Madrid sits in the heart of Spain, a jewel in the crown of the Iberian Peninsula. Emerging from history as Spain’s industrial hub while also home to the royal residence, Madrid is a thriving modern metropolis, retaining its rich tapestry of burgeoning culture and classical grandeur. Refined museums and galleries are complemented by characterful cafés, Michelin-star restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. The capital might be expensive to live in, but as many expats report, it’s certainly worth it. As with any city, expat life in Madrid has its advantages and disadvantages.
Below, we list some of the pros and cons of moving to the Spanish capital.
Accommodation in Madrid
+ PRO: Affordable and contemporary housing options further out
Yes, the city centre in Madrid can be quite pricey, but that doesn’t mean there are no alternatives. The further out of the centre expats search, the more affordable and modern apartments become. The houses and condominiums are also bigger in the suburbs.
- CON: Living in the city centre is costly
Staying in Madrid’s city centre is, as is the case in most world metros, eye-wateringly expensive. Its low supply and high demand drive prices through the roof. Added to that, living spaces might be beautiful and antique, but the maintenance can be poor, often resulting in apartment blocks that are somewhat dilapidated and in need of a facelift.
- CON: Poor rental market
Compared to other major European cities, the rental market in Madrid is particularly underdeveloped. Value for money can be quite difficult to come by, while potential security deposits can sometimes be up to six months’ worth of rent.
Working in Madrid
+ PRO: Broad job opportunities
Madrid is the country’s geographic and industrial heart, with many large multinational corporations setting up their headquarters in the capital. Major employers are usually in the financial, engineering and ICT fields, while the city’s most significant sector is the service industry.
+ PRO: Can cater to younger expats
As the nation’s capital, there are more jobs in Madrid than in other cities. There are also opportunities for young Western expats looking to travel and see the world, particularly in teaching English.
- CON: High costs of living
While Madrid generally offers the highest wages in Spain, your wallet might take a bit of a beating as the cost of living is fairly high. As mentioned, there’s not much bang for buck when it comes to property, and employment competition is fierce compared to the rest of the country.
Families and children in Madrid
+ PRO: Broad schooling options
Raising kids in Madrid can be an absolute breeze, partly thanks to a wonderful array of international schools. They help to ease children into Madrid society by surrounding them with a familiar language and environment, with Italian, French, English and even Russian curricula all available.
+ PRO: Kids can integrate
There is also a growing initiative for bilingual schools, giving expat kids a chance to grow up and fully immerse themselves in the local culture.
+ PRO: Lots of fun activities
There will be no shortage of fun things to do for the little ones. There are myriad local parks perfect for picnics and play dates, while the Natural Science Museum, zoo, aquarium and a great amusement park all mean the kids will never be bored.
Getting Around in Madrid
+ PRO: Central location
Because of its central location, Madrid is the perfect base from which to explore the rest of the country. Whether you want to visit the Mediterranean allure of Barcelona or the old-world charm of Seville, a trip is but a short plane or train ride away.
+ PRO: Excellent public transport
The city boasts one of Europe's most well-organised public transport systems, with an efficient metro that travels to the outskirts of Madrid. Its high-speed train is rightly lauded, travelling across Spain to the cities of Barcelona, Seville and Zaragoza.
- CON: Driving is not recommended
Driving isn’t really an option if expats want to travel to the centre of Madrid regularly. Drivers can be rather aggressive, and there is minimum parking which is quite pricey, not to mention the terrible traffic congestion. There are also instances of cars being broken into.
- CON: Not particularly cyclist-friendly
Madrid doesn’t exactly go out of its way to cater for bicycles. But things have been changing slowly to accommodate more two-wheeled traffic, especially with the rise of electric bike-sharing services such as BiciMAD.
Lifestyle in Madrid
+ PRO: Culture, culture, culture
There’s a great mix of the classic and contemporary in Madrid, with a wide range of attractions to delight any discerning taste. First stop would probably be the Prado Museum, displaying pieces by Botticelli and Rembrandt, closely followed by the Thyssen and the Reina Sofia, which focus on Spanish artwork from the 20th century. Families will love the Naval Museum, and they can relax among the lakes, fountains and cafés in the Parque del Buen Retiro.
+ PRO: Football paradise
Like most of the country, Madrid is football crazy. It’s home to possibly the biggest football club on the planet, Real Madrid, and the Santiago Bernabéu is truly a sight to behold when it is resplendent in the white of Los Blancos. Just don’t tell their neighbours, with Atlético Madrid the other half of a fierce city rivalry sure to bring tensions to boiling points.
- CON: Not a coastal adventure
Those looking for the stereotypical ‘fun in the sun’ will be sorely disappointed. While travelling to the coast isn’t difficult to organise, Madrid does not offer the atmosphere and seaside allure of Valencia or Barcelona. But the weather is still warm and pleasant for those looking to escape the cold of northern European countries.
- CON: A late start
When night falls, a siesta-induced late start means loads of its bars and nightclubs only get going once people finish with their dinners at around 10pm. Siestas can be quite disruptive to people who aren’t used to them, with stores often closing for a period from lunchtime to late afternoon.
Cost of Living in Madrid
+ PRO: Spending smart pays
Eating out on a budget can be a trying experience in Madrid. But those who are settling down long term will definitely make use of the markets and local grocery stores, which have far more wallet-friendly prices.
+ PRO: Getting around
If used tactically, expats will need to look no further than the public transport system and their own two feet. Taxis and ride-sharing costs of apps such as Uber can mount up, and there’s really no reason to invest in a car as the accompanying petrol and parking fees can also be steep.
- CON: It’s generally expensive
Because of its identity as a big European capital, things are going to be a bit pricier than in the rest of the country. Predictably, rent is probably going to be the biggest financial burden in Madrid. More upmarket spots such as Salamanca or Castellana will be significantly more expensive than Chamartín and Nuevos Ministerios.
► For an overview of life in the city check out Moving to Madrid
►To find out what festivals and events take place in the city every year, see What's On in Madrid
"I miss how streamlined most processes are back home, and also how everyone has the same work ethic in terms of getting tasks done. But, it’s one of the safest countries in the world (on par with Canada in that regard) and definitely one of the safest in Europe." Read what Canadian expat Mimi has to say about different aspects of life in Madrid.
Are you an expat living in Madrid?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Madrid. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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