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7 Biggest Mistakes When Moving to Spain


Written by

17th May 2023 (Last updated on 29th Nov 2023) 8 minute read

Moving to Spain can be a big but manageable transition when you know what to look for. From scouting out a potential spot to integrating with like-minded expats, there’s plenty you can do to make your move as comfortable as possible.

In this guide, Compare My Move has gone through the typical potholes that expats encounter when moving to Spain, and how best to deal with them.

  1. 1. Failing to Research the Correct Visas and Permits
  2. 2. Not Visiting the Area You’re Moving to First
  3. 3. Assuming You Can Secure a Job Once You Arrive
  4. 4. Not Researching the Cultural Differences
  5. 5. Not Learning the Basics of the Language
  6. 6. Buying a House Before Renting
  7. 7. Failing to Connect with Expats
  8. Booking an International Removal Company

1. Failing to Research the Correct Visas and Permits

Having left the EU, UK citizens will now have a harder time acquiring the right to live and work in Spain. Brits can stay in Spain for up to 90 days after they’ve applied for and received a Schengen Visa. For longer periods, you’ll need to apply for a Spanish Long-Term Visa, which requires several essential documents.

The visa is just one aspect of the permits you’ll need if you’re looking to live in Spain. A residency card will be needed from city hall or your local government branch if you’re staying for over 90 days. An NIE number is also required to conduct any financial business in the country, like opening a Spanish bank account.

We detail all the steps you need to take - including applying for a residency card - in our guide on getting a visa to Spain. It’s worth noting that Spanish bureaucracy can work far slower than what we’re used to in the UK. Thus, it’s essential to get the ball rolling early and get the necessary paperwork as soon as possible.

2. Not Visiting the Area You’re Moving to First

Most Brits think of Spain in the broader sense of good weather, delicious food and sandy beaches, but it’s more complicated than that. The country is separated into 17 autonomous regions, some of which have very different cultures and even their own languages. Our guide on where to live in Spain can give you an idea of the characteristics of popular spots. It also compares things such as living costs, food, attractions and the local expat community.

Besides local customs and dialects, separate regions will have milder or sunnier climates. For example, the mountainous north offers more temperate conditions than the sunny south. We recommend taking several short trips in different seasons. This will help you get an idea of the weather and local life throughout the year.

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3. Assuming You Can Secure a Job Once You Arrive

Unless retiring or investing in a property worth €500,000, expats must find work to live in Spain long-term. Whilst many are inclined to hold off finding a job until they’ve travelled, we strongly recommend arranging employment before a move.

Outside of buying an expensive property or having a fortune in your bank, having a job is mandatory to secure a lengthy visa in Spain. Failure to hold employment long-term can put you at risk of being deported. What’s more, qualifying for a work and residence visa means that the visa application is handled by your employer.

Job availability is more scarce in Spain - the country has higher unemployment figures than most other EU countries. To add, a UK expat will need to prove they’re more qualified than any Spanish applicant to secure a position. This can seriously impede anyone without extensive experience or qualifications.

If you’re looking for a more accessible job, you’ll have to apply for a role on the government’s shortage list. Popular sectors on this list include customer service, sales, finances, marketing and IT.

4. Not Researching the Cultural Differences

Those unaccustomed to Spanish culture may experience some shock once they’ve moved. Spaniards have a more open social attitude, which may be jarring to certain expats. Expect plenty of hugs with new acquaintances and to have your cheeks kissed when greeting. Conversations as well may be more candid, with opinions usually shared and debated.

There are many differences when it comes to understanding Spanish culture. The UK has a very work-centric approach, whilst Spain enjoys a more relaxed lifestyle. The family has bigger focus in Spanish life. Working hours are often extended by communal lunches and afternoon siestas.

You’ll want to get accustomed to Spain’s eating routine before moving too. Lunch is the day's main meal, usually featuring several dishes or large portions. Spaniards take dinner later into the evening, meaning people often work and stay up later. If you’re not attuned to the Spanish body clock, it may take weeks or months to adjust once you’ve moved.

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5. Not Learning the Basics of the Language

Whilst many UK nationals believe they can get away with using English, they may soon be in for a shock. Spain doesn’t have as many citizens fluent in English as countries like France or Germany. We recommend learning at least some basic Spanish. Apps like Duolingo or Babbel are great for getting used to typical questions and terms.

Anyone joining a Spanish company should consider taking up a language class. This can do wonders for your work prospects. It can also help build new relationships, as many Spaniards open up more easily when speaking their native tongue. Friends or family members who are already fluent can also be a source of free linguistic lessons. If you know someone living in Spain, try chatting with them and friends to get better accustomed.

Depending on which part of Spain you move to, you may also come across less prominent dialects. These are usually found in particular autonomous communities known for their independent culture. You’ll be fine in central areas like Madrid, but expect to come across Catalonian if relocating to Barcelona - it being the capital of that region.

6. Buying a House Before Renting

Investing €500,000 in a Spanish home to gain a Golden Visa is one of the most popular choices for expats. This makes buying a property in Spain a go-to for potential movers, but we advise against this. Buying a new home is one of the most significant decisions you’ll ever make, so you need to know you’re prepared.

Capital Gains Tax is one major drawback to consider. Capital Gains Tax is a percentage deduction on all sales of land property in Spain. The tax is higher for non-Spanish citizens, usually 23-24%, meaning you’ll lose a quarter of your sales profit.

Renting in Spain is an easy way to sample the Spanish way of life without diving in head-first. It’s affordable to rent in most areas of Spain, especially if you put up your home as a rental whilst out of the country. By renting, you can trial many things that articles and estate agents don’t touch upon, such as public transport and local customs.

Current Schengen visas and the upcoming ETIAS system allow UK citizens to visit Spain for periods of up to 90 days every 6 months. Use these periods to try a month at renting in a prospective location. If your first choice isn’t to your liking, you still have ample time to try out another.

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7. Failing to Connect with Expats

Anyone who’s moved long distance will know the initial difficulty of getting settled in a new place. It’s all too easy to feel like a fish out of water, which is why expats can be a great source of comfort.

Over 400,000 UK expats live throughout Spain. They can relate to personal experiences, helping you transition into Spanish life more easily. We recommend joining an expat group before travelling to make connections ahead of travel - social media is a great tool for this. That way, you can establish a network of fellow-minded travellers before you even move.

To top it off, expats will have already gone through the process of securing a visa and residency. This makes them a great boon to anyone unfamiliar with the processes and permits required to make Spain a home. Free advice can greatly reduce the stress of the process, so make the most of this ample resource.


How to prepare for your move to Spain?

We recommend UK expats do the following before moving permanently to Spain:

  1. Secure permanent employment for long-term security.
  2. Research and apply for the necessary visa and permits before travelling.
  3. Compile all the correct paperwork, including applications, financial records, marriage certificates, passport etc.
  4. Try renting before buying a home to sample Spanish life.
  5. Learn at least basic if not fluent Spanish.
  6. Join an expat group online to form social connections.

What are the disadvantages of living in Spain?

There are several drawbacks you should be fully aware of before moving to Spain:

  1. Spanish unemployment rates are higher than most EU countries.
  2. Average salaries in Spain are lower than those in the UK.
  3. Capital Gains Tax is set at 23% for non-Spanish residents, meaning you’ll lose a large portion of a property sale if you sell your house.
  4. Working days are sometimes stretched to accommodate extended lunches and afternoon siestas.

How easy is it to move to Spain after Brexit?

UK citizens now have to obtain a long-term visa to move to the country. This can be done through one of the following methods:

  1. You can get a work and residency visa by securing full-time work in Spain.
  2. Invest €500,000 or more in a Spanish home to get a Golden Visa.
  3. Be retired and prove you have enough funds to sustain yourself.
  4. Get a placement at a Spanish university, along with the necessary funds to afford the cost of living.

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