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Where to Live, for Expats in Spain

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: July 2013

Finding the right place to live in Spain depends on many factors. There are practical considerations such as finding work, connections to other parts of the country and to international airports, house prices, the cost of living and availability of local amenities. Then there are emotional criteria too, such as the desirability of a place - whether what you desire is happiness, safety, friendly locals or an active social life.

Spain is one of the busiest countries in the world for tourists. The warm, sunny weather, sandy beaches, relaxed atmosphere, distinctive cuisine and culture combine to exert a massive pull, especially on northern European countries. Most tourists, and most expats, go to the eastern and southern coasts, such as the Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol, the Balearic Islands and the Canaries. Whether you want to live with them depends on what you want to get out of living in Spain. If you want the above amenities with a mix of nationalities, possibly including some of your own, this area will suit you.

For a more authentic Spanish experience, it’s probably best to look inland and to the north. Madrid, being the capital, also has its share of tourists, but is undeniably Spanish. The cuisine, the art, libraries, museums and concerts make Madrid a great cultural centre, and it is also celebrated for its fiestas and nightlife. Madrid is relentlessly hot and dry in the summer, however, and the stifling heat and noise may not appeal to you.

There are plenty of other, less frenetic inland cities. Away from the Costa del Sol, Andalusian cities such as Seville, Cordova and Granada are known for their exuberant festivals, Moorish architecture and friendly people. The central area of Spain is more sparsely populated but also contains fine cities such as Salamanca, Toledo and Valladolid.

Compared to the Costas, the north and north-west coasts of Spain are quiet and genteel, despite their fine beaches and verdant landscape. The climate is milder than the popular tourist spots, but this area remains relatively unspoilt and authentic. In regions away from the main tourist and expat areas such as these, though, it will be considerably harder to get by if you don’t speak Spanish.

In fact, Spanish isn’t the first language of some people in these areas either. Ideally, if you are moving to Spain to learn or improve your Spanish, you should avoid the east coast, where they speak dialects of Catalan; Galicia, where they speak a dialect of Portuguese; and the Basque Country, where they speak a language unlike any other in the world. These people generally speak Spanish as a second language, but prefer communicating in their mother tongue.

As noted in the Working in Spain section in the Immigration chapter, if you’re coming to Spain to look for work, you may want to have a rethink. Unemployment is at around 27% in Spain, which is one of the highest rates in the developed world. The situation is especially bad in the southern regions and islands, as shown here:


These areas are also, generally speaking, where crime rates are highest:


It should be added, however, that Spain has a relatively low crime rate, especially when compared to countries such as the UK and the United States.



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