Spain Explained

Your guide to becoming an expat in Spain

Last updated on April 19th, 2023 at 02:57 pm.

Are you thinking of becoming an expat in Spain? You might be on the verge of retirement and wanting a fresh start somewhere warm and sunny. Perhaps you are a remote worker who would enjoy the Spanish lifestyle of outdoor living and fiestas. Spain has many attractions and it is easy to see why it is such a popular choice for people considering moving abroad. In this guide to becoming an expat in Spain we consider what the process is and provide our advice.

Taking the decision

It’s not an easy one to make and needs to be carefully thought through. It’s true that some people have decided to move on a spur of the moment and haven’t lived to regret it, but others have. Becoming an expat in Spain is not the right move for everyone. Especially now that residency restrictions have kicked in. You need to think carefully about your personal circumstances both financial and family.

After this word of warning you also need to be true to yourself. If it has always been your burning ambition and you believe you can make it work then don’t let negativity change your plans. Do listen to the advice of family and friends but also keep your inner ear tweaked to your own ambitions.

Spain’s cost of living is relatively low and you can live comfortably in most places for around €2,000 a month. You will need to look carefully at your finances. There can be jobs in some specific lines of business, you are limited if you’re a non-Spanish speaker. Therefore, it is better to have another source of income before deciding to move out here.

If you do decide that it’s the right move for you then plan out your route. Is the time right or should you delay a little? Be careful not to put plans on hold for too long though. There is always a reason not to act now. Sometimes this is genuine and insurmountable but at other times you can catch yourself making excuses.

Ask yourself why you are delaying becoming an expat in Spain. It might be an indication that your heart isn’t set on the move. Alternatively, it is a big step to take and finding ongoing excuses can feel more comfortable for those anxious to take it. Venture one step at a time, beginning with where you would like to live.

Where to live

You may already have a location in mind when you’re thinking about becoming an expat and getting a Spanish residency. Most people will already know someone who lives out here or maybe you have a holiday home which you intend to make your permanent residence. This gives you a starting point but shouldn’t dictate your choice. A place you would choose for a holiday home may not be ideal for your new start.

Much will depend on your own priorities and personal circumstances. For example, if you are keen to learn the language and immerse yourself in Spanish culture then choosing an expat enclave will not be for you. However, if you are later in years and wish to have the security and friendship of people with similar backgrounds and language then this might suit you better.

David Ruiz of Torrevieja Translations has produced a whole range of guides to different towns and cities in Spain. The variety of landscape, history and culture here is incredible. Of course, the best way of deciding where to live is to visit places yourself. If you have the time and resources, then doing your own mini tour is a wonderful way of combining holiday and home hunting.

Rent or buy

Which leads us on to the next big question when it comes to becoming an expat in Spain. Do you invest your capital in a property or do you rent temporarily or even permanently? You will come across different views when it comes to this question.

Renting property is beneficial if you are unsure about where you want to live and prefer to keep your options open initially. Just be aware that if you later decide to sell property abroad, then you may be subject to paying capital gains tax in Spain.

Spanish property continues to be relatively cheap in comparison to many other European countries. There are advantages to owning your own property and having the freedom to decorate, renovate and innovate as you wish. Be aware that any home improvements you do carry out are likely to require a building licence and you should check this out with your local town hall.

Purchasing property

You are spoilt for choice when it comes to the variety and range of available property in Spain. In the past, it’s true that there were some issues with developments without the correct permissions. Although these problems are largely ironed out, it must be ensured that a reputable solicitor is engaged. This way can be checked if any property you have in mind is legal and there are no debts held against it.

It is normal in Spain to sign a pre-contract and provide a deposit that secures the rights of both the seller and the purchaser. You will also have taxes to pay and fees for the notary. So then, you will need to calculate these in addition to what your property actually costs. When a purchase is smooth you can expect completion within three months and then you can take possession of the Title Deed.

Mortgages are also available for financing a property purchase in Spain. However, banks are much more careful now on their lending procedure than they were on the boom days. You will need to provide proof of income and a deposit. A range of protections have been implemented to ensure that those taking out a mortgage are clear about the terms and conditions. These are for your protection. If you do purchase with a mortgage then the lender will keep the Title Deed and will give you what’s called a ‘copia simple’. 

Obtaining residency

If you’re a citizen of the EU/EEA you have the right to live and work in Spain through Freedom of Movement. However, this is no longer the case for citizens of the United Kingdom. Gone are the days of turning up at the police station and showing your passport for residency. Whatever your opinions, Brexit has made it more difficult for people with a British passport to become an expat in Spain. However, there are different alternatives to explore.

Non-lucrative visa

You will need to have money in the bank or proof of a regular income. Currently this means €30,000 of savings or a minimum of 2,130€ monthly passive income for a single person and €2,600 for a couple. This visa is dependent on you not taking on paid work in Spain. In other words, it is specifically aimed at retirees, although there are other options after being in Spain for a year.

Digital nomad visa

This visa allows non-EU citizens to live and work remotely from Spain. In order to obtain this you must be able to show that you work remotely and predominantly for a company located outside of Spain. You are simply choosing Spain as your residency but your employment is provided from elsewhere.

Golden visa

This is only an option if you have plenty of money to invest. You can gain residency if you buy a property valued at €500,000 or more. Other options for this visa include making a deposit in a Spanish bank or buying shares worth at least €1,000,000 or investing a significant amount of money in a new business (unspecified).

Health care

The Spanish public health system is a good one and if you are moving from an EU/EEA country. You will have authorization to receive this as part of your residency. However, taking out health insurance is part of the deal if you are moving from a third-tier country like the UK. If you have no healthcare issues then this should be straightforward providing you have the financial resources.

Dealing with paperwork

Something you will have to deal with if you come to live in Spain is the paperwork. Even with your residency confirmed there are more hurdles to get through to ensure that you are able to live legally and according to the life you would choose.

Becoming an expat in Spain is a though process. You will occasionally encounter a ‘funcionario’ or civil servant who seems determined to make it as difficult as possible for you. Don’t give up. There are plenty of people out there who can help you dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s. Even Spanish people can feel frustrated by the bureaucratic processes. It will be worth it in the long term.

The first piece of essential paper you will need is the NIE. It is also called foreigner’s tax number and any major transaction requires it. Following this, the exact nature of the necessary identification depends on your passport. For example, those with a British passport require now a TIE card. You will also need to register on the padrón which is the local area register of who is actually living in your city or town.

Enjoy the lifestyle but…

If you speak to people who have taken this journey, you are likely to be warned against becoming an expat in Spain ‘on holiday’. It can be difficult to separate holiday mode from the fact that you are here for the foreseeable future. It’s fine to have a couple of weeks where you relax and enjoy your new home, making the most of the new lifestyle and opportunities. However, you need to be already staking out your pattern for living long term.

Talking about people moving out to Spain to work or to operate their on-line business. The challenges are combining your day-to-day workload with the temptations that are out there. In the early days you may have lots of visitors, keen to see your new home and also waiting to be entertained. This provides a challenge in itself. However, being clear from the outset that you are not a tour operator should help.

Becoming an expat in Spain is a process that is full of potential delights but also carries some hazards. We hope that this guide has given you a little more insight. Moreover, we will steer you positively towards your future in this wonderful country.

For help with your residency application and interesting articles about where you might want to live:

For conveyancing and tax advice:

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