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Living and working in Spain as an expat

Dec 07, 2020 by Monica Garcia

The sun, the sea, the great weather, the happy people, the good food and a lot of relaxation. This is how many people see Spain. With all of its historic palaces and sweeping beaches, Spain is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. But what if you are not just going to visit this Southern European country for a holiday, but actually going to live there and call it your new home?  In this guide we tell you everything about this beautiful country: from the Spanish culture to practical information such as finding an apartment and registering yourself as a resident in Spain.

Aerial view of Madrid, Spain
Aerial view of Madrid, the capital of Spain

Living in Spain

Basic info about Spain

Weather: Spain has different climate zones. In general, the country has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters. The central area of Spain has a continental influenced climate with hot, dry summers and cold winters. The North, a more Atlantic climate, more wet and cold all year round.

Population: Approximately 47,400,000 inhabitants

History: The Iberians were one of the first people to live in Spain. That is also exactly why the first name of Spain was Iberia. Then, the Romans called it Hispania, and that’s where the name "Spain" comes from. 

Did you know?

  • Spain is the EU’s second-largest country 
  • Spain is home to (47!) UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  • Span is the world’s largest producer of olive oil 
  • The world’s oldest restaurant is located in Madrid 
  • Every region has its own specialties and traditions, Catalonia for example.
  • There are 4 co-official languages: Catalan, Aranese, Basque and Galician.
  • There is an annual festival in Spain where people throw tomatoes at each other 

Finding an apartment in Spain

One of your highest priorities of emigrating to Spain should be the search for a home. When it comes to big cities like Madrid and Barcelona, you will have to deal with a large housing shortage. In addition, you might be shocked by the enormously high prices: in Madrid for example, you already pay more than 500 euros for a two-room apartment located far outside the city center. 

On the other hand, if you want to buy a property, you’ll be happy when you see that the prices that have significantly fallen in recent years. For example, on the Costa Blanca in the southeast of the country, the housing supply is very large and the prices are much lower. 

It is recommended to start your search for accommodation when you’re in Spain, as the Spanish landlords appreciate personal meetings and are known for their frankness and hospitality. The housing websites such as Fotocasa or Tucasa can be helpful for you when you are searching for a place to stay. 

How to spend your spare time in Spain

Spain offers a wide diversity of leisure time activities. There is basically something for everyone. Whether you want to enjoy the exciting nightlife of Spain, relax on its gorgeous beaches or go sightseeing and admire historic buildings and architectural landmarks. For example, it is definitely worth visiting Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and Gaudi Sites, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao or The White Towns of Andalucia. 

Furthermore, Spain has a lot to offer when it comes to festivals, live music and amazing events. Make sure to check this list which consists of “The best events in Spain”, if you like to attend festivals. However, most festivals and public events are cancelled this year due to the Corona pandemic, and it's expected that the restrictions continue in 2021. Nevertheless, you can still prepare yourself for your move to Spain and make a list of the events you definitely want to attend as soon as the world is safe from the Coronavirus. 

In addition, Spaniards love their sports and there are so many outdoor activities to participate in: think about skiing and mountain biking in the Pyrenees or kitesurfing in the Mediterranean sea. As known, soccer is the main sport in Spain, and people love to both play and watch it on the TV or in the arenas. Besides this, different regions throughout Spain offer a variety of sports. For example, in the Basque country you can see activities that involve great physical strength such as tossing the caber. 

Mallorca, Spain
Santanyí, Mallorca
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Spain
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country

Meet some locals 

The Spaniards are generally seen as very open-minded and hospitable people. There is almost nothing more important than owning a circle of friends and making social contacts. Spending time with friends is a regular part of the day, including visiting bars and pubs, making excursions and eating and drinking together afterwork or during the weekends. As a foreigner or newcomer, you will be also enthusiastically included in their circle of friends. The Spaniards are very helpful and will gladly support you when it comes to overcoming bureaucratic challenges! Even Spaniards from older generations are often very friendly and sophisticated, although many of them are not able to understand or speak English

Meeting other expats

Besides meeting local people, it’s also very fun and rewarding to connect with other expats. They are exactly in the same situation as you are and you can guide each other through your integration processes. Through Internations it is easy to start connecting with (fellow) expats. On this platform you can give each other tips about living in Spain or update each other about upcoming events.

Another way to meet other expats is to start a Spanish language course at one of the many language schools that you can find in every city. You can for example start a course at Linguaschools in Barcelona, at Colegio Internacional Alicante or at LAE Madrid.

Another option always available is to become a member of expat groups on Facebook. Try for example “Expats in Spain”, “LMDES - The Tribe” or “Moving to Barcelona”.

Cost of living in Spain

The cost of living in Spain is one of the lowest in Western Europe, even in the larger cities. You can get an imported beer for €3 euros or a cappuccino for €1,80 euros. Once you know the right places to go out for dinner, a meal for two with wine or beer can cost around €40-€50 euros.

Moreover, the average salary in Spain is €1,440 a month, but as an expat you can expect even more. Do you like going to the cinema? Good for you, because a ticket only costs around €10 euros in Spain. Here you have a table with different cost of living between the main cities:

1kg Oranges
1kg potatoes
12 eggs

1.66 €
1.25 €
2.04 €

1.33 €
0.89 €
1.82 €
1 beer
Meal for 2

3.00 €
49.00 €
1.92 €

2.00 €
30.00 €
1.42 €
Sports / Leisure:
Gym membership
Cinema ticket

38.26 €
9.00 €

32.22 €
7.00 €
Public transport:
Single ticket bus
Taxi (5km)
1.50 €
5.50 €
1.40 €
4.70 €
Average salary
(monthly gross)
1,590.40 €1,261.62 €

Public transport 

There are many options when it comes to public transport in Spain: from modern metros to high speed trains between the cities.

The quickest way to get around in the largest cities is by taking the metro, but you can also choose to take the bus (autobús) or tram services. This is the cheapest and most common form of public transport in Spain, both around the cities and between cities. The price of a single ticket may vary depending on the city you are living, but it can cost 1 to 2€. Besides that, you can also choose to travel by train. Spain has Europe's most extensive high-speed rail network, over 2,500km in service and many other under construction. For example, the trip Barcelona-Madrid is done in less than 3 hours, while by car or bus can take around 8.

Learn Spanish

The position you will be working in determines whether or not it is necessary to learn Spanish. However, it would be nice if you could communicate a bit in the local language. For everyday purposes you may be able to express yourself in English, but for emergencies and dealing with domestic situations, knowing some Spanish is essential. To learn the language you can attend online courses, but you can also join one of the on-site courses that are offered throughout the whole country. However, you will learn the language by communicating a lot with the local people. Spanish is widely spoken internationally and you will always benefit from mastering the language. We have already listed the most important sentences for you here:

  • Good morning – Buenos días
  • Thank you – Gracias
  • How are you – ¿Cómo estás?, ¿Qué tal?
Montjuïc park, Barcelona
Montjuïc park, Barcelona

Working in Spain 

Available jobs and possibilities

As in many other European countries, there is also a shortage of certain skills in Spain, especially in those roles that require language skills. On the other hand, the majority of Spanish companies are active in the service sector, which are all, despite the crisis, still striving more and more for internationalization. 

1. Service industry

It goes without saying that highly qualified professionals have an advantage here. However, specialist knowledge is not enough, as companies operating on the international market in particular need excellent knowledge of various foreign languages. In fact, many international companies are actually very open-minded when it comes to hiring employees from other countries. 

Nevertheless, the Spanish labor market is really interesting and promising for the multilingual talent in the tourism sector, the main employment driver in the country. The lack of language skills of the Spaniards forces employers to hire talent from abroad, especially from Nordic countries and Germany.

2. Food industry and agriculture

Spanish agriculture has an extreme shortage on the labor market. This includes professions such as agricultural machinery technicians, experts in the field of plant protection and other agricultural professionals (e.g. harvesting workers). In the food processing industry, professionals in the field of fruit and vegetables are especially welcome. 

3. Scientific-technical sector

In this broad sector, mainly technical specialists within IT are being sought for (IT-professionals, programmers, telecommunication professionals, graphic designers, controllers, etc.) However, it also includes skills within the environmental protection and recycling sector as well as the marketing and research sector. 

4. Traditional crafts and independence

Even those who have a good technical background and who have completed a professional education can quickly find what they are looking for in Spain.   Those who want to become self-employed within another profession also have good opportunities, since 8% of Spanish businesses are small self-employed.

Málaga, Spain
Mijas, Málaga
Segovia, Spain
Roman aqueduct, Segovia

Applying for a job

When you’re applying for a job in Spain you need to have translated your CV into English or Spanish. Even if you are applying for a job at a company where you will be speaking in your native language, the people reading and handling your application might be international. Moreover, make sure your CV and cover letter are updated and that the information is correct. Don’t forget to highlight your strengths and add any additional languages you speak!

Work environment and culture

Spaniards are known as friendly people and this is also reflected in the workplace, even though a company absolutely does not lose professionalism and knows how to keep a balance. It is also very much appreciated if you show respect for Spanish customs and habits. For example, the well-known siesta, during which companies are closed for about two hours during the working day, is still used by some companies.

When it comes to work culture in Spain, many people choose to have meetings over lunch or dinner so they can do business in an informal environment. These meetings can then last for a few hours.  In addition to this, you do not need to think of any special dress code when working in a workplace in Spain. As you will probably work in an international work environment, there will not be a strict dress code but a more casual style - as long as you do not come in clothes that are more suitable for a day at the beach or for a barbecue with friends. 

Terms of employment in Spain

If you are going to work full time in Spain, you will most probably have a working week of a maximum of 40 hours. Unless there is an agreement, you may not work for more than nine hours a day. As an expat, you can expect an average wage of €1400, which is a good wage to enjoy the sun and earn a living. Besides the 14 public holidays, you will have 22 annual holidays. The minimum notice period required to terminate an employment contract by law is 15 days. However, this might change depending on the sector you are working in. Check always what your work contract says.


There are many international communities and networks in the largest cities in Spain. These networks are a valuable resource, because they can improve your social life in different ways. The best way to approach them is via the internet. As mentioned before, Facebook has different groups for expats in Spain as well. Another useful tool for an expat is Meetup, a web page where you can take part in activities that you find interesting at the same time you make new friends!

Furthermore, Spain organizes a lot of international networking and business events. You will be able to find a lot of these events in Spain on eventbrite. Keep in mind that a lot of these events have been cancelled or postponed due to the current Corona situation, even though some of them are available virtually.

España square, Seville

Arriving in Spain

As Spain is part of the EU, you as a EU or EEA citizen who wants to move here will not encounter any problems. You will not need to apply for a visa or work permit, but if you want to stay in the country for more than three months you will need to register yourself in the corresponding Social Security scheme (Social Security Number), in the population register (Padrón) and apply for the tax number (NIE).

  • The Social Security Number gives you access to the social security services and healthcare in Spain. Social security is generally paid by the employer. Once you have been entered into the system the number will remain the same for life. In order to obtain a social security number you will need to download and complete the TA-1 form and go to your local "Tesorería de la Seguridad Social".
  • The NIE number (tax number) is needed by all foreigners with legal or tax activity in Spain. The NIE acts as a tax and identification number, and is necessary for all financial transactions that involve the Spanish tax office.  NIE applications can be submitted while living or visiting Spain to the relevant Spanish National Police station.
  • Registration in "El Padrón": El padrón is essentially Spain’s population register. As the registration is done at the town hall, our advice is to ask there which documents you need, as it might vary depending on the city you live in. The main advantage of being on El padrón is that you officially become a resident in Spain.

Open a bank account

Opening a bank account as a foreigner in Spain is not a complicated process thanks to EU regulations. In general, to open an account you will need to go the bank in person and bring the following documents:

  • Passport and your NIE number
  • Account statement with your old address
  • A document that proves your address in Spain, such as a utility bill that is less than three months old
  • Proof of your employment status, such as an employment contract, student card etc. 

Some options when it comes to banks in Spain are Banco Santander, CaixaBank, Banco de Sabadell, Bankia and Bankinter. You can open a bank account online as well, but it might be easier to visit your chosen bank in person to avoid any misunderstandings. 

Health Insurance

As an EU member, you have the right to receive the same type of healthcare as a Spanish citizen, regardless of where you were born. And as soon as you have fixed your Social Security Number and tax number and are officially registered in Spain, you can also get help from the public health system. You get registered into the Healthcare system once you get your Social Security Number. However, it's important to apply for the health card (in the same Tesorería) in order to identify yourself in the hospitals and health centers.

Spain is known for having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. The public system, a single-payer system, provides free basic healthcare to those who contribute to the Spanish social security system, but there is also the possibility to choose for private insurance options if you want to expand your coverage. 

Taxes and social fees

The Spanish tax rates applicable to income vary from 19 to 45%, depending on your salary. Income tax is withheld and paid by the employer. As an independent entrepreneur, you have to report to the regional tax office yourself. Also, if you earn less than 8,000 euros per year, you do not have to pay any tax. Furthermore, you pay between 1.7% and 4.7 % in social security contributions.

City of Arts and Sciences, València

The main reasons for moving to Spain

Living and working in Spain will be a valuable experience as you will be able to boost your career while enjoying the Spanish weather, culture and delicious food. Spain has a lot to offer: from historical sites and buildings to relaxing days on the beach with your favorite drink.

From a job perspective, there are also several chances to find vacancies at international companies, and here your knowledge of your native language can be a great advantage, especially in the tourism sector. Anyways, international companies based in Spain are always looking for talent from abroad, and there are also often opportunities to be promoted in the future. In the end, a time abroad in Spain will definitely be an unforgettable experience!

Don’t let the opportunity pass you by - apply for a job in Spain with Workwide Recruit today!