A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in Spain

Living in Spain comes with a whole set of rules. For example, the Spanish Siesta still exists, but it has lost its original meaning. Instead of napping during lunchtime, Spaniards like to have a long lunchbreak to eat out, pick up kids from school, and do things you normally do not have time for during the day. To be prepared and know what to expect on a cultural level, we will cover practical information, insights on social and cultural etiquette, as well as the pros and cons of living and driving in Spain.
What is it like to live in Spain? In terms of cost of living, Spain is one of the more reasonable places to move to in Europe. Income and housing prices are stable, meaning living costs are not sky high compared to the average income. To give you an idea, rent prices in the UK are 40% higher than in Spain. But, bear in mind that there are huge cost differences when renting or buying in big Spanish cities versus smaller towns.
There are many pros and cons to living in Spain. While the low cost of living, nature, and weather are all positives, expats need to be aware of the high unemployment rate. The 2008 economic recession hit Spain very hard. And, even though the country recovered, and the rate of unemployment has been consistently low for a while at 13%, it is still high compared to other European cuntries.
Knowing Spanish is beneficial in Spain. Not speaking the language could make every day communication hard and slow. Expats will find that a lot of Spaniards do not speak much English. When learning Spanish, expats need to be aware that some regions have different languages, such as Catalan, Basque, and Galician.
Driving in Spain is chaotic if you are in a metropolitan area. Outside of the big cities, the only thing you have to worry about is driving on the right side of the road and keep within the speed limits. Spain’s public transportation system is highly developed throughout the country, connecting all major cities. The largest cities even offer a range of public transportation, such as buses and metro lines.
Pros and Cons of Living in Spain
Although moving to the country of churros, paella, and tinto de verano is a dream come true for many expats, weighing the pros and cons of living in Spain is necessary to make an informed decision. One of the downsides is the high unemployment rate, whereas one of the many benefits of living in Spain is the top-notch healthcare system. This following list will break down the rest.
Low Cost of Living
Even metropolises such as Madrid and Barcelona offer a high quality of life for far less money compared to other large European cities like London and Paris. Living well in Spain is possible with an average annual salary of 23,000 EUR (25,000 USD).
Amazing Weather All Year
Even though winters can get cold and rainy, Spain has an overall temperate climate. In some parts of the country it is sunny almost all year. Due to the amazing weather, Spain offers a variety of outdoor activities, which range from surfing to hiking the spiritual pilgrimage to Santiago the Compostela.
Amazing Nature and Landscapes
The Spanish coastline stretches for almost 5,000 km (3107 miles). Spaniards regularly flock to sandy beaches to lie in the sun, swim or engage in a watersport activity.
Buying Property is Easy
Non-residents can buy property in Spain, as there are no restrictions on land and no special requirements for foreign real estate investments. In fact, they are highly encouraged by the Spanish government. Should you decide to buy property, you will even be granted a Golden Visa.
If your dream is to own a winery in Spain, then go ahead. As Spain was hit hard by the global recession in 2008, property prices went down around 40%. Although the real estate market is recovering fast, Spain is still considered a good place to invest in property. If you are interested in buying a house in Spain, read more in our Housing Guide.
Exploring Europe
Flights from Spain to Europe’s top destinations are cheap and very short. If you want to explore Europe, having Spain as your base is your best bet.
Healthcare System is Top-Notch
Spain’s constitution states that the country has to offer emergency and basic care, free of charge for everybody. The country’s universal healthcare system is considered to be one of the best in the world. Expats can use the public health insurance (Seguridad Nacional de Salud), if they work and pay monthly social security contributions. Read more about Spain’s healthcare system in our Healthcare Guide.
High Unemployment Rate
The economic recession of 2008 hit Spain very hard. A lot of young people lost their jobs, and recent graduates could not find employment for a long time. The economy in Spain is recovering, and the unemployment rate has lowered to 13.7%. Yet, compared to other European countries it is still quite high.
Language Barrier
Spanish is the second most spoken language worldwide and one of the most popular languages to learn. There are a lot of different dialects and accents in Spain alone, and in some areas people speak a completely different language such as Basque, Catalan, or Galician. Even if you are fluent in Spanish, these cultural nuances can create a barrier. Plus, most of Spain is known for a lack of English-speakers, unless you are in a big city, but even then, it is not guaranteed.
Endless Bureaucracy
Spaniards like paperwork. For every little thing there’s a document that needs to be filled out, and they are not very fast when it comes to bureaucracy. If you are moving from a non-EU/EEA country to Spain, be prepared to run around for a few days registering at a number of different offices, and filling out forms, before actually settling in.
Slow Pace of Life
One of the reasons expats are attracted to Spain is the slow pace of life, but this can become off-putting and annoying when you have things to get done. Restaurants open for dinnertime in schedules in which most expats are getting ready for bed. And, a lot of shops and offices are closed in the afternoon for siesta.
Shut Down in August
For foreigners, it often seems like the whole country goes on vacation in August. Spain slows down so much, it almost stops. A lot of businesses close in the big cities. If you live by the beach, be prepared for the influx of tourists, traffic, and street fiestas.

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