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Spain is one of the most popular expat destinations in Europe. Many expats are drawn in by the beautiful weather, laid-back lifestyle and spectacular beaches. Like any country though, living in Spain does come with a handful of drawbacks. Still, most expats would agree that the good by far outweighs the bad.
Below are some of our pros and cons of living in Spain.
Accommodation in Spain
+ PRO: Multiple affordable options
Apart from perhaps Madrid, accommodation in Spain tends to be far more affordable than in other prominent European countries. Living outside of major cities is especially cheap. There's also a wide range of options available to expats such as renting a room in a shared apartment or even a freestanding house.
- CON: More demand and higher rent in larger cities
Monthly rent is much higher city centres than in outlying areas. High demand also means that accommodation tends to get snatched up quickly. If an expat has their heart set on a place, they should act fast so as not to miss out.
Lifestyle in Spain
+ PRO: Very laid-back
Spain is known for its great work-life balance. This enviable lifestyle is one of the many attractions that draw expats to the country. The Spanish love to spend quality time with their loved ones – they always have time for holidays and extended lunches.
Mealtime is sacred in Spain. Many expats are shocked to find that one can typically spend two to three hours at a good lunch. People also love getting together during the week. It isn’t uncommon to meet up with colleagues or friends for after-work drinks. Spanish streets are alive on weeknights, especially between 7pm and 11pm.
- CON: Siestas can be disruptive
The siesta may be dying out, but it is still ongoing in parts of Spain. Things shut down between 3pm and 5pm. It’s also hard to find all-day kitchens. So, if one is hungry late in the afternoon, it may be more difficult to find something to eat.
Safety in Spain
+ PRO: Very safe
Spain is one of the safest countries in Europe, and expats usually feel safe in Spain. There isn’t a huge threat of violence and major crimes and terrorist threats are uncommon. Typically, the most interaction expats have with the police will be if they want to make a noise complaint.
- CON: High risk of pickpocketing
Expats do need to beware of pickpocketing in Spain. This is especially true in major cities and areas popular with tourists. Pickpockets mostly steal phones and wallets and tend to target tourists. There have been cases in broad daylight and even on the metro, so expats should stay vigilant, and avoid walking around with visible valuables or flashy jewellery.
Working in Spain
+ PRO: Great work-life balance
Spain’s laid-back lifestyle spills into the work environment as well. Expats will find that they get a good amount of holiday time. Companies are also understanding about sick leave as long as one can provide a doctor's note. The medical system in Spain even allows workers to take time off for mental health recovery.
Jobs in Spain tend to be low-stress. Expats may even start noticing that people don't work for more than two hours without taking a coffee break.
- CON: Long working hours, low salaries
Working hours in Spain can be frustrating for those that like to get the job done and go home early. Expats will typically work from 9am to 2pm and then go back to work from 4pm until 7pm. The two hours in between are to accommodate the infamous Spanish siesta.
Another downside is that salaries are low in Spain compared to other European countries. This isn’t limited to English teachers or informal jobs; even engineers and mid-level jobs in large companies don’t earn as much as they would outside of Spain.
Culture shock in Spain
+ PRO: Not much culture shock
Culture shock in Spain tends to be reasonably low. Many people in larger cities speak English, so it's easy to get around with limited Spanish skills. Spaniards, in general, are also friendly and usually don’t mind helping expats with directions or giving advice on the local transportation.
- CON: Eating and greeting may take some getting used to
Expats coming from cultures where touching is uncommon may take some time adjusting to life in Spain. People greet each other with two kisses on the cheek (this doesn’t apply to men greeting other men though).
Mealtimes can also take some adjusting to as well. Breakfast is typically small, with a piece of fruit or milky coffee being enough for most Spaniards. Second breakfast is more substantial and usually happens mid-morning. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day. A light snack late in the afternoon is followed by a light dinner of soup or some rice around 9pm or 10pm.
Cost of living in Spain
+ PRO: Living expenses are low
Except for housing in major cities, the cost of living in Spain isn't unreasonably high. Restaurants tend to be very affordable, making a night out doable on most budgets. Spain is also known for its tapas culture, so getting a free snack when ordering a drink at a bar is common. Groceries are also affordable. The metro system in cities such as Madrid is excellent and often has monthly deals for people under 26 or over 65.
►Learn more about adjusting to life here in Culture Shock in Spain.
"It is quite easy to meet people and make new friends. There are so many events and groups to participate in, whatever your interests are. Meetup.com is a great resource.
"I would advise getting involved with the local community in order to have a more authentic experience. Even if it’s by something like taking a salsa dancing class."
Learn more about American expat Dan and his life in Barcelona in his interview.
"In America, I’d be considered poverty level because of my salary. But here we live comfortably (my husband is a civil servant) and can provide for our children.
"What I love that’s cheap is the food and entertainment. We often joke that we can live like kings because we enjoy being outside and doing low-cost activities like taking the kids to the park, going out for tapas or hiking.
"I was shocked at the cost of owning a home and the amount of money that is taken by taxes, but the benefits have been excellent. Healthcare is mostly subsidised by the government and my employer, and I have peace of mind that I will earn all or part of my salary if I am unable to work or become unemployed." Read about Cat, an American expat, and her life in Seville in her interview.
Are you an expat living in Spain?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Spain. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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