Living in Spain – The Expat’s Essential Guide
Essential information for anyone considering moving to and living in Spain: tips on planning your move, locations, cost of living, legalities, etc.
Spain is the number one destination for a lot of people around the globe considering relocating abroad for a healthier lifestyle and a better climate.
The numbers of foreigners moving to and living in Spain grow every year. There are compelling reasons for this, and first and foremost is that Spain promises us an amazing lifestyle that we could only dream of.
In this guide we’ll look at the ins and outs of living in Spain, what paperwork it takes to get your residency sorted and how to do it, the main considerations while planning your relocation and all those day-to-day things that you need to organise to have a normal life in Spain such as registering with a doctor, registering with your local council, taxes or opening a bank account.
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The UK government advises you to register as a resident, register for healthcare and exchange your UK driving licence.
For full details, please refer to our Living in Europe after Brexit article, which will be kept updated with country-by-country information as well as EU-wide news.
Spain offers great value for money. This is the most important consideration, especially for retirees. You naturally want your retirement income not just to last, but allow you to afford a bit more than you can do in your home country.
All regions of the nation are accessible from all parts of the world and usually for a fair price. Not only that, but the climate is fantastic with Spain averaging 137 days of sunshine compared to just the 52 that we have each year in the UK.
The culture is rich and diverse in Spain, the cuisine is thoroughly appealing, the wine is delicious, the history of the nation is fascinating, and then to cap it all off, the scenery in Spain is breathtakingly magnificent.
The country is also vast and diverse, therefore there is a part of Spain that appeals to each and every one of us.
For those who prefer a more temperate climate, Northern Spain is cooler for example, and for those who want as much sunshine as possible, the Costas are ideal.
Alternatively, if you’re a winter sports enthusiast or a lover of the great outdoors, what about the Pyrenees or the Sierra Nevada, and if you prefer island living then there are the Spanish Balearic and Canary Islands of course.
Planning on moving to and living in Spain is a key to your successful life abroad.
If you’ve holidayed on the Costas or visited Spain regularly and decided that it really is the one country that you could call home, chances are you have a basic but not deep understanding of the country.
Unless you’ve committed to living in Spain for at least a few months, you won’t be able to say for sure that this is the country that you really can settle into.
So, when planning on where to live in Spain, first, research well which locations are considered to be the best places to live in Spain.
Next step – go and spend time there getting to know the different regions and areas. During your research stay, it will be also important to spend time looking at the housing options available to you as well.
The main rules of a research visit are as follows:
The nation is vast and varied, diverse and wonderful – if you only commit to examining one small part, you could well miss discovering the part of the nation that actually suits you better.
Spanish spring and summer are lovely, the weather is great and the towns are more lively. Spend time in Spain out of season and in the winter when the weather can be foul even on the coast so that you can determine whether you can cope with the climate extremes.
See how different the experience of living in such an area would be when your favourite bars, restaurants, and shops are shut. Visit towns and villages, rural communities, urbanisations, and Costa resorts to get an idea of where you would feel most at home.
Towards the end of your research visit, if you have decided that Spain really is for you, begin looking more closely at the part of Spain you’re strongly attracted to.
Find out all about the amenities and facilities available, think carefully about how accessible the given community is and think ahead. Whilst a given location is ideal for you today, will it still be ideal in twenty year’s time?
Moving to and living in Spain means a complete lifestyle change. The lifestyle that relocating foreigners find in Spain sometimes could not be further removed from what they are used to in their home countries.
There is far more emphasis on the family and on relaxing and enjoying life in Spain.
Things are done slowly, sometimes frustratingly slowly for expats. Mornings can easily stretch into afternoons, small businesses get closed for unspecified siestas, and many newly arrived residents get really frustrated that nothing, even the easiest things, gets done on time.
Spaniards love and value their me-time. In August the whole country shuts down for one month and literally every Spaniard goes on vacation.
Everything slows down, many businesses shut their doors and people head for the beach.
Don’t count on anything to be done in August. Also if you’re planning to move to a coastal town in Spain, it’s a good idea to check it at this time of year as scores of tourists arrive causing crowds, traffic, and other hassles.
After the August holidays, everything goes back to its usual routine.
It doesn’t take long to adapt to this change in culture and realise what you have been missing out by constantly being on the go and living to work rather than just working enough to live.
As soon as this sinks in you can expect a positive change in your life: an enhanced feeling of well-being. It might sound insignificant, however, the feeling of well-being is deeply addictive, and once you’ve experienced it you will try to hang on it.
That’s why so many expats love Spain – it’s easier to keep feeling well and enjoy life there.
Sooner rather than later your old friends and your family back in your home country will see this positive change in you and themselves begin thinking about whether moving to Spain could be just the ticket for them too!
It’s strongly recommended to rent a property in Spain first before you buy. Renting will allow you to get familiar with the area and make sure it works for you all year round.
Entering any unfamiliar rental market might feel a bit daunting, especially if you don’t speak the local language. So, it’s worth doing your homework beforehand.
When you decide you are ready to become a homeowner, make sure you are familiar with all the legalities that buying a property in Spain involves.
You need to know how Spain’s property market works and all the possible pitfalls that you should avoid when buying your dream home in the sun.
Organising removals and shipping your belongings to Spain can be a stressful process, however, if planned well, it can also go quite smoothly.
You need to know what options you have, how much they cost and how long they take to be able to choose the right option for you.
You can do a sea freight, move your belongings by land or even organise DIY removals. All these options have advantages and disadvantages, so do your research to choose wisely.
There’s a lot to do when you start a new life abroad: sorting out your residency, registering with local authorities, finding a family doctor, sorting out your children’s education, opening a bank account, connecting utilities and the list is going on and on.
It might feel overwhelming, however, take it step-by-step and remember – once it’s done you won’t have to go through it again (unless you contract an expat bug and decide to move on to your next adventure).
All EU citizens are free to come and live in Spain without applying for any special permission from the local government. However, after three months of living in Spain by Spanish law, you do need to register as a foreign resident.
You will also need to obtain an NIE and register with your local authorities in Spain.
Spain has a universal healthcare system – the Spanish National Health System (“seguridad social” or SNS). Both Spanish citizens and foreign residents who work in Spain have the right to use the SNS.
The SNS covers most procedures free of charge. However, if there is a surgery involved, or you need to stay overnight in a hospital or receive extensive prescriptions, you will be charged a reasonable fee.
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 one.
EU retirees are automatically eligible for the SNS coverage when they become permanent residents in Spain. Retirees should also register with their local health centre.
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 283 and over, you are liable to pay taxes in Spain.
Taxes in Spain, in general, aren’t an easy thing to understand. Add to this the fact that the Spanish government changes tax rules pretty often. So being up to date with Spanish taxation might be challenging especially for expats with multiple income streams and assets abroad.
There are several options for you as an expat when it comes to banking abroad. In some cases, you might need a local bank account even before you move to the country. You also need to decide whether you need an international bank account and whether you should keep your UK bank account open.
Depending on where exactly you reside in Spain, you might very well discover that you don’t need a car at all, and the local public transport is more than enough for you.
However, should you need a car, you can either bring your UK registered car and re-register it in Spain, or buy a new or a second-hand car there. Regardless of your choice, there is some work involved. Here how you can do it:
Settling down in a new country might seem daunting. However, if you have made the right choice, living in Spain can be the best experience of your life. It gives the opportunity to enjoy a healthy lifestyle and beautiful weather for less money.
Don’t despair at the amount of paperwork facing you. It’s all doable. In the end, if you cannot do it yourself, there’s always an option of hiring a gestor to do all the legwork for you.