Living In Spain: The Essential Expat Guide

Spain offers something for everyone, climate, culture and spectacular nature! Discover more with our essential guide to living in Spain.

We love Spain. It’s always been a favourite choice for seekers of a healthier, more relaxed lifestyle. Our updated guide delves into the pros and cons of living in Spain, organising your big move, and settling down successfully.

We’ll look at what you need to complete to become a resident. We’ll also dig into the day-to-day essentials, finding a GP, opening a bank account, and registering with the local authorities.

Plus, we’ve got home-buying tips and guidance about deciding where to live in Spain.  

Is living in Spain a good idea? 

Climate, culture, and character – Spain has it all. Plenty of expats will tell you that their move to Spain was the best move they ever made. 

Nevertheless, the opposite is true for others, from never adjusting to the culture shock to horror stories about buying poorly built homes on never-ending build projects. 

Only you can say if Spain is right for you. However, a well-planned move armed with all the facts will make a huge difference. 

You’re on the right track to live in Spain if you can answer yes to the following:

  • You’ve got a reliable form of income.
  • You don’t stress too much when things don’t go to plan. 
  • You’ll ‘really’ make an effort to learn the language. 

What is it like living in Spain? 

Your move to Spain is all about lifestyle change; the majority of the changes you will love, but other changes will take some time to get used to.

Adapting to change and initial culture shock is the key to success. Whatever your expectations, the realities can be very different and far away from life back home.

We can all be a bit resistant to change at times. The quicker you can move from focusing on the differences to getting on with life, the faster you can transition to making Spain your home.

The magic of the Spanish lifestyle is in enjoying life’s finer moments.

It’s also where some of the frustration exists for expats.

Things happen slowly, too slowly, for some expats. Mornings can easily stretch into afternoons; small businesses can close for unspecified times. Newly arrived expats can get frustrated that things don’t get done on time.

Spanish people love and value both me-time and family time. The country partially shuts down in August and many Spanish people vacation.

If you’re the type who likes to get things done in August, you’ll need to rethink that one.  

It’s too hot to do anything in August… so when in Rome!

Beware of tourists

Most of us were tourists before making Spain our home. Nonetheless, for residents, tourists will mean crowds!

If you’re planning to move to a coastal town, check how busy your intended location gets during peak season. Crowds, traffic, and other peak season hassles are to be expected, but you don’t want them on your doorstep.

After the August holiday, everything goes back to normal.

It doesn’t take long to adapt and realize what you have been missing out on by constantly being on the go and living to work rather than working to live.

As you adapt to the new culture, you can expect a positive change in your quality of life, feeling more relaxed and less stressed.

That’s why so many expats fall in love with Spain – loving life is addictive. 

The pros and cons of living in Spain 

Like any country, Spain has its advantages and disadvantages. For expats, moving to Spain has more advantages than disadvantages. 

The pros of living in Spain 

1. Spain offers excellent value for money.

It is vital for retirees who want their retirement income to allow them to afford a better lifestyle than they would have in their home country.

Spain is cheaper than the UK and the USA. For a single person, a budget of €2,200-2,400 a month is enough for a comfortable life in a big city. If you’ve set your eyes on a smaller town, you will need around €2,000 a month. 

2. Wall-to-wall sunshine 

Spain’s climate is one of the best in the European Union, averaging 137 days of sunshine compared to just 52 that we have each year in the UK.

3. Getting to Spain and traveling around Spain is easy. 

Spain is a well-connected country. Traveling internally is easy with good public transport connecting the country. High-speed trains, internal flights, and bus services are the easiest ways to get around.

For long distances, booking the high-speed train or AVE (Alta Velocidad), which runs between most major cities, is easier. It takes 2hrs 40 minutes to travel 500km from Barcelona to Madrid or Madrid to Seville. 

Spain leaves you well-positioned to explore the rest of Europe. Flights, trains, and coaches to other European capitals and major cities are frequent and cheap.  

4. Spanish culture, cuisine and scenery

Spanish food is fantastic, with variations from region to region. The nation’s history has the drama and intrigue of any great European country. To cap it all off, much of the scenery in Spain is magnificent.

5. Vast and diverse landscapes and geography 

Explore Spain’s diverse landscape, and you will enjoy some fantastic experiences.

If you want a temperate climate, look at Northern Spain, especially in the summer when central and southern Spain gets seriously hot.

The Costas are ready and waiting if long, hot, sunny days are what you crave most.

If you love winter sports or the great outdoors, Spain isn’t just about lying around the poolside. Check out the Pyrenees or the Sierra Nevada; serious adventure awaits!

Do you dream of island living? You have the Spanish Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands, each island with its own unique character.

6. It’s relatively easy to buy a property in Spain. 

You don’t have to have residency to be able to become a property owner in Spain. The Spanish government is keen on foreign investors entering the Spanish property market. Remember, you can’t live in Spain full-time even if you own a property without Spanish residency.

The Spanish government has agreements with many countries, including the UK and the USA, whose citizens can come and stay in Spain for three months every half a year without a visa.

If you can afford a minimum of €500,000 to buy a property in Spain, you can qualify for a Golden Visa, which gives you the right to residency in Spain. 

7. Spain does dogs big time!

Spanish people love their dogs; if you are a dog owner, socializing is not a problem. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, and other places where dogs are most welcome.

The cons of living in Spain 

Now the negatives, every nation has them, and Spain isn’t alone.

Here are some that won’t go away:

1. Language barrier – Spanish is crucial at times

Depending on where you plan to live in Spain, you might need to learn to speak Spanish or risk feeling isolated.

Paperwork in Spain gets done in Spanish; it’s a liberating experience when you know what you’re signing! Even if you move to Spain to a location with a large expat community, learning some Spanish will always make life simpler.

On the plus side, if you live in an expat community and speak Spanish, you’ll have no problem making new friends…

Spanish might only partially localize you in regions where families speak Catalan, Basque, or Galician. However, everyone will understand and greatly appreciate your effort.

Don’t get us wrong; plenty of expats move to Spain and live comfortably without speaking a word of Spanish. They all have some Spanish-speaking friends.

2. Bureaucracy and more

Expats moving to Spain find the bureaucracy of the Spanish government to be complicated, frustrating, and slow.

Without exception, moving to Spain requires a lot of form-filling. And no matter how hard you try to collect all the necessary paperwork, don’t be surprised if you’re one item short of the complete package.

The trick is to bring more; bring everything you can think of. There’s always a chance you get it right on the first try.

Armed with your NIE, residency, health insurance, driving license, and other issues sorted, you won’t have to do a repeat performance. 

3. Time is an illusion

The Spanish enjoy a relaxed approach to life, especially when compared to highly strung Brits or Americans. Punctuality is important but with a broader range of scale. Get comfortable with lengthy coffee breaks, unpredictable hours, and unexpected siestas.

Soon, you will adapt and start enjoying a calmer lifestyle. Give it a while, and you’ll wonder why you ever needed shops to be open every day in the first place. 

As with any country, expat life in Spain has pros and cons. The key to success is planning. Our guide, 10 Tips To Make Retiring To Spain An Absolute Success, will help to get underway.

Where to live in Spain 

If you’re at the location research stage, don’t miss our Best Places To Live In Spain. It’s packed with information about the best places in Spain.

Looking for the ultimate beach lifestyle? It’s got to be the Costas

The beachside towns of the multiple Spanish Costas will offer an exceptional beach lifestyle while keeping your cost of living down. 

The coastal locations of Andalusia, Valencia, and Catalonia are top scorers for expats. You’ll find good company and make friends easily, especially with some Spanish under your belt.

If you prefer less touristy locations, consider living in Murcia and the Costa Calida, a great, warm, relaxed, and affordable destination.

Looking for a modern, exciting urban lifestyle? Look at Barcelona.

Living in Barcelona is less affordable, but it delivers all urban amenities and entertainment plus beautiful sandy beaches.

Barcelona is one of Europe’s finest cities if you’re happy to pay a little extra for those creature comforts.

Choose Madrid if you want a central location.

Madrid is a vibrant, relatively easy-going city with every amenity you’d expect in a modern European capital.

It’s not really a retirement hotspot, and it’s costly. Life in Madrid is ideal if career, business, and employment opportunities are important factors. 

If you want an urban lifestyle for less money, consider Valencia.

Valencia is a northern urban hub for expats living in Costa Blanca. It has lovely weather and a beautiful coastline, and it is cheaper than Madrid and Barcelona. Valencia’s best beach, Malvarrosa (or Malva-Rosa) Beach, is just a short trip from the city center (about 15 minutes by bus/metro). 

Island lifestyle – there’s no shortage of it in Spain.

Then there are the Spanish islands. Spectacular getaways both in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

The Canary Islands and the Balearic islands, such as Mallorca, are the top favorites among expats. The lifestyle is calmer, there’s very little crime, and the cost of living is low unless you import many luxury goods from the mainland.

The downside can be a lack of facilities and infrastructure. If you are a digital nomad, check your location’s internet connection before committing. 

Where is the cheapest place to retire in Spain? 

Spain offers plenty of places for an affordable retirement. The cheapest place to retire in Spain with access to all the modern facilities is Seville, the capital of Andalucia.

Andalucia is the most affordable region of Spain. Seville offers the best of both worlds: urban benefits and inexpensive living. 

The cost of living in Seville is affordable. Restaurant prices are up to 50% lower than in London, and groceries can be up to two-thirds cheaper.

You can rent a decent 2-bedroom apartment in the central areas of Seville starting at €850 a month. Budget for essential utilities at €180, TV+internet+mobile bundle at €60, transportation costs at €40 for a monthly pass. 

If you shop in the markets, your grocery spending will be very reasonable.

Seville lets your money go further. Plus, it’s one of the most beautiful places in Spain.

The cost of living should only be one of many deciding factors when choosing a retirement destination. There’s little point in finding somewhere cheap to live if there’s nothing to do when you get there. 

Other popular locations in Spain to consider:

The cost of living in Spain 

Compared with other Western European Countries, Spain scores well in terms of value for money. If you come from the UK, USA or Canada, Spain will cost less. 

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Spain? 

The region you choose and the location within that region will impact your overall cost of living. You’ll also need to ensure enough income to qualify for residency.

If you are retiring and going for a non-lucrative visa, which is the one for retirees unless you can afford a Golden Visa. In that case, you will need to show at least €30,000 of savings or a minimum of €2,130 monthly passive income (your pension, dividends, rental income, or other investments). If there are two of you, the minimum goes up to €2,600 a month.

The minimum a single person needs to live in Spain 

A single person can live in Spain with a reasonable degree of comfort for around €1200 per month.

Your €1200 will cover the rent of a small apartment, food, drink and essentials. You will need to add your personal lifestyle needs on top.

How much money does a couple need for a comfortable life in Spain?

Presuming you have the means to purchase a property, avoiding the cost of a mortgage or rent, it’s possible to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle at €2200 per month. That includes enjoying meals out and an active social life. 

In Valencia, a couple can enjoy a reasonable lifestyle for around €1400 without rent or mortgage.

If you choose to live in Granada, it will be more affordable, at about €1,100 a month without rent or mortgage, and in Alicante – around €1050 a month.

Gas, Electric, Water – Utility Costs in Spain 

Expenses such as electricity, water, and emptying bins are relatively high in Spain.

Budget for around €150 per month for a small apartment. Add more if you live in a larger home, especially if you use central heating in winter or run air conditioning in summer.

The cost of housing and property in Spain 

We recommend renting a property in Spain before you buy. Renting allows you to get familiar with the area and find the places you like most.

Rent is generally affordable in Spain. You can find a 3-bed apartment with sea views in Marbella for €1250 a month, while 2-bed rentals start at about €900. 

In Costa Blanca, you can find a 1-bed apartment with a sea view for €600 per month.

If you compromise on location, for example, live further away from the beach, you will find even cheaper property options.

Entering an unfamiliar rental market can be daunting, especially if you don’t speak Spanish. Do your homework beforehand. Our guide on renting a property in Spain is a good starting point. 

If you decide to become a homeowner, ensure you are familiar with all the legalities of buying a property in Spain.  

Buying a property in Spain can be an excellent investment opportunity over the longer term. Retirees from the UK and the US often find an ideal property in Spain for much less than back home.

For example, buying a lovely 2-bed villa with a pool on the outskirts of Alicante is possible for as little as €160,000. A 3-bed apartment in Estepona (Malaga), 5 minutes from the best beaches and the Estepona promenade, can be found starting from €240,000.

How would you like a 3- bed beach apartment in Cullera (Valencia) for €200,000? Venture further from the seafront, and you can find some astonishing bargains.

Regarding luxury properties, there are no upper limits in Spain. Everything is possible, including a small palace on the seafront with a swimming pool, manicured gardens, and a mooring for your yacht. 

Money-saving tips 

If a yacht and palace are outside your budget, no problem; you can still enjoy an incredible lifestyle in Spain. Here are a few tips to help make your money go further:

1. Research the areas when buying a property

Invest time before buying a property in Spain get to know the areas you like that offer the best value for money. You can save your property by looking 5-10km outside the most in-demand locations.

Make friends with people who know the areas you’re interested in; they will tell you things that estate agents won’t.

2. Shop like a local

Fruit and Vegetables - Barcelona market stall
Fruit and veg market in La Boqueria, Barcelona

You’ll save on your day-to-day living costs if you adopt a Spanish approach to shopping.

Instead of using a single supermarket for all your groceries, explore Spain’s open markets. You’ll have a great time, and you’ll be able to get fresh local produce for less than you will pay in the supermarket.

If you shop exclusively in supermarkets, you may find that some items cost more than in your home country. Spain is perfect for local produce but not so cost-effective for imported goods. 

3. Choose your supermarkets carefully

If you need to shop in a supermarket, look at the different supermarkets’ prices and offers. Spanish supermarkets may lack variety, but their pricing is more reasonable.

4. Insulate your home

Electricity bills can shock you, especially in southern Spain, where summers can get hot. Spanish properties are not always well insulated against heat, especially modern villas with large windows. Using air conditioners extensively in summer can get very expensive.

The best way to keep your bills down is to protect your windows from direct sunlight with blinds, awnings or other solutions.

5. Use public transport

Before you rush off to buy a car in Spain, decide whether you actually need one.

Spain has excellent public transport, and many locals get by perfectly well without owning a car. Of course, it depends on where you live, but a vehicle may be an unnecessary expense.  

Moving to Spain: the formalities and paperwork 

There’s a lot to do when you move abroad: sorting out residency, organizing removals, registering with local authorities, finding a family doctor, opening a bank account, connecting utilities, etc. 

Let’s go through the best way to tackle these challenges.

It might feel overwhelming; take it step-by-step and remember you only do it once.

Residency in Spain for non-EU citizens 

Non-European citizens, including UK nationals and US citizens, should follow third-country rules regarding residency in Spain.

Depending on agreements between your home country and Spain, you may travel to Spain as a tourist without a Spanish visa. For example, UK and US citizens are only required visas for trips lasting longer than 90 days.

You can buy a property in Spain without residency. However, you can only stay in the country for 90 days and leave 90-day gaps between trips, three months in and three months out.

If you want to stay in Spain longer than three months, you need a long-stay visa, for which you should apply to the nearest Spanish consulate in your home country.

Long-stay visas generally last 12 months and must be renewed. The type of visa you need depends on the purpose and length of your trip. 

A non-lucrative visa is the best way to secure your residency if you are retiring to Spain.

An option is to invest a minimum of €500,000 in property, which will get you and your family residency in Spain. It can save a lot of paperwork in the long run and set you on a path to Spanish citizenship. 

We have a detailed guide where you can learn more about a non-lucrative visa, Spain Golden visa, NIE and Padron registration. You will also discover how and where to apply, how much it costs, and what documents you must submit with your applications. 

If you have questions or need more information about your Golden Visa or non-lucrative visa options, contact us via our page on Residency and Citizenship. We will be happy to help. 

UK citizens can find detailed information on moving to Spain in our Living In Spain After Brexit guide.

Sorting out your furniture removals to Spain 

Buying furniture in Spain is often cheaper than shipping it from your home country.

However, for the things you don’t want to part with, you have several options:

  • Air freight – the fastest and most expensive way to ship your belongings. Great if you want to send just a few items and don’t want to wait long for their arrival. 
  • Shipping container – a good compromise between cost and time. However, this one has different options that come with additional charges.
  • Road freight – the cheapest option, can be relatively fast, a good choice if you live close to Spain.
  • DIY removals – hire a van and do it yourself option. There are a few paperwork and regulation hurdles to overcome, but it is quite a viable option if you are after an adventure. 

There are pros and cons to every method. To understand which is best for you, read our Removals To Spain guide

Bringing your pet to Spain 

Non-EU citizens can bring their pets to Spain through the designated Travelers Points of Entry where you must declare your pet with all the necessary documentation.

The requirements: 

  • Your pet must be at least 12 weeks and 21 days old.
  • Your pet is microchipped.
  • You should present a health inspection certificate signed by an official veterinarian in your home country (with Spanish translation).
  • You need to have certified copies of the identification and vaccination documents.
  • A rabies vaccine is a must. 

You can find more details about bringing your pets to Spain on

Registering with the Spanish National Health Service

The Spanish National Health Service (“Seguridad Social” or SNS). Spanish citizens and foreigners legally residing in Spain have the right to use the SNS.

However, you cannot use the SNS while applying for residency. For this period, you will need private health insurance; this is one of the application process requirements. 

The SNS covers most procedures free of charge. However, you will be charged a reasonable fee if surgery is involved or you need to stay overnight in a hospital or receive extensive prescriptions. 

Signing up for the SNS is easy – you can register at the local health centre with your social security number, passport and foreign identity number.

Some expats choose to have private health insurance for more extensive coverage. There are plenty of private healthcare providers to choose from, with Sanitas being the biggest. 

International health insurance is also a popular option. To ensure you get the best value for money, compare international health insurance options from various providers to find the best deal. 

Read how to access public healthcare in Spain, apply for a health card and register with a GP, your top-up insurance and private health cover options in Spain in our Health Insurance in Spain guide.

Spanish taxes for expats 

Staying in Spain for more than 183 days in a calendar year means becoming a tax resident of the country.

It doesn’t matter if you occasionally leave Spain during the year. If all the days you spend in the country sum up to 183 and over, you are still liable to pay taxes in Spain.

Taxes in Spain, in general, are challenging to understand. The Spanish government frequently changes tax regulations, so getting professional help and advice is wise if your circumstances are more complex.

Learn what taxes you need to pay as a Spanish resident, deadlines, rates, allowances, etc.: Taxes In Spain For Residents & Non-Residents

If you are retiring to Spain from the UK, read our guide UK Pensions and Tax When Living in Spain – what your pension options are in Spain and how your pension income can be taxed here. 

Opening your bank account in Spain 

There are several options for you as an expat regarding banking in Spain.

You might need a local bank account before moving to the country.

Decide whether you need an international bank account and whether you can keep your bank account open in your home country. 

To open a resident bank account in Spain, you will need the following documents: 

  • A valid, current passport or national identity card if you’re an EU citizen;
  • A document that proves your address in Spain, such as a utility bill that is less than three months old or a recent bank statement from another Spanish bank;
  • Proof of your employment status (such as an employment contract, a student card or unemployment paperwork) or proof of your retirement status;
  • Your NIE number.

To learn more about your banking options in Spain, read our guide Banks In Spain: Bank Account Options For Expats – Spanish bank accounts, how to open a non-resident and resident bank account, online banking options, special accounts for retirees, etc. 

British bank accounts for Spanish residents after Brexit. 

One snag many British expats in the EU have faced is the closure of their British bank accounts. Financial regulations in the Brexit agreement needed to be more concise for many banks, which has led them to cease operations in European countries. 

Many, such as Lloyds and Barclays, have shut UK bank accounts for overseas residents who can no longer prove a British address.

Check your bank before moving to see if they will keep your account active.

Driving in Spain as a non-EU citizen 

Non-EU citizens in Spain can, as a rule, drive with their original driving licence for six months, provided they also have an International Driving Permit. The six-month period starts from the time you register for residency. 

Before driving in Spain, you must apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP) in your home country.

Remember that an IDP is a complimentary license, so you must accompany it with your passport and your original driving license whenever you use it. 

After the 6-month period ends, you can exchange your driving licence for a Spanish one if these countries issued your original licence.

If your country is not on the list, you will have to obtain a new Spanish licence. You will have to resit your driving test in Spain (theory and practical). It is possible to do your theory test in English. However, when it comes to the actual driving part of the test, it’s done in Spanish. 

It’s easy to find a driving school that can teach you in English or Spanish to help you learn the Spanish terms and vocabulary used during the exam. 

Please find more information on Spanish driving regulations and the car registration process in our guide, Sorting Out A Car And Driving In Spain.

Final thoughts on moving and living in Spain 

Settling down in a new country might seem daunting. However, if you’ve planned well and thought things through, Spain can be the best experience of your life.

Take your time with Spanish bureaucracy and the paperwork trail; it’s all doable. And if you’re struggling to do it yourself, there’s always an option of hiring a gestor who will do all the legwork for you.

You might find helpful:

  • Best Places To Live In Spain – the best and most popular expat locations in Spain.
  • UK Pensions And Tax In Spain – your options and tax liabilities regarding your UK pensions in Spain.
  • Didn’t find what you were looking for or need further advice? Comment with your question below, and we will do our best to help.


  1. Thank you for the thorough article.
    I have two questions, I have spanish passport (but have lived in UK all my life), my wife is British. If we moved to Spain would she be eligible for citizenship?

    Also, would any savings we had, such as from house sale, be taxed?. Wether we kept it in a UK bank account or spanish account?


    • Hi Gonzalo, thanks for your comment. Your wife as a spouse of an EU citizen can apply for residency in Span without any problems. As far as taxes are concerned, it is best to have professional advice. You can get in touch with our legal expert in Spain Maria Luisa at Costaluz lawyers:
      Best Wishes,

    • There is no discrimination between UK and USA citizens (or others) when it comes to getting residency in Spain. As long as you qualify for the chosen visa/residency and meet the requirements, you can get it.

  2. My wife and I would like to move to Spain and retire. We are currently in Ecuador and would like to move on as soon as possible. We would need help with house rental and the purchase of a used vehicle and whatever Visa we would need to get started.

    • Hi, thanks for the comment. I can put you in touch with a relocation consultant who can help you with the move, sorting out legalities and finding housing if this is something you would like to do?

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