Living abroad can be one of the most exciting experiences in your life! And choosing a destination such as Spain is a plus. However, are you aware of the 7 biggest mistakes when moving to Spain?
Ok, so maybe that is a little dramatic. But as someone who studied abroad then lived abroad in Spain, mistakes happen. That to-do list can get long, and tasks fall through the cracks.
Lucky for you, I have insider insight so you can learn from my mistakes. The more you know, the more you can prepare for your next chapter. So, without further ado, here are the 7 biggest mistakes when moving to Spain. Get your notes ready future expats!
What you need to know before moving to Spain
Mistake #1: Not learning Spanish, including “vosotros”
Coming from the U.S, this mistake is common! Many of our Spanish classes are from the Mexican Spanish perspective. Teachers and professors often say, “you will only use this tense [vosotros] if you go to Spain.” And therefore, they would not teach it.
Learning a language is already part of the experience. Yet, do yourself a favor and learn vosotros! If you are already learning Spanish, Spain uses vosotros more than ellos and ellas. For example: instead of conjugating estar to estan, you will hear more estais.
Understanding vosotros will help you in the long run, even if you do not use them as much. It is not a complicated tense to learn, but just like anything else, you need to practice. Also, be aware that southern Spain uses vosotros and has a thicker accent/dialect overall. However, the Andalusian accent is authentic as my host mom in Granada, and I learned to communicate!
Mistake #2: Thinking Spanish cuisine and Mexican cuisine are the same
Just because both places speak Spanish does not mean their food, or dialects and cultures for that matter, are the same. They are not. As a matter of fact, unlike Mexican cuisine, Spanish food is not spicy at all!
Spaniards do not like pica/picante (spicy) foods. So if you are looking for spice, Spain will not have it. Also, Mexican restaurants are not as prevalent either. If you have a craving for Mexican cuisine, the bigger cities may have a few, but it varies.
Mistake #3: Ignoring culture shock (such as late meal times)
If you think culture shock will not affect you, I have a surprise for you – it will. Even if you are coming from another Western country, it does not mean you will not have culture shock. However, experiencing the ups and downs of culture shock and adapting to a new environment is expected.
For example, in Spain, meals usually are later, with lunch being a 3-course meal. Lunch is also the largest one of the day for Spaniards. Coming from the United States, we have large breakfasts such as pancakes, eggs, sausage, etc. In Spain, they have smaller portions such as a muffin and tea or coffee, and eggs are typical for lunch or dinner.
Other possible culture shock experiences are learning the language, greeting people with two kisses, siesta time, and eating dinner at 9 pm. Forcing to learn a language to go grocery shopping, opening a bank account, and other daily activities can be overwhelming. Spaniards are also more affectionate than other cultures, which can be an adjustment for people who value more personal space.
Mistake #4: Not exploring more of the autonomous communities
Brushing up on your Spain geography is beneficial too. Spain is home to 17 autonomous communities, including Galicia, Asturias, Navarra, and La Rioja in the north. Then there is Catalona, Valencia, and Aragón to the east and Andalusia and in the south. Do not limit yourself to the big cities (i.e., Madrid and Barcelona).
Each region and community has its unique flavor and personality. You can eat pinchos and drink wine from La Rioja in the north and indulge in tapas, and sightsee Moorish architecture in the south. With the efficiency of Spain’s train system, you do not even need to fly (in most cases, not all).
Some of my favorites in the south include Andalusia and Granada, Sevilla, and Córdoba. Southern beach towns to visit on the Costa del Sol include Málaga and Mijas. From experience living in northern Spain, I would recommend Logroño, San Sebastian, and Bilbao. Based on other friends’ experiences, they also recommend Galicia and Asturias.
Mistake #5: Relying on email to find housing
Finding and securing an apartment in Spain largely depends on where you live. It may take you a few days or a week to find housing in smaller and mid-sized cities. For other bigger cities, it may take up to a month. To sign for an apartment, you probably will not need a background check or a credit to tour apartments; you should not rely on email.
WhatsApp is the resource to use as it is a universal texting application to avoid international fees. It is also helpful if you want to teach private English classes on the side. Idealista is another online resource to check and see what apartments are available in your Spanish city.
Mistake #6: Fighting the “no pasa nada” lifestyle
What many tourists and expats love about Spain is the relaxed lifestyle. Now, this does not mean that Spaniards do not work or are lazy. All of that is untrue. However, it does mean they have a better work-life balance than most countries. Do not fight it!
Spaniards play when it’s time to play and work when it’s time to work. I found them better at setting boundaries than in the U.S. Siesta time is also real, but it does not always equate to nap time. A siesta is when businesses close from roughly 2-4 pm and eat lunch at home. My host mom watched telenovelas.
Mistake #7: Assuming customer service and tipping is the same
If you did not already know, there are cultural differences within customer service. For those future expats who are accustomed to tipping, don’t in Spain. Though some leave tips regardless, tipping is not customary. However, unlike tipping culture in the U.S, waiters and servers do not rely on tips as much. Therefore, do not be surprised if you are waiting longer than usual to order food and drinks. This point can be one of the most jarring of the 7 biggest mistakes when moving to Spain.
Is it hard to move to Spain?
This question depends on many factors, so it is difficult to give a resounding yes or no. Your accessibility to move abroad depends on your career path and if you have to work or not. Spain is known for being an excellent destination for retirees! Think about if you need a career pivot, can work remotely, etc.
Moving to Spain also varies based on your citizenship or nationality. Likewise, visa requirements and processes vary based on your country of origin. Passport privilege is real, and thus, not all passports are created equal. Language ability and cultural adaptability are all factors in how hard it is to move to Spain.
Is moving to Spain a good idea?
A good idea for one person may not be the best for another. However, if you have the means and opportunity – I would say go for it! Why wouldn’t you? There is a lot to love between the pinchos, tapas, beaches, sights, and more. The weather can vary if you want to see some snow or only live in the sunshine. The cost of living isn’t too bad for a Western European country either.
Remember, everyone’s experience is subjective. As a Black American woman, Spain and I have a love-omg-please-stop relationship. But I do not regret my time living there. It was a good idea for me and now I know I can do it. Who knows, I may decide to return one day! Never say never.
When in doubt, make a pros and cons list. Thinking through the reasons why you want to move to Spain is essential. And visually making a list of the advantages and disadvantages of living abroad in Spain can help you process it all better. The list may not have all the answers, but it is a place to start.
In the end, your experience is more than the mistakes you make
While these may be the 7 biggest mistakes when moving to Spain, you can learn so much from your time there. No place is perfect for anyone. There will be days you are frustrated with the “no pasa nada” lifestyle or the wait time at a tapas bar to pay the bill. But, learning is part of the adventure when you decide to move abroad. Make mistakes, learn from them, and move forward. You are just getting started!
Looking for more moving abroad tips? Use this checklist here.