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Zubizuri Bridge in Bilbao, Spain

Moving to Spain

By Joshua Wood, LPC

Last updated on Feb 05, 2023

Summary: Many expats and digital nomads move to Spain for its warm climate, vibrant culture, and affordable cost of living. People can find a place to live in Spain by searching online for rental properties, or by using a real estate agent. The most popular cities for expats and digital nomads in Spain are Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, and Malaga.

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What do I need to know before moving to Spain?

When we asked people what advice they would give someone preparing to move to Spain, they said:

"Before moving to Spain, it is important to research the language, geography, climate, and culture. Learn about education and healthcare systems, and make sure to get the documents needed for visa and residency requirements. Research the job market, the cost of living in the different regions, and factors such as safety, crime rate, and quality of life in different locations. Make sure to have a plan for housing, healthcare, and transportation and plan a budget. Finally, learn some of the cultural norms and customs, particularly in formal settings," explained one expat living in Spain.

"In addition to what was mentioned previously, get a local mobile phone number as soon as possible. It seemed we got a faster response when we gave our facilitator's number. We used the local real estate websites like Fotocasa and Idealista for our searches. And to reiterate from others, PREPARE/RESEARCH - there is so much info on sites like this one; PACK ONLY THE ESSENTIALS (prescriptions and enough clothes to layer for warmth when necessary) - don't incumber yourself with STUFF - you are doing this to have new experiences and make new memories; and LEARN THE BASICS OF THE LOCAL LANGUAGE - people will respond so much better if you try to communicate in their native tongue and usually will revert to English because they want to practice," said another expat in Barcelona.

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How do I find a place to live in Spain?

We asked expats how they chose their neighborhood and found a place to live. They answered:

"Finding a place to live in Spain is relatively easy. You can either browse online for rental listings, or you can visit the city and look for rental signs on local buildings. The best way to rent a place is from a reliable local estate agency who can show you around the city and help you find a suitable place that meets your needs, budget, and lifestyle. You can also ask around and search in local newspapers for advertisements. Additionally, you can stay in a hostel, guest house, or an Airbnb while you search for an apartment or house to rent," explained one expat living in Spain.

"We chose an apartment that is somewhat central, near Plaza Espana on Avenida Paralelo which is the border for the Sant Antoni, Poble Sec, and Fira/Montjuic neighborhoods. It is very convenient yet still far enough from the crowds of tourists, though it is still somewhat noisy. We have pets so that tended to shrink the list of available rentals, otherwise it is a very pet-friendly. We preferred a building with an elevator and/or a low floor because our dogs are elderly. Ours has both except our first floor apartment is actually 3 flights up. From the ground floor "planta 0" there is first the "entresuelo", then the "principal", and only then "primero." All buildings have at least a ground floor above which they start numbering. As air-conditioning addicts places so equipped are somewhat less common. Since our Spanish language skills are limited we found a local facilitator to assist us," said another expat in Barcelona.

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Homelike Rentals

We've partnered with Homelike, to connect expats and newcomers with temporary accommodations in Spain. If you're moving to Spain, rent a short-term, furnished apartment or home for the first few months from Homelike and take your time figuring out the best place to live in Spain.

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Homelike Rentals

We've partnered with Homelike, to connect expats and newcomers with temporary accommodations in Spain. If you're moving to Spain, rent a short-term, furnished apartment or home for the first few months from Homelike and take your time figuring out the best place to live in Spain.

SEARCH RENTALS

What is a typical expat home or apartment like in Spain?

"A typical expat home or apartment in Spain is typically airy and bright, as many are built with large windows to take advantage of the Mediterranean climate. Interiors are often modern or contemporary in style, with white walls, tiled floors, and abundant natural light. Common features include balconies and terraces, as well as open floor plans with spacious bedrooms and living areas. Expat homes may also include amenities such as parking, private gardens, and pools, depending on the neighborhood," remarked another expat in Spain.

"It is fairly common for many expats to want to live close to Ciutat Vella in the large area called Eixample which is just west of the old city. Most buildings here are from about a 100 years old or newer and are around 8 stories high, generally with elevators which can be very small. Many businesses will have someone who speaks English, which is less likely farther out," said another expat in Barcelona.

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What is the average cost of housing in Spain?

If you are thinking about moving to Spain, cost of living in probably a key consideration. Expats commented about the cost of housing:

"The cost of housing in Spain varies depending on location, size, and quality of the property. In general, prices in Spain have been steadily increasing since the mid-2000s and are projected to continue to rise in the coming years. The average cost of housing in Spain is often higher than in other European countries, with the cost of living in the cities being considerably more expensive," commented one expat who made the move to Spain.

"It is cheaper here than many large cities in the US, yet choice ultimately depends on your budget and needs. Prices may be lower the farther you go from Ciutat Vella, plus you will still have metro access. You can get a good sized apartment with 2 or more bedrooms and at least one bathroom for between 1000-1500 euros per month. Utilities and internet/TV are generally cheaper too," remarked another expat in Barcelona, Spain.

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Should I buy or rent a home in Spain?

If you have not spent a lot of time in Spain, you should rent before even thinking about buying. We asked expats there about the buy vs. rent decision:

"Whether you decide to buy or rent a home in Spain depends on your personal needs, lifestyle and budget. Buying a home typically involves higher upfront costs and a long-term financial commitment, but gives you the freedom and security of owning property in Spain. Renting a home is generally more flexible, with lower upfront costs and the ability to move more easily, but you will not be able to build equity since you won't own the property. Consider what works best for you and familiarize yourself with the local market before making a decision," added another expat who made the move to Spain.

"We rented an apartment. It was not difficult. We went to a rental agency, they showed us apartments and we chose the one we wanted. The agent gets a commission but that's the only way I know of to rent an apartment here in Salamanca," explained one expat living in Salamanca, Spain.

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What should I pack when moving to Spain?

We asked people living in Spain to list three things they wish they had brought and three they wish they had left behind. They responded:

"Clothes for all seasons, comfortable shoes, an international adaptor, necessary medicines, a bottle or two of your home country's favorite liquors, a toiletry bag with your personal hygiene products, a language dictionary, necessary documents and identification, passport, sunscreen, a high-quality camera and necessary accessories, sunglasses, insect repellent, umbrella, a few favorite books, and snacks for long trips," remarked another expat in Spain.

"Certain spices are not available or easily found like chili powder for Mexican cooking, and flavor extracts like root beer or caramel. Their caramel is different, more of a caramelized, burnt flavor. Cold medicines have to be purchased in a Pharmacy after speaking with the Pharmacist, though many US prescription medications do not require a doctor visit. Clothing is very inexpensive here, it is just a matter of finding the stores which is not difficult. Their equivalent of WalMart or Target is Carrefour Hipermercados, though there are better options for clothing," said another expat in Barcelona.

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What cultural faux pas should I try to avoid making in Spain?

We asked people in Spain if they could share any humorous cultural blunders they commited. For new expats, keep in mind that these incidents are an inevitable part of expat life. Learning to laugh about them is the key!:

"It is important to respect local customs and traditions when visiting Spain. It is polite to greet people with "Hola" when you meet them. If a Spaniard greets you with two kisses, accept them graciously. Avoid speaking too loudly in public places and dress respectfully when visiting religious sites. Visitors from other countries should use their inside voice when conversing in restaurants, as shouting and arguing is generally frowned upon. It is also considered impolite to smoke in public places where it is not permitted, for example in museums, churches, and public transportation. Additionally, be mindful to not give 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve," remarked another expat who made the move to Spain.

"I am sure I have because Catalan is a complex language but people have been to nice to say anything to me ;~)," explained one expat living in Barcelona, Spain.

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Why do people move to Spain?

When we asked people why foreigners move to Spain, they responded:

"There are so many reasons- low cost of living, excellent food (plus tapas is free with drinks at most places), close to ski resort (40 minutes by bus), close to the beach (an hour by car), beautiful city, full of history, has its own airport and close to Malaga and Madrid, excellent public transportation with buses and trains. It's a university town so it's always vibrant and has something going on," offered another expat living in Granada .

"There are several reasons - climate, cost of living (it is very cheap to live in Granada), location (access to ski resort in 45 min by bus, and to the beach in an hour), plenty of historical sites to see, plenty of cultural things to do (theater, music, dance, churches, cultural events). Because it's also a university town and has two of UNESCO world Heritage sites," added one expat living in Granada.

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How are healthcare services Spain?

When we asked expats and global nomads about the quality of medical care in Spain, they replied:

"I like health care here. I had a surgery, one that was formerly botched in Sweden (of all countries with reputedly good health care) and sooner or later am likely to need a heart surgery as well (yes, I had a second opinion on that). As an EU citizen I was never asked to pay for any treatment and as a retiree get all medications dirt cheap, even insulin, which makes me remember with horror prices I had to pay when I lived in the US, despite being fully insured..," offered another expat living in Spain.

"I would tell them that the private healthcare in Spain is excellence. For a pre-existing chronic condition, some private healthcare may cover at a high costs or excluding them. However, medication cost is very low and it’s possible to pay out of pockets and don’t need an insurance for medication," added one expat living in Granada.

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"One time I developed a very sore tooth. I was able to make an appointment for that same day, the dentist was very efficient (and spoke English). And the cost was about 12% compared to the same procedure in the U.S. I was impressed," offered another expat living in Tenerife.

"Very efficient,accessible and definitely inexpensive compared to the nightmare of the US money machine that is healthcare," added one expat living in Granada.

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About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.

Zubizuri Bridge in Bilbao, Spain

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