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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 and, as such, most Westerners wouldn’t experience too much of a culture shock when relocating.
The country’s most widely spoken language is of course Spanish, but other local languages such as Catalan and Basque are also common. While a basic command of Spanish is certainly useful and will help foreigners integrate into Spanish society much quicker, English is also widely spoken.
Those 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 in 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 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 lead of the locals and try to enjoy the slower pace of life. Those moving to Spain with an open mind and a sense of adventure are sure to have a vibrant and fulfilling experience in their new home.
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.
►For more about life in Spain, see Pros and Cons of Moving
"Spain is worth it. The bureaucratic hassle of getting a NIE, finding a job or a place to live might seem impossible at the beginning, but once you get through it, you’ll truly enjoy living here. The way of life, the climate and the food are amazing and soon your homesickness will get better. Learning the language is very important though. Even if you make mistakes everyday (I definitely do), people really appreciate you trying and it will make life easier." Learn more about Linda, a Dutch expat, and her experience of life in Spain in her interview.
"What I love most is the ability to be outdoors for most of the year, the wonderful museums and cultural events that the city hosts, cheap cost of living and entertainment, and that Seville is large enough to have all of this but small enough to feel manageable." Read about Cat's experience of life in Seville in her interview.
Are you an expat living in Spain?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Spain. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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