Interested in moving to Spain? This is our simple Spain Immigration Guide, containing all the info you need to get started. From getting a visa to finding work and (eventual) citizenship – it’s all here. Read on!
Spain: Quick Facts
- Spain is the fifth largest country in Europe, and has a population of ~46.5 million.
- There is more to Spain than just the mainland. There are two autonomous cities – Ceuta (on the north coast of Africa) and Melilla (on the north coast of Morocco), as well as the Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, and three small islands off the Moroccan coast.
- Known for its high quality of life, and consistently ranks as one of the top countries to live in. Life expectancies are high (78 years for men, 84 years for women) – many attribute this to the healthy Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil and fresh vegetables.
- Spain is crazy for football (soccer), and consistently produces some of the best players in the world. Popular clubs include Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Valencia CF.
- The Spanish love to party. There are many national, provincial and local fiesta days during which shops and businesses close down and the celebrations spill over to the streets.
- The accelerated growth in the Spanish property market began in 1997 and made a lot of people rich. By 2008, the bubble burst, and mass unemployment followed.
- Foreigners are increasingly taking advantage of the hard-hit Spanish economy by buying up assets, property, and businesses. The number of Chinese owned businesses has increased by 90.4% since 2008.
- Currency: Euro (EUR)
- Spoken languages: Castilian Spanish is the official language, though it differs by region. Catalan is spoken in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and the Valencian Community (where it is known as Valencian). Galician, Basque and Aranese are spoken in the north of the country along with Castilian Spanish.
- Major religions: Catholic (70.5%). 24.1% are unaffiliated (no religion), while other faiths comprise ~3.1%.
- Largest cities: Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza, Cordoba, and Málaga.
- Note: Spanish law states that government issued photo ID must be carried at all times, which for most people means a passport. Copies are not accepted.
Why move to Spain
- Sunshine and generally a more relaxed way of life. The simple pleasure of going out for a drink and tapas (snack) and not having to pay a small fortune.
- There are beaches and the warm Mediterranean Sea, rugged coastlines, snowy mountains, flat open plains, lakes, beautiful cities and tiny hidden villages waiting to be explored.
- The country has 14 National Parks, the largest being the Sierra Nevada National Park with its skiing and hiking opportunities and stunning mountain scenery. The Doñana National Park has been given UNESCO World Heritage status for its biodiversity and is one of the most important wetlands in Europe.
- Spain is still cheaper than many countries for alcohol, cigarettes, and petrol.
- The cost of living can be low (if you are prepared to live and shop as the locals do).
- House prices are on the low end (relative to other developed nations), with many bargains to be had outside of major metro areas.
- Spaniards place a lot of value on family and kinship. Families spend time together – a day out to the beach or the park, a party or a fiesta will see many generations interacting together.
- The Spanish people are friendly and like to help if they can. A few words of Spanish and an eagerness to learn go a long way to help integrate.
- For families with children, a move to Spain is a great chance to give them a second language (or maybe third or fourth, depending where you come from). If you are planning on retiring to Spain there are plenty activities and clubs to join.
- For legally registered expats, children are entitled to free education in the Spanish state schools. There are many international fee-paying schools as an alternative.
- Transport systems are good, buses and trains generally depart on time and arrive at the destination when scheduled. Road links are good with an excellent motorway network.
- Healthcare in Spain is excellent, with generally short waiting times for procedures at hospitals. Spain has reciprocal healthcare agreements with many countries for short stay visitors. Long-term residents must be registered to receive treatment or have private healthcare.
Reasons Not to move to Spain
Note: these are common expat complaints, and may not apply to you.
- Unless you have retired to Spain, it is hard to remember that life is not one long holiday – work and school have to go on as normal.
- Paperwork is complicated, and there is plenty of red tape. Generally, generally anything legal can take a long time. This will be difficult to adjust to if you are used to efficiency. The mañana syndrome is still alive and well in Spain.
- There are national laws but also many provincial and local laws – what may apply in one town or village may be completely different a few miles away. Laws change frequently with little or no warning or publicity. What is right one day may well be wrong the next and even the Spaniards have difficulty keeping up sometimes.
- Spain is the birthplace of the siesta – chances are, shops will be closed in the mid-afternoon.
- Employment is hard to find, even if you speak fluent Spanish. To be self-employed (autonomo) is expensive.
Getting a Visa and Finding Work
- Spain is part of the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) – citizens of member states may travel within the country without a visa.
- Citizens of non-EU countries who wish to enter Spain for not more than 90 days within a 180 day period must apply for a short stay visa. This does not give the holder permission to work.
- A tourist visa is not currently needed by citizens of New Zealand, Australia, and the USA. If citizens of these countries plan a permanent move to Spain, a national visa is required. This can be obtained from the Spanish Embassy in the country of residence.
- Not so many years ago expats found work in timeshare sales, worked in holiday resorts or picked up bar and restaurant jobs here and there. Casual work with no questions asked, and no tax and national insurance paid, was the order of the day. If you could walk and talk you got the job on the spot. Work is not easy to find anymore (even for locals, let alone for foreigners.) Stricter rules on tax and social security payments with regular checks mean that there are very few casual jobs anymore. Everything has to be legal and above board, and there are big penalties for those who don’t conform.
Obtaining Residency and Citizenship
- All EU/EEA citizens have the right to live and work in Spain. Those citizens planning to stay longer than 3 months must register at the local foreigner’s office or Police station – a Residence Certificate will be issued.
- From July 2012, all EU/EEA citizens wishing to move permanently to Spain have to prove they have the means to support themselves and any dependents.
- Proof will also be required of entitlement to private or Spanish healthcare.
- Permanent residents need to register at their local town hall. This means that your local town will get central government funds allocated according to the number of people registered.
- A non-EU/EAA legal spouse and dependent family of an EU/EAA citizen has the same rights as a EU/EAA citizen, however within three months of arrival they must apply for a EU Family-member Residence Card.
- Any non-EU/EAA citizens staying longer than three months require a Residence Card.
- Foreigners who have lived in Spain for five uninterrupted years, apart from holidays, qualify for long-term residence and the right be treated as the Spaniards are.
- The NIE (Número de identificación de extranjero) is the identification number issued to anyone who is not a Spanish citizen. It has nothing to do with residency. An NIE number is needed for just about everything, buying or renting a house, buying a car, registering with doctors and clinics, obtaining insurance, enrolling children in school, setting up a business or getting a job.
- To encourage the stagnant property market, the Spanish government has come up with the idea of granting of a temporary residency permit to non-EU citizens who purchase a property worth €500,000 or more.
- Note: when going to register for anything, take multiple copies of any certificates, passports, and forms. Bring plenty of passport size photos for each member of the family.
Starting a Business in Spain
- Some say that the best way to make a small fortune in Spain is to start with a large one!
- Starting a business in Spain is tough. The majority of expats will open a bar or restaurant, usually with no prior knowledge of the trade and then wonder why, in the majority of cases, it fails. Years ago if a bar served warm beer or tasteless food there were enough tourists around that it didn’t matter, as the next week another plane load would arrive. There were very few laws about health, safety and hygiene and who cared if they paid any taxes or contributions.
- Today, the tourists are fewer and the laws are tougher. For any budding entrepreneurs it is important to do your homework and research your market before you take the plunge. Take advice on the legal side of becoming self-employed, as the amount of paperwork and red tape can confuse the Spanish, never mind a non-Spanish speaker.
- One of the biggest gripes about being self-employed in Spain has always been the amount of the monthly Social Security payment that gives entitlement to health care and pensions etc.
- The present monthly amount of €270 is payable from day one, regardless whether your business makes any money or not. This has led to many people working illegally as they simply cannot afford to pay out this amount each month.
- The Ministry for Employment and Social Security has recently come up with a Law of Entrepreneurship which means that anyone registering for autonomo will pay €50 for the first six months.
- Get advice from a gestor (accountant). You will be responsible for paying your own Social Security payment and taxes. Your gestor will help you register at the Hacienda (tax office).
Recommended Reading & Resources
- Moving to Spain With Children
- How to Buy Spanish Property and Move to Spain – Safely
- Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores – info on visas and immigration
- Advoco’s autonomo guide – detailed info on self-employment in Spain
- Germany Immigration Guide
- Netherlands Immigration Guide
- France Immigration Guide
- Switzerland Immigration Guide