Moving to Spain: Ultimate Guide

Dreaming of sun-soaked plazas? Craving long siestas on the sunny coast of the Mediterranean? You aren’t alone in wanting to move to Spain! In fact, this coastal country is the fourth most popular expat destination in Europe. 

Before you take the leap, however, it’s essential to know all of the facts and have a checklist for moving to Spain.

Living abroad is dramatically different from visiting as a tourist. Before moving to Spain, it’s crucial to know about the practicalities of daily life as well as long-term considerations. Whether you are in the final stages of packing or are just daydreaming, let’s dig into the fundamentals of living in Spain.


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Living / Lifestyle

What does Spain have to offer?

The lure of a wonderful climate, rich history and a laid-back, unhurried lifestyle, combined with a cost of living considerably lower than most of , have made Spain a very attractive destination for many expats.

Spain offers amazing food, culture, sport and leisure, beaches among other things, and also averages more than 3,000 hours of sunshine per year making it one of the warmest countries on the continent.

How is living in Spain?

When you are thinking about moving to Spain, your first step is to consider what daily life in Spain is like. Of course, like most countries, your lifestyle can vary significantly depending on where you live. That’s why the first and perhaps the most important step on your checklist for moving to Spain is to decide where to live in Spain.

Moving to Spain - Malaga

Where Is the Best Place to Live in Spain?

Far too many ex-pats make the mistake of moving straight to their favourite travel destination, often on the southern coast. In fact, half of all the British ex-pats living in Spain are in Alicante or around Malaga on the Costa del Sol. While these can be great places to live, they aren’t the best choice for everyone. It’s also important to also realise that popular summer destinations have a completely different atmosphere during the rest of the year.

Did you know there are 17 different regions in Spain? Before you move, get to know Spain from top to bottom. Learn about the regions online (check out Travel Republic’s handy and brief overview). Make an effort to explore and visit at different times of the year.

So, Spain Sounds Perfect?

Well, you could argue, is anywhere perfect? Unfortunately, it is not all positive. Spain can be a bureaucratic nightmare, with long lines, endless waiting times and normally lots of phone calls required, especially if you do not prepare well in advance.

This can affect any dealings with civil servants, banks, and forget getting anything done during the middle of the day (Siesta).

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Cost of Living

How Much Does It Cost to Live in Spain?

The cost of living in Spain varies considerably by region. In Spain’s most expensive area, Barcelona, housing costs about double what you would pay in Spain’s cheapest area, Castilla y León. That means that while €2,400 per month would be a considerable wage in the city of Leon, you’d need €3,245.38 to maintain the same lifestyle in Barcelona.

If you are thinking about working in Spain, it’s essential to understand your salary after taxes and compare living costs. The cost comparisons on Numbeo are a great starting point. Do keep in mind, however, that these are user-submitted costs so your experience may vary. They represent a common family budget.

When you are at a point in your checklist for moving to Spain where you want to make a budget, do a home search. Idealista is the most popular home-searching for renting and buying in Spain. Since rent costs or a mortgage will be one of your key costs, utilise this tool to figure out what you will pay in your destination.

Moving to Spain - Tapas

How Much Money Do I Need in Spain?

When you are at a point in your checklist for moving to Spain where you want to make a budget, do a home search. Idealista is the most popular home-searching for renting and buying in Spain. Since rent costs or a mortgage will be one of your key costs, utilise this tool to figure out what you will pay in your destination.

Even in the major cities, Spain is one of the cheaper countries in western Europe. If you exclude rent/mortgage, a couple can survive comfortably on around USD 1,500 per month and this would allow you to eat our 2 or 3 times per week.

Lunch is the main meal of the day in Spain and many restaurants will offer the menu of the day or menú del día which are generally very good value at around USD 15 per head for which you will receive a lovely three-course meal with coffee and maybe a glass of wine thrown in.

At the grocery store or market, a huge amount of local produce is available and is generally very reasonably priced, even more so if you eat what is in season. 

Items like wine, olive oil, peppers, fish and other products you would associate with the Mediterranean region are plentiful and inexpensive. A couple can eat well for around USD 150 per month.

Accommodation will be your largest expense, there is a huge housing market and prices are fairly reasonable. A nice one-bedroom apartment is likely to cost around USD 400-750 depending on where you move to in Spain.

Moving to Spain

What Moving Documents are Needed For Moving to Spain?

Used Household Goods and Personal Effects
  • Original of passport
  • Original of DNI (for Spaniards) or NIE (residence permit for foreigners)
  • Detailed inventory, valued and signed in Spanish
  • Original certificate of change of residence (“Baja Consular”) issued by the Spanish Consulate at origin
  • Spanish resident card / work permit
  • Original bill of lading (OBL) / air waybill (AWB)
  • “Alta de Empadronamiento” issued by the local authorities of the place of residence in Spain
  • Application form for duty-free importation
  • Diplomatic Franchise (Diplomats)
  • Original certificate of change of residence issued by the Spanish Consulate at origin for Spanish Nationals
  • Original certificate of change of residence issued by correspondent Consulate at origin for foreign citizens from a third country
  • Official paperwork proving residency in country of departure for at least the last 12 consecutive months: Employer letter, registration certificates from any public administration in origin, rental bills, etc for foreign citizens moving from their country of origin

Motor Vehicle

  • Original vehicle purchase invoice
  • Original documents of the car (e.g., certificate of title and registration, insurance, etc.)
  • The car must be built to fit EU standards.
  • Technical details sheet of the imported vehicle
    • Official information gathered online from the concrete brand, model, and year must be provided if there is no such document in the country of departure
  • If the model of the car is not sold in the EU, owner of the goods must obtain from the manufacturer a document stating to what EU model his car matches.
  • Vaccination record
  • International health certificate

For more information on restricted and prohibited items and a more in-depth look at documentation please check the International Association of Movers.

Legal / Visas

How Can I Legally Live in Spain: Your Guide to a Long-Term Residence Visa for Spain

When you’re thinking about living in Spain as an ex-pat, the first step is to consider your country’s relationship with Spain. An EU citizen moving to Spain will have a completely different experience than an American moving to Spain. Knowing your rights is a crucial element of your checklist for moving to Spain.

Do I Need an Entry Visa for Spain?

Spain is part of the Schengen area. To enter Schengen, the requirements you’ll face on arrival depend on the country of your passport or other existing residency rights.

If you are from North America, South America, Australia, United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan, or numerous other countries, you can enter Spain for a total of 90 days within any 180-day period. Before you start planning a move to Spain, check out the official list of countries that do and do not need a visa for entry to Spain.

If you are from the European Union, you have unrestricted access to stay in Spain for an unlimited time. If you are a non-EU citizen and want to stay in Spain for more than three months, it’s crucial to get a residency visa.

How Can I Legally Live in Spain?

Having a checklist for moving to Spain before you go is crucial. There are several steps, often accompanied by long delays, that must be completed within your first three months of arrival. Whether you are an EU citizen or not, you’ll be diving into bureaucracy as soon as you arrive.

Moving to Spain - Flag and passport.

How to Get a NIE in Spain

It’s impossible to overstate the value of a NIE in Spain. From shopping online to renting an apartment, your NIE is crucial at every stage of Spanish life. Almost every time you are asked your name and address, you will be asked for your NIE.

Depending on your location, it can be tricky to get an appointment for your NIE. Research extensively before you go. If you are moving to a bigger city like Madrid or Barcelona, it may be necessary to use a relocation agency, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.

Once you secure your appointment, the process of getting a NIE is simple. You’ll just need to bring your passport and show proof of being able to support yourself, which is typically a work contract.

How to Get a Padrón

Once you find a place to live and have a NIE, it’s legally required to register your address. Your health insurance access and other basics depend on having this official address registration called a padrón . Again, the appointment is simple and just requires a lease or proof of homeownership along with your passport.

British Citizen Moving to Spain

While there are countless UK citizens in Spain, living in Spain after Brexit has become a more complicated situation. After 31 January 2020, British citizens have the same rights as any other non-EU citizens. Read more details at the official UK government website.

Residency in Spain for Non-EU citizens

Figuring out how to live in Spain as an American, British, Australian, or Canadian citizen is a challenge. For non-EU citizens, the most important item on your checklist for moving to Spain is to secure a visa. Here are your options.
Moving to Spain - Visa

Type of Spanish Visas

Non-Lucrative Visa: Ready to retire? If you have private health insurance and sufficient economic funds you might be able to retire in Spain. 

Business Residence Permit: Ready to set up a business in Spain? An entrepreneur visa allows you to set up a company or work as a self-employed individual.

Investor Visa: An investment of €500.000 will get you a so-called Golden Visa. If you can afford it, buying a pricey house is a quick way to get in the door. 

Student Visa: Thinking about studying abroad? Want to get your masters or PhD in Spain? Studying or researching in Spain can be a great option and offers you to transition to an internship or full-time work. 

Work Permit in Spain: If you are a highly qualified worker and can earn more than €40,000 per year, you may be able to get a job in Spanish. Keep in mind that you must secure the job and visa before you arrive. 

Family Member of EU Citizen: If a member of your immediate family is from the European Union, you can live together with any member state, including Spain.

Spain Residency through Marriage: If you marry a Spanish person or any EU citizen, you will be guaranteed Spanish residency. If you marry a non-EU citizen who has been living in Spain for at least one year, there is a family reunification visa option too.

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Money & Taxes

How Do Taxes Work in Spain?

Taxes are always a tricky concept and depend a lot on your individual circumstances. If you are planning to work in Spain, ask the HR dept of potential employers. They will be able to give you a take-home pay estimate before you accept a job.

Do I Have to Pay Taxes in Spain?

As a rule, anyone who spends more than 183 days in Spain during a single calendar year is a resident for tax purposes. This means you must pay personal income tax, known as IRPF, in Spain. Depending on your income, Spanish income tax rates range from 19 to 45 per cent.

How Do Taxes on a Pension Work in Spain?

Currently, if you are receiving a single pension for less than €14,000, you aren’t obligated to make a declaration. Bear in mind these numbers can change at any point so talk with a specialised accountant before moving.

Can I Be Self-Employed in Spain?

Being self-employed, or working as an autonomo as it’s called in Spain, means that you must pay your taxes every quarter and make a tax declaration at the end of the year. This is a complicated process, especially if you don’t speak a high level of Spanish. Again, it’s best to work with a professional, at least in the early stages.
Moving to Spain - ATM machine of Bank Santander

How Does Banking in Spain Work?

In Spain, you’ll have the option of opening a bank account as a resident or non-resident. If you are moving to Spain long-term, it’s best to open an account as a resident.

How to Open a Bank Account in Spain

Opening a bank account in Spain is pretty straightforward once you have your documents in order. Traditional banks let you open accounts online, by phone, or in-person. You’ll need to bring your passport, proof of address, NIE, and proof of employment. If you don’t have a NIE yet, you’ll need to open a non-resident account. 

Read through the fine print before you open an account and read a Spanish bank comparison to decide on the best bank.

Climate & Weather

What’s the Weather like In the Spain?

With its various landscapes and panoramas consisting large areas of mountainous areas, there are a surprising number of climates to be found in Spain. These include a Mediterranean climate, continental climate, maritime climate, high mountain climate, even a desert climate.

Though many people consider Spain to be simply a hot and sunny country, the truth is winters can range from mild to downright bitter – especially in the interior of the country. It can also be very wet in certain regions. 

In the north and north-west of Spain, winters can be very wet with a chance of some snow. Summers, on the other hand, are long sun-drenched days with temperatures rising quite steeply as you head inland and travel through the mountainous region of the Cordillera Cantabrica.

The climate along the Mediterranean coast from Andalucia all the way to the Pyrenees enjoy long warm summers and very mild winters and with the lowest rainfall in the whole of Spain, It is not surprising that this is where many ex-pats choose to live.

The region which starts in the Basque region and stretches west along the French border and the Atlantic seaboard is affectionately known as Green Spain. This is due to the heavy rainfall during much of the year. Santiago and Bilboa particularly are famed for their rainy and often misty climate 

Central Spain has a continental climate, with extremely hot summers and relatively cold winters. whilst Madrid enjoys a relatively temperate climate.


Buying & Renting a Home

The Spanish property market

The property market in Spain is unusual and it definitely pays to do some analysis before renting or particularly buying a home in Spain. The following sections should help you to avoid potential perils and pitfalls.

Like many parts of the world, the property market crashed during the financial crisis in 2008, with many homes losing almost one-third of their value. Whilst there has been a recovery in recent years, it remains to be seen how prices will be post-COVID-19.

Homeownership levels are very high in Spain; over 75% of citizens owning their own property, with a high number of these owning their properties outright (no mortgage).

Should you buy or rent in Spain?

In some parts of Spain, renting properties at reasonable prices can be quite limited. The popularity of short-term holiday lets is one reason for this and this has lead to rent increases of up to 20% in some parts of the country. Recently regulation has been introduced to curb this

For anyone who is considering buying a home in Spain, property prices are lower than in most European countries. Transaction costs are modest, at around 12-15% of the property value.

Can foreigners buy property in Spain?

As of 2020, there are no constraints on ex-pats purchasing a property in Spain, whether it’s land, residential or a commercial facility. Spain in fact promotes investment by both resident and non-resident newcomers.

In order to buy a property in Spain, you will need to obtain an NIE number, which relates to your tax record with the Spanish authorities and can be obtained through the Spanish consulate in the home country or through a Spanish lawyer.


Buying a Spanish property

The method of purchasing a home in Spain is fairly standard.

  • To start the process the buyer submits an offer to the sellers representative (often the real estate agent). 
  • If the offer is accepted a preliminary agreement known as (contrato privado de compravento) is signed by both parties. 
  • A deposit (normally 10% of the property price) is paid.
  • The buyer makes final arrangements with the mortgage provider.
  • The contract of sale (escritura de compravento) is then signed and taxes and other related costs are paid.

Can you obtain a visa if you buy a property?

Under certain circumstances this is possible and it’s often referred to as a Golden Visa. 

If the investment on the property/properties is in excess of 500,00 Euros, this qualifies as a form of investor visa and enables the investor to become eligible for a residence visa. This does not enable you to work, but it is ideal for anyone purchasing a holiday home or taking retirement in Spain.

Choosing a reliable lawyer

It is particularly important to retain the services of a competent lawyer who can negotiate a path through the red tape on your behalf. Lawyers who legitimately practice in Spain should be registered with the local bar association (Colegio de Abogados).

In case there are any doubts, you should confirm the lawyer’s registration number and if required double-check this with the bar association.

The national website for Spanish lawyers, Abogacía Española allows you to check all bar associations.

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How Does Healthcare Work in Spain?

There is a public and private healthcare system in Spain. If you are working in Spain, you’ll often be given the option to get private healthcare. You can use this in addition to the universal public care. If it makes sense to have both private and public depends entirely on your health needs and budget. Research individual insurance companies before you buy.

Does Spain Have Free Healthcare?

Healthcare in Spain is free for residents paying social security as well as their dependents and retirees. Healthcare is always free for all EU residents as well. If you are an EU resident, be sure to sign up for an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) in your home country. It will provide you with free health insurance when you are abroad in any EU country.

How Much Does It Cost to Go to the Doctor in Spain?

Once you are a resident or have your EHIC card, your doctor visit is free at any public hospital. If you visit a private hospital or are a non-EU citizen, expect to pay around €100.


What about Schooling in Spain

Education is taken very seriously with Spain proudly able to boast literary rates of over 97%. The school year runs from mid-September to mid-June, with three terms in 11-week blocks.

State-run schools tend to have fairly large classes in excess of 30 pupils. Schooling is compulsory for the age of 6-16. Children generally have more homework than the European average.

Primary Education in Spain

Primary education generally lasts 6 years. The school day starts at 9am until 12pm after which there is a 3-hour lunch /siesta period with lessons then resuming at 3pm – 5pm. Classes tend to be taught by a class teacher for 2 years and then a new teacher for 2 years. Kids are taught the normal, maths, science, geography, history, as well as a second language.

Moving to Spain - Team of excited Spanish students

Secondary education in Spain

Secondary education is compulsory from 12-16 years old. School starts around 08:30 and ends at 15:00 however this can vary from region to region. After these four years, students can attend an upper secondary school from 16-18 years old where they study for the ‘Bachillerato’ certificate. If the student obtains the certificate, the overall performance in the exams help to determine which degree the student can study for. A Masters degree is a 2-year course whereas a Bachelors or PhD takes 3-4 years.

Colegios Concertados

Special subsidies are provided by the Spanish government to private schools who have at least 25% of Spanish students, this is known as colegios concertados. The class sizes are smaller and children wear school uniforms.

International schools

International schools are fee-paying establishments offering multilingual/multi curriculum education. Generally, the enrolment process begins online. Previous educational records and certification will be required and once reviewed you will be contacted for an interview. Many schools have waiting lists so it is important to apply early.

The National Association of British Schools in Spain (NABSS) and the British Council in Spain are good starting points to understand what to expect.

Final Thoughts

Moving to a new country can be a little disconcerting, and left unchecked these feelings can develop into anxiety and stress. Moving to Spain, as we have seen, brings with it both exciting opportunities with some potential challenges. However, embracing the changes and adopting a proactive approach through the advice, tips and links we have provided sets you firmly on course to a successful relocation to Spain.

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