Spain is a country so rich in culture and history. It is one of Europe’s most beautifully vibrant countries, and one with timeless traditions, friendly people, breathtaking architecture and wonderful scenery, awaits you.
Right now, Spain is one of the most affordable countries for expats that will not only offer the perfect modern living environment, but also the chance to laze on a Mediterranean beach or to drink a cup of coffee next to a centuries-old church.
But what is it like being an expat in Spain?
You might have visited Spain on holiday, heard stories or seen pictures and envisioned your picture life there, but the truth it, being an expat is not always the easiest thing to do. As an expat, you’ll get the perfect balanced work-life balance, you’ll get the views, the general relaxed atmosphere, the perfect climate, food and wine, and the culture that comes with it all, but the experience of being an expat completely differs from one person to another.
It all depends on who you are, where you’re from, who you’re going with, where you’ll work, how much many you have, and so many other factors, but despite all of this – there are a few things all expats will experience when living in Madrid – regardless of all the factors mentioned above. So here are our thoughts on what it is like to be an expat in Spain.
You’ll be walking everywhere.
Spain is an extremely pedestrian friendly country, and every city can be explored by walking around its neighborhoods, its alleys, its cobblestone streets and getting lost in them. Specifically if you’re coming from a country like the US, where having a car is a necessity most of the time, when you live in Spain you’ll find yourself constantly getting lost in gorgeous little neighborhoods or bustling streets – and still walk your way back home.
Barcelona, for example, with all of its grandeur, can be walked around in approximately 2 hours. You don’t have to be reliant on transportation, and if you are, the metro system is affordable and very efficient.
You’ll also get used to being extremely close to historical or cultural monuments, to museums, and to timeless churches that once made your heart skip a beat. Just walking by the Sagrada Familia while on your way to work? Pfft, no me importa!
You’ll be meeting people from all over the world!
As an expat in Spain, you’ll find yourself gravitating towards other expats at first, but you’ll slowly find yourself getting out of your comfort zone and mixing with the locals and other international people. You’ll have friends and acquaintances who come from vastly different backgrounds, and you’ll come back home (if you ever do!) ten times more cultured than you already were. You’ll find yourself becoming more compassionate and understanding towards other cultures, specially if you’re in bigger cities like Madrid or Barcelona where in one night out you can find yourself mingling with people from Switzerland, Australia, Egypt and China at the same time.
The locals are extremely friendly as well, and are more than happy to mingle with expats in Spain and share some local insights and tell you where to go, what to do, what to do avoid. They are friendly, generous and warm, and are always there to help.
It is, however, always important to learn a little bit of Spanish, which brings me to my next point…
Don’t be surprised if you find everyone greeting you with two cheek kisses! You’ll be getting used to it no time.
You’ll find yourself picking up Spanish and using it in your daily life.
You might have always convinced yourself that you were terrible at languages, and we all know how the Spanish high school lessons you took never really made a difference, but being an expat in Spain will help your language skills immensely. Even without any effort, you’ll suddenly find yourself using little Spanish phrases in your sentences and subtly impress yourself while you’re at it.
Learning the language professionally, however, is important, specially if you’re in cities like Cadiz or Seville. In smaller cities, people do not usually understand English and it’s better to blend in with the locals while speaking their language.
Your entire perception of time will change.
The pace at which life occurs in Spain will be completely different than anything you’ve ever experienced before. It’ll take you time to get used to it at first, but it’ll take you a lot more time to get used to your normal life again when you go back home.
Even with the economic crisis, siesta is extremely important – so expect the whole city to be closed from 2 to 5 or 1 to 4 as all shop owners go get drinks, nap, or spend time with their friends. Lunch takes place at 2 pm, and dinner starts at 9:30. Everything shuts off on Sundays, including grocery stores, so make sure you grocery shop before!
The pace of things happening is also much slower, specifically if you come from the US or Germany for example. What can take you 2 or 3 hours in your country, might very well take you 2 to 3 days in Spain, and there’s nothing you can about it. People do not have any sense of urgency and life goes by very…very slowly.
Tapas and Café con leche will be a part of your identity.
Not a huge coffee fan?
Live in Spain for a while, and you’ll find yourself drinking 2 to 3 cups of café con leche daily along with tapas, pan con tomate and croquetas!
Spanish food is amazing, but as an expat in Spain you might take time getting used to the proportions, how beer is literally cheaper than water, and how all the mini portions of tortillas and croquetas that you order will not, in fact, be enough.
You’ll find yourself aggravated, and then completely nonchalant to the bureaucracy.
You will spend time, as an expat, filling out forms, papers, taking photocopies, moving from one government office to the other, and taking up days to get one simple thing done. It’s a downside of being an expat in Spain, as there are so many hoops you have to jump through to accomplish even the simplest of tasks.
Always remember the law of Falta Uno which states that no matter how many documents you end up taking and preparing, there always will be one missing. Viva España?
Most importantly though, as an expat in Spain, you will get the chance of self-discovery, as you are liberated from all of the factors that contributed to who you are as a person. You will start seeing yourself more as an individual, than as a part of a community, and you will learn new things about yourself, become more independent, more cultured, and you should be expecting the occasional “identity crisis” as you’re immersed in a completely different culture and as you learn more about yourself.
You’ll have new social rules, you’ll adapt to Spain’s culture, you will change as a person – and that’s what being an expat in Spain is all about – it’s not all about the tapas, the sangria and the perfect weather, it’s about experiencing a culture so vastly different from your own and adapting to it.
P.S. Looking to learn Spanish?
Then check out the Rocket Spanish language course. It’s the most effective course we’ve found to take you from no Spanish to having conversations with natives. They have a free-trial, so no worries if you don’t want to commit right away.