Discover the complete guide on how to live in Spain in 2024. From visas to healthcare, taxes to culture, make your move to Spain seamless!

Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Laila Oliveira

Whether you like the bustling streets of Madrid, the stunning beaches of Barcelona, or the laid-back lifestyle of Andalusia, there’s something for everyone. To live in Spain means experiencing a vibrant blend of history, culture, and modernity.

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Explore the local cuisine, from paella to tapas, and immerse yourself in Spanish traditions, like flamenco dancing and siestas. This complete guide provides essential insights for a fulfilling experience. Every aspect of settling in this country is covered, from finding the right city to understanding how much it costs to live in Spain.

With this guide, you’ll be equipped to embrace the Spanish way of life, from understanding the language and customs to navigating everyday challenges. Whether you’re planning a short visit or a long-term stay, here is a comprehensive guide to what it takes to live in Spain!

Why Spain?

Expats are increasingly choosing to live in Spain for several compelling reasons. Firstly, Spain offers a high quality of life with its pleasant climate, beautiful landscapes, and rich cultural heritage. The country’s relaxed lifestyle, famous for its siestas and vibrant social scene, is also a major draw. This is true for expats looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

Additionally, Spain boasts a relatively low cost of living compared to other Western European countries. This makes it an attractive option for those seeking a more affordable lifestyle without compromising quality.

The healthcare system in Spain is also highly regarded, offering expats access to quality healthcare at a fraction of the cost. Furthermore, Spain’s strategic location within Europe makes it an ideal base for travel. 

This is handy for expats who want to explore other European countries. With its excellent infrastructure and modern amenities, Spain continues to be a popular choice for expats looking for a new and exciting place to live.

But there’s a lot more you need to know before deciding! 

Best Cities

Spain offers a wide range of cities, each with its unique charm and appeal. The best city for you to live in will depend on your preferences for climate, culture, cost of living, job opportunities, and lifestyle. Here are some of the top cities in Spain that are popular among expats and locals alike:

  1. Barcelona

    Known for its stunning architecture, vibrant culture, and beautiful beaches, Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city with a rich history. It offers a high quality of life, excellent public transportation, and a bustling nightlife.

  2. Madrid

    As the capital city of Spain, Madrid is a dynamic and lively city with a rich cultural scene, world-class museums, and beautiful parks. It offers excellent job opportunities, a diverse culinary scene, and a vibrant nightlife.

  3. Valencia

    Located on the eastern coast of Spain, Valencia is known for its beautiful beaches, stunning architecture, and rich history. It offers a lower cost of living compared to Madrid and Barcelona and a relaxed lifestyle.

  4. Seville

    Seville, the capital of Andalusia, is known for its stunning Moorish architecture, lively festivals, and rich cultural heritage. It offers a high quality of life, a lower cost of living than other Spanish cities, and a warm climate.

  5. Bilbao

    Located in the Basque Country, Bilbao is known for its modern architecture, world-class museums, and excellent cuisine. It offers a high quality of life, a strong economy, and beautiful natural surroundings.

  6. Malaga

    Situated on the Costa del Sol, Malaga is known for its beautiful beaches, sunny weather, and rich history. It offers a lower cost of living compared to other Spanish cities, as well as a relaxed lifestyle.
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Cost of living

How much does it cost to live in Spain? 

If you want to lead a fairly cheaper life without necessarily giving up on comfort, you might want to move and live in Spain. This is particularly true if you immigrate from a first-world nation in Europe and beyond.

If you’re wondering how much you need to live in Spain, here is some data for you. According to Numbeo, a single person’s estimated monthly costs are €699 without rent. A family of three will need about €2,469 to cover the same expense.

Expats’ cost of living in Spain can vary depending on the city or region, lifestyle choices, and individual circumstances. In major cities like Madrid and Barcelona, the cost of living can be higher, especially for accommodation.

However, smaller cities and towns often offer lower living costs. Rent is one of the most significant expenses for expats in Spain. The cost of renting an apartment can vary greatly depending on the location and size of the property. Data from Idealista mentions that the average price of renting a property in Spain is about €12.4/m2.

Breakdown of cost of living

Apart from rent, groceries represent another significant component of living expenses. If you want to live in Spain, here is a cost breakdown of everyday items on a grocery list. 

Food ItemCost
Milk, 1 L€1.04
Bread, 0.5 kg€1.27
Rice, 1 kg€1.30
Eggs, x12€2.42
Cheese, 1 kg€11.97
Chicken Breast, 1 kg€6.98
Round Steak, 1 kg€13.19
Apples, 1 kg€1.68
Banana, 1 kg€1.68
Oranges, 1 kg€1.67
 Tomato, 1 kg€2.28
 Potato, 1 kg€1.4
Onion, 1 kg€1.56

Estimates are from Numbeo (as of February 2024).

Quality of life

Spain offers a high quality of life for expats, combining a relaxed Mediterranean lifestyle with modern amenities. The climate is mild, with plenty of sunshine and outdoor activities year-round.

The rich culture, delicious cuisine, and vibrant social scene create a fulfilling experience. Healthcare is excellent, with both public and private options available at reasonable costs.

As you can tell, the cost of living is generally lower than in other Western European countries, making it affordable for expats. Spain’s well-developed infrastructure has efficient public transportation, high-speed internet, and good healthcare and education facilities.

The work-life balance is also favorable, focusing on enjoying leisure time and spending time with family and friends. Overall, Spain provides a welcoming and comfortable environment for expats looking to live a fulfilling life in Europe.

Learning the Spanish Language

Learning Spanish can greatly enhance your experience living in Spain, especially if you relocate permanently. It’s optional, as many people in Spain, particularly in tourist areas and cities, speak English.

Nonetheless, knowing Spanish can significantly improve your quality of life and integration into Spanish culture. Speaking of integration, understanding the language helps you integrate into the local community and make meaningful connections with neighbors, colleagues, and new friends.

Also, learning the language gives you a deeper understanding of Spanish culture, traditions, and way of life, enriching your overall experience in the country.

While only sometimes necessary, many job opportunities in Spain require at least a basic Spanish proficiency level.

This is especially true in customer service, education, and healthcare sectors. Knowing Spanish makes daily tasks like grocery shopping, interacting with locals, and handling administrative matters much easier and less stressful.

As someone new to Spain, consider enrolling in Spanish language classes. Many language schools and universities offer courses for all levels, from beginners to advanced. The other way of learning the language is by immersing yourself in the local culture.

Watch Spanish movies, listen to Spanish music, and read books or newspapers. Practice speaking Spanish as much as possible. Try to use it in everyday situations, such as shopping, ordering food, or talking to neighbors.

Authorization to Reside in Spain

To reside in Spain as an expat, you must obtain the appropriate visa or permit based on your circumstances. Here are some common types of authorization to reside in Spain for expats:

  • Non-Lucrative Residence Visa;
  • Golden Visa;
  • Digital Nomad Visa
  • Work Visa;
  • Entrepreneur Visa;
  • Student Visa;
  • Family Reunification Visa.

Once you have obtained the appropriate visa or permit, you can reside in Spain legally.

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Spanish Government

Spain is a constitutional monarchy, meaning it has a king or queen as the head of state. However, the monarch’s role is largely ceremonial, with limited powers. King Felipe VI is the reigning monarch. The Spanish Parliament is known as the Cortes Generales and is bicameral, consisting of two chambers:

  • Congress of Deputies (Congreso de los Diputados) is the lower house of parliament, with members elected through a proportional representation system. It is the primary legislative body.
  • Senate (Senado): The upper house represents the regions and is made up of senators, some of whom are appointed and some elected. It has less legislative power than the Congress of Deputies.

The government of Spain is headed by the Prime Minister (Presidente del Gobierno), who the monarch appoints but must be a member of the Congress of Deputies. The Prime Minister leads the executive branch of government.

Current Government

The present head of the government is Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE). Sánchez heads a coalition government with the left-wing party Unidas Podemos.

Spain is divided into autonomous communities, each with its own government and parliament, responsible for certain aspects of local administration, such as education and healthcare.

Some regions, like Catalonia and the Basque Country, have greater autonomy than others. Elections in Spain are held regularly to elect members of the Cortes Generales and regional governments. The electoral system is based on proportional representation.

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Taxes and Expenses

Navigating taxes and expenses in Spain is essential for residents and expatriates alike. From income tax and value-added tax to property taxes and social security contributions, understanding the intricacies of the Spanish tax system can help individuals manage their finances effectively.

Awareness of other expenses, such as utilities, healthcare, and education, can contribute to a comprehensive financial plan. Let’s discuss some of the common taxes for expats and what you need to know about them.

Tax Regime

The Spanish system for taxing individuals directly consists mainly of two types of personal income taxes: Spanish Personal Income Tax (PIT) for residents and Spanish Non-Residents’ Income Tax (NRIT) for non-residents earning income in Spain.

Therefore, individuals earning income in Spain are subject to either Spanish PIT or Spanish NRIT. Residents in Spain are generally taxed on their worldwide income under PIT, regardless of where it is earned, at progressive rates after statutory reductions.

Non-residents, on the other hand, are only taxed on their income from Spanish sources under NRIT. For Spanish PIT purposes, there are two types of taxable income: general taxable income and savings taxable income.

Savings taxable income includes:

  • Dividends and other income from owning interests in companies.
  • Interest and other income from lending capital to third parties. However, when the capital lent to a related company exceeds three times the latter’s equity, the excess interest is taxed as general taxable income.
  • Income from capitalization transactions and life and disability insurance.
  • Capital gains from asset transfers.

General taxable income includes:

  • All income that is not classified as savings is taxable income.
  • Income allocations, attributions, or imputations as defined by law.
  • Interest and other income from lending capital to a related company when the capital exceeds three times the latter’s equity, but only for the excess part.

Personal Income Tax (IRPF)

Personal Income Tax (Impuesto sobre la Renta de las Personas Físicas or IRPF) in Spain is a direct tax that individuals who are tax residents in Spain must pay on their income. You are considered a tax resident in Spain if you meet any of the following conditions:

  • You spend more than 183 days in Spain in a calendar year.
  • Your main center of business or economic interests is in Spain.

IRPF is levied on your worldwide income, including income from employment, self-employment, investments, and real estate. Certain income, such as scholarships and certain capital gains, may be exempt or have special rules.

IRPF rates are progressive, ranging from 19% to 47%. The rates and brackets can vary depending on your region of Spain. Spain has tax treaties with many countries to avoid double taxation. These treaties may allow you to credit taxes paid in another country against your Spanish tax liability.

Indirect Tax

Indirect taxes in Spain primarily consist of Value Added Tax (VAT) and Special Taxes. Known as Impuesto sobre el Valor Añadido (IVA) in Spain, VAT is a consumption tax that applies to most goods and services.

The standard VAT rate is 21%, with reduced rates of 10% and 4% for certain goods and services like food, books, and public transportation. Spain also imposes special taxes on specific products, such as alcohol, tobacco, and hydrocarbons. These taxes are typically included in the final price of the product.

There are other indirect taxes in Spain, such as the Tax on Certain Means of Transportation (Impuesto sobre determinados Medios de Transporte) and the Tax on Insurance Premiums (Impuesto sobre las Primas de Seguros).

Spain is part of the European Union’s single market, so there are no customs duties or import taxes on goods moving between EU member states. However, there are customs duties and taxes on goods imported from outside the EU.

Social Security

Social Security in Spain, known as Seguridad Social, is a system that provides social protection to residents and workers. The Social Security system in Spain covers various benefits, including healthcare, pensions, unemployment benefits, maternity and paternity leave, and disability benefits.

Both employees and employers contribute to the Social Security system. The contributions are based on a percentage of the employee’s salary, with the exact rates depending on the type of work and the benefits covered.

Spain has a universal healthcare system that is funded through Social Security contributions. Residents in Spain are entitled to healthcare provided by the National Health System (Sistema Nacional de Salud) after registering with the Social Security system.

The Social Security system in Spain provides pensions to retirees based on their contributions. The pension amount is calculated based on the number of years of contributions and the average salary during those years.

Workers who lose their jobs may be eligible for unemployment benefits, which are also provided through the Social Security system. The amount and duration of the benefits depend on the worker’s contributions and the circumstances of their unemployment.

Spanish Healthcare System

The Spanish healthcare system is known for providing universal coverage to residents and foreign nationals. It is ranked among the best in the world by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Spanish healthcare system provides coverage to all residents, including foreigners, who are registered with the social security system or are beneficiaries of it.

This means that healthcare access does not depend on employment status or income level. Spain has a dual healthcare system, with both public and private providers.

The public healthcare system is funded through taxes and provides free or low-cost healthcare services to residents. The private healthcare system is also available for those who prefer or can afford it.

Hospitals and specialized medical centers provide specialist care. Patients are referred to specialists by their GPs or pediatricians. Specialist care includes surgery, oncology, cardiology, and others.

Emergency care is provided by hospital emergency departments, which are open 24/7. It is free for everyone, regardless of their insurance status or nationality.

Do you need help moving to Spain?

Now that you know what it’s like to live in Spain is like, the next order of business is getting yourself here. Viv Europe has assisted many individuals and families in realizing their relocation dreams, and you could be next!

If you’re considering Spain as your new home, you likely have many questions, and we’re here to provide answers. Our services range from visa assistance to real estate transactions, ensuring a smooth transition as you settle into your new life in Spain.

Our team of experts will support you every step of the way. Schedule a meeting with Viv Europe’s immigration representatives to begin working towards providing you with a better life.

Portugal and Spain are two of the most popular destinations for expats in Europe and are similar more often than not. Foreigners are moving to either country to enjoy a peaceful lifestyle. If you want to get in touch with expats living in Portugal or Spain, be sure to join our Facebook Group – All About Portugal For Expats. See you soon!

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