Spain is now home to more than 380,000 expats and according to immigration figures, is the fourth most popular country for Brits to relocate to when leaving the UK.
With its hot summers, mild winters, and relaxed quality of life, it’s easy to see why Spain remains at the top of the list.
As a country, Spain has so much to offer, with its stunning coastal resorts, bustling cosmopolitan cities, and peaceful rural locations. It’s also a very diverse country in terms of its geography and the varied lifestyle it has to offer depending on where you live.
So while it isn’t hard to find many fabulous places to live in Spain, finding a location that ticks all the boxes and has everything you’re looking for is a little more tricky.
So which areas are the most popular for expats moving to Spain?
Below we have listed seven of the most popular places in Spain for expats to set up home.
MARBELLA, COSTA DEL SOL
The municipality of Marbella is famous for its glitz and glamour and attracts the rich and the famous from all over the world.
Consisting of the town of Marbella, Puerto Banus, San Pedro, Nueva Andalucia, and the Golden Mile, Marbella has something to offer everyone including beaches, shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, golf courses as well as an excellent public transport system.
Marbella town itself is subtly divided in two, with the modern high street offering plenty of shops and eateries and the stunning Old Town with its quirky little shops, galleries, and intimate restaurants.
Nueva Andalucia and the Golden Mile offer the best entertainment and nightlife. Known for its prestigious nightclubs and luxury coastal estates, it is also home to the uber-chic Puerto Banús marina. The marina is relatively new as it was built in 1970 and with its show of luxury yachts, elegant boutiques, bars, and restaurants, it’s most definitely a place of wealth.
It’s a resort that suits all ages, singletons, couples, and families alike.
Families with children choosing to live in Marbella have a selection of great schools to choose from including both state and International.
The state schools are free and offer the opportunity to integrate with the local children and obviously, the education is mostly in Spanish. A lot of expats choose this if they have younger children or feel that they are in Spain for the long haul.
International schools, on the other hand, are often chosen by families who are only living in Spain for a short period of time or with older children who may feel more at ease continuing an English curriculum with Spanish lessons thrown in. Aloha College, Swans School, Mayfair Academy, and Calpe School are all within the Marbella municipality.
Many retired Brits love Marbella for the healthier lifestyle it offers as well as the ease of integration within the area.
There are many companies that cater to the needs of retirees and the hospitals and healthcare facilities are fantastic.
Another plus with living in Marbella is the great regular public transport. Regular bus services run to other coastal resorts throughout the day making it easy to travel to other areas without having to drive.
ALHAURIN EL GRANDE - COSTA DEL SOL
Located approximately 20km inland from the coastal resort of Fuengirola, the town of Alhaurin el Grande is a popular choice with British expats due to its location, property prices, and traditional Spanish feel.
More or less divided into the old town and the new, Alhaurin has something for everyone regardless of age.
The new town offers a road that has a mix of bars, restaurants, tapas, cafes and a couple of nightclubs and although ‘lively’ it isn’t outrageously busy or noisy, just a great place to enjoy an evening out enjoying a drink and sampling the different types of food available.
The old town is where you will find the ayuntamiento (Town Hall) and the old church, plus more shops and traditional cafes offering the “Menu del Dia”.
Families love Alhaurin for its friendly nature and resources including a modern health centre offering GP services and A&E, dental clinics, supermarkets, and a public sports centre that has an indoor swimming pool, tennis courts, children's play area, and more.
There are a number of state schools and preschools in Alhaurin and there are four international schools close by. St Anthony’s College, Sunland International School, El Pinar, and MIT Malaga are all within a short drive from the town and most International schools do offer a transport service.
Property prices in Alhaurin el Grande are generally lower than in coastal areas and include apartments, townhouses, rural properties such as fincas and villas and the development of Alhaurin Golf Resort just outside the town has apartments and houses in a more modern surrounding.
Easy road access to Malaga, Marbella, and the coastal towns, and local buses that run from the town centre to the local towns of Alhaurín de la Torre, Cartama, Coin, Guaro, Malaga. Mijas, Monda, Tolox, and the coastal resort of Fuengirola mean there are more options when looking for work.
Alhaurin el Grande offers traditional Spanish living with easy access to a more modern Spain in coastal regions.
Madrid is Spain's capital city and is very popular with expats due to its authenticity and cultural riches, its exciting nightlife, many restaurants, and extravagant carnivals. The public transport system is excellent and already among the best in the world with Spanish authorities continuing to invest in further improvements.
The expat community in Madrid is huge, with many living there on short work contracts, enjoying the lifestyle, elegant boulevards, and manicured parks. For those with a penchant for art and culture, you will find the Prado Museum with its exhibitions by Velázquez, Goya, and other Spanish masters.
Other British expats fall in love with all that Madrid is, and choose to stay on for longer or make it their forever home.
Madrid is also a great city for families with children. Family-friendly locations that are close to the centre but far enough away to be comparatively peaceful at night, including the neighbourhoods of Salamanca, Chamery, and Retiro. They are all very upmarket, relatively private and quiet in comparison to the centre (which is very close), and they also have great services and amenities plus good schools.
Madrid has 44 International schools, plus state schools all of which offer a quality education.
The delights of Madrid are subtle and take some time for your heart to fully absorb them but they do say that “the longer you stay in Madrid, the more difficult it becomes to leave”.
Barcelona is one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities and unlike Madrid’s slow-burning charms, Barcelona’s magic hits you at speed, and after just one week, you will find yourself totally in love with this fascinating city.
It is the capital city of Catalonia, a region that has its own official language of Catalan.
Due to the large numbers of non-Catalans, including many expats, who both live and work in the city, Castilian Spanish is also widely spoken. But if you really want to fit in with the Catalans, try and learn some of their language, even if it’s just a few phrases, They will really appreciate it.
If you can’t make up your mind as to whether you want to live in a city or on the coast, Barcelona offers you both. Urban living, alongside great beaches.
Finding work in Barcelona isn’t as easy as in Madrid and salaries tend to be lower. Being able to speak a reasonable level of Spanish is also pretty much a requirement. However, with it being a port city with good infrastructure, plenty of bars and restaurants, a huge tourism industry, and multinational and foreign businesses, there are still plenty of job opportunities, especially if you speak Spanish or Catalan and English.
Barcelona’s stunning architecture is not something you can miss. Most of Gaudi’s modernist buildings are in Barcelona, the most famous being the Sagrada Familia (Spanish for Holy Family) and the truly amazing Park Guell.
There are approximately 40 international schools in Barcelona and the surrounding areas, with a good mix of British, IB (International Baccalaureate), American, French and German schools. This means that finding education for any age is not a problem.
Alicante is the capital of the stunning Costa Blanca region, which is known for its 125 miles of sandy beaches that stretch from Alicante to Valencia.
Travel from Alicante is easy, which is one of the reasons it is so popular with British expats.
Alicante airport offers great connections with Barcelona and Madrid and Ryanair, Easyjet and Jet2.com regularly fly to the UK and many other western European cities.
The Alicante Tram connects the city to Benidorm, stopping at a total of 21 stops in the city and along the coast before reaching its destination in approximately one hour and 12 minutes.
From Benidorm Station, you can then get a connecting tram that continues its journey further along the coast to Denia.
As well as great flight and tram travel options, Alicante also has a ferry service and a great train timetable.
The spacious harbour offers ferry services connecting the city with the stunning Balearic Islands and the North African country of Algeria. Whilst Alicante railway station runs train services linking the city with the suburbs and Murcia as well as Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia.
Even though the city has all this, it’s primarily Spanish with most British expats choosing to live in the surrounding areas of Alicante rather than living in the actual city itself.
The Alicante province has the highest ratio of foreign residents of all of the Spanish provinces which is why many British expats set up home here. Torrevieja, Calpe, Benidorm, Orihuela, Javea, and Rojales, are all home to between 6,000 and 19,000 British expats.
Many families choose this region to call home and finding a good school is always important.
There are plenty of state schools in the province and International schools can be found in Alicante, Javea, La Nucia (just outside Benidorm), and Torrevieja, so finding a suitable school to fit your criteria isn’t a problem.
The region of Alicante really does have the best of everything that Spain has to offer: the weather, relaxed lifestyle, food, leisure activities, and natural wonders, and you can live amongst all of this at a much cheaper price than the major urban hubs such as Madrid or Barcelona.
Considered by many to be the hub of the Costa Blanca, Valencia is one of the most popular regions in which to live for British expats moving to Spain.
But it's not just British expats! In the Internations Expat City Report For 2022 which surveyed almost 12,000 expats, the city was rated as the best place to live worldwide!
Valencia offers everything including cultural events, entertainment, great nightlife, beaches, and much more.
For those who live in the region, the quality of life is second to none with plenty of year-round sunshine, a thriving expat community, and a low cost of living compared to other regions of Spain.
Valencia is also not as popular with tourists so is quieter than other popular regions such as Madrid, Barcelona, and the Costa del Sol.
The locals are extremely friendly and welcoming with the whole of the city seemingly spending much of their time socialising outdoors.
If you are looking for great days out Valencia will be just the ticket. With its close proximity to the mountains, you can go hiking in the summer or skiing and snowboarding in the winter.
If you would rather head to the beach you will not be disappointed with the region offering some of the loveliest beaches in Spain. Las Arenas is the closest beach to the city and is well worth exploring.
Another great thing about Valencia is that the city is relatively compact meaning that most things are within a short walk. If you need to travel further afield, you will find the large underground rail network sufficient to get you around.
The lively port city of Malaga is often known as the capital of the Costa del Sol and is home to the busy Malaga Airport (AGP).
The bustling city centre has so many sights to see including the cathedral, several churches, and over 30 museums including the popular Picasso Museum and the Moorish Fortresses of Alcazaba and the Castillo de Gibralfaro.
The second most populated city of Andalucia, Malaga has established itself as the coast’s commercial and cultural hub with many bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and shops.
Travelling around the city centre is easy if you don’t want to walk, as buses run regularly and fares are cheap. Buses from Malaga Bus Station also travel all over Spain including Almeria, Bilbao, Cadiz, Cordoba, Huelva, Madrid, and Valencia. You can also travel to the cities of Galicia as well as France and Morocco.
Travel by train is also available from Malaga - María Zambrano train station, from here you can travel along the coast to Fuengirola, as well as further afield to Madrid, Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Valencia, and Barcelona.
If busy city living is what you are looking for Malaga city centre is the perfect place but be prepared for the influx of tourists that arrive in their thousands when the large cruise ships dock.
Check out the old town if you like the idea of apartment living, many properties have been refurbished and offer high ceilings and lovely windows.
If quieter or family living with children is your choice, the areas of Cerrado de Calderon, Limonar, and La Malagueta are very popular with expats because of the suburban houses and apartments on offer.
La Malagueta is a particular favourite with a lot of expats because of all of its amenities, great schools, a peaceful atmosphere, and a beach nearby.
Cheaper than Barcelona and Madrid, Malaga is not as vibrant but is a brilliant coastal city with all the facilities and glorious weather that make it a great home for both retirees or working families.
Many tourists flock to the outside of the city to other areas of the Malaga Province for a holiday in the sun but thousands have also chosen to make it their forever home. This is primarily for the 320 days of sunshine, the stunning sandy beaches, and the laid-back Mediterranean lifestyle.
The popular resorts of Benalmadena, Fuengirola, Mijas, La Cala de Mijas, and Torremolinos are all in the Malaga province and are very popular with British expat families, retirees, and couples alike.
When choosing a home, these resorts have developments with pools, traditional Spanish homes as well as traditional and modern villas, that you can either buy or rent.
They also all have great facilities with good transport, doctors, dentists, pharmacies, and lots of shops and restaurants. Options for school are also good with a good mix of state and International Schools which are all easily accessible.
So there you have it! Seven of the most popular towns, cities, and regions in which to call home here in Spain.
Private Health Insurance In Spain
If you are an expat looking to move to Spain to live, study or retire, in many instances you will need private health insurance. Please take a look at our current range of policies that meet with all government requirements.
January 10, 2024
Updated: February 07, 2024 CET