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Spain is the number one overseas destination for UK expats, enjoying the relaxation of a Mediterranean lifestyle, beautiful coastlines and rich cultural heritage.
The country has an average of 300 sunny days a year, delicious cuisine, and countless places to live, from modern fashion-centric cities to laid-back beachfront, with a rugged northern coast a world away from the balmy tourist regions in the Canary Islands.
An international move is a big decision. You must research visa eligibility, living costs, the best areas to live in Spain as an expat, and practicalities such as tax obligations.
Table of contents
- Spain – Quick Facts
- Visas And Residency
- Safety And Security
- Cost Of Living
- Buying Or Renting A Home
- Where Do British Expats Live In Spain?
- Working In Spain
- Local Laws And Customs
- Education And Schooling
- Living In Spain FAQ
- Related Information
Spain – Quick Facts
- Bandera de España – the Spanish flag
- Population: 47.42 million
- UK expat population: 370,000
- Capital: Madrid
- Main cities: Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Bilbao and Malaga
Visas And Residency
British expats cannot move to Spain without a valid visa, as one of the post-Brexit changes to how UK nationals can travel, live and work throughout Europe. Non-European Union citizens that successfully apply for a residence permit receive a blue or pink identification card.
Short-term visas, or Schengen visas, allow visitors to travel to Spain for up to 180 days, whereas a long-term visa is suitable if you plan to live in Spain permanently or for over one year.
The rules around immigration and residency are dealt with by the Ministerio de Asuntos and Ministerio del Interior. You will need a visa or residency permit to take up employment, buy or sell a vehicle, purchase a home, register to pay taxes and use social security systems such as healthcare.
Professionals and working expats can apply for a work visa through the Ministerio de Trabajo y Economía Social. They must have a confirmed offer of employment and contract from a registered Spanish company.
Rules vary between the autonomous regions, each with a Work and Immigration office that issues work permits and handles renewal applications.
Proof of vaccination
The rules around pre-travel testing and proof of vaccination have been lifted.
Visitors to Spain must have at least three months of validity left on their passports after their expected departure date, and your passport must have been issued less than ten years before the date of entry.
Expats moving to Spain permanently need to bring their permit and visa documentation with them, along with their British passport and ID documents.
Taking medicines into Spain
You can bring prescription medication to Spain, provided you have the prescription documentation, original packaging, and a letter from your doctor. You may also be asked to verify that the medicine is for your personal use.
Once you move to Spain, you can access a prescription through a GP, although non-residents must pay around 50 per cent of the prescription cost, or 10 per cent if they receive a pension.
To qualify for a visa or residency card, you must prove that you do not have a criminal record in any country you have lived in. Applicants can complete a form called a Model 790 through the Spanish criminal records office.
Safety And Security
Spain is a relatively safe and secure place to live, although street crime, such as pickpocketing, is more common around tourist areas. Travellers are warned to be cautious about carrying their passports and large amounts of money.
Some central city regions also have reported issues with thieves pretending to be police officers and approaching visitors and requesting to see their ID to prompt them to take out their wallets.
You can use your UK driving licence for up to six months and then must swap it for a Spanish driving licence – you cannot have both a UK and Spanish driving licence simultaneously.
An International Driving Permit can also be useful and lasts for one year. You can then upgrade to a Spanish driving licence in good time.
The minimum driver age is 18, and you must hold valid insurance. Cars drive on the right, and all passengers in any vehicle must wear a seatbelt. Speed limits must be observed, and as standard, are 120 KPH on motorways and dual carriageways, 90 KPH on other roads, or 30 KPH in residential areas.
It is illegal to talk on the phone while driving, and you can only overtake on the left-hand side. Children under 135 cm tall are not allowed to sit in the front, which applies to taxis as well as private vehicles.
Cost Of Living
Like many countries, Spanish living costs depend on where you choose to live. Small apartments in areas such as Alicante can cost from €325 (£286) a month, whereas cities such as Madrid and Barcelona will be considerably more expensive.
Northern coastal regions, including the Catalan coast and San Sebastian, are also some of the more exclusive places to live. Properties with large outdoor gardens, private pools, beachside locations, or sea views are inevitably more expensive.
Overall, living costs in Spain are among the lowest in western Europe and are, on average:
- 17.9 per cent lower than in the UK
- 29.2 per cent cheaper for rental prices
A single person normally spends around €654 (£576) a month on expenses, excluding accommodation, increasing to €2,311 (£2,036) for a family of four.
Buying Or Renting A Home
Around 80 per cent of Spanish residents own their property, and the market is generally stable, having rebounded from a dip of approximately 30 per cent during the crash caused by the pandemic.
House prices have been growing steadily for the last few years. However, Brexit and the added complexities for UK expats moving to Spain have affected the volume of foreign national buyers investing in Spanish homes.
However, you can purchase a property as an expat but must visit a local police station with your passport to request a financial number if you aren’t a resident.
The market is somewhat complex, and it is important to use reputable agents, developers and solicitors since scams and ‘black money’ offers, where some of the value is paid in cash to avoid property taxes, can end in prosecution.
Each of the 17 autonomous Spanish regions can set rules around whether non-residents can buy. However, these rules do not apply to residents or expats who have been approved for permanent residency and tend to be strictest in the Balearics.
Many expats rent, even if they eventually plan to purchase property in Spain, as it provides an opportunity to get to know an area or community and find out whether it’s a place they’d like to live long-term.
You can search for properties to rent or buy through sites such as Home España, Spanish Property Choice or Idealista.
Cost of renting and buying a home
|Property Type||Average Rent Per Month|
|One-bedroom city centre apartment||€741 / £654|
|One-bedroom apartment elsewhere||€605 / £534|
|Three-bedroom city centre apartment||€1,262 / £1,113|
|Three-bedroom apartment elsewhere||€929 / £819|
|Property Type||Average Purchase Price Per Square Metre|
|City centre apartment||€3,189 / £2,813|
|Apartment elsewhere||€1,964 / £1,732|
Where Do British Expats Live In Spain?
UK nationals live in most regions of Spain, with popular destinations including
- Málaga – Costa del Sol
- Alicante – Costa Blanca
- Balearic Islands – Mallorca and Valencia
- Canary Islands – Tenerife and Gran Canaria
Check out the best places to live in Spain guide.
The Spanish healthcare system is efficient and provides almost universal care to citizens and permanent residents, funded through social security contributions deducted through payslips.
Some aspects of medical care are not included, such as dentistry or mental health treatments. Most residents will take out private health insurance, called seguro de salud privado, or extend the insurance that is usually a mandatory requirement to apply for a visa. However, around 70 per cent of healthcare in Spain is government funded.
The Ministerio de Sanidad manages the national healthcare system, whereas each territory can organise specifics around healthcare service administration.
Any eligible residents or long-term visa holders who pay Spanish taxes can use free public health services alongside accessing treatments for children.
Working In Spain
Expats have a much easier time finding jobs in Spain if they speak the language fluently. Still, there are roles available for English speakers, particularly with larger companies in the major cities that target an international audience.
It is also more straightforward to apply for a position if you offer a skill or profession eligible for the Highly Qualified Work Permit, which currently includes the following:
- ICT specialists
- Engineers and production professionals
- Managerial and sales executives
- Shipping and logistics operatives
- Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professions
While you can search for roles through job sites and local publications, much of the hiring system relies on networking and word of mouth. Making speculative applications to a company you’d like to work for is entirely acceptable.
The unemployment rates are relatively high by European standards, at 12.87 per cent, against an EU average of 6.6 per cent, so it can be trickier to find unskilled positions, with the government targeting youth unemployment as a core priority.
Expats working in chemicals, pharmaceuticals, tourism and food and beverages are often in high demand, although not all jobs will qualify for the highly skilled visa route.
UK nationals also work for global enterprises headquartered in Spain, such as Repsol, IAG, BBVA, Banco Santander, Telefonica and Iberdrola.
Sites that post English language vacancies include The Local, The Guardian, Expatica Jobs and ThinkSpain.
Once you become a tax-paying resident, you will receive a Spanish NIE number – you can also apply for this through the nearest embassy or your local police station. NIE codes are assigned to foreign residents and may change if you become a permanent citizen.
You can only apply for a social security number once you have an NIE number and then need to register to pay taxes through the Agencia Tributaria.
Income tax bands start at 19 per cent for income up to €12,450 (£10,981), with a top bracket of 47 per cent applied to earnings over €300,000 (£264,600). However, that depends on the region where you live since taxes are made up partially of federal tax and partially from the regional tax system.
It is important to verify the exact tax rates and other taxes you may be obliged to pay, such as wealth and property tax, depending on the region you expect to live in.
The Ministerio de Hacienda y Función Pública publishes more detailed tax tables and information.
UK citizens eligible for the State Pension can continue to claim their benefits from overseas, and provided they remain within the EU, will receive yearly uplifts in their entitlement.
An EU Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme (ROPS) is included on the HMRC-approved list, enabling British expats to transfer private pension funds to an EU scheme, although professional financial advice is recommended.
Local Laws And Customs
- Foreign nationals cannot take meat or milk products into the EU, with exemptions for medical reasons and powdered milk for children.
- Any person under 18 is considered a minor in Spain and can be taken to a minor’s centre by the authorities if they deem them vulnerable.
- You must carry an official ID and be prepared to show this to any Guardia Civil, national, local or regional police representative. You can be detained at a police station if you cannot verify your identity.
- Ignoring or challenging a police officer can be considered a criminal offence.
- Hotels are legally obligated to register your passport on arrival if you travel as a tourist.
- Possession of any illegal drugs is strictly prosecuted, and some councils do not allow people to consume alcohol in public, with on-the-spot fines issued.
- In the Balearics, laws vary around alcohol sales, limiting sales hours and the amount of alcohol anyone can buy.
- Some areas of Spain have laws banning you from wearing swimwear on the street and men from walking in public with a bare chest. Public authorities may also prohibit the burka or niqab or restrict them from government or council buildings.
Education And Schooling
Education is compulsory and free to residents when children are between six and 16, with high standards. A secondary school qualification called the graduado de educación secundaria.
Pupils can alternatively opt for two years of occupational training and become a técnico, usually progressing to an apprenticeship before becoming a professional.
There are a lot of international schools around Spain that offer expat families a high level of education for their children.
Expats registered with their local town hall can access state education facilities or choose a private school teaching bilingual children or children who have yet to learn enough to attend a public school.
Private schools cost from €770 (£679) a month in Barcelona to an average of €740 (£653) a month in Madrid and €520 (£459) in Malaga.
Living In Spain FAQ
You can live and work in Spain with a valid visa, meet the eligibility requirements, and conform to the terms. Multiple visa routes are depending on whether you are retiring in Spain or taking up a job opportunity.
The non-lucrative residence visa requires applicants to have a minimum amount of funds in their account or a minimum income set at €2,400 (£2,117) per month for 2023.
Spain has a warm Mediterranean climate, with summer temperatures reaching as high as 45°C. In the winter, higher mountainous regions can get very cold, although the average annual temperature is around 18°C.
Crime rates in Spain are low, and violent crime is rare. Street crime, such as pickpocketing, is the most common crime, primarily occurring in busy tourist regions and packed beaches.
Spain is part of the EU and uses the Euro. €1 is currently worth around £0.88.
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