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Has the Iberian Peninsula sparked your interest? Hundreds of expats are discovering relocation to Spain; learn why in our complete guide!

Last Updated on February 9, 2024 by Laila Oliveira

Spain’s vibrant blend of culture, history, and lifestyle leaves expats in awe. As they continue to explore relocation to Spain, the allure of its warm climate, diverse landscapes, and laid-back way of life often serve as irresistible magnets.

relocation-to-spain-for-expats-complete-guide-2024

However, embarking on such a significant life change requires careful planning, understanding of local customs, and navigating bureaucratic processes. This post delves into the practical considerations and logistical challenges accompanying such a transformative journey.

Whether drawn by career opportunities, retirement aspirations, or simply a desire for adventure, relocation to Spain beckons with promise and possibility. Join us in this comprehensive guide to answer all your questions! Happy reading! 

Considering Relocation to Spain for Expats

Relocation to Spain for expats presents a tantalizing opportunity within a country renowned for its rich culture, warm climate, and diverse landscapes. 

With approximately 11.6% of its population comprised of foreign nationals, Spain offers a welcoming environment for those seeking new beginnings. But what makes it one of the most ideal destinations in Europe? 

Why Spain? A Popular Choice for Expats

Spain stands as a popular choice for expats for numerous compelling reasons. First, its enviable climate, characterized by long hours of sunshine and mild winters, is a major draw.

Let’s move on to Spain’s rich cultural heritage. This includes its world-renowned cuisine, vibrant festivals, and historic landmarks.

From the architectural wonders of cities like Barcelona and Granada to the quaint charm of Andalusian villages, Spain boasts a diverse tapestry of cultural delights.

And then, Spain’s affordable cost of living, especially in comparison to other Western European countries, makes it an attractive destination for expats. This is particularly true if you are looking to stretch your budget without sacrificing quality of life. 

Last but not least, the country’s welcoming attitude towards expats, evidenced by its large and diverse expat communities, facilitates integration and fosters a sense of belonging for newcomers.

Understanding Visa Options for Expats

Similar to other nations, Spain offers several visas to expats depending on factors like your reason for visiting or length of stay. 

Citizens of the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA), and Switzerland have the right to live and work in Spain without needing a visa. Keep in mind that they may need to register with local authorities.

However, expats from other parts of the world will need to apply for a visa. There are two major visa categories in Spain: short-stay and long-stay visas.

Short-stay visas are suitable for short visits, tourism, business trips, or family visits lasting up to 90 days within 180 days. Remember, citizens of certain countries, such as those within the European Union or Schengen Area, may enter Spain visa-free for short stays. Expats planning to stay in Spain for over 90 days must obtain a long-term visa or residence permit.

Another viable option is the Golden Visa. This is a special type of residence permit available to non-EU nationals who invest a significant amount in Spanish real estate. The Golden Visa offers residency rights and a potential pathway to citizenship! 

Overview of Visa Types

As mentioned, there are two main categories for visas: short and long-stay visas. Here is a breakdown of the visa types in each category.

Short-stay visa types

  • Spain Tourist and Visitor Visa
  • Spain Business Visa
  • Spain Medical Treatment Visa
  • Spain EEA/EU Dependent Visa: For dependents (spouse or children under 18).
  • Spain Visa for Missing Residence Permit: If individuals lose their Spanish Residence Permit while abroad, they must apply for this visa to facilitate their return.
  • Spain Study or Training Visa: For a training or study program lasting less than 3 months.
  • Spain Visa for Diplomatic Passport Holders: For diplomats holding diplomatic passports issued by their countries.

Long-stay visas

Depending on the specific long-stay visa you obtain, you may be able to engage in employment or educational activities within Spain.

The popular types of long-stay visas in Spain are typically categorized as follows:

  • Non-Lucrative Residence Visa: Those with sufficient financial means to support themselves and their dependents while residing in Spain can apply for this visa for immigration purposes. Upon arrival, a residence permit valid for two years can be pursued.
  • Spain Golden Visa: Through an investment in real estate meeting specified criteria, individuals can obtain residency in Spain under this program.
  • Spain Entrepreneur Visa: Entrepreneurs seeking to invest in Spain can avail themselves of this visa option.
  • Spain Student Visa: If you intend to enroll in a study program lasting over three months, you must apply for a Spain Student Visa.
  • Spain Work Visa: Individuals meeting the necessary qualifications and desiring employment in Spain must request this visa.
  • Spain Family Visa: This visa category enables non-EU family members of Spanish citizens or residents to join them in Spain for family reunification. Of course, you must meet certain qualifications and also present the necessary documents.

Navigation Residency Options

Essentially, residency in Spain can be divided into two major categories including:

  • Temporary residency
  • Permanent residency

The temporary residence option in Spain is intended for individuals seeking a short-term stay there. It is also accessible for applicants who intend to stay long-term but have not yet fulfilled the necessary requirements.

Typically, the residence permit is issued for a duration of one year, with the possibility of renewal after the initial year. Renewals can be sought consecutively, with the Spanish temporary residency permit being renewable for a maximum period of up to five years.

Spanish permanent or long-term residency stands in contrast to temporary residency. Upon obtaining this status, you are authorized to reside in Spain indefinitely.

Eligibility for permanent residency arises after continuous residency in Spain for five years, irrespective of the visa category under which you initially immigrated to Spain.

A Spanish permanent residence permit is open to all immigrants, subject to meeting the stipulated requirements. Regardless of the purpose behind one’s stay in Spain, once the eligibility conditions are satisfied, an application for permanent residency can be made.

Cost of living: Budgeting for your move

Remember how we mentioned that the cost of living is one of the most favorable aspects for expats? 

Prepared to be surprised by how cheap living in Spain is compared to most countries in Europe or even North America.

Take a look at some of these values: 

ExpenseCost in Spain
A single person estimated monthly costs€697
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre€691
A family of four estimated monthly costs€2,460
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre€1,062

Estimates are from Numbeo (as of February 2024).

The cost of living in Spain is, on average, 24.8% lower than in the United Kingdom. Rent is 30.7% lower than in the United Kingdom.

Major urban centers such as Madrid or Barcelona do experience elevated expenses, largely attributable to rental rates.

However, when we factor in the affordability of dining out for lunch or dinner, grocery expenses, utilities, and other expenditures that contribute to monthly budgets, Spain remains overall quite affordable.

Also, keep in mind that the true cost of living will also depend on your lifestyle as an individual. While Spain is generally affordable, your lifestyle can still be expensive if you choose to go the extravagant route.

Housing Options for Expats in Spain

Renting is the most common option for expats, offering flexibility and a wide range of choices.

Rental properties include apartments, condos, townhouses, and single-family homes. You can find furnished or unfurnished options. Rental agreements typically range from short-term (months) to long-term (years).

Another possible alternative is buying property. Some expats opt to purchase property in Spain, especially those planning to stay long-term or seeking investment opportunities.

While this provides stability and potential for appreciation, it requires a significant financial commitment and familiarity with local real estate laws. 

If you need real estate assistance in Spain, get in touch with Viv Europe to help with the process from start to finish! 

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Renting vs. Buying

Renting and buying a house in Spain involves considering various factors, including financial circumstances, lifestyle preferences, and long-term goals. 

To begin, renting provides flexibility, allowing you to relocate or change accommodations easily without the commitment of homeownership. This option typically requires lower upfront costs compared to buying, as you are not responsible for expenses such as down payments, property taxes, or maintenance.

Here’s what renting an apartment costs in some of Spain’s popular cities:

CityOne-Bedroom Outside City CenterThree-Bedroom Outside City Center
Madrid€877€1,430
Barcelona€941€1,558
Valencia€689€1,010
Malaga€756€1,225
Seville€568€770

Estimates are from Numbeo (as of February 2024).

Buying a house provides stability and permanence, allowing you to establish roots in a community and customize your home to suit your needs. Real estate in Spain may appreciate over time, offering potential investment returns for homeowners.

Buying a house typically requires a significant upfront investment, including down payments, closing costs, and other associated fees. According to data from Idealista, the cost of buying a property in Spain is €2,049/m2.

Popular Expat-Friendly Areas

Spain offers numerous expat-friendly areas that cater to different lifestyles, preferences, and needs. If you’re considering relocation to Spain, here are some popular expat-friendly cities!

  1. Madrid

Spain’s capital city boasts a dynamic urban lifestyle, world-class museums, and excellent dining and nightlife options. Expats often gravitate towards neighborhoods like Salamanca, Chamberí, and Chueca. These are known for their central location, upscale amenities, and international ambiance.

  1. Barcelona

Known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, stunning architecture, and vibrant cultural scene, Barcelona attracts expats from around the world. Eixample, Gràcia, and El Born neighborhoods are particularly popular among expatriates. These offer a mix of modern amenities, historic charm, and diverse communities.

  1. Valencia

Located on the Mediterranean coast, Valencia combines beautiful beaches with a rich history and affordable cost of living. Neighborhoods such as El Carmen, Ruzafa, and El Cabanyal are favored by expats for their bohemian vibe, cultural attractions, and proximity to the city center.

  1. Málaga

Situated in the heart of the Costa del Sol, Malaga offers a laid-back lifestyle, sunny climate, and stunning coastal scenery. Expats often choose neighborhoods like Malagueta, Pedregalejo, and El Palo for their beachfront location, relaxed atmosphere, and diverse expatriate community.

  1. Seville

With its historic architecture, lively tapas, bars, and traditional flamenco music, Seville embodies the essence of Spanish culture. Neighborhoods such as Santa Cruz, Triana, and El Arenal are popular among expats for their picturesque streets, cultural landmarks, and authentic Andalusian charm.

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Healthcare System in Spain

Spain has a universal healthcare system (the Sistema Nacional de Salud SNS). This means that residents, including expats, have access to public healthcare services regardless of their nationality.

At the heart of the Spanish healthcare system are primary care centers known as “Centros de Salud.” This is where residents can access general medical services, receive specialist referrals, and access preventive care. 

If necessary, patients may be referred to specialists or hospitals for further evaluation and treatment. Specialist care is typically provided in hospitals or specialized clinics.

The cost of healthcare in Spain is relatively low compared to many other countries. The government heavily subsidizes public healthcare services, and patients usually must pay only a small co-payment for medical visits and prescriptions.

While public healthcare is available to all residents, you can choose to purchase private health insurance to supplement their coverage. 

Here are some of the top hospitals in Spain: 

  • Hospital Universitario La Paz (Public)
  • Hospital Clínic de Barcelona (Public)
  • Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón (Public)
  • Hospital de Barcelona (Private)
  • Clínica Universidad de Navarra (Private)

Education Opportunities for Expat Families

Expat families relocating to Spain have access to a diverse range of education opportunities for their children, catering to various preferences, needs, and educational philosophies.

Spain’s public education system offers free education to all residents, including expat children. Public schools follow the Spanish curriculum and provide education in Spanish.

While attending public schools can help expat children integrate into Spanish society and become fluent in the language, you must consider potential language barriers and cultural differences.

Another option for expat children when it comes to education is private education. Private schools offer alternative education options, including bilingual and international schools that provide education in multiple languages, such as English, Spanish, and other foreign languages.

These schools often follow international curricula, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the British or American systems, and may cater specifically to expatriate families.

The last option, which is the most popular among expats, is international schools. Spain is home to numerous international schools that cater to expatriate families from various countries.

These schools offer education in English or other foreign languages and provide a curriculum that aligns with the educational standards of their respective countries. International schools often offer a diverse student body, culturally diverse faculty, and a global perspective on education.

Language and Cultural Integration

Language and cultural integration are essential aspects for expats considering relocation to Spain. As you plan your relocation to Spain, here are a few things to consider.

First and foremost, Spanish is the official language of Spain. While many Spaniards speak English, especially in urban areas and tourist destinations, fluency in Spanish can greatly enhance communication and integration.

Expats are encouraged to invest time and effort in learning Spanish. Whether through language classes, immersion programs, or language exchange opportunities. 

Understanding and embracing Spanish culture is key to successful relocation to Spain. And also integration into the local communities. You should familiarize yourself with Spanish customs, traditions, and social norms, including greetings, meal times, and cultural celebrations.

Respect for local customs and cultural sensitivities fosters positive interactions and relationships with the local folks.

Many cities in Spain have expat organizations, social clubs, and cultural associations. Such places offer the perfect avenue to connect with like-minded individuals, share experiences, and participate in cultural events and activities.

spain-is-a-great-destination-for-expats

Job Market Overview

The job market in Spain offers a range of opportunities for both locals and expats, though it can vary by region and industry. Spain’s economy is diverse, with key industries including tourism, hospitality, manufacturing, construction, technology, finance, and renewable energy.

Tourism, in particular, significantly contributes to the Spanish economy, especially in regions like Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and the Canary Islands.

The current unemployment rate in Spain stands at 11.70%, this figure also falls below the long-term average of 16.48%. While this figure might appear high, skilled individuals can still find jobs in the major industries mentioned earlier.

Navigating Work Permits and Regulations

If your reason for relocation to Spain is for work, then this section is for you. First, non-EU/EEA/Swiss nationals must obtain a valid work permit to work legally in Spain.

Work permits are typically tied to a specific job offer from a Spanish employer and are granted based on factors such as the employer’s need for foreign expertise and the availability of qualified local candidates.

Spain offers various types of work permits, including:

  • Highly Qualified Professionals (Blue Card): For individuals with specialized skills and qualifications.
  • Temporary Work Permit: For short-term employment contracts.
  • Seasonal Work Permit: For jobs in seasonal industries such as tourism and agriculture.
  • Self-Employment Permit: For individuals starting their own businesses or freelancing.

The application process for a work permit typically involves the employer initiating the process by submitting a job offer and supporting documentation to the authorities.

Once approved, you can now apply for a work visa at the Spanish consulate or embassy in their home country. Work permits in Spain are usually valid for a specific duration, after which they may be renewed or extended if the employment relationship continues. 

Transportation: Getting Around Spain

Spain boasts an extensive public transportation network, including buses, trains, metros, trams, and ferries.

Major cities like Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia have well-developed public transportation systems, making it easy to navigate urban areas without a car.

For longer distances between cities, Spain offers high-speed trains (AVE) and long-distance buses (ALSA), providing convenient and efficient options for intercity travel.

AVE trains connect major cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, and Valencia, offering fast and comfortable journeys. While public transportation is widespread, many expatriates choose to drive in Spain, especially in rural areas or locations with limited public transportation options. You should be aware of Spanish traffic laws, road signs, and driving customs, including roundabouts and toll roads.

Something else worth mentioning is that cycling is becoming increasingly popular in Spain. Many cities are investing in bike lanes and infrastructure to accommodate cyclists. Expats can explore urban areas by bike and enjoy scenic routes in rural areas and along the coast.

Taxes for Expats

Taxation in Spain can present significant complexity, and individuals who neglect to accurately declare and fulfill their tax obligations may face severe penalties.

The initial point to understand is that the Spanish fiscal year spans from January 1st to December 31st annually. Individuals classified as Spanish tax residents must submit a Spanish tax declaration, known as Modelo 100, between April 6th and June 30th of the subsequent year. 

Usually, you would be deemed a tax resident in Spain if any of the following conditions are met:

  • You have stayed in Spain for more than 183 days during a single calendar year, regardless of formal registration.
  • Your primary employment activities are carried out in Spain, whether as a self-employed individual or through formal employment.
  • Your principal interests, such as your spouse or dependent children, reside in Spain.

Tax rates in Spain vary depending on the type of income and residency status. For tax residents, progressive tax rates apply to income, with rates ranging from 19% to 45% for 2023. Non-residents are subject to flat tax rates on certain types of income, such as employment income and rental income.

Spain has tax treaties with numerous countries to avoid double taxation on income earned in both Spain and your home country. These treaties may provide exemptions or reduced tax rates on certain types of income, such as dividends, interest, and capital gains.

We understand that taxes can involve a lot of legal and financial jargon that not everyone is familiar with. For that reason, Viv Europe provides comprehensive accounting services that will help you navigate the tax process in Spain.

Is relocating to Spain right for you? Assessing your decision

Ultimately, the decision to relocate to Spain depends on your individual preferences, goals, and priorities. Take the time to research and carefully consider all aspects of living in Spain before making a decision. Seek advice from expatriates and professionals offering relocation services to Spain. That said, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of choosing relocation to Spain. This should help you make an informed decision.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Quality of Life: Spain boasts a high quality of life with beautiful landscapes, rich culture, and a relaxed Mediterranean lifestyle.
  • Cost of Living: While living costs vary by region, Spain generally offers a relatively affordable cost of living compared to other European countries, especially for housing, food, and transportation.
  • Work-Life Balance: Spain values work-life balance, focusing on leisure time, family, and socializing. Expatriates may enjoy a more relaxed pace of life and generous vacation time.
  • Cultural Immersion: Living in Spain allows you to immerse yourself in the Spanish language and culture, including delicious cuisine, lively festivals, and historical landmarks.

Cons

  • Language Barrier: Spanish is the official language of Spain, and expatriates who do not speak Spanish may encounter language barriers in daily life, including communication, paperwork, and social interactions.
  • Bureaucracy: Dealing with Spanish bureaucracy can be time-consuming and frustrating for expatriates, particularly when navigating visa and residency processes, healthcare enrollment, and other administrative tasks.

Spain is a great country, no doubt. However, your decision to move to this destination should be thought through carefully. While moving can appear tedious and overwhelming, it could also turn out to be one of your best decisions yet.

Do you want to relocate to Spain?

In conclusion, choosing relocation to Spain is a significant decision that requires careful consideration of various factors. This includes lifestyle preferences, career opportunities, and personal circumstances.

While Spain offers many advantages, such as a high quality of life, rich culture, and accessible healthcare, you may encounter challenges like language barriers, economic uncertainties, and bureaucratic processes.

For those considering a move to Spain, seeking assistance from a reputable immigration agency can streamline the relocation process and provide valuable support and guidance. Viv Europe’s relocation services to Spain can help you navigate visa applications, residency permits, and other legal requirements, ensuring a smooth and successful relocation experience.

Portugal and Spain are two of the most popular nations for expats in Europe and are similar more often than not. Many 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.

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