- Download our Moving to Spain Guide (PDF)
Expats moving to Spain are likely to have many concerns about adapting to the pace of life in this Mediterranean country. Here are some answers to a few of the most frequently asked questions about expat life in Spain.
What is there to do in Spain?
Spain has an endless sea of things to see and do, as well as plenty of annual festivals and events for expats to attend in each city. The major cities are cosmopolitan dream worlds of nightlife and shopping, diverse enough to suit any personality. For sports lovers, the football culture is a huge part of Spanish society and the clubs have massive fan bases and rich traditions.
There are four distinct regions in Spain with varying climates and topography, meaning there is no shortage of hiking, beaches, forests and landscapes to explore. Besides the cities, rural Spain still retains much of the traditional cultures and charm and is well worth investigating.
There are also plenty of historic and incredible architectural sites in Spain that expats shouldn't miss out on. The cities of Spain are packed with museums, castles, cathedrals, parks, beautifully designed buildings and more. History and art lovers are sure to find plenty to keep them busy on their days off.
How does one navigate Spanish bureaucracy?
Navigating the notorious Spanish bureaucracy is an arduous task for locals and expats alike. Fortunately, there are a few tips and tricks to avoid head and heartache. The ultimate solution to solving this problem would be to hire a gestor (an administrative advisor). With a little input from the expat, these professionals will get all the paperwork done, saving tons of time in the long run. Expats choosing to go at it alone will need to be patient, polite, and preferably speak Spanish, or have a Spanish local or resident along with them to translate. A lack of public information in English is one of the many things that make navigating the red tape in Spain so difficult for expats.
What is an NIE number and is it necessary for expats?
An NIE number is essential for expats moving to Spain. In simple terms, the NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjero) number is a unique seven digit and letter code used for legal, social and tax identification in Spain. After securing accommodation, securing an NIE number will be second on expats' list of priorities. The NIE allows new arrivals to open a bank account, buy a car and access Spain's free social services.
Which city is the best for expats?
While Barcelona is a wonderful place to visit, expats may struggle to find jobs in the cultural capital of Spain. Madrid, being the financial and commercial hub, may be more fruitful in terms of job opportunities. Madrid is also the second most expensive city in Spain, however, so expats with a job lined up elsewhere or those working remotely may find a cheaper cost of living in one of Spain's other cities. Rural Spain also offers a great standard of living, and may also be a good option depending on a person's priorities. Every city has its perks as well as its problems, but expats will find that Spain has plenty to offer no matter where expats choose to live.
Is public schooling good in Spain?
Schools in Spain are generally well equipped and have a high standard of education. While most expats send their children to international schools, as these allow them to continue learning in their home curriculum and language, the public schools are known to be of high quality and are free for all registered expats. The language of instruction at public schools is Spanish or the language of the region, such as Catalan in Barcelona. For this reason, it may be better for expats with young children who won't struggle to pick up the language to attend these schools, as it could also assist them in assimilating into the culture and making local friends. Along with public and international schools, Spain also has semi-private and private schools, some of which are bilingual. Expats should consider the age of the child, their budget, the curriculum and language they would prefer, as well as the length of their stay before picking a school.
Is it necessary to use private healthcare in Spain?
Healthcare in Spain is excellent, whether expats choose to use private or public facilities. Expats are able to use the public healthcare system if they have a Spanish social security number and medical card. This entitles them to free or highly subsidised primary care and emergency services.
While the quality of care in the public system is reportedly just as good as in the private system, expats may be subjected to long waiting times to see a specialist or for routine procedures. Expats will be able to avoid these waiting times at private facilities, and they will also find consultations quite affordable. That said, the cost of medical complications or emergency procedures can be high, and private health insurance will therefore be necessary to cover these costs.
►Learn more about the local people and social etiquette in Culture Shock in Spain
►Learn more about the NIE number and Residency in Spain
"There is a wealth of things to do every day and night of the week. A lively expat community made the move very easy. Of course there is the beautiful architecture and also the weather to enjoy. Something I have particularly loved is exploring Catalonia, there are so many great day trips you can make." Learn more about American expat Dan and his life in Barcelona in his interview.
Are you an expat living in Spain?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Spain. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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