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Belonging to of the biggest countries in Europe, the public transport system in Spain is comprehensive enough to give expats various options for getting around. Functioning as a gateway between Europe, Africa, and the Americas, the country has an extensive network of ports, airports, roads and rail networks to facilitate the demands of its position.
While it is possible to get by without a car, many expats prefer to own one in Spain for the freedom it affords.
Public transport in Spain
Public transportation in Spain is well organised and comprehensive, enabling residents to travel efficiently both within their towns and between cities.
The national railway network is one of the most popular ways to travel between regions, although many expats fly or use the bus system. Expats should find getting around in Spain straightforward and relatively stress-free.
The Spanish railway network is operated chiefly by La Red de los Ferrocarriles Españoles (RENFE) and is often integrated with regional and urban networks, especially in larger cities.
The high-speed train network in Spain is known as AVE and travels between its largest cities. Centred in Madrid, it fans out to Barcelona, Seville, Córdoba and Zaragoza and allows for travel to France.
While not the cheapest way of travelling in Spain, with speeds of up to 192 miles per hour (310km/h), it is one of the fastest and most convenient ways of getting around.
There are also regional train services in certain parts of Spain, such as the Ferrocarrils Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC), which operates in northeastern Spain.
Several cities have light-rail or subway systems, while the metro system in Madrid is said to be one of the best in the world.
Tram networks also operate in several Spanish cities, including Barcelona, Zaragoza and Seville.
There are extensive public bus networks in Spain’s larger urban areas, as well as a variety of options for inter-city travel.
Expats can buy bus tickets online from Movelia. The site allows users to buy tickets from more than 20 transport companies that operate on countless routes in the country.
Taxis in Spain
Taxis in Spain are widely available, especially in the cities. While they are generally reasonably priced and drivers deliver good service, non-Spanish speakers might be mistaken for tourists and overcharged. It is always a good idea for expats to know roughly how much their fare will come to beforehand and ensure that their driver has switched on the meter or agree on a price upfront.
Ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Cabify eliminate a lot of the hassle, and although restricted in Spain in the past, these are now available again.
Driving in Spain
Expats may take a while to get accustomed to local driving behaviour in Spain. There are also several laws that may differ from what expats might be used to. Cars in Spain drive on the right-hand side of the road. Expat drivers should also note that people are required to flash their vehicle’s lights before overtaking the car in front of them.
Non-Spanish-speaking expats may have a little trouble getting around in Spain, given that signs are usually in Spanish, Catalan or Basque, depending on the region. Parking in larger cities can often be a frustrating experience owing to high congestion and limited spaces.
Expats looking to drive and buy a car in Spain will have to be prepared to deal with the paperwork and costs associated with car ownership in the country. Car insurance is compulsory in Spain, and expats will have to pay an annual road licence fee. Nonetheless, owning a vehicle allows new arrivals to explore further afield.
Driving licences in Spain
Expats from the EU and EEA countries can use their national driving licence for up to two years before exchanging it for a Spanish licence. New arrivals from these regions must also ensure they register with traffic authorities at the Central Register of Drivers and Minor Offenders (Registro Central de Conductores e Infractores) within six months of their arrival in the country.
Non-EU and EEA nationals can have their foreign driving licence translated into Spanish or use it with an International Driving Permit (IDP) for a maximum of six months. UK expats can use their licence as is, without a translation or IDP, for six months. After that, expats will need to obtain a Spanish driving licence. Fortunately, Spain has direct exchange agreements with several countries, including the UK, which allows the nationals of these countries to simply exchange their national driving licence for a Spanish one.
Otherwise, expats will need to take lessons from a recognised driving school and take the written and practical Spanish driving tests to secure their licence.
Cycling in Spain
Some cities in Spain are more cycle-friendly than others. Seville and Barcelona, especially, are known for having excellent infrastructure, such as dedicated cycling lanes, bike hire and storage facilities. Cyclists are still encouraged to be cautious.
Travelling around Spain by bicycle is a popular holiday activity, especially in the summer months. Expats should, however, be prepared for steep gradients in some of the country’s mountainous regions.
Domestic flights in Spain
The three busiest airports in Spain are in Madrid, Barcelona and Mallorca, handling around 100 million passengers a year, but there are dozens of airports across the country, making it easy for expats to travel throughout the Spanish mainland.
Expats wanting to travel through Spain quickly at a lower price than high-speed rail can compare the domestic flight prices of different carriers. The largest airlines in Spain include Iberia, Ryanair and Vueling, among several others.
►Healthcare in Spain provides an overview of Spanish medical services
►Banking, Money and Taxes in Spain gives information on expat finances
"Granada is a city that you can walk around, so you don't need to use public transport much here. The main time you’d use it is to take the bus up the hill to visit the Alhambra or Albaicin quarters. So, once you get up the hill you have plenty of energy to wander the streets and visit the areas.
"Visitors also take the bus from the airport, or from a bus station, into the city centre. The small red bus that runs on this route has some of the best views. I take this often and never tire of seeing the city below as the minibus rattles down the cobbled streets from the old town." Read more about the expat life of Molly, a British expat who's lived in Granada, Spain since 1998, in her interview with Expat Arrivals.
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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