12 useful things to know before moving to Spain

When I decided to embark upon teaching English abroad, I never envisioned that thethings to know before moving to Spainre 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

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 a 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 a 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!

View of Barcelona

Children

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!

Barcelona Cathedral

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

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!

City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia

Eating hours

The Spanish working hours also have an effect on the 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

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

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!

travel guide to Barcelona

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!

Flags in Valencia

Weather

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. 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!

Barceloneta Beach

Buildings

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 Barcelon 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!

View in Valencia

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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Tom

Tom is a travel addict who first left England to spend a year Down Under. Not satisfied with this, he then went to New Zealand, about as far away from home as he could get. He is now planning his next adventures in Europe and Canada while maintaining this blog.

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42 Responses

  1. Not moving to Spain, but this is still interesting to read and know. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Brian says:

    The biggest surprise was the children. I’m sure it’s less expensive than the UK, but as a tourist in Madrid & Barcelona, I can’t say I noticed a major difference between Spain and other Eurozone countries.

    • Tom says:

      The children are a lot naughtier here than in England, that’s for sure. Barcelona is cheaper than England for me, especially if you know where to shop.

  3. Joe says:

    All very good to know, thanks for sharing 🙂 I agree that the Catalan movement in Barcelona is indeed rather fierce! So do you teach many kids then? I work in a school in the UK – a very nice all girls school in Surrey – and they are very polite here, but I would say it’s atypical of your average U.K. School. But I have heard that in Spain it’s worse…and you seem to be confirming that here 😉

    • Tom says:

      I teach a lot of kids here, they are definitely not as well behaved as in England. They definitely push the boundaries of what’s acceptable, very cheeky indeed!

  4. Carla says:

    Saving this for later because I have plans to move to Spain. I’m a blogger from Manila, and glad that you were able to see some similarities between Spain and Manila, thats 300 years of being colonized by Spain for you. Thanks for sharing this!

  5. Jaimee says:

    I know someone else who moved to Spain (to teach English too, actually!) and all of this is so true from what I’ve heard from them too. Especially the children thing!! And the driving thing, I feel like there’s a lot of places in Europe that people just drive like crazy!! (Italy I’ve heard is also ridiculous)

    • Tom says:

      Good to know it’s not just me that’s noticed these things! I agree with the driving in Europe thing. It was the same in France, people speeding all over the place! I’ve not been to Italy yet, but I’ve heard it’s similar if not worse than Spain!

  6. Wow, i had no idea the cost of living was so cheap in Spain. We have many expat friends from Panama who are now relocating to Spain, some Barcelona region, and I can see why. Nice post and I’m glad to know many of these things. The work hours, geesh, that is nuts!

    • Tom says:

      Neither did I until I moved here, it’s a lot cheaper than England. Ye the work hours are ridiculous, I’m not sure why that is!

  7. priya says:

    Great points! We traveled to Spain, but never thought of how it would be live there! Yep those tiny plates of tapas add up

    • Tom says:

      It’s a great place to live, just a few quirky things for me that I noticed. Yep the tapas definitely does add up, it’s a good idea if you’re in a big group though!

  8. Carol Colborn says:

    Nice to know! You have certainly gotten to know Barcelona. I probably wouldn’t be able to adjust to the working and eating hours.

  9. Hugo Cura says:

    I’ve traveled to Spain many times and have to say you nailed most of them while the rest are clearly a perfect example of cultural shock. You’ll get over it! It’s hard to compare Australia or New Zealand to Spain as the culture is fundamentally different.

    You’re also right that Barcelona is very different from the rest of Spain!

    I still prefer a proper meal over tapas 🙂

    • Tom says:

      Ye there’s definitely a bit of culture shock going on that’s for sure. Even after a year, there’s still things that confuse me even now! You can’t really compare Australia and New Zealand with Spain at all, completely different places! I prefer a meal as well!

  10. anna says:

    Ohhh how I love Spain. Between the tapas and the people…it’s a place I would visit again in a heartbeat.

  11. It was no surprised that you can easily connect some of your experiences in the Philippines to Spain. Well, our country has been under Spain for over 300 years. And I can attest to some of your points.

    Reading the first half of your article, its like describing the Philippines. Bureaucracy, children, working, eating hours and the people.

    Love all your photos, showcasing architectural design of Spain. Very helpful article for people planning to move here.

    • Tom says:

      The Philippines is similar to Spain in a lot of aspects now I think about it! Weird it had never really crossed my mind before! Though there is a substantial American influence now, which I think may have superseded the Spanish one a bit!

      Thanks Trisha, I appreciate your comment!

  12. Hi 🙂
    I´m portuguese so very like the spanish. It was very interesting knowing what it´s consider strange! For me it´s normal 🙂

  13. Sheena Yap says:

    I’m a huge fan of Barcelona, but admittedly have only seen it from a tourist’s lens, so it was really refreshing to read about all these Spanish idiosyncrasies! For the rest of the world, it might seem like Spanish siestas are a good thing, but we’ve never really thought about how that results in really late working hours! So I guess it’s true that you really only get to know a place well enough when you’ve lived there for a certain period of time, and I do hope that you’ll get used to these cultural oddities soon!

    • Tom says:

      It’s definitely different when you live somewhere as opposed to just visiting! Gives you a different perspective of the place that’s for sure! The siesta isn’t really much of a thing anymore, apart from Andalucia during the summer. As it’s too hot to do anything during the middle of the day!

  14. Laura Lynch says:

    We’ve been in Catalunya for 3 weeks now and it only took us a day or two to realize what you’re saying about their ferocious desire for independence. They really have a strong sense of culture and tradition and want to be sure they keep that sacred. We didn’t realize that at all before we came here. It is a really lovely place and I can see why they’d want to protect their heritage.

    • Tom says:

      Yep they are intensely patriotic, especially over the language, which I don’t necessarily agree with. I think they go too far at times, trying to protect it. I’ve heard stories about native Spanish speakers being rejected for jobs because they can’t speak Catalan!

  15. It seems bizarre to think that the bureaucracy for European residents is so bad. I know what you mean about tapas though. As amazing as they are I once almost needed a second mortgage for a night out in Barcelona.

  16. Mike says:

    I’ve been thining about moving from Korea to Spain to teach English. Thanks for this guide and the heads up! It sounds like the culture is actually similar to what we have here where kids get away with everything and adults work until late in the evening. I think there is a correlation there because kids have so much unsupervised time.

    • Tom says:

      Ah right, I would never would have thought there’s a correlation between Korea and Spain. Although saying that, I did teach some Chinese students at a summer school and they were hard work!

  17. Christopher says:

    I’ve been to a few parts of Spain. Pamplona, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville and Madrid. You could definitely notice a difference in all the architecture and I heard about the differences between the Nirth and South but I never really thought about all the politics.

    • Tom says:

      The politics divides Spain quite a lot. They still have arguments about things that happened hundreds of years ago, it’s crazy! It’s not the homogeneous country I thought it was before I visited!

  18. Those are very interesting and accurate observations, each one of them. We have only visited Spain for a short two weeks, but looking back, I can connect to everything that you mention…specially the loud conversations, the meal hours, and the variety of tapas.

    • Tom says:

      I would hope they were accurate after living here for a year and a half haha! I really do think the Spanish need noise in their lives. Everything is noisy, the people, the houses, the streets, everything! It’s crazy!

  19. Rhonda Albom says:

    I love Spain. We did a long term home exchange a few years ago. My girls joined a youth group and I was so surprised how naughty the children were. Up until reading your post, I thought it was just those kids. Now I know it is cultural.

    • Tom says:

      The kids here are terrible. Teaching six year olds with limited English is not the easiest. It’s definitely cultural, especially here in Bacelona, the parents almost encourage the kids to be naughty!

  20. Peter Terp says:

    Really nice to read your post about moving to Spain. I’ve visited Spain many times and have considered moving to Barcelona for some time. It is really nice to read your tips about Spain. I come from Denmark and probably have more in common with British people than Spanish – therefore very useful

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Peter! It was a bit of a shock at first when I moved to Barcelona as the culture is quite different to that of the UK and Northern Europe in general! I think some people can handle the transition to a different culture without a problem, I’ve struggled quite a bit. I think I’d be better off somewhere like Denmark actually!

  21. Aislynn says:

    I’m moving to Spain in September with a large dog and my best friend, to teach English as well! This was very informative….great post!!

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Aislynn! I’m sure you’ll enjoy your time in Spain, it’s a good place to teach English that’s for sure!

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