Home Expats A Guide to Moving and Living Abroad as an Expat in Spain

A Guide to Moving and Living Abroad as an Expat in Spain

Spain is an extremely popular destination for expats looking for somewhere to settle down in a sunny location with a more easy-going way of life. There are an estimated 360,000 British residents registered as residing in Spain alone, with millions more expats from all over the world choosing Spain for retirement, work opportunities, or simply seeking out a sunny home and a laid-back way of life.

Updated: 01/10/2021
Read time: 12 minutes
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Spain’s popularity with expats is largely due to its warm climate, low cost of living, and laid-back lifestyle, while others like the abundance of restaurants, bars, and activities to be found amongst tourist hotspots.

If you’re thinking about moving to Spain, there are a number of factors to consider. From making sure you have the correct visa in place to choosing the right area to settle down in, this guide will take you through everything you need to know about living in Spain as an expat.

Key facts to know about living in Spain:
  • Spain has one of the highest populations in Europe, home to an estimated 47 million people. Of that population, 6 million are estimated to be immigrants – the majority of whom are from other EU countries, North Africa, and the UK.

  • The main language spoken in Spain is Spanish, although there are a number of different dialects and regional languages spoken. For example, Catalán is spoken in Catalunya province.

  • Spain has a mostly Mediterranean climate which means hot and dry weather, particularly in the summers. Winters can be cooler, especially in mountainous areas, but Spain remains a popular destination for winter sun.

  • In some areas, the Spanish siesta is still very much a thing. Shops and businesses will close between 2 – 5 pm, while restaurants will close between 4 – 8 pm. This may not be the case everywhere, but it’s worth keeping in mind in case you need to get to the bank/pharmacy/post office etc urgently.

  • Everyone residing in Spain is required to have an NIE (Numero Identificacion de Extranjeros) number, which you can obtain from your local police station with your passport. This is your personal tax identification number used to track all financial and legal activities in Spain.

Types of Visas When Moving to Spain

Visa NameWho Is The Visa For?Application TimeCostFurther Information
EU CitizensAutomaticEU citizens have the right to live and work in Spain without a visa or permit being required. If you’re planning to stay longer than three months, you will have to register with the local authorities.
Schengen VisaNon-EU citizens staying 90-days or less within a 180-day period15 days€80This type of visa is single-entry for only the Schengen area and is for tourism, business trips, personal visits and short study purposes.
Long-term visaNon-EU citizens staying more than three months15 – 30 days€80 to about €674Visa types include visas for students, work, retirees, entrepreneurs, working holiday, non-lucrative resident visas. You should submit the correct application form along with other required documents based on the visa you are applying for.

The visa requirements for moving to Spain differ depending on where you are from. If you are an EU citizen, then you are able to travel and live freely in the Schengen territory for up to three months – after this time, you’ll need to register with local authorities.

If you are a citizen of a non-EU country, you’ll need to acquire a short-term Schengen visa, which is valid for up to 90-day within a 180-day period. Expats wishing to stay longer will also need to apply for a long-term visa. 

Long-term visas must be applied for at the Spanish embassy in your home country – you can download your application form from the Spanish Embassy website free of charge. The application for a long-term visa will typically cost around €60 and cannot be refunded if your application is denied.

Spanish visa requirements include:

  • Proof of sufficient funds
  • No criminal record
  • Medical insurance provided by an authorised insurance provider in Spain
  • An original medical certificate verifying that you do not have any contagious diseases or drug addictions
  • Work authorization and a copy of your employment contract (if applying for a work visa)
  • Proof of your enrolment at a Spanish university (if applying for a student visa)

If you are considering purchasing a property in Spain, buying a house worth €500,000 or more will grant you a ‘Golden Visa’, which allows you to live in Spain. 

Moving to Spain after Brexit

If you are already resident in Spain or thinking about moving there in the near future, you may be wondering how Brexit affects you.

As the UK is no longer a part of the EU, the entry requirements for Spain have now changed. If you were a legal resident in Spain before 1st January 2021, your rights are protected by the Withdrawal Agreement, but if you are registering as a resident in Spain for the first time, you may need to submit different information. Check the official GOV.UK guidance for living in Spain to find out more.

Spanish Way of Life for Expats 

Excellent weather
Plenty of nature, beaches, cities, and mountains to explore
Friendly locals with a family-focused culture
High-quality healthcare system
Thriving expat communities across the country
Low cost of living
High unemployment rate
Language barriers can make it more difficult to settle in
Tourist industry drives up the cost of living in popular areas
Slower way of life can mean longer waiting times


Spain has a high standard of living, a family-friendly attitude, and a generally easy-going way of life, so it’s no surprise that this country remains a firm favourite with retirees looking for a more relaxed lifestyle.

However, Spain is also an extremely popular destination for tourists, so those looking for a sun-soaked retreat from the hustle and bustle may want to avoid tourist hotspots along the more popular Spanish coasts.


Spain is a sunny country with a warm, dry Mediterranean climate most of the year. In the summer, the weather is hot, dry, and sunny, but in the winter, the climate can be considerably cooler with snow common in some areas – although the country remains a firm favourite for winter sun. 


Public Transport

Spain has a good public transport network, with buses and trains both good options to navigate the country. Travelling by bus is often the cheapest option, although travelling by train is often faster and still a very cost-effective option if you book your tickets in advance.

Spain also has metro networks in most major cities including Madrid and Barcelona which is a cost-effective way of getting around, especially if you buy a travel card such as the T-10 card, giving you 10 journeys for €10.20 in Barcelona. One thing to keep in mind is that the metro can get very overcrowded, especially at peak times.

Private Transport

If you’re from outside the EEA and have registered for residency in Spain, you can drive using your existing foreign driver’s license for up to six months. However, you will also need to have an official translation if your license is not in Spanish or an International Driving Permit with you at all times.

Crime & Safety

Spain has a relatively low crime rate and is considered a safe country for tourists and foreigners in general. If you are staying in a city, the biggest thing you will need to be aware of is petty crimes such as pick-pockets in crowded areas.

To be safe, using your common sense is always a good idea:

  • Avoid getting valuable items out in public areas where pick-pockets could be watching
  • Research any neighbourhood you’re planning on moving to ahead of time – it can be a good idea to talk to other expats for first-hand experiences 
  • Avoid walking around at night, especially in unfamiliar areas
  • To avoid pickpockets, keep your bag across your body and zipped up at all times.

Jobs in Spain

Spain’s unemployment rate is one of the highest in Europe, which can make it difficult to find job opportunities in many sectors. Moreover, if you’re not a Spanish speaker, the job market in Spain can be very limited and you may struggle to find local work. 

Skilled workers may be able to find work in sectors including IT, engineering, finance, and healthcare, whilst the tourism industry may also have opportunities suitable for expats. 

Cost of Living in Spain

Spain is considered to have a relatively low cost of living compared to other big EU countries, especially when it comes to housing and food. However, tourist hotspots are always going to have considerably higher price tags, so you may want to keep this in mind when looking for a place to settle. 

The general cost of living

The cost of living in Spain will largely depend on where you are based and the kind of lifestyle you have. Living in a busy city or tourist hotspot is undoubtedly going to have higher costs than more rural areas, so this is worth factoring in when thinking about where you’d like to move to. 

Generally speaking, the cost of things such as food, gas, utilities etc are low compared to other Western countries, so expats can enjoy a high quality of life on a low budget.


If you avoid major tourist hotspots, property in Spain is very affordable. In addition to the cost of your property, other fees you can expect to pay include a 10% VAT charge for new properties, or a property transfer tax of 6 – 10% for existing properties, notary costs and a land registration fee between 1 – 2.4%, and legal fees around 1 – 2% of the total property price.

Your first step when purchasing a property in Spain is to make sure you have the right professional assisting you to avoid property scams, fluctuations in the market, and any unnecessary costs. Using a lawyer who is independent of the estate agent you are using is a smart move. 

Renting in Spain

In Spain, it is always sensible to get your tenancy agreement in writing. If you don’t speak Spanish, make sure you have an independent adviser go over your contract with you before signing to make sure you’re not being duped into any questionable practices by your landlord.

Renting is less common in Spain – over 80% of Spanish residents own their own home, but it can be a good option if you haven’t decided exactly where you want to settle yet.

Healthcare costs 

Public healthcare in Spain is free for legal residents and includes most primary care services such as nursing services, emergency services, family medicines, midwives, and physiotherapists. If you are a legal resident working in Spain, you’ll need to register at your local Social Security office to get your health care, which you need to show at every doctor’s appointment.

Expats are eligible for free healthcare if:

  • You are a registered resident living and working in Spain, or registered as self-employed and pay social security contributions
  • You live in Spain and receive certain state benefits
  • You are staying in Spain temporarily and have an EHIC card
  • You are studying in Spain and are under 26
  • You are resident in Spain and pregnant

Overall, the healthcare system in Spanish high-quality and readily available to residents living and working in Spain. The vast majority of Spanish residents use the public healthcare system, although private healthcare services are available at an additional cost. If you are not eligible for state healthcare, you will need to purchase private health insurance which costs around €50-200 a month. 


Spain’s school system has public, semi-private, private, and international schools to choose from. State schools are free for expat’s children to attend, although you should be aware that lessons will be taught in Spanish and your child’s teachers will not necessarily speak English.

While the Spanish school system is generally well organised, international schools tend to be the more popular option with expats because they rank higher both nationally and internationally, and lessons are normally taught in English. If you’re not planning on settling in Spain as an expat long-term, you may find an international school is more appropriate for your child as they can continue learning the curriculum in the same language they are used to. 

Most main urban areas in Spain will have a number of international schools to choose from, and the fees can vary greatly between schools and even more so between cities, so it’s wise to do your own research first. 

Banking in Spain

There are a number of major high street banks in Spain to choose from when opening a local bank account. Some popular banks include:

  • Santander
  • Caixabank
  • Bankia

There are also a number of international banks with a large presence in Spain, which may offer more tailor-made services for expats in particular. These include:

As Spain has such a large English-speaking expat community, banks are well poised to help you set up and manage your account easily and without much hassle. Most major banks should enable you to open an account whether you’re a resident or a non-resident, although the documentation you need to provide may vary.

You’ll typically need to provide:

  • Your Spanish NIE number if you are a resident
  • A certificate of non-residency if you are not a resident
  • Proof of ID (your passport)
  • Proof of address

Sending money to Spain

If you are not planning on living in Spain long-term, you may be interested in alternative ways to get your money to Spain. Using a money transfer service can be a great option instead of using your bank to transfer your funds, offering:

  • Lower fees
  • More competitive exchange rates
  • Faster transfer times
  • A greater range of delivery options (e.g. mobile money and cash deliveries)

If you are opening a bank account in Spain primarily to transfer funds from your home country, it’s important to note that initiating a direct transfer from bank-to-bank is rarely the most cost-effective solution. 

Use our comparison tool to compare the best money transfer providers for sending money to Spain to find the cheapest, fastest, and most convenient option to get your funds transferred to Spain.

Popular Places to Live in Spain

There are a diverse range of areas to live in Spain, each offering some different. Some key highlights of popular places to live in Spain include:


Barcelona is rich in culture, steeped in history and beautiful architecture, and a wonderful demonstration of how the traditional and modern aspects of Spanish culture can merge together. A major tourist destination in Spain, Barcelona can be as busy and exciting or as laid-back and authentic a place to live as you make it – it really depends on where you choose to settle within the city, and how you use your time.


Marbella has something for everyone: high-end restaurants on the marina with a backdrop of luxury yachts lined up next to each other, endless shopping options, plenty of bars and restaurants, and a span of beautiful sandy beaches with seemingly year-round sunshine. This destination is popular with families, singletons, couples, and retirees alike – the area benefits from a number of high-quality international schools, while also offering a high standard of living for those seeking out a sunny spot for retirement.

Costa Blanca

The Costa Blanca is one of the most popular spots for expats retiring to Spain, offering many hours of sunshine throughout the year and countless stunning beaches, beautiful landscapes with affordable property prices and a low cost of living. Expats could choose to live in one of the bigger cities on the Costa Blanca such as Alicante or Valencia, or opt for one of the many smaller beach-front towns that line the coast.

Other places that many expats choose to make their home in Spain include:

  • Malaga
  • Madrid
  • Mallorca
  • Gran Canaria

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Yasmin Purnell

Yasmin is the content writer for MoneyTransfers.com. With an English degree from the University of Nottingham and over 5 years’ experience freelancing in the personal finance niche, Yasmin joined the team with a mission to make international money transfers accessible and easy to understand for all. When she’s not writing, you’ll find Yasmin on her yoga mat or planning her next escape to the mountains.

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