Moving to Spain from the UK: A starter guide

Zorica Lončar
12.05.21
7 minute read

Dreaming of moving to sunny Spain? You’re not alone, as it’s the second most popular destination for UK expats after Australia¹.

Spain is a beautiful country with a lot to offer, including delicious food and wine, affordable property, great quality of life and cheaper living costs compared to the UK.

But a major draw for Brits trying to escape cold winters in the UK has to be the year-round sunshine in Spain. When combined with golden beaches, lush countryside and stunning natural scenery, it’s easy to see why over 750,000 UK citizens now call Spain home¹.

If you’re planning a move to Spain, read on. We’ve put together an essential guide covering everything you need to know, from visas to post-Brexit changes. Plus, a section dedicated to options for retiring to Spain if you want to spend your post-work years in the sun.

We’ll even look at how you can manage your money internationally, using the Wise multi-currency account to save on relocation costs, pension income and everyday spending in Spain.

Learn more

But first, let’s cover some of the basics about life in Spain.

Living in Spain - what you need to know

Let’s start with a few of the basic facts you need to know about Spain if you’re considering moving there:

  • Currency - Euro (EUR)
  • Main languages - Spanish (Castilian), Catalan and Galician²
  • Population - approx. 46.7 million³
  • Number of British expats - approx. 761,000¹
  • Most popular destinations for expats - Malaga, Alicante, the Balearic Islands, Valencia, the Canary Islands⁴.

Cost of living in Spain⁵

Before moving abroad, you need to make sure you can actually afford to live there. You should have no worries with Spain, as the cost of living there is much cheaper than the UK across almost all spending categories. However, it does depend whereabouts you live and the kinds of things you add to your shopping basket.

To give you an idea of how much things cost in Spain, here are a few examples:

  • A three-course meal for two people costs around £35, compared to £50 in the UK
  • A beer (draught, 0.5l) costs around £2.17, compared to £3.67 in the UK
  • A loaf of bread costs around £0.86, compared to £0.98 in the UK
  • A monthly public transport pass costs around £35, compared to £65 in the UK.

Now, what about property? Renting a one-bedroom city centre apartment in Spain is around 25% cheaper than the UK, and monthly utility bills come in at around 35% cheaper.

If you want to buy rather than rent, the per-square-metre price for an apartment in Spain is up to 43% cheaper than the UK - depending whether you buy inside or outside a city centre.

Healthcare system⁶

The Spanish healthcare system offers high standards of care, and was ranked 19th in the world by the 2018 Euro Consumer Health Index⁶.

Better still, Spanish state healthcare is free for anyone living and working in Spain. So as an expat, you should be able to get free medical treatment if you are a resident in Spain who works and pays social security contributions. You may also be eligible if you are under 26 years old and studying in Spain.

To register for free state healthcare, you’ll need to contact the Dirección General de la Tesorería General de la Seguridad Social or TGSS (Spanish social security) and get your social security number.

If for some reason you’re not eligible, you can also apply to have the UK pay for your state healthcare while you’re in Spain. If you receive a UK state pension, you can complete an S1 form - more information is available on the UK Government website.

And of course, if you want to, you can also take out private health insurance cover.

Opening a bank account in Spain

A Spanish bank account is a very useful thing to have, especially when it comes to covering your living expenses and receiving your salary when you get a job in Spain.

As a non-citizen, you can take your pick between resident and non-resident bank accounts. The latter is designed for newcomers and should be easier to open, but you’ll usually need to make an appointment at the local branch of your chosen bank.

To open a resident bank account, you’ll need to provide your Spanish foreigner identification number (NIE) and certificate. You may also need documents proving your employment status, address and a form of valid ID.

Find out more about opening a bank account in Spain in our handy guide.

Finding somewhere to live in Spain

There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Spain, even after Brexit⁷. So, you can snap up a home of your own as long as you can afford the purchase price.

Good places to start your search include Fotocasa.es, Idealista.com, Pisos.com and Trovimap.com.

However, it can be easier for newcomers to rent somewhere to live in Spain, at least while they settle in. If you’re interested in renting, start looking for suitable properties on all of the above websites, as well as Kyero.com, Habitaclia.com and Yaencontre.com.

Finding a job in Spain

If you have the right to work in Spain and don’t already have a job offer lined up, it’s time to start scouring those jobs boards. Finding a job as a British expat can be tricky, as you may be restricted to roles for non-Spanish speaking candidates.

But if you’re multilingual, have specialist skills that employers are looking for or are looking for English-speaking roles in tourism or teaching, you shouldn’t find it too difficult.

Here’s where to start your job hunt:

Moving to Spain after Brexit

One of the major concerns for anyone considering a move to a European country is - how will Brexit affect moving to Spain?

The rules relating to moving to the EU from the UK have undoubtedly changed, and things have become more complicated. However, it’s not impossible for UK citizens to live, work and even retire in countries like Spain after Brexit.

The main change to know about relates to visas. Formerly, UK citizens would also be considered citizens of the EU and wouldn’t need to apply for a long-term visa to live in Spain. This is no longer the case, and UK citizens will need to get an appropriate visa and also register as residents if they want to stay in Spain for more than 3 months.

How to get a Spanish visa

In order to live in Spain permanently, you’ll need to get a long-term visa. This gives you the right to stay in Spain for more than 90 days.

There are three types of long-stay visa - residency, work and residence, and student. If you plan to work in Spain, you’ll need to apply for the work and residence visa option.

You can apply for your Spanish visa at the Consulate of Spain in London. You’ll need to request an appointment, stating which type of residence visa you want to apply for. Make sure you have the following documents to hand⁸:

  • Valid passport
  • Recent passport-size photograph of yourself
  • Completed visa application form
  • Copy of your employment contract (if applicable)
  • A certificate of criminal record issued by the UK police
  • Medical certificate from the last three months.

You’ll also need to pay the visa fee, then wait for your application to be processed. This usually takes around a month⁹, but it’s advisable to apply for your visa at least 90 days before your planned moving date.

Once you’ve lived in Spain for five years, you can apply for permanent residency provided you meet all the conditions¹⁰.

Applying for a TIE residence card⁸

Once you have your visa and arrive in Spain, you must register as a resident within one month. To do this, you’ll need to apply for a biometric residence card called a Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (TIE). The best place to go for this is your local immigration office or police station.

Retiring in Spain

Spain is a particular hotspot for UK retirees dreaming of sun, sea and sand for their post-work years.

But just how easy is it to retire to Spain from the UK? Let’s take a look at two of the key issues retirees need to know about - visas and pension arrangements.

Retirement visa for Spain

You can apply for an ordinary long-term visa, but there is another option for retirees which could be more suitable. This is the ‘visado de residencia no lucrativa’, or Non-Lucrative Residence Visa. It’s designed for people who don’t plan to work while in Spain, so it’s ideal for pension-age expats.

To successfully apply for this visa, you’ll need to have all of the documents listed in the previous section (with the exception of an employment contract). In addition, retirees will need to show they have health insurance cover and enough income to cover their living expenses, around £2,000 a month¹¹.

Pension

British retirees moving to Spain can apply to the International Pensions Centre to receive their UK state pension.

You may also be able to transfer over personal pensions, so you have all your retirement savings in one place. To do this without incurring a huge tax bill, you’ll need to make sure your Spanish pension provider is a qualifying recognised overseas pension scheme (QROPS) - this is a list of schemes recognised by HMRC in the UK.

Save on your relocation costs to Spain with Wise

So, you’re almost ready to make the big move to Spain. But there’s just one last crucial thing to get sorted - how you’ll manage your money across borders.

You’ll find that there are lots of reasons you’ll need to transfer money between the UK and Spain before your move. For example, to cover rental deposits, estate agent fees, visa costs or payments relating to a property purchase. Carry out these international payments using your bank and you could lose money to currency conversion fees and terrible exchange rates.

Open a Wise multi-currency account instead and you can send money worldwide for tiny fees and the real, mid-market exchange rate. Plus, you can spend in EUR at the fairest exchange rate from the moment you land in Spain using your international Wise debit card.

When it comes to receiving payments from the UK, such as your state pension, Wise could also save you money. You can use your secure account to receive payments in GBP, converting to EUR using Wise’s fairer exchange rate.

Join Wise and start saving today


So, that’s pretty much it - everything you need to know about moving to Spain from the UK. We’ve covered it all, from visas and post-Brexit changes to healthcare, jobs and much more.

After reading this guide, you should be all set to plan your move. The very best of luck!


Sources used for this article:

  1. International Investment - top destinations for UK expats
  2. Pangeanic - languages spoken in Spain
  3. Worldometers - Spain population (2021)
  4. Idealista - where do British expats live in Spain
  5. Numbeo - cost of living in Spain compared to the UK
  6. Expatica - healthcare in Spain
  7. Solicitors in Spain - buying property in Spain after Brexit
  8. Exteriores.gob.es - visado de residencia y trabajo
  9. Exteriores.gob.es - long-term visas
  10. Exteriores.gob.es - residing in Spain
  11. Exteriores.gob.es - visado de residencia no lucrativa

Sources checked on 7th May-2021.


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

Wise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

Find out more

Tips, news and updates for your location