Your guide to expat life in Spain

Living in Spain

Spain may have fallen victim to the global financial crisis, but its spirit remains vivacious and the expat lifestyle is simple and relaxed.

If you’re about to move to Spain, you’ll have the opportunity to snap up a bargain property. Public services may be lacking, but a low cost of living has its perks. And while the country may not have scored well in terms of income and economy in our 2016 Expat Explorer Survey, it ranked 2nd overall for the expat experience it offers.

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Accommodation

After years of being in the doldrums, the Spanish property market is recovering thanks to foreign investment – but there are still plenty of apartments and houses available at low prices. Expats usually prefer to buy in Spain, but it’s a good idea to rent while you get to know the area.

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Types of accommodation

There’s a wide choice of accommodation – from high-rise apartments and spacious modern villas to traditional farmhouses and quaint village homes.

Furnished/unfurnished

If a property is advertised as furnished, it might have everything you need, including white goods – or it could be missing some essential items. Likewise, an unfurnished place may not be completely bare.

Renting property

Rental contracts are usually for six months or a year. Although a verbal tenancy agreement is valid, it’s best to get everything in writing. An estate agent will charge a fee – and the landlord will ask for a deposit of up to two months’ rent.

Buying property

If you want to buy a property in Spain, it’s important to do your research – and get the help of a reputable lawyer and competent building surveyor. The purchase process itself is quick and easy.

Culture changes

While Spain is a modern European country, there can be some potentially frustrating attitudes and bureaucracy to deal with, especially in rural areas. But you should settle in quickly if you keep an open mind.

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Language

Although you’ll get by with English, most Spaniards will accept you more readily if you know some Spanish. English is widely used in cities and tourist areas, but fewer people speak it in other parts of the country.

Bureaucracy

Spanish bureaucracy can cause long delays, particularly when local laws and culture differ from one region to another.

Siestas

To avoid the heat of the day, Spaniards take a long break between 2pm and 5pm to eat, rest and recharge their batteries before returning to work for an evening shift. This practice is starting to die out in some cities, but it’s still common in the suburbs and smaller towns and villages.

Manners

Spaniards don’t place much importance on punctuality. They can also be abrupt, but they aren’t being rude if they don’t indulge in pleasantries or say please and thank you.

Gender equality

Women can have a difficult time adjusting to the traditionally patriarchal Spanish culture – staring and catcalling is something of a national pastime for many groups of men, especially in rural areas.

Education

Education is compulsory for children aged between 6 and 16. The school year runs from mid-September to the end of June with the main holidays in December/January and June/July. Spain’s public schools have good standards and are free for expats. You can also choose from a wide range of semi-private, private and international schools.

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Public Schools

State education is free for children aged between 3 and 18. You’ll have to pay for books and extracurricular activities – and classes are in Spanish.

Semi-private schools

Subsidised by the government, semi-private schools have low fees and smaller classes than public schools. They follow the national curriculum – and most classes are in Spanish.

Private schools

There are lots of private schools, both religious and secular, with varying standards and facilities. All charge fees – the more prestigious schools are very expensive.

International schools

You’ll find a good choice of international schools in and around Spanish cities. Most follow the British curriculum, but there are some that follow the American curriculum or the International Baccalaureate. Fees are usually high and competitive for places is stiff.

Learn as much Spanish as you can before you arrive and that applies to everyone in your family.

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

View more hints and tips for Spain

Keeping in touch

Landlines

Landlines have to be installed by Movistar, but you can usually get cheaper rates through other providers. Shop around for deals that also include mobile, TV and Internet services from companies such as Jazztel, Orange and Vodafone/ONO.

Mobile

Mobile phones are cheap to buy and use in Spain, either on a monthly contract or pay-as-you-go. The main providers include Movistar, Vodafone, Orange and Yoigo. 4G coverage is widespread.

Internet

Most households get Internet services as part of a package from their landline provider. Dial-up connections, ADSL broadband and wireless routers are available. And many cafés and coffee shops have free WiFi.

Social media

There’s no censorship of social media in Spain. Spaniards are avid users – Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are the most popular sites.

Television

Spain has numerous free national and regional TV channels, but not many broadcast in English. Most expats subscribe to Internet TV so they can watch international channels through a set-top box.

English media

The main Spanish national daily is El Pais, which has an English edition online. A number of regional newspapers also cater for English-speaking readers.

Healthcare

Spain has a good public healthcare system that can be used by expats with a Spanish social security number. Medical staff are well-trained and often speak English. Excellent private care is also available at a price.

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Public healthcare

The Spanish National Health System (SNS) is run regionally by local authorities. Expats who qualify for public healthcare have to pay around a quarter of their treatment costs, as well as some prescription charges.

Private healthcare

To avoid long waiting times, many expats prefer to use the hundreds of private hospitals and clinics across the country. This can be expensive – so you’ll need medical insurance.

Medical insurance

Medical insurance is essential if you want to use private healthcare facilities. It can also be used to cover public healthcare costs. Because most Spanish insurance providers tailor their policies to the local market, an international scheme may be a better option for expats.

Pharmacies

There are plenty of pharmacies across Spain – they all have a flashing green cross outside. Some medicines that you’d need a prescription for at home can be bought over the counter.

Emergency services

Spain’s emergency medical services are managed regionally. Private ambulances are also available, but they charge a fee and their services aren’t always covered by medical insurance.

Getting around

Spain has a comprehensive network of buses and trains, which is particularly useful if you live in the heart of a city where parking is a problem. Most expats living outside urban centres own a car, but even remote villages are usually served by public transport.

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Buses

Local bus services are reliable and convenient, but they don’t often run on Sundays. There are numerous bus operators with cheap intercity services that cover the whole country.

Trains

The Spanish rail network is run by RENFE, which has an English website. The network covers everything from commuter trains to regional and high-speed services. Madrid has a superb metro system.

Taxis

It’s easy to find a taxi at ranks in the cities and towns. Fares are reasonable – if there’s a meter, make sure it’s switched on or you could be overcharged.

Driving

If you’re from an EU country you can drive in Spain with your licence from home, otherwise you’ll need an international licence. Traffic in the cities can be heavy.

Air travel

Domestic flights are available, but it’s often quicker to use high-speed trains to travel around Spain.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in August 2016. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.