Spain is a country which is attracting more and more expats from around the world as living in Spain can be very enjoyable if you do your homework and are fully aware of what to expect. Even though the Spanish coastal resorts are home to many of the expat communities in Spain there are also many expats living in other areas of Spain and enjoying very different cultures and lifestyles. So if you’re looking at living in Spain what do you need to be aware of and what should you investigate further?
While Spain has different attractions for different people there is no doubt that the geography and climate of Spain is a major plus point. The country is also very central, bordering Portugal on the west, Gibraltar and Morocco on the south and France and Andorra along the Pyrenees to the north-east of the country. Many people will be unaware that Spain offers one of the most diverse climates in the world with the Continental Mediterranean climate commonplace in central Spain, the oceanic climate in the north-west of Spain, semiarid climate in the south-east of the country and a Mediterranean climate along the coast from north-east Spain right down to south-west Spain.
The Canary Islands also offer a very different subtropical climate and contrary to popular belief much of the rainfall in Spain is in the northern mountains as opposed to “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plains”. In simple terms, the different array of climates and landscapes available in Spain ensure that there is literally something for everybody!
The weather in Spain can vary wildly and you need to be aware that some places can be very hot in the summer, as discussed in the Spanish Forum, with comments such as:-
“We both absolutely loved the people in Seville and felt very welcomed but being realistic it’s just going to be too hot for us (we are Scottish!)
I’ve never been to Seville because I can only really go in the summer – too hot – or at Easter – too religious! That region of Spain is known as the fying pan I believe so I think you’re probably making the right decision.”
The Spanish economy is officially the ninth largest in the world and the fifth largest in Europe, according to the World Bank, but there are various issues which need to be considered before you decide which area of Spain you would like to relocate to. In general the Spanish economy has been very volatile over the last 20 years and while much headway has been made with regards to inflation and unemployment, these are still two specific issues which continue to rear their heads on a regular basis. However, when you bear in mind that the Spanish unemployment rate was around 20% in the 1990s fell back to around 7% but is starting to rise again, this is still a massive development and a massive improvement.
As you would expect, Spain has also benefited from the property boom which began in 1997, imploded in 2008 and is set to benefit again in the medium to longer term. Construction is a major element of the Spanish economy although there are concerns over the rising property market which could push many potential investors to the edge of their financial comfort zones and will need to be monitored and controlled very carefully by the Spanish authorities.
As with most European countries, the Spanish economy is struggling at the moment with unemployment forecast to end 2009 at 16% and the country facing “its deepest recession in half a century” according to the government. However, while there are short-term problems with the Spanish economy there is no doubt that the country’s very close links with its European counterparts and the many attractions for expats and tourists will help to pull the country out of the doldrums in the medium term.
The Spanish economy is struggling at the moment with a number of Forum members discussing the reasons with comments such as:-
“It seems that the only worse country than Spain to find a job is Latvia! And its a close call, Latvia has 19.7% unemployment and Spain 19.3%!
The economic downturn isn’t confined to the UK and if you’re finding it tough at home you’ll find it tough abroad?”
As we touched on above, employment has been an issue in Spain for some time and while great progress has been made since unemployment hit over 20% back in the 1990s, there are concerns regarding a short-term increase in unemployment numbers. However, for expats looking to move to Spain there are a number of opportunities within various expat communities and the fact that English is effectively the second language in Spain is a great help to many English expats. Whether we will see the Spanish authorities look to limit the scope for employment for non-Spanish nationals remains to be seen but we have seen a number of other European countries attempt, even if it is against the spirit of European integration, to protect their “national” workforce.
The employment market in Spain is very difficult at the moment and is discussed at length in Spanish Forum:-
“I am currently unemployed due to sickness but am looking for work. I am interested in working as a tour guide in Andalucia, and I speak upper intermediate Spanish, basic Italian, intermediate Albanian and fluent English. I would also consider Hotel reception work.
Apart from that, there is mass unemployment in Spain, if you both could speak and write Spanish fluently you may stand a small chance of finding work, but even the bilingual and spanish nationals are struggling.”
For those living in Spain the tax situation can appear slightly complicated at first glance although upon further investigation it is fairly straightforward. Depending upon where you wish to pay your future taxes you will need to make the relevant declarations to your former homeland and confirm that you are looking to pay your taxes in Spain. Those in the UK will need to complete a certificate E101 which would negate your obligations to pay tax in the UK and confirm that any future tax income will be received by the Spanish authorities.
For those who are still effectively resident in the UK, for tax purposes, there is the opportunity to receive various state benefits even though you may be living in Spain. These particular issues change on a regular basis and it is worth investigating further to ensure that you are getting exactly what you are due. Expats from America, Canada and other non-Europeans will also have to fill out various forms to confirm their new tax status and tax obligations for the future.
As in the UK there are various tax allowances and differing tax rates depending upon your level of income. However, it is worth remembering that you will be taxed the Spanish national rate on your income and a provincial tax rate which added together can range from around 24% to 43%. This is slightly different to the UK where the UK authorities receive all of your income tax although you will pay various council taxes and other charges to your local authority. The various allowances and tax rates change on a regular basis and you need to be aware of exactly what your obligations are before moving to Spain.
Spanish taxation can be difficult to understand for those moving to Spain for work and has prompted a number of comments in the Forum such as:-
“I currently live in Cadiz and work freelance doing web design for a Ltd. company based in the UK.
The main question being how on earth does this all work? I am getting conflicting advice from my Spanish Gestor, UK employer and the Tax office in Sevilla.
Sevilla advised that I do not need an International tax code as my service is electronic and on my invoices I should not include IVA. UK company deduct the VAT using ‘Reverse Charge’ rule.
UK say I do need an International tax code as the ‘Reverse Charge’ rule does not apply to my sector.”
Cost of living
The cost of living in Spain is on the whole very favourable to expats moving from other developed countries although as with any area of the world there are differences across the country. In simple terms, the cost of property will differ from the central focal points of Madrid or Barcelona to the more remote areas of the country. It is simply a case of balancing of your requirements with regards to employment, social life and other aspects of your work and private life against what they can afford and where you would like to live.
While the cost of living in Spain will vary over time you can work on about €40 a month for electricity, although this may rise by 30% during the summer period. Telephone bills can be anything from €25 upwards and food for two people for a month can also range from €350 upwards. In simple terms, if you want to live a fairly simple and cost efficient life in Spain the option is there but if you want to live the “high life” there is also the opportunity to do this. However, you must remember to live within your means at all times!
The cost of living in Spain has risen, as with other European countries, over recent times and prompted a number of comments from Forum members such as:-
“Well now you can add around 30% to the price of diesel (and petrol) since January.
I have lived in Spain for the last 7 years, and i can agree, that prices of food and other household groceries has risen massively in that time.”
As we touched on above, the cost of property across Spain reflects the massive difference in cultures, geography and population density. The more popular areas of Spain such as Barcelona and Madrid will obviously cost more for property than some of the more remote country villages and towns. For those looking to move to Spain during 2009 and 2010 there may well be various opportunities to pick up relatively cheap property after the recession and it is also worth remembering that Spain has been susceptible in the past to various property bubbles. Property in Spain was recently discussed in the Forum where one experienced member mentioned:
“you really cant beat coming over here and looking yourself. Theres loads of property for sale in the Denia area and I’m sure in the current climate you can get some good deals.
Some say its the best time to buy here at the moment ….. if they are right, who knows!”.
Again, it is vital that you live within your means because if you stretch your financial situation to the limit and prices continue to move higher and higher you could put your future financial well-being in danger.
For those moving to Spain the subject of property and property prices will never be far from the top of your “to do list”.
There are various expat unities dotted around Spain offering assistance for those new to the country and a social life along the lines of their former lifestyle in the UK. Whether it is sensible to contain yourself within an expat community when moving to somewhere such as Spain is debatable because many people moved to the country for a reason, not to live the lifestyle they had back in the UK.
Living in Spain, if approached correctly, can involve a very interesting mix of Spanish culture and the Spanish social life while also appreciating the various expat communities located predominantly up and down the east coast of the country. While initially many expats who moved to Spain tended to “stick together” there is certainly more integration nowadays than there was in the past, something which has gone down very well with Spanish nationals.
The expat community in Spain can offer vital “on the ground” advice and experience for those looking to move to a new country. Many expats have made contact in the Spanish Forum and help is always at hand:-
“Hi people i don’t really know how this site works yet as i have just joined.
I could do with a bit of advice on the job front. I currently work in a pub where i prepare food. I have a few years of waitressing under my belt and 3 years experience behind a bar. If anyone can help or offer advice etc i would be very grateful.”
Spain has a very varied and a very useful transport network which incorporates rail travel, metro travel, inner-city rail systems, an extensive road network, various ports and harbours and there is also a very extensive airline industry. One of the main attractions which many expats have found with regards to Spain is the ability to literally fly to the country from anywhere within Europe for what can often be a fraction of the price of travelling the length and breadth of their own country.
As we mentioned above, the country is also fairly well placed within Europe with a number of popular neighbouring countries which have improved the accessibility for those looking at living in Spain or visiting Spain for an extended stay.
There is no doubt that Spain is still one of the more popular expat destinations in the world and continues to attract visitors from all around the world. Not only does the country offer an excellent transport network, an interesting cultural experience but there are also landscapes and climates to suit every requirement, whatever you may be looking for. The landscapes and climates take into account the Pyrenees in northern Spain to the golden beaches down the east coast and on to the south side of Spain, with many different climates in between.
While there have been some issues with regards to the Spanish economy over the last 20 years there is no doubt that improvements had been made although more improvement needs to be forthcoming in the short to medium term. The credit crunch has hit the country fairly hard, as it has other European countries such as the UK, and while there are fears that unemployment will grow in the short to medium term we should start to see some growth in the Spanish economy in the medium to longer term.
The standard of living and cost of living in Spain are both very amenable to those who have moved from areas such as the UK and it is possible to improve your standard of living using the same income you received in the UK. However, there are massive differences in property prices and the cost of living between areas such as Barcelona and Madrid and some of the more remote villages and towns dotted around Spain. It really does depend upon what kind of lifestyle and what kind of cost of living you are chasing as to which area of the country you should be looking at.
All in all there is no doubt that Spain continues to be one of the main destinations for expats around the world with the UK population in particular still showing great interest in the country. However, it is always worthwhile doing your homework before moving to a foreign land with regards to the cost of property, cost of living, employment potential and other issues which will impact upon your everyday life and your standard of living. To be forewarned is to be forearmed and you need to ensure that you know exactly what you are moving to.