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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. You’ll also hear 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 relocate overseas.

Can you relate with why American’s have hit refresh in Spain? Read on to learn why you should too!


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 you’re looking for the best places to live in Spain as an American. 


The relaxed vibe and active local and expat social scene also draw Americans and other foreigners to make Spain their new home. Due to these reasons, you’ll find droves of U.S. citizens living their best lives in Spain as students, digital nomads, small business owners, freelancers, and retirees.


Are you ready to join hundreds of She Hit Refresh members considering a move or already living in Spain? Continue reading to learn all you need to know to make your refresh also happen.

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 options for Americans seeking to live in the country long term. Following is an overview of two of the most common visas held by U.S. expats in Spain. 

  • Many Americans head to Spain on a non-lucrative visa. While this is also known as a retirement visa, anyone with the required financial resources and an approved Spanish private health insurance plan may qualify. You’ll need to apply from your U.S consulate for this visa.

  • Another popular option is to obtain a student visa through one of the many English language assistant programs. The programs no only provide a visa but also a monthly stipend and private health insurance. Like the non-lucrative visa, you’ll have to get this visa while you’re in the States.

  • Along with these visa options, Americans can also live in Spain by having a Spanish partner, through marriage or even Citizenship by Descent.

These are just a few of your options, however, based on your situation, you might qualify for at least four other types of visas in Spain.  Find out about them all in I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe.

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 Costs 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 is also the fastest way to become a resident of the European Union.

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. To learn more about this and other teaching assistant programs, look at this article: Women Over 30, Come Teach English in Spain!

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. 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 free for those that pay into the country’s social security. Americans moving to Spain must buy into 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 get started?

The following resources will help get you one step closer to hitting refresh in Spain.


  • For more information, also refer to the Embassy of Spain in Washington D.C.

  • Get active in Facebook groups aligned with where you want to be. By joining an online community, you’ll have direct contact and get helpful advice from expats living in your future home. SpainGuru.es is a supportive Facebook community with members ready to answer your burning questions about visas, immigration, and moving abroad.


  • Join hundreds of other She Hit Refresh members who are interested in or have already moved to Spain by becoming a part of the community. It’s one of the best ways to connect with like-minded women who’ve already hit refresh and moved there.

  • Arrange a one-on-one consultation with She Hit Refresh’s founder, Cepee Tabibian, to learn more about life abroad in Spain. 

Interested in learning more about moving to other European countries? Check out our guides on how you can become an expat in Portugal, France, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Iceland

Are you already living abroad in Spain? If so, share some of your experiences about relocating to Spain in the comment section below. 

All information included in this piece is based on most recent information available at time of writing – June 21, 2021.

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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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