1. Home
  2. International removals
  3. Advice
  4. A Guide to Living & Working in Spain

Table of contents

    A Guide to Living & Working in Spain

    By The reallymoving Team Updated 26th Mar, 2024

    Spain offers a sunnier clime where the pace of life is relaxed and balanced, so it’s unsurprising that many British people are relocating to this part of the world.

    A Guide to Living & Working in Spain

    You may have gone on holiday to spain, or learnt spanish as a child, and thought that it may be someehwere you would like to live some day. Spain is in fact one of the most popular destinations for british expats.

    But before moving to Spain, it's importnant to take plenty of time to research the country, its immigration laws, and everything you need to know aout day to day life there.

    Spain is a large country, so it's also important for you to be aware of what region, or city you would like to move to. Prices foor goods and services will vary depending on where you go, so take your own budget into account before deiding on the best place to settle down.

    The Spanish climate

    Being such a large country, Spain’s climate varies from region to region. In the North, it has a temperate climate, with mild winters and warm summers. Down South though, it can get very hot indeed. Central Spain, far from the modifying effects of the ocean, tends to experience extremes of hot and cold.

    Don’t forget, you can ski in the Pyrenees, the Sierra Nevada and even in the area around Madrid.

    The cost of living in Spain

    One of the many perks of relocating to Spain is the cost of living. If you want to eat and live like a local, your money can go much further than it does here. For example, if you compare the two capitals, the cost of living in Madrid is currently 38% cheaper than living in London. Property is also reasonably priced in comparison, although housing (among other things) is more expensive in central cities and popular tourist areas.

    The average monthly cost of living in Spain is €1,500 for a single person and €2,985 for families.

    Utility costs can be high, especially if bottled gas is required for your property, whilst food is quite reasonably priced if bought outside of tourist and commercial areas.

    Work and income

    Finding a job in Spain requires research. if you plan on starting your own business, that needs an even greater amount of thought and planning. It’s preferable to get things lined up before you go. If you don’t do this, make sure you have money to live in Spain for at least six months while you find a job and establish yourself. The EURES (European Employment Services) website, is a helpful resource for finding jobs in Spain.

    As a UK national, you are no longer an EU citizen, you may need a work permit and visa to find employment. You should check with the Spanish embassy in the Uk what you will require. To apply for a job in spain you'll need:

    You will also need to obtain a social security number to be able to work in Spain – these can be acquired from your local Oficina de Seguridad Social.

    If you are moving to Spain and plan to live on your British pension, remember that there will always be fluctuations between the British pound and the Euro so you need to be prepared to deal with this.

    It is also worth looking into taxes that need to be paid in Spain, and consider organising your accounts in advance.

    Speak the lingo

    If your Spanish is not good, it would be helpful to enrol on a course before you move to Spain. Obviously there are people who happily live abroad without speaking the language, but even if you are going to be moving to an area with many British expats, like Costa del Sol, you will find it helpful if you’ve learned Spanish before you arrive, especially if you are intending to find a job.

    Apart from facilitating your job search and making new friends amongst the locals, you’ll be able to deal more efficiently with all necessary bureaucracy and allow you to travel to less touristy areas.

    If you can’t manage the time for evening classes or lessons, why not try an audio or online course? The BBC runs some useful, quick lessons in Spanish.

    Get a gestor

    A gestor is a clerk with experience and good contacts, not a professional. While not a property solicitor or an accountant, they can do some of their work. Their main role is to liaise between you, a member of the public, and the Spanish administration. The relatively low fees are well worth it for the time you’ll save in all your dealings with Spanish administration.

    Healthcare in Spain

    Spain has a national health service (Instituto Nacional de la Salud) which provides free (or low cost) healthcare to registered spanish residents. Much like the NHS, most healthcare is free, but some things, such as prescriptions, will need to be paid for.

    In order to be registered to the healthcare system in spain you must meet one or more requirements. You must have been living in Spain for more that 5 years, be employed in Spain, or be paying directly into the public health insurance scheme.

    If you (or someone visiting you) are temporary visitor to Spain, you’ll need to take a UK issued EHIC/GHIC card. An EHIC is a European Health Insurace Card, these are currently being phased out, but if your card is still in date, it can still be used. If you dont have a valid EHIC, you will need to apply for a GHIC (Global Health Insurance Card), which is the new version of the card, and offers the same cover. Be careful not to use a website that charges you for this service; the GHIC card is free to British citizens.

    If you want private healthcare, check the terms of your current health insurance in the UK, which will probably only cover you for a short period away from home.

    For those taking an early retirement to Spain, it’s important to note that the NHS stopped reimbursing medical costs incurred by non-working Britons under pensionable age in other European states. Before your move, find out what healthcare options are available in the Spanish region you’re moving to. You may be required to buy private health cover. If you already hold a residual S1, ready for your move to Spain, the changes will not affect you until your current form expires.

    You can find lots of indepth information on healthcare by visiting Health Plan Spain. They're a health insurance company for expats and they have guides covering everything you'd need to know before and after your move to Spain.  

    Spanish NIE numbers

    You will need to obtain a NIE number upon your arrival in Spain. A NIE is a tax identification number issued by the National Police of Spain. It is a legal requirement in Spain for anyone who is working, wants to open a bank account or buying/ selling a property or car. In fact, it is generally used as a means of identification (although it has no photo id).

    To get your number, you’ll need to go to the Comisaria General de Extranjeria. Unfortunately, they’re not in every town but The Policia Nacional website has the addresses; even if you don’t read Spanish it’s not hard to use. Click on the province where you live and the addresses of the Comisaria General de Extranjeria will come up for you to find your nearest office.

    Depending on the region you are moving to, you may have to book an appointment in advance to request your NIE number.

    To obtain your NIE number when moving to Spain, take these documents with you: 

    • Your passport and a copy of all pages
    • Passport photos
    • proof of legal entry into Spain
    • A complete EX-15 form; you can find this online along with english instructions (it must be completed in spanish)
    • A supporting document stating why you need an NIE (plus a photocopy)

    Once issued, the number is yours for life. Strictly speaking these must be applied for in person but you can apply via your local Spanish consulate before you leave. There are also firms that offer to act as your representative to organise this prior to your arrival in Spain. 

    Buying a property

    To avoid misunderstanding, it’s important that your advisor has excellent command of Spanish as well as English. Select a conveyancing solicitor that specialises in Spanish land law, as the system there is vastly different from ours. For example, when buying property, you’ll need to create a will to cover disposal of Spanish assets in the event of your death. You may also be liable for any debts associated with the previous owner.

    Shipping documentation

    In order to ship your belongings to Spain, you’ll need the following documentation:

    • Passport
    • NIE
    • Residence certificate
    • Letter from your employer confirming you have work (if you are not retiring)
    • Application for duty free import
    • Your house deeds for your Spanish home or a rental contract
    • A full inventory of the goods in Spanish
    In addition, your chosen international removals company must have the following accreditations:
    • FAIM Accreditation
    • Membership of the FIDI Global Alliance
    • Membership of the British Association of Removers Overseas Group (BAR OVERSEAS)

    For definitions of the international moving terms you will encounter during this experience, take a look at our Moving Glossary.

    It is recommended that you discuss the customs documentation and regulations necessary for your move to Spain with your removal company, as they can guide you through the process.

    Prohibited and restricted Items

    Before you select which goods you’ll be taking with you to your new home abroad, it is important that you make yourself aware of restricted items when entering Spanish shores.

    Restricted items include:

    • Works of art or antiques to be sold as part of a collection will incur duty charges. If they are over 100 years old and shipped as personal items they are free.
    • Any new furniture up costing over 3,000 euros is free from duty
    • Sports guns need the appropriate license and permission from Spain.
    • Inheritance – The death certificate, letter confirming right to inheritance and certificate from the UK and Spain confirming exemption from inheritance tax.
    • Wedding Trousseaux - A marriage certificate, authenticated by the British consulate and proof of address in Spain.
    • Alcohol and tobacco over your personal limited will incur duty.
    • Plants must have a Phytosanitary Certificate.
    The spanish post website also has guidance on what is prohibited for postal shipments in international mail.

    There can also be duty taxes and bans on items that you may wish to transport to Spain. Your overseas removal firm will have the experience and knowledge to advise you in full on what can and can’t be taken when you move to Spain.

    Transportation tips

    • Transit - For European moves to Spain, the most common method of goods transportation is by road. It’s important to remember that, if you are moving to a city, there may be narrow streets, parking regulations and difficult access, so make sure you select an expert removal company for your overseas house move and discuss any potential problems with them.
    • Direct Loads - In a direct load, the removal vehicle will contain your goods exclusively. This is more expensive as you can specify a delivery date. The removal company will transport your belongings directly to your new property to arrive on the most convenient day for you.
    • Part Loads - If your items don’t fill the removal vehicle or you have a limited budget, a part load would be a cost-effective option. Part loads involve your goods sharing a vehicle with those of other movers. Unlike the direct load, the departure of your consignment from the UK will be delayed until all the multiple loads have been consolidated and the vehicle is full, so it may take up to a few weeks before your goods arrive. You won’t be able to select a delivery date, but your removal firm will provide you with a delivery window and a more specific date of arrival once the removal vehicle has set off.
    • Furniture - You’ll need to find an experienced international removal company to ensure the safe transportation of your belongings when you move to Spain. They’ll be familiar with local customs and duty regulations and can advise you on any restrictions and on what documentation is required. 

    It’s suggested that you get your removal company to conduct a pre-move survey of your items to discuss which transportation option would be more suitable for you.

    Find out more about the differences between part load and direct load shipping.

    Bear in mind it can take anywhere from days to weeks for your shipment to reach you, so it may be worth sending the important items by air freight or, if you are driving there, taking them with you in the car so you have them available when you reach your destination. 

    Opening a bank account in Spain

    Some UK banks, like Barclays and Santander, aren’t affiliated with Spain, they are entirely separate. If you have an account with one of these banks in the UK, you’ll still have to open a new, separate, account in Spain.

    If you want to open an account before you live in Spain, it will be a non-resident account and for this you will need a Certificado No Residente. The procedure to get one is the same as obtaining your NIE certificate: you have to fill in the EX-15, pay the amount due into the bank and then obtain the form.

    Once you have the certificate you can go along to your bank with the following documents:

    • The EX-15 Certificate
    • Your Passport
    • Your NIE number
    • An address where any paperwork can be forwarded

    If you intend to become a spanish resident, you must first get a Certificate of Residency. When this is in your possession you can give the bank a copy of the certificate and a utility bill in your name, they will then change the account to that of the resident.

    Find out more about changing banks when moving abroad.

    Importing a car to Spain

    If you’re a Spanish resident, you cannot drive a foreign plated car.

    When you first arrive, however, you can drive one for six months. After 6 months you are regarded as a Spanish tax resident and you MUST register your vehicle with spanish authorities.

    Once you become a resident you have up to 30 days to register your vehicle. For this, you must put it through a Spanish MOT test (ITV). The price for an ITV test is not uniform, but the avergae cost is around €35-40. You might also need to buy a new set of headlamps as you must have fog lights at the rear of your vehicle, on both sides. 

    Once you’ve passed your ITV, you’ll then need to get Spanish plates and pay your import tax which is based on emissions. You can find out more about your emissions from the Car Fuel Data Website.

    Updated: January 2021.

    Related articles

    Ready to get quotes?

    Request quotes from up to 4 international removal firms

    Request quotes

    We've already helped over 2,882,910 movers

    12,971 user reviews

    JCL were really helpful organising and moving my stuff from Netherlands to UK. Mark was knowledgeable about all the customs documents. They were able to organise transport at late notice. The driver was friendly, his truck was tidy and nothing was broken during transit. I highly recommend JCL.

    Ell on 21/03/2024

    As featured in