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A Complete Guide to Being an American Expat in Spain

Become an Expat in Spain

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Spain? Is it the warm weather, amazing food, welcoming culture, beautiful beaches or the country’s rich history. 

When you ask any American why they’ve moved to Spain, they’ll most likely give the reasons just mentioned. They will probably also mention the better quality of life, low cost of living, lower crime rate than in the U.S. and affordable healthcare as reasons why they’ve decided to make Spain home.

Although Spain is about the size of Texas, it has a population of 46.8 million and 17 unique regions throughout the country. From coastal communities along the Mediterranean, small towns, and big cities like Madrid, there are plenty of options to consider when considering Spain for your move abroad. 

The relaxed vibe and active local and expat social scene are a big perk for Americans and other foreigners who are moving to Spain on their own or with a family. There is not shortage of reasons why U.S. citizens choose Spain, everyone from students, digital nomads, small business owners, freelancers, and retirees have found their way here and don’t plan on leaving.


Are you ready to join hundreds of Americans expats living in Spain? Continue reading to learn all you need to know to make your dream of moving from the US to Spain a reality!

How can an American live in Spain?

While you can visit Spain for a total of 90 days within a 180-day window on a tourist visa, you might be surprised to learn there are quite a few visa options for Americans seeking to live in the country long term. We’ll talk about more them in the next section.

You can also move to Spain by obtaining Spanish citizenship. If you have a parent of grandparent who was born in Spain you may be eligible for citizenship by descent. And if you have citizenship from a country in Latin America, the Philippines, or were born in Puerto Rico you may qualify for a fast-track to Spanish citizenship

Visas for Spain

Spain has quite a few visa options for Americans who’d like to live there for an extended period of time. If you’re ready to make your move here are your options:

Student visa: A student visa allows you to live in Spain for the duration of your studies, either by enrolling at a university or certain approved language academies. Many U.S. citizens come to Spain on a student visa as a language assistant. The program not only provide a visa but also a monthly stipend and private health insurance.

Work visa:
A work visa is extremely difficult for Americans to obtain but if you’re lucky enough to land a job offer and visa sponsorship from a Spanish company, this might be your ticket in to living in Spain! 

Entrepreneur visa: This visa is for entrepreneurs who want to launch a startup in Spain.

Non-lucrative visa: This visa allows you to live in Spain as long as you aren’t seeking work and have proof of financial means to support yourself. This is a popular option among U.S. citizens. 

Freelance visa: This option is for freelancers and self-employed individuals who want to work in Spain or set up their own business.

For more detailed information about these visas, their requirements and how to apply, get your copy of I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe. In this digital book you’ll find everything you need to know about the aforementioned visas as well as 50+ other visa options for the 18 easiest countries to move to in Europe for Americans!

Digital nomad visa Spain

Spain digital nomad visa was officially approved and signed into law in December 2022. The final details are still being worked through and the application is not yet available, however, current requirements include:

  • A degree or at least 3 years of professional work experience
  • Work remotely for the past year
  • A work contract
  • Income requirements of at least €2,000 a month.

The best places to live in Spain as an American

Location, weather, population, access to public transportation, and expat communities are some factors to consider when deciding where you’d like to call home once you’ve moved. To give you an idea of where a good fit for you would be, enjoy the following overview of the best places for Americans to live in Spain.

Madrid: Spain’s capital and largest city, is a cultural mecca that attracts people from all over the world. Some highlights that draw Americans to live in Madrid include the active social communities, excellent transportation system, climate, and central location to other parts of the country.


Barcelona: Aside from being on the coast, people love Barcelona’s weather, architecture, (think Gaudi and Sagrada de Familia), as well as access to northern Spain and southern France. If you’re considering moving here, be aware that Catalan is the main language spoken among locals, although most people also speak Spanish. It’s also important to note that with the massive influx of tourists and foreigners, non-locals may feel less welcomed compared to other cities in the country.

Valencia: As a coastal city with a population of 800,000, Valencia has become a hot destination for foreigners looking to relocate to Spain. Compared to Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia’s cost of living is significantly lower. The city’s relaxed vibe, year-round sunshine, easy beach access, and friendly people, make Valencia one of the best places to live in Spain as an American.

Sevilla: In addition to being the capital of Andalusia, Sevilla is a small city with a lot of history. Along with being in the most affordable region of Spain, Sevilla is known as the second cheapest city in both the country and Europe. For those who want to fully immerse into Spanish culture and love the heat – Sevilla has your name on it!

Malaga: Located along the southern coast, Malaga is an appealing place for Americans who want a true Spanish experience with an international flair. The weather also draws retirees seeking to live in a warm climate that’s on the water. Because there are so many expats from different parts of the world living in parts of Malaga, it’s easy to get by on speaking Spanglish.

Average cost of living in Spain

Now that you know about the top cities to consider moving to in Spain, let’s take a look at what the cost of living is like for an American in some of these places versus the United States.


If you plan to make Madrid or Barcelona your new home, expect to pay an average of 850 to 1600 a month in rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center. In smaller cities and towns, such as those in Andalusia, rent could easily drop by 40%. 


Since a lot of food, wine, and oil is grown or produced in Spain, groceries for one person can be as low as 30€ a week. Meals out run less than what you’d pay in the States too. 


While cost of living is a major factor to think about when planning to move to Spain, consider the pros and cons to determine what meets your needs. Once you identify your non-negotiables, such as living by the sea or renting an apartment with a lot of amenities, you’ll be able to choose where you’ll make your new home.

How to Find a Place to Rent in Spain

Before starting your search for a place to live, think about how you envision your life in Spain. For instance, if you’re a social person who doesn’t like to live alone, consider getting a roommate. If you’re someone who prefers privacy, there are plenty of options for you too. 

These resources will help you find the best place for you to live in Spain as an American expat:

  • Idealista is commonly used by locals and expats to find a room, apartment or home through an owner or realtor.
  • Spainhouses.net posts long-term rentals listed by owners and realtor companies. 
  • Herroomies is a popular platform that gives women the option to search for a roommate or their own place.
  • Networking is the way to go if you’re looking for a specific place, potential roommates, or seeking a realtor recommendation. In this case, join the Facebook communities in the city you want to move to and get renting insight from other members in the group. 
white town of andalusia spain

Aside from using a realtor, there are numerous relocation companies with housing services in Spain. Keep in mind that these businesses usually charge an agency fee. It’s also best to see your apartment in person before you sign a contract. Additionally, you can arrange temporary housing and then decide where you’d like to permanently live once you’ve arrived.

Can Americans buy property in Spain?

The Golden Visa is a property buying option for foreigners who want to move to Spain and can afford a 500,000 investment. This options also affords you a resident visa in Spain.

Aside from taking the Golden Visa route, Americans may purchase property in Spain if they have a Foreign ID Number (called an NIE). However, the type of NIE will depend on if the buyer lives in or outside of Spain. You will need to apply for your NIE from Spain. 

Like the United States, buying property in Spain is an extensive process that includes getting contracts notarized and securing financing. You’re also required to register your future home with the Property Registry. For details about buying property in Spain as an American expat, visit the Balcell’s Group.  

Finding work in Spain as an American expat

While it’s not unheard of, it’s difficult for American’s to find work in the country because companies are required to prioritize hiring citizens of the EU. But, if you have a skill that can’t be filled by someone locally, it may be possible to get a work visa through company sponsorship.

If you’d like a part-time teaching gig, check out the North American Language Cultural Assistant Program. In addition to getting health insurance, you’ll receive a monthly salary averaging 1000€ in Madrid and 700€ in smaller cities and towns. 


Many U.S. citizens in Spain opt for remote work. This is a win-win as you can still be paid in dollars and live well in Spain. Spain’s digital nomad visa is paving the path to help more people move to Spain and bring their remote job with them. Be sure to check out I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Guide to Living in Europe for other ways American’s can work and live in Spain. 

barcelona arc de triomph

Do U.S. citizens pay taxes in Spain?

It depends. American citizens may have to file and pay taxes in Spain depending on the number of days in the country, visa and residency status, as well as your work status and if you own property in Spain. For example, if you own property and spend less than 183 days a year in Spain, you’ll still be required to pay a non-resident tax. Regardless of your residency status, you’ll also need to pay an annual wealth tax based on the value of your assets.


Contact the Balcells Group for help determining the type(s) and amount of taxes you’re required to pay as an American expat in Spain.

Is healthcare in Spain free?

Spain’s public health insurance is available to those that pay into the country’s social security. So while you don’t have to pay out of pocket to see a doctor you are paying for healthcare through your taxes. However, Americans moving to Spain must purchase a private health insurance plan that has no deductibles and covers repatriation.


Expect to pay at least half, (and in many cases much less than that), of what you’re charged for health insurance in the States and receive some of the best care in the world! For more information on healthcare and private healthcare providers in Spain for Americans check out I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Guide to Living in Europe. 

How to meet people as an American expat in Spain

There’s far from a shortage of fun ways to create your own community when you arrive in Spain. For starters, if you’d like to improve your Spanish, enroll in a language school. Along with being a great way to practice your skills, it’s a comfortable setting for connecting with others.

woman in valencia spain standing in front of a mural

Some other ways to find your peeps include attending Meetup events, joining Facebook Groups with in-person activities, and volunteering. You can also get a dog and easily make friends when you walk your pup every day!


For more ideas about how to build your community in Spain, check out our post: Making Friends Abroad: Finding Your Tribe After 30

Cepee’s story: how She Hit Refresh’s founder has lived in Spain on three different types of visas

While getting a visa and making your dream of living in Spain may seem overwhelming, you’ll soon realize that it’s very doable. So, get ready to be inspired as you learn how Cepee, founder of She Hit Refresh, has made it happen.


Back in 2006 (and again in 2015), Cepee moved to Spain from Texas on a student visa through the North American Cultural and Language Assistant program. Cepee saw her first experience as a teaching assistant as an opportunity to experience Spain. When she returned nine years later, her goal was to use her time on a student visa as a foot in the door to Spain that would allow her to find another way to stay in the country once she was there.

cepee tabibian in madrid

Cepee’s luck paid off and in 2016, she received a work visa from a Spanish startup that hired her. Since she was a native English speaker, held a master’s degree from a reputable Spanish university, and already lived in Spain, she was considered the best candidate for the role. 


When Cepee moved on from her position at the Spanish startup, she was able to switch over to a non-lucrative visa. This has given her flexibility and time to focus on growing She Hit Refresh.

Like Cepee, you too have options about how you’re going to start your life in Spain. For more stories about Refreshers who’ve made their dreams come true and inspiration on how you can make it happen too, take a listen to our podcast and hear from She Hit Refresh members who made the move from the U.S. to Spain:

Ready to move to Spain?

Now that you’ve reviewed this complete guide, are you ready start planning your move to Spain?

If you need more information about Spain check out our 20 pros and cons of living in Spain and 20 pros and cons of retiring in Spain

Join active Facebook groups for Spain where you can meet others who have made the move from US. SpainGuru is a supportive community as well as She Hit Refresh

Book a one-on-one consultation with She Hit Refresh’s founder, Cepee Tabibian, where you can ask questions and discuss your ideas with a move abroad expert who lives in Spain. 

Grab your copy of I’m Outta Here: An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe to learn all you need to know about finding the right visa for moving to Europe. 

Last, if you’re still in the exploratory phase of deciding where in Europe you’d like to live, take a look at our complete guides to living in Portugal, the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Italy, FranceGreeceEngland, and Iceland for more helpful information that’ll help you decide which country is the right fit for you.

All information included in this piece is based on most recent information available at time of writing – January 2023.

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2 thoughts on “A Complete Guide to Being an American Expat in Spain”

  1. Thanks good info. I wish only that people would stop calling american immigrants ‘expats’. It’s silly, if you are considering leaving for good then you are an ‘immigrant’ just like any people coming into the US, legally or illegally, for good.

    1. She Hit Refresh

      Hi Paul! Thanks for stopping by, the immigrants/expat debate comes up a lot. Here’s my take on it as a child of immigrants – my experience of moving to another country is very different from that of my parents and grandparents: The official definition of an expat is “someone who lives outside their native country.” But some people take offense to that term—calling someone an expat as opposed to an immigrant can have connotations of privilege and status.

      While the terms mean different things to different people, I use the terms pretty interchangeably when referring to myself and when talking about people moving abroad. For SEO purposes I use “expat” in my content and also because I don’t want to take away from the immigrant journey that is often linked with hardship and obstacles to make a dream of living abroad a reality. For myself and most “expats” I think it’s important to recognize our privilege of being able to move abroad with ease due to resources, nationality, etc. Most of use move abroad just because we can or feel like it, almost on a whim, and I understand that is not the case for many people who are desperate to leave their home country for a better a life abroad for themselves, their family, and children.

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