Everything You Need to Know About Moving to Spain
One of the things I love most about being a freelancer is getting to choose when and where I work. So when the opportunity arose to set up my office from one of Barcelona’s many Chiringuito’s (beach cafes), of course, I said yes. The sea views, the light breeze cooling me from the July heat, and the sounds of people playing beach volleyball, sipping on mojitos, and chatting with friends certainly beat rushing to and from a damp co-working space in London.
With long, sunny days, beaches, mountains, and delicious foods like Pulpo de Galega (Galician Octopus) and Patatas Bravas (spicy fried potatoes), choosing to move to Spain is a no-brainer for a lot of expats or location independent folk.
However, the logistics of moving to Spain for the long-term comes with a set of challenges, the first and last of which is the never-ending bureaucracy (even for citizens of the EU). However, by practicing patience, and making new Spanish speaking friends to help you, you can accomplish everything you need to set up your life in Spain.
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Everything You Need to Know About Moving to Spain
Before I get started with the specifics, I want to recommend making your appointments for any paperwork process as early in the day, and as early in the week as possible. No matter how prepared you are, you’re still likely to get asked for something else or be sent to a different office. The earlier you get in, the earlier you can put together the puzzle pieces of your various applications.
So before you pack your bags, what do you need to know about moving to Spain?
If you’re a citizen of an EU member state, you don’t need to get a visa to stay long-term in Spain. You can skip to the next section!
Everyone else needs a visa to stay in the country for more than 3 months. There are a few different options for visas depending on where you’re from and what kind of work you do. If you’ve been offered a job with a Spanish company, they’ll likely be able to sponsor you and assist you with the visa process. If you’re self-employed, you have a few other options:
- Entrepreneurial visa. You’ll need to be able to show that your business is going to create jobs in Spain and have a business plan ready.
- Non-lucrative visa. You’ll have to provide proof of a significant amount of savings. You also won’t be able to work locally in Spain, but if you have only international clients or are retired, this can be a good option.
- Student visa. Want to improve your Spanish? Signing up for a program that includes 20-hours per week of lessons can help you secure a student visa. There are also many universities in Spain that offer English speaking programs if you’re interested in pursuing a degree. With a student visa, you’re able to work part-time in Spain or continue your remote career.
- Youth mobility visa. Your country may have a particular contract with Spain. Check your embassy’s website to see if this visa is available to you. This visa is open to people from participating countries under the age of 35. No proof of work/income is required, but you do need to show that you have a few thousand euros in your bank account, health insurance, and a police report.
You can’t apply for a visa from within Spain, so make sure you sort out the paperwork before you go. Also, leave yourself a buffer. I carefully followed the directions on the Embassy website in Canada only to be told, on arrival at the embassy, the instructions on the website were wrong.
When I asked how long the application would take I got the response: “soon.”
When I tried to specify, “how soon? In a week? In a month?”
“Yes,” the woman responded.
This is excellent preparation for your time living in Spain where patience is needed for everything.
Getting your NIE
Your NIE is your foreign identity number that will allow you to open a bank account, get health insurance, apply for a drivers license, work locally, etc.
Depending on which country you’re from and which visa you’re applying for, it’s possible you’ll be able to apply for your NIE from your home country. If this option is available to you, I highly recommend taking it. For everyone else (including EU citizens), you’ll need to make an appointment at your local police stations or foreigners identity office to apply for your NIE.
Turn up to your appointment with the correct paperwork and, ideally, a Spanish speaking friend if your Spanish is not advanced. Be prepared to wait long past your appointment start time to see someone.
Both private and public healthcare in Spain provides a high standard of care. If you don’t qualify for public health insurance, several private insurance options will give you a wide range of coverage for a reasonable cost.
As a student, you qualify for public healthcare only if you’re under 26. Mature students will need to fund their own healthcare costs. If you’re on a work visa, you need to be considered a resident of Spain which usually means staying in the country for 5 consecutive years and then applying for residency. If you’re an EU citizen, all you need is your NIE and EHC(European Health Card) to access public healthcare.
I recommend using Sanitas Healthcare for expats looking for private health coverage as they have English speaking customer services representatives and are knowledgeable on your plan requirements based on the visa you’re applying for.
The easiest way to get a bank account is to inquire with your bank in your home country. If you currently bank with an international bank, they may have a branch in Spain and may allow you to set up your account before leaving.
If you need to open a bank account in Spain, you’ll need your passport with your visa or proof of residence, your NIE, proof of address, and proof of employment. Double check with your chosen bank when you make an appointment to set up the account to make sure they don’t require any extra documentation.
Most banks will have English speaking tellers available so you can request this when you book your appointment!
Finding a Place to Live
The difficulty of flat hunting and the value of real estate varies widely within Spain. In Barcelona, rents are high, and space is limited. In Valencia, it’s easy to find a 2 or 3 bedroom flat for a very reasonable cost.
The main site people use to find apartment rentals and properties to buy is idealista.com. You can also check Badi, for finding a roommate, or explore expat Facebook groups — there are many dedicated to rental listings in Spain.
You’ll also have the option to work with an agency to help you find an apartment. If you get a good agent, this can take a lot of the hassle out of finding an apartment. However, agency fees are usually the equivalent of 1-2 months rent, so depending on your budget, and how long you plan on staying, it may or may not be worth it for you to use an agency.
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While Spanish (Castellano) is the official language of Spain, depending on where you choose to live, it may not be the native or primary language spoken.
In the northeast you have Catalan, and moving west you’ll find yourself in Basque country, and then Galacia, each of which has their own distinct language. If you’re going to a part of the country where Spanish isn’t the primary language, don’t panic, pretty much everyone in Spain speaks Spanish (and most speak at least a little bit of English). But a little effort to learn local phrases such as ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘please’, and ‘thank you’ in the local language goes a long way. The distinct regions in Spain are very proud of their cultural heritage and will appreciate foreigners who try to learn more about their history and language.
Remember, these aren’t just dialects, they’re entirely different languages — and if you refer to them as a dialect of Spanish, you’re sure to offend.
While getting your documentation in line in Spain can sometimes feel daunting or like you’re moving in Kafka-esque circles, it’s helpful to take a break (remember, nothing in Spain moves quickly, so you don’t have to either) and head to one of Spain’s many outdoor cafe’s for a litre of Sangria and a plate of tapas and enjoy the adventure.
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Kayla Kurin is a writer, yogi, and constant traveler. Originally from Canada, she’s traveled, lived, and worked in over 40 countries. Kayla will attempt to swim in any body of water she sees and has never met a 1 euro bottle of wine she didn’t like.
Follow along with Kayla’s adventures on Twitter and Instagram or learn how you can work remotely and travel the world with her new book: Where Can I Find Wifi?: Work Anywhere, Travel Forever: Tales of a Digital Nomad.
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