Overview: Living In Spain
QUICK SUMMARY- EXPAT LIfe IN Spain
Did you know that Spain is the 2nd most visited country in Europe? Nearly 82 million people lounge on the country's gorgeous beaches, dine on delicious tapas, sip on Spanish wine, and enjoy the vibrant nightlife. But Spain is not just for tourists and beach lovers; there are over 7.2 million expats living in Spain.
Expat life in Spain can mean 320 days of sunshine, inexpensive world-renown cuisine, and a relaxing Mediterranean lifestyle. It's easy to see why immigrating to Spain is a dream for so many expats.
Spain is also a remarkably affordable retirement destination. Expat retirees moving to Spain get access to a top-ranked healthcare system, excellent public transportation system, and affordable prices. While Spain's most expensive cities (Madrid and Barcelona) can be too pricey for a moderate budget, an expat can enjoy a comfortable life in a medium cost of living city (Valencia or Sevilla) on ~$1,700 per month or less than $20,500 per year.
Whether you immigrate to Spain for the wine and weather or costs and culture, expat life in Spain has pros and cons. Expat life here is not an extended vacation. The slow pace of life is not for everyone. The taxes can make retired life expensive. And the bureaucracy can test the patience of a Buddhist monk.
This Ultimate Guide will help expats moving to Spain understand the benefits and avoid the potential drawbacks of moving to Spain. In addition, the guide will help lead you through the visas process, research the "real" cost of expat life, expat health insurance requirements, and tax consequences of moving to Spain as an American expat.
Other Guides On Expat Life In Spain
Who is this guide meant for?
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What Is Expat Life Like In Spain?
What is the quality of life in Spain like?
Quality of Life
Spaniards are known to party late and enjoy lots of wine, yet Spain is still the healthiest country in the world.
A low cost of living, quality inexpensive health care, low crime, and sunny, moderate temperatures add up to a higher Quality of Life.
Do they speak English in Spain?
Only 22% of the country's population speaks English as a second language. However, the ones that speak English speak well.
How hard is it to learn Spanish?
The Spanish language is considered Category 1 (easiest) level of difficulty. As a Latin language, French, Italian, and Portuguese speakers can pick up Spanish easier than other languages. Even English-speaking US citizens with significant exposure to Spanish speakers in the United States can recognize words and phrases in Spanish.
Is It safe for expats to live in Spain?
Spain is a safe country, with petty crime being the primary concern. The country ranks 24th in the world for safety and security. You are 6 times more like to be assaulted in the US. Only 39.18 people per 100,000 in Spain experience a violent crime rate. Compared to 246.84 per 100,000 in the United States.
The country has a problem with pickpockets in tourist hotspots and petty crime in large cities; otherwise, living in Spain as a foreigner is very safe.
Spain is ranked 31st in the 2021 Global Peace Index, while the United States came in at 122th.
Tips for Moving to Spain
Learn Some Spanish Basics
Spanish is the most spoken language within Europe and the second most spoken in the world. Check out our free lesson to start learning Spanish.
Here is the "Secret" method that the US State Department, FBI, and overseas military uses to learn new languages quickly and effectively- The Pimsleur Method
Avoid hours doing mindless repetitive vocabulary. Pimsleur focuses on quick, easy-to-digest organic learning to get you conversational as fast as possible.
Get on Spanish Time
I'm not talking about adjusting your clock to the Central European Timezone. I'm talking about the schedule of life in Spain. If you are coming from the US and expect to walk into a Walmart at 2 am on a Sunday to buy groceries, you will be shocked. You will not find many businesses open 24 hours a day/7 days a week.
Generally, business hours are 10 am and close at 8 pm. Finding something open on the weekends is hit or miss depending on the business. Saturdays usually have reduced hours, and Sundays are more likely closed.
Accept the Siesta
Want to run some quick errands at lunchtime? Not going to happen in Spain. Spanish people take a long 2-hour break for lunch. Smaller businesses will literally close in the middle of the day.
Get used to big lunches and late dinners
The Spanish meal sizes and meal times are vastly different from the US and Europe, so expats in Spain need to adjust their eating schedules.
- Breakfast (Desayuno) starts at around 8 am. The meal is small, generally coffee and toast or pastry.
- Mid-Morning Snack (Almuerzo) is eaten before Noon. A light snack- think small sandwich, not a foot-long sub.
- Late Lunch (Comida) is the biggest meal and is eaten between 2 pm to 4 pm. Menu del Dia is a multi-course meal, appropriately followed by a siesta (nap).
- Afternoon Snack (Merienda) is another snack meal eaten around 6 pm to tide you over until dinner. Sweets and pastries are common or cured meats and cheese.
- Dinner (Cena) in Spain is a lighter meal than you would expect in the US. Tapas shared with friends and eaten around 10 pm is common.
INSIDER TIP : Notice that dinner is extremely late by US standards. Many restaurants will not even start dinner seating until 8:30 or 9 pm unless you are in a tourist area.
Firsthand experience living in Spain as a foreigner
Making Friends In Spain
Spaniards are generally really open and friendly...While people are friendly, it is honestly really hard to find local friends here. Similar to other countries but in my opinion even more prevalent is that people have their tight-knit social circle which is really difficult to get into.
u/extinctpolarbear- German Expat in Spain 4+ years.
Can I Live In Spain On $783 per Month?
<No.> In our small city, a room in a shared apartment would be on the order of 300€ before utilities. You'd pay around 100€ a month in required medical insurance to maintain a visa here. Figure another 200€ in utilities, transportation, etc., and you're already basically at your budget without factoring in food, travel, entertainment, gifts, residence permit taxes, emergencies, etc.
For comparison's sake, for a family of three living a very comfortable lifestyle (even luxurious in some respects), we spend about 34,000€ a year before any travel.
Robert ‧ US Expat in Spain 3+ Years
How Can I Get Visa For Spain?
Can foreigners live in Spain? Yes, there are legal ways to stay long-term.
Do I Need A Tourist Visa?
Since Spain is in the EU and part of the Schengen agreement, US citizens do not require a visa to enter Spain. Americans visiting as tourists can enter the country without a visa for up to 90 days out of every 180-day period.
However, to live in Spain long-term (more than 90 days), all third-country nationals, including Americans, need to apply for a long-term visa (Visado Nacionale) or a Residence Visa (Visado Residencia)
A long-stay visa grants temporary residence in the country. This type of visa is renewable annually, as long as you spend at least six months per year in Spain. Depending on the type of residency permit, you may be allowed to work, study, retire, or simply live in Spain.
- Residency: For expat who want to live in Spain without working. Spain's retirement visa falls under this category.
- Work and Residency: For expats working and living in Spain. Spain's unmarried partnership visa fits here.
- Student: An international student can live in Spain while pursuing a degree, doing research, or as an intern.
After five straight years of living in Spain as a temporary resident, expats can apply for permanent residency. After five years of permanent residency, it is possible to apply for Spanish citizenship.
Does Spain Have A Retirement Visa?
Yes, Spain's Non Lucrative Visa acts as a retirement visa. You can read all the requirements in my article below.
Does Spain Have A Digital Nomad Visa?
No. In the past, digital nomads working in Spain used a non-lucrative visa. The Spanish Authorities considered working remotely for clients outside of Spain as a "gray area." This gray area allowed digital nomads to work in Spain without a work visa.
However, Spanish Consulates and Embassies have been denying non-lucrative visa applications by digital nomads in the last few years.
Digital nomads who wish to live in Spain have two residency visa options:
- Freelancer Visa- targeting self-employed (Autónomo) workers
- Entrepreneur Visa- targeting start-ups "innovative in nature
What Other Visas Are Available?
A quick yet expensive way non-EU citizens obtain a Spain permanent residence permit is through Spain's "Golden Visa" program. However, the minimum investment required is 500,000 Euro for Spanish property investment up to 2,000,000 Euro for a government bond purchase.
If your partner is an EU citizen, a lower-cost visa option is an Unmarried Partner Visa.
What are the visa requirements for expats living in Spain?
Each long-stay visa has different requirements; however, there are some standard visa requirements:
- Pass a criminal background check in all countries you have lived in the last five years.
- Have private health insurance from Spanish insurance company.
- Proof of sufficient financial resources to support you and your family.
Roughly $2500 USD / 2130 EUR per month for one person plus ~$626 / 532 euro for each family member.
Did you know our 32-page ebook on Expat Life in Spain has even more detailed pictures and information?
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What Is The Cost Of Living In Spain?
Do you want a realistic guide of monthly costs in Spain? Here are examples of real-life expat budgets.
An expat living outside of a premium city (Madrid, Barcelona, Bilboa) can comfortably live in Spain on $1500 - $1700 per month
For reference, the two largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona, rank 67th and 84th out of 209 Most Expensive Cities globally.
However, a monthly budget in a lower-cost city like Alicante or Granada can cut your expenses by 35%.
Is it expensive to live in Spain?
Yes and No. If your dream retirement in Spain involves Barcelona, Madrid, or a Balearic Island, then yes, living in Spain can be expensive. Your average costs go up in larger cities like Madrid and Barcelona or major tourist towns like Palma de Mallorca or Ibiza, where rent can be up to 50% more expensive than in medium-cost cities.
A 3-bedroom apartment in the Capital city of Madrid is nearly $1,800. The monthly rent for a one-bedroom in Barcelona's city center is over $1,000. But, expats can save $500 to $800 on monthly costs by choosing a medium-cost inland city like Sevilla or even coastal cities like Alicante, Valencia, or Tenerife.
For example, a monthly budget for Barcelona is $2,100 for a single person to $2,800 for a two-person family. However, a comfortable expat life will only cost $1,625 in Sevilla or $1,500 per month for beach life in Alicante. Even a taste of the Canary island lifestyle fits on $1,550 a month budget in Tenerife.
Even on the famous Costa del Sol, you can enjoy a high standard of living for $1,700 per month, complete with an apartment near a Mediterranean beach, year-round sunshine, fresh food, and exquisite wine.
Even the most expensive cities in Spain are cheap by US standards, where just rent for a one-bedroom in even a medium-cost city in the United States is $1,800.
How expensive is Spain in comparison to other countries?
While lifestyle can vary depending on where you live, the overall living costs in Spain are much cheaper than in most Western European countries. Outside of premium expat destinations, prices are very affordable.
Total Monthly Budget
Spain's living costs ranked 14th in the European Union, more expensive than known low-cost hotspots (Bulgaria or Croatia) in Eastern Europe. However, basic prices are still cheaper than in nearby countries in Western Europe (France or Germany).
Cost of Living in Spain vs. The USA
You can see from the chart above, moving to Spain as an expat in a medium-cost city like Granada or Valencia can save you over 46% compared to living in the US.
Average Salary and Minimum Salary In Spain
You are unlikely to be reading a blog about financial independence and making a minimum salary. However, knowing Spain's average wage gives you a good benchmark for the country's actual cost of daily life. Logically, if your monthly income is greater than or equal to the average salary in Spain, then you can afford a middle-class lifestyle in most major cities in the Spanish territory.
What are the average salaries in Spain?
The average salary in Spain is about 45% LESS than the average salary in the US. This savings is a high-level estimate. Salaries vary greatly depending on the type of work and the location. As an example, the highest-paid region in Spain pays 147% more than the lowest-paid region.
To put salary in better perspective, let's look at a medium cost Spanish city, Valencia. The financial requirement for an expat on a long-term stay visa is ~$2500. The average salary in Valencia for a Software Engineer is $2,220 per month.
Already the minimum income required for an expat is $600 greater than a Spanish middle-class professional salary. It is not a stretch to assume an expat living in Spain will automatically have a standard of living higher than the average Spanish citizen residing in a medium-cost city.
Median Monthly Salary In Valencia
- FINANCE MANAGER- $3,408
- IT MANAGER- $2,284
- SOFTWARE ENGINEER- $2,220
What is the minimum salary in Spain?
What Are The Must See Places In Spain?
Get the highlights of the best things to see and best cities to live in.
The best cities in Spain for expats are different. The most popular expat cities Barcelona and Madrid, are the two most expensive cities in Spain. Plus, Barcelona and Madrid are popular expat hubs because of the potential job market.
Expat retirees looking for cheaper expat destinations should explore these three Spanish cities with fantastic amenities, great weather, rich cultural history, and an affordable living cost.
What are the best cities to live in Spain as an expat retiree?
Alicante, located in southeast Spain, showcases life on the Mediterranean coast. Found in the heart of Spain's Costa Blanca (White Coast), the city is near several beautiful beaches, including Playa San Juan, located just 5 miles from Alicante's historic city center.
Not just a city for suntans and beaches, food lovers can find reasonably priced restaurants with fresh seafood, amazing views, and breathtaking sunsets. All foodies, both expat or Spaniard, love Mercado Central (Alicante Central Market) at the end of La Rambla. Vendors here offer authentic Spanish products, including fresh fruits from the Levantine orchards and freshly caught seafood off the Mediterranean Sea.
Valencia has a lot to offer in terms of sights, social life, and activities. Spain's third-largest city is quickly becoming an alternative expat destination for foreigners looking for a big city feel at lower average costs.
Valencia is also an excellent place for an expat family. Valencia has miles of beautiful family-friendly beaches nearby, including the famous Malvarrosa Beach, with fine golden sand and a seaside promenade. The beach even has an exercise area for elderly people.
The city is home to the world-renowned Valencia oranges. In addition, Valencia is the birthplace of paella, one of Spain's iconic dishes. With a thriving food scene, gastronomy lovers will find themselves eating out on a regular basis.
INSIDER TIP: In the summer months, the touristy beaches in the north can get a little crowded with UK citizens on vacation. Escape the crowds by looking for quieter beaches in the south like Playa de L'Arbre del Gos if you want a relaxing swim in the Mediterranean Sea.
Seville (Sevilla in Spanish)
Seville is the capital of Andalusia (Andalucia in Spanish), a region in southern Spain known for its rich history and culture. Seville was the capital of Moorish rule for several centuries. Today, Seville has become an expat destination and vibrant cultural hub full of museums, art galleries, and festivals.
At over 2,200 years old, Seville is one of Europe's oldest continuously inhabited cities. Located along the Guadalquivir River, it boasts some of the best-preserved architecture in all of southern Europe. The city boasts three major UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Cathedral, Alcazar palace complex, and Archivo de Indias.
If you'd instead explore the local nightlife scene, you'll find loads of dance and music clubs in Seville's Barrio de Triana, the legendary birthplace of Spanish flamenco. Or head to Seville's large historic city center (Barrio de Santa Cruz), where locals and expats sit outside enjoying tapas and drinks.
What are the Top 5 Things to See and Do In Spain
Stunning monuments, ruins, churches, and palaces fill a country with the 4th most UNESCO World Heritage sites globally (49 total). Combined with some of the world's most beautiful beaches, Spain is one of the most visited countries in Europe. Whether you choose the mountains of the Sierra Nevadas or the sunshine of the Costa del Sol; Regardless if you are into sipping on sangrias on the beach, exploring ancients monuments, or learning a sexy new Flamengo move; Spain has you covered.
What you can see or do in Spain is as varied as the landscape. Here is a glimpse of some of the must-see attractions in Spain.
- The Alhambra in Granada- Located in the Andalusia region of Southern Spain, Alhambra and Generalife Gardens are considered one of Spain's significant cultural achievements. Now open for tourists, the palace was once the exclusive summer home of the Moorish King Muhammad I's family.
- The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona- This a famous landmark is the work of architect Antoni Gaudi. The Sagrada Familia took more than 50 years to complete. Gaudi died before seeing his masterpiece completed. This church is considered one of the best examples of modernist architecture.
- Hike the Camino de Santiago- This hike traces a 8th century pilgrimage route by Saint James the Great that ends at Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. There are many hiking paths; some routes take weeks and cover roughly 50 miles, while other Camino paths can take three months to cover over 550 miles.
- The Canary Islands (Islas Canarias)- Expats here enjoy the island lifestyle, surfable waves, and hot summers. The Canary Islands, which are only 62 miles(100 km) off the coast of Morocco, are closer to Africa than Spain's Iberian peninsula. One of the most beautiful places in Europe, movies and TV shows use the Canaries as film locations, including the Game Of Thrones prequels, which will shoot on Tenerife and Gran Canaria.
- La Tomatina- Buñol- Starting in the early morning, 40,000 revelers descend upon the small town of Buñol on the last Wednesday of every August for the world's biggest food fight. Festival goers spend the two hours throwing 150 TONS of spoiled tomatoes at each other start while running around like crazy, screaming and laughing hysterically.
What Is Healthcare Like In Spain?
If you are from the US, you will find healthcare in Spain very affordable. Here is information on the cost and quality of care available.
The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks Spain 10th in the World, when comparing overall quality of the public health care system: equipment, staff, doctors, cost, etc. The US ranks 29th.
A more recent study by the Lancet medical journal ranked Spain 19th out of 195 countries, one spot below the US at 29.
Getting Healthcare Coverage In Spain
Immigrating to Spain requires private healthcare coverage from a Spanish insurance company or another medical insurance equivalent to Spain's public healthcare system that explicitly covers you while you are a Spanish resident. Travel health insurance does not meet that requirement.
Public health insurance for expats
If you are a retired American living in Spain (or any non-EEA citizen), you can buy into Spain's public healthcare insurance under Convenio Especial.
Public healthcare in Spain is "universal," but not "free." You get access to Spain's health care when you start paying into the system, either through employment by a Spanish company, by registering as a freelancer (autónomo), retiring to Spain with an EU pension, or buying into the convenio especial.
Convenio Especial provides basic healthcare for a monthly fee of ~$70 / €60 if you are under 65 and $185 / €157 for those over 65 years old.
Each autonomous region manages Convenio Especial, so specific coverage depends on where you reside in Spain.
INSIDER TIP : Speaking Spanish is expected- Convenio Especial gives you access to Spain's PUBLIC hospitals and medical facilities. Unlike more expensive PRIVATE hospitals, public hospital staff are less likely to speak English or have interpreters available.
Did you know that most US-based health insurance does not protect you outside of the US. Your insurance may not provide adequate medical coverage in a foreign country.
My International Health Insurance covers me everywhere I travel for roughly $60 per month.
Will My Home Country Health Insurance Cover Me?
No. Most US-based health insurance does not provide adequate medical coverage in a foreign country. You will either need to get coverage from a Spanish insurance company or get Expat Health Insurance. Either option will be cheaper than what you pay for medical insurance in the US. My insurance from a Spanish company was roughly $65 per month for full coverage.
Money and Taxes In Spain
If you plan on being in Spain for longer than six months, then there are some things you need to know about Spain taxes.
Spain uses the Euro (EUR) for currency. At the time of this writing, the exchange rate is 1 US Dollar = .85 EURO. For reference, 1 Euro = .86 GBP.
- $1000 = €851
- €1000 = £855
Foreign exchange and international wire transfers play a crucial role in expats' daily lives. It’s important to understand how foreign exchange works and the effects international transfer fees can have on your cost of living.
Getting paid in USD, but paying bills in a foreign currency can kill your local buying power, especially if your bank gives you crappy exchange rates and charges you foreign transaction fees or international wire transfer fees.
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Spend in local currency with your card.
Don't worry about currency rates when changing money. You can use a Wise debit card to always get the best exchange rate and avoid sneaky bank foreign transaction fees.
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Do I Pay Taxes If I Live In Spain?
Expats living in Spain must pay non-residents' income tax (NRIT) on any income from Spain. In addition, anyone considered a tax resident in Spain must pay personal income tax (PIT) on worldwide income.
Digital Nomad and Expat Taxes
You may be exempt from paying Spanish PIT on 60,100 euros (EUR) of income, if the following requirements are met:
- You have tax residency in Spain.
- Your work is effectively carried out outside Spain.
- The work is carried out for a company, entity, or PE that is not resident in Spain for tax purposes.
- A tax which is identical or similar to Spanish PIT is levied in the country where the employee carries out the work.
Tax residency in Spain
You may responsible for income tax in Spain, if you meet at one of the following criteria:
- Spend more than 183 days in Spain in a calendar year. Leaving Spain temporarily still counts toward your 183 days, unless you become a tax resident in another country.
- Spain is your "center of interest": including economic interest or having family residing in spain.
INSIDER TIP : The United States has a double taxation treaty with Spain. US citizens living in Spain may be able to offset income taxes paid to Spain on their US tax return. Consult with a tax specialist to understand your specific liabilities.
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What Are The Pros And Cons Of Living In Spain?
Life here does have some downsides and expats moving to Spain should balance the advantages and disadvantages. Let's examine some of the less obvious Pros and Cons of living in Spain.
PROS- Benefits of Life in Spain
CONS- Disadvantages of LIFE in Spain
FAQs: Life In Spain
A Laid-back Lifestyle Isn't For Everyone- A slow pace life can be a culture shock for American expats with a Type-A personality. If you are hyper-organized, competitive in nature, or highly impatient, Spanish work and business culture can be infuriating.
Spanish Bureaucracy Gives Me A Headache- Dealing with the cable company or DMV in the US is a cakewalk compared to navigating Spain's government bureaucracy. Simple tasks can take weeks compared to days in the US. Don't fight it. It doesn't help.
Outside of Madrid and Barcelona, retiring in Spain is affordable. A monthly budget between $1500 - $1700 covers rent and basic living costs plus a comfortable social life.
Unemployment Is High- The affordable prices expat retirees enjoy is built on low wages and high unemployment. These conditions don't affect an expat retiree, but significantly impacts an expatriate looking to work in the Spanish territory.
A Non Lucrative Visa acts as a retirement visa for Spain. Spain also has a Golden Visa for Investors, but the Non Lucrative is usually a better option for most expats.
Spain is a very safe country for expats. Spain ranks 24th out of 146 countries in the world for safety and security. You are 6 times more like to be assaulted in the US than in Spain.
However, it’s important to be aware that Spain has an issue with petty theft in major tourist areas. .
This section is a one-stop resource of essential links to immigration and expats services, FAQs, foreign consulates, and embassies.
Resources for Working and Living Abroad
Start Speaking A New Language In 30 days
Pimsleur is the best method I have found to get to "Survival-Level" quickly when learning a new language. With Pimsleur, I can ease the stress of arriving in a new country and start speaking with people in my neighborhood. Ordering food, getting directions, haggling prices, and making friends is 10X easier when you can communicate in the local language.
Achieve better results using Pimsleur's short classes and organic learning methodology vs. the mindless repetition, endless verb conjugations, and tedious memorization of other language courses.
Transfer Money Internationally
For expats and nomads, Wise offers an International Bank account for your money transfers. It's an easier and cheaper alternative for paying your bills while overseas.
Looking to buy property abroad, Wise has a Large Transfer Rate for even bigger savings.
An International Mover You Can Trust
Suddath® simplifies overseas moving as a one-stop-shop for all your international moving needs. You will be supported by a professional, dedicated move counselor every step of the way. With an easier international relocation, you’re free to focus more on your new destination, while worrying less about the move.
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Get Your US Expat Tax Questions Answered
US Expat taxes are the most complex in the world. However, living abroad comes with potential tax advantages, but mistakes are very easy to make. It is no wonder many expats are frustrated.
Avoid complications, penalties, and fines, Taxes For Expats is here to help.
Protect Your Health While Abroad
Your home health insurance is unlikely to provide coverage for you while overseas. Get premium health insurance designed for expats and digital nomads that protects you anywhere you are in the world, even during a pandemic.
Use A Virtual Mailbox To Keep A Permanent US Address And Receive Important Documents and Packages
Get a US street address you can use while you are overseas. Use a digital mailbox with a REAL physical location to receive mail from USPS, FedEx, and UPS.
A virtual mailbox can receive and forward all your important documents and packages, replace credit cards, maintain state residency, get checks deposited, or file business and tax applications. Prices start at $6.
Travel Tools and Resources
Skyscanner- My favorite airline search tool to find all the cheapest flights in one place.
Airport Pick-Up Service- Arrive at your destination stress-free with a private car cheaper than most taxis.
Loctote- My favorite day pack. Secure your belongings while walking around town.