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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 expats moving to Spain 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, so 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 moving 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 excellent road infrastructure, extensive rail services and busy airports.

Cost of living in Spain

While Barcelona and 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.

Families and children in Spain

More often than not, it's the pull of an irresistible, unhurried lifestyle and 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.

While public schools in Spain offer high-quality education, the language of instruction is usually Spanish, and admission to secondary schools is based on catchment zones. This limits expat parents in their choice of area and suburb; those with older children and parents who are in the country on a short-term assignment prefer sending their children to international schools. These schools offer a range of easily transferable curricula, including the International Baccalaureate, the UK or US national programmes. 

Retiring to Spain

Thanks to the relaxed visa regulations, free healthcare and unparalleled weather as well as quality of life in Spain, many pensioners take the plunge and spend their golden years in the country. Most retirees from non-EU countries move to Spain on a Golden visa, which grants them permanent residency through an investment of at least EUR 500,000 in property. EU nationals do not need a visa or residence permit to retire in Spain. 

The cost of food, entertainment and eating out in Spain is also a drawcard for many retirees as they are able to enjoy a higher quality of life at a fraction of the cost of what they would spend in their home countries. The laid-back lifestyle and siestas in Spain are also another of the country's attractive features for retirees. Still, pensioners will need to be prepared to deal with the infamous Spanish bureaucracy to obtain their NIE number and Empadronamiento before they can begin enjoying their slice of the Iberian Peninsula. 

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 locals' lead and try to enjoy the slower pace of life. Those moving to Spain with an open mind and a sense of adventure will surely have a vibrant and fulfilling experience in their new home.

Fast facts

Population: About 47.4 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 several 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 (NIE 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 exceptional condition. Drivers are required to flash their lights before overtaking another vehicle.

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. 

What is an NIE number and is it necessary for expats?

An NIE number is essential for expats moving to Spain. In simple terms, the NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjero) number is a unique seven digit and letter code used for legal, social and tax identification in Spain. After securing accommodation, securing an NIE number will be second on expats' list of priorities. The NIE allows new arrivals to open a bank account, buy a car and access Spain's free social services.

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 second 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 excellent, 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 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. 

Working in Spain

Finding work in Spain can be very difficult for an expat, and those already working in Spain should make efforts to keep 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 mean that many stay in their positions long-term and turnover rates remain low – creating limited 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. Expats moving to Spain will need to apply for an NIE (Número de Identificación de Exrenajeros) number, and different regions will have different processes. The NIE is a foreigner's identification number, which is necessary for getting set up with healthcare coverage and a bank account, among others. 

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 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.

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.

Self-employment in Spain

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

The actual process of working as a self-employed person in Spain (known as an autonómo) is quite straightforward. 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). Non-EU nationals 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, where 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. Newcomers will also need to account for the fact 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 self-employed workers should therefore think twice, since it will cost several thousand euros a year just to operate legally.

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

Work culture in Spain

Spain's business culture is strongly rooted in tradition, and some business practices may seem old-fashioned to expats. Nonetheless, 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 essential. 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 attend job fairs and group events.

It is also critical 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.

Banking, Money and Taxes in Spain

Expats will find that managing money in Spain is easy but expensive, and the cost continues to rise owing to soaring inflation in the country. 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 untangle 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. Recently, 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 the option for statements and documents to be translated into English.

Banking fees in Spain are notoriously steep 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 hold foreign currencies and normally have higher fees, while resident accounts usually offer more services and 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 apply.

Alternatively, currency exchange offices (cambio) can be found at most airports and in most tourist areas. The exchange rates they typically 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 home 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 Spain – 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 a Spanish tax resident if Spain is their main base or centre of commercial activities or economic interests. The annual tax year starts on 1 January and ends on 31 December.

Expats living in Spain need an NIE, which can be obtained at the local police station, 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, typically employment income. The tax rates for savings income start at 19 percent for the first EUR 6,000 and rise to 27 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 4,496.

Personal income tax is not levied on the employment income of expats who are tax residents in Spain but whose work is effectively conducted 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 PAYE tax, in practice the Spanish tax authorities allow credit for the tax paid in Gibraltar. 

Spanish tax on UK pensions

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

Wealth tax

There is a wealth tax in Spain, that is levied on Spanish tax residents' worldwide net assets. Although the rate goes as high as 3.5 percent of an individual's worldwide assets, there are several reliefs that expats can explore, and most individuals consult a tax adviser to ensure their asset structure is efficient for tax purposes.

Healthcare in Spain

Healthcare 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.

Many expats choose to get private health insurance, as this gives them greater choice of healthcare facilities, shorter waiting times, and more access to English-speaking medical professionals.

Public healthcare in Spain

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

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 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) and secure their NIE number from their local police station or foreigner's office. 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 to have access to more options for treatment and physicians, as well as to avoid the queues and waiting times associated with 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 relocating 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 service. Expats can dial 112 in case of an emergency. This is a general emergency number and operators are usually able to speak English and will dispatch the relevant emergency services.

  • Medical emergency number: 061 

  • General emergency number: 112

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 still observe the siesta, a long break between 2pm and 5pm during which many people have 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 frees up more time in the evening. For restaurants and other members of the service industry, the siesta, if taken, might run at a different time.

Similarly, new arrivals soon realise that many Spaniards generally do not have a sense of urgency, 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, but 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 some 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 gender 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; with the legalisation of same-sex marriage and abortion being two prime 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. Once the contract is signed, it is expected that details are carried out to the letter.

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. Relocation companies will typically ensure the process is seamless, but this comes at a cost. Expats who choose to do it themselves will need to conduct some research and be prepared for the paperwork involved.  

Shipping household goods to Spain

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. There are several options for shipping household goods to Spain, including air freight, which is the fastest, and sea, road and rail shipping. 

Depending on where expats are moving, they may have to use a combination of shipping methods. While air freight is the speediest, it is also the priciest. Expats who are not in a rush to receive their goods should consider shipping their household goods by sea, as this is often the most cost-effective option. 

It is recommended that new arrivals secure comprehensive insurance from a different freight company to protect their items from being stolen or damaged in transit. 

Shipping pets to Spain

Shipping pets to Spain requires that the animal be microchipped and vaccinated against rabies a minimum of 21 days before travelling to the country. Expats from the EU and EFTA countries must have an EU passport for their pets, while those from non-EU and EFTA countries are required to submit a health certificate that is translated into Spanish. 

Pets from outside these regions without a health certificate will need to undergo 30 days of quarantine in Spain. Additionally, all dogs and cats must be registered at a local vet upon arrival. Expats will need to produce their NIE number, passport and Spanish address to complete the registration. 

Embassy contacts for Spain

Spanish Embassies

  • Spanish Embassy, Washington, DC, 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 6300

  • 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

Cost of Living in Spain

The quality of life in Spain is alluring. 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 somewhat affordable cost of living.

It's true that living expenses in Spain have increased recently, while the average Spanish salary hasn't entirely kept pace. That said, 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 find ways to save constantly.

Barcelona is the priciest Spanish city to live in, followed by the country's capital, Madrid. It was ranked as the 78th most expensive expat city out of 227 cities in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey for 2022, while Madrid was ranked 90th. 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 expensive it will be. This is particularly true of the Mediterranean coastline. This trend is due to a passion for Spanish beaches, shared by locals 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 getting 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, expats can travel between different parts of the country fairly 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 specific 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 high fees, so expats planning on pursuing this option should ensure their budget can accommodate this.

Cost of groceries and eating out in Spain

The cost of supermarket food in Spain is equal to prices found in a country such as the UK. Food is surprisingly expensive relative to average Spanish wages. 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 (menu of the day), which is usually a generous three-course lunchtime meal. 

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

Clothing, however, is 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 February 2023.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

EUR 1,100

One-bedroom apartment outside city centre

EUR 800

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

EUR 1,800

Three-bedroom apartment outside city centre

EUR 1,300


Dozen eggs

EUR 2.35

Milk (1 litre)

EUR 0.89

Rice (1 kg)

EUR 1.24

Loaf of white bread

EUR 1.11

Chicken breasts (1kg)

EUR 7.34

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

EUR 5.15

Eating out

Big Mac Meal


Coca-Cola (330ml)

EUR 2.35


EUR 2.13

Bottle of beer (local)

EUR 3.50

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

EUR 50


Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

EUR 0.14

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

EUR 34

Basic monthly utilities (includes electricity, water, refuse)

EUR 168


Taxi rate/km

EUR 1.10

Bus fare in the city centre 

EUR 1.50


EUR 1.85

Public Holidays in Spain




New Year’s Day

1 January

1 January


6 January

6 January

Good Friday

7 April

29 March

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

*The above list includes national holidays only. Some areas have additional regional holidays.

Transport and Driving in Spain

Belonging to of the biggest countries in Europe, the public transport system in Spain is comprehensive enough to give expats various 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 it affords.

Public transport in Spain

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

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


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

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, Córdoba 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. 


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

Expats can buy bus tickets 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 good service, non-Spanish speakers might be mistaken for tourists and overcharged. It is always a good idea for expats to know roughly how much their fare will come to beforehand and ensure that their driver has switched on the meter or agree on a price upfront. 

Ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Cabify eliminate a lot of the 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 local driving behaviour in Spain. There are also several laws that may differ 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. 

Expats looking to drive and buy a car in Spain will have to be prepared to deal with the paperwork and costs associated with car ownership in the country. Car insurance is compulsory in Spain, and expats will have to pay an annual road licence fee. Nonetheless, owning a vehicle allows new arrivals to explore further afield. 

Expats from the EU and EEA countries can use their national driving licence for up to two years before exchanging it for a Spanish licence. New arrivals from these regions must also ensure they register with traffic authorities at the Central Register of Drivers and Minor Offenders (Registro Central de Conductores e Infractores) within six months of their arrival in the country. 

Non-EU and EEA nationals can have their foreign driving licence translated into Spanish or use it with an International Driving Permit (IDP) for a maximum of six months. UK expats can use their licence as is, without a translation or IDP, for six months. After that, expats will need to obtain a Spanish driving licence. Fortunately, Spain has direct exchange agreements with several countries, including the UK, which allows the nationals of these countries to simply exchange their national driving licence for a Spanish one. 

Otherwise, expats will need to take lessons from a recognised driving school and take the written and practical Spanish driving tests to secure their licence. 

Cycling in Spain

Some cities in Spain are more cycle-friendly than others. Seville and Barcelona, especially, are known for having excellent 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 are in Madrid, Barcelona and Mallorca, 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, Ryanair and Vueling, among several others.

Work Permits for Spain

To live and work in Spain, expats must obtain a residence and work permit – notoriously elusive paperwork that requires several documents, depending on an individual’s purpose in the country. Thankfully, residence and work permits in Spain are linked in the country's 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 Propia is valid for one year and is then renewable for another two years. The Cuenta Ajena is also valid for a year and is infinitely renewable, after five years, its holders can apply for a permanent residency. 

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 register 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 NIE 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 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.

Articles about Spain

Education and Schools in Spain

A primary concern for expat families moving 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 several 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 expats planning on staying in the country short-term or those with older children usually 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 have to pay for books and extracurricular 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 the closest proximity to their homes until secondary school. Catchment zones come into effect in secondary school.

The primary language of instruction in state schools is generally Spanish or the language of the specific 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.

Public schools in Spain are usually the best for expats with very young children who can easily overcome the language barrier and culture shock, 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 fantastic option for parents who 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 an affluent area, then it is more likely to meet expat standards. Some of these types of schools admit children from as young as a 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 plenty, some of which have steep annual tuition fees. These schools are assumed to have smaller class sizes, better facilities and a greater array of extracurricular 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 to enrol their children in one of these schools, expats will have to move fast and be great negotiators.

Education costs vary considerably, so it is best to consult 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 the 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 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 contact each school directly. It is recommended that expats bring their child’s previous school year report card and their immunisation records to interviews.

Read more: 

Best International Schools in Madrid
Best International Schools in Barcelona

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. Public schools have shared psychologist, speech therapist and sociologist services to support students. For children with disabilities too severe to accommodate in mainstream schools, a range of special-needs schools are available throughout Spain, 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 in Spain. Expat parents frequently employ tutors to teach their children Spanish, assist them in preparing for important exams or to assist with challenging school 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.

Diversity and inclusion in Spain

Read on to learn about some of the nuances surrounding diversity and inclusion in Spain.

Accessibility in Spain

Spain aims to enable people with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life. There have been huge improvements in recent years, but accessibility can vary from area to area, and expats with disabilities should do thorough research before moving to Spain.

There are good facilities for the disabled in major cities like Barcelona and Madrid, with an increasing number of accessible parking spaces, ramps and elevators in public buildings, and audio and visual signals at pedestrian crossings. Over 90 percent of the metro stations in Barcelona are accessible, as are around 70 percent of metro stations in Madrid. Airports in Spain offer assistance to people with reduced mobility, and most train stations and city buses have been adapted to include ramps and elevators.

Useful resources

LGBTQ+ in Spain

Spain has a long history of tolerance and acceptance towards the LGBTQ+ community, and it is generally considered to be a welcoming and inclusive country for LGBTQ+ individuals. In 2005, Spain became one of the first countries in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. The country also has anti-discrimination laws in place to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination in the workplace and other areas of life.

Most Spaniards are accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, and there are thriving LGBTQ+ communities in many of the major cities, with numerous events and festivals throughout the year celebrating diversity and inclusion.

Despite the generally positive attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community in Spain, it is important to note that discrimination and harassment can still occur, particularly in more conservative areas of the country. Overall, however, Spain is a welcoming and inclusive country for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Gender equality in Spain

Spain has made significant progress in terms of gender equality in recent years and ranks 6th in the EU on the Gender Equality Index, putting it towards the top of the group of 27 countries. The Spanish government has implemented various laws and policies to promote gender equality and protect women from discrimination.

Despite this progress, gender inequality persists in Spain in several areas. For example, women in Spain continue to face challenges in terms of achieving equal pay for equal work, and they are underrepresented in many leadership positions. The gender pay gap in Spain is around 8 percent (2022). This is, however, a significant improvement to a pay gap of 20 percent in 2010.

Useful resources

Women in leadership in Spain

Women in Spain are increasingly well represented in the workforce and in leadership. In the general election which took place in April 2019, almost half of the deputies in Spain’s lower parliamentary house were women. This makes Spain the European country with the highest percentage of women in parliament, giving it a larger proportion of female lawmakers than even Sweden. There has also been progress in business, with the percentage of women on the boards of listed companies reaching 24 percent in 2019, up from 20 percent in 2018.

Mental health awareness in Spain

Expats can be at greater risk of mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety, exacerbated by stress and loneliness. Fortunately for expats moving to Spain, there is a good range of mental health services, both private and publicly funded.

Most international companies have policies in place to provide support for employees with mental health issues, and mental illness is usually covered by employee health insurance schemes, although this is worth checking.

Expats living and working in Spain are entitled to the same free state healthcare as Spanish citizens. Any dependents are also covered if they live in Spain. However, free healthcare will not cover all treatments. Those registered with the public healthcare system are entitled to receive mental healthcare services, including therapy and medication if needed. That said, the availability and accessibility of these services may vary depending on the location and the individual's circumstances, and it will not cover all treatments, including psychotherapy. Expats in Spain who require mental healthcare services usually opt to visit a private psychologist or psychiatrist, rather than make use of the public system.

Useful resources

English-Speaking Healthcare Association (ESHA) – a directory of psychiatrists who practice in English
International Therapist Directory – a global network of therapists; search by location

Unconscious bias training in Spain

Unconscious bias is an implicit set of often stereotyped ideas an individual carries about groups of people different to themselves. These ideas are not purposefully adopted but rather develop subtly over time, and people tend to hold unconscious biases about groups they never or rarely come into contact with. As a result, they're often inaccurate and based on assumptions. Spain is no exception, and employers are likely to employ its own nationals, or nationals of other EU countries, before hiring other foreigners, even if they are otherwise qualified for the job.

Unconscious bias can profoundly affect both personal and work conditions. In the workplace, unchecked bias undermines vital aspects of the company, with negative effects on employee performance, retention, and recruitment. In a bid to create a better work environment, many companies are beginning to establish unconscious bias training. There are also a number of online resources that can be used to improve self-awareness regarding bias.

Useful resources

Diversification in the workplace in Spain

Companies in Spain are embracing diversity as the benefit of building a diverse and engaged workforce becomes more obvious. Around 15 percent of the country’s labour force is foreign workers. Moroccans make up the largest percentage of foreigners living in Spain, followed by Romanians and people from the UK. Madrid is home to almost 1 million foreign residents. Barcelona also has a large population of foreigners, and attracts 8 million tourists each year, making it the third most popular destination in Europe, after London and Paris. There are also many expats, particularly Brits, living in the Costa del Sol and in Sotogrande. There are strict labour laws in Spain that prohibit discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, marital status, ethnic or national origin, disability or religion.

Safety in Spain

Spain is one of the safest countries in Europe, with a low percentage of violent crimes or terrorism, but expats moving to the country should still take the same sensible precautions that they would at home. While public transport is generally safe, there is a risk of pickpocketing in crowded trains and stations, particularly in tourist areas.

The 2022 Global Peace Index, which considers crime, as well as war and terrorism, named Spain the 29th safest country in the world, ahead of the UK at 34th, and the US at 129th.

Calendar initiatives in Spain

January – Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
4 February – World Cancer Day
8 March – International Women’s Day
March – TB Awareness Month
April – Stress Awareness Month
1 May – Labour Day
19 May – Global Accessibility Awareness Day
June – Pride month (events in Madrid and Barcelona)
10 September – World Suicide Prevention Day
October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month
10 October –World Mental Health Day
14 November – World Diabetes Day
November – Men’s Health Month ('Movember')
1 December – World AIDS Day

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 the 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 off-season rainfall. 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.


A Brief History of Spain

Pre- and early history

  • Archaeological evidence suggests that the Iberian Peninsula was inhabited by hominids as early as 1.2 million years ago and was later inhabited by various pre-Roman tribes, including the Gallaecians, Celts and the Iberians.
  • 218 BC: The Roman Republic conquers the Iberian Peninsula and establishes the province of Hispania.
  • 5th century AD: The Roman Empire collapses, and the Visigoths rule the Iberian Peninsula.
  • 711: The Moors, a Muslim people from North Africa, conquer the Iberian Peninsula, establishing the Islamic state of Al-Andalus.
  • 1031: The Taifa kingdoms, a series of Muslim states, emerge in Al-Andalus.
  • 1085: The Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon begin the Reconquista, a centuries-long effort to reclaim the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors.
  • 1469: The marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile marks the start of a unified Spain.
  • 1492: Columbus sets sail on his first voyage to the Americas, opening the way for Spanish colonisation and empire building. The Spanish Inquisition leads to the expulsion of Jews and, later, Muslims from Spain.
  • 1516: Charles I of Spain is elected Holy Roman Emperor, marking the beginning of the Habsburg dynasty in Spain.
  • 1588: The Spanish Armada is defeated by the English, marking the decline of Spanish naval power.
  • 1648: The Treaty of Westphalia marks the end of the Thirty Years' War and the decline of Spanish influence in Europe.
  • 18th century: Spain experiences political, social, and economic change, influenced by the Enlightenment and the American Revolution.
  • 1808-1814: The Peninsular War occurs, with Spanish and Portuguese forces fighting against Napoleon's army.
  • 1873: A revolution leads to the establishment of the First Spanish Republic. 
  • 1874: The monarchy is restored, with King Alfonso XII taking the throne.
  • 1898: The Spanish-American War takes place, with Spain losing its colonies in the Americas.

The 20th century

  • 1923-1930: General Miguel Primo de Rivera establishes a dictatorship in Spain.
  • 1936-1939: The Spanish Civil War takes place, with General Francisco Franco emerging as the victor.
  • 1975: Franco dies, and King Juan Carlos I takes the throne, marking the start of the transition to democracy.
  • 1986: Spain joins the European Union.

The 21st century

  • 2000: Spain becomes one of the first countries to ratify the Rome Statute before it's forced into entering in 2002; the treaty establishes the International Criminal Court.
  • 2004: A series of train bombings in Madrid kill 193 people and injures approximately 2,000. Occurring three days before Spain's national elections, this attack is attributed to Islamist terrorists for Spain's involvement in the Iraqi invasion.
  • 2005: Same-sex marriage is legalised in Spain, despite the Roman Catholic Church's disapproval. 
  • 2006: The citizens of Catalonia vote for proposals aiming to give the region greater autonomy and independence from Spain. 
  • 2008: The country takes a blow from the global financial crisis, leading to high unemployment and economic hardship.
  • 2013: Spain registers economic growth for the first time since 2008, formally lifting the country out of recession.
  • 2020: The Covid-19 pandemic significantly impacts the country, leading to widespread economic hardship, social changes and the deaths of around 28,000 people.

Accommodation in Spain

Expats moving to Spain will discover that finding good quality and 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 househunting 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 freestanding houses and villas on the city outskirts and in the more rural areas.

Furnished vs unfurnished

While it is easy to find both furnished and unfurnished apartments, expats should keep in mind that most freestanding houses and villas come unfurnished. Most properties in expat areas are sold and rented out furnished, as the owners are likely to be expats themselves who are relocating and would therefore have no use for the furniture. Furnished properties typically include everything from kitchen fittings and appliances to bedsheets and utensils; this is a popular choice for expats who are only planning to be in the country short term. 

Unfurnished housing in Spain usually comes equipped with a useable kitchen and working appliances (fridge, washing machine, cooking range and possibly microwave and dishwashers). This is a fantastic option for expats who would prefer to add their personal touch to their homes. Fortunately, expats can ship their household goods to Spain duty-free, and there is a range of affordable furniture stores, including Ikea, Zara Home and Carrefour. 

Short-term rentals

While serviced apartments and short-term rentals may be pricier, they are fully equipped and will usually include utilities in the rental price. They are also a more affordable alternative to hotels, while expats research the different areas and suburbs in their chosen city before making a long-term commitment. 

Renting accommodation 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 pay levels.

Having found a suitable place in a desired 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.

Finding a property

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 scour online listings and 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.


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.

It is recommended that new arrivals use a property registration website to ensure their landlord is the legitimate owner of the property. Leases in Spain are typically for a year with 30 days' notice should either party choose to terminate the agreement. 


Landlords will generally require a security deposit of one to six months' rent. Community fees, paid for the upkeep of communal areas and services, are generally included in the monthly rental amount. 

References and background checks

Prospective tenants usually have to provide proof of bank accounts, their NIE number as well as references from current and former employers and landlords, as these will improve the expat's chances of securing the lease.

Termination of the lease

Both expats and landlords can terminate the rental contract by giving 30 days' notice in writing. Expats should ensure they return the property in the same condition, as they are not entitled to receive their deposit back if the property is damaged beyond normal wear and tear. 


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 affordable. Bills are usually sent monthly and can be paid online, via direct deposit or at the post office. 


Most households in Spain use electricity for heating and cooking. Expats will usually be allowed to choose their own provider, either from the free market (mercado libre) or regulated market (mercado regulado). Access fees, excise duty and VAT are some common factors between the free and regulated markets. 

Electricity prices change daily in regulated markets, and those who subscribe to this option are charged higher prices based on when they use electricity during the day. In the free market, private companies set prices for customers, and they are charged per kilowatt rather than prices based on supply and demand. 


As most of Spain's water infrastructure has aged, the water often has high chlorine levels, leading to an unusual taste. For this reason, most people in Spain drink bottled water. Expats can use tap water to brush their teeth or wash vegetables, but it's not safe to drink in most areas. 

Spain has a combination of public and private water suppliers; expats will need to verify the water supplier in their specific regions. To transfer the water bill to their name, expats will need to visit their local town hall with their ID and address to register the contract in their name. 

It is important to ensure all outstanding bills have been paid before moving in to avoid incurring unfair costs. 

Telephone and internet

Expats will be spoilt for choice when it comes to landline and internet providers in Spain. Some companies will provide a turnkey service that includes landline, TV and internet connections. The major telecommunications providers in the country include MásMóvil, Movistar and Vodafone.  

Waste and recycling

Most expats will pay an annual fee for waste disposal; in some autonomous regions, it will be included in the monthly water bill. The country is making strides in increasing the recycling of household waste; Spain recently enacted a law stating that municipalities with more than 5,000 residents must have separate collection systems for organic waste, paper, metal and glass. 

As such, Spain provides blue bins for paper and cardboard, yellow bins for plastic and tin and green bins for glass. There are also grey bins for general waste as well as brown bins for organic waste. 

Expats should contact their specific region and municipality's website for detailed information.

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. 

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


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. 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.


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 try to speak 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 the other 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 to 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 before their arrival. As Spain is a Schengen state, many 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 and was issued within the last 10 years; 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 that do not appear on the list must apply for a Schengen Visa for tourism 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. The Schengen visa can be used to enter Spain for various purposes, including transit, tourism, business or medical treatment. 

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 applications 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.

Long-stay visas for Spain

Long-stay Spanish visas allow holders to stay in the country for longer than three months. Spanish long-stay visas include study, work, au pair, golden, entrepreneur, working holiday and non-lucrative residence visas. 

Au pair, work and working holiday visas allow expats to legally work in the country under certain conditions. Perhaps the most popular visas for Spain are golden visas, and these are particularly attractive for retirees, they allow expats to gain Spanish residency by investing at least EUR 500,000 in real estate. The entrepreneur visa is reserved for those who would like to invest and start a business in Spain. 

Expats will need to apply for a Spain National Visa, attend a visa appointment either telephonically, online or in person and pay the visa fees. It is recommended that expats begin the application process at least six months before their desired departure date, failing which, expats should apply two weeks before travelling to Spain. 

All third country nationals intending to live and work in Spain for longer than three months will need a foreigner's identification number, an NIE (Número de Identificación de Exrenajeros) number. The NIE number allows expats to open a bank account, secure a cellphone contract and purchase a car in Spain, among other things. New arrivals should check specific application processes for the NIE number with their local police station or foreigner's department, as procedures differ between Spain's autonomous regions. 

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

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 small and on-street parking is often 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 driving licence, car insurance or a residence permit in order to buy a car in Spain.

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

  • Municipal registration (Certificado de Empadronamiento), which is 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 inspection (toda prueba) at a mechanic. 

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

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 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.

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 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, shows proof that the vehicle identification number corresponds with the one on the vehicle's registration document. It 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) which is 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 licence 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 VidaCaixaMapfre 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.