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Living in Spain

Your guide to expat life in Spain

Want to live in Spain?

Spain has a vivacious spirit, 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.

Accommodation in Spain

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.

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.

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

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

Local culture in Spain

While Spain is a modern European country, there can be some potentially frustrating attitudes and bureaucracy to deal with, especially in rural areas. Red tape can cause long delays, particularly when local laws and culture differ from one region to another. But you should settle in quickly if you keep an open mind.

Spaniards may be freer with timekeeping than you're used to. They can also seem abrupt, but they aren’t being rude if they don’t indulge in pleasantries or say please and thank you. Women may experience catcalling, especially in rural areas.

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.

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.

Education in Spain

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.

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 competition for places is stiff.

Keeping in touch in Spain

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

Most households in Spain get internet services as part of a package from their landline provider. Dial-up connections, ADSL broadband and fibre are available. Many cafés and coffee shops have free WiFi and there’s no censorship of social media.

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.

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.

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

Healthcare in Spain

Spain has a good public healthcare system, the Spanish National Health System (SNS), which is run regionally by local authorities. It can be used by expats with a Spanish social security number. Medical staff are well trained and often speak English. Expats who qualify for public healthcare must pay around a quarter of their treatment costs, as well as some prescription charges.

Excellent private care is also available at a price. Many expats prefer to use the hundreds of private hospitals and clinics across the country to avoid long waiting times. These can be expensive, so you’ll need medical insurance.

While 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.

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.

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 in Spain

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

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. Although domestic flights are available, it’s often quicker to use high-speed trains to travel around Spain. Madrid also has a superb metro system.

You’ll be able to get a taxi at a rank or hail them on the street. Fares are reasonable – if there’s a meter, make sure it’s switched on or you could be overcharged. Ride-hailing apps are also available in Spain.

To drive in Spain, you’ll be able to use your licence from home if from an EU country, otherwise you’ll need an international licence. Traffic in the cities can be heavy.

Cost of living in Spain

The cost of living in Spain is low compared to other European expat destinations – you’ll pay less for nearly all the basics, including accommodation, food, transport and utilities. But things could be tight if you’re living on a Spanish wage.

Prices are higher on the Costas and in city centres, and things such as clothing and school fees can be expensive. You’ll also have to budget for the relatively high cost of private healthcare if you can’t (or choose not to) use the public system.

Top tips for Spain

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in Spain.

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

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

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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