some corporations in Spain have particular protocols or forbid their employees from accepting gifts. 

Gender equality

Although men and women share equal rights, Spain is traditionally a male-dominated society. Only recently have women started to assume mid to senior-level management positions in anything but family businesses.


Business culture in Spain

Spain's business culture is strongly rooted in tradition, and some business practices may seem old fashioned to expats. Nevertheless, once they adjust to this, expats should find it relatively easy and pleasant to do business in Spain.

Greetings

While greeting someone with a kiss on each cheek is common in Spain, it may be best for expats to allow their Spanish counterparts to initiate this in the business setting, since some people may prefer to shake hands. It's important to note that, should an expat be greeting anybody in the traditional Spanish way, the cheeks of the other person are usually not directly kissed. Rather, people tend to touch cheeks and make a kissing sound. It is generally accepted that kisses take place on the right cheek first, and then the left.

When speaking Spanish in business circles, it's common to use the formal form 'usted' when addressing a superior. 

Business structure

Hierarchy is paramount to business in Spain. Spanish managers are autocrats of a sort, having the authority to make important decisions without consulting their employees or receiving input from their colleagues.

Those in mid- and lower-level positions should show the utmost respect for their seniors, and count on remaining quite separate from their superiors.

Expats coming from countries where personal initiative is expected and rewarded shouldn't put an end to this behaviour, but should nonetheless be wary of being perceived as undermining authority.

Control is a central part of the Spanish business ethos. Locals prefer to avoid uncertainty, even at the cost of longer periods of deliberation and less frequent decision-making.

Keep in mind, however, that Spain's business culture is slowly evolving. Those of a younger generation may uphold slightly different ideals and subscribe to more egalitarian practices.

Making an impression

Strong emphasis is placed on personal pride, social status and character attributes. In many cases, these factors carry as much weight as an individual's technical excellence and professional experience. A successful businessperson will not only be well-dressed, dignified and honourable but will also be good company and entertaining.

Meetings

Face-to-face meetings in Spain form the foundation of business relationships. As such, expats should anticipate engaging on this level with their clients, rather than in writing or by telephone. Keep these interactions personal, but formal.

Attitude to foreigners

With increased unemployment and competition for jobs and business, there has been a certain amount of resentment towards employed foreigners from certain sections of Spanish society. That said, the majority of Spaniards aren't xenophobic and are courteous in their interactions with foreigners. 

Expats are far more likely to get a positive reception if they make an effort to speak at least some Spanish and display an openness to the Spanish way of doing things.


Dos and don'ts of business in Spain

  • Have business cards printed, with one side in English and one side in Spanish. Present cards Spanish side up, along with a handshake, eye contact and a warm greeting.

  • Don't fall for the mañana ('tomorrow') stereotype. While Southern Spain may canter at a calmer pace, in Northern Spain deadlines are adhered to and punctuality is expected.

  • Don't expect to start negotiating at the beginning of a meeting. The Spanish like to establish a formal, but personal, environment before engaging in business transactions. Similarly, when dining with associates, only speak business if invited to do so or if it has been established that the purpose of the meal is to discuss work.

  • Try and schedule appointments for mid-morning. Business hours vary in Spain and this is the time slot when people are most likely to be available.

  • Don't be surprised if you find your personal space compromised. Spaniards like to stand close, and moving away can be taken as offensive.

Visas for Spain

Expats will need to have the appropriate visa for Spain prior to their arrival. As Spain is a Schengen state, a large number of foreign citizens don’t need a visa for short-term visits or business trips.


Visit and business visas for Spain

Citizens of the European Union (EU), the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and nationals belonging to one of the countries on the Spanish government's designated travel list are afforded visa-free entry and the right to a 90-day stay. They would simply need a passport that is valid for three months from the final date of travel; neither a visit visa nor a business visa is required.

This list includes Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the US, but does not include India or South Africa, among others. Citizens of countries not appearing on the list must apply for a Schengen Visa to gain entry into Spain for tourist or business purposes.


Applying for a Schengen Visa for Spain

Those who secure a Schengen visa can travel in Spain for up to 90 days within a six-month period, from the date of entry.

Those who wish to apply for a Schengen visa will need to gather the required documents, complete a visa application form and submit their paperwork to the Spanish consulate or embassy in their home country before travelling. Processing times can vary, so expats should be sure to submit their application in due time before their departure date.

If applying for a Schengen visa to travel to Spain for business purposes, it is necessary to include a letter of invitation from the Spanish business party and a letter from the applicant's employer stating their duties in Spain. If attending a conference, proof of registration and accommodation is required.

In some cases, applicants may be asked to provide additional documents at the discretion of the Spanish embassy or consulate.

Work Permits for Spain

In order to live and work in the country, expats must obtain a residence and work permit for Spain – notoriously elusive paperwork that requires a number of documents, depending on an individual’s purpose in the country. Thankfully, work and residence are linked in the Spanish immigration system.

European Union nationals do not require work or residence permits to live and work in Spain, although anyone who wishes to stay more than three months must register as a resident.

Non-EU nationals, including Brits, on the other hand, face a complicated process as in most cases it is necessary to have a contract of employment before applying for a work permit.


Work permits for Spain

There are two types of work permits in Spain, the Cuenta Ajena and the Cuenta Propia.

The Cuenta Ajena is given to those who have a specific contract with a specific company. The Cuenta Propia, also known as an autónomo, is for those who are self-employed and would like more freedom to move between different companies and positions within the working world.

It is generally easier to obtain a Cuenta Ajena, and it is often recommended that expats first secure this type of permit and apply for a Cuenta Propia after the fact.

That said, many positions that are popular with expatriates, specifically careers in the education and language sectors, will require that the person has a Cuenta Propia permit.

In addition to the list of documents required for both permits, Cuenta Propia certification requires that the applicant first registers with the Haçienda (Spanish revenue service) and Seguridad Social (Spanish social security).


Work and residence permits for non-EU nationals in Spain

For non-EU nationals, starting the work permit application process largely falls on the shoulders of the employer. The work residence visa that will be needed to enter Spain and the collection of the work permit is, however, usually the applicant’s own responsibility.

There are several steps non-EU expats will have to follow in order to legally live and work in Spain. UK nationals, since Brexit, are included in these requirements.

Securing a job

Whether someone is lucky enough to have secured a job from abroad or got an offer while travelling in Spain and flew back home to apply for a permit, expats will need an employment contract to obtain the required application forms for a work permit. The only exception is the Cuenta Propia.

Once a job has been secured and a contract has been negotiated, the employer will request certain documents from the prospective employee and will submit a work-permit application to the Spanish Ministry of Labour (Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales) on their behalf.

Applying for work and residence visa

After the work permit is approved by the Ministry of Labour, the employer will send the expat a notification of approval, which should have an official stamp.

Next, the applicant needs to collect and submit all the documents required to apply for a work and residence visa at their closest Spanish embassy.

Expats should keep in mind that many of these documents will need to be translated into Spanish and certified. An applicant only has one month to apply for the visa after their permit has been officially approved. It's therefore best to begin gathering the necessary documents well in advance.

Departing for Spain

If the work and residence visa is granted, the applicant will have one month to retrieve it after the official date of approval and notification. They must then make arrangements to enter Spain within the timeline designated by the visa. Expats are usually granted a three-month entry window.

Applying for a work and residence permit

Once an expat has entered Spain with their visa, they can pick up their work and residence permit card, a simple bureaucratic process that merely requires an application form and the applicant’s passport. The card must be applied for within 30 days of entry at either the Foreign Nationals Office (Oficina de Extranjeros) or at a police headquarters. 


Non-working residence permits for Spain

Those moving to Spain as a dependant or non-worker only need to apply for a residence permit, and not a work and residence permit. This permit is largely linked to the validity of the work permit obtained by the applicant’s working partner.

Residence permits can be applied for at local police stations or a Foreigner’s Office within Spain, or at a Spanish consulate outside of the country. The time period required for completion can be anywhere from days to months depending on the locale – smaller towns often take longer.

*Visa and work permit regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Cost of Living in Spain

Spain provides a seductively fine quality of life. The country is relatively large and varies enormously – culturally, climatically and economically – from region to region. But common to most of Spain is a welcoming society, decent infrastructure and the opportunity for a decent cost of living.

It's true that living expenses in Spain have increased over the years, while the average Spanish salary hasn't entirely kept pace. However, foreigners who are either retired or earning a decent salary will likely be able to afford a high quality of life. Plus, expats living on a budget will constantly find ways to save.

The country's capital, Madrid, is the priciest Spanish city to live in. It was ranked as the 87th most expensive expat city out of 209 cities in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey for 2020, while Barcelona was ranked 102nd. Still, even Spain’s largest urban centres are significantly less expensive than popular European destinations such as Geneva, Berlin and Milan.


Cost of accommodation in Spain

Generally speaking, the closer a property is to the coast or city centre, the more it'll cost. This is particularly true of the Mediterranean coastline. This trend is due to a passion for the beaches of Spain, a love which is shared by the Spanish and foreigners alike. 

Short-term summer rentals for any coastal property can be among some of the most expensive real estate in Spain, while long-term leases are usually cheaper.

Needless to say, the sky is the limit for high-quality accommodation in prestigious locations. That said, there are also some exceptional bargains to be found.


Cost of transport in Spain

Public transport in Spain is moderately priced with buses providing an excellent, low-cost way of travelling around the country. The rail network also provides good value for money. Thanks to the high-speed AVE network, although more expensive than normal trains, travel between different parts of the country can be undertaken very quickly.

While getting a taxi can be quite costly, expats can take advantage of ride-sharing and carpool apps to find the best route and rate to suit them.


Cost of schools in Spain

Expats can send their children to state schools in Spain at no cost, as long as they have registered for their Certificado de Empadronamiento (Certificate of Residence) at their local town hall.

Private schooling is available with fees varying greatly depending on the school concerned, its location and the language and curriculum it teaches. An English-language private school in the centre of Madrid will, for example, be more expensive than a Spanish-language private school in the provinces. 

Many expats choose to send their children to international schools in Madrid or other urban centres. This allows students to continue studying the curriculum of their home country and removes the challenges presented by the language barrier. Some international schools in Spain charge exorbitant fees, so expats planning on pursuing this option should ensure their budget can accommodate this.


Cost of food and clothing in Spain

The cost of supermarket food in Spain equates with prices found in a country such as the United Kingdom and is surprisingly expensive in comparison to the wage levels of the Spanish themselves. The inverse is true when eating out, a pursuit which can be of tremendous value, particularly when expats take advantage of restaurants which offer an economical menú del día.

Similarly, alcoholic drinks are fairly cheap, which isn't too surprising given the vast quantities of wine produced by Spain.

Clothing is, however, relatively expensive. That said, there are certainly more than a few options as well as frequent sales in which expats can find reasonably priced, stylish clothes.


Cost of living in Spain chart

Prices may vary across Spain, depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Madrid in March 2021.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

EUR 1,000

One-bedroom apartment outside city centre

EUR 700

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

EUR 1,700

Three-bedroom apartment outside city centre

EUR 1,200

Shopping

Dozen eggs

EUR 2

Milk (1 litre)

EUR 0.80

Rice (1 kg)

EUR 1.10

Loaf of white bread

EUR 1

Chicken breasts (1kg)

EUR 6.30

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

EUR 5.10

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

EUR 8

Coca-Cola (330ml)

EUR 1.90

Cappuccino 

EUR 1.90

Bottle of beer (local)

EUR 3

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two

EUR 50

Utilities

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

EUR 0.20

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

EUR 42

Basic monthly utilities (includes electricity, water, refuse)

EUR 130

Transport

Taxi rate/km

EUR 1.10

Bus fare in the city centre 

EUR 1.50

Petrol/gasoline

EUR 1.30

Culture Shock in Spain

While expats might not experience as much culture shock in Spain as other locations, they are still likely to find a lot that takes getting used to.


Time in Spain

Although it's slowly dying out, many places in the Iberian Peninsula do still observe the siesta, a long break between 2pm and 5pm during which many people take a nap or return home for a long lunch. Expats working in larger cities such as Madrid and Barcelona will, however, find that companies no longer accept it. Spanish businesspeople often cannot afford to take this time out of their days, and many workers insist that a shorter lunch gives them more free time in the evening. For restaurants and other members of the service industry, the siesta, if taken, might run at a different time.

On a similar note, new arrivals soon realise that many Spaniards work on their own time, and get irritated if somebody tries to hurry them. For example, when asking for a bill in a restaurant in Spain, expect to wait for it. This does not necessarily mean the person is rude, they just see and do things differently.


Language barrier in Spain

Many expats assume that learning Spanish is not necessary because, since Spain is a Western European country, everybody will speak English. This is not only an attitude that Spanish people often despise, it is also an outright fallacy. Although much of the population does have some knowledge of English, levels of proficiency vary greatly. The Spanish can be very unforgiving towards foreigners who make no effort to even begin to communicate in the national language.

It is also important to recognise that Catalan is largely spoken in the northeastern region of Catalonia, which claims Barcelona as its capital. A French-influenced variation of Spanish that derives from Latin, it has co-official status in the autonomous community.

One of the best ways to ease the degree of culture shock expats will experience after they arrive is to learn Spanish, and it is highly recommended that they master at least a few basic phrases before they move.

Politeness in Spain often does not rely on 'please' and 'thank you' in the way that it does in English. New arrivals should instead expect to be spoken to with short and sharp requests for either action or information. 


Women in Spain

Women may have a difficult time adjusting to Spanish culture, especially if they come from places where cat-calling is uncommon. Rural Spain, especially, still holds onto some of its patriarchal thinking – staring and commenting on passing women is something of a national pastime for many groups of men. 

While times are changing, it’s not for nothing that the word 'machismo' originated in the Spanish-speaking world. That said, there are few legal, educational or cultural impediments to female advancement in the workplace and the law protects female equality.


Religion in Spain

Spain is a Catholic country and, while the church is not state-backed, the evidence of its reach can be seen everywhere. In many towns, the largest building is the church, and the cathedrals and shrines of Spain are not to be missed when sightseeing. As much as 70 percent of the population identifies as part of the Catholic Church, and around 20 percent are regular churchgoers.

Despite the country's religious background, a large degree of social change has come about since 2004; the legalisation of same-sex marriage and abortion being two examples.


Bureaucracy in Spain

The structure of the Spanish government means that a high degree of autonomy is given to each of its 17 political regions. This means that both laws and culture can vary extensively from one part of Spain to another and, as a result, the bureaucracy in Spain is particularly painful.

Similarly, in business, the Spanish people adopt a tedious approach to contract negotiation. The Spanish will take a lot of time arranging any deal, running over each section until it is clear that both sides understand what is required of them and, once signed, it is expected that details are carried out to the letter.

Accommodation in Spain

Expats moving to Spain will discover that finding good quality, reasonably priced accommodation is relatively easy. Of course, prices vary enormously depending on where one wants to live, with the best parts of major cities still being expensive. Covid-19 had quite a dramatic effect on the housing market and prices plummeted considerably, which is good news for house-hunting expats.


Types of accommodation in Spain

Expats will find that there is a wide range of accommodation available in Spain. Those wishing to rent in larger cities such as Barcelona, Madrid or Seville will find that their options are limited to furnished or unfurnished apartments in the downtown areas, but there are plenty of free-standing houses and villas on the city outskirts and in the more rural areas.

While it is easy to find both furnished and unfurnished apartments, expats should keep in mind that most free-standing houses and villas come unfurnished. 


Finding accommodation in Spain

One of the first things an expat should do when looking for accommodation is to go online or travel to the desired Spanish city and identify the area that appeals to them most. After this, house-hunters can start scouring online listings, local newspapers and ask around on local forums. 

Although there are a few English websites and publications that are aimed at the expat community, most are in Spanish so expats should either learn the language or employ a translator or agent.


Renting property in Spain

Most expats will opt for renting property in Spain, at least at first.

The rule of thumb is that the closer to the city centre one lives, the higher the rent becomes. It’s therefore strongly advised that expats look to secure some kind of accommodation stipend in their employment contracts. It is not uncommon for housing costs to account for a significant percentage of someone's monthly expenses if their salary is based on Spanish levels of pay.

Making an application

Having found a suitable place in a suitable neighbourhood, expats will need to inform the landlord of their interest as soon as possible seeing as there are likely to be many interested parties.

It’s also prudent to have proof of bank accounts, and references and testimonials from current and former employers and former landlords, as these will improve the expat’s chances of securing the lease.

Deposits and leases

Landlords will generally require a security deposit of between one and six months’ rent.

After the terms have been settled with the landlord, the new tenant will sign a lease agreement or Contrato de Arrendamiento. The contracts are often in Spanish, which is why an estate agent or at least a local translator is useful. If expats decide to make use of an agent they should note that, on top of the first month's rent and the security deposit, they will also have to pay the agent's fee. This is generally the equivalent of one month's rent. Community fees, paid for the upkeep of communal areas and services, are generally included in the monthly rental amount. 

Utilities

Utilities are usually not included in Spanish leases, and the tenant will be accountable for electricity, water, gas, internet cable and so forth. Fortunately, utilities in Spain are quite cheap. 


Factors to consider when house hunting in Spain

The standard of accommodation in Spain is generally good, although apartments can sometimes be on the compact side. This is more often true of newer apartments than older ones. Older apartments can be surprisingly large, with some even having an outside terrace.

While shipping to Spain is a viable option, expats won't have much difficulty buying furniture to suit their new home after arriving in the country. Most Spanish cities boast a large range of second-hand and antique stores, while modern superstores such as IKEA can also be found.

Home security will not be a critical issue for expats relocating to Spain. Although petty theft and minor break-ins do occur in some neighbourhoods, these crimes are nearly always opportunistic and rarely violent.

Healthcare in Spain

The healthcare system in Spain is generally of a high standard and combines both private and public facilities. Residents in possession of a Spanish social security number and the necessary documentation are entitled to receive free or low-cost healthcare.

Each of the country’s 17 regions takes individual responsibility for the implementation and execution of medical services within its jurisdiction, so expats may find healthcare provision differs slightly depending on their location.


Public healthcare in Spain

Public hospitals provide much of the primary healthcare and emergency services that Spanish residents require. Staff are generally efficient and well educated, and hospitals often employ personnel who speak English or offer the services of interpreters. 

Public hospitals in Spain are well equipped. The downside is that the public sector has been known to suffer from staff shortages, and the waiting periods to see a specialist or have a procedure done can, in some cases, take months.

To be able to use the public healthcare system (Sistema Nacional de Salud) expats would first need to get a social security card at the Social Security Treasury Office (Tesorería de la Seguridad Social). It is then necessary to obtain a medical card at their local clinic, which will give them the right to use the services of the nationwide public health network.

Expats should note that a social security number can only be obtained if they have registered on the Empadronamiento, the municipal register. 

Non-residents, unfortunately, do not qualify to receive universal healthcare, but there is a pay-in scheme for those who aren’t otherwise able to access state healthcare, called the Convenio Especial. 

EU citizens can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access state healthcare here during a short-term visit. UK citizens can make use of their Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which replaced the EHIC for UK citizens post-Brexit.


Private healthcare in Spain

Some expats prefer private healthcare in Spain in order to have access to more options for treatment and physicians, and to avoid the queues and waiting times of the public health system.

There are hundreds of private clinics and hospitals across the country, giving the Spanish private healthcare system a greater degree of accessibility.

While single consultations within the private system may be affordable for most expats, the cost of a medical complication or an emergency can quickly escalate. It is recommended that expats who plan to regularly utilise private care take out health insurance.


Health insurance in Spain

While the public health service sometimes only covers 75 percent of the cost of treatment, private companies generally pick up the full amount if the account holder pays their monthly premiums.

Most employers offer private health insurance for foreign assignees, so expats moving to Spain for professional reasons should check their contract before arranging their own coverage. Private insurance providers operate in different ways: some reimburse the amount spent on healthcare, while others pay medical bills directly.

Expats should note that most Spanish health insurance providers offer plans that best suit the local market, and it follows that contracting an international service provider or one that covers all of Europe might be beneficial.

Pensioners moving to Spain should take special care to ensure that they can obtain optimal treatment for the best price.


Medicines and pharmacies in Spain

Expats will not struggle to find a pharmacy in Spain, and can easily recognise them by a large green neon cross outside. Pharmacies are open daily, including on weekends, and some are open 24/7. 

Just about all medicines have to be purchased at a pharmacy. It is not possible to buy any medication at a supermarket in Spain. Medicines are quite affordable thanks to strict price restrictions.


Emergency services in Spain

There are both state-run and private ambulance services in Spain. Both offer efficient and timely. Expats can dial 112 in the case of any emergency. This is a general emergency number. Operators are usually able to speak English and will dispatch the relevant emergency services.

  • Medical emergency number: 061

  • General emergency number: 112

Education and Schools in Spain

A primary concern for expat families relocating to Spain with children is finding a good school. Options vary between public, private, international and semi-private schools. These institutions range from Catholic to secular, co-educational to single-gendered.

Parents will need to carefully evaluate a number of factors before making their choice – considering their child’s age, the anticipated length of their stay in Spain, their budget, the primary teaching language they would prefer and the curriculum that would best suit their child.

Each situation is different and worth careful consideration but, generally, expats who only plan on staying for a short time or those with older children send them to an international school in Spain.

Education is compulsory in Spain for children between the ages of six and 16, and the school year typically extends from mid-September to the end of June.


Public schools in Spain

The standard of the state education system is supposed to be as high as that of the private system, and while these schools are free for children to attend, parents do have to pay for books and for fees incurred by extra-curricular activities. It is free for expats to send their children to state schools in Spain, as long as they have registered on the municipal register, or Empadronamiento, at their local town hall.

Children usually attend the state school in closest proximity to their homes until secondary school, when the principle of catchment zones takes effect.

The primary teaching language of state schools in Spain is generally Spanish, or sometimes the language of the region, such as Catalan in Barcelona. Do not assume that teachers in the state system will speak English, as many do not and those that do will have varying levels of proficiency.

State schools in Spain tend to be best for expats with very young children who can easily overcome the language barrier and other challenges, and for expats who plan to live in Spain long term.


Semi-private schools in Spain

Semi-private schools are former private schools subsidised by the Spanish government. Fees are low, and in some cases, non-existent.

These schools are a good option for parents who would prefer smaller class sizes for their children, but the standard of each is dependent on its location The rule of thumb seems to be that if the school is located in a prosperous area then it is more likely to meet expat standards. Some of these types of schools admit children from as young as one year old.

The primary teaching language in these schools will also be Spanish or the regional language, and the curriculum will be the Spanish state curriculum.


Private schools in Spain

Private schools in Spain are numerous, some of which have rather steep annual tuition fees. These schools are assumed to have smaller class sizes, higher quality facilities and a greater array of extra-curricular activities.

Unless the private school is a bilingual school or an international school, the primary teaching language will be Spanish or the co-official language of the region.

Demand can be high for the more prestigious private schools in Spain, and in order to enrol their children in one of these schools expats will have to move fast and negotiate well.

Education costs vary considerably, and it is best to consult with the school directly regarding tuition and curriculum.  


International schools in Spain

International schools in Spain are private schools that teach a foreign curriculum, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the curriculum of another country such as the United States or United Kingdom. Short-term expats usually favour these schools because they allow their children to continue learning in the curriculum of their home country and in a language they are familiar with.

Most urban centres in Spain have a healthy assortment of international schools. Keep in mind that these institutions can often be on the outskirts of a city, making for long commutes. Expats should make sure their wages can cover the high annual fees required or that it is covered as part of their employment contract.

Admission procedures vary from one school to the next, so it is best to correspond with each school individually. It is recommended that expats bring their child’s previous school year report card and their immunisation records to any interviews.


Special-needs education in Spain

Expat parents with disabled children can rest assured that Spanish public and semi-private schools are required – and are afforded grants – to provide inclusive education to children with special needs as far as possible. For children with disabilities too severe to accommodate in mainstream schools, a range of special-needs schools are available throughout Spain and especially in the major cities.

Disabled or differently abled children may also qualify for a government grant to assist with specialist treatments, tutoring or tuition for special schools.  


Tutoring in Spain

Tutoring is a useful tool for children and tutors are frequently employed by expat parents in Spain, either to learn Spanish, assist in preparation for important exams or to help with problem subjects. There are a variety of private tutoring companies in Spain that can accommodate kids at a facility, at home or online. Reputable companies include Preply and Apprentus.

Transport and Driving in Spain

One of the biggest countries in Europe, the system of transport in Spain is comprehensive enough to give expats a variety of options for getting around. 

Functioning as a gateway between Europe, Africa and the Americas, it has an extensive network of ports, airports, roads and rail networks to facilitate the demands of its position. 

While it is possible to get by without a car, many expats prefer to own one in Spain for the freedom if affords.


Public transport in Spain

Public transportation in Spain is well organised and comprehensive, enabling residents to travel efficiently both within and between cities. 

The national railway network is one of the most popular ways for travelling between different regions, although many expats fly or make use of the bus system. Expats should find getting around in Spain straightforward and relatively stress-free.

Trains

The Spanish railway network is mostly operated by La Red de los Ferrocarriles Españoles (RENFE) and, especially in larger cities, is often integrated with regional and urban networks.

The high-speed train network in Spain is known as AVE and travels between its largest cities. Centred in Madrid, it fans out to Barcelona, Seville, Cordoba and Zaragoza, and allows for travel to France. 

While not the cheapest way of travelling in Spain, with speeds of up to 192 miles per hour (310km/h), it is one of the fastest and most convenient ways of getting around.

There are also regional train services in certain parts of Spain, such as the Ferrocarrils Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC), which operates in northeastern Spain.

Several cities have light-rail or subway systems, while the metro system in Madrid is said to be one of the best in the world. 

Tram networks also operate in several Spanish cities, including Barcelona, Zaragoza and Seville. 

Buses

There are extensive public bus networks in Spain’s larger urban areas, as well as a variety of options for inter-city travel. 

Bus tickets can be bought online from Movelia. The site allows users to buy tickets from more than 20 transport companies that operate on countless routes in the country.


Taxis in Spain

Taxis in Spain are widely available, especially in the cities. While they are generally reasonably priced and drivers deliver a good level of service, non-Spanish speakers might be mistaken for tourists and overcharged. It is always a good idea for expats to have an idea of where they are going, ensure that their driver has switched on the meter, or agree on a price upfront. 

Ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft eliminate a lot of the above-mentioned hassle, and although restricted in Spain in the past, these are now available again.


Driving in Spain

Expats may take a while to get accustomed to dealing with local driving behaviour in Spain. There are also several laws that may be different from what expats might be used to. Cars in Spain drive on the right-hand side of the road. Expat drivers should also note that people are required to flash their vehicle’s lights before overtaking the car in front of them. 

Non-Spanish speaking expats may have a little trouble getting around in Spain, given that signs are usually in Spanish, Catalan or Basque, depending on the region. 

Parking in larger cities can often be a frustrating experience owing to high congestion and limited spaces. 


Cycling in Spain

Some cities in Spain are more cycle-friendly than others. Seville and Barcelona, especially, are known for having good infrastructure such as dedicated cycling lanes, bike hire and storage facilities. Cyclists are still encouraged to be cautious.

Travelling around Spain by bicycle is a popular holiday activity, especially in the summer months. Expats should, however, be prepared for steep gradients in some of the country’s mountainous regions.


Domestic flights in Spain

The three busiest airports in Spain by some distance are situated in Madrid, Barcelona and Mallorca, altogether handling around 100 million passengers a year. 

But there are dozens of airports across the country, making it easy for expats to travel throughout the Spanish mainland.

Expats wanting to travel through Spain quickly at a lower price than high-speed rail can compare the domestic flight prices of different carriers. The largest airlines in Spain include Iberia, Air Europa and Vueling, in addition to several others.

Buying a Car in Spain

For many expats, the very idea of buying a car in Spain might seem daunting. Car salespeople have a bad reputation and caution is required when purchasing a vehicle in Spain, just like everywhere else. The language barrier and bureaucratic timetables can create additional problems.

Smaller car models are advisable since parking spaces are stingy in size and on-street parking is often very difficult to find.

The process of buying a car in Spain can be trying, but with proper preparation for the purchase, there is no reason for it not to run smoothly.


Necessary fundamentals for buying a car in Spain

  • A folder for paperwork

  • Current and up to date documentation

  • Help from a good friend, a helpful Spaniard or a gestor

When beginning the purchasing process at least one of the following will be necessary (though it’s best to have as many as possible, with photocopies). Expats should note that they will not need to have a driver´s license, car insurance or a residence permit in order to buy a car in Spain.

  • Residence Permit (NIE) or passport

  • House deeds or a rental contract for a minimum of one year (Escrituras)

  • Proof of residence (Certificado de Empadronamiento), available free or for a few cents from the Town Hall. It should not be older than three months. 

  • If financing the car through a dealer an expat will also need to provide their three last payslips (tres nóminas), or some other proof of income, such as a copy of a work contract.


Buying a car in Spain from a private seller

Buying a second-hand car from a private seller is certainly possible for expats in Spain, and as there is normally more leeway to negotiate with these individuals it can be a great way to bag a bargain. That said, keep in mind that private purchases will get no guarantee or warranty on the car. 

Buying a car from a private seller involves entering into a joint legal relationship with the seller and handling all the paperwork yourselves.

A purchase agreement (contratode compraventa) must be drawn up, and the transfer of ownership must be made at the vehicle registration desk of the Traffic Department (Jefatura de Tráfico) where a transfer document (Solicitud de Transmisión de Vehículos) needs to be filled in and signed. Make sure that the date and time of the transfer appear on the Contrato so that any traffic fines the seller has left unpaid are not passed on to the buyer. 

Also, note that it is accepted practice to take the proposed car for a thorough check over at a mechanic; expats should look out for a toda prueba in the advert. 

To start the car-hunting process expats are advised to check local newsagent´s (quiosco) for specialised car magazines, such as AutopistaCoche ActualCar and Driver and Autofácil or use their online versions. Other digital sources include Autoscout24.com and Coches.net.

If external finance is needed for the car, expats will have to apply for a loan from the bank in person. Bank rates can be better than dealers’ rates, but the banks also have stricter criteria for eligibility. If external finance is not needed, payment will have to be made with a bank cheque, since personal cheques are barely used and not guaranteed.

Hiring a gestor

Expats who are not yet fluent in Spanish but live in an area with a large expat community will find that there are plenty of people happy to help with the purchasing process and to answer questions.

However, in areas with fewer expats, or for expats who don't have the time to queue in lines and devote to the laborious paperwork necessary, it might be worth hiring a gestor to do most of the process.

Since the gestor has runners who deal with many clients at the same time and don´t need to queue like the rest of us, expats shouldn´t have to pay for too much of the gestor's time.


Buying a car in Spain from a dealership

Alternatively, foreigners can buy a new or used car from a reputable dealership (concesionario), and the dealer will handle the paperwork with the Traffic Department. Buyers will also get a guarantee that lasts up to a year on the car, but unfortunately, the overall price of the car will most likely be more expensive than one bought from a private seller - even if the dealer does offer a discount or a special deal.

Depending on your circumstances, it could be possible to pay upfront for the car and the dealer might pay the registration fee, especially on a new, list price car or if it is paid in cash. 

Due to various government plans to reduce pollution, cars over ten years old may be taken in part exchange and qualify for a discount on a new purchase.  

When purchasing cars through a dealer the car finance will be paid through standing order monthly, which is an automatic deduction from the appointed account.


Paperwork for buying a car in Spain

Whether deciding to buy from a private seller or a dealer, similar paperwork is involved. Expats should ask to see the originals of all documents, particularly when dealing with a private seller.  

  • The Log Book (Permiso de Circulación), which is the car´s ID. It shows proof that the vehicle identification number corresponds with the one on the vehicle´s registration document, and provides information on the car, such as the number plate, make, model, name and address of the owner and when it was first registered.

  • A transfer of ownership form (Transferencia)

  • The ITV document (Inspección Técnica) stamped and dated on passing the last inspection and detailing when the next one is due. This proves that the car met the minimum environmental and road safety standards required by law.

  • The road license fee (Impuesto Sobre Vehiculos) for the current financial year, paid in full. 


Car insurance in Spain

In Spain, it is illegal to drive a car without insurance. All drivers must have the minimum Seguro de Terceros, also known as the Responsabilidad Civil Obligatoria, which covers third-party damages and usually fire and theft. Drivers must carry the insurance policy in the car at all times.

One way of obtaining insurance is to ask the seller if they will transfer the existing policy. Dealers also offer insurance policies or suggest which insurance companies are offering a good price. The big insurance companies in Spain, such as Mapfre or Mutua Madrileña, are reputable and efficient so there is no cause for concern. Dealers also offer insurance policies or suggest where to get one.

When finally picking up a new, insured car, expats will be given the registration document. It´s a good idea to have a photocopy of this document stamped at the Town Hall and to keep this in the car. Keep the original at home; if lost, it is time-consuming and expensive to replace.

Shipping and Removals in Spain

Expats planning on shipping to Spain should think carefully before they pack up their prized possessions. Even though Spain has a number of well-respected, efficient ports, shipping is expensive, and the country’s major cities claim both furnished accommodation and plenty of shopping options to purchase reasonably priced items.

It’s advised that expats solicit quotes from multiple service providers before selecting a company.

Expats can import their household items duty-free to Spain, provided they’ve owned the goods for a minimum of six months and they import the goods within one year of securing a residence or work permit.

Frequently Asked Questions about Spain

Expats moving to Spain are likely to have many concerns about adapting to the pace of life in this Mediterranean country. Here are some answers to a few of the most frequently asked questions about expat life in Spain.

What is there to do in Spain?

Spain has an endless sea of things to see and do, as well as plenty of annual festivals and events for expats to attend in each city. The major cities are cosmopolitan dream worlds of nightlife and shopping, diverse enough to suit any personality. For sports lovers, the football culture is a huge part of Spanish society and the clubs have massive fan bases and rich traditions.

There are four distinct regions in Spain with varying climates and topography, meaning there is no shortage of hiking, beaches, forests and landscapes to explore. Besides the cities, rural Spain still retains much of the traditional cultures and charm and is well worth investigating.

There are also plenty of historic and incredible architectural sites in Spain that expats shouldn't miss out on. The cities of Spain are packed with museums, castles, cathedrals, parks, beautifully designed buildings and more. History and art lovers are sure to find plenty to keep them busy on their days off. 

How does one navigate Spanish bureaucracy?

Navigating the notorious Spanish bureaucracy is an arduous task for locals and expats alike. Fortunately, there are a few tips and tricks to avoid head and heartache. The ultimate solution to solving this problem would be to hire a gestor (an administrative advisor). With a little input from the expat, these professionals will get all the paperwork done, saving tons of time in the long run. Expats choosing to go at it alone will need to be patient, polite, and preferably speak Spanish, or have a Spanish local or resident along with them to translate. A lack of public information in English is one of the many things that make navigating the red tape in Spain so difficult for expats. 

Which city is the best for expats?

While Barcelona is a wonderful place to visit, expats may struggle to find jobs in the cultural capital of Spain. Madrid, being the financial and commercial hub, may be more fruitful in terms of job opportunities. Madrid is also the most expensive city in Spain, however, so expats with a job lined up elsewhere or those working remotely may find a cheaper cost of living in one of Spain's other cities. Rural Spain also offers a great standard of living, and may also be a good option depending on a person's priorities. Every city has its perks as well as its problems, but expats will find that Spain has plenty to offer no matter where expats choose to live. 

Is public schooling good in Spain?

Schools in Spain are generally well equipped and have a high standard of education. While most expats send their children to international schools, as these allow them to continue learning in their home curriculum and language, the public schools are known to be of high quality and are free for all registered expats. The language of instruction at public schools is Spanish or the language of the region, such as Catalan in Barcelona. For this reason, it may be better for expats with young children who won't struggle to pick up the language to attend these schools, as it could also assist them in assimilating into the culture and making local friends. Along with public and international schools, Spain also has semi-private and private schools, some of which are bilingual. Expats should consider the age of the child, their budget, the curriculum and language they would prefer, as well as the length of their stay before picking a school. 

Is it necessary to use private healthcare in Spain? 

Healthcare in Spain is of high quality, whether expats choose to use private or public facilities. Expats are able to use the public healthcare system if they have a Spanish social security number and medical card. This entitles them to free or highly subsidised primary care and emergency services.

While the quality of care in the public system is reportedly just as good as in the private system, expats may be subjected to long waiting times to see a specialist or for routine procedures. Expats will be able to avoid these waiting times at private facilities, and they will also find consultations to be quite affordable. That said, the cost of medical complications or emergency procedures can be high, and private health insurance will therefore be necessary to cover these costs. 

Articles about Spain

Banking, Money and Taxes in Spain

Expats will find that managing money in Spain is easy but expensive. Banking facilities are generally modern and function quite efficiently, but bank charges and commissions on international transfers are hefty when compared to most other countries in the European Union.

Additionally, filing taxes and organising large purchases can often turn into bureaucratic nightmares. It is often necessary to employ the help of a Spanish-speaking specialist to manage the web of red tape.  


Currency in Spain

Since 1999, as with the majority of other EU member-states, Spain has used the Euro (EUR) as its official currency. One euro is divided into 100 cents.

  • Notes: 5 EUR, 10 EUR, 20 EUR, 50 EUR, 100 EUR, 200 EUR and 500 EUR

  • Coins: 2 EUR, 1 EUR; and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents

Note that the Spanish separate large figures into thousands with a full stop rather than a comma. 


Banking in Spain

Spain has one of the highest bank branches per capita on the European continent and most offer online banking with fast, easy transfers. In recent years many mobile banking options have become available in Spain, with banks such as BBVA offering mobile wallets for card-free transactions.

When choosing a bank as an expat without knowledge of the local language, it is best to select a branch with English-speaking staff and an option for statements and documentation to be translated into English.

Banking fees in Spain are notoriously high and a variety of charges might be encountered, including debit card transaction fees, correspondence fees (when the bank communicates with a customer) and transfer fees. Most banks also charge a small sum for opening an account.

There are quite a few international banks that offer services in English and allow free transfers between branches around the world, as well as multi-currency accounts. HSBC and Barclays are popular with Brits moving to Spain.

Banks in Spain generally open from Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 2pm, and on Saturday mornings from around 9am to 1pm. There are some banks that open on Thursday afternoons instead of Saturday mornings, so it is worth checking the specific opening hours of each branch before visiting. 

Opening a bank account

Expats can either open a resident or non-resident bank account in Spain. Non-resident accounts can be held in foreign currencies and normally have higher fees, while resident accounts tend to offer more services, have higher interest rates and lower commissions. Resident accounts can only be opened by those with a Spanish tax identification number or Número de Identificación de Extranjeros (NIE).

ATMs and credit cards

ATMs (cajeros automáticos) are widely available and accept foreign cards. Expats who are yet to open a local bank account will find that these machines provide the best exchange rates, but transaction charges do apply.

Alternatively, currency exchange offices (cambio) can be found at most airports and in most tourist areas. The exchange rates they tend to offer are less attractive than those provided by banks.

Debit and credit cards are widely accepted in Spain, although transaction charges will apply if using an international debit or credit card. 


Taxes in Spain

It is important for expats to check whether their country has any tax treaties with Spain and the European Union, such as a Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA). This ensures that they will not be double taxed at any point. There is a double tax treaty between Spain and the UK.

Income taxes must be paid for any year that an individual spends more than 183 days in the country – at this point, a person becomes a formal Spanish tax resident and is liable to be taxed for their international assets and accounts as well as those within the country. An individual will be deemed to a Spanish tax resident if Spain is their main base or centre of activities or economic interests. The tax year starts on 1 January.

Expats living in Spain need an NIE, which can be obtained at the local police station, in order to be identified by the Spanish revenue service (Agencia Tributaria).

Expatriates who work on a freelance basis or who run a business will also have to register as an autonomo with the local government. It is worth hiring a tax assessor to help navigate the complex Spanish system.

It is important for non-European expats to keep all receipts since value-added tax (VAT) is paid back when they leave the country or the Eurozone. This could be a hefty sum for expats who have lived in Spain for an extended period of time.

Income tax rates in Spain 

There are two types of income tax in Spain: general taxable income and savings taxable income. Savings income will include dividends, interest and capital gains. General income will include all other income, generally employment income. The tax rates for savings income starts at 19 percent for the first EUR 6,000 and rises to 26 percent for savings income above EUR 200,000. The tax rates on general income start at 19 percent and rise to 45 percent for income over EUR 60,000.  In addition to income tax, social security contributions are paid on salaries and wages, up to a maximum of EUR 4,070.

Personal income tax is not levied on employment income of expats who are tax resident in Spain but whose work is effectively carried out outside the country, up to the limit of EUR 60,100 euros, providing that various requirements are met. Although expats who work in Gibraltar must declare their Gibraltar income and Gibraltar PAYE tax, in practice the Spanish tax authorities allow a credit for Gibraltar tax paid. 

Spanish tax on UK pensions

Expats who are resident in Spain will be required to pay tax on any income from either state or occupational pension schemes. To avoid being taxed twice, UK expats must inform HMRC that they are tax resident in Spain. 

Wealth tax

There is a wealth tax in Spain, that is levied on Spanish tax residents' worldwide net assets. The rate goes as high as 3.5 percent of an individual's worldwide assets, although there are a number of reliefs and most expats consults a tax adviser to ensure their assets are structured tax efficiently.

Expat Experiences in Spain

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real-life stories and experiences from other expats who are living there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Spain and would like to share your story.


Linda is a 28-year old Dutch girl that moved to Spain almost seven years ago. In the meantime she’s moved twice and gotten married to the Spaniard for whom she moved to the country in the first place. Though this country will never stop surprising her (both positively and negatively), she’s loving the food, beautiful places and people there. Read about her expat experience in Barcelona Linda Verjans
Cat is a Chicago girl who found herself in Southern Spain, and has lived and worked in Seville since 2007. Two kids, five jobs and a mortgage later, Seville has become her home. Read about her experience of expat life in Seville in her interview.  

Cat Gaa

As his job allows him to work from anywhere in the world, Dan, an American expat, was able to make the move to Barcelona in 2011, where he enjoys the beautiful architecture and fantastic weather in the city, and spends his days off exploring the greater Catalonia. Dan shares info on where to go and what to do in the city on his blog Barcelona Navigator. Read about his experience living in Barcelona

Dan Blystone

Molly has lived in Spain since 1998 – first in Barcelona, and now in Granada where she is welcomed as a local. In this interview, Molly shares her experiences of living in Andalusia and what she feels expats need to consider before moving here. Her website and social media channels (@piccavey) focus on travel, food and culture. Read about her experience living in Granada.

Molly Sears Piccavey

Gabriella is a Creative Entrepreneur, involved in all things from content creation and photography to social media management and self-love advocacy. She moved from South Africa to Huesca, a city in the Spanish region of Aragon, where she works as an au pair and fell in love with the people, the food and the culture. Read about her experience living in Huesca.

Gabriella

Dany and Thijs fell in love with Valencia, and moved there just five weeks after their first visit. Their small bed and breakfast in the heart of the city's historical centre was voted one of the top three B&Bs in Spain by Trip Advisor. Many 'would-be' expats enjoy their inside knowledge of the city as well as their hospitality. Read more about their expat experience in Valencia.

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Kate Boyle is an English author who spent several years living and teaching English in Madrid. She quickly fell in love with the city and now considers it a home away from home. Read more about her expat experience in Madrid.

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Lottie Nevin is a British expat living in the southern Spanish town of Alcala La Real with her husband, Pete. Having lived as expats in Jakarta, Indonesia, Lottie and Peter are now enjoying the quieter life of the Spanish countryside. Read more about Lottie's expat life in Spain.

Lottie Nevin - A British expat living in Spain

Jacqui Evans relocated from Britain to Spain with her family when she was eight years old. Having lived there most of her life, she shares her insight about growing up as an expat child. Read more about her expat experiences in Mallorca.

Billie Jago is a British expat living with her boyfriend in Valencia, Spain. Over the past five years, she has worked as an English teacher in various countries across the world. She has lived in Turkey, China and Thailand, but says it's Valencia that has begun to feel like home. Read more about her expat experiences in Valencia.

Billie is a British expat living in Spain

Maria Balear moved from England to Spain almost 30 years ago and now lives on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, which is very popular among holidaymakers and expats alike. Maria runs a real estate business (Balearic-properties.com) and says the best way to meet people in your new home is to go to their favourite hangouts, whether these are cafés frequented by locals or popular expat clubs. Read more about her expat experiences in Mallorca.

 

Maria Balear is an expat and estate agent in Mallorca, Spain

Robin Wheeler and his wife moved from the UK to the Spanish coastal town of Moraira. Once a fishing village, it's now an upmarket tourist town and the Wheelers are running a successful pub. Robin says they found the move easy and straightforward - and reckons the best way to meeting people in Spain is to head down to your local bar. Read more about his expat experiences in Spain.

Robin Wheeler is a British expat living in Spain

Sara Wilson is an American expat living in Altea, a picturesque town on the Costa Blanca. After leaving New York City in 2009, she and her Spanish husband have been enjoying the quiet life, temperate weather and natural beauty along the Spanish Coast. Read more about her expat experience in Spain.

Sara Wilson is an American expat living in Spain

Anna is a Russian expat who moved to Spain’s southeastern city of Alicante for an internship. She enjoyed the small-town feel of Alicante and the friendliness of the locals, who would invite her to eat tapas and enjoyed a good party. However, Anna found that it was essential to learn Spanish in order to communicate and adapt faster to living in Spain. Read more about her expat experience in Spain.

Anna - A Russian expat living in Spain

Originally from Austin, Texas, Zach Frohlich is an American expat living in Spain. He moved to Valencia three years ago with his wife, who is Spanish, to settle closer to her family. Zach has some wonderful insights to share about his expat life in Spain. Read more about his expat experience in Valencia.

Zach Frohlich - an American expat living in Spain

Lisa Sadleir is a British expat who has been living in Spain for the past 20 years. She lives just outside Mijas Pueblo, in the Malaga province, with her husband and two children, who were both born in Spain. Lisa now considers Spain to be her home country, and runs a number of websites about life in Spain, providing valuable information and relocation services for those moving there. Read more about her expat life in Spain.

Lisa Sadleir - A British expat living in Spain

Patty Sanchez is an American expat who moved to Spain 10 years ago. While she misses her family and friends back in America, she now considers Barcelona home. She believes that the key to truly enjoying expat life in Barcelona is keeping an open mind and embracing the Spanish culture. Read more about her experience of expat life in Barcelona.

Patty Sanchez - An American Expat living in Barcelona

Anna Nicholas is a British expat who has lived on the island of Mallorca with her husband and son for the past 11 years. She is the author of several humorous books based on her own experiences of living on Mallorca, the most recent of which is A Bull on the Beach, published in July 2012. Read more about her expat experience on Mallorca.

A bull on the Beach by Anna Nicholas

Rachel Harris is an English teacher living and working in Zaragoza, Spain. She is a bit of a serial expat having lived in London, the USA, Japan, and South Korea. Rachel manages to include freelance writing among her wide range of interests and activities and has shared her take on expat life in Spain right here.

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Emma Grenham is originally from London and now lives and thrives in Barcelona. She is a writer and advisor on expat issues and has a particular passion for kids and parents in Barcelona. She produces a well-known family guide to the city. Read about her expat experiences of Barcelona.

Juan Liria followed his family and returned to his roots on the Iberian Peninsula a little over two years ago. He's currently enrolled at the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela and perfectly positioned as a young person to shed some light on the Spanish side of life. Read more about his expat experience in Spain.

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Justin Aldrige is living the dream. He beat the system, brought his family down to the Spanish coast, and is learning a little about what life is supposed to be like. He built up the site Eyes on Spain and now offers Expat Arrivals a glimpse into expat life through rose-coloured glasses.

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John Kramer has lived and worked in Spain for the past 12 years. He moved here after travelling widely, before discovering the many charms of the Spanish lifestyle, weather and people. His expat experience of life in Spain is positive and enlightening - see what he has to say in his interview about expat life in Spain.

Erik Rasmussen is, quite frankly, living the dream. He telecommutes to the USA, his country of origin while living large in splendid Spain with his wife and young child. Read about his expat experiences as a Spanish local in the town of Colindres.