Many people choose to live in Spain when they retire. However, increasingly families are aspiring to move to the sun and enjoy the very special style of family life you can experience here. It’s not without its hurdles but for those who have made it successfully there can be no turning back. In this article we consider some of the issues and highlight some of the best places to live in Spain for families.
Spain is an intriguing and varied country consisting of 17 autonomous regions and two autonomous cities. Each region has its own distinctive characteristics and the one you choose will depend upon your own preferences. Are you a beach loving family seeking a tourist hot spot? Do you want to keep cooler in the summer and prefer a greener environment? Are yo prepared for the hub bub of the big city and fast metropolitan life? Do you want a laid back, rural opportunity to engage with nature? Finding the best place to live in Spain for your family requires that you first identify what matters to you.
It also requires you to be clear about your priorities. If you have a school-age family then you must consider access to schools. Home-schooling is not an alternative in Spain but you do have a choice of joining the state system which accommodates children from 3 years old upwards (although depending on birthday they might even access at rising 2s!). Large cities have a selection of international schools which some expat families prefer. Much will depend on the age of your children and budget.
We have not touched on the legal requirements for accessing residency which must be checked out before you even begin searching for the best places to live in Spain for your family. Much depends on whether you are coming from a country inside or outside of the EU. It is essential that before you up sticks and move you are confident that you can meet the necessary criteria. Moving country is a huge task for a single or a couple, but with a family too it is not a case of packing a few bags and seeing how it goes.
The beach loving family
You are spoilt for choice if it’s the beach you’re after. You can trace down the Mediterranean coastline from Barcelona to Malaga. Pick any number of coastal towns and cities to be your settling place. The region of Alicante, has to feature high in any list of best places to live in Spain for families. The wealth of blue flag beaches along this part of the Costa Blanca makes it particularly attractive. Specially, for people looking for a family-friendly place to live.
If you are a family who sees their future as part of the tourist trade then you will focus on those areas with the highest numbers of visitors. Tourist areas along the coastline have any number of bars and restaurants up for sale and you will find that in these areas there will be many professionals ready to help you in your quest for a new business and a new life. Be warned, many families come and fail and what can seem like an attractive opportunity when researching in rainy northern Europe can quickly change when faced with the day-to-day reality of making a living.
Again, before you place your deposit be clear that you fit the requirements for residency and do your research thoroughly and without cutting corners. Ask yourself what will make your business different from the rest and is it something that is needed in the area you are considering? Running a bar or a restaurant can be a gruelling way of life but, for your family, the rewards of having the beach as your playground can be great too.
If you are a digital nomad then these reservations will not apply and your main considerations will be facilities for the children, your internet connection and how to combine home-working requirements with the pull of the beach and the attraction of the waves. It’s often recommended that you rent a property in an area first before committing. However, with a family of school-age children you will need to balance this with settling somewhere where they can start to feel at home.
If you still prefer to see a green landscape when you look out of your window then northern Spain may be the answer. There are a number of vibrant towns and cities that are worth considering if you prefer to avoid the blistering heat of the summer. Of course, you will still be blessed with plenty of sunny days and high temperatures but northern Spain is definitely greener and is a favourite summer holiday destination for some families living in the south.
San Sebastian is on our list of one of the best places to live in Spain for families. This city also has its beaches many of which are suitable for surfing, being on the Atlantic coastline. Bilbao also deserves a mention. Although it is a more industrialised city. It does have a spirit and character all of its own that many people have grown to love. Being in the north of Spain can also mean that travelling by road and ferry to other European countries can be an option.
Big city life
Although we’ve selected Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Malaga and Seville to focus on, you really are spoilt for choice if you are looking for a city to settle in. In a city you can expect to have more services on tap, an international mindset and the choice of schools and facilities. It might be that your work demands that you choose such an environment. If you already have a contract to work for a particular employer, then the choice for your family may not be down to you. However, most cities will provide the schools, healthcare, parks and entertainment that a young or growing family requires.
Living in the city means that you are likely to only have the option of an apartment. With a family, it’s important to keep in mind that cities can be noisy in the evening. Specially during fiesta times, late evening and early morning too. You might want to try and locate to a suburb which is less hectic and has more green space. The air quality in the city or town centre might not be so good. But, your family will appreciate cooler parks and residential facilities. Urbanisations might not have the traditional Spanish appeal. However, they may offer a communal pool which can be a life saver in the summer.
Best places to live in Spain for families: Barcelona
It’s fair to say that Barcelona is a very special city. A one that will leave your ears ringing long after your visit. This for sure has to appear as one of the best places to live in Spain for families. It’s young, vibrant and its architecture, particularly that of Gaudi, will wow you away. Be aware that Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and that Catalan is spoken here. There is some tension between the use of Castellano (Spanish) and Catalan. If you do decide to relocate here you should be prepared to learn some Catalan too.
Barcelona has all the facilities you would expect from a major city and plenty of good international schools. Its climate is more temperate and it doesn’t suffer from the blinding heat of Madrid in the summer. By the coast you can always book yourself in for some days out at the beach. It’s a good base here for exploring the north of Spain. Also, you are in close proximity to Sitges with more wonderful beaches on which to enjoy your weekends.
Well, where do we start with Madrid? This has to be up there as one of the best places to live in Spain for families. And some would claim it deserves the number one spot. Madrid is an exciting, cosmopolitan city that can you leave breathless. Of course, like any major city, you need to pick your area carefully. Doing plenty of research to decide where would be best for you and your family. Some recommendations include Salamanca, Chambery and Retiro – all more residential areas but close to the centre. Of course, you will pay the price for these premium locations. You’ll need to look a little further out if your budget is limited.
You will be spoilt for choice if you are looking for an international school. Also, if you are likely to have more job opportunities in the capital. Particularly if you are fluent in more than one language. The transport system is good too. That allows you to live further from the centre and still enjoy the benefits of living in one of Europe’s most vibrant cities.
Close to our heart and our offices is the city of Valencia. We firmly believe that this is also an excellent option for people with families. It combines the benefits of big city living at a slightly more affordable level with an enviable position on the coast. Valencia is a compact city with lots to do and visit. The City of Arts and Sciences is renowned but there is so much more to discover than this headline feature.
There are some great educational opportunities here. Including some of the best universities in the country as well as good international and state schools. What has to be given a mention are the spectacular fiestas that are held here every year. Don’t neglect to take part in Las Fallas. Enjoy as artists build the most amazing cardboard sculptures and then – set fire to them!
Málaga, like Valencia and Barcelona has the added advantage of being by the sea . It is a vibrant city and exciting city to live in. It’s also a popular destination for international residents so you can take your pick of cultures and communities and there is no excuse for feeling homesick. Although some areas can be pricy, overall it is a relatively cheap part of Spain to live in and its transport system is good.
Málaga’s airport gives the opportunity to those travelling to the international hotspots of Marbella and Fuengirola and spending time in this region you can soon understand the attractions there are for the rich and famous. Students also choose the city to study, and whilst here you should take the opportunity to find out more about Picasso and the cultural heritage that abounds in the district’s churches and old town.
Best places to live in Spain for families: Seville
Andalucía in southern Spain has a special character of its own. From the dry deserts of Almeria to white-washed villages on its coastline – you can’t but help fall in love with this romantic region and its capital city of Seville. Seville doesn’t feel like a major city in the cosmopolitan way that Madrid and Barcelona come across. It has a more traditional and personal feel and its cobbled streets, city-centre horses and carriages add to the sense of history. Don’t be fooled, though – beneath this air of nostalgia is a vibrant and vivacious scene that has attracted many people looking for the best places to live in Spain for families.
Be aware that if you are looking for an international school then you will need to select your location carefully as they are not as widespread centrally as in other major cities. You can also expect very hot summers and although the religious processions during Semana Santa (Holy Week) are something to experience, the city does become overrun with tourists at this time of year. However, don’t let this put you off. If you are looking to ‘out’ the romantic in you this could well be the place to settle.
Is your dream one of self-sufficiency and living at one with nature? There are many people who have done this, and some of them have written about it. However, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Also, if you are bringing your family with you then you need to consider carefully the implications for them. If they are young now, how will you access schools when they are older? If they are already school age, what are the longer-term prospects for them?
That said, Spain has so much beautiful countryside to offer. Also, if you are looking for an adventure away from it all then you are spoilt for choice. Just make sure you do your research and use your head as well as your heart.