Life in Malaga: A Guide to Living in Malaga
Imagine relocating to a place where the sun, sea, and culture collide. Malaga, nestled on Spain’s stunning Costa del Sol, is a sunny gem that has been captivating hearts for generations. Beyond its reputation as the birthplace of Picasso, Malaga boasts a dynamic blend of historical charm and modern allure, which makes living in Malaga desirable for those seeking an idyllic life abroad.
Before you discard the possibility of moving to this sunny seaside city as just another one of your daydreams, read through this comprehensive guide, where we’ll explore everything from the dating scene and nightlight to the pros and cons of raising a family in Malaga—and give you some visa guidance to boot. Keep reading to learn all you need to know about life in Malaga!
Where do most American expats live in Spain?
Although the majority of American expats have been calling Madrid and Barcelona home for some time now, an increasing number are settling down in sunny southern Spain. Malaga comes in as housing the third largest population of Americans, accounting for 2,692 US nationals according to the latest statistics by Spain’s National Statistics Agency, INE.
Is living in Malaga, Spain a good place to live for a 30+ year old?
For those who are 30 and above, Malaga boasts a dynamic lifestyle where the options for adventure and recreation are virtually limitless. With its stunning blend of coastal charm and mountainous terrain,
Malaga provides a haven for those who crave an active, outdoor-oriented lifestyle and a refuge for those looking to escape harsh winters. Additionally, it is home to a thriving community of international young professionals, digital nomads, and retirees, offering limitless opportunities to those looking to make friends, network, and even date.
- Active City – If you’re looking for a place where it’s easy to stay active both indoors and out, Malaga is your city. The city’s bustling streets are teeming with opportunities for physical fitness, from well-equipped modern gyms to trendy yoga studios and dance classes. If outdoor fitness is more of your thing, Malaga’s pleasant climate makes it easy for residents to explore the city on foot or by bicycle year-round or even pick up beach volleyball like the locals do.
- Beach & Mountains – Whereas most places force you to choose between the beach and the mountains, Malaga lets you have both. Situated along the enchanting Costa del Sol, Malaga’s stunning coastline beckons residents to soak up the sun, swim in the azure waters, or enjoy a leisurely after-dinner stroll. But that’s not all—just a short drive from the city center, you’ll find yourself surrounded by breathtaking mountains. Between the Sierra de Mijas and Montes de Málaga, residents are provided with countless opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and even skiing in the winter months.
- Large Youth Population – Malaga’s youthful energy is palpable, and it’s no surprise that the city is increasingly becoming a magnet for digital nomads from around the world. The thriving tech and startup scene, coupled with a burgeoning coworking culture, create an ideal environment for those who want to pursue remote work or launch their own ventures. On top of this, Malaga’s lively social scene, trendy cafes, and vibrant nightlife make it an attractive destination for the younger crowd, fostering a sense of community and collaboration that can’t be found in just any smaller city.
- Popular for US Retirees – While Malaga may be a haven for the young and adventurous, it’s also drawing retirees from the United States seeking a slower lifestyle and warm weather year round. The city’s affordability (compared to the US), along with its excellent healthcare system and proximity to other European destinations, makes it an appealing choice for retirees looking to stretch their retirement savings without sacrificing quality of life.
Cost of living in Malaga
Considering a move to a new city isn’t complete without delving into one of the most dreaded aspects for prospective residents—the cost of living. Malaga, fortunately, presents an enticing proposition for those seeking a vibrant European lifestyle without the hefty price tag associated with major cities like Paris or London. Even when compared to other Spanish destinations, Malaga stands out as a considerably more affordable option.
However, as with any place, it’s essential to consider the local economic dynamics. While the cost of living in Malaga remains attractive from an American point of view, rents have been on the rise throughout Spain and local salaries are struggling to keep up.
Property prices in the Costa del Sol in particular have witnessed the highest price spike in the past year, jumping roughly 11.5% in the past year, and are expected to continue to rise. That being said, at the time of this article here are the prices we found on Idealista, one of the top real estate listing sites in Spain, for renting and buying in the Centro district:
- Renting a 1-bedroom – We found rent prices for basic single-bedroom apartments around the center district to be reasonable, starting at €800 a month in more distant regions and going up from there the more central, and spacious, you look.
- Buying a 2-bedroom apartment – There’s a wide range of prices for apartments for sale in the center district of Malaga but the first 70-100 m² 2-bedroom apartments we saw are within the €285K-€500K price range, with more and less expensive options available changing size, location, and the like.
Life in Malaga
Although it’s a smaller city, Malaga continually unveils fresh opportunities, whether it’s discovering a new restaurants or immersing yourself in the latest outdoor fitness trend. While the tourist attractions are spectacular, you probably won’t be as interested in visiting the Roman Theatre or the cathedral after work as you were when you first arrived. Here are 6 timeless plans that will make you feel like a local in no time:
- Start your day with an energizing run along the Paseo Martitimo.
- Find your favorite local market and get some shopping done outside of the supermarket. Not only will you stock up on fresh produce, seafood, and regional specialties, but your Spanish level will be put to the test.
- Want to clear your mind after work? Join a group workout class or volleyball match by the beach.
- Venture out of the city center and go hiking in the nearby Montes de Málaga Natural Park or Axarquía region.
- Keep your eyes on the latest local cultural events, art exhibitions, and live music performances by following Málaga Secreta.
- Sign up for a language exchange in a local bar and meet locals and other expats while brushing up on your Spanish—or any other language!
Unlike Madrid, it’s normal for people living in and around Malaga to have a car. Although it isn’t necessary, having one facilitates exploring the greater Malaga region:
- Marbella – A bit more upscale and even more international than Malaga, Marbella is famed for its glamorous allure, offering pristine beaches, upscale dining, and a charming Old Town.
- Mijas – Mijas, a quintessential Andalusian village, captivates with its white-washed charm, cobblestone streets, and breathtaking views of the Mediterranean, offering a delightful day trip steeped in Spanish authenticity.
- Frigiliana & Nerja – A day trip combining these two gems reveal the best of Andalusian culture. Frigiliana enchants with its maze-like streets and floral adornments, while Nerja boasts the stunning Balcony of Europe, picturesque beaches, and ancient caves.
- Fuengirola & Benalmádena – For a day of diverse experiences, head to Fuengirola’s bustling promenade, lined with shops and eateries, then explore Benalmádena with its captivating Stupa of Enlightenment and vibrant Butterfly Park.
For an overview of what life is like in Spain, the good, the bad, and the ugly, check out our extensive article on 20 pros and cons of life in Spain for a deep dive into everything you can expect, from potential culture shocks to Spain’s health care system explained.
Food in Malaga
Malaga’s culinary scene is a reflection of its Mediterranean coastal location as seafood takes center stage in this gastronomic theater. From grilled sardines, a local specialty known as espetos, to delicate fried fish platters and seafood paellas, Malaga’s seafood offerings are a testament to the city’s rich maritime heritage. Stroll along the the old fishing villages of El Palo and Pedregalejo and you’ll encounter charming chiringuitos (beachside restaurants) where you can savor the freshest catches of the day while enjoying the seaside views.
While Malaga excels in traditional Spanish and Andalusian cuisine, it’s true that the city may lack the diversity of international food options found in larger cosmopolitan centers. However, fret not, as nearby cities such as Fuengirola, Benalmádena, and Marbella all boast a thriving international dining scene.
Nightlife in Malaga
Don’t let this seaside city fool you, Malaga’s nightlife pulsates with energy and will have you dancing all through the night. As the sun sets over the Mediterranean, the city comes alive with a platter of entertainment options.
The historic center, with its winding streets and lively plazas, turns into a hub of activity, hosting numerous bars and taverns where both locals and travelers alike gather for tapas and drinks. The Soho district in particular offers a trendier atmosphere with contemporary bars and art galleries.
As the night progresses, Malaga’s nightclubs heat up, featuring a mix of music genres, from contemporary beats to Latin rhythms, ensuring there’s something for every taste. Whether you prefer sipping cocktails on a rooftop terrace overlooking the city or dancing the night away in a bustling club, Malaga is replete with options to make lasting memories with old and new friends.
Dating in Malaga
While Malaga’s dating pool may not be as vast as Madrid’s or Barcelona’s, it’s still lively and enriched by the city’s multicultural expat community, including the English, German, Dutch, Scandinavian, and French. When it comes time to plan a date, Malaga’s romantic backdrop makes it quite easy, from watching the sunset to the tunes of Spanish guitar from the Alcazaba to catching a movie at Cine Albéniz.
Popular dating apps are widely used like Tinder in Spain, making it easier than ever to set up new dates. Another great option is searching for local events on websites like Facebook or Meetup. A quick search for singles events on Meetup will show LGBTQ+, Digital Nomad, and even Beer Lover meetups to meet other singles.
Malaga for families
From its family-friendly atmosphere and educational options to outdoor adventures and cultural enrichment, Malaga provides the ideal multifaceted backdrop for raising children. Thus it should come as no surprise that many Spanish and international parents alike are choosing to raise their families in this Andalusian city. However, like any place, it comes with its own set of challenges, such as language barrier considerations.
Pros and cons of living in Malaga for families
- Quality of Life – Malaga offers an excellent quality of life for families. The city’s pleasant climate, beautiful beaches, and outdoor recreational opportunities make it an ideal environment for children to grow up in.
- International Community – Malaga has a thriving international community, which can be beneficial for expat families. Your children will have the chance to make friends with locals as well as other children from around the world.
- Chance to learn a 2nd language – Although they may shy away from the idea of speaking a new language at first, embracing a second language at a young age will equip your kids with a lifelong skill that they will grow to appreciate.
- Language Barrier – While there are international schools, the predominant language in Malaga is Spanish. Children may initially face a language barrier, which can be challenging when adapting to a new environment and educational system, but the good news is your children will most likely have an easier time than you picking up Spanish.
- Public School System – The public school system in Spain may not always meet the expectations of American parents. But, Malaga is home to several international schools that offer curricula in English or other languages. Some reputable international schools in the area include the British School of Malaga, Swans International School, and The American College in Spain.
If you’re worried about keeping your kids entertained, don’t fret as parents in Malaga have a wealth of options for keeping their children entertained and engaged. From interactive museums to waterparks like Aqualand, and even the humble local playground or beach, Malaga is a safe and magical place to raise children.
Where to live in Malaga
While the province of Malaga boasts an array of enchanting towns and villages, our focus in this guide will be on the city of Malaga itself. Here you’ll find a diverse range of lifestyles and atmospheres, all conveniently nestled around the vibrant center. Malaga is commonly divided into East and West Malaga, here’s what each offers:
West Malaga – West Malaga stretches along the city’s western coastline and comprises popular neighborhoods such as Misericordia, Huelin, and Teatinos. This region offers a balanced blend of urban conveniences and coastal charm. Families and young professionals often gravitate towards this area due to its accessibility to the city center and proximity to the beach.
East Malaga – On the eastern side of the city, you’ll find the tranquil coastal neighborhoods of Pedregalejo and El Palo. These areas provide a quieter, more laid-back atmosphere compared to the bustling city center. Locals and internationals alike seeking a beach-centric lifestyle and a sense of community are drawn to this idyllic part of Málaga.
While Malaga’s historic center offers a rich cultural experience with its museums, historic sites, and vibrant street life, it’s worth noting that the area has become increasingly overrun by tourist-oriented businesses, including Airbnb rentals and tourist traps. While it’s an exciting place to visit, many locals prefer to reside in neighborhoods that provide a more authentic, day-to-day Malaga experience.
Move to Malaga
If you’re an American looking to move to Spain, you’ll want to start looking into your visa options to see which you may be eligible for. The most popular visa options for living in Spain as an American include student, non-lucrative, freelance, and the shiny new digital nomad visa. Although this article won’t be going too deep into the intricacies of Spanish visas, here is a brief overview of each of these visas:
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.
Non-Lucrative Visa – This visa will allow you to live in Malaga 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.
Digital Nomad Visa – Spain’s digital nomad visa is relatively new, officially approved and signed into law in December of 2022. It requires a degree or at least 3 years of professional work experience, remote work that dates back at least a year, a work contract, and a minimum income of €2,000 a month.
Learn more about these visas and more for Spain and 17 other countries in Europe! Grab your copy of I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe.
¡Vamos a Malaga!
You didn’t think we’d just let you off here, did you? For continued support in your moving abroad journey:
- Join our Facebook Group for women aged 30 and up who want to move abroad
- Check out our Ultimate Visa Guide to Europe as an American
- Sign up for the next Move Abroad After 30 Masterclass to see if a move abroad is a possibility for you!
We trust that you’ll be perusing Picasso’s paintings and suntanning on the coast in no time.