I’ve been meaning to write this article for a while. In fact, I’ve been meaning to share my thoughts about the pros and cons of living in Spain pretty much since we moved here. If you remember, we decided to leave the UK about a year ago. We travelled quite a bit since, lived in Portugal for a while and then decided to settle in Seville.
If I’m honest, moving to Spain from the UK wasn’t our best decision. Not saying Spain is not a great country, is just not great for us. We have friends and even family who love Spain and we respect that.
One of the main reasons this article was postponed for so long is because every single friend advised me against writing it. Against my better judgement, I decided to go ahead and speak my mind. I want to tell you, honestly what is like living in Spain: the pros and cons.
If you are one of my friends reading this, I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you. If you are Spanish, a Spain lover or a Spanish resident, please don’t take this to heart, these are my opinions based on my unlucky experiences. If you are keen to move to Spain, then take this article with a pinch of salt. We are all individuals with different requirements and what bothers me, might be the perfect thing for you and vice versa.
Without further ado, let’s dive into what is really like to be living in Spain: pros and cons.
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Living in Spain: Pros and Cons - Contents
Living in Spain: Pros and Cons
We moved to Spain in June 2017. Our move was a business decision as well as a personal choice. We initially decided we wish to live in Portugal, but the housing market was not advantageous giving the summer gold rush and the demand for short term lets. From a business perspective, we figured we could potentially find more freelancers in Spain we could work with. During our long drive in Europe, we visited Seville and fell in love with the city. But, you know what they say: one thing to visit a place and another to live there.
Our lease in Portugal was quickly running out and since we were out of options, we decided to give Seville a try. Houses seemed better, larger and cheaper than in Vilamoura. And so, we found a house and started our new life in Spain.
Many will argue that the cultural scene, the weather and the food are the only things you need to enjoy a country. Others are impressed to see how friendly people are in Spain. Located in Europe’s Iberian Peninsula, Spain has 17 autonomous regions with diverse geography and cultures, which makes the country pretty great for travellers and explorers interested in variety. It just happens, that we didn't quite fit in, culturally, or otherwise.
The food in Spain
Food in Spain is seasonal, fruits and vegetables have great taste. If you love seafood like we do, then you will find plenty of fresh fish at your local shop. There are various Spanish cheeses which taste good and many are accustomed to the Spanish Jamon which is actually really nice. The meat looks generally nice, much better than in a supermarket in the UK. Prices are quite decent too. There is a huge variety of food available for gluten intolerants for the same price as the rest of the products. We found lots of foods which have zero or no added sugars, including ice cream or fruit yoghurts. You can buy freshly baked bread from pretty much any shop in your area. For a simple but healthy lifestyle, you can definitely find everything you need in Spain.
After a while, the food becomes a little boring. There are not many international products or niche supermarkets around, which makes it harder to spice up the dishes. Seasonal food, as great as it is, can also become a little problematic. When you decide to make a particular type of food and realise you don’t have ingredients until next Autumn, it can easily be a little frustrating. I love Asian dishes and for example, making my own coconut curry costs me quite a big buck since coconut milk is really pricey.
I find some food items unreasonable expensive in Spain: oranges and olive oil. It is well known that Spain is a huge producer of both: oranges and olives. I mean, how is it logical that in the UK, Spanish imported oranges were better tasting and cheaper? How is it possible that Spanish imported extra virgin olive oil was cheaper? I don't get this...
I prefer lots of options when it comes to products and unfortunately, I didn’t find a huge variety in the Spanish supermarkets. Carrefour, for example, has a much larger selection of products than say, Mercadona, but unfortunately, the prices are also significantly higher. Overall, food prices are higher in Spain than in the UK, and for the same amount of food, we pay 1.5 times the amount of money.
Houses and Rent in Spain
This will depend hugely on the area you wish to move to. We found a terraced house not far from the centre of Seville and pay £200 less than our rent in the UK. The house is much bigger, well organised and nicely decorated. There is no council tax added extra which makes us save quite a lot of money. Apartments are even cheaper, even the ones in the centre of the city.
Whilst is awesome that you can save so much in rent, it’s a little sad that you have to pay a lot of money for utilities. Never in my life, have I paid so much for electricity or water. I understand that water can be scarce in Spain, so sure, I have no issues paying more than in the UK (where even without trying, water is too abundant), but overall, the prices seem just ridiculous. As such, what you save on rent, you spent on utilities.
Another thing that really bugs me, is the sheer amount of sun that Spain has, and the unnecessary amount of money people spend on electricity bills. With so many hours of sunshine, Spain could install a ridiculous amount of solar panels, reduce prices for its citizens and export to other European countries.
Yes, Spain is cheaper and for the same lifestyle as in the UK, we got to save £400 a month. Now that sounds like a lot, of course. But it is also important to figure out if saving £400 makes sense when you might give up a lot of amenities and a particular ease of life in the UK.
Weather in Spain
How much do you like the sunshine? If you love long summers, then Spain is definitely the place for you. Even when we came back from 3 days in Vienna in October, we had to change into our shorts before driving on the Spanish motorway. I’m literally sweating as I’m writing this article, whereby all my friends from the rest of Europe are looking to buy winter jackets.
You are probably thinking, what can possibly go wrong with the weather? Well, I’ll tell you. The summer in Seville is like stepping into a frying pan. We’re talking about 42 C degrees. And if you think that’s awesome, think again. Every time we would switch the TV on, the news would be all about people complaining it’s too hot. Moreover, to survive, you need to have air conditioning in your home. That further inflates your bills, which makes living in Spain quite expensive.
Please note that Spanish houses don't tend to have central heating. Which means, for the short but cold winter, you need to get an electric heater, which...yes, you guessed it...inflates your bills yet again.
Not all of Spain has the same climate. If you want median temperatures, go for the North of Spain. This was our mistake for not properly checking averages in Seville, as we prefer summers in the 20s C and not 40s C. An alternative option is to move to the coast, so you can enjoy the sea breeze. I would avoid Seville in the summer, but rather aim for something in the mountainous regions.
Plants and exotic gardens in Spain
We have a beautiful, tropical garden just at the back of our house. When we go for our evening walk, we enjoy the gorgeous sunset over the palm and banana trees. There are plenty of jasmine bushes all around us, which fill the air with gorgeous flowery smells. Seville has lots of exotic gardens and is home to the Alcazar, which offers free entry to Seville residents. The plants are gorgeous and I can't find any cons.
Parties in Spain
Do you love parties? Then Spain will definitely be your place. These people love and know how to party. Think of those latino summer nights, latino music and the dancing vibes. I’ve heard from other expats that parties are ideal for meeting new people and making great friends. As such, for university students especially, Spain really is awesome.
We are not party people. We love quiet, which means that we don’t enjoy listening to music until 1 in the morning. We also don't have the same taste in music as our neighbours which makes things a little tricky. Nobody seems to crank up the classical music or some zen chillstep. During summer, people tend to go out after sunset (understandable as the weather is insufferable before) and just talk really loudly in front of the houses. This can go on and on, until crazy o’clock at night. Come on, guys, we all know nothing good ever happens after 2 am.
We prefer peace and quiet and would trade a silent place for lively Spain any day. We actually love the insatiable appetite for life the Spanish have and in a sense, wish we would be more like them. However, since we are reserved people who love the sound of silence, we couldn’t adapt to this and weren’t prepared to change our sleeping patterns.
Spain is a pet paradise
Spain is super animal-friendly. If you have a dog and are thinking about living in Spain, go for it. There are lots of bars, restaurants and places which encourage you to bring your pet. That’s pretty cool. In fact, I don’t know anyone around the neighbourhood who doesn't have a (massive) dog. Dogs are huge here (think Rottweilers and Great Danes). To be honest, even when we go for super long walks, we see virtually everyone accompanied by their dog. P.S. I didn't forget about you, cat lovers. There are lots of cats in Spain too. There are even stray cats which are being taken care of by locals. Since cats are more incognito, they are not as obvious as say... five huge great Danes in the middle of the street.
People don't seem to be as obsessed with training their pets as the UK folk. This means that dogs will freely bark at any time of the day, evening or night. Dogs will bark every time there is a car or a human in front of the garden. Nobody ever tells a dog to stop barking. You can imagine the sort of bark concert you can hear at all times. Although we live in a residential area with villas and large pools, people deem necessary to have chickens and roosters around here. This is madness! We had friends over for a week and they couldn’t sleep in the spare room because of the rooster.
Another major issue? People don’t clean after their dogs. Anywhere you look, tons of dog poop. I don't like it that kids play outside where the streets are full of animal poop. And yeah, no matter how you put it, it makes Spain pretty shit.
We don’t know what is the situation in apartments. It can be totally different or it can be even worse. We can only tell you the issues we came across in the residential area of Seville we live in. If you love dogs and don’t mind the barking, then awesome. But if you love quiet, make sure you move in a stand-alone house, ideally as far away as possible from other houses. Maybe look for a house with trees all around it to further soundproofing.
Healthcare in Spain
Once you register as a resident here in Spain, you can get access to free medical care. As European citizens, this is not unusual for us, but we are aware people from the USA find this an attractive pro for living in Spain. Many people from the UK choose to retire in Spain, hence it makes sense to know the government has your back for when you are old. Having access to free healthcare seems pretty great no matter how you look at it. Luckily, we didn't have to use the healthcare here in Spain, so we are not aware of any cons.
Culture in Spain
With 17 autonomous regions, you can expect an array of cultures in Spain. From the passionate sounds of guitar in Andalucia, through the cosmopolitan vibe in Madrid, to Gaudi’s unusual architecture in Catalonia, Spain is a delicious cultural dish. All you have to do is figure out what you love and make sure you select your region carefully. As you gathered thus far, we picked Andalucia, not because of extensive research, but rather by coincidence. There are various interesting cultural things about Andalucia. Flamenco music and dance originated here. Bullfighting is another tradition in Andalucia and the way of life down south is laid back and drawn out.
The part that concerns us most about culture in Spain is how many events are cruel towards animals. Miguel Ángel Rolland created a documentary about animal cruelty in Spain during the 16,000 religious festivals across the country. He calculates that during the 1,868 festivals involving bulls last year, more than 11,000 were tortured and killed. You can read more about it in this awesome article.
It is culturally acceptable that people are loud, have parties and eat in the street until 2 in the morning. Some people absolutely love it. And I can clearly see why. There is something awesome about the whole community coming together and sharing food, love and experiences. Ultimately, you have to be cut for this sort of lifestyle. We are more reserved and prefer a completely different type of human interaction.
Cleanliness in Spain
Seville has to be one of the cleanest city I’ve visited in Spain. A while back I visited Barcelona and you know I didn’t like it. Partly because of how dirty it was. Seville, though, seems spotless. It really is beautiful to walk around this city. I love the exotic gardens, the amazing architecture and absolutely adore how clean its streets are.
I live not even 10 minutes outside of the city centre (by car) and this community is a mess. There are overgrown parts, dog poop everywhere, dirt in front of people’s front yards. That is crazy. Even the playgrounds for kids are in pretty bad shape. Communal spaces are just not well kept. That’s one thing, I’ve not seen in Britain. Maybe I was always in the right place? Or maybe, that’s why there is a need for council tax. Who knows... Either way, I simply don’t like an unorganised and dirty place. There is no excuse for such a tight community to not come together every week and clean their own space.
Living in the city might be cleaner than in the villas just outside the centre. However, I want to stress that people in this neighbourhood are not poor. Their villas are huge and as I said, people here have pools, pool houses and mega large gardens. I didn't see the same level of dirt in the city, as I mentioned, so I am not too sure what is causing some parts here to just be left overgrown and dirty. For me, this is an issue and I prefer an organised, clean neighbourhood.
Friendliness in Spain
It’s so fair to say that everyone in Spain seemed super friendly and open. Even the lady from the bank, the local baker or the lady from the fish counter. Everyone was keen to ask questions, smile and make us feel pretty great. In the UK we got used to a superficial type of relationship, whereby people are just nice because their job requires them to be. People seem a little more genuine in Spain.
I quickly realised that it’s not much point getting friendliness if I get zero services. There is no middle ground. I don’t appreciate it when the people at the supermarket who are meant to scan my products fast and let me get on with my day, start having a gossip girl type conversation with other employees. Service is mega slow. Forget service in a clothes shop. Want to try a dress on? Be prepared to be ignored for minutes before anyone acknowledges you. Want to pay? Expect to waste time in a queue, where people barely move when they scan the products.
I actually prefer service over friendliness. I’d rather not tell you about my day if I can get on with it and actually live it and enjoy with alongside people I care about. I wish to spend my spare time the way I want, and not the way I’m being forced to, by people who delay me and offer bad service. Sorry, but no!
Being laid back in Spain
Everyone says that Spain is about loving and living life. Take it easy, they say, have a siesta, they say. Nothing wrong with that, I guess. It comes a time in life, when people realise it’s better to care about human connection and taking it easy, then going, going, going at full speed. It, of course, depends on your requirements, life stage and personality. I don't really know what to say at the pro section here. I'm trying really hard, but a laid-back lifestyle is definitely not what I'm all about.
We are young professionals who are just about getting excited about career prospects. We love living life to its full potential, and that means going, travelling, doing as much as possible. The more we do, the more we feel alive. Time is a precious commodity and we wish to spend it experiencing as much of this life as possible. Taking it easy doesn't make sense. At least not in the 3-hour siesta way, or moving slowing in a queue.
Breaks are welcome, but we are still at the "let’s go for it" stage. Of course, there needs to be a balance. We need a place where we can go, go, go, but also find things to do which relax us. Unfortunately, Spain isn't the place for it. What people refer to as laid back, we currently call lazy. It’s clear that we are not cut for this lifestyle quite yet. Maybe in another 30 years?
If you love the Italian saying Dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing), then you will also love Spain’s siestas. Since we love life in Tokyo, we enjoy a place which is robotic, automatic and efficient. Everything has a place, a flow and makes sense. Wasting time seems unusual.
Children in Spain
I’m going to try and be super objective here. We don’t have kids, but we can see why Spain would be a great place if you have kids or want to have children in the foreseeable future. Spain is quite family oriented and here, kids are still kids. I mean, it’s been 20 years since I’ve seen kids playing actual children games that don't involve a phone or a computer. In Spain, kids seem to still enjoy their childhood, a more relaxed, computer and phone free life. We live across the school and it’s crazy to see kids actually playing during breaks rather than silently be on their phones.
Unfortunately, Spain is a child-oriented society. This means that here, people have lots of children. If you are a young professional, maybe you don’t want to be surrounded by loud kids. You will see kids everywhere: supermarket, down the road, in front of your house, local shop, restaurants. Kids in Spain are really loud and if that bothers you, maybe this country is not for you. We noticed that when children cry, parents don’t tend to tell their kids to be quiet, but a bunch of people get around spoiling the little thing further. Maybe we come from different societies, but we don’t see eye to eye on this approach.
Whilst we understand that children represent the survival of our species, we perhaps prefer a more balanced society where there are more young professionals and fewer children. We are at a stage where we still want adult only restaurants, planes and hotels. Not because we don't like children, but because we have a lifestyle with a different focus. Our friends are young professionals with no children and we are interested in couple travel for now. Maybe this will change, maybe it won't. But for now, a child-focused society is a definite no for us.
If you want a solution, know that there are plenty of countries whereby parents educate their kids to be very quiet from an early age. France, Germany and Austria are great countries whereby you can still see parents with kids, the only difference is that everyone is silent, polite and organised.
Bureaucracy in Spain
There is no pro to bureaucracy. In Spain, bureaucracy is evil. When we moved here, we needed the internet so we can continue to work on our companies. To get the internet, we needed a bank account. To get a bank account is a whole new can of worms. We tried getting a bank account here, there, but nobody would actually help us. They kept saying to send them an email with all our details and they will get back to us. Eventually, our landlord helped us out and we opened a bank account with Santander.
But that’s not all. It’s been 6 months and my bank card never arrived in the post. Since I use internet banking to pay the rent, I once forgot my “firma electronica” (don’t even ask what that is…) and I couldn’t restore it over the phone. I had to go to a specific branch, wait for 30 minutes in a queue, get a new piece of paper to be able to restore my electronic account. I mean that’s crazy talk. We are spoiled in the UK that everything can be done over the internet. I needed a new paper from the government: it was sorted within 10 minutes, via the online chat!
Cockroaches in Spain (say what?!)
This is my biggest con about this country. There are cockroaches in Spain. And not the tiny type, but the huge, run-for-your-life type. We all have some fears, but cockroaches are my worst nightmare. When we moved to our house, we noticed about one roach every couple of days in the bathroom or the living room. Naturally, we panicked. We are extremely clean people, but we went into overdrive. We bleached the floors every night (bad for our health), poured bleach down the pipes, put duck tape on vents and openings, and used the sink plugs at all times. We bought all sort of things from the supermarket too. For about a month I lived in fear. Going to the bathroom was a game of chance and when we went to the shop, we would have to check the whole house for any potential pest. It was hell. Going out of the house was even worse. After dark, the neighbourhood would become this roach playground. We were shocked to see people eating out, having their windows and doors wide open when these creatures would virtually be everywhere on the house walls, roaming on the street, on the fences. Going for our evening walk was like an adrenaline roller coaster and not the fun type. After a month, I couldn’t take it anymore, I emailed the landlord in desperation, asking for advice. I already turned the internet upside down for solutions. The landlord said the neighbourhood gets treated every now and then and he was convinced this issue was no longer. He called an emergency pest control company who came within a few hours to fumigate the house. Well, that was interesting. The guy explained that houses in Spain have hollow walls and that pest tends to live there. Apparently, if you knock on the walls you can hear them run. Luckily, he heard none in our walls. He did an amazing job and reassured us we didn’t have an infestation, but the neighbourhood is just not always treated enough. The emergency service cost 60 EUR and that was the end of it. They said it should be fine for about 6 months and to call them again if we start spotting roaches again. Apparently, this is totally normal. Are you kidding me? Normal?!
After the fumigation, we stopped seeing as many outside as well. Apparently, the solution is meant to keep the pest away for about 200 metres. That's good enough for me.
Still, during the evening walk we would spot one or two, but as long as they are nowhere near the house, I can chill. The thing is, normal or not I just don’t want to live in fear, that perhaps every now and then I could see one, step on one or have them in my home. I’m so afraid of them, I can’t go out in sandals. This reminds me of Tenerife, which really, was the worst place for me as it was fully infested.
FYI, I asked Spanish people if this is normal and I swear everyone says it’s not. Apparently, they never see them. Maybe one or two in the summer. I don’t understand how not since they are virtually everywhere you look. So, I guess it might be down to luck, place you move, how well the neighbourhood is treated etc. One thing though, I've never seen them in Seville city centre.
Wherever you decide to live in Spain, may the odds be ever in your favour.
This is also in the cons section. We can’t really find anything fun to do in Spain. We usually get in the car and go explore a new city, new region, new place. That’s awesome. But ultimately, we wanted to find something interesting to do whilst at home. I think we were excited about being able to walk in nature, but things are a little arid and the lack of forests or lush mountains is a bit disappointing. This is by no means, Spain’s fault. It’s our fault for not investigating the region properly. We also need an alive but quiet city. Tokyo is a fantastic example. You might think we are crazy to compare Spain to Japan. I am trying to explain the sort of place which seems right for our needs. The centre of Tokyo is mega silent, especially during the night. People are polite. Customer service is great. There is always something to do in Tokyo. Spain is literally on the opposite scale.
Living in Spain: what went wrong?
I’m sure you can tell by now that Spain is not our favourite and we are most excited to leave. I think in a way, it all came down to luck. One thing after another, it all went downhill really quickly. It all started with the weather being too hot. As we are outdoors people, after work we need to go for long walks in nature. Since we couldn’t do so until after sunset, our whole schedule became all over the place. After dark, everyone would be out, hence the place would be too loud and not at all relaxing. After dark, we would see cockroaches which would make us agitated as opposed to calm. This, in turn, made us kinda hate going out. Because we would be so agitated and lacked movement, we wouldn’t sleep properly. We couldn’t leave the window open as everyone would be too loud, but couldn’t sleep with the window close as it would be too hot. Above all, the service was too slow, bureaucracy unbearable and nothing fell into place. To top it all up, dogs would bark, we would be surrounded by roosters, we have a school across the road which now made our days noisy too, not just the evenings and nights. And the cherry on this layered cake? We have a screaming child next door which cries for an unbearable amount of time. Two hours between 9 and 11 pm, 20 minutes at 2 in the morning, another hour at 6 in the morning and if we are lucky, just 20 minutes at 5 pm. Yes, we timed it. And it doesn’t cry, but screams and nobody does anything about it. In the UK you would call the police or the social service. What’s to do here?
So you see, it’s maybe not Spain’s fault, but everything went badly for us. Our relationship with Spain was not a smooth one, but a bumpy ride which made us hate the place. I do hope you learn a little from our bad experiences and know what to search for in your new life in Spain, to avoid making the same mistakes. Because you see, despite all these, I don’t find Spain a bad place for retirement. It’s just not quite what we had in mind.
One of my friends made it clear that Spain is not for everyone. She is absolutely right. In a way, we hate Spain, and we absolutely can’t wait to move away from here (news to follow shortly). My friend’s mum suggested we may experience culture shock. We initially thought so, but we doubt it. After quite a bit of travelling, we learned what we like or dislike about a place. As much as we wanted to make Spain our home (and we tried, believe me) we just couldn’t. Spain and us we are like water and oil. Don’t mix well together in any way, shape, or form. And that’s ok. We tried it, and now it’s time to move on.
In conclusion, there are many pros and cons when it comes to living in Spain. Ultimately, it comes down to your personality and your needs. Maybe you are in a place where you want to have children, or you want to be part of a lively community. Maybe you don’t care so much for service or you are a desert child in which case the arid plains of Spain make you feel at home. You are ready to leave the city life behind and want to get a couple of big dogs and live a simpler life. Whatever the reasons for moving to Spain, make sure you really understand this place before the big move. Living in Spain was not for us. But for you, might be the best thing ever.
Whatever your decision, I hope our living in Spain pros and cons guide helped you understand what to expect from the country. Did we forget something? Do you have a pro or con about living in Spain? Please let us know what you think in the comments section below.