The expat community in Spain is made up of 5.6 million foreign residents, according to the latest figures from the Spanish government. With everything Spain has to offer, from the warm climate to the relaxed way of life, that number is set to increase, with a life in Spain more appealing than ever after the coronavirus pandemic across the world. If you’re thinking of moving to Spain as an expat, there are some important things that you need to know before moving: things are not always sun, sand and sangria.
Learn some Spanish before moving
Moving to a new country involves embracing a new culture, and with it comes a new language. Even if you are planning to move to an area that is already home to lots of expats from your native country, it is still a good idea to brush up on your Spanish language skills before you go for several reasons. Although English levels are improving in Spain, Spaniards notoriously struggle with English and knowing at least some basic Spanish will go a long way.
You can learn some phrases before you go or sign up to one of Spain’s many language schools once you arrive in Spain. Expats that make the effort to learn Spanish generally report higher satisfaction levels with their new Spanish life, and besides helping you find a higher paid job, being able to speak and understand some Spanish will also be of great help when you start the process of buying or renting a house, including the endless paperwork that comes with it.
Prepare for lots of bureaucracy
Speaking of paperwork, Spain is famous for its red tape. As an expat, you will have to apply for several different items of paperwork once you arrive, such as a NIE (foreigner’s ID number) or your empadronamiento (registering your address) amongst others. The process can be a little frustrating if you aren’t prepared so a word of advice: the level of professionalism and knowledge among officials and civil servants varies radically from province to province, as do the processing times and procedures, so be patient and assertive. Before moving, double check that you have every piece of paper that you think you might need, original documents and several photocopies, and gather up any other documents you may have, even if you don’t think you’ll need them. Large amounts of paperwork will also be required if you plan to buy a property in Spain. Those Spanish phrases you’ll have learnt before moving will also come in handy here!
Nothing gets done in August
Now that you’re aware of the paperwork that you’ll be faced with when you arrive in Spain, here’s another spanner to throw in the works. Do not attempt to do any of these things in August: don’t try to rent or buy a house, do a home renovation, get a new kitchen fitted, nor anything that might be remotely productive. During the hot summer months, mainly August, most big cities in Spain suffer a mass exodus to the coast and many shops, cafés and services only open in the morning, not to mention government offices.
The Spanish timetable
Everything in Spain generally happens later, from mealtimes to working hours, and you’ll need to adjust if you want to fully integrate into Spanish life. Therefore, you can forget about having a sandwich for lunch at noon and having dinner at 6pm. Generally Spaniards have a big lunch between 2 and 4 pm, an afternoon snack around 6pm and dinner any time after 9pm. Therefore, if you’re planning to go out for dinner, don’t expect somewhere to serve you at 6pm as many places won’t even be open!
Spain also doesn't obey the traditional 9-5 work timetable. A standard working day in the country could begin around 8:30 or 9am and not finish until 8pm, with a long lunch in the afternoon.
Cost of living in Spain
The cost of living in Spain is generally quite a bit lower than the UK and many other countries in western Europe. The cost of living unsurprisingly varies across the country but keep in mind that, although living in Spain is often said to be “cheap”, wages also tend to be much lower as well. In Spain’s capital, Madrid, for example, the basic cost of living for food, rent, bills and additional expenses can be around 800 to 1,000 euros per month on a lower student budget, but can reach much higher figures for families, depending on your lifestyle and where you live.
Be aware of conditions for renting apartments or purchasing property in Spain
Buying and renting property in Spain is not going to be the same as it is in your home country, therefore it’s important to do your research and if necessary, seek the help of a professional, at least to help you through the Spanish web of paperwork. Rental and buying conditions need to be understood to avoid having legal difficulties in the future, and you'll also need to consider that if you’re planning on buying property in Spain, there will be mortgage rates, taxes and conditions for expats.
Opening a bank account in Spain
Finances are another important point to consider before moving to Spain and if you’re considering on being in the country long-term, then opening a bank account is 100% necessary. Doing your research of different banks is important and be aware that some will charge you some quite hefty monthly fees if you don’t meet certain conditions. If you want to open an account before you move to Spain, various banks give you the option to do so as a non-resident. However, if you intend to become a permanent resident, you have to have applied for your NIE (foreigner’s ID number) before opening your account. Have a look at our useful guide on how to open a current account in Spain.
Spanish people are generally very friendly and might even want to practice their English with you. But there are some other things to be aware of about Spaniards if you want to be able to fully integrate into your new home. Things in Spain are, more often than not, done and said directly, meaning pleasantries and small talk do not translate very well into Spanish. Another main point to be aware of about Spain and its population is that things can get loud! Comparing a Spanish bar with a British one, the atmosphere will be completely different, and you may need to shout to be heard considering that conversations are much louder than in other countries.
The myth of the Spanish siesta
The famous Spanish siesta, one of Spain’s biggest stereotypes. Without intending to ruin your dreams of being able to have a nap every day, siestas are a thing of the past and stem from the fact that countryside workers would indeed have a nap for a couple of hours in the afternoon to avoid the hot Spanish sun in the summer. That aside, Spaniards do love a good siesta at the weekend after having a big lunch with all the family.
Do your research
As with moving to any other country, it’s really important to do your research to avoid any unpleasant surprises upon arrival. The points mentioned in this article are just some simple guidelines to help you know what to expect when you move to Spain, but by no means everything you need to consider. Therefore, to make your move to Spain as stress-free as possible, do as much research as you can, from the area you want to live in, schools, local facilities and job opportunities, to the weather and legal procedures.