The Truth Behind Expat Life In Spain

The truth behind expat life in spain

Living in Spain as an expat can be a great experience. For many people around the world, even the thought of moving to Spain appears like an enchanting dream. However, expats can face various difficulties when moving abroad there for good. So, which is the truth behind expat life in Spain?

To help you weigh out your options for living in this lovely country more carefully we’ll discuss both pros and cons associated with becoming an expat in Spain.

Before making any vital decisions about where life could take you next – make sure to read through this list carefully so that ultimately you land on what’s best for you. 

What’s it like living in Spain as an expat?

It’s understandable why so many people fall in love with Spain. From its stunning beaches and balmy weather to the sunny skies that appear around 300 days out of the year, it has something for everyone.

Even if the beach isn’t your favorite lifestyle, there’s still plenty of beauty to discover in Spain. Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville are all teeming with culture and flair! Arts aficionados can admire buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi while appreciating museums dedicated to Salvador Dalí or Pablo Picasso. Plus, indulge in delectable tapas, and savor exquisite wine offerings – not to mention an indulgent nightlife scene – making it obvious why so many people love vacationing here.

But vacationing and visiting is not the same as living there. Starting a life and career in Spain isn’t the same as an extended holiday. It isn’t easy to be away from family and old friends and to navigate the challenges of moving to and settling in a new country.

The truth behind expat life in Spain

What are the advantages of expat life in Spain?

Spain is known for its heavenly weather, stunning architecture, vibrant culture, and diverse atmosphere — all of which have made it one of the hottest tourist destinations in Europe.

Beyond being a vacation hotspot, Spain has become an increasingly appealing destination for most expats looking to take up residence abroad. From sandy beaches to lively cities, there are countless attractions that make this Iberian country an ideal home away from home.

It has the best leisure options worldwide

From the beaches of Costa del Sol to the bustling major cities, Spain offers plenty of leisure options for all. It is home to some of the best beaches in Europe and its capital Madrid is one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe with its many attractions.

In addition, expats living here can also enjoy the mountainous regions, Balearic Islands, and the countryside.

Cost of Living

The Spanish economy has grown substantially over the past few years, making Spain one of the cheaper countries to live in in Western Europe.

The cost of living in Spain is generally quite low, especially when compared to other European countries. For instance, rent in London is a whopping 120% higher than in Barcelona. And with little luxuries like an imported beer costing 73% less in Barcelona compared to London. Those numbers clearly show why many expats choose Spain over other European countries. Plus, rent costs are 45.28% lower than they do in the U.S., making this country one of Europe’s hidden gems when it comes to inexpensive living costs.


The weather across most of Spain will be warm all year round. For several people, Spain can be an ideal destination for an escape from the cold winters in the United Kingdom.

The Canarian island is arguably the best vacation or living destination because it’s far more south than the Spanish mainland. If you are lucky you can experience temperatures as low as 21 degrees Celsius during the coldest months. Temperatures will still fall in the winter month, and northern Spain will see colder temperatures than southern Spain.


Spain boasts more than 3,000 miles of coastline – filled with an abundance of sun-soaked beaches that offer stunning views. Most can be found near major cities and may become crowded during the summer when locals and tourists alike flock to them for some fun in the sun.

Food and Cultural Opportunities

Spanish cuisine is as diverse and exciting as its culture. With influences from all over the world, you can expect to find a variety of flavors – from traditional paella to more modern dishes like smoked salmon with mango salsa. Tapas are the typical meal restaurants tend to offer. These small dishes are perfect for sharing among friends and make an excellent accompaniment to an afternoon meeting after work.

Easy-to-Buy Property

It’s rather simple for expats to buy real estate in Spain! In fact, most Spaniards own their own homes, making possessing property in Spain an achievable goal compared to many other European countries. The government has even encouraged foreign investment by offering a special Visa for those who acquire a property worth more than £500,000. With these incentives and accessibility available, now is the perfect time to make owning Spanish real estate part of your reality.

Good Healthcare system

Spain is thought to have one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Spanish citizens and expats who are working in Spain or over retirement age can use the Spanish National Health System, which covers most basic and preventative care free of charge. However, many expats still choose to get private Spain health insurance to ensure short wait times for treatments.

Laidback Lifestyle

Spain is renowned for its relaxed lifestyle. Expat life in Spain is easy and chilled out. Taking a break after lunchtime is often accepted in some regions, and restaurants usually serve more simple meals for lunch instead of their heaviest dishes. This differs significantly from several other countries’ practices.

People take pleasure in spending quality time with their friends and family. In fact, eating together can last two or three hours. Furthermore, there are always plenty of places to visit at night throughout the country.

The truth behind expat life in spain

What are the disadvantages of living in Spain?

High Unemployment Rates

Despite the attractive cost of living, Spain’s wages and economic growth remain lagging. Not only that, but its unemployment rate is incredibly high. This makes many expats have a hard time trying to find a secure job.

Spain has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, which means the job market is very competitive. That said, this land does present an excellent option for those who are either retired or self-employed rather than actively seeking employment.


Expats relocating to Spain must be prepared for long bureaucratic processes, which are likely a result of the country’s relaxed environment.

Dealing with Spanish bureaucracy can be frustrating and time-consuming. Many official procedures require a lot of paperwork, and the process can be slow and complicated. You’ll see many forms to complete and multiple offices you have to register with on your journey. Hence, expect queues that last forever and days -or sometimes weeks- until ordinary tasks can be wrapped up.

Social Exclusion

Whilst the Spanish people are generally friendly and welcoming, many expats may still feel excluded from social life activities as English is rarely spoken outside of larger cities. As a result, learning the local language is essential if you want to integrate fully into Spanish society. It’s worth noting that in some places, expats may still feel like an outsider despite speaking perfect Spanish – the locals tend to stick together, so don’t be surprised if you witness this.

Poor Roads/Facilities in Spain

Spain has poor infrastructure in many parts of the country. Outside the major Spanish cities, it can be difficult to find reliable public transport and roads tend to be winding and poorly maintained. The roads and highways are great since many EU funds were awarded to Spain, but local road conditions are terrible. There’s no drainage, which makes for unsafe roads during the wet season. The Spanish government has taken steps to improve infrastructure, but it’s still a work in progress.

Crime in Spain

Spain, on the whole, is a safe country and there are few violent crimes reported. However, petty crime and pickpocketing can be more common in larger cities or tourist hotspots. It’s important to take extra care of your personal belongings at all times while out and about.

Annual August shutdown

In August, most people in Spain will go on holiday. This means that lots of businesses essentially shut down for the month, and people will have to wait a month to get things done. On the other hand, expats living in coastal towns or popular tourist areas will find that life gets much busier, with crowds of tourists, traffic, and other disruptions.

Considering that Spain is a popular tourist destination, some beautiful beaches can become full of people during the summer months. Expats who live in those tourist areas may find it difficult to find peace and quiet during the peak tourist season.

Potentially disruptive schedule

Whilst not as popular as it once was, many areas in Spain still implement the siesta into their working day. This means that people will work from around 9 am to 2 pm, have a break for a siesta for a few hours, and then finish the working day in the evening. Not only does the daily siesta result in longer working hours but it also means that lots of restaurants and shops shut for a few hours in the middle afternoon, which can be a hassle if you’re trying to find food or complete an errand.

Spaniards also typically hold a different meal schedule from what expats are used to. Locals will usually begin the day with a small breakfast and then have a more substantial meal mid-morning. Lunch is be the biggest meal of the day, with a light snack in the afternoon and a late supper. Expats may take some time adjusting to this routine if they’re used to eating three meals a day, with a large dinner in the early evening. However, this culture shock is completely normal.

Language barrier

Spanish is the official language of Spain, but there are many different local dialects or regional languages such as Catalan and Basque. Even if you’re fluent in Spanish, you could find that you face a language barrier with the varied regional dialects. Avoid culture shock by learning Spanish because English is not widely spoken in Spain. Expats that can’t speak Spanish may find that they need to have a translator with them for things like sorting bureaucratic processes and for healthcare.

A word from SpainDesk

Spain is a very popular destination for expats from all over the world. This country has a lot to offer, from its beautiful scenery and rich culture to its affordable cost of living and friendly people. However, like any other place, it also has its share of challenges. Expats who are considering starting a new life in Spain should weigh the pros and cons carefully and decide if it is the right place for them.

Disclaimer: Information on this page may be incomplete or outdated. Under no circumstances should the information listed be considered professional legal or financial advice. We highly recommend seeking guidance from a legal or financial expert if you lack extensive knowledge or experience dealing with any of the procedures outlined in these articles.