Moving to Spain

A comprehensive guide to moving to Spain

With over 8,000 kilometers of beaches, Spain is one of Europe’s favorite vacation spots: no wonder that moving to Spain puts every expat in a good mood. InterNations GO! provides you with basic information on Spain, including advice on visa requirements and public transportation.

Relocating to Spain

Spain’s total population amounts to approximately 47.8 million. However, over 14% of its residents made the move to Spain from abroad. If you are also considering moving to Spain, you can find some information below that will help you find out whether it is the right choice for you!

Which Climate and Region Suit You Best?

Moving to Spain does not necessarily mean lying on the beach all day long. With a total area of over 500,000 km², Spain boasts a landscape of reddish earth dotted with olive groves, and sparsely vegetated plains. Contrary to popular clichés, you can find very arid mountainous regions in Spain as well.

Due to the country’s size, Spain’s climate differs greatly from region to region. In the Basque country, you can expect a maritime climate with cooler summers and mild winters. The central plateau offers the two extremes of scorching summers and icy winters, whereas southern Andalusia has a Mediterranean climate. Meanwhile, four rather rainy seasons are typical of Spain’s Atlantic coast.


In Spain, there isn’t a particular place where expats tend to congregate, but Madrid, the largest city and national capital, is a popular choice. The Eurozone crisis hit Madrid hard — not only in the financial sector, but also in tourism: 2013 saw a 7% drop in tourism, most of which was due to a declining number of business visitors. However, 2015 saw Spain ahead of other EU countries regarding its economic recovery, mostly due to the bounce back in the service sector. These figures are promising for Madrid as Spain’s financial hub.

If you consider moving to Spain but do not yet know where to go, the fact that a significant percentage of Madrid’s population is international may pique your interest. The cost of living in Madrid is also lower than in other European capitals such as Brussels, Amsterdam, or Berlin. Some of Spain’s best international schools for British, American, French, and German expats, for example, abound throughout the city.

Barcelona and Andalusia

Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is another city that attracts expats from all over the world. As a port city on the Mediterranean coast, it is simultaneously considered a global city. In fact, after long hardships during the economic crisis, the first six months of 2014 saw a 7% increase of goods transported through Barcelona’s port. Barcelona, which hosts 91% of all foreign direct investment in Catalonia, was able to increase its inflows by 50% during the tough economic environment between 2007 and 2013.

Barcelona may cater more to younger expats moving to Spain, due to its popularity among European exchange students, its international flair, and largely touristic ambience — tourism makes up roughly 14% of Barcelona’s economy (2015). It’s also a bilingual and bicultural city, which may make moving to Barcelona easier for some expats.

If the weather is an important criterion for choosing your destination in Spain, the capital of Andalusia in the south might be of interest to you. Seville is a culturally rich city with a high number of annual visitors. Many European retirees, e.g. from Germany, Sweden, and the UK, choose to live along the Costa del Sol, enjoying the warm climate and the endless sandy beaches.

Flamenco, Tapas, Cerveza, and More

Almost every Spanish city offers a variety of leisure activities, such as yachting in Barcelona, enjoying an opera in Madrid, or learning flamenco dancing in Seville. Moreover, moving to Spain is definitely a good choice for art aficionados: artists such as Salvador Dalí, Gaudi, and Pablo Picasso were Spanish nationals and used their country as a source of inspiration.

After your move, a good way to immerse yourself in Spanish culture is visiting one of the countless festivals held in different cities over the year: Valencia’s famous Fallas festival in March is full of folkloric processions and fireworks while the running of the bulls (encierros) in towns throughout Spain, especially Pamplona, attract lots of daredevils every summer.

Visa Requirements for Spain

Getting an Identity Number

There are different requirements for EU nationals and non-EU citizens moving to Spain. If you move to Spain as an EU citizen (or a national of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, or Switzerland), you only need a valid passport or national identity card. An application for an identity number for foreigners — an NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjeros) — is also required for EU citizens moving to Spain for a period longer than three months. If you are contemplating buying or renting property, opening a bank account, and working, you will need an NIE. To apply for the NIE, you need to go either to the national police department or to the Extranjería (Department of Foreigners) in your city of residence. Once there, you must present the following documents:

  • the original application form and a copy thereof
  • your passport and a copy of the information page
  • for non-EU residents, documents indicating the reason they need an NIE (e.g. purchasing a house, business purposes)
  • a fee of 10 USD (2014) paid by money order

The process of obtaining an NIE, which needs to be completed by both EU nationals and non-EU citizens, should take no longer than three weeks.

Three Months in Spain without a Visa? 

Non-EU citizens whose home country has entered into a special agreement with Spain may move to Spain and live there without applying for a visa for up to 90 days. It is important to note that visas are never issued within Spain, so be sure to apply for a visa in your home country before moving to Spain if you are planning on staying longer than three months.

The aforementioned non-visa countries include many Latin American countries and more, such as Andorra, Australia, Brunei, Hungary, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States.

Visas for Non-EU Nationals 

There are several different types of visas for Spain. Here is a brief overview for you to determine which one applies to you:

  • Family reunification visa (visado de reagrupación familiar): this visa applies to people who are married or related (sibling, child under 18, parent) to a Spanish citizen.
  • Work visa (): please contact your employer when applying for a working visa, as you will need to supply an employment contract to the authorities.
  • Student visa (visado de estudiantes): you must be enrolled in a school or a university, or in an exchange program in order to obtain a student visa. Students’ stays may exceed 90 days. If you apply for a student visa, you may simultaneously apply for visas for your spouse and children under 18.
  • Tourist visa (visado de turismo): non-EU citizens and foreign nationals whose country of origin does not have a special agreement with the Schengen countries (see above) need to apply for this visa if they intend to enter Spain. It is valid only up to 90 days. A downloadable PDF version of the application form can be found on your consular service’s website.

Please be sure to contact the local Spanish embassy for further information and exact details on the visa you need to apply for. Visit the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for more information.

Public Transportation — One Thing You Don’t Have to Worry About

Generally speaking, Spain has a very advanced system of public transportation. Barcelona’s tram, metro, and bus networks are well organized and together they get you to all parts of the city. As for Madrid, its metro system is extensive and caters to the entire city aided by other forms of public transportation such as buses. Also, there are also plenty of taxis. Contrary to some other European countries, you usually do not need to be afraid of fraud as most taxis are metered or a fixed price is agreed upon beforehand. For more detailed information on these two popular cities among expats, check out our guides on living in Madrid and moving to Barcelona.

As many Spanish people prefer to live outside the city and commute to work, buses and trains connecting larger cities and suburbs are widely used. The national train company RENFE connects all regions of the Spanish mainland. If you prefer being behind the wheel yourself, commuting by car is, of course, also an option. Check out our guide to driving in Spain for more details on general regulations and importing vehicles. Several ferry companies offer passenger services from the mainland to the Canary Islands and the Baleares.

InterNations GO!
by InterNations GO!
12 October 2018

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