How to move to Spain: Your relocation checklist

Everything you need to know about how to move to Spain: residence permits, visas, work opportunities, and more.


9 minute read
Updated on 22 May 2024

There’re so many wonderful reasons to move to Spain, such as the gorgeous cities, rich culture, high quality of life, comparably low cost of living, top-notch healthcare, and a big expat community.

Once you’ve decided that relocating to Spain is an option for you, it’s time to arm yourself with practical tips about:

  • What you should know before coming to Spain
  • How to move to Spain
  • What to arrange for once you arrive in Spain

Your relocation checklist for Spain

Moving abroad takes a lot of hard work, planning, and commitment. It can also be stressful and often costly. To make relocation to Spain a smooth process, use this checklist.

  1. Learn the basics about Spain
  2. Double down on your research
  3. Figure out where you want to live
  4. Prepare a budget that fits the cost of living
  5. Find out the requirements to get Spanish residency
  6. Search for housing
  7. Translate and legalise documents before you arrive in Spain
  8. Wrap up and get your tickets to Spain
  9. Apply for your residence permit
  10. Register at the town hall
  11. Get your NIE number
  12. Apply for health insurance
  13. Open a Spanish bank account
  14. Get a local SIM card
  15. Register to pay tax in Spain
  16. Apply for insurance
  17. Exchange your driver’s licence
  18. Prepare for your pet’s relocation to Spain

1. Learn the basics about Spain

Setting aside time to learn about the country and its culture is only going to reduce culture shocks and make settling in faster and simpler. Here’re some things you should know before you move to Spain:

The culture

Spanish culture is rich in traditions and it influences how the Spanish live their life — from how they greet each other to how they approach dating, what they eat across the different regions, or how they celebrate local festivities. Overall, learning about Spanish culture and traditions is only going to help you understand the locals better and ease into life in Spain with little to no culture shocks.

The language(s)

Spain has 4 main languages: Spanish, Catalan, Galician and Basque. 99% of the population speaks Spanish as a first or second language. Catalan is spoken in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands, Galician in Galicia and Basque in the Basque Country.

Although English is spoken in the bigger cities by the younger generation and expats, the overall proficiency is low. It’s best you learn Spanish at one of the many language schools or at least learn common Spanish phrases to get by.

The weather

Yes, Spain is known for its sunny weather, but the climate varies depending on the season and across the different regions. Since this will impact how you pack for your life in Spain, it’s something you should know before you go.

CitySummer AverageWinter Average
Barcelona19º / 28º6º / 15º
Madrid18º / 30º4º / 12º
Málaga20º / 30º8º / 18º
Valencia20º / 31º5º / 16º

In general, you’ll find that Spring and Autumn are mild, with Summer (June – September) being hot and Winter (December – March) being cold and rainy, especially in the North.

The Government and Political system

Having a basic understanding of the Spanish governmental system and political parties will help as their decisions will impact you in terms of financial support, tax reductions, access to healthcare, and more.

2. Double down on your research

The only way to know if moving to Spain is a good idea for you is to research how easy is it to move to Spain, what opportunities are there, how easy is it to get a job or university placement, etc.

3. Figure out where you want to live

For most internationals, this will be pre-determined by the city they got a job in or are studying in. But if you’re more interested in a particular city, you can also plan your job, study, or retirement around it. Either way, it’s worth reading up about the best Spanish cities to live in to know what to expect from each place.

For instance, some cities are known as party cities, some offer more job opportunities for expats, and some are more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community.

4. Prepare a budget that fits the cost of living

To know if you can live abroad comfortably, you need to set up a realistic budget based on Spain’s cost of living. Financial sufficiency is also an important requirement for a successful visa application.

Calculate how much it will cost to live in Spain based on the city you’re moving to:

5. Find out the requirements to get Spanish residency

Once you know what you want to move to Spain for, where you want to live, and if you can afford it, it’s time to find out if you meet the requirements to move to Spain.

Unless you’re an EU/EEA citizen who has the freedom to move and live anywhere in the Schengen area, moving abroad is not that easy for foreigners. Most non-Europeans need to get a job in Spain or get accepted to one of the universities in Spain to get residency for a year or more. Alternatively, they must have huge savings or sustainable passive income to move to Spain.

Depending on why you’re moving, you’ll have to pick the appropriate visa option. For a list of documents and steps, have a look below:

6. Search for housing

While you await your visa approval, it’s time to search for housing. Start looking 3 – 4 months in advance because the influx of foreigners has led to high demand for housing in Spain.

If it’s your first time living alone in Spain, it would be best to live with flatmates as you can make new friends and split the bills and responsibilities.

To find the ideal rental house, look into the various neighbourhoods in the city and whether it has good public transport connections. Finally, know the average rent in Spanish citiesto set a realistic budget:

CityRoom RentStudio RentApartment Rent

Be sure to ask your landlord (and check your lease agreement) to see if utilities will be included in the monthly price. If not, you will also need to arrange and pay for utilities in Spain yourself.

7. Translate and legalise documents before you arrive in Spain

Before you depart for Spain, get your birth certificate or marriage certificate translated into Spanish and apostilled as you’ll need this for important paperwork in Spain. It’s often difficult and time-consuming to obtain this once you’ve left your home country, so set yourself a reminder!

8. Wrap up and get your tickets to Spain

Few weeks before your move, you’ll likely need to cancel your current rental and utility contract, cancel any subscriptions, shut down your bank account, and de-register (if applicable). Once you've done that, ship your things to Spain, if you need to, and hop on the train or plane to España!

9. Apply for your residence permit

Once you arrive in Spain, you’ll need to apply for the residence permit within 30 days to legally live in the country.

If you’re staying between 3 and 6 months, apply for Tarjeta de Residencia. If you’re staying longer than 6 months, you’ll need to apply for your TIE card — Tarjeta de Identidad de Extanjero.

10. Register at the town hall (Empadronamiento)

Anyone living in Spain for longer than 6 months is required to register their address at the town hall. Once you register, you’ll get your certificado de empadronamiento. With your empadronamiento you’ll be able to do lots of things, such as apply for your NIE number (tax number), buy a house, get health insurance, etc.

11. Get your NIE (Número de Identidad de Extranjero)

NIE number or Número de Identidad de Extranjero refers to your unique tax number. It’s an essential document for setting up your life in Spain and it’s a requirement for anyone living here for more than 3 months. The steps to getting your NIE number are simple.

12. Apply for health insurance

It’s a legal requirement to have valid health insurance in Spain. For a quick overview:

  • International students need to apply for private health insurance with full coverage in Spain.
  • If you’re working in Spain, you and your dependents will get free access to public healthcare as you’ll be making social security contributions every month from your salary. To get healthcare, you just need to apply for your health card (Tarjeta Sanitaria Individual).
  • If you’re from the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you can use your EHIC for the first 3 months. After that, you’ll need to apply for Spanish public health insurance.

Optionally, you can also apply for private health insurance in Spain if you want to avoid long waiting lines and have access to English speaking doctors.

13. Open a Spanish bank account

Opening a bank account in Spain will be very useful because you’ll easily be able to pay rent, withdraw money, pay at shops and restaurants, and transfer money to friends in Spain or within the EU with 0 to minimal costs. Don’t lose your hard-earned money to conversion rates and bank charges by using your foreign card!

14. Get a local SIM card

Getting a Spanish SIM card will save you a lot of money, especially if you’re not from the EU. Not only will you be able to make local calls for free or cheap but you’ll also be able to use the internet with no roaming charges within the EU.

15. Register to pay tax in Spain (if applicable)

Unless you’re unemployed, you need to register with Spain’s tax agency — Agencia Tributaria — to pay tax. Taxes in Spain can be complicated and we recommend reading the guide to learn more about the tax rates, how to register, and how to reduce taxes.

16. Apply for insurance

When you’re living abroad, especially on your own, it’s important to stay safe and be covered for unexpected costs. If you’re a car or homeowner in Spain, it’s mandatory to get insurance — even for expats. Other optional but recommended insurance include life, liability, and contents insurance.

17. Exchange your driver’s licence (if applicable)

Spain has agreements with several non-European countries, which allow you to exchange your foreign driver’s licence within 6 months. You simply have to register with Spain’s traffic authority — Directorate-General for Traffic (DGT). If you miss this window, you’ll need to take the Spanish driving theory and practical exam.

If you’re an EU or EEA national, you can use your original licence for 2 years. After that, you need to exchange it for a Spanish licence.

18. Prepare for your pet’s relocation to Spain (if applicable)

Want to bring your furry friend to Spain with you? That’s totally possible if you meet the requirements and have all the documentation in place.

There you have it! Moving to Spain can be super simple if you plan ahead and follow the tips in this relocation checklist. Following this checklist will also help you avoid the biggest mistakes when moving to Spain. Good luck!

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