I’ve visited Spain more times than I can count. My husband is Spanish. I love Catalonia in particular, but when someone asked me for tips when moving to Spain, I was a little clueless. I’ve never actually lived in Spain myself. So I got in touch with the most qualified woman to tell me more. Ali Meehan is a fellow Expater and founder of Costa Women, a free community of expat women living in Spain. Here she shares her top tips for anyone moving to Spain.
“I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than in most countries. How easy it is to make friends in Spain!”
― George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia
Top tips for moving to Spain:
- Research. Whenever you move research is always essential. The important thing is to be aware what the laws and restrictions are for your life in Spain from whichever country you are coming from, as well as how much it will cost to be self-employed, or own a business. Once a tax resident of Spain, you will be taxed on world earnings too, once personal allowances have been taken into account, so research really comes in handy!
- If you’re British, register. Be sure to register as a resident before 31st December 2020 if you are a UK national planning on moving to Spain this year, or early 2021. We don’t know (yet) what the process will be after the Brexit transition period. Of course many countries are not part of the EU and their citizens move to Spain regularly, however they arrive under a different set of rules, restrictions and requirements than were enjoyed by UK nationals to date. There are lots of guides and free information from both the Spanish Government and the British Embassy.
- Be open to the culture. In my opinion, I try to look at everything in Spain as ‘it’s not wrong, it just is’. Bureaucracy can be a nightmare (and they even make a joke of it themselves. Local life is far more relaxed in Spain. If you told me a Spanish person (maybe Saint Teresa of Ávila) had first written about mindfulness I wouldn’t have been surprised! I’ve come from an incredibly busy business background to the way of thinking here that you ‘work to live, not live to work’. I have moved away from the ‘chop, chop, busy, busy, work, work’ way of life and embraced a belief system that prevails here. Spanish people seem to live for and in the moment. It’s not what might happen in the next hour, tomorrow or next month. Get used to mañana!
- Do your paperwork. The legal requirements in Spain depend on your nationality. Check with your country’s embassy before you leave as to what documents you do (and might need) once in Spain to apply for residency. Some documents will need an apostille stamp within three months of application.
- Learn Spanish. If you make an effort to learn Spanish, the rewards will return to you one hundred fold. Because you made the effort, even a few words will bring a smile to a Spanish face.
- Make friends before you arrive. Costa Women welcome women before they arrive in Spain so they join us as part of their research (and use our online spainexpo.org tool too). We have 137 different nationalities among our members (including our lovely Spanish hosts). Some say that making Spanish friends is difficult, but I live in a fairly international area and the Spanish are very friendly, if you make the effort.
- Make friends when you arrive. For making friends in the expat community, Facebook has many community pages for specific areas and towns. In addition there are groups for nationalities and hobby groups – Americans in Spain, Expats in Spain and so on. When you first arrive in Spain, try and find something that fits with your existing hobbies (or the ones you had always promised you would start when you moved overseas!). U3A offer many courses during term time in English (including learning Spanish). Internations.org is another more business focused community for younger foreigners. Going to the gym or meeting other local parents at the school gate is a wonderful way to start integrating into life here too.
- Job hunt smart. Firstly, please don’t come to Spain, unable to speak Spanish, expecting to earn the same wage as you do in your home country… (rant over!) It’s hard enough moving to a foreign country (I have done it four times so can speak from experience) and then discover you can’t find work, or it’s not in your line of expertise. If you’re bringing a new business to Spain, start by polling in the community groups whether the locals on the ground would use what you are offering and whether there are already established businesses here offering that product or service. For job portals I would recommend Recruit Spain , Total Jobs , Job Finder Spain , The Local and Think Spain. These site can give you an idea of the market, salaries and locations. Facebook also has many job pages for specific geographical areas. If you work online, the cities and more tourist areas, boast fantastic internet connection and co-working spaces are popping up all over the place.
- Consider your children’s needs. If you have children, ask yourself if they would be most suited to an international school, a private Spanish school or a public, state funded Spanish school. Compulsory education in Spain is from 6 to 16 years. Between 0 and 6 years of age children can attend preschool and pre-primary education. Bear in mind that Spain has a completely different learning style to what your child will be used to. What’s more, it will be delivered in a completely different language and in surroundings they haven’t experienced before. Get a copy of ‘Moving to Spain with Children’ by Lisa Sadleir – essential reading for anyone thinking about moving to Spain with children. If your child has specific hobbies or interests, find out how they can continue these in Spain. This will offer an excellent way for them to start integrating.
- Consider your lifestyle. If you are moving to Spain with a partner or family, decide what type of lifestyle you want before you arrive. Do you want to live near the sea, or inland? In the city, or a town or a quiet village? How will you and your children, or partner want to spend their free time? Are there facilities in the areas you are researching? Whilst a finca inland might look amazing with its acres of land, olives and mango trees, what happens when you need a pint of milk? Right now, with covid-19 and the lockdown in Spain, you might have different priorities. A lot of expats in Spain are looking for more land, better internet connections and more space in general. Yet, it’s still tough. It was expected that there would be more long term rental available, but I have Costa Women looking at the moment and its proving more difficult than expected. However, I would always recommend renting in the area before you buy, even if it seems like a bargain. What could be a very busy town at certain times of the year, may turn out to be the exact opposite at other times of the year with restaurants and bars closed.
And a final word from Ali:
Enjoy the process as well as the result! I believe Spain is the best place to live in Europe. Spain offers a wonderful life, whatever your age. Give it a try; it may surprise you!
For more tips, check out Costa Women, a free to join community of women moving to or living in Spain.