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Top 10 Secrets You Will Learn after Moving to Spain?

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Top 10 Secrets You Will Learn after Moving to Spain

Spain is one of the most popular destinations in Europe. With its temperate climate and great food, the Iberian Peninsula attracts many visitors and expats. Although it’s easy to improve your quality of life in España, there are a few tips that will ease the transition.

These are the top ten secrets that you’ll discover after moving to Spain:

1. English Isn’t as Widely Spoken as You Might Think…

An estimated 1 in 5 Spaniards speaks English as a second language, which is comparatively low to Germany (70%) or Greece (51%). Learning just a few words of Spanish will ease your life hugely, even if it’s just “¿habla usted Inglés?”. Similarly, socializing might be tricky at first because of this language gap, so joining InterNations and attending the events with other expats will help you settle in much quicker. Get the advice of expats that have been there, done it, and got the camiseta, and make your life easier with InterNations!

2. …And Neither Is Spanish

This one is a bit of an exaggeration, but do bear in mind that Spain is both culturally and linguistically diverse. Everyone knows about the Basque Country and Catalonia, but almost every province has its own identity and often its own dialect or language. Many Basque people consider it an insult to be spoken to in Castilian (standard Spanish), and although you will get far more leeway than the average businessman from Madrid, it is worth thinking about learning a few phrases of the local lingo before you visit or move to a certain region — it will buy you a lot of patience before you either switch to Castilian or English.

3. The Cars Don’t Stop

The humble pedestrian crossing really doesn’t get enough credit, but after a few weeks in Spain you’ll be dreaming of them. While they do exist in Spain, it’s more of a question of how well they are observed. Never just step out! You need to indicate your intention to cross by having one foot on the road, or by using your hand to signal. Especially in the big cities, drivers are less likely to stop, but be aware wherever you are that driving rules and etiquette might not quite be the same.

4. Watch What You Wear

Speaking of beaches, you should be mindful of what you wear around town after a day on the playa. First of all, driving barefoot or in flip-flops is illegal — so make sure you pack those trainers. Also, it is generally not appropriate to go to the shops in just your swimsuit (in many establishments you will be denied entry), so bringing a t shirt or sun-dress would be a good idea. Some local authorities have even taken to banning particularly skimpy shorts or bikinis, so be mindful that what might be acceptable back home maybe won’t be tolerated in Spain.

5. It’s Not Always as Warm as You Think

While the southern regions of Spain get desert-hot summers, the winters in the center and north of the peninsula can be wet and cold. In fact, the provinces of Cantabria, Galicia, and Asturias often get blankets of snow during the colder months. The answer? Firstly, savor the mildness because it won’t last (especially in Madrid which thanks to surrounding hills is particularly hot in the summer), and secondly, attend our exclusive events (indoors) and meet other expats who can help you adjust to life abroad!

6. Check Your Documents

Although Spain is considered (arguably) the most laidback culture in Europe, the Spanish do love a bit of red-tape. You must register at your local Oficina de Extranjeros or designated Police station if you plan on staying longer than three months, and you’ll need to wear your lucky pants. Make sure you print off a million copies of every form. Written it in blue ink? Sorry, come back tomorrow. Crossed something out? Not today. You should be willing to accept that you will have forgotten part “W” of Form 234,897, and will have to either come back the next day or spend all day at the office trying to get through to the clerks. Never lose your cool though: remember you are yet another foreigner who doesn’t speak the language, and that poor office worker has to deal with hundreds of you every day. To smooth the process, read our detailed expat guide for Spain and learn from other expats!

7. Don’t Plan Anything for August

Spanish schools are rather generous with their school holidays — los niños are off from late June until September (although this varies from region to region), and most parents take most of their 30 days of paid holiday (that’s the minimum) to match. As a  result, nothing gets done in August, so try not to plan any major projects during this month — especially not the arduous process of registering or getting a bank account. Try to avoid heading to the beach during this time too, as you’ll discover that the whole population of Spain is there simultaneously. Depending on where you’re from, you might be missing some good old-fashioned drizzle at this point, so go and visit your family back home during the summer months.

8. Time Is Much More Flexible in Spain

Depending on where you’re from, the concept of time will be very different from what you’re used to. The pace of life is slow and relaxed, so much so that the Spanish word for morning can be used until 14:00, afternoon does not expire until way into the night. Things just happen later here. In fact, the word Mañana is a useful one. Meaning “morning “and “tomorrow”, it is used when something isn’t going to get done today. Relax, or try to! Harrying and hurrying your plumber who has gone home for his siesta at 14:00 is only going to end in tears.

9. It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

In a similar vein, eating habits are also different to other parts of the world. Breakfast is taken at a similar time to the rest of the western world, but lunch is usually not until 14:00–16:00— and it’s big. For villagers especially it’s the only hot meal of the day and can often be more than one course. It’s little wonder some Spaniards need a nap then before heading back to work. If you turn up to a restaurant or café at noon, you’ll be greeted with strange looks, as you will if you attempt to eat dinner before 20:00. It is perfectly normal to see children up and eating past 22:00 at the weekend or in the summer holidays, and while the mealtimes may seem alien at first, after a while you will appreciate enjoying some fresh fish at 21:30 on a balmy July evening. 

10. Join InterNations!

Don’t be shocked, you knew the shameless plug was coming! Moving abroad is tricky for anyone, so seeing a few familiar faces who speak your language can be both comforting and useful. We have no doubt that you’ll fly through life in Spain in no time, but why not join us and attend some of our fantastic events and smooth the process? Here you can meet expats from all over the world who will have that little bit more experience and might give you that crucial bit of advice. You can also explore more of your new hometown too, as we have plenty of groups which go about seeing the best sites in Madrid and Barcelona, as well as other major cities. Make life easier for yourself, and join InterNations to get settled in Spain.


Jacques Paillard

"At the InterNations Events, I didn't only enjoy dancing the night away at some great venues, but I also got to know some great friends. "

Katharina Berbner

"Thanks to InterNations, I found a good language school for expats to take intensive classes in Spanish and socialize a bit more. "

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