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Expat Spain: 10 Tips for Living in Spain

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: With it's warm culture, thriving cities and beautiful countryside, expats agree that Spain has it all. Expats share their tips and experiences living in Spain.

Expat Spain - 10 Tips for Living in Spain

Culture Shock in Spain

"Don't feel offended if they don't say good morning or look at you in the eye or if they laugh about you for saying something incorrect. I guess for them all this things are normal," said one expat in Madrid.

" Some of the things that frustrated me are now what I appreciate. I enjoy the conversation I have with the people at the fruit store or the post office while I am waiting in line. I like the reliance on our own two feet and not using the car. I appreciate that the family is VERY important and everyone takes off Sunday to spend time with them," explained one expat in Barcelona.

Meeting People in Spain

"Definitely try out the International Newcomers Club. Though they have one or two men in the group...they are very open to more. They do many fun things during the week and have activities such as wine tasting parties on weekends. There is at least one event monthly and you meet many fantastic people. The American Women's Club is also nice, but they are oriented towards community service and raising funds for charities. They do have monthly meetings and have a club house with a large lending library," offered one expat in Madrid.

"Until one gets their own group of friends it is a very lonely time. Having moved prior, I knew that the most important thing for me was to find friends ASAP. So I joined women's groups and volunteered at school. That helped a lot as there were many people in the same boat as me," advised an expat living in Barcelona.

Another expat in San Sebastian said, "getting out and about is a good way. Most socializing is done outside the home (in bars, restaurants, clubs). Take part in activities such as sailing courses, cineclubs, sports clubs, language classes. learn a bit of Basque at a Basque language school - the local people will appreciate you making the effort and it's a good way of meeting people."

"Marbella is a great place to meet new people with so many cultural activities, sports and clubs to join. There are clubs in the area which meet regularly based around expats, i.e. The American Society and hobbies i.e. Golf Societies," said one expat in Marbella.

"Luckily a branch of the American Club is located in many areas...or International Club or cultural and hobby groups. I found ex-pats from so many countries in each and every group. Attend a meeting..might be in a cafe...automatically, one has found a common denominator. I have found that ex-pats are the friendliest people. Many have lived in the area for quite some time..they are a wealth of info and oft-needed advice. Besides immediate acquaintances, the foundation of good friendships can begin.and through them one begins to meet even more people. I think the most important thing one gains though is a feeling of confidence..one actually KNOWS SOMEBODY to have a coffee or drink..even just to say hello to walking along a street..It's a great feeling and helps ease your sense of aloneness. I also heartily recommend a stint at a language school," suggested one expat living in Nerja.

"If you're new in town and don't know many people yet, there is a welcoming community of people interested in practising languages for FREE with native speakers in Madrid. Join them and you’ll meet lots of nice people from all over the world: English, American, German, Italian, Brazilian, Japanese, Spanish... They meet: every Tuesday at El Parnasillo del Príncipe (Príncipe 33, metro Antón Martín) starting at 10pm; Wednesdays fortnightly, International Dinners for 15€; Thursdays at Beer Station (cuesta de Santo Domingo, 22, metro Santo Domingo or Callao), starting at 10pm; Fridays at Cine Ideal & Cachibola pub (o.v. movies with reduced price for us, free drink with the movie ticket) and Sundays at Marca Sports Bar (Valverde 44, metro Tribunal or Gran Vía), from 7pm. Ask for David," commented one expat in Madrid.

Diversity in Spain

"San Sebastian has always been one of the least diverse cities in the world. Visitors are often surprised by the lack of different racial groups. This is not to say that the people are adverse to diversity, it's just that there were always very few people from the rest of the world. This has started to change over the last ten years, and the city is of course even better because of it," explained one expat.

"This is a Catholic country. Most individuals seem accepting of differences unless you are from a Latin country. As an American with very little Spanish language capability, they are very helpful and go out of their way to help me. Typically Latins are thought of and treated as the hired help. It does not matter how they are dressed or how much jewelry they have on...still just hired help. Fortunately if problems arise in stores or restaurants, each establishment has a complaint book. If you ask to make a complaint, they must give it to you," said another expat.

Job Opportunities in Spain

"Bad jobs are easy to find, there is a huge need for people in the service sector (bars, restaurants, cleaning etc). Good jobs are much harder to find. Contacts help, as does fluency in Spanish, Basque and English," advised an expat in Barcelona.

"In spite of the high unemployment rate in Spain, there are definitely many opportunities to find work in Barcelona. In the last few years, a growing number of international companies have moved their European offices to Barcelona, which has attracted many expats since these companies require employees to cover many different countries/regions, and therefore speak a variety of languages. Especially I.T companies such as H.P, Fujitsu, SAP etc are constantly looking for people, and if you speak English and a second European language, you have a very good chance of finding a job very quickly," advised another expat.

Cost of Living in Spain

"I would encourage them to do so as San Sebastian is a great place and quite possibly the most beautiful small city in Europe. It's important however to either have a good job set up before you get here or barrels of money as San sebastian vies with Barcelona and Madrid as being Spain's most expensive city, especially as regards housing," suggested one expat.

NIE (Numero Identidad Extranjero or "National Identity Card")

"The NIE (Numero Identidad Extranjero) is a way of identifying foreigners who live in Spain, and is required to exist as a legal person. Without it, you wouldn't be able to start working, open a bank account, rent a flat, order a telephone line, or even purchase a car. It is the one thing can tells the government who are you and that you are living in Spain. Generally speaking, it is not too difficult to obtain the NIE, especially if you come from another EU country. It simply means going to the the Foreigners office, obtaining the forms (which could also be downloaded from the internet), and filling them in. You would then obtain Form 790 which you would need to take to any Spanish bank in order to pay the Police fee which is around 10 Euros. Keep in mind that the most banks only accept this payment until a certain hour (usually until 11:00), so make sure you get there early. After that you simply return to the Foreigner's office, and queue again to present the forms and bank receipt. When applying however, do not forget to bring your passport and a copy of it, as well as proof of your address. Your empadronamiento (census registration) should be fine for this purpose. Once you have your NIE number, it is yours for life," explained an expat in Spain.

Schools in Spain

One reader offered a tip about international schools in Barcelona, "for those who are considering moving to Barcelona with school-going children, you might be delighted to hear that there are numerous options available to you when it comes to international schools. Just remember that these international schools are not quite as affordable as public schools that each in Spanish, so give careful consideration to these costs as well before making any decisions. Some of the schools you might want to check out are: British School of Barcelona, American School of Barcelona, Benjamin Franklin International School and ESCAAN.

Expat Exchange members have submitted a number of reviews of schools in Spain including American School of Madrid, King Richard III in Mallorca and the British School of Marbella.

Choosing Where to Live in Spain

"Choosing a neighbourhood depends on the kind of lifestyle you want to live - Barcelona is one of the most densly populated cities in Europe so negative side is noise, pollution and small living spaces. Plus side is you can walk everywhere and always plenty of places to go out and eat and shop. Suburbs are quieter but more expensive, the wealthier Catalans choose to live in the hills looking down on the city (and the smog)," said one person who moved to Barcelona.

"Hire a car, tour the area and find the village or town that appeals to you most. Find a good Spanish registered SL or SA estate agency - CB's are the equivalent to self employed status - and spend three days looking at houses in the area of your choice. Make sure that you have a car or access to one because in rural Spain it is essential to have transport," recalled another expat.

"If you don't know the country you are moving to, if you don't speak the language, then use a company specialised in relocation. You will avoid to have unfortunate experiences and you will make a much easier start in your new life. I can recommend the one I used: Easy Relocation. I live in a house in Gava Mar (south Barcelona). It is quite common for expats in this area. It is difficult to find a house in Barcelona, there are mostly flats. A house by the sea is perfect for a family with children," said another expat.

Buying Property in Spain

"For many Northern Europeans, the idea of investing in property in Spain is a very attractive idea, especially at the moment since property prices have fallen significantly over the last year or so. One needs to exercise a lot of caution though, as there are many pitfalls and scrupulous agents in the industry who take advantage of non-Spanish investors' lack of knowledge of property in Spain. You might want to seriously consider paying a good lawyer or "gestor" to help you with the purchase, since they are up to date with any changes in Spanish real estate laws, and they usually act on your behalf with no affiliation to the estate agents. Do your homework very well, and read as much as you can on the experiences of other investors whom have purchased property in Spain," advised an expat in Barcelona.

"Came over to look at properties to buy and having visited Barcelona all my life (my father is Spanish) pretty much knew where to look. Made up our minds after seeing 5 flats. We bought it through a wellknown local estate agency - too much red tape to try and do it privately, although many Spanish natives buy direct from sellers to cut out some of the (high) costs associated with buying property over here. To buy a similar property in London would be around double and rates in the UK are very high. However, the costs involved in buying a property here is very expensive compared to UK, for example, an estate agent here takes 10% commission compared to 1.5% in UK. Stamp duty here is 7%, in UK it is only payable on properties over a certain level and even then is only around 2%. Capital Gains Tax is also payable on selling property here, even if this is your only residence, unlike UK. Therefore buying and selling property in Spain is not a fast way to make money, unlike in UK," explained another expat.

Life in Spain

"The only thing I should have brought is my patience! Everything here (compared to the UK) seems to take forever, especially when it comes to business matters. There are queues everywhere and the Spanish seem to take it in their stride to stand around for hours just waiting - can be very stressful. If you are coming from a prosperous Western European city or the States, I would say they should expect a much lower level of quality in customer services and professionalism in the working environment. Barcelona is great if you can party and sunbathe all the time and not worry about work and earning a good salary," warned one expat.

Other Resources

Read additional Tips from Expats in Spain, articles about living in Spain, reports from expats in Spain and talk with other expats on our Spain Expat Forum.

Need more information on living in Spain?

Login or Register and visit our Spain Forum. Talk with other expats who can offer you insight and tips about living in Spain.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

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Comments about this Article

ginabos
Feb 1, 2014 15:55

Your article on tips to moving to Spain was very, very helpful as I am considering a move there from the U.S. Thank You!

unclebobim
Nov 10, 2015 09:00

Yep the patience line is 100% dead on. The amount of time you will waste down to the below is disgusting. a) incompetence b) bureaucracy c) a + b combined x 100

First Published: Dec 02, 2013

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