300,000 Brits can’t be wrong, can they? That’s the number of British expats currently living in Spain according to official figures. Add in the many more unregistered expats who have opted for the sunshine, but not the bureaucracy or the taxation, and the number is significantly higher.
It’s easy to see what draws people to Spain:
- The wonderful climate, especially in the south
- Great food and drink: tapas and sangria, anyone?
- History and culture: from Moorish forts to flamenco dancing
- The outdoor life: who wants to spend their life sitting inside?
- The relaxed pace of life: siesta today, siesta mañana
- The relatively cheap cost of living
If you’re thinking of moving to Spain, here are the answers to some of the questions you probably have in your mind:
Best places to live in Spain
Not surprisingly, most Brits forge their new life in the sun-drenched coastal regions. The Community of Valencia on the east coast of Spain boasts (if that’s the word) the largest population of British expats, followed by southern Spain’s Andalusia. The Canary and Balearic Islands are also wildly popular.
Living in Spain is generally much cheaper than in the UK but there are huge regional differences. The most expensive cities are San Sebastian, Barcelona, Madrid, Palma de Mallorca and Bilbao. To stretch your money as far as it will go, you’re best off settling in Almería, Granada, Murcia or Seville.
Your right to settle in Spain
While the UK and Spain are both members of the EU, you have the right to live in Spain. Register at the local Oficina de Extranjeros for a residence certificate. After five years you’ll need to apply for a certificate of permanent residency.
Where to work
Most people choose to live in Spain when they’re done with working. But if you want to work there you can. Despite the high unemployment rate in Spain, there are plenty of opportunities ranging from seasonal work in the tourist areas to IT jobs in international companies in the bigger cities.
A place of your own
Home ownership rates are higher in Spain than in the UK, but there’s also a strong rental market. Agreeing a rental can be exhausting – everything is up for negotiation – and you need to have quite a bit of spare cash floating about because a landlord can ask for a deposit of at least two or three months’ rent. Spanish law commits both parties to a rental for at least one year.
Renting a place is complicated but it’s a walk in el parque compared with buying a property. See our guide: How to buy a house in Spain.
The rail network between the major cities in Spain is good and the services very reliable. It’s generally much cheaper than in the UK: a typical commuter fare between Aranjuez and Madrid is about 4% of the average monthly wage compared with 10-14% in the UK. For longer journeys you must reserve a seat so you can’t just turn up and travel. It also pays to plan ahead: you can save up to 60% on a fare if you book far enough in advance.
Londoners visiting cities such as Madrid and Barcelona with metro systems will marvel at the reasonable fares.
And don’t dismiss the idea of the bus. This is the only form of public transport by which you can reach most towns in Spain. Although they are cheap, the buses can be surprisingly luxurious. However, the system can be extremely confusing due to the number of different operators, and it’s quite possible that most of them won’t actually use the town’s central bus station so finding them isn’t always straightforward.
Spain has an excellent public healthcare system. For your first three months in the country your EHIC card will provide you with access to most of it. After that, you’ll need to contribute around €60 a month into the Spanish social security system (unless you’re drawing a UK state pension).
Taking your pet
There’s a bit of planning involved in taking your pet cat, dog or ferret to Spain with you. Your pet needs to be microchipped with an ISO 11784/11785 compliant 15-digit pet microchip after which it must be vaccinated for rabies. If this is the first rabies vaccination after being chipped, your pet will need to wait 21 days before travelling. Have your vet update the EU Pet Passport. You’ll need to sign a Declaration of Non-Commercial Transport to indicate that your pet is indeed your pet and that you’re not about to sell Rover or give him away.
The Spanish way…
The Spanish have their own way of doing things and they’re certainly not going to make exceptions for foreigners. Here are three random truisms you may otherwise learn the hard way.
- Spain works very much to its own timetable. Everything and everybody is hopelessly busy in the morning between 9.30 and 11.30; it’s all dead in the afternoon (siesta) and you’ll be able to get nothing done; then theoretically everything opens for business again over the late afternoon/early evening. Banks are only open between 8.30am and 2pm. Apart from in the tourist areas, restaurants aren’t really geared up for serving dinner before 8.30pm. You need to get with the Spanish schedule.
- Roundabouts in Spain are a source of bewilderment to visitors from the UK. The general rule is that you use the outside (right hand) lane regardless of how far round the roundabout you’re going. You should only use the inside lane for overtaking, or if the lane is specifically signed for your direction of travel.
- Officialdom, bureaucracy, paperwork and queuing are a fact of life and it’s pointless resisting. The law of ‘falta uno’ dictates that no matter how many documents and photocopies you take along with you, you’ll always be one short. It’s not for nothing that Spain – almost uniquely – has given rise to the profession of the gestor – someone who will deal with bureaucracy and officialdom on your behalf. Find a good English-speaking one. And quickly.