Spain remains the most popular destination for British tourists and expats. The climate is a major draw, but the beaches, excellent food and drink, friendly Spanish people, laid back lifestyle, culture and historic cities add to its attractiveness.

Officially there are over 300,000 Brits living in Spain, but as many do not register it is estimated that there are actually 800,000 to 1 million Brits living in Spain.  With this number one of the other options available in Spain is to live in areas where many other British people live and enjoy a community of like-minded expats, if that appeals to you.  You can also opt to live in more Spanish areas either on the coast or inland. 


Spain has a long history with the Romans creating Hispania as a political, legal and administrative unit.  The Moors invaded Spain in 711 and ruled in parts of Southern Spain for 700 years.  These Roman and Moorish influences remain in Spain in the buildings and in the culture.

Following the death of Franco in 1975 King Juan Carlos led the Spanish transition to democracy and after a referendum, a new constitution transformed Spain into a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy.

Spain has a rich heritage in the arts and the country’s architecture is a combination of many historical influences and Spain has the third highest number of World Heritage Sites in the world.

Religion and Beliefs in Spain

Roman Catholicism was the official religion of Spain until 1978 when the new constitution established freedom of religion.  Although religion is not as important as it once was church feast days are marked by fiestas in every village and town throughout the country.


Spain has four official languages. The most prominent of the languages is Spanish (Castilian), spoken by about 99% of Spaniards as a first or second language and is the only official language throughout the country.

English is widely spoken in areas where tourists are seen, but maybe less common in rural areas away from the resorts and major cities. 


Family and the extended family is important in Spain.  You will often see large family groups in restaurants and as children do not have set bed times young children will often be seen with them late into the evening.

Working in Spain

Over recent years it has been challenging for Expats to get a job in Spain with unemployment rates some of the highest in Europe with the all-time high of 26.9% in the first quarter of 2013.  Unemployment has been gradually falling from the 2013 peak, although the rate rose slightly to 14.7 percent in the first quarter of 2019.  Spain has the second highest unemployment rate in the European Union.

Spain’s economy is currently expanding with growth in GDP rates of over 3%. This is driven mainly by domestic demand and the foreign sector. A more moderate GDP growth of below 3% is expected for the coming years. Employment is expected to continue to rise with the creation of more than 800 000 jobs over the next two years.

Slightly more than two million foreign workers are paying social security contributions in Spain.  This is an increase for the fourth year after seven consecutive years of decline.

Many expats move to Spain and take jobs in the tourist industry, but as the fifth largest economy in the EU there is a wide range of options to find a job in Spain.  Many people working in Spain will transfer with their own company to the Spanish business and there are many opportunities for foreign workers to take up roles, especially if they have specialist skills and the Servicio Publico De Empleo Estatal (Public Employment Service) has a tool that allows you to search for occupations that are difficult to fill.

Citizens of the EU and EEA are free to work in Spain without a work permit, but citizens of all other countries can only work in Spain with a valid work permit (see Passport and Visa Requirements to Enter Spain LINK).  Where working for an employer they will apply for the work permit, but the self-employed have to apply themselves.

It is also necessary to obtain an NIE Number (see Applying for Residence in Spain) and a  Social Security (see Getting a Social Security Number in Spain).

Proficiency in Spanish is a requirement for most jobs in Spain, unless it is a role catering for the English-speaking expats in the cities or in the resort areas along the coast.

It will be necessary to ensure that any qualifications you have from your home country are recognised in Spain and you should also consider getting a Europass, which puts your personal details, qualifications and skills into a standard format.

A university degree can be evaluated by the Ministry of Education in Spain to establish equivalence. The fees payable vary according to the type of degree being evaluated.

Employees are protected by Spanish Labour Laws with working hours restricted to an average of 40 hours a week on an annual basis and nine hours a day unless there is an agreement in place.  If overtime is required it must be specified in the contract prior to commencement with the rate of pay for overtime agreed or the terms of time off in lieu agreed.  Employees can only legally work 80 hours overtime a year.

Full time employees are entitled to a minimum of 22 days of paid holiday plus Spain’s 14 national and local holidays.

Retiring to Spain

Spain is the most popular destination for British citizens moving to Europe and 41% of British citizens resident in Spain are over 65.  Spain offers retirees a life in the sun, great beaches and resorts and lower property and living costs.  You can choose places in Spain where there is a high proportion of other expats, particularly British expats, with the advantages of the community and the clubs and societies that comes with it.  Alternatively you can look for areas with a greater proportion of Spanish residents to allow you to enjoy a more authentically Spanish lifestyle.

While the UK remains a member of the EU there is no visa requirement for British citizens to retire to Spain and access social services and public healthcare.  The Spanish authorities have indicated that UK citizens will be able to remain in Spain even if there is a no-deal Brexit and that they would have until the end of 2020 to apply for permanent residence.

Planning your move to Spain

As you plan your move to Spain there will be many things to arrange.  The Expat Network Moving Abroad Checklist is a comprehensive and useful guide that covers the issues you will need to consider and list the actions needed to arrange a successful move.

You will need to decide whether to Sell, Ship or Store Your Goods depending on whether you are moving long term or for the short term.  Once you have decided what to take with you it will be necessary to arrange to move your household goods and carefully select an international moving company.

If you are planning to take a significant amount of your household and other belongings you should ensure that you use an experienced international removal company that is a member of one of the international bodies that set and monitor professional standards, such as FIDI.   You should also ensure that you get three or more quotes to ensure that you get the best deal.  You can generate five no-obligation quotes by following this link.  You should then ensure you consider all of the factors as carefully evaluate the quotes.  You will also need to understand the Spanish customs requirements.  If you decide to take your vehicle with you there are special issues to consider.

What is involved in renting or buying property

Those moving to Spain to take up a new short term job or contract will generally rent a property.  For many they specifically move to live or retire in Spain and buying a property is seen as an integral part of the move and their vision of the new lifestyle.

The temptation is to buy your dream home as soon as you arrive, but unless you have been studying the local market for many years you should always start by renting a property.  Until you have spent time in the area you will not know enough about the area to avoid buying the wrong property in the wrong place at the wrong price.

Renting long term will give you a greater level of flexibility if you decide to move to a slightly different area or if you need to return home due to unforeseen circumstances.  Your capital will not be tied up in property and you will have fewer inheritance issues to consider.  You will also not be responsible for property maintenance which can involve unexpected costs.

The processes involved in buying a property abroad in different countries varies and you should ensure you understand what is involved in buying a property in Spain and get independent advice from a qualified lawyer experienced in the market and able to speak English.

There are a number of property options when retiring abroad and it is worth thinking about the best option before you make the move.

If you are unable to purchase the property from your own funds you will need to identify options to obtain a mortgage.  There are basically three options to finance the purchase:

  1. Remortgage your home
  2. Borrow from a domestic bank
  3. Arrange an overseas mortgage

What is the healthcare system in Spain?

There are no health requirements to enter Spain. It is recommended that inoculations for the normal childhood diseases of measles, mumps, rubella (MMR vaccine), diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DPT), and polio be current for all members of the family.

The Spanish state health service establishes that all people, regardless of their nationality, have the right to health care. The National Health Service (NHS) is available for Spanish nationals as well as foreigners, who work in Spain and are registered and contribute to the Spanish social security system. This also applies to foreigners, who have retired from that system, or for those who work or have worked in an EU country or other country with whom Spain has a social security treaty that covers health care.

An alternative to the state health care system is private medical treatment. Through this system you can select any physician you wish. You can also consult with a specialist without a recommendation from a general practitioner. With private health insurance, you generally pay the physician directly and then apply for reimbursement with your insurance company. It is important to compare prices and offerings of these services.  Some of them charge an additional fee per consultation, in addition to your monthly or annual payments. It is also important to note whether national and international coverage is provided.

As Britain leaves the EU, it may become more necessary for Britons living in Spain to take out private medical cover.

How do you set up your banking in Spain?

When moving to a new country you should take a look at your banking arrangements.  It is generally possible to use your existing bank from your home country for many purposes, but it is worth opening a local Spanish account for most people.

It is possible to open a Spanish bank as a resident or as a non-resident and a number have special services for expats.  Although you can do this before you move to Spain, it may be easiest to do this while you are in Spain and you can generally pick up your debit or credit cards, PIN and cheque book within a week or so of completing your application.

If you spend more than 183 days a year in Spain or are employed or have a business in Spain you become resident in Spain and will need to advise your bank.  You will then be able to open a resident bank account which may have better terms.

There are a large number of businesses providing banking services in Spain.  The main banks are:

It is worth shopping around if you have the time, as the fees can vary significantly.  A monthly maintenance fee is common and, although cash withdrawals from the banks own ATMs is generally free, there will be charges for using other banks’ ATMs.  There are also often special offers available and fees can be waived if you meet different criteria (eg. paying your monthly salary into the account) and so the cost will vary according to when you are opening an account.

How easy is it to settle in to Spain?

Moving to Spain conjures up images of endless sunshine, strolling along the beach, sitting in an open air bar watching the world go by, drink in hand while eating tapas.  This is all part of the dream, but in reality settling in to a very different lifestyle can have its challenges.  Knowing to expect them can help with overcoming them and integrating more easily into your new life in Spain.

The structure of the day in Spain is different from that in many western countries.  Working expats will take their lead from their Spanish colleagues, but retired or self-employed expats will need to decide how to fit in with the local way of life.  Lunch is generally the main meal of the day and the Menú del Día is a popular option with three courses and a drink at a low fixed price.  This fits in with the Spanish siesta and when embraced gives a relaxed lifestyle.

From your first arrival in Spain you will experience the frustrations of Spanish bureaucracy.  Obtaining your NIE number, registering with the Padron, obtaining a social security number and to a lesser extent obtaining a medical card and a Tarjeta Sanitaria can all be very time consuming.  Patience and a good knowledge of Spanish is essential. If you do not have a good command of Spanish or if you need help navigating the system there are Gestors or Gestorias are available to complete the forms for you and help you through the process.

Not being able to speak Spanish leads to practical difficulties as shopping, eating and drinking out and dealing with officialdom is more difficult.  It is also an obstacle to fully engaging with your new life.   There are many ways to learn a language (see Top Ten Tips To Learn A Language), including taking a language course, using an online course or even mobile apps.  It is much easier though  when you interact with native speakers and have specific things you need to learn to say.

It can take a while to adjust to the Spanish lifestyle and culture.  On the one hand they can be very friendly and welcoming and there is a greater level of physical embrace.  On the other hand, it can take a long time to get beyond the superficial level and build close friendships.  It is often easier to spend time with other expats and this is part of the choice that you need to make between living in an expat enclave or integrating with the Spanish.

Whatever your interests getting involved with social, professional, voluntary and sporting groups will pay dividends in helping you to settle down and build a circle of friends with like interests.  Those who have been through the same experience as you are likely to be the best source of advice on how to deal with some of the new experiences of life in Spain.

Where one partner moves for work the other may have to give up or change their career and it is vital that they find something that will fulfil them as well as their partner.  Even where partners move to Spain to retire there are likely to be issues if one has visions of daily trips to the golf course or endless hours on their yacht if the other does not share their interest.  It is not necessary to do the same thing, but it is important that both partners have interests that satisfy them and give their life meaning.

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Categories: Spain