Spain is a number one destination for a lot of Europeans 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 article 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).
Table of Contents
Why Moving to Spain Can Change Your Life
Spain has it all – i.e., 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.
How many more reasons does one need to think that actually, moving to and living in Spain might just be ideal and idyllic?
If you’re not yet convinced however, consider the fact that the nation is also vast, and because of Spain’s landmass you have such diversity, 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.
Spanish Housing Market
As the underlying appeal of Spain has not been damaged by the falling property prices, many foreigners are taking advantage of the fact that you can now finally find truly good value for money in the Spanish real estate marketplace.
If you’re seriously contemplating a move, then haggle hard when you find the property of your dreams – because as a buyer you’re best placed to be the one doing the negotiating.
As expats are realising the opportunity, last two years Spain saw the number of property transactions rising.
This rise was mainly driven by foreigners buying homes on the coast and in cities like Barcelona and on the Costa del Sol, one of the country’s most popular areas with overseas purchasers.
Britons remain the number one foreign homebuyers in Spain, making about 21% of all home purchases by foreigners in 2015.
If you want to make purchasing a house overseas a positive experience, ensure that you are armed with all the necessary knowledge of how the local property market and property buying process works, what you need to expect and be ready for, and what mistakes you should avoid.
You can find everything you need in our Buying Property in Spain guide, which includes all the legalities, walks you through the whole process, extra fees, intricacies of buying a house to renovate and buying off plan, and other useful information that can help you plan your Spanish property purchase.
Where to Live in Spain
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.
Yes, holidays are perfect for giving you a taster of a country, but to really get to know it well enough to commit to living in it, you need to spend an extended period of time living there. It really is essential to spend time living in a nation before you commit to moving there lock, stock and barrel – no matter how familiar it is to you on the surface.
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 for expats. 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.
When it comes to planning your research visit to Spain there are two schools of thought – one is that you spend a handful of extended periods visiting the parts of the nation that you’re interested in and that you do so at different times of the year.
The other is that you commit to living in Spain in rental accommodation for a single intensive period of a few months or even a few years.
Both methods are valuable in their own right – and whichever approach you choose may have more to do with your own personal circumstances.
Research visit – how not to make a mistake when choosing your location
The main rules of a research visits are as follows:
- Don’t just spend time getting to know one area of Spain. 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.
- Don’t just visit in the spring and summer when the weather is lovely and the towns 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.
- Get to know favourite areas out of season – see how different the experience of living in such an area would be when your favourite bars, restaurants and shops are shut.
- Start learning Spanish when you’re on your research visit. You will certainly need it out of season and what’s more, it is far easier to learn a language a) when you’re living in the country in which it is spoken and b) when there is not such intense pressure on you to get it right. I.e., before you actually commit to moving to Spain permanently!
- 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?
The final major task on your research visit will be considering property in Spain.
Having lived in Spain now for an extended period of time and learned all about the rental market, you may feel that you’re ready to buy.
An additional advantage of having got to know Spain and the Spanish people is that you may well have met people who will be useful to you in your search for a home.
You are less likely to be taken for naïve tourists and more likely to be taken under the wing of local people and told about properties that others may not be aware of!
Think carefully about the property type that would suit you – if this is going to be your permanent home in Spain you need to make sure the construction of the property is up to scratch.
Many holiday villas and apartments are sold without any form of heating and many are on complexes that are all but abandoned out of season. Homes such as these are less likely to suit you. You will need something that is built well, would appeal to the local market and that’s within reach of a year round community.
You will find that a research trip to Spain is invaluable. It will save you from making the false assumptions and mistakes that many make when they just sell up in their home country with hardly a second thought and transfer all their worldly goods to some villa somewhere in Spain.
Take your time, after all, expatriating is a massive undertaking, and it is not one that should be taken lightly.
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, its 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!
Settling Down in Spain: Formalities and Paperwork
With all the preparations done, and you having arrived in your chosen location what are your first steps when you are in Spain?
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).
Applying for NIE and Residency in Spain
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.
Previously, foreigners arriving in Spain had to first apply for an NIE and then later apply for residency.
Now, however, if you are applying for the certificate of registration as a foreign national (residency), there’s no need to apply separately for a NIE first – you will be given one automatically when getting your Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión (Residency Card).
NIE stands for Numero de Identification de Extrajeros or foreigners’ identification number. This is the expat equivalent of the local Spaniards’ DIE or Documento Nacional de Identidad, and if you want to know what that is, consider it similar to the British National Insurance number.
To be eligible for a NIE and residence in Spain EU nationals who wish to reside in Spain for a period of over three months must meet the following requirements:
- Be employed in Spain or self-employed or
- Have sufficient funds to support themselves and family members (8,000€ minimum in a bank account in Spain) OR
- Be registered with a public or private health care policy that covers them during their time in Spain
Why will you need a NIE? It is the experience of our readers who have moved to live in Spain that you will find it impossible to operate if you don’t have one.
You are asked for it if you buy a property, if you buy or insure a car, if you want to open a bank account or set up utility bills, or sign up for the state healthcare system. You will also need it if you conduct any financial and/or professional in Spain regardless of whether you are a resident or non-resident in Spain.
Children also need a NIE number in order to, among other things, get social security.
In short, any kind of paperwork you must do in Spain as a foreigner will require the NIE number.
A NIE can be issued for both EU citizens and non-EU citizens.
Applying for a NIE only
If you don’t need a residency in Spain (if, for example, you aren’t going to spend more than 3 months in a year in Spain), you can apply for a NIE only.
The application procedure may vary depending on where in Spain you apply. Generally, to obtain a NIE number, you need to:
- Fill out the NIE application form (EX-15). You can download the form online and print it out, or you can get it at any NIE office. You must fill in the form in Spanish. If you need help with it, there is advice available online, just google “filling in EX-15 form Spain”.
- If you’re already in Spain, go to your nearest police station or Oficina de Extranjeros. Outside of Spain, find a Spanish Consulate (the “Consulate dept legalizaciones”, not the Embassy) to submit the documents.
Together with two originals of EX-15 form you need to file in the following:
- Your passport and a copy of your passport (all pages)
- A small fee ( just over €10 in 2018), payable at the bank using a 790 NIE form. This can now only be filled in online and printed out. Find the form online and take it to any bank to pay before going to the police station
You need book an appointment at the National Police station. It can be done online.
You will be given a white certificate with the number on. In some cases you may be asked to collect it another day. NIE numbers always begin with the letter X, Y or Z.
Applying for ‘Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano Europeo’ (European Citizen Registration Certificate)
As we have mentioned already, you can apply directly for your residency card 9which is a 5 year temporary residence permit), and if you don’t have a NIE it will be issued automatically together with your Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano Europeo.
You can apply at your nearest National Police station (Policía Nacional) or provincial Oficina de Extranjería.
Here’s a list of required documents:
- Your valid passport and its photocopy (all pages including the cover)
- Two filled-out originals of the EX-18 form. The form has to be filled out in Spanish, if you’re not confident in your Spanish and there’s no one near to give you a hand, – google it online and you will find how to do it.
- Payment of about €12 with the payment form 790-012. The form is available online, fill it in and print out before you go to a bank to pay it. The bank will give you a receipt as proof of payment.
- Proof that you can support yourself in Spain:
- If you’re employed, you need to present your contract or certificate of employment,
- If you’re self-employed, make sure you can demonstrate it by providing the details of your registration on the Economic Activities List “Censo de Actividades Económicos” or in the Mercantile Registry “Registro Mercantil”.
- If you don’t work in Spain you need to show that you have a health insurance (either in Spain or in another country) that covers your and your family’s residency in Spain and is at least comparable to the cover provided by the National Health System. Retirees from the EU countries can meet this condition by proving that their health care in Spain will be paid for by their home country. For UK retirees it’s an S1 certificate, that can be obtained from the UK Overseas Healthcare Team on +44 191 218 1999.
- Those who don’t work in Spain also need to prove that they have sufficient resources to support themselves and their family members. It might be anything from regular income, investment income, pension or income of another kind, or from ownership of assets. You may prove it by presenting legally admissible evidence, such as property deeds or a bank certificate. UK pensioners who get pension paid into a Spanish bank account, can present a bank certificate. If your pension is paid into a British bank, you need to get in touch with the UK pensions office. They will send you a letter confirming your pension income, which you need to get translated by an official legal translator.
You need to book an appointment online for your nearest National Police station to submit your application and all the documents.
You can also apply at the Oficina de Extranjería – immigration administration office of the Spanish government. Every main city of each province in Spain has a branch of the Oficina de Extranjería .
When your application goes through and you’re issued with your certificate, you will be
If you have lived in Spain for five years and already have Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano Europeo certificate you can apply, if you wish to, for a permanent residency.
For this you will need to use the same forms and pay the same tax. No additional paperwork should be required, however, the authorities might ask for proof you have been living in Spain for five years.
For this keep safe your bank receipts, rental contracts, utility bills and any other official letters with your name and address.
Registering on a Padron
All Town Halls in Spain keep a register of the residents of their area – the Padron. It’s used by the government and local authorities to make sure they know how many people live in their area.
If you live in Spain more than six months a year, you should register on the Padron.
You will find you need it if you want your children to go to a local school or if you need to register with a family doctor, or if you wish to apply for facilities offered via Social Security.
You need to apply in your local Town Hall. make sure you now the requirements – they differ from area to area.
Normally you would need the following:
- Your original passport and a photocopy
- Your title deeds and a photocopy if you own a property
- Your rental contract in Spanish and a photocopy if you’re renting
- Children over 18 have to sign the registration form in person. For those under 18 you need to show birth certificates and passport.
The certificate confirming your registration on the Padron only lasts for 90 days. You will only need the certificate when you are asked to prove that you are registered.
It doesn’t happen so often, but when you need it, you just visit your local council to get a fresh one.
Healthcare in Spain – Registering with the Spanish National Health System
Spain has a universal healthcare system – the Spanish National Health System (“seguridad social” or SNS). It’s actually one of the best in the world.
Both Spanish citizens and foreign residents who work in Spain have right to use the SNS.
Foreigners can use the SNS if they work in Spain, pay social security taxes or retired (over the retirement age). Emergency treatment is available to anyone regardless of their status in the country.
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.
Singing 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 a private healthcare 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.
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 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.
Hence the most important advice: consult a tax specialist. It will save you a lot of time going through paperwork and give you a peace of mind that no nasty surprises will be ever coming your way from the Spanish tax office.
Spanish Tax Year and Reporting Deadlines
The Spanish tax year runs from 1 January to 31 December.
As a tax resident of Spain, you are required to complete a resident tax declaration (your personal income tax declaration) every year.
However, it’s not as simple as that. Depending on your income streams, turn-over (for businesses) and your own occupation status (whether you are a pensioner, a sole trader, a self-employed or a company owner) there are different reporting requirements and deadlines.
There are also various options of how you can file in your declarations: in most cases you can do it online, over the phone, or in a traditional way – filling out paper forms.
The easiest way is to make sure you do everything correctly is to delegate all the work to a professional accountant. Or at least get professional advice as to DIY your tax reporting correctly.
Remember that failure to comply can result in hefty fines and penalties, so it’s best to try to keep your taxes in order.
Declaring Offshore Assets
If you have assets worth more than €50,000 anywhere in the world, you have to report them to the Spanish Tax Authorities.
This is called the 720 asset declaration form. It is used for residents of Spain to record their assets in other countries.
The authorities do not collect any tax from the form directly and say it’s for informational purposes only and to help them prevent tax fraud.
The deadline for filing in is the 31st March. You only have to submit the 720 form once; however, if your circumstances change, you will have to do it again.
What you have to declare?
Well, basically everything you have outside Spain in excess of €50,000 including:
- Assets held in any bank accounts with total balance over €50,000
- Shares, bonds, life insurance policies, pension plans, annuities, etc with total value over €50,000
- Business premises or/and property with purchase value over €50,000
If your circumstances change, you will have to file in the 720 form again. It’s worth keeping in mind that the value of your assets fluctuates depending on exchange rates, and it may make a difference to how much your offshore assets are worth.
Fines and penalties
When the 720 asset declaration form was first introduced, not many expats appreciated the seriousness of Spanish Authorities.
However, the heavy fines and penalties for non-reporting, late reporting and misinformation are now bringing it home. The submitted forms are investigated and in some cases in great detail.
It’s better to submit your 720 late than not do it at all. The fines for late submission aren’t as extortionate as the penalties for being found out.
So, if you have become a Spanish resident and it’s your first year or if there’s a change in the value of your offshore assets, you must file in the 720 form between 1st January and 31st March of each current year.
Thus, you will ensure you never get a letter from the Spanish Tax Authority concerning your 720 declaration form.
How Much Tax Will I Have to Pay?
Spain has tax thresholds according to which residents pay income tax:
Income tax rates and allowances for 2018/19
Personal tax allowance €5,550
|€5,550 – €12,450||19.0%|
|€12,450 – €20,200||24.0%|
|€20,200 – €35,200||30.0%|
|€35,200 – €60,000||37.0%|
|€60,000 or more||45.0%|
65 years and over – €6,700
75 years and over – €8,100
For more details on retirement income options and taxes read our Retire to Spain guide.
Capital gains tax rates
Dividends up to €1,500 are tax free
€0 – €6,000 – 19%
€6,000 – €50,000 – 21%
Greater than €50,000 – 23%
If your wealth is over €700,000 you will be liable for wealth tax of 0.2–2.5% on net assets. Residents pay tax on world-wide assets, while non-residents pay tax on their Spanish assets only.
For families with children the following child allowance applies if a child/children are under 25, living with the parents and have an income under €8,000:
First child – €2,400
Second child – €2,700
Third child – €4,000
Fourth and additional children – €4,500
Additional for child under 3 – €2,800
There is so much in Spain’s favour, we cannot do anything about the love and passion we feel for this nation.
It appeals to us on all levels. With Spanish property being more affordable it is easy to buy into the inimitably enjoyable and good lifestyle that Spain offers.