Healthplan Spain


10 Things American Expats Should Know Before Moving To Spain Expat Tips

Dreaming of a life in Spain, away from the hustle of the United States? You're not alone. With around 40,000 US nationals already residing in the country, the allure is clear. Spain offers a lower cost of living, seamless access to other EU countries, and a range of beautiful cities catering to various lifestyles.

Whether you're an aspiring student, an expat worker, or looking forward to retiring in Spain, this guide is your compass. It navigates the practicalities of moving to Spain as an American citizen, ensuring a smoother transition. Before you set foot on Spanish soil, let's explore the crucial things you should know:

1. Visa Requirements for Extended Stays

If you're envisioning an extended stay in Spain, crossing the 90-day mark will require a visa. However, for shorter trips, visa-free access remains in place for tourism, study, or business until the conclusion of 2023.

Come early 2024, U.S. citizens will need an ETIAS visa waiver for stays up to 90 days. This waiver mandates application at least 72 hours prior to departure, granting validity for three years or until your passport's expiration date. When venturing beyond the 90-day threshold, you'll need to initiate the visa application process based on the nature of your stay.

2. Navigating Visa Categories

If you wish to live in Spain permanently, or at least, beyond the 90-day threshold, you will need a residency visa.US citizens have a number of options including:

3. Initial Steps Upon Arrival

Upon setting foot in Spain, your first strides pave the way for a seamless transition. Key actions include:

  • Acquiring a Foreigner's Identity Card/Number (TIE/NIE): The initial 30 days upon arrival are crucial for obtaining these authorisations. Both the TIE and NIE Number are a requirement and imperative for administrative tasks.
  • Applying for a Spanish Driver's License: You have a grace period of six months to secure a Spanish license. During these six months, your American license suffices.During the six months you will also need an International Driving Permit (IDP).
  • Opening a Bank Account: Opt for a resident account, offering enhanced advantages for those planning to stay longer.
  • Register on the town hall’s municipal register: This is referred to as Empadronamiento or registering on the padron. The "padrón" in Spain refers to the municipal census or population register. It's a system used by local authorities to keep track of residents within their jurisdiction.

4. Healthcare and Insurance

Spain's healthcare system is commendable, but it doesn't encompass all aspects. Access to free healthcare hinges on specific criteria. Should you fall outside these parameters, private health insurance becomes a vital safety net. Moreover, safeguard your journey with home, car, and life insurance.

5. Choosing Your Ideal Spanish Location

Spain's cities offer diversity catering to various expat lifestyles. Consider these appealing options:

  • Madrid: The fusion of history and business opportunities creates a unique blend.
  • Barcelona: Vibrancy, breathtaking views, and a bustling lifestyle define this city. Great for tech companies and start-ups.
  • Alicante: Paradise-like beaches and affordable education paint an enticing picture.
  • Malaga: A tapestry of beaches, restaurants, and warm locals awaits.

6. Navigating Housing Options

Settling into a comfortable and suitable home is essential for a smooth transition as you embark on your Spanish adventure. Spain offers a diverse range of housing options, from modern city apartments to charming countryside villas. Whether you're seeking a bustling urban environment or a serene coastal retreat, here are some key considerations to guide you through your housing journey:

Research and Online Platforms: To kickstart your housing search, leverage online platforms like Idealista, A Place in the Sun, and Kyero. These platforms list a wide array of properties available for rent or purchase across Spain. You can filter listings based on location, budget, property type, and amenities, making it easier to identify options that match your preferences. If renting, make sure you read our tips for renting long term in Spain.

Budget and Affordability: Before diving into your search, establish a clear budget. Take into account not only the property's cost but also additional expenses such as maintenance fees, utilities, and property taxes. Be realistic about what you can comfortably afford to avoid financial strain.

Location: Consider the location that aligns with your lifestyle and needs. Are you drawn to the vibrant energy of a city like Madrid or Barcelona, or do you envision a quieter life in a coastal town? Proximity to work, transportation, schools, and essential services should influence your decision.

Property Type: Determine the type of property that suits your needs. Apartments, townhouses, and standalone houses all have their advantages. Apartments in city centers offer convenience, while houses in suburban areas provide more space and privacy. Assess your living requirements and preferences.

Amenities and Facilities: Explore the amenities and facilities offered within the property or the surrounding community. This could include features like parking spaces, swimming pools, gyms, communal spaces, and nearby parks or recreational areas.

Legal and Regulatory Considerations: Familiarize yourself with the local housing regulations and legal processes. Different regions in Spain may have varying rules regarding property ownership, rental agreements, and building codes. Engaging a real estate professional or legal expert can provide guidance on these matters.

Viewing and Inspection: Whenever possible, visit the properties in person to get a sense of the space, layout, and neighborhood. Viewing the property allows you to assess its condition and identify any potential issues. Be prepared with questions to ask the seller or real estate agent during the visit.

Negotiation and Documentation: Once you've found a property that meets your criteria, be prepared to negotiate the terms of the sale or rental agreement. Ensure that all agreements, including payment terms and responsibilities, are documented in writing to avoid any misunderstandings later on.

Local Lifestyle and Culture: Consider how the neighborhood and local culture align with your lifestyle preferences. Research the community's atmosphere, accessibility to amenities, and proximity to activities that interest you.

In summary, navigating housing options in Spain involves careful research, consideration of your needs and preferences, and thorough assessment of properties. Online platforms provide a convenient starting point, but don't underestimate the value of visiting properties in person and seeking expert advice when necessary. By taking the time to find a home that suits your lifestyle and requirements, you'll lay a strong foundation for your new life in Spain.

7. Utilities and Communication Essentials

Setting up utilities involves understanding costs and providers. For internet and cell phones, reliable companies such as Movistar, Jazztel, Orange, and Vodafone are your go-to options.

When it comes to gas, most homes in Spain are not connected to mains gas. Instead, a popular option are butane gas bottles, commonly referred to as ‘Bombonas’. Learn more about Bombonas Gas Bottles.

You will also need to know more about electricity in Spain and how to save money on your electricity bill.

8. Understanding the Cost of Living

Grasping the cost of living dynamics is pivotal. Spain's average cost of living hovers around $2140 per month outside city centers. In major urban hubs and sought-after tourist destinations, this figure can rise to approximately $3300. Anticipate expenses spanning rent, utilities, groceries, entertainment, insurance, and healthcare.

9. Groceries and Shopping Etiquette

Experiencing grocery shopping in Spain is an adventure in itself, shaped by the country's unique shopping hours and customs. Understanding Spain's shopping culture will help you navigate the aisles and make the most of your grocery runs:

Sierra or Siesta Time: Spain's traditional siesta culture still influences daily routines. Many shops, including supermarkets, close for a few hours in the afternoon for the siesta. This break typically occurs from around 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM. During this time, locals often enjoy a leisurely lunch and rest before returning to work or activities in the late afternoon.

Morning and Evening Shopping: Due to siesta closures, mornings and evenings are popular times for grocery shopping. Supermarkets generally open in the morning, close for siesta, and then reopen in the late afternoon until evening. Planning your shopping trips accordingly will help you avoid finding closed doors during siesta hours.

Sunday Closures: Sundays in Spain are typically observed as a day of rest and family time. As a result, many supermarkets and stores remain closed on Sundays. It's wise to plan your grocery shopping earlier in the week or on Saturdays to ensure you have everything you need for the weekend.

Local Markets: While supermarkets are convenient, exploring local markets is a wonderful way to connect with the community and experience fresh produce, meats, cheeses, and other regional specialties. These markets often feature a vibrant atmosphere where you can interact with local vendors and discover unique items.

Supermarket Chains: Renowned supermarket chains like Mercadona, Carrefour, and Lidl are staples in Spain's grocery landscape. These stores offer a wide range of products, from fresh produce to household essentials, and are known for their quality and affordability.

Reusable Bags: It's common practice in Spain to bring your own reusable bags when shopping. Many stores charge for plastic bags as part of eco-friendly initiatives. Having your own bags not only reduces waste but also saves you a few euros.

Respecting Siesta Hours: While grocery shopping is essential, embracing the siesta tradition can also enhance your cultural immersion. Use this midday break to enjoy a leisurely lunch, relax, and recharge, just like the locals.

Online Shopping: As technology advances, online grocery shopping is becoming more popular in Spain. Some supermarkets offer online platforms where you can order groceries and have them delivered to your doorstep. This can be particularly convenient if you have a busy schedule.

In essence, adapting to Spain's shopping habits and etiquette involves embracing the rhythm of siesta time, planning around Sunday closures, and appreciating the local market scene. While the siesta may require some adjustment, it's a hallmark of Spanish culture that provides a welcome pause in the day and an opportunity to experience life at a more relaxed pace.

10. Embrace the Spanish Lifestyle

As you embrace the Spanish way of life, remember that learning the language enriches your experience and fosters deeper connections with locals. The laid-back and culturally vibrant atmosphere is a hallmark of Spain's charm.

In Conclusion

Your venture to Spain promises a tapestry of new experiences. By comprehending the finer points of visas, housing, utilities, and daily life, you're arming yourself with the tools to make the most of your journey. With meticulous preparation, you're poised to immerse yourself in Spain's allure, enjoying its scenic beauty, rich culture, and warm hospitality.