Best places for expats to raise a family in Spain

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11 October 2021, Luke Worthington

Spain is a diverse country with a large number of foreign-born residents. Expats make up almost 15% of the population, and they come to Spain for a wide variety of reasons, from increased standards of living or decreased cost of living, to the beautiful landscape and weather. However, if you have a family, or plan start one, you have more to consider than many expats. So, where are the best places for expats to raise a family in Spain?

Madrid

Spain’s capital has something of a reputation for partying and nightlife but you shouldn’t discard it as a place to raise a family. Madrid offers an excellent public education system which offers high quality bilingual education, and should you wish there is a high density of private and semi-private (concertado) schools many of which follow an international curriculum.

Madrid is one of the best places in Spain for expats to raise a family as it boasts a great many family friendly activities, from stunning parks like the famous Buen Retiro and the uncountable local parks that seem to be everywhere around the city, to world famous museums and several World Heritage Sites within range for a daytrip with the kids. Madrid is also among the safest cities in Europe, and as a large European capital, abundant opportunity for all kinds of work. The downside is that it is one of the most expensive places to live in Spain, but you can't have everything!

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Plaza Mayor in Madrid
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Barcelona

The capital of the autonomous community of Cataluña, Barcelona is the main rival of Madrid, in everything from popularity among expats, to football. The city’s reputation as a beautiful tourist destination is well deserved and its unique architecture particularly Gaudi’s work, is unparalleled in its beauty. Like Madrid it boasts an excellent education system, public and private, and a Catalan might argue that it has even more activities and attractions than the national capital, making it possibly an even better place for an expat to raise a family.

Like Madrid, Barcelona is also a very safe city, though being a tourist hotspot comes with its problems. But Barcelona also boasts what Madrid does not: a coastline, part of what helps it beat out the national capital as one of the best cities in the world for foreigners to live in. If your family is looking for sun, sand, and sea, along with a city lifestyle that comes cheaper than Madrid, Barcelona might be for you.

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The Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona
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Malaga

The sunny southern province of Spain is one of the most popular destinations for expats, and one of the best places in Spain to live by the sea. If you have the budget Marbella offers a life of luxury in the sun, but if not, there are plenty of places that can offer the sun at a lower cost, like Fuengirola and Torremolinos. While not as populated as Madrid or Barcelona, the Costa del Sol boasts as high-quality education for its expats. Due to the high number of foreign-born residents, there is a thriving community of international schools as well as the high-quality public system. If the language barrier is stopping your family from moving, Malaga has an incredibly large English-speaking community that can make you feel right at home.

If you're looking for things to do as a family, Malaga has it all! From kayaking around the cliffs on the coast, to hiking in the mountains, to even daytrips to the historic Segovia or British Gibraltar. Or you can simply go to the beach and enjoy what the Costa del Sol is famous for!

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The stunning Malaga coastline
Sierra Blanca Estates

Alicante

Maybe you want to enjoy the beach, but the southern coast might be a little too hot. The Costa Blanca, with its famous long tracts of sandy beach is probably what you want, and Alicante is right at its heart. This is where it is said there are the most expats in the country, and during the holiday season you might hear English more than Spanish! As such a vibrant international environment, Alicante boasts as high a quality and wide a choice as Malaga for your children’s education.

If you're looking for family outings, let’s face it; you go to Alicante for the beach. The city's beautiful promenade, paved in marble, is unparalleled as a place for the long, leisurely walks that are so easy to enjoy in Alicante’s climate, and up and down the coast there are beautiful, long stretches of sandy beach and calm Mediterranean waters. But if you feel more adventurous, maybe a boat trip into the Mediterranean and out to Tabarca Island to walk around, or how about snorkelling along the coast?

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Alicante from the air
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The islands

Two for one with this entry! Spain has two substantial archipelagos; the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands.

While the Baleares are possibly best known for the partying of Ibiza and Mallorca, like Madrid it has it much more than that. Away from the party centres, these Mediterranean islands boast a fabulous natural landscape and varied cultural activities that make it a very popular destination for expats. If you want magnificent beaches, or beautiful mountains, the Baleares can offer both. And with the expat community of course there come excellent public and private schools for international students, particularly in Mallorca.

The Canary Islands off the north-western coast of Africa is where to go though if you want to really maximise outdoor family time. Rocky coastlines, imposing mountains, sandy beaches, and four of the thirteen natural parks in Spain mean you will never run out of things to do together in the sunshine. One of the islands, El Hierro, is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a Global Geopark. And like any popular destination for expats, the Canary Islands will not leave you wanting for choice and quality in your children’s education. If you want to move to Spain but the cities on the mainland aren’t your cup of tea, Spain’s island communities might be just what you’re looking for.

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A stretch of Canary Islands shoreline
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