Moving To Spain: Everything You Need To Know
Whether you’re just toying with the idea of moving to Spain or if you’ve already bagged yourself a job out there and will be relocating imminently, there are several things you need to know first.
So we’ve broken it all down for you into six essential sections:
First things first: visas. If you’re an EU national - or if you’re from the EEA, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland - you won’t need to apply for a visa if you want to move to Spain, no matter what duration your stay might be. Happy days!
And if your country is part of the Schengen Agreement, you can stay for up to 90 days without the need to do any paperwork. But don’t let this trick you into thinking your time in Spain will be a paper-free experience. Oh no!
So for everyone else, there are three long stay visa options available:
- Work visa
- Student visa
- Visa for retirement or family reasons.
These can be applied for from your nearest Spanish Embassy, and also online.
Canadians and young people from New Zealand and Australia aged 18 – 30 can apply for a working holiday visa thanks to a special agreement these nations have with Spain.
Applications normally cost a non-refundable processing fee of EUR 60. The good news for you guys is that an employer will submit your application for you if you’re Spain-bound for work and have a formal job offer or a contract of employment in place.
All expatriates in Spain must get themselves a Foreigner’s Identity Number (NIE or Número de Identificación de Extranjero) in order to open a bank account, get paid, pay taxes and apply for a driving licence.
There are several ways to apply for your NIE number but perhaps the simplest way to obtain yours is to show up at your local police station once in Spain, with all the relevant paperwork and a couple of hours to spare. It can be a lengthy process, so try to be patient.
If you need to do things like open a bank account in Spain before you arrive, you can also apply for your NIE at your local Spanish Consulate before you travel.
If you’re from the EU and plan on staying in Spain for longer than three months, you’ll be expected to register at the Oficina de Extranjeros, or at a designated police station, to receive your Residence Certificate within around ten days. EU citizens may also need to show proof of public or private healthcare or insurance in order to be granted long-term residency.
There are several good reasons why Spain is full of happy expats, both workers and the retired. Quality of life and the overall cost of living are both significant draws, as is the great weather and all that yummy tapas and sangria. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that some cities are more expensive than others to live, work and play in than others - although wages often sit above the national averages where the cost of living is higher.
In fact, six of the top ten most expensive cities are also found in the top ten for highest household income. San Sebastian is one example: with a cost of living an eye-watering 27.85% above the national average, incomes are also a reassuring 25.36% higher than Spain’s average salary. It’s a similar story for Barcelona and Madrid.
A few essential running costs, to get you started:
- Your morning cappuccino: €1.50
- Post-work beer (0.5l): €2
- Litre of petrol: €1.20
- Taxi fare per km: €1 (plus €3 setup charge)
- Cinema ticket €8
- City centre, one-bedroom apartment rent per month: €550
- Gym membership €40
- Utility bills per month (gas, electric, water, Wi-Fi, waste collection) for 85m2 apartment: €150
One thing’s for sure, you’re going to need a bank account in Spain if you’re planning a long-term stay here. If you already use a bank with an international presence (Santander, HSBC, Lloyds, Barclays, NatWest) it’ll be easier to set up an account you can access and use when you’re in Spain.
So ask before you travel whether your current bank has an offshore division you can sign up with, which will mean that your banking activities transfer seamlessly abroad. This also means that you arrive in Spain with a credit rating, which will help enormously if you want to take out a mobile phone contract or get references for renting a place.
Make sure you ask your bank manager all the right questions before you open a Spanish account:
- Do charges apply to pay direct debits or to use other banks’ ATMs?
- Do they offer 24-hour online banking?
- Is there a minimum cash deposit required in order to open an account?
- Can they throw in additional perks such as mobile phone insurance or travel insurance? Is there an admin fee for setting up the account (normally this is €15 - €30)?
Spain has two different types of banks: cajas and bancos. Bancos are high street banks and privately owned (like Santander) whilst cajas are state-run and more local.
Banks tend to open from 9am – 2pm, Monday to Saturday in Spain. If you’re opening an account once you arrive in Spain, book an appointment with an English-speaker if you don’t yet speak the lingo, and bring along the following:
- Your passport
- Foreigner’s Identity Number
- Residence Certificate
- Proof of address and employment
Spain is mainly chip and pin-ready, whilst contactless payment is catching on more slowly. Bear in mind that a lot of smaller businesses still don’t take cards at all in Spain – so always make sure you’ve got some cash on you if you’re out and about, or know where your nearest ATM can be found.
It’s likely that you’ll want to rent a place for your time spent living and working in Spain. Sorting out an apartment before you arrive could be tricky – and we’d always advise seeing a place before you sign anything – so sites like Airbnb are great for bridging that short term gap between arriving in Spain and finding a place to live.
Since Spain is so popular with expats, renting a property here won’t be too difficult and you’re likely to be spoiled for choice – especially if you’re moving to one of the bigger cities.
Get ahead of the game and join a few of the bigger Spanish expat communities on social media now, where you might hear of properties becoming available before they’re formally advertised. You might get lucky and hear of a place through word-of-mouth, too, so make it known with your new employer in Spain that you’re looking to rent somewhere nearby and they might just hook you up.
Aside from networking your way to a new home, we’d recommend registering with several lettings agents and online portals, such as:
Be aware that if you task a lettings agent with finding you a place, there is sometimes a fee involved: anything from €250 to a whole month’s rent. Also, be mindful that in Spain, long term lettings properties don’t require landlords to hold a licence whereas short term lets (under twelve months) and holiday lets (under three months) do.
So read between the lines when comparing descriptions of potential apartments, and always go for a viewing or send someone whose opinion you trust if you can’t make it in person. When you do view a property, make sure you are clear on what furnishings and white goods are included in the monthly rent: if you view a place while it’s still occupied you could wrongly assume that much of what you see is part of the deal.
One month’s rent is roughly what estate agents in Spain will ask for when you decide to take a rental property, and this can sometimes form part of your deposit (which is typically two months’ rent). In terms of paperwork, you’ll need to present the following documents when you sign a rental agreement:
- Contract of employment or proof of savings / monthly income
- NIE or Número de Identificación de Extranjero
- Passport or alternative ID
- Personal references (get these ready before you travel)
Jobs Jobs Jobs
Europe is forecast to see a 6% increase in business travel this year, and Spain is one of the countries expected to see the biggest influx of travellers. Experts predict that Madrid’s hotels will experience the highest growth in revenue per available room in Spain, being ranked second only to Dublin in all of Europe. The upshot? Jobs in hospitality!
Food, Glorious Food
Spain is a foodie’s dream. Whatever region you find yourself living in, there are countless delicacies to try and so many brand new tastes and trends to discover. Eating out is cheap in Spain, and your weekly food shop should come in considerably cheaper than your supermarket bill back home. Especially if you’re moving to a major city, you’ll find dining to suit every budget and taste.
Barcelona, for example, makes cheap and easy street food into an art form - but the city is also home to no less than twenty-three Michelin starred restaurants if haute cuisine is more your thing. A night out in Spain is often punctuated by drinks and tapas. A little bit of what you fancy rather than a heavy meal that kills any urge to dance the night away. And remember in Spain, sharing is caring. No hoarding little plates of empanadillas (pastry filled with meat) or calamares (battered squid) to yourself, now.
Expatisan (those clever people who work out cost of living indexes) estimate that the cost of living in Barcelona is a whopping 47% cheaper than London, 30% more economical than Dublin, 18% more affordable than Manchester, costs 33% less than Sydney and is 42% cheaper than Washington DC. Living in Madrid can be 32% cheaper than Paris and 47% cheaper than London. And beautiful Valencia is thought to be around 43% cheaper to live in than San Jose, California.
Spain is the Eurozone’s ‘superstar economy’, and it’s bouncing back from the crippling real estate and banking crises which began in 2008. Economic growth in Madrid, to take one example, is set to beat overall Eurozone averages in 2016. Not bad.
Admin and Timekeeping
Bring along bags of patience with you when you come to Spain. And remember to arm yourself with multiple photocopies of all your personal documents, whenever you need to get anything official done. Anywhere. Pack a good reading book too, as you’re likely to be in for a wait. Bring along a friend who speaks Spanish if you’re not fluent yet. Here’s a handy insight: la mañana (the morning) is a period of time that actually stretches as far as 2pm in Spain, whilst la tarde (the afternoon) ends past sunset.
Yep, a whole month of the year can be a con where Spain is concerned. August is when Spain goes on holiday, so don’t schedule meetings or personal admin-based tasks for this silly month, because sometimes it feels like everyone’s set their out-of-office response and hit the beach. Living in a touristy city can be trying in August, but it depends on which way you look at it. The beaches of Barcelona are crammed to capacity in this most hectic month, but on the plus side everything is open and the city positively buzzes.
If you’re an EU, EA or Swiss national, you’re entitled to work and live in Spain without a work permit or visa. Everyone else must secure a work permit which is organised by their employer.
Finding work in Spain is a very different experience to job seeking in the Middle East, to take one example. Expats jobs in Spain are broad-ranging and diverse: you needn’t be an engineer, financier, accountant or marketing executive to get your foot in the door.
Here’s a list of the top ten sectors for employment in Spain in the past couple of years - there’s a bit of everything in there.
- Food and drink
- Hotels and accommodation
- Care homes
- Domestic employment
- Transport and storage
- Public administration
- Buildings services (including gardening)
- Business consultancy
Unemployment has been falling in Spain since the financial crisis, but overall unemployment has been understandably high for the past eight years or so. Interestingly, some employment sectors have actually got more jobs on offer now than before the recession. Spain’s largest region, Castilla y León, now employs more care workers, builders, and chefs than before. So it’s not all bad by any means.
Needless to say, competition for jobs can be tough in Spain at the moment, but there will always be sectors where expats with alternative experiences, languages and training will have the edge over locals. Again, networking on social and professional sites like Facebook and Linkedin could help you get the heads up about your dream role before it’s formally advertised.
Moving to Spain and starting a new career path here – either in a brand new employment sector or as career progression from your job at home – is a lifestyle choice as much as a vocational one. Wherever you find yourself in this beautiful country, make the most of all the gifts this fabulous place has to offer: learn the language and embrace the Spanish pace of life, meet new people through work and play, and become all the richer and wiser for it.