20 Pros and Cons of Living in Spain as an American
Spain is an exciting and lively country, so deciding to hit refresh and move here as an American takes a lot of preparation and diligence! Spain has so much to offer for people of all ages and many Americans, in recent years, have decided to make Spain their new home for very good reasons. Living in Spain is a wonderful experience, but it does not come with complete ease. Let’s read on and discover the 20 pros and cons of living in Spain as an American.
Pros of Living in Spain As An American
Spain’s fantastic climate
One of the primary draws of this beautiful country is its marvelous climate. It attracts visitors from all over the world. The country is naturally beautiful, with some of the most incredible landscapes. From over 3000 miles of stunning coastline to the mountainous regions in the north, there is a place for everyone to enjoy in Spain. There are 3 different climates, including temperate (eastern and northern coast), Mediterranean (south), and continental (central regions). There is also a subtropical climate in the Canary Islands, located off the coast of Morocco. If you enjoy the heat, head to Andalucía and the eastern coast. If you prefer to experience all four seasons, head to the central and northern central regions. If you prefer a temperate and humid climate, journey to the northern regions. There is something for everyone to enjoy at all times of the year!
Affordable healthcare (private healthcare included)
Spain’s public healthcare is ranked one of the best in the world. As a U.S. citizen, you will not have access to the public health system (la sanidad publica). You will have to purchase private health insurance, which is a fraction of U.S. health insurance policy costs. Most policies range from €50-200 a month depending on coverage, which in comparison to US policy prices, is a bargain! Additional costs may come into play for dental services and some prescriptions. Healthcare is one of the biggest pros of living in Spain!
There are lots of single people
It is normal for people to move out of their family home and get married later in Spain. Many opt for not marrying and simply cohabitate with one another. Because people are doing this later in life in comparison to people in the U.S, this has resulted in a low birth rate and lower marriage rate. The average first marriage of both men and women in Spain is 33.4. Everywhere in Spain, you’ll find plenty of single people of all ages which makes the dating and social scene lively and vibrant. If you meet someone with the pros of Spanish residency and things go well, you could potentially apply for it yourself even quicker!
The lower cost of living
A large appeal for expats to move to Spain is its affordability. The average monthly rent ranges from city to city, for example, in Madrid, the average rent for a 1 bedroom in the city center is just under €900; however, in the city of Malaga it’s €674. The average monthly take home salary (after tax) in Madrid is €1,663 and in Malaga is €1,297. Although the salaries are lower, the overall cost of living is lower as well, so it balances out. Grocery shopping for the week can range from €30-€50 per person.
Easily accessible public transport
Public transport in Spain is affordable and a great way to travel around the country. The RENFE, Spain’s national railway network, offers high speed train travel mostly to the south and to the east coast. Trains are available to the north as well, however, they are not high speed but still get you to your destination in a timely manner. Buses are readily accessible in large and small towns, although in small towns they may run less frequently. The metro systems in large cities in Spain are well connected and very affordable. You can book tourist passes or monthly passes for prices that don’t break the bank and bus travel is even cheaper. For example, from Madrid, you can travel to almost any destination in Spain in under 7 hours via bus for under €60 due to its central location. The RENFE is the most expensive option but offers many high speed routes and is a comfortable journey.
Large diversity between people and regions
Many people don’t realize that Spain is huge! Spain is about 75% of the size of the state of Texas and has 17 autonomous regions, all of which have unique cultural aspects to offer. It is said that people in the south of Spain are incredibly friendly and the more north you travel, the people are more reserved. One encounter with a person from Malaga will not be the same as an encounter with a person from Basque Country, but this is one of the beautiful things about Spain, you get to meet so many diverse people and learn about their way of life.
There are many expat groups you can rely on and ask for help when needed
Thousands of Americans move to Spain every year in search of the European lifestyle. As many have the same idea, there are numerous facebook groups and apps, like MeetUp, that you can access to find important information and connect with other foreigners.
Pet lovers will love how you can bring your furry friends to the majority of places around Spain. Terraces and outdoor spaces are accommodating as well as numerous restaurants and bars. Majority of the time, you are allowed to take your four legged companion on public transport as long as they meet certain requirements.
Children are welcome anywhere at any time of the day or night. It is not seen as a burden to anyone if you bring your kids to a bar late at night. In fact, you will see many families with young children, even babies, out past 11 at night just enjoying the atmosphere. This is a very common occurrence in Spain.
This is probably the main reason many Americans choose to pick up their lives and move to Europe, for a better work/life balance. This is also one of the biggest benefits of living in Spain (aside from the weather and healthcare). Work weeks are a set schedule of 40 hours being full-time and 20 part-time. Unlike the U.S, work does not consume your entire life; rather, it leaves you room to fully unplug. When it comes to enjoying life to the fullest, Europeans, (especially the Spanish, of course!), have it right.
The best parts of Spain are accompanied by the frustrating. It isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, especially at the beginning. Now, let’s dive into the cons of living in Spain.
Cons of Living in Spain As An American
If you’re here in Spain for more than 183 days, you become a tax resident, meaning, Americans must pay taxes in the U.S. and are liable to also pay taxes in Spain. Spanish tax residents are required to pay taxes on worldwide income which can put a huge strain on Americans living here since U.S. citizens are obligated to file taxes every year, even if they live outside the country. There is a double taxation treaty set in place between the U.S. and Spain that prevents full taxation on income sources from both countries. You can qualify for the foreign income exclusion (excluding up to $100,000) or foreign tax credit depending on where your income is coming from.
One of the biggest factors in your daily life in Spain is the language. Less Spanairds speak conversational English than you might think. It is highly recommended to come with at least basic knowledge of Castilian Spanish to make simple activities like going to a coffee shop, shopping, and getting around easier. In larger cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga (Costa del Sol), and even San Sebastian the people are more accustomed to tourists visiting and people can assist you in English if you need. However, having at a minimum basic knowledge and understanding of Spanish will make your life a thousand times easier.
Difficulty making Spanish friends
This ties into the language barrier also because, well, if you can’t speak the language, it will be hard to make Spanish friends. That’s not saying it completely cuts you off from getting to know locals, many locals love interacting with foreigners! It is well known that it is hard to integrate into Spanish groups due to the culture differences. As a result, many expats end up staying in their bubble.
Saving money can be difficult
If you plan to work and your income is from a Spanish company, it can be difficult to save money, especially if you are looking to travel often. Salaries here are much lower than in the U.S. which makes it very difficult to save money for any type of extracurricular activities, traveling, or even for a home. Thankfully, traveling around Europe can be quite cheap if you time it right.
Customer service? Forget about It!
Forget about the over niceties of customer service and people bending over backwards to help you. That is non-existent here. Spanish people are very direct, and it is reflected in their customer service. Government workers, or funcionarios, have jobs for life and it is not likely they will go above any expectation past their job description. There is no obligation to tip wait staff at restaurants, however, if you really enjoyed their service, a few extra euros is a nice way to say thanks.
This is one that could make or break your experience in Spain, but don’t let it! Spain’s bureaucratic system is famous for being slow, unreliable and utterly confusing. I once waited for my student visa renewal and they didn’t give me a positive result until 7 months after I applied. 95% of legal processes take a long time. Come prepared with research skills, advice from those who live here already, and potentially an immigration lawyer.
Difficulty getting a Spanish work contract as a U.S. citizen
As a U.S. citizen, it is not easy to obtain a Spanish work contract. Spain first prioritizes its own citizens, followed by permanent residents, then other residents of the European Union for all jobs available throughout the country. You have to have prior experience or an excellent recommendation for a Spanish company to even consider you. You could also potentially qualify for the Highly Skilled Worker visa if you have special skills and a company is willing to sponsor you.
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Lack of variety
Depending on the city you live in, there can be a lack of variety with international food products. Big cities like Madrid and Barcelona have more options for international cuisine than smaller cities, but there is still no concept of what most US citizens would call “one stop shopping”. You have to go to multiple places to get all the products you want, there is no single concentration of diverse products in one supermarket. Additionally, spicy condiments or products are difficult to come by. If you want unique or spicy products, you have to go to Latino or Asian specialty supermarkets that could be further away or outside of the city.
The direct nature of Spanish culture
The directness in speech of Spanish people is, at first, abrupt, overwhelming, and is often viewed to outsiders as rude. It shouldn’t be taken this way as Spanish people are some of the friendliest in Europe. Spanish people are very direct in their speech and they don’t like to “beat around the bush” you could say. On the other hand, too many “niceties” and pleasantries from Americans, or any foreigners really, can be considered rude to them as they view it as you believing you are above them in some way.
Being self-employed in Spain, or autonomo, is a difficult and expensive process. Spain is not yet very “freelance friendly”, and there are numerous upfront costs to pay as an autonomo. Monthly fees can be close to €300 and freelancers receive minimum amounts for pension plans. You have to declare your income every 3 months and pay 20% of your income as an advance. Spain’s IVA, or VAT, is a set 21% and must also be paid every January, regardless of income amount.
Spain is not an exception to the rules when it comes to the difficulties of moving abroad. There will be countless ups and downs on your journey to moving here, but do not be too intimidated! With proper preparation, many of these cons can become less of a burden. Challenges will arise no matter what country you move to outside the US. Whether it’s a language barrier or different cultural norms, these obstacles can be overcome with diligence. The benefits of living in Spain far outweigh the cons if you remain open minded and are willing to learn. If you have been dreaming about making the move to Spain, there is no better time than the present!