picturesque Spanish town next to the sea

Expat Tips For Moving To Spain

Some top tips for Brits thinking of living in Spain

7 minute read

When people imagine moving to Spain, they usually think of life in the sunshine mixed with lazy days on the beach and warm evenings sipping sangria. After all, whenever we think of our holidays in Spain, this typically springs to mind. However, the reality can be a little different, and while life can be enjoyable, some excellent tips can help ease you into your new Spanish life.

Do you need to speak Spanish when moving to Spain?

Spanish people love you trying to speak with them in Spanish, even just greeting them with Buenos Dias, or asking them “¿Cómo estás?” The very fact that you are trying will help you more than you could ever imagine. Contrary to popular belief, not all Spanish speak English apart from maybe the waiter on the beach bar with his “you want beer?”

You do not have to be fluent, to begin with, but it would be a great start if you could learn the basics, especially if you are of working age and looking for a job. There will be so many more opportunities if you can speak Spanish.
If you are retirement age, then it will still pay to know some Spanish, from shopping in the local butchers to having your hair styled and attending the Doctors, those few words can make such a difference. Make sure you enquire at your local town hall about any free Spanish lessons as they sometimes provide these for foreigners.

I remember when my husband and I were in a restaurant trying to order a gateau, and the waiter ended up taking us into the kitchen to show them exactly what we wanted. We were met with raucous laughs as they tried to explain that gato in Spanish was a cat!!!! I can only imagine what was going through their mind while we were asking to eat the cat! Yes, knowing Spanish will make your life in Spain so much easier.

Where is the best place to live in Spain?

Choosing an area to live in has to be one of the most important decisions you make, but it is the one decision people can get wrong. Often we are looking for that lovely Spanish village nestled in the mountains of the “real Spain” when in reality, that can mean that the chance of finding work could be as remote as the village. If you are retired, it can still feel very isolating and leave you yearning for a conversation that you understand. Spending time checking an area before you buy is crucial; research the area, find out if there is an ex-pat community. It is nice to balance living among the Spanish and being around some English-speaking ex-pats.

Do I need a Translator in Spain?

If you do not speak Spanish, you will need to use a translator to sort the paperwork and legalities out when signing up for Doctors, enrolling children into school, or applying for your NIE etc. For example, a Doctor’s receptionist may ask for specific paperwork and attempt to tell you what you need to do. If you do not understand, they will try to repeat the instructions at 10 decibels higher! If you still don’t understand, they will probably wave you aside and talk to the next person in the queue. They are not trying to be rude, but they have no other choice. With a Translator, the job is swift and easy; you will know what you need to take and what action you will need to carry out to register at the Doctors, enrol at the school or sign up at the Town Hall.

Signing up at the local town hall (Ayuntamiento)

Once you have bought or rented a property, you will need to register at the local town hall (enrol on the empadronamiento). The town hall will use this information to ascertain how many local Policemen are needed in the area or what capacity the school should hold, and other local amenities. It will also entitle you to participate in local activities such as the fiestas, sports, and other events.

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork

When you think of official paperwork, always think triple, at least! That is how many copies of the original paperwork you will need to have with you for any official acts you try to undertake. The Spanish love their paperwork, but they also expect you to supply the copies and show them the original. Being short on one copy can mean being sent away to re-start the process all over again. Always remember; if you think you may need it, be sure to take it!!!

If you are applying for an official paper of any sort, check all the details on that paper. Don’t be surprised if the official bodies make mistakes, from misspelling your name to incorrect dates; if you find an error, do not leave until they rectify it. The Spanish have a great habit of waving you away, telling you it will be ok….chances are, further down the line, that mistake can mean the difference between being allowed or disallowed on another significant event. Stand your ground and be assertive; the Spanish do not like confrontation, so they will sort it for you if they see you mean business!

When applying for essential legal documents like NIE’s, residencia, Spanish driving licence etc., it is wise to recruit a Gestoria (similar to a solicitor); they will take care of everything, saving you time and stress.

Is it cheap to live in Spain?

On the whole, Spain is cheaper to live in than the UK but beware, prices have crept up over the last ten years, and although eating out is still as cheap as chips, the utility bills have gone up significantly. Renting a property long-term is still relatively inexpensive compared to the UK. House prices are also very reasonable. Depending on the area, it is not uncommon to buy a large villa with a private pool at an affordable price.

Try to shop in the Spanish stores and follow the Mediterranean diet as much as possible. The fruit and vegetables available in the local markets are fabulous and well-priced, the same for the local butcher and fish markets. You will find the Spanish are primarily lovers of fresh food instead of processed, ready-made expensive meals.

What is the National Healthcare like in Spain?

The healthcare in Spain, on the whole, is excellent; you still have wait times for specific procedures but not usually as long as in the UK. You have to qualify for the National Health Service by either working with a contract and paying into the system or become a resident. (Please note, since the Brexit, these rules have changed, so always check with the government website) You will then be issued with a National Health Card or SIP card as they are known. Without a Sip card, you may be turned away from a hospital even in an emergency or end up with a large medical bill. Health care in Spain is one of the most important things you need to think about even before moving.

What hours make up the typical Spanish working day?

Although it can vary from region to region, most companies generally start at 10 am, finish for lunch at around 2 pm until 4 pm, and re-open again until 7 or 8 pm. unless it is August, which is a whole new ball game!! In August, you can expect companies to only open in the morning or even close down for the month. It is like the whole of Spain shuts down, so do not even think about ordering a new kitchen or trying to sort the paperwork out. It is very frustrating, but it is a situation that the Spanish will not apologise for or see as being out of the ordinary. You will have to be patient and join the long queue come September.

How do Spanish timings differ from the UK?

For restaurants, lunch is generally served from 2 pm and is the main meal which can be 4 or 5 courses and dinner is served from around 8 pm (it is normal for Spanish to eat dinner as late as 10 pm)

Banks can be open as early as 8.30 am but usually close to the public at 2 pm, don’t be surprised though, if the bank is late on opening, especially in the pueblos (villages), to see the staff stroll in half an hour late can be the norm. Also, the best time to avoid going to your bank is 10 am because most of the staff will have left to go for their breakfast in the nearest bar, leaving one cashier to deal with everyone – slowly!!!

Unless you live on the coast, most of the shops in Spain are closed for business on Sundays; it is still very much considered a family day where BBQ’s and family gatherings are everywhere.

What is it like to live in Spain?

Providing you have an income to support yourself, and once all the paperwork is completed, life in Spain can be perfect. It is essential that you try and integrate as much as possible, attend the fiestas, for which the Spanish are legends, take part in the parades, get to know your neighbours and don’t be surprised when the fiestas start Friday night and last through to Sunday night. Just know you can catch up on your sleep another time.

Explore Spain; it is a beautiful country from the coastline to the mountains, tapas, and paellas. With the endless days of sunshine, evening strolls along with the beach or bike rides through the mountains are always possible and a great way to stay stress-free.

Are the Spanish such a laid back nation?

YES!!! You must take everything in your stride and above all, be patient because patience in Spain is a virtue!!! They are a very laid back nation.

If you have an appointment, do not be surprised if you have to wait for up to an hour after the actual appointment time. The Spanish are not the best for their punctuality and do not feel guilty when they arrive late for their appointment.
The Spanish are a very social nation, so they will stand and chat to the cashier at the local supermarket and not think anything of the ten people queuing behind them.

Mañana is one of the most used words in the Spanish Language, but when Pedro the Plumber says he will come and fit your pipe mañana, don’t take that literally; it can mean any day for the next few weeks.

Remember, if you genuinely want to live a Spanish stress-free life, you have to learn to be patient and leave your stress in the airport as you board the plane. Open your mind to their way of life, and they will open their heart to you. You have taken the plunge to move to Spain, so make sure you enjoy every moment.

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Author: Carole Jarvis
Carole Jarvis is a freelance writer and content creator and has written for companies around the globe. Originally from Liverpool in the UK…