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Living in Spain
Best Places to Live in Spain
Spain has long held a spot among the most popular expat destinations. With many months of warm, sunny weather brought by the Mediterranean climate, and landscapes that range from historic cobblestoned cities to rolling hills and beaches, it seems like there is something to suit everyone in this peninsular country. The cost of living, too, is lower when compared to other European countries such as Germany, France, or Sweden. And Spanish residents are rarely without excellent food, music, and culture just a stone’s throw away. That being said, if you are moving to Spain as a foreigner, you may want to know which are the best cities to create a new home away from home. And not only that, but which are the best Spanish cities to move to according to your specific needs? When creating our list of the most popular expat destinations in Spain, we took into account the cost of living in each city, job opportunities, as well as the location and cultural life of each place. While the most common thread throughout each city is the need to know, or start learning, Spanish and readiness to compete in a tough job market, we have created a varied list to suit a variety of wants and lifestyles.
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At a Glance
While some cities on this list will not come as a shock, especially given their size and international reputation, some smaller cities may seem a bit surprising. Read on to see why we have chosen Madrid, Barcelona, Málaga, Valencia, Bilbao, and Seville as the top cities for expats relocating to Spain.
- Barcelona is known year after year as one of the Most Visited Cities in the World. Expats who move here will delight in the mixture of coastal and city life, plus the gorgeous architecture.
- Bilbao is a surprising addition to this list, but it should not be. As the largest city in the north of Spain, Bilbao offers a unique side of Spain along the north Atlantic rather than the usual Mediterranean.
- Madrid is the best option in Spain for those wanting a fast-paced city lifestyle. However, unlike other capital cities like London or Berlin, Madrid also offers some slower-paced areas for those who enjoy cities but enjoy momentary reprieves.
- Málaga is a popular port city in Spain, which adds to its work industry, but also the number of tourists it receives yearly. Expats who do not love crowds may want to steer clear of calling Málaga “home.”
- Seville rife with Moorish architecture and near the Portuguese border, this Spanish town is perfect for expats who are looking for a slower-paced lifestyle and without tons of tourists traipsing through every month. This Spanish city is also perfectly situated between the beach and mountains for expats who want both.
- Valencia may also be a surprising choice, along with Bilbao, but this southern city is quickly leveling the playing field with Barcelona and Madrid. Small in size, Valencia is an easily walkable city, and boasts an active nightlife that stretches from its historic city-center all the way out to its beautiful seaside.
Spain’s Most Popular Cities
Are you interested in moving to Spain, but unsure of where to live? Spain provides ample opportunities for expats no matter if they prefer the city-life, countryside, beach towns, and somewhere in the mountains. While this guide covers only the most popular places for expats, keep in mind that it is hard to go wrong with any place that you choose in Spain.
So, what makes the cities on our list the best and most popular destinations for expats in Spain? In addition to the common concerns of job opportunities and the cost of living, we also looked for areas with thriving international communities. We tried to find places where foreigners may feel easily accepted into their new home. We also chose cities where not knowing Spanish may not be a huge hinderance. That being said, expats moving to Spain would do well to try to learn the basics of the language.
- Expat families
- Solo expats
Madrid strikes a great balance for those looking for a vibrant city life, a family-friendly environment, or both. Although the second largest capital in Europe, Madrid is noticeably less busy when compared to other large capital city such as London and Paris. One such laidback trait those moving to Madrid will notice is the laid-back atmosphere among Spaniards in Madrid (and around the whole country in general).
For example, in the business world, work hours are long, but so are the breaks. Rumors about the Spanish siesta are real, although they are the most common during the spring and summer months. You can read more about this and other unique aspects of Spanish culture in our Spain guide.
Spanish working hours often span a twelve-hour period, such as 9:00 to 21:00, but with a couple hours break in between. For foreigners who live close to their workplace, this may be ideal for stopping at home, but if you have a hefty commute this may become frustrating.
For expat families moving to Spain, Madrid has many quiet locations away from the city center, yet still easily accessible but public transport. Neighborhoods such as Chambery and Retiro provide quiet, almost exclusive atmospheres. Even Salamanca, which is closer to the city center, can feel exceptionally tranquil and walkable. Expats can even enjoy a stroll around Retiro Park for an escape from city life. Madrid is also home to some of Spain’s most famous museums and art galleries, which provide easy, relaxed cultural experiences.
That being said, Madrid also boasts a thriving city scene, which may be more ideal for solo expats moving to the country. The Spanish city’s nightlife is renowned throughout Europe, with festivities going well until the sun rises. Keep in mind, dinner in Spain often does not happen until 21:00 or 21:30, with many restaurants not even opening until that time.
In addition to being an active, culture-filled city, Madrid is also extremely popular among the expat crowd. Nationalities from all over the world make their home-away-from-home in Madrid. Because of the Spanish language, the majority of Madrid’s expat community comes from other Spanish-speaking countries, but there is also a thriving population of North Americans, British, and others from nearby European countries. For a closer look, check out the InterNations expat community in Madrid.
Size of the City
Measuring the size of Madrid depends on whether you mean the city proper or the metropolitan area. The city of Madrid comprises of about 3.3 million people in a space of around 606 km2 (234 mi2). The metropolitan area of Madrid is made up of nearly 30 municipalities, which are similar to neighborhoods or suburbs. When including these municipalities, the metropolitan area of Madrid contains close to 6.6 million people and over 5,300 km2 (2,060 mi2).
The city of Madrid is the epicenter center (the exact middle) of Spain. From the capital, you are equidistance to any border of the country. This makes it easy to travel to any other Spanish city, and the distance will only be a few hours or, at most, a day trip. There is even a plaque in the middle of Madrid’s busy Puerta del Sol plaza that marks the exact center of Spain: Kilómetro Cero (kilometer zero).
Spain was hit hard during the financial crisis of the 2000s, and Madrid’s job market is still struggling to pull itself fully out of the trench. The average salary in the city ranges from the lowest, 1,600 EUR (1,800 USD) per month, to the highest, 3,500 EUR (4,000 USD) per month.
As a whole, the country’s employment hovers at just below 20%. Foreigners are also at a slight disadvantage when it comes to hiring in Spain and will be deprioritized over Spanish nationals. For more on how to get a job in Spain as a foreigner, see our guide to Working in Spain.
A big advantage to finding work in Madrid, and the rest of Spain, is knowing Spanish. Strictly English-speaking jobs are hard to come by in Madrid unless you are planning to move to the city to teach English. If you do not want to teach, popular industries for foreigners in Madrid are in the service or construction industries. You can also find opportunities in the following fields:
- office and administration;
- wholesale and retail;
The IT industry is also facing a particular shortage in the country, and thus expats in this field may have an easier time than other professions. Working as an au pair or nanny is also a popular option for expats who are not well-versed in Spanish.
Cost of Living
Madrid is the second most expensive city in Spain (just below Number One: Barcelona). When compared to the rest of Europe, the living expenses fall squarely in the middle.
For an expat family of four, the standard cost of living in Madrid is around 3,500—4,000 EUR (3,800—4,400 USD). For a single expat, it is about 1,500 EUR (1,600 USD). These estimates take into account rental costs near the city center, which can average between 1,000—1,500 EUR per month (1,100—1,600 USD).
Expats wanting to save more of their monthly income should look into living in Madrid’s surrounding municipalities. In addition to cheaper rent, living further away from the city center also allows for larger apartments and the possibility of a standalone home.
Other costs to consider are public transportation and eating out. Madrid’s public transportation is well-known for its ease and reliability. A single trip ticket will cost less than 2 EUR (2.20 USD). A monthly pass will be just under 55 EUR (60 USD). A meal for two people will vary from 12 to 40 EUR (13 to 40 USD) depending on if you choose a cheap place or finer dining.
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- Expat families
- Expat retirees
Just like New York and Chicago, Madrid and Barcelona are city rivals and you will get widely skewed opinions from people on which is better. However, residents of the city have a saying: Barcelona engancha. This translates to “Barcelona hooks,” referring to the city’s ability to capture and enthrall all who choose to visit. And after just a few days in the city, it is easy to see why.
Part of what draws people to Barcelona is its beauty. Situated on the Mediterranean Sea, Barcelona’s coastline dazzles with stretches of white, inviting beaches against warm, turquoise waters. Waterfront restaurants and bars abound in the city, making it easy to spend an entire afternoon or after-work drinks sipping cocktails by the ocean.
While Madrid is home to some of the country’s most famous museums, Barcelona is home to its most famous architecture. Architect and modernist Antoni Gaudí has helped Barcelona capture worldwide attention with his unique, colorful building and sculpture designs that are rife throughout the Spanish city. Residents can enjoy his work up-close during an afternoon spent at the Park Güell, an hour spent inside the work-in-progress Sagrada Família, and many other pieces spread around the city.
Like Madrid, Barcelona has attracted international visitors for years, and this trend does not seem to be slowing. Expats will find a welcoming community of fellow foreigners as well as native Spaniards who are no strangers to international transplants. The city’s beach location also lends to an even more laidback, go-with-the-flow vibe, which may be ideal for families and retirees. InterNations also hosts many social events where expats can meet locals and fellow foreigners.
Another important aspect to keep in mind when moving to Barcelona is that this city is the capital of the autonomous region Catalonia. In total, Spain has 17 autonomous regions. Each region has its own identity, culture, and traditions. Catalonia is an especially proud region and has even tried to claim independence from Spain on several occasions. Because of this, you will often hear people in Barcelona speaking Catalan as opposed to Spanish. As a foreigner, learning Spanish will be more of a benefit than Catalan. If you plan to live and work in Barcelona for a long duration, learning a few Catalan phrases will go a long way to impressing your new community.
Size of the City
In land area, Barcelona is considerably smaller than Madrid. Its population, however, is nearly the same as the capital’s metropolitan area. The city of Barcelona encompasses a little over 101 km2 (39 mi2) and is home to more than 5.5 million people. Situated on the Mediterranean Sea it is a low-lying area with an altitude of just 12 meters (39 feet) above sea level.
The job market in Barcelona is like the rest of Spain: not fantastic, but also not impossible. Salaries are lower than what you will find in Madrid. Incomes in the coastal city range from 1,400 EUR (1,600 USD) per month to just below 4,000 EUR (4,500 USD).
As an expat, you should be aware that you will be at a slight disadvantage to native Spaniards, and even native Catalonians. As with Madrid, teaching English is a viable option for expats who do not know Spanish. There are also English-speaking companies based in Barcelona, as well as Spanish companies that are often in need of fluent English-speakers to help with international business communications. For this last option, expats would do well to know some Spanish.
Other areas where expats can look for jobs are within the service and hospitality industries: hotels, restaurants, and bars, among other places. Because Barcelona is one of the most touristed cities in the world, these areas are always in need of workers, especially those with bilingual skills.
Other industries where expats may have luck finding work include:
- social media marketing;
- communication areas;
- au pair or nanny.
Cost of Living
Barcelona is Spain’s most expensive city, but just barely. Barcelona is also one of the most expensive cities in Europe, but it is nowhere near the costs found in places like Paris or even Munich.
Monthly rental prices are about the same as in Madrid, 1,000—1,500 EUR (1,100—1,600 USD), but with prices skewing a tiny bit higher. For example, a standard one-bedroom apartment near Madrid’s city center will run about 1,100 EUR per month (1,200 USD), whereas in Barcelona it will be closer to 1,300 EUR (1,400 USD). Likewise, Barcelona just barely tops Madrid in terms of smaller living expenses such as utilities (about 10—15 EUR (11—16 USD) more than in Madrid) and public transportation (2.20 EUR for a single-ride ticket as opposed to Madrid’s 1.50 EUR (2.40 and 1.60 USD respectively)).
Eating out in Barcelona will cost about the same as Madrid: 12 to 40 EUR (13 to 44 USD) depending on the type of place you choose. Keep in mind that Barcelona is not just a popular expat relocation area, but it is also a massively popular tourist destination. The city consistently ranks high on lists of the Most Visited Cities in the World. Thus, with this popularity comes hefty tourist prices.
- Solo expats
Valencia is Spain’s third largest city. Because of the reputations of Madrid and Barcelona, this city is often overlooked as an expat destination, although recent years have seen a change in that.
One thing that sets Valencia apart from Madrid and Barcelona is its walkability. While both Madrid and Barcelona are pedestrian-friendly, it is possible to cross all of Valencia on foot and not feel worn out. A long river snakes through the city leading out to the sea. On either side of this river is a park that is rife with walking and biking paths, as well as art sculptures and playgrounds. This park is also home to the impressive and futuristic-looking Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (the City of Arts and Sciences museum).
Home to the University of Valencia, the city gets much of its youthful, active vibe from the large student population. The nightlife starts late and is very active. There are also many cultural and language exchange groups for newcomers to take part in.
Because Valencia is not as well-known as Barcelona and Madrid, it also offers a quieter lifestyle without feeling overrun by tourism. Expats who do not crave a hugely bustling city vibe, but prefer to have a fun night out every now and then, will feel right at home in Valencia.
Size of the City
Like Madrid, when talking about the size of Valencia you have to take into account the city proper and the surrounding area. When looking at just Valencia, the city covers a space of about 135 km2 (52 mi2). The urban area of Valencia, however, stretches to nearly 630 km2 (243 mi2).
Likewise, the city of Valencia is home to just around 834,000 residents, whereas the metropolitan area is home to nearly 2 million. This population is expected to increase as people leave Madrid and Barcelona for Valencia’s cheaper, yet still active, lifestyle.
When compared to other Spanish cities, Valencia’s job market bounced back relatively quickly after the late 2000s financial crisis. This may be thanks to the city’s diverse economy, which does not only rely on tourism, but on different industrial markets as well. The average salary in the city is on the higher side: just about 5,000 EUR (5,600 USD).
Expats working in the following fields should look to Valencia for job opportunities:
- chemical engineering;
- textile industry;
- car manufacturing;
- building material construction.
Valencia also has the fifth busiest shipping port in Europe. Foreigners with particular expertise related to this area may also have an easier time finding working opportunities. Textile manufacturing also accounts for a decent portion of Valencia’s workforce.
Cost of Living
What truly sets Valencia apart from Madrid and Barcelona is the cost of living. Whereas Spain’s top two largest cities have high rental costs, it is feasible to rent anywhere in Valencia, even the city center, for fairly reasonable costs. Expats interested in their own one-bedroom apartment can treat themselves to a nice, spacious accommodation for nearly 1,000 EUR (1,100 USD), but it is also easy to find a decent place for closer to 700 EUR (800 USD) per month.
Expat families can find a two- or three-bedroom space for 1,000—1,500 EUR (1,100—1,600 USD). Outside of the city center, these costs will drop to 500—700 EUR (550—800 USD) for one- or three-bedroom spaces.
If you are a single expat moving to Valencia, your living expenses should stay around 600 EUR per month (660 USD), not including rent. A family of four’s will be around 2,000 EUR (2,200 USD). If these prices are higher than you expected, keep in mind that Valencia is a student-centered city. University cities often have higher costs in regard to restaurants, bars, and other activities. Expats will find that the costs for a meal out are similar to those found in Madrid and Barcelona: 10—35 EUR (11—40 USD), depending on the quality of the restaurant.
- Expat retirees
- Expat families
Málaga is small in size, but do not let that fool you. What the city lacks in land space it certainly makes up for in things to do. Because it is a port city, Málaga has a long history of welcoming foreigners into its borders. However, this port also means that Málaga is popular with cruise ships, and thus waves of tourists (think: thousands) often take over the city whenever a cruise ship docks.
In comparison, the resident expat community in Málaga is quite small. Foreigners moving here will find a smaller expat community than what they might expect in other areas of Spain. However, they will also find a very welcoming and supportive expat community as well.
Like Barcelona, Málaga offers many months of warm, sunny weather and mild winters. The city itself touts beautiful architecture and there are many natural areas to be enjoyed. The neighborhoods of La Malagueta and Limonar are particularly quiet and even have good schools nearby for families with children. Málaga does not boast the same active nightlife as Madrid, but there are still plenty of restaurants and other eateries to be enjoyed.
Size of the City
Málaga is one of Spain’s smaller cities. The city proper encompasses a little under 400 km2 (320 mi2), while the urban area holds 827 km2. The city’s population is just below 600,000. The urban area is close to 1.1 million.
The strongest business sectors in Málaga are technology, tourism, transportation, logistics, and construction. The Parque Tecnológico de Andalucía (Andalusia Technology Park or PTA) employs a significant amount of workers, nearly 17,000, in the high-tech, science, and industrial fields. Average salaries in the city are around 2,000 EUR per month (2,200 USD).
As with nearly everywhere else in Spain, if you do not speak Spanish, your best hope for stable employment is either as an English language teacher or within the tourism industry. Málaga welcomes nearly 6 million visitors every year, so the need for businesses that cater to visitors is high year-round.
A surprising sector to look at for those who have only a basic level of Spanish is the housing market. Because Málaga is a popular relocation destination for expats, there is a need for expats working within the real estate market. Using an expat realtor can make other expats feel more at ease because they know they are working with someone who has been through a similar experience and is better acquainted with what an expat family may be looking for. Likewise, an expat realtor can help fellow foreigners find the area that will make them feel most at home, whether that is within a local community or surrounded by other transplants.
Cost of Living
Expats will be happy to know that Málaga is one of the cheaper relocation destinations in Spain. Rents are fairly average to what is found in other coastal cities such as Barcelona and Valencia, but the overall everyday costs are lower.
Monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment near Málaga’s city center is around 700 EUR (780 USD). A three-bedroom apartment for an expat family will be around 1,000 EUR (1,110 USD). Moving away from the city center will see such prices as 600 EUR (670 USD) for a two-bedroom apartment and 500 EUR (560 USD) for a one-bedroom place. Everyday expenses, not including rent, for an expat family should not be greater than 2,000 EUR (2,220 USD), and for a solo expat it will be closer to 600 EUR (670 USD).
Extra costs such as eating out and public transportation will also be less than what expats may find in Spain’s larger cities. For example, a monthly public transportation pass in Málaga will run about 40 EUR (45 USD), compared to Madrid’s 55 EUR (60 USD), and a meal out at a nice restaurant should not be more than 40 EUR (45 USD) for two people.
- Expat retirees
The birthplace of flamenco dance, Seville provides residents with a bustling big city feel, but in a seemingly small town. The city is covered in beautiful, Moorish architecture, which gives an almost other worldly feel when walking around.
Living in Seville is seemingly the epicenter of the best Spain has to offer. From here you not only have the combination of a big-city, small-town vibe, but residents are also situated close to both the beaches and mountains. The Rock of Gibraltar is also a short drive away residents can even zip over to Tangier if they wish.
Many expats choose Seville over places like Málaga because it has a similar atmosphere and beauty, but without thousands of tourists pouring off of bruise ships every month. Seville is also home to American and British schools, so expats without strong skills in Spanish will find an easy home.
Like Málaga, Seville has a smaller resident expat community than cities like Barcelona, Madrid, and even Valencia, but that by no means indicates that the expat community is not active. Locals from Seville are known for being a bit more reserved than Spaniards from other parts of the country, and you may feel like trying to integrate into the community is a part-time job. However, once you do work your way in, you will be a happy member for life.
Size of the City
Expats looking for a small city that has the feeling of a large town may find Seville to be suitable. The city center is easily walkable and the city proper is just 141 km2 (54 mi2). It is just under 150 kilometers (93 miles) from the Portuguese border, making it a great location for those who want to explore Portugal. The city proper has a population of about 690,000, and the urban area is home to nearly 1.2 million.
As with most cities in Spain, the job opportunities for expats moving to Seville are largely relegated to tourism, restaurants and bars, and teaching English. It is also possible to live and work in Spain as a self-employed person. You can read more about these requirements to being self-employed in our Working in Spain guide. Because Seville has a lower cost of living than most of the other popular Spanish cities, looking at how to work for yourself may be the most viable option, and provide an income while you search for other opportunities within the city.
Cost of Living
Seville is the fourth cheapest city in Spain, coming in just behind Bilbao. The median salary range is around 2,000 EUR (2,200 USD) per month. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center is around 600 EUR per month, and further away it is possible to find a place for as low as 400 EUR. A three-bedroom centrally located apartment will cost close to 1,000 EUR, while one on the outskirts of the city will be closer to 600 EUR.
A lunchtime meal at a sit-down restaurant will cost around 12 EUR, while takeaway from a fast food joint will run about 8 EUR. A monthly pass for public transport will be less than 40 EUR.
- Expat families
Of all the cities on this list, Bilbao may be the most surprising simply because it has been the least internationally recognized of all the other cities. Sitting proudly in the northern half of the country, Bilbao’s coastline is the cold North Atlantic, as opposed to the warm Mediterranean of the rest of the country. The city itself is considerably smaller and has fewer residents than the rest of the country. In fact, most of northern Spain sparsely populated when compared to the southern cities.
Although Bilbao does not claim the same warm, sunny weather of its southern counterparts, it is quickly gaining popularity among the expat community. The city is easily walkable and there are many bars and restaurants to choose from and explore. Prices are also less than what is found in the rest of the country, especially if you enjoy the food and drink that is local to the region.
Size of the City
Of the Spanish cities in this article, Bilbao is the smallest, but that does not mean it should be overlooked. Situated on the northern coast of the country, Bilbao’s city proper is home to nearly 350,000 residents. The metropolitan area is home to just over 1 million (nearly half the population of northern Spain). This is the largest metropolitan area in northern Spain.
The municipality of Bilbao is 41 km2 (16 mi2). The Greater Bilbao area, however, is just over 361 km2 (just under 140 mi2).
It may surprise expats to learn that they may have an easier time find job opportunities in Bilbao as opposed to other Spanish cities. This is because northern Spain was the region least affected by the country’s 2008 financial crisis. While jobs in tourism and teaching are still the most viable for foreigners looking to move to Bilbao, it is also possible to find jobs in the following sectors:
In addition to tourism, these are the region’s most profitable industries. For agriculture, the specific goods being cultivated in the region are wine, corn, apples, cherries, and cheese.
There are also opportunities for foreign investors to move to Bilbao to work for such industries as steel, textile, medical, pharmaceutical, and automotive. Average salaries for the city around just under 5,000 EUR (5,600 USD) per month.
Cost of Living
Just like Bilbao’s job market, expats moving to Spain may also be drawn to the city’s housing market. Costs are considerably lower than in other popular cities in the country. A one-bedroom apartment near the city center will be less than 800 EUR (890 USD). A one-bedroom place away from the center can be as low as 500 or 600 EUR (550 or 660 USD). Likewise, a three-bedroom accommodation will range anywhere from 800 to 1,200 EUR (890 to 1,330 USD) depending on the location and whether you prefer a new or old building.
Because Bilbao still attracts a decent amount of tourists, the prices for eating out will be similar to what is found in Barcelona and Madrid. A cheaper meal for two will be around 10—15 EUR (11—17 USD), while a more upscale place can easily cost 40 EUR (44 USD). However, cheaper food such as 1 EUR (1.50 USD) glasses of wine are also easy to come by once you know where to look.