When I decided to embark upon teaching English abroad, I never envisioned that there would be certain things to know before moving to Spain.

I had this vision of beaches, people relaxing most of the time and great weather.

The weather part has mostly been true, but the rest, less so. I don’t think it helped that I moved to Barcelona, which isn’t a typical Spanish town.

Especially with the Catalan independence movement fiercely strong here.

There are still some things that confuse the life out of me. The ridiculous Spanish bureaucracy, and the fact that everyone seems to put up with it!

Just how regionally divided the country is. Catalunya and the Basque country, both want independence, I didn’t realise how vociferous these movements were!

Relocating to Spain is a daunting prospect, but if you have an idea of what to expect, it’s not too bad. Below are just a few of the important things to know before moving to Spain!

12 things to know before moving to Spain

Bureaucracy

View of Parc Guell and Barcelona

Ah yes, Spanish bureaucracy, this is one of my most hated things about Spain. After living in Australia and New Zealand and having had no issues with bureaucracy there, it’s crazy how different it is in Spain.

Applying for a bank account and tax number was easy. Here’s the form, fill out it, see you later, thank you very much.

That is not the case in Spain. You need an NIE, which is a tax identification number you need to legally work in Spain. However, most jobs won’t give you a contract without one, and you can’t get an NIE without a contract! Ridiculous right!  Bureaucracy is one of the infuriating aspects of living in Spain!

Getting a criminal record check was no easier. In England, all I had to do was head to any police station and request one. Here, I had to queue outside the only government building for three hours to get a ticket.

Fill a form in, got to the bank to get it stamped and then wait for my number to be called out. 5 hours wasted for something that takes 10 minutes to sort out in England!

This is one of the most important things to know before moving to Spain. If you have to deal with any form of bureaucracy, it’s not going to be easy or straightforward!

Children

Valencia Street View

Children get away with murder in Spain. If a child actually did commit murder, they probably would get away with it, such is the esteem that they are held in.

Coming from England, this was a major shock. Spanish kids are very cheeky if I acted the way they do around my parents I might not have made it past my tenth birthday!

As I relocated to Spain to teach English, a lot of my students are children. To say they push the boundaries of what is acceptable is an understatement! They are extremely cheeky, I’m not sure if it’s a lack of discipline, culture or what.

But, they are very mischievous. Not that this seems to bother the parents, who are definitely not as strict as my parents were!

Driving

Living in Spain, one of the things that I quickly noticed was how fast people drive here. Apart from when I was travelling in the Philippines, I’ve never heard a car horn being used as much as it is here! Take too long to move once the traffic lights change, expect to be honked.

Blocking someone in when they want to leave, continuous blasts of the horn until that person moves their car! Driving in Spain is not something that I’m keen to do!

Living in Barcelona, it seems that there’s no official speed limit in the city. Cars fly around at all speeds, it’s ridiculous. I’ve yet to drive on the motorway here in Spain, but I can imagine it’s the same.

People driving at crazy speeds weaving in and out of lanes. It seems everyone wants to get to their destination as fast possible without regards to safety!

Working hours

View of Valencia

This is one of the most important things to know before moving to Spain. Working hours here are very strange. Most shops shut at about 8 in the evening, some shut even later.

Living in Spain, it’s not unusual to get back home from work at around 10 pm and then have to get up early in the morning. It’s bonkers!

It’s not helped by the fact that lunch here can last anywhere from one to two hours. It completely baffles me. I’d rather have a shorter lunch, then be stuck at work until late.

Unfortunately, teaching English in Spain means I’ve got to adapt to these hours, but I still find it strange!

Eating hours

The Spanish working hours also have an effect on eating hours in the country. This one of the more important things to know if you’re relocating to Spain.

As most people don’t get back to their homes until 9 pm, they don’t normally eat until 10 pm. As someone that’s used to eating at 6 pm, this is crazy!

I’d heard this before I moved to Spain, but didn’t really pay much attention to it. Only when I was walking around Barcelona late at night and seeing people eating at cafes at these hours did I realise it was true!

The funny thing is you soon become used to eating at these hours. I have little choice as I often finish work after 9. The Spanish are definitely a nocturnal bunch!

Tapas

Tapas

Spain is famous the world over for Tapas. Most people who don’t much about Spain would be able to tell you Tapas is Spanish.

It’s that famous. I was looking forward to trying out Tapas when I arrived, but what I found was a little underwhelming. My experience is centred around Barcelona, so this might not be true for the rest of Spain.

Tapas is basically a bunch of small different dishes, such as Patatas Bravas and Croquetas. They’re to be shared as everyone takes a piece from all the different plates.

This does sound good, but the reality is a little different!

The portions are not very big and it’s actually quite expensive in some places. I’ve seen Patatas Bravas priced at €4.50 in some restaurants, which is just ridiculous.

This does depend on the region, as things are different in Andalusia. You can get free tapas in Granada for example when you buy a drink a restaurant!

Tapas is definitely something you should try in Spain, but it’s not exactly what you might be expecting!

People

Cathedral in Valencia

On the whole, the people in Spain are great. They’re friendly, accommodating and up for a good time. But there are a few cultural oddities which are a bit confusing to me. Firstly, everyone is very loud, or at least they appear to be loud to me!

Conversations are definitely a lot louder in Spain than in other countries I’ve visited. Everyone talks really, really fast as well. Whenever I try to listen in to a conversation, I struggle to understand the gist.

The words come out of their mouths like bullets from a machine gun. So fast, and in rapid succession.

They can also seemingly strike up a conversation about anything. I’ve had people randomly talk to me on the bus, in queues at shops, for no reason at all. If they discover you’re foreign, this serves only to encourage more conversation. In short, the Spanish are great people who love to talk, a lot!

Regional

This is definitely one of the important things to know before moving to Spain. I often thought of Spain as a homogeneous country, where everyone more or less classed themselves as Spanish. Yep, I was wrong again on that one.

Living in Barcelona, the regional Catalan flag is everywhere. Posters calling for Catalan independence are everywhere.

People refer to themselves as Catalan and not Spanish. The same is true for the Basque region and to a lesser extent Andalusia and Galicia. I’m not sure if anyone actually classes themselves as Spanish!

Spain is very fragmented, it’s only through understanding the country’s history that you realise why. If you’re in a region such as Catalunya or the Basque country, be careful what you say. The people in those places are very proud of their heritage and identity!

Weather

Plaza Espana in Sevilla

The weather in Spain is presumed to be good all the time and is a big factor for people wanting to relocate to Spain. Hot summers, mild winters, it’s no wonder Spain is home to so many British expats!

The above is true for the most part, but it’s worth remembering Spain is a big country. There are lots of different climates and not a universal one as is often thought to be the case.

Bilbao in the Basque Country is an example, where it’s supposed to rain for approximately 50% of the days of the year! Andalusia is another extreme example.

There isn’t much rain, but there is a lot of sun. If you visit Cordoba, for example, it can be swelteringly hot!

So much so, that during the summer temperatures can regularly reach 40 degrees during the summer! That’s just a bit too hot for me!

If you do plan on moving to Spain, it’s worth researching the city and region where you want to live. This way you’ll get an idea of what the weather is like and not be surprised when you arrive!

Buildings

Sagrada Familia

The buildings in Spain are beautiful. There’s a mix of modernism, classical architecture and Moorish structures, which give places a surreal look to them.

Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona, for example, is mesmerising, while I was captivated when travelling in Valencia by the City of Science buildings.

However, one of the things to know before moving to Spain is that there seems to be a lack of appetite to maintain the upkeep of residential buildings.

I was struck by this when I was walking around Barcelona two months into my first year. I saw a lot of buildings in a poor state and I was instantly reminded of my time travelling in Manila.

I’ve not been able to shake this comparison since. A lot of residential buildings in Barcelona need a major face-lift and there just seems to be a lack of interest in doing so.

Don’t move to Spain and expect the buildings to be full of mod-cons, it more than likely won’t be the case!

Homes

If you’re living in Spain, then you will know that the living situation is a little different to other countries, especially the UK. Most people live here live in apartments in the city, as opposed to an actual house, as is the case in England.

This has a few advantages, such as being close to the city, and cheaper rent. However, there are a few downsides.

The primary downside is that it can feel like you’re living with everyone else in the building at times. Depending on the size of the apartment block, there could be eight floors and four apartments on each floor. As the walls are wafer-thin and not properly insulated, noise travels everywhere.

It’s not uncommon to be able to hear your neighbour’s TV or conversations at all hours. This can be very annoying when all you want is peace and quiet! Another issue is that some rooms in these flats do not have any natural light, which is crazy!

I can tell you it’s not much fun, living in a room with a window looking into your neighbour’s apartment!

Cost of living

The cost of living in Spain shocked me, but in a good way! It’s surprisingly cheap, especially compared to the UK.

I was quite surprised, I was expecting Spain to be more expensive than it actually is. It is relative, the wages aren’t spectacular here, so prices are a bit lower, but it was still a shock!

Where I live in Barcelona, you can get monthly rent for as little as €320 a month! Food shopping is also cheap, and if you don’t eat out much, you could easily save quite a bit of money!

Even travelling around Spain is cheap, so you should be able to save even if you go travelling!

This is one of the more useful things to know before moving to Spain! You can live quite comfortably without spending much at all, which as a backpacker or expat is great!

Concluding thoughts

Moving to Spain has been a great experience for me. Although I’m no stranger to living abroad, having lived in Australia and New Zealand before, the culture was very similar to the UK. In this regard, it was really easy to adjust to life in those countries.

It’s been a bit more difficult in Spain, especially because English isn’t widely spoken. As you’ve read above, there were a few things to know before moving to Spain I wish I knew beforehand.

As strange as some of these things are, it’s good to be exposed to a different way of life, as I feel it makes you grow as a person!

Have you been to Spain before? What was something that surprised you when you visited? Do you agree with my list of things to know before moving to Spain? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

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