9 Things To Consider If You Want To Move To Spain

Las Cruces, Granada

I’m all for not thinking toooo hard before making life-changing decisions, but when I moved to Spain in 1998 I was young, free, and single… so it was a bit of a “no-brainer”.

However, I’ve noticed a few comments on the blog recently from people wrestling with the decision: to move to Spain or not to move to Spain.

So, in no particular order (but all important!) here are 9 things to think about (even just a tiny bit!) if you are planning a move to Spain:

1. Language: Do you speak Spanish?

I turned up here 10 years ago without a word, but as I planned to be an English teacher in Spain for the first year, this didn’t really matter. Plus I planned to get very fluent very fast, which, with classes, intercambios, and massive motivation, I managed.

But will you have time to learn Spanish? Will you need it for a job? Are you bothered about it?

In general, I would say: count on needing to learn Spanish if you want a successful life in Spain. If you live outside the expat zones on the coasts, do not expect people in banks, landlords, people on the end of a phone etc, to speak English.

No problem anyway, learning Spanish is fun!

2. Expat guilt: Will you face it?

Are you leaving people behind that you will feel guilty about? Do you have responsibilities at home you really might feel bad about running away from? This isn’t the case for everyone, but where possible I highly recommend tying up any loose ends before you go that might tug at your conscience later. Or getting work here that frees you up to pop back often…

3. Work

What are you going to do for a living in Spain? Working in Spain is not as easy as it was where you came from, unless you plan to be an English teacher in a big city.

Spain is in the middle of its own economic crisis, and has very high unemployment at the moment. So make sure you think ahead, or better still, have something lined up for when you arrive.

If you arrive without work, aim to have at least 5,000 Euros in the bank before you get here to tide you over while you find work in the first few months.

4. Responsibilities

Will you be bringing a spouse, or children, that depend on you? Then things get a LOT more complicated. You need to work out what they are going to do in Spain too, work-wise or school-wise, and you need to have a LOT more money in the bank as a safety net before you arrive, not to mention a job lined up or very very solid plan.

If this is you, read this cautionary tale about leaving Spain.

5. You may never want to leave

OK, enough of the ‘warning shots’ above, this one is positive. Be warned that once you get here, you may stay forever… I planned to be in Madrid for a month, Spain for a year. That was 10 years ago, and I’m still in Madrid. It’s great, but something to keep in mind!

6. You may be changed forever!

Moving to Spain long term will almost certainly make you more independent, broaden your horizons, and will enrich and stimulate you mentally and culturally.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing! But you may find that after a time you loose touch with life and culture back home, and only have half a clue what’s going on here! It’s a weird transition, but in the end, you may end up more culturally Spanish than whatever you were before.

Again, no problem, but makes it hard when you go home for a visit and you have no idea about the celebrities, scandals and TV shows your old friends are talking about at dinner parties.

7. New friends

How good are you at meeting people and making new friends? Where will you find them? Lots of idea on that in this forum post: A happy landing in Spain

8. Leaving your comfort system behind.

By way of summarising the scary bits above, you will be leaving established work channels, friends, support systems… weather systems for that matter! You will be stepping out of your comfort zone. Make sure you are feeling good, fit, mentally strong, and up for an amazing challenge. And be determined to fit in with your new surroundings (see “The Ex-Pat Manifesto”…)

And don’t worry, as I always say, if I can start a new life in Spain, anyone can…

9. Over to you…

What would you add for number 9? Please add to the list or just comment below!

24 thoughts on “9 Things To Consider If You Want To Move To Spain

  1. Justin Roberts

    9. Be prepared for loads of pointless bureaucracy, and for things to move at a glacial pace when waiting for officialdom to get anything done.

  2. Yoli

    Be ready for the spanish rudeness.

    We don’t consider that not saying thanks and please every 3 seconds its rude. We are not gonna change that….hahah…..its part of our culture.
    The same about queuing and showing feelings in our faces freely.

    From a Spanish girl who is told eeeevery day to change all mentioned….despite I’m living in Spain…

  3. catalangardener

    Please expect and accept Spain will be different to ‘back home’.

    We can spot Brits a mile off in our local supermarket – they’re the ones looking grumpy and grumbling about things. It’s a different country so of course its different! Isn’t its difference the whole point of being here?

    In our early days here which were mostly spent at the builders merchants I heard a guy there moaning (in English) about all the blummin immigrants here!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was mortified and horified that he could say such a thing without his tonge set firmly in his cheek.

    The words ‘go back home’ sprang to mind, but instead I was terribly British and ignored him. If I heard him now I could be a lot more bolshy as thankfully I’ve now learnt some Spanish up front nosiness and willingness to interfere!

  4. RayTibbitts

    9. You will be an immigrant. Embrace it.

    It is a great excuse for any dumb situations you might get yourself into, but it also allows you to see a side of your new society that no one living in it can see.

    As can be expected, this means you will have more contact with the bureaucracy than the average citizen. This is not unique to Spain, but is still a mantra worth repeating whenever you are losing your patience, or feeling stressed out by people in uniforms.

    This also means that, for a native to deal with you, they have exercise more patience than when dealing with their fellow Spaniards. By coming here, you have left your comfort zone, and whether you meant to or not, you are requiring others to step outside THEIR comfort zone, as well.

    The end results of making this effort are good for everyone involved, both immigrant and native, and gives both an opportunity to grow and progress. But don’t forget that the process requires an effort from you AND them. Not everyone in Spain is willing to put out the effort, but not every immigrant is, either, and some of the immigrants who have come before you may have left a bad impression.

    Being an immigrant means that some customs and expressions will be lost in translation, not just the language.
    Just because you behave in a way that would make it easier for someone from your country to have more patience and to be more polite to you, there is no way for a Spaniard to know how to interpret that behavior as being cooperative.

    What seems like callous, loud and rude behavior to you, may or may not be considered the same way by a Spaniard in the same situation, and is likely unintentional. (But it might be.)

    You are in a unique position to observe these differences, and to speculate on the conditions that arose to them. Enjoy it, but avoid unsolicited critiques, as you probably wouldn’t appreciate a foreigner holding up a mirror to your own culture’s idiosyncrasies.

    Far and wide, Spaniards are warm and accepting of tourists and immigrants, and appreciate the benefits that both contribute to their country, especially when dealing on a person to person level, if not when thinking of tourism and immigration in general.
    However, making a positive generalization like this won’t be seen as giving you permission to make other generalizations, such as they are noisy, messy, rude, bad at customer service, or addicted to entitlements, no matter how much empirical data you can accumulate to justify your allegations.

    By the way, Ben, you’ve got a great, concise, honest and insightful article, and thanks for leaving it open for discussion.

  5. Graham

    Enjoy it because it is changing fast. Remember that you are not obliged to spend all day every day complaining about what isn’t here. Enjoy it for what it is.

  6. Spain Info

    Schools. Let’s assume that you’ve got the income thing handled (a portable business, a job in Spain, or the income from the trust fund Great Uncle Wilberforce set up for you). Let’s assume you’ve got kids.

    That brings up the issue of schools. It’s something you really need to think about before buying that place in a remote pueblo.

    Spanish schools, are, well, Spanish schools. Most of them are run by the Catholic church. To an astounding degree, they favor rote memorization as the pedagogical method of choice. It’s not that they are better or worse, but they are different from US or British schools. If you are the kind of parent with strong opinions about how your kid should be educated, you may well find that you are not happy with the Spanish system.

    In big cities, there are international schools. They tend to be pretty good; some are very good. They also tend to be quite expensive.

    There’s no easy, universal answer. The kids your schools are a huge influence on not only their lives but yours, so think this through before you move.

  7. Isabel

    Great list Ben! In my case: I already speak Spanish and I am currently already an expat since I was not born and raised here in the US. I’m also not married or attached so no worries about leaving anyone behind!

    I think my only main uncertainty is the work aspect, which is why I haven’t withdrawn all the money from my bank account and hopped on the plain to Spain. I want to be sure of a steady income especially now that the economy is terrible everywhere.

    So for now my plan is to finish college and then move to Spain, live there for two years as a legal resident and then claim my citizenship.

    Oh, and #5 is the main reason why I have not gone there for a vacation yet. I don’t want to go there on a temporary stay because it will break my heart to have to leave.

  8. ValenciaSon

    My 9. If you are making the big move with kids in tow, prep them as well. Explain to them in an age-appropriate manner what they can expect from this move. Compare and contrast what life will be like in Spain with their current location and give your kids time to formulate their own curiosity so that they can give you meaningful questions over what life will be like for them in Spain. I think anticipatory guidance will help your kids tremendously in their adaptation to life in Spain. Don’t pull punches. I speak as one of those American kids, whose parents tried the move, but unfortunately my parents didn’t consider prepping us kids. It made for a strange experience, as I didn’t know what to expect and how much of what I enjoyed from home would be gone permanently.

  9. John

    My no.9 is to carefully consider destination/ location.

    Spain has enormous diversity between regions, so which region you choose as well as the size of the town, will greatly affect your experience.

    This diversity can involve differences in general levels of English comprehension, work/business oportunities, level of acceptance by the community for difference in age, culture, race and sexuality.

    As well the weather, landscape, pasttimes, traditions, architecture all alter dramatically.
    I moved to near Barcelona with my partner, we are gay and find that after 2.5 years we do not regret moving here but like everyone there has been subas y bajas.

    All of the points above, as well as from other posters, we are now considering from anew, because we may consider changing to a new location, and it is like choosing off a bandeja de tapas exquisitas, in making the decision.

    One thing we have learnt from our initial move here, is that it takes about 3-6 months to really get to know a place, hence the importance of renting in any new area, before deciding to buy.

  10. Hollis

    Ben, any comment about healthcare? Generally has it been up to good standards? Have you had any issues / concerns / anything come up? Has the level of medical professionals generally been equivalent to US or UK?

  11. Ben Post author

    Hi Hollis, for a long time I’ve private healthcare here, first with Asisis, now Adeslas. I got it as I had to years ago to get my resident’s card when I wasn’t working. You get unlimited access to any doctor/specialist for, I think, about 50 euros a month. Can’t really comment on public health services as a result.

  12. Delboy

    Hi, I am considering moving to Sain on afull or part-time basis. I have been suffering from work related stress for 2 years. I suffer from low mood disorder. I am beginning to feel really pissed off at home, grim weather,high prices, constant doom and gloom. I am looking for a ahange in my life,sunny weather certainly helps. Any ideas suggestions please?

  13. Ben Post author

    Delboy, the weather helps a LOT, but you’ll need to take the above into consideration too… try our forum for more ideas on locations and so on.

  14. Frank


    Great post, I am currently getting ready to move to Madrid at the moment. Not the best time but when is there a good time?

  15. Roberto

    Hi I’m so glad to find your site. I am American with an Irish Passport. I spent 3 mos in Barcelona in 2005 learning Spanish and I loved it. I’m gay and live in Miami My BF used to be a Gynecologist in Cuba and he is a nurse here.. Long story but he is looking into being a DR in Spain. We are going through the steps for the paperwork Spain accepts cuban DRs it’s not so hard. – I do fear he’d miss his family here and the American life he has come to love but on the other hand I think he would be able to Identify with Spain since it’s part of his heritage. He could work as a DR which he loves. Any idea what a Gynecologist might make in Spain? I’d like to work in Insurance in Spain – I do speak Spanish quite well but not perfect(living there would really help). OH and what about Catalan for a DR? you think it’s required? What about for me?


  16. Kate and Theo

    in reference to no 1 (learning Spanish) we’ve found that International House – which has branches all over Spain including Madrid – offer free Spanish classes. You have to ask specifically for them (as they also offer paid-for-classes), but they are usually quite happy to give them to you. The classes are free because they form a part of the training for new Spanish teachers, who need human guinea pigs to hone their classroom skills on. In theory this means the quality of the teaching should be lower but we’ve never noticed, and we’re both now able to communicate reasonably fluently in Spanish having not spoken much at all when we moved here in January.

    Also, if you are looking for a way to make new friends (and get a free holiday) we’d recommend doing a http://www.puebloingles.com week – we’re off to spend the weekend in Valencia with some friends we met there. It’s great fun and for native English speakers it’s entirely free.

    hasta luego

  17. Maria

    Help please!
    I am british and I have a 3 year old son..I am so thinking of moving to spain!! dont know where to start, how to get work? or which part of spain to live in? Dont speak spanish only fluent arabic and english…any suggestions any1.. thanx

  18. sharlinne

    hi i am looking at moving to orara near torrevieja in the next 12 months i have 2 young kids 9 and 4 will be 10 and 5 when go i am looking at renting for at least 6 months i have bin there b4 and liked it my hubby is 53 and disabled and i am 33 and a qualified public house licence i havent got a clue about what i need to do and where to start we are not wealthy and will have about 15,000 to groud routes b4 finding work my hubby is a singer back here in clubs and pubs so i no he has good chance to find work and advise email me on sanlyth@hotmail.co. uk or add me as friend on facebook thanks

  19. maria

    its not that bad, im originally from canary islands and i’ve lived in london and madrid.
    i love both places but from my point of view, spain has a different taste, a special one that even if you never return it sticks with you.

    im sorry for my bad english^^

  20. yogobcn

    If you are trying to re-allocate and live in Spain, it may be useful to move either to Madrid or Barcelona. Barcelona offers specifically lots of jobs for foreigners..

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