As well as being a perennially popular destination for tourists, Spain is the most highly favoured location for British emigrants. The reasons are clear – it sits on the Iberian Peninsula in Southern Europe, where the weather is consistently excellent; it boasts a wealth of cultural attractions; the scenery is stunning; and the people are friendly and welcoming.
Spain has a population of just over 47 million people, around 3.3 million of whom live in the capital city of Madrid. It’s the most populous city in the country.
Official figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest almost 800,000 UK citizens live in the EU. Around half are believed to live in Spain, where they are mainly situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the Balearic Islands, the largest of which is Majorca.
Spain adheres to Central European Time (CET) which is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The currency is the euro, and if you need to contact people in Spain to make arrangements or enquiries, the dialling code is +34.
While Spanish is the official language, English is widely spoken, especially in popular tourist destinations. However, if you plan to live there – and especially if you will work and/or study in Spain – it’s prudent to get to grips with the language. Happily, it is widely considered to be relatively easy for English speakers to pick up Spanish, certainly to be able to get to the level where you can converse about everyday things. And as the people are so friendly, you’ll get plenty of practice!
The climate in Spain is temperate, so extremes of hot or cold are rare – it tends to have warm, dry summers and mild, albeit wet, winters. Coastal areas tend to be more cloudy than inland.
Spain is a religious country; over 90% of people consider themselves to be Roman Catholic. Expect lots of processions during Holy Week – the last week of Lent, just before Easter. Spain has 14 public holidays per year, many of which are religious holidays, including Easter and Christmas. As well as Easter being a movable feast, the dates of two other holidays depend on the locality you’re in.
Family is hugely important to the Spanish, and family ties are an important element of society.
As far as your daily routine goes, you’ll find the mornings very busy, whereas the afternoons are quiet, due to siesta. The banks close for the day at 2pm, although many businesses open again late afternoon or early evening.
When you are moving abroad, the question of whether you need a visa is often raised. British nationals enjoy freedom of movement within the EU, so it’s not an issue for Spain. However, if you’ll be staying in the country for longer than 90 days, such as when you are living in Spain, you will need to first register with the Central Register of Foreign Nationals, then apply to your local immigration office (oficina de extranjeros) or police station for a residency card (Tarjeta de Residencia). That comes with a Número de Identidad de Extranjero (NIE), a Foreigner’s Identification Number, which you’ll need for things like opening a bank account, buying and renting property, and paying taxes.
To work in Spain as an EU national, you’ll need a residency card and NIE. Employers generally prefer you to have a Spanish bank account, too.
When you prepare your CV, as well as all the normal information such as education and employment history, it is usual to include a recent, professional head and shoulders photograph.
When it comes to job-hunting, you can register with an agency or do it yourself. If you choose the latter option, Facebook is said to be a useful place to look for work, as is joining expat groups in your local area. Being able to speak more than one language is a bonus – English, German and Dutch are in particular demand. There are many jobs for English speakers; however, competition for these can be fierce.
Average salaries are lower than in the UK, but your living costs are typically lower, too.
Once you have a job, you’ll need a social security number. To get one, take your contract of employment, NIE and passport to your local social security office (Tesorería de la Seguridad).
Cost of living
Compared to the UK the cost of living in Spain is low, although average wages are also lower in comparison. In general, however, expect your money to go further.
Renting or buying a property
The Spanish property market offers a wide variety of choice, from rustic farmhouses to chic apartments. There’s something for everyone but, of course, you need to do your research to find the right place for you. The 2008 financial crisis hit Spain too, although things are now picking up again.
You can start your house-hunting from the UK by using online property websites, but fact-finding visits prior to committing yourself are vital. There’s no substitute for walking around an area to get a feel for whether it could feel like home.
Whether renting or buying, you’ll need your NIE and proof of residency; you’ll also need evidence you can afford to pay your rent or mortgage. If you are renting, make sure you get the details of the arrangement in writing.
Many estate agents are English-speaking, if that’s a requirement, but over and above that make sure they are members of an international professional body, such as the Association of International Property Professionals (AIPP), and check out online reviews. Online discussion forums such as BritishExpats.com can be very useful here.
Also, engage a good property lawyer. On top of dealing with the legal aspects of the sale, they will conduct checks and searches on the property. Debts such as property taxes, mortgage fees and court judgments are attached to a property and transfer with the sale, so this is essential.
It’s easy enough to open a bank account in Spain, and if you’re living there you’ll need a resident’s bank account. A non-resident’s bank account is only intended for people who spend 183 days a year or less in the country.
The paperwork you need is similar to what a UK bank would ask for: your passport; a recent document – such as a utility bill – for proof of address; your NIE; and proof of employment status, such as a contract or payslip, or a student card.
Even if your UK bank also operates in Spain, there’s no shortcut to opening an account there, as they operate entirely separately.
Spain is a popular destination for international students. Tuition fees in public universities are among the lowest in Europe; they can be up to €3,500 per year. Private universities charge more, but generally not more than €20,000 per year. Fees are the same for EU residents as for Spanish nationals.
You don’t need a visa to study in Spain, but you will need a residence card.
To study for a Bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to apply for the Credencial de Acceso, (University Access Credential), which is issued by the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), the National University of Distance Education. To study for a postgraduate degree, apply direct to your chosen university. Applications are typically made online.
When you become a Spanish resident, you need to register for healthcare. There is a national health service offering free or low-cost healthcare to EU residents. If you’re working in Spain and paying into the system, you have the same access rights as a national. Private healthcare is also available.
Moving your pet to Spain is relatively straightforward. There are three general rules to be aware of: pets must be microchipped, they must be vaccinated for rabies, and they need documentation – either an EU pet passport or a Health Certificate and Declaration. You may take a maximum of five pets.
Vehicles in Spain drive on the right. Make sure you are familiar with the highway code, as rules and customs differ from the UK. For example, when you use a roundabout, you should generally stay in the outside lane no matter how far round you are going.
You should exchange your UK driving licence for a Spanish one, and make sure you carry the required documentation and equipment with you at all times.
When you are moving your belongings to Spain, it will most probably be by road. The type of removal you book is likely to depend on how much you have to shift.
If you have enough to fill a lorry and/or want to be able to book a specific delivery date, then a direct load is the best option. It’s more expensive, but you have more control as the vehicle is only transporting your goods.
If you have fewer items, a smaller budget, and/or no need to take delivery on a specific date, then a part load, or groupage load, will be the best choice. With this, your goods are transported along with those of other people who are also moving to Spain. The vehicle only departs when all the space has been filled, so you’ll likely have to wait a few weeks. However, you will be given an initial delivery window and then an arrival date when the departure date of the vehicle is known.
Make sure to book a removal company with experience of international or European transportation. As well as wanting to be confident they will get your belongings to you safely, there are customs and duty regulations to abide by, and you will need their expertise and advice to successfully navigate the system. Ask for a written estimate and make sure your removals company is fully insured.
When it comes to smaller or high-value items, it may be worth considering air freight, carrying them in your hand luggage if you fly, or taking them in your car if you are driving to Spain.
How TFM can help
TFM are members of the BAR (British Association of Removers) and have almost 30 years of experience in removals. Our friendly, family-run business can help with your relocation to Spain, or any other of a wide range of locations across Europe or internationally.
Fully-insured, our expert team can help take the stress out of the process, so you can enjoy the adventure. As well as a comprehensive worldwide removals service, we offer both long-term and short-term storage solutions. For a quote or more information on how we can help you, don’t hesitate to get in touch today.