A guide to the biggest mistakes when moving to Spain, and some tips on how to avoid them.
Moving to a new country may be a huge undertaking, but there are a lot of great reasons to do it. Whether you’re starting a new job, studying abroad, retiring, following family or a loved one or just looking for a new adventure, a new country might be where you find the home you’ve been looking for.
When deciding where to move, though, there are tons of factors to take into considerations. Every place is going to have pros and cons, and you need to be aware of both in order to make an informed choice about where you’re going to be happy living. Think Spain might be the place for you? Read on to learn about some of the pros and cons of living there.
Spain is a top destination for both tourists and expats for a lot of good reasons. Obviously, there are things that make the country appealing. Here are just a few of them:
Compared to some parts of Europe, like London and Paris, and bigger cities in the US, like New York and Los Angeles, Spaniards enjoy a high quality of life for far less money. Even in the city centers of Madrid and Barcelona, apartments are reasonably priced, and the cost of living falls well within the average salaries for most positions. Overall, expats from many places will find that Spain is a cheap place to live.
If you’re coming from a Western country, you won’t experience much culture shock in Spain. Many foods will be similar, if not totally familiar. Clothing and customs will also be somewhat the same. Even Christmas celebrations have similarities to many other parts of the world.
Sure, Spain has a winter season. And yes, winter can get cold and rainy, and some parts of the country even see snow. But overall, Spain is a temperate country with much milder weather than countries in northern Europe. Some parts of Spain see sunny days for as much as half the year on average. All those sunny days mean being able to take advantage of Spain’s amazing beaches, and for a lot of people there’s no such thing as too much time on the beach. Which leads us to our next point...
Spain has nearly 5,000 kilometers of coastline, which means beautiful, sandy beaches near many of the country’s cities. If you love the beach, you might just love life in Spain.
There are no special requirements for foreigners to buy property in Spain, and foreign investment in Spanish real estate is actually encouraged by the government there, which means owning a home is an achievable reality. Good thing, since 78% of people living in Spain own their homes. Spain was hit hard by the global recession, which lowered home prices as much as 40% in some parts of the country. While the housing market is recovering and home prices are rising, Spain is still seen as a great place to buy, as home prices are still steadily growing and you’re likely to see a return if you invest in buying a home there.
Flights from Spain to Europe’s top destinations are short, and they can be cheap if you buy at the right time or hit airline sales. If you’ve dreamed of exploring the UK, Germany, Portugal or other top tourist destinations, Spain is a great jumping off point for getting to all of them.
You don’t have to be a resident of Spain in order to open a bank account there. In fact, it’s even easier to open a non-resident account than it is to open a resident account. However, non-resident accounts aren’t going to be as flexible, and resident accounts do come with more benefits. Plus, you can only open a non-resident account if you spend less than 183 days per year in Spain.
Spaniards love their dogs, and if you’re moving with your furry friend by your side, you’ll find that the culture embraces them with open arms. Dogs are welcome at many restaurants, bars and businesses, and “stray” cats are often fed and cared for by friendly locals.
Spain has a culture of being laid-back and relaxed, and as a result, many Spaniards are friendly and easygoing. If you make an effort to assimilate yourself into their culture, you’ll likely find that most natives will accept you with open arms.
Spain, with its universal healthcare system, is known for having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Basic and preventative care are actually guaranteed rights for Spanish citizens under the nation’s constitution. Spaniards and expats alike can use the Spanish National Health System ("seguridad social" or SNS). Foreigners can use the SNS if they’re working in Spain or if they’re over retirement age, and everyone, including undocumented immigrants, has a right to treatment at emergency rooms. The SNS covers most procedures free of charge, though some people who need very specialized care or who prefer private healthcare opt for private insurance, which is available. Spain’s public healthcare system is not inferior to the private system, and many top doctors choose to practice within the public system.
If you live in the EU, you automatically have the right to live and work in Spain. That means you don’t have any bureaucratic hoops to jump through in order to get a job or start a business. Unfortunately, this only applies to EU residents, so if you’re for example, from the US, Australia or another country outside of the EU, you might have to get a work visa and residence permit in order to live and work in Spain.
No place is perfect, and Spain is no exception to that rule. While you may be charmed by all the pros of moving there, you have to be aware that there are also downsides to living in Spain. Here are some of them:
The economic crisis hit Spain extremely hard, and as a result, unemployment in Spain is still quite high. As of January 2017, unemployment is 16.55%. It has lowered a lot in recent years, but if you’re planning on finding a job in Spain, you might still have a hard time.
Sure, Spanish is the second most popular language in the world, but there are a lot of different dialects to the language — the Spanish you speak in Spain is different from the Spanish you speak in Mexico, which is different than the Spanish you speak in Argentina. If you’re in certain areas of Spain, many people will speak Catalan, Basque or Galician, so even if you’re fluent in Spanish, you could still run into a language barrier now and then.
There’s a lot of bureaucracy to wade through if you move to Spain from outside of the EU. Before you can live or work in the country, you’ll have to register with a variety of offices. That means at least a few days of running errands and filling out forms before you can really start to settle in.
In August, basically all of Spain goes on vacation. The whole country slows down, and many businesses close as their owners and employees head for the beach. If you have anything to get done, you’d better plan on doing it before August rolls around, or you may need to wait an entire month. If you live in a coastal town, August may come with a huge influx of tourists, causing crowds, traffic, and other hassles.
Life tends to move pretty slowly in Spain. “Morning” could actually stretch into the late afternoon. Restaurants may not open for dinner until the time American and Brits are used to going to bed. Small businesses might take a long siestas in the afternoon, which can make their hours of operation unpredictable. If you’re not used to such a laid-back lifestyle, it can be frustrating to contend with the schedule if you have things you need to get done.
Juggling lives between two nations? Want to save money? Wise borderless multi-currency accounts could help.
Whether you’re already making your move to Spain, or just visiting to check out the country, you’ll need access to your money while you’re there. If you transfer money internationally using your bank or a traditional money transfer service, you can expect to see a 4-5% markup on the exchange rate for every transaction. With Wise, you can move money at the real mid-market rate -- the same exchange rate you see when you Google it. There are no markups or hidden fees; just a small, fair transfer fee that you agree to up front.
Wise also offers borderless multi-currency accounts, which allow users to send, receive and manage money in dozens of international currencies all at the same time. Beginning in 2018, borderless account holders will have access to consumer debit cards, making it easy to use your money when you’re outside of your home country. Try Wise today and see how easy it can be to send and use your money all over the world.
Whether you settle on Spain or choose to keep looking for the perfect new place to call home, knowing the pros and cons is the first step to making that big decision. A little research is all it takes to avoid ending up somewhere that’s not a good fit for you and your lifestyle. Wherever you end up, good luck with your move, and safe travels in the meantime!
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