Moving to Spain is the dream of many people – food, culture, and history attract thousands of expats every year.
I have many friends who are ex-pats and have always found it interesting to hear about the mistakes they made when they first moved to Spain. As a Spaniard, I’ve also given them advice on what to do and what not to do.
If you’re considering moving to Spain, you need to know about the seven mistakes many expats make. This blog post will also help you decide whether Spain is really for you or have a better experience living abroad.
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The 7 Biggest Mistakes When Moving to Spain
1. Avoiding learning Spanish
There is a large number of expats that arrive in Spain, assuming that English is widely spoken. However, this is far from the truth.
In tourist coastal destinations such as Ibiza or Costa del Sol, you’ll find a higher number of locals who speak English, many restaurants have their menus translated into English and other common languages, etc.
Although you can make it through your holidays without speaking Spanish, it won’t be the same when you live in Spain.
The Spanish language can be complex as many other European languages that come from Latin – as there are more conjugations. However, this isn’t an excuse to avoid learning the language.
2. Assuming Spanish cities are all the same
A big misconception about Spain is that many people think it’s all about beaches, sunny weather and paella.
Spain is characterised by its diverse landscapes and rich culture. Depending on what region you decide to live in, the weather, food and landscape can change a lot.
Southern Spain has very warm temperatures in the summer but mild temperatures the rest of the year. In contrast, Northern Spain has mild temperatures in the summer and cold weather in the other seasons.
Southern Spain has beautiful beaches, but its flora and fauna are completely different from the north, where lush green spaces are abundant.
Last but not least, food varies from region to region. Every city and county has traditional dishes you want to try.
There’s much more than paella! You’ll find gazpacho in Andalusia, pintxos in the Basque Country, ensaimadas in Mallorca, etc.
3. Not doing your research before moving
This applies to any country you are considering moving to. Going on a holiday is completely different to living in that country.
First, have a look at which legal documents you must apply for before moving to Spain, for example, a visa if you’re coming from the US.
Then, think about the type of weather you would like – are you looking for sunny and warm weather? Mild or cold? This will narrow your choices.
Something that people tend to forget is what type of activities you want to do or experience. For example, a city with plenty of museums and cultural activities or nature parks and greener spaces.
Last but not least, if you don’t have a driving license or want to rent or buy a car, and travelling is important for you, check out that the city you’re moving to is well-connected with the rest of Spain.
4. Buying a property straight away
Many people sell their houses in their home country to buy a lovely apartment, house or villa in Spain.
Although this isn’t a bad idea, in the long run, you need to be sure that Spain is the country for you.
If you aren’t sure if you will like or dislike life in Spain, a great alternative is to rent a flat for a few months before buying a property.
Renting a flat in Spain isn’t expensive – except for popular destinations such as Madrid and Barcelona where the average rent price increases, therefore it’s a good idea.
You can sometimes also pay rent for a few months and discuss the possibility of buying that house or apartment with the landlord.
5. Being unaware of cultural aspects
Spain’s culture is rich and diverse from region to region. Of course, you can find similarities across the country, but researching a little bit about the region you’ll live in, does help.
One of the cultural shocks that many expats experience in Spain is how close locals get. They don’t keep a distance; they greet new people by giving two kisses on the cheeks rather than shaking hands, and if you’re tapped on the shoulder to get your attention, don’t get scared.
Locals are welcoming, and making friends isn’t as difficult as in other countries. If you make a Spanish friend, you’ll be eating lunch at their house in no time.
However, let me tell you that many Spanish people are careless about time. What I mean is that if you both agree to meet up at 7 pm, don’t be surprised if he/she turns up 10 or 15 minutes later.
Lateness is very annoying, and the worst thing about it is that they’ll always find an excuse for why they were late – most times, the truth is that they were too laid back and started getting ready at the last minute.
In relation to being late, the bureaucracy in Spain is very slow, so you definitely want to sort out your paperwork as soon as possible.
As part of the Spanish laid-back culture, you’ll also find that locals have lunch or dinner quite late in comparison to other countries such as the UK.
It’s quite normal to have lunch between 2-3:30 pm and dinner between 9-10:00 pm. These times can be even later in the summertime.
Other culture shocks that you can experience in Spain are the practice of bullfighting in some parts of Spain (although there are many locals, like me, against this), eating times as well as more meals, the nightlife, etc.
6. Spending too much money
If you’re coming from a country where your currency is stronger than the euro, it’s very easy to overspend money as you think everything is cheap. For example, eating out as tapas are relatively cheap.
However, if you do this almost every day and check how much you’ve spent, you’ll realise you could save a lot or put that money aside to buy something important or save.
The best way to avoid spending too much money in Spain is by setting a budget every week or month. By setting a budget, you don’t necessarily need to stop having that coffee in your favourite cafe but reduce the times you do it.
Another way to save money is by making a list of the things you must buy. Whether you’re renting or buying a house, there’s always something you must buy – no matter how big or small, it’s an expense.
Making a list is super useful to avoid buying unnecessary things too.
7. Delaying paperwork
The Spanish bureaucracy is far from good and well-organised, and this is something you must know before moving to Spain. Even the simplest paperwork can be a real pain because of the disorganization in the offices or the reduced number of administrators.
Some institutions will tell you that you need cita previa (an appointment), which you can arrange by phone or online. This cita previa doesn’t always run in time, so you are given a date and time and can still end up waiting.
It gets worse when they don’t accept appointments. You must go early and queue for hours, sometimes, you will be lucky and get things sorted on your first visit, but you sometimes may be asked to provide extra information and bring it another day.
The biggest advice is to sort out your paperwork as soon as possible and don’t leave anything for the last minute (especially if it’s urgent!)
At the same time, if there’s something you can do before moving to Spain – i.e. from your home country, it’s better to start the process there.
Other important Spain moving tips
Don’t leave things for August
Most people take holidays in August, and many businesses are also closed too; therefore, it isn’t the best time to get something sorted – i.e. buying a house, arranging a doctor’s appointment, renewing the driving license, etc.
Be aware there are other languages in Spain
Catalan, Basque and Galician aren’t dialects but official languages in Spain. This is important to know as telling someone from Barcelona if they speak the Catalan dialect will be very rude.
These languages are only spoken in their counties, and Spanish people from other counties won’t know these languages, although they may understand certain words that sound similar to Spanish.
Adapt to the shop times
Shops in Spain usually open later and close later than in other countries. Many small businesses open at 9 am, close at 2 pm, have lunch and a small break, and often open from 5 pm to 9 pm.
Big supermarkets and shopping centres don’t usually close for lunch and stay open until 10 pm.
Also, remember that many shops don’t open on Sundays. They only do it when it’s a festive period, such as Christmas.
Don’t be surprised if someone cancels on you because of the weather
If you come from the UK, you’re used to going out no matter the weather – because if people didn’t make plans because of the rain, they would barely go out.
In Spain, it’s completely acceptable to cancel on friends because of the rain or to invite them over for a chilling day watching films.
Locals don’t really enjoy doing outdoor activities if it’s raining. Luckily, Spain doesn’t have as many rainy days as other countries.
Opt for Menú del día
Do you love eating out but don’t want to spend lots of money?
Well, an excellent option to find good prices is to look for restaurants that offer menú del día – a set menu that consists of a starter, main course and dessert. They’re often cheaper and you won’t leave the restaurant hungry for sure.
Immerse yourself in the Spanish culture
Apart from learning the language or meeting the locals, you can immerse yourself in the Spanish culture by attending important events such as Semana Santa (Holy Week), the Three Kings parade at Christmas, fairs and traditional town parties.
Use a good sun cream (not only in the summer months)
Spain has many sunny days – even in the winter months. In addition to this, the Spanish enjoy plenty of sunlight as it gets dark late in the summer and winter, too (around 6 pm).
The sun is lovely, but we tend to forget to take care of our skin and the damage that the sun can cause to the skin, especially in the summer.
This is why you need to get a good sun cream and use it regardless of the season.
Conclusion on the biggest mistakes when moving to Spain
As I mentioned above, it’s really important to do your research before moving to Spain. You don’t have to know everything, and of course, there are things that will surprise you during your life in Spain. However, knowing these seven simple mistakes can make a difference.
Are you ready to move to Spain? You can also check my ultimate guide for moving to Spain where you’ll find the type of documents you need, the best cities for expats and other detailed information.
If you have any questions or want any advice on moving to Spain or Spanish culture, reach me by email at cristina[at]mylittleworldoftravelling.com or on Instagram. I’m always happy to help.
Also, if you’re an expat in Spain, I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts about these mistakes. Have you made any of these mistakes before?
P.S. Do you know any friend who’s moving to Spain soon? Share the blog with them 🙂
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⭐ Mini Guide to Living Abroad
Should I get expat travel insurance?
ABSOLUTELY! — For your peace of mind, get your expat travel insurance with SafetyWing!
How do I get a job in Spain as an expat?
You can find work in Spain via job boards, word of mouth, or agencies. If you plan to work remotely, look for jobs on websites like FlexJobs.com. They offer 100% remote roles.
What’s the best way to open a bank account in Spain?
I’ve been using La Caixa Bank for many years. However, I love visiting other countries and spending some time there. So I found Wise, which offers free global accounts. It’s super convenient, and you won’t have to open accounts everywhere you move! You’re also guaranteed the cheapest money transfers.
How do you make friends in Spain?
I highly recommend using Facebook to connect with people. There are many Facebook Groups for expats in each city. Also, you can use Meetup.com. It’s free to join, and you can meet people who share a similar hobby as you!
What’s the best way to learn Spanish?