Moving to Spain From the US: Pros, Cons & Top Tips

Picture this: You’re sipping on a refreshing glass of sangria while soaking up the warm sun on a beautiful Spanish beach. 

The sound of flamenco music fills the air, and the smell of fresh seafood from the local market tantalizes your taste buds. 

This dream scenario is a reality for many expats who have decided to move to Spain from the US. It may seem like a far-fetched idea, but there are many reasons why moving to Spain from the US is a smart decision. 

Spain has loads to offer, from rich history and culture to an excellent healthcare system and warm weather.

Are you ready to start living your dream life in Spain?

Spain in Brief

LocationSouthern Europe, Iberian Peninsula
CapitalMadrid
Official LanguageSpanish (Castilian)
PopulationApproximately 47 million
CurrencyEuro (€)
Time ZoneCentral European Time (CET)
ClimateDiverse, Mediterranean in the south, temperate in north
Major CitiesBarcelona, Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza
GovernmentParliamentary constitutional monarchy
ReligionPredominantly Roman Catholic

Why Move to Spain From the US?

First things first, why Spain?

With its warm climate, beautiful scenery, and rich history, there are countless reasons to fall in love with Spain.

Spain has something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a bustling city or a quiet seaside town. The country is known for its stunning beaches, world-class museums, and delicious cuisine.

From the buzzing cities of Madrid and Barcelona to the tranquil beaches of the Costa del Sol – Spain has it all.

Several towns in Spain will even pay you to move there, with a range of special financial incentives on offer to attract new residents.

Another reason to consider moving to Spain is the opportunity to learn a new language.

Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, and living in Spain is a great way to immerse yourself in the language and culture.

Beyond the beautiful views, Spain is known for its laidback lifestyle.

Siestas, long lunches, and a focus on spending time with family and friends are all things that make Spanish life unique.

This relaxed pace of life can be a refreshing change for those used to the fast-paced culture of the US.

Spain is also known for its vibrant nightlife. From flamenco shows to late-night tapas bars, there’s always something to do in Spain after dark.

The country is also home to a number of festivals throughout the year, including the famous Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.

Challenges of Moving to Spain

Every country has its challenges, and Spain is no exception. To help give you a realistic picture of moving to Spain, we scouted the Reddit forums for real comments on the situation from expats in Spain.

Some of the most common challenges include:

  • Spanish bureaucracy being difficult to navigate 
  • High gas prices (higher than the US)
  • High cost of electricity 
  • Not much English spoken outside of the major tourists areas (although this could be a plus if you plan to learn Spanish)
  • Polarized politics – not much different to the US
  • Lack of central heating in many homes means winters can be uncomfortable

Cost of Living in Spain

In general, the cost of housing, healthcare, and groceries is lower than in the US, but it’s important to research the specific costs in your chosen location before making the move.

The cost of living in Spain varies greatly depending on where you choose to live.

Life in major cities like Madrid and Barcelona is pricey, but smaller towns and cities are much more affordable.

Let’s take a look at some example cost of living data. We’ll use two broadly comparable cities: New York vs Barcelona.

Rent

In most cases, you’ll find rent in Spain more affordable than in the US. For example, according to crowd-sourced data from Numbeo, the average cost to rent a 3-bedroom city center apartment in New York City is over 7,000 USD.

In contrast, renting the same size apartment in the center of Barcelona comes in at just under 2,000 USD.

Groceries

The cost of groceries also fares well in Spain compared to the US, despite recent price increases due to inflation and the war in Ukraine. According to our friends at Numbeo, groceries prices in New York are 110.7% higher than in Barcelona.

You can also factor in the vast improvement in European food quality compared to the US (no high-fructose corn syrup!) – and it’s really a no-brainer.

Eating Out 

If you enjoy eating out, you’ll love being in Spain. Not only is there a multitude of fresh and healthy food, you’ll also find that average restaurant prices in Barcelona are 60.3 % lower than in New York.

Venture outside Spain’s touristic areas and into small towns and villages, and you’ll find even lower prices (and perhaps even better food!)

Running a Car

Car ownership is one area of life where costs in Spain can exceed those back home in the US. Buying a new car is around 10-14% more expensive in Spain than in the US, while gasoline is around 46% more expensive in Spain.

Buying Property in Spain

Thanks to the strong dollar, it’s a good time for Americans to buy property in Spain.

Owning property in Spain is the perfect first step in setting up your new life abroad. It can also be a lucrative way to diversify your investments and earn extra income through short-term tourist rentals.

What’s more, there are no restrictions for foreigners to buy property in Spain – and you can use it as a route to residency via Spain’s Golden Visa program (but hurry, Spain may close its Golden Visa program soon).

Popular locations for foreigners buying Spanish real estate are Malaga, Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, and the Balearic islands.

But you can find many hidden gems outside of these hotspots, and they’ll probably be more affordable too.

Getting Spanish Residency as a US Citizen

Spain offers various residency visa options for US citizens. Here’s an overview of each one.

#1. Non-lucrative visa (NLV)

Spain’s non-lucrative visa is suitable for those who have sufficient funds to support themselves and their dependents without working in Spain. It’s a great fit for retirees and those with other forms of passive income originating from the US.

As the name “non lucrative” suggests, the visa holder (and their family members) can’t conduct any economic or professional activity in Spain during their time there.

Also, you can’t apply for this visa with remote work from outside of Spain. For that, you’d need the digital nomad visa instead.

To get the NLV, you’ll need to prove you can support yourself and your family in Spain from your own funds, which come from outside the country.

You must show proof of financial stability and have medical insurance. The NLV is valid for one year , and can be converted into a residency permit, which you’ll need to renew several times.

#2. Student visa

This visa is for those who want to study in Spain for more than 90 days. You must be enrolled in a course at a recognized institution and show proof of financial stability. The visa is valid for the duration of your course.

#3. Work visa

This visa is for those who have a job offer from a Spanish company. The employer must obtain the necessary permits and paperwork for the employee. The visa is valid for one year and renewable.

Work visas are difficult to get, as your employer would need to prove that no EU citizen could do that job. So unless you’re in an extremely specialist area (or want to teach English), it’s best to get your income from outside of Spain via the digital nomad visa or the NLV.

#4. Digital nomad visa

Another great option for those working remotely for a company outside Spain is the new digital nomad visa.

Designed for those who work remotely with income from outside Spain, this visa allows non-EU/EEA and non-Swiss citizens to live in Spain for up to five years.

You can get the visa with salary from one remote job, or from multiple clients. You’ll need to prove that you’ve worked for your company or clients for at least three months prior to applying.

What’s more, the company you work for must have been in business for at least one year.

Having proof of sufficient income is critical for success with the Spanish digital nomad visa. You’ll need to prove your income is at least €2,334 per month or €28,000 per year (equivalent to 200 times the Spanish minimum wage!).

You can use bank statements, invoices, and client contracts as proof of income.

#5. Entrepreneur visa

This visa is for those who want to start a business in Spain. You must have a solid business plan and sufficient funds to support the venture. The visa is valid for one year and renewable.

Here’s the Spanish government’s official website covering the detailed requirements for the entrepreneur visa.

#6. Family member of an EU citizen

If you are a family member of an EU citizen living in Spain, you may be eligible for this visa. You must provide proof of your relationship and your family member’s citizenship. The visa is valid for five years and renewable. Residency with this route is known as “EU family reunification“.

If you (or your spouse) hold dual citizenship with another EU country, then you can move to Spain without applying for a visa. You can take advantage of EU freedom of movement rules.

You simply need to arrive in Spain and register your stay with the local authorities after 90 days. Your non-EU spouse can then get residency as mentioned above.

Preparing For Your Move to Spain

Moving to a new country can be an exciting and daunting experience. Before you make the move to Spain, it’s important to do your research and prepare accordingly.

Here are some important steps to take.

Researching regions and cities

Spain is a diverse country with many different regions and cities to choose from.

Each area has its own unique climate, cost of living, job market, and culture. Take the time to research different regions and cities to determine where you’ll be happiest living and working.

For example, if you’re looking for a warm climate and a laid-back lifestyle, you might consider the southern region of Andalusia.

If you’re interested in a bustling city with a thriving job market, Barcelona or Madrid might be a better fit.

Learning some Spanish

While it’s possible to get by in certain parts of Spain without speaking Spanish, being able to communicate in the local language will make your transition much easier.

Consider taking Spanish classes before you move, or once you arrive in Spain, to improve your language skills.

Learning the language will not only help you with day-to-day tasks like grocery shopping and navigating public transportation, but it will also help you connect with locals and fully immerse yourself in the culture.

Arranging your income

Finding a job in Spain is extremely challenging (although English teaching could be a viable option). Instead, we strongly suggest moving to Spain with income from a remote job based in the US, or freelance clients also based there.

This opens up the route to get residency via the digital nomad visa. If you’re retired or financially independent, then the non-lucrative visa is another popular option for moving to Spain from the US.

Planning your finances

Moving to Spain can be expensive, so it’s important to plan your finances accordingly. Create a budget and consider the costs of things like shipping your belongings, securing housing, and paying for visa fees.

You may also want to consider opening a euro bank account and transferring your funds to avoid international transaction fees. Revolut and Wise are good options which you can easily open from the US.

You should also have some savings set aside in case of unexpected expenses or emergencies.

If you’re planning to live full-time in Spain, there will be tax implications to consider. Spain taxes its residents on their worldwide income, so you should absolutely seek advice from an experienced cross-border tax advisor as part of planning your move.

By taking these steps to prepare for your move to Spain, you can ensure a smoother transition and a more enjoyable experience overall.

Getting Permanent Residency in Spain 

Getting Spanish permanent residency is definitely possible but takes some time and effort.

You’ll need to have been legally residing in Spain for at least five years before you can apply for permanent residency.

During that time, you’ll need to have renewed your residency permits and not left the country for more than six months at a time.

You’ll also need to pass a Spanish language exam (unless you’re from a Spanish-speaking country) and show proof of financial stability.

Once you’ve got permanent residency, you’ll be able to stay in Spain indefinitely.

Just keep in mind that if you’re planning on leaving Spain for more than two years, you could lose your permanent residency status.

Becoming a Spanish Citizen

Getting Spanish citizenship is a step beyond permanent residency. It allows you to hold a Spanish passport, vote in Spanish national elections, and run for office should you want to. 

What’s more, unlike permanent residency, Spanish citizenship doesn’t expire. You can stay out of Spain for as long as you want, without a risk of losing your status. 

Most importantly, holding a Spanish passport makes you an EU citizen. That means you can enjoy the rights of freedom of movement across the whole of the Eurozone and European economic area.

As an EU citizen you can live, work, study, and retire in any of those countries, without the need for a visa. 

However, the path to citizenship in Spain is not an easy one. First, you need to acquire Spanish permanent residency. After that, you need to maintain your permanent residency status for another 5 years.

After 10 years in total, you can apply for Spanish citizenship. 

But keep in mind, Spain doesn’t recognize dual citizenship with the US.

You’d need to give up your American passport in order to acquire a Spanish one. This is a big decision, which you shouldn’t take lightly.

PRO Tip

If EU citizenship is your main goal, then Spain might not be the best fit for you. We recommend Portugal instead. Portugal has a shorter timeline to citizenship (5 years vs Spain’s 10) and recognizes dual citizenship (so you wouldn’t have to give up your US passport).

FAQs: Moving to Spain From the US

What are the requirements to move to Spain from USA?

The main requirements to move to Spain from the USA are having a source of income from outside Spain (which makes you eligible for one of the residency visa routes), a clean criminal record, and proof of accommodation in Spain. You’ll also need to get a Spanish tax number and show proof of having suffcient savings to support your stay.

Where do most Americans live in Spain?

Most American expats in Spain live either in one of the two major cities, Madrid or Barcelona, or in one of the country’s expat hotspots, including Valencia, the Balearic Islands, and the Costa del Sol.

Can you move to Spain without a job?

You can move to Spain without a job physically in Spain itself, but (unless you’re an EU citizen), you’ll need proof of sufficient income from outside of Spain to support your residency visa. Retirees can use the non-lucrative visa route to get residency in Spain.

Can I live in Spain without residency?

You can live in Spain for up to 90 days without residency as a non-EU citizen. After that, you’ll need to leave the Schengen area for another 90 days before you can return. If you’re an EU citizen, you can move to Spain freely without any visa, but you’ll still need to register your presence with the local authorities after being in-country for three months.

Before you go

Moving to Spain from the US is a big step, but one that can be absolutely transformational for your quality of life.

The good news is, moving to Spain isn’t as challenging as you might think – with the right planning. In this guide, we’ve looked at all the major points to consider when organizaing your move, so you can make it as smooth as possible.

Welcome to the beginning of your new life in one of Europe’s most popular expat destinations!

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