How to adapt to life as an expat in Spain

23.05.17
4 minute read
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Off to sunny Spain? We’re not surprised. It’s a great place for expats to study, work or retire.

The country has a laid-back lifestyle, great weather, sandy beaches and delicious food. There are over 300,000 Brits here alone.

The economic crisis has made it harder to find a job here, but it’s also lowered the cost of living. Both expats and locals have responded resourcefully with many now choosing to freelance for international companies.

Here’s a few things you’ll need to know when you move to Spain.


Not all rhymes are true

spain coast

You’ve probably heard My Fair Lady sing that ‘the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain’. It’s totally untrue.

The rain falls mostly in the mountainous north, although that song wouldn’t be as catchy.

The majority of the country below that receives more than eight hours of sunshine per day on average. That makes Spain the sunniest country in Europe.

With such predictably great weather, the biggest problem is finding a topic of conversation for small talk.


Greeting people

frenchkiss

Meeting Europeans can be pretty awkward. There’s lots of kissing, but little consistency on the rules. Misjudge it and you could end up lunging forward to kiss someone who just wants to shake your hand.

Fortunately, Spain keeps things simple. They mostly stick to an air kiss next to each cheek or a handshake in formal situations and between men.

Still not sure? Just wait for the other person to make the first move.


Find your local

spainbar

You won’t have too much trouble finding a local bar, even in the most remote parts of Spain. They seem to spring up everywhere, including in supermarkets, shops and (slightly worryingly) petrol stations.

In fact, Spain has more bars per person than any other country in the world. There’s one for every 128 inhabitants.

British holidaymakers are partly to blame so make sure you avoid the tourist traps and find somewhere more traditional. Here’s a clue. If the bar is called ‘Red Lion’ or ‘Queen’s Head’ then it’s probably not filled with locals.


Hit the road

spain road

Spain is big. It’s the second biggest country in the EU (after France).

If you want to see the countryside or visit a quaint little village then you’ll probably need a car.

You can use your foreign driving license in Spain for two years if you’re from the EU/EEA or six months if you’re from elsewhere. Then you have to get a Spanish licence.

Despite their reputation, a study found that Spanish drivers are more likely to obey the rules than their European cousins. There’s one bizarre exception though. Spanish drivers almost always use the outside lane on a roundabout no matter which exit they take.


Learn the language(s)

speak english

It always helps to learn the local language, although this can be tricky in Spain.

Spanish is the second most popular language in the world, yet it’s not popular with everyone here. Some parts of Spain have strong regional identities where other languages are preferred.

Make sure you know some words in Catalan, Galician, Basque or other local languages if you’re in those regions. It’s probably not a good idea to sing ‘Y Viva España’ there either - and not just because of your terrible singing.

Check out the 6 best apps for learning a language.


Don’t mind your Ps and Qs

spain gracias

In Spanish, por favor is please and gracias is thank you. This information won’t come in handy very often though.

The Spanish are just as polite as anyone else, but they don’t have to use these words to show it. Spanish politeness is based more on tone of voice.

So it’s ok to just say ‘give me a coffee’ to your barista - just make sure you do it with a smile.


Buying a home

spain villas

One of the main reasons expats move to Spain is the affordable cost of housing.

One Londoner even decided that it would be cheaper to live in Spain and fly to his job in the UK each day.

It can be tricky finding a home to rent in Spain, although many long-term expats choose to buy instead. Spain’s economic crisis followed a building boom and there’s still bargains to be found.

The country welcomes foreign buyers so tries to make the process easy. In addition, we’ve put together this guide on how to get a mortgage in Spain.


How to get stuff done in August

spanish beaches

You don’t.

Not only is it too hot to think straight, but Spain basically shuts down in August. Most people will be either on the beach or too busy thinking about the beach.

You might as well mark the month as beach time in your calendar. Win.


Opening a bank account

bank account

You’ll want to open a bank account as soon as possible to save money. Fortunately, the process is easy - even if you’re not a resident.

For more info, we put together this guide on how to open a bank account in Spain.

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

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