To live in Spain as a foreigner is one of those bucket list aspirations for many travelers. So naturally, we should understand the pros and cons of living in Spain to know if it is the right move. A little research never hurt anybody, right?
When you decide to move anywhere, reading up on the experiences of people who have lived there is key. That’s why I’m here to help! I studied abroad in Granada, Spain, for five months, then returned and moved to Logroño, Spain, to teach English for a year.
Living on two opposite sides of the country helped me understand the benefits and challenges of living in Spain from two perspectives. My insight can help you learn more about life abroad in Spain to prepare you for your move. So let’s break down the pros and cons of living in Spain.
Pros of Living in Spain
Cheaper than other western European destinations
Compared to destinations such as Switzerland and even Amsterdam, Spain’s cost of living makes it an ideal place to live. In 2016-2017 my rent in La Rioja was under 300 euros per month for a shared apartment with a few roommates. My friends in Madrid who shared apartments spent roughly 500 euros each, which is lower than they expected to live in a capital city.
You can prepare to spend roughly 600 to 1400 euros per month, on average, in a big city like Madrid. However, a city such as Barcelona is one of the more expensive cities because it is touristy. Just remember this also depends on your lifestyle. For those who like the finer things in life, you can expect to pay more.
But don’t just take my word for it. To compare your cost of living to Spain’s use this cost of living calculator called Numbeo. Then, break down the numbers yourself, compared to where you live, to see how they measure against each other.
Tapas and pinchos culture
The vibrant outdoor dining and food culture are some of the most well-known facts about living in Spain. You can find streets full of bars and restaurants that sell small plates with a decadent glass of wine to match. Spain is a social country, so mingling is their specialty!
Also, for a quick Spanish language lesson, here is the difference between tapas and pinchos. Tapas are small plates of food that come with a glass of wine. In the southern region of Andalucia and some eastern regions of Spain, the glass of wine is still free. However, in other areas, the wine is not free.
Pinchos are similar to tapas, but they are typically served on a piece of bread or with two small wooden sticks. Pinchos comes from the verb “pinchar,” meaning “to pierce.” Northern regions of Spain, such as La Rioja and Basque Country, serve pinchos and not tapas.
Wine is cheap and delicious
Where are all my wine lovers? Expats seeking delicious wine look no further. Perhaps one of the best benefits of living in Spain is the variety of wines available that don’t break the bank. It’s like fine dining on a budget but with the same high quality.
You can go to wine tastings for as little as 12 euros in their wine region of La Rioja. Or try a new one with each tapa or pincho. And even the “cheap wine” is some of the best you will ever drink.
Mostly walkable areas
Walkable cities are rare in the United States. However, it is a significant accessibility advantage of living in Spain. Where you live, your grocery store, the gym, and other daily needs are within walking distance. Your job may not be in your neighborhood unless you are super lucky, but everything else you need is right there. Of course, a few bars, cafes, and restaurants will be too!
Good public transportation
Suppose you do not want to walk everywhere, no worries. There is reliable public transportation in most areas, whether it is a bus or a metro/subway. Even outside the big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, you can find a solid bus system.
It is refreshing to be in a country where access to public transport isn’t impossible. Life runs much smoother. I’m looking at you, USA!
In some cases, it still may be beneficial to rent a car now and again. Some of Spain’s more rural and small town areas are gorgeous, but bus systems, even the ALSA buses, don’t stop in the less touristy spots. So, if you plan on staying long-term, you may eventually buy a car anyway. However, it is not 100% necessary.
Access to more European travel
There are so many reasons you should travel and live in Spain, making it much easier than in other countries. For the quickest access, choose destinations such as Madrid or Barcelona since those are the biggest airports. But, if you prefer to live in southern Spain, check out Málaga too. They have an airport that can get you around. Other regions around Spain also have airports though they may not be as big as the major cities.
The solid in-country train system
Europe, as a whole, is known for its train travel, and Spain lives up to that hype too. In addition to their public and leisure travel buses, the Renfe trains are one of the definite advantages of living in Spain. Renfe is an excellent alternative to flying budget airlines and transferring through long-haul buses. They are often more relaxing and spacious too.
Even though you can, and should, country hop while in Spain, do not forget to explore the country itself! There are 17 autonomous communities to choose from and visit. While they may be similar, Madrid is different from Salamanca, and Bilbao is distinct from Granada. So be sure to travel to Spain to experience these differences and learn more about the country.
Better healthcare system
Your health is essential. As a newcomer to Spain, you should know that Spanish healthcare is one of the most significant advantages of living in Spain. It is also why Spain is a popular destination for postgrads and retirees.
Compared to the United States, Spain’s healthcare is top-notch. It is ranked as the 7th best healthcare system in the world. Moreover, Spain operates on a universal healthcare system, meaning it is a constitutional right for all residents. And their private care can cost as little as 50 to 200 euros a month, which is significantly cheaper than the U.S.
Cons of living in Spain
Not a lot of spicy food
This disadvantage of living in Spain is based on personal preference. However, Spain will not be at the top of your list for those who love spicy food. People often get Spanish culture and Mexican culture confused and think Spaniards also like spicy foods. That is not the case.
However, it is the opposite. Most Spaniards do not like spicy food at all. So do not be surprised if a Spaniard says, “que pica” – which translates to “how spicy” – and you may disagree. “Pica,” short for “picante,” means spicy in Spanish.
Adjusting to personal space
Each country has its way of greeting people, both new acquaintances and old friends. Coming from the U.S, adjusting to the affectionate nature of Spanish culture took some getting used to at first. The two kisses on the cheek were incredibly awkward in the beginning.
Personal space is a subjective experience and will be influenced by your home culture. But don’t get it twisted; cultural differences and culture shock are genuine phenomena and experiences when you live in a new destination. Adapting to less personal space is just one of those unique challenges living in Spain.
Keep in mind that when you actively decide to live in another country, that comes with their culture and customs. No one says you have to agree with or enjoy every little tradition. But also know that a country should not change to appease you. So always remember to keep an open mind and embrace the new opportunities for growth and learning, which is a huge reason to move abroad anyway!
New mealtimes and portions
Another culture shock foreigners who move to Spain experience is the change in meal times and portions. For example, breakfast is a light meal in Spain. My host mom would only give me a muffin or toast and tea. Then lunch, which can be between 2 pm and 3 pm, was the larger meal of three courses. Finally, dinner can be as late as 9 pm.
As no one likes to walk around hungry, this adjustment can be daunting at first. Unless you already eat late or have similarly portioned meals, you have to train yourself. Pack snacks to slowly transition into the Spanish eating times. Give yourself time to adapt to the new schedule and the pros and cons of living in Spain.
Blackface and racism
To add to the list of challenges living in Spain: racism and Blackface. As a Black traveler, one of the downsides is knowing that racism is ever-present worldwide. Spain is no different.
I did not experience the brunt of racism in Spain because of two of my travel privileges. One is being U.S American, and the second is speaking English. Many see these as being “better” than Black people who don’t have those privileges. Yet, there were still a few issues.
For example, one of the cons of living in Spain as a Black woman is the sexual innuendos. Also, leaving some grocery stores, they would check my bag and no one else’s. And then I saw Blackface (i.e., a Spaniard with their face covered in black paint), specifically during Los Reyes Magos as part of a costume. Someone’s skin color is not made for dress-up, not even during a religious celebration.
Black traveler experiences vary, even amongst ourselves. It’s usually a beautiful experience to travel while Black. But now and again, it is not. If you want to know more about this, check out my post on being a Black American in Spain.
Last words on the pros and cons of living in Spain
Each person who has lived here will have a different list of pros and cons of living in Spain. Our experiences abroad are unique. While some may share similarities, remember that each person’s journey is distinct. And your journey may be different.
However, understanding the advantages and disadvantages of living in Spain is a great place to start. It provides a bit more perspective so you can be prepared for the move. But never forget that no matter how much you read and research, expect the unexpected.
Don’t get trapped – check out this post on the seven biggest mistakes people make when moving to Spain!