Moving to Spain: 6 Places Where Americans Should Consider Moving

Moving to Spain
San Sebastian, Spain|Hugo Ghiara

By Marsha Scarbrough

There are dozens of reasons why expats are attracted by the prospect of moving to Spain — a rich and ancient history, romantic castles, fabulous cities, beaches, mountains, fiestas beyond number, succulent cuisine… Spain has it all. Yes, some beach resorts are overbuilt with concrete high-rises, but you can still find pretty seaside villages…and Spain off the beaten track is a revelation: a gracious, fulfilling, and traditional way of life that survives despite modern inroads.

Getting a Residency Visa for Spain

As a tourist, you can stay in Spain for 90 days, then you must be out of the entire Schengen Zone for 90 days before you can return. To live in Spain for more than 90 consecutive days, you will need a residency visa. Here are the different types available:

  • Student Staying Permit

  • Non-Lucrative Visa and Residency Permit (sometimes called Retirement Visa)

  • Employment Visa and Residency Permit

  • Self-Employment Visa and Residency Permit

  • Entrepreneur Visa and Residency Permit

  • Investor Visa and Residency Permit (also known as the “Golden Visa”)

  • Long Duration (Permanent) Residency Permit

  • Family Roots Visa and Residency (arraigo)

  • Digital Nomad/Remote Worker Visa is rumored to be in the works and should be in place sometime during 2022

The two most likely to work for you are the Non-Lucrative Visa/Retirement Visa and the Investor Visa/Golden Visa.

Non-Lucrative/Retirement Visa Requirements

  • $27,792 in a bank account per person or

  • Income from pensions and/or investments of $2,316 a month plus $579 a month for spouse/dependent child. (about $35,000 per year for a couple)

  • Income from rental properties or salaries is not accepted

  • Proof of private health insurance in Spain

  • Clean FBI report

  • Doctor’s letter

  • Consulates can add other requirements

  • Work anywhere in the world is not permitted

  • Must apply at Spanish Consulate in the U.S.

“Golden”/Investor Visa Requirements

  • Buy property in Spain valued at $500,000 or more

  • Residency for yourself, your spouse, and all dependent children

  • Permit to work in Spain included

  • Financial documentation, FBI report, and private health insurance required

  • $500,000 must be unencumbered/no mortgage

  • Purchase must be made within 90 days prior to the application

  • Can be more than one property

  • Can apply from the U.S. or while in Spain on a tourist visa

Because different consulates can have different requirements, you need to go to the website of the Spanish Embassy in Washington DC and determine which Spanish Consulate serves the location of your permanent residence in the U.S. Then, go to the website of that Consulate and print out their requirements and procedures for applying for the visa you want. Check back monthly because requirements can change.

Private Spanish Health Insurance

Both of these residency visas require you to buy private Spanish health insurance that fulfills certain requirements including no deductibles, no co-pays, and reparation coverage (having your body sent back to the U.S.). Even with all that, private Spanish health insurance is likely to be less than what you pay for Medicare, Medigap, and Plan D. The trick is that you have to buy this insurance before your visa is approved. Some companies require you to pay for a whole year in advance, others may permit you to pay monthly beginning with visa approval. Some companies do not accept new clients older than 75. Some companies don’t accept clients with certain pre-existing conditions. If you come up against one of these problems, google “Spanish private health insurance brokers”. Brokers know which company will accept what. Talk to a few brokers. You’ll find one who can help you.

Some private health insurers in Spain are:

Many international insurance companies actually have Spanish affiliates. Three of these are:

In 2022, the cost of a policy that meets the visa requirements for a healthy 64-year-old couple living on the Costa del Sol was $272 per month from Sanitas, That’s $136 per month per person. The cost increases as you age.

After one year in most locations and after five years everywhere, you can apply to join Spain’s excellent public healthcare system. Because you haven’t been paying income tax in Spain your entire life, you will have to pay monthly to be part of the public system. If you are under 65, the monthly fee is $60. If you are 65 or older, it is $157

Taxes in Spain

If you live in Spain more than 182 days a year, you become a tax resident. Spain taxes you on your worldwide income at rates higher than U.S. rates. You must also continue to pay U.S. taxes. A treaty protects you from double taxation, so you pay your U.S. taxes, then you file your Spanish taxes. You deduct what you paid the U.S. from what you owe Spain, and pay Spain the difference. Spain also has a wealth tax on assets over $750,000 per person, but it is not applied in the communities of Madrid or Valencia. Spain taxes your capital gains, so sell your house in the U.S. before you move to Spain. Property taxes in Spain vary by community but are much lower than in the U.S. Be sure to check with a Spanish tax advisor before you make your move.

Getting a Driver’s License in Spain

Your U.S. driver’s license is only good for six months after you move to Spain. Getting a Spanish driver’s license can be expensive and challenging. You are required to attend classes in theory and take practical driving lessons no matter how much driving experience you have. You can take the written test in English, although the translation uses British terminology, but the practical test must be taken in Spanish in the instructor’s car with the instructor as a passenger on a manual transmission. Some locations allow automatic transmissions, but your license will be restricted to automatic transmissions. Consider this challenge in choosing the location where you want to settle. Spain’s cities have convenient public transportation that allows you to live without needing a car.

Vaccinations Required to Enter Spain

Coming from the U.S., you need to show proof of vaccination, a recovery certificate, or a negative test. You must fill in Spain’s Health Control Form (here’s the link with these details, and receiving a QR code to get through the airports. Either a PCR or rapid antigen test, taken within 72 hours or 48 hours before arrival respectively, are accepted.

Moving Your Pets to Spain

You can bring your dogs and cats to Spain easily if you follow international protocol. Your pet must be microchipped with a Euro-compatible microchip that can be read by EU scanners—that is, a microchip compatible with ISO standard 11784 or 11785. The microchip must be implanted before your pet’s rabies vaccination. Any rabies vaccination before the microchip is implanted doesn’t count, even if it’s still valid. The rabies vaccination must have been administered at least 21 days before travel. The first time you bring your dog or cat to Spain, you’ll need to get a bilingual health certificate valid for the European Union. (See link for the form here: This form will need to be filled out and signed/stamped by your state’s APHIS-VS area office. (This is the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.) The form must be completed within 10 days of your travel to Spain. You’ll need to accompany your pet yourself when you travel or send an authorized representative. Check your airline for restrictions and procedures. Once you are in Spain, you can take your pet to a Spanish veterinarian to get a European pet passport.

Finding Accommodation in Spain

To find a home to rent or buy, search on websites like,, or If you don’t have good Spanish language skills, you can hire a relocation specialist to help you make appointments, go to the showings with you, and review the rental contract. Google “relocation specialists” in the location you want to settle. They can also help you get your empadronamiento and go to the immigration office with you. Their assistance is well worth the cost.

Banking in Spain

To pay for your housing and for life in general in Spain, you need a checking account with online banking. Not every bank in Spain will allow expats to open accounts, but one in your area will. Your relocation specialist will know which one and will take you there, or you can try to figure it out by asking around or inquiring on an expat Facebook group for your area. You should be able to open an account with just your passport before you have your residency card. If you have a brokerage account in the U.S., tell them you plan to move to Spain before you go. If they don’t want expat business, consider moving your account to Charles Schwab which has an expat department.

How to Move to Spain Checklist

  • Explore Spain. Take several scouting trips at different times of the year. You need to know where you want to settle in Spain before you put your plan in motion.

  • Renew your passport. Your visa will be in there, so you don’t want to have to renew it shortly after you arrive.

  • Change dollars to euros and move them into the Spanish checking account you will open.

  • Gather your documents and apply for your visa.

  • Research shipping companies and procedures if you plan to ship things. Paying for extra baggage on your flight is far cheaper than using a professional shipping company. Become a minimalist. Ship as little as possible. You can buy everything you need in Spain.

  • Once your visa is granted, you must move to Spain within 90 days.

  • When you arrive in Spain, you have 30 days to apply for your residency card at an immigration office. Your application includes all the same paperwork you submitted to the consulate for the visa plus your empadronamiento, which is a document issued by your local city hall that certifies that you are a resident in that community. To get that document, you have to show the city hall your lease or deed.

  • Find a place to live.

Things to Know About Living in Spain

Spanish people are friendly, and helpful, and love North Americans because we are exotic to them. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, a few words can be helpful: por favor (please), gracias (thank you), perdón (excuse me), no entiendo (I don’t understand). However, most Spanish people speak some English, especially those 30 and under, and those who work in tourist areas. They often like to practice their English with you.

Climate in Spain

Spain’s climate is mixed: Northwestern, green Spain, which borders the Atlantic, has cool summers, with fairly heavy rainfall in winter. The region is mountainous, with hills sometimes coming right down to the sea—the chilly waters of the Bay of Biscay, warm enough for swimming only in summer. But “green Spain’s” temperature range is not extreme: If a cool, year-round climate like that of Oregon appeals to you, then you’ll like this region.

Spain’s interior has a continental climate of hot, dry summers and cold winters. Temperatures may soar to the 90s F (occasionally even higher) in summer and drop to freezing in winter.

Moderate, cloudy conditions, with spring and autumn rainfall, are typical on the eastern, Mediterranean coast. The Balearic Islands have cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers, while the Canary Islands, off the African coast, have a more tropical climate.

Getting to Spain

The Spanish national airline, Air Iberia, offers flights from many U.S. cities like New York or Miami to Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, the Canary Islands, and more). Many other airlines based in the U.S. go to Spain, as well.

In addition, numerous budget airlines fly to and from Spain from other destinations within Europe, as does Iberia.

Popular airports serving coastal regions include those of Valencia, Alicante, and Malaga, along the Mediterranean coast; the airport in Jerez de la Frontera, serving Cadiz and the southern Atlantic coast west of Gilbraltar; and Bilbao and Santander, along the northwest Atlantic coast.

Language in Spain

Away from the popular Costas, English isn’t as widely spoken as you might expect. Spanish fluency is not a prerequisite for moving to Spain, but you will want to learn some of the basics. And if you choose to live away from the Costas, you will need reasonably good Spanish to manage comfortably. Real estate agents will happily give you property listings, but with a focus on local interests, they can afford to ignore the language skills needed to attract international clients.

Though Spanish is the most useful language to know for Spain, keep in mind that it’s not the only language spoken there. Most people in Catalonia, for instance, prefer to speak their native Catalan, while a good third or more of those in the Basque Country, on Spain’s northern Atlantic coast, speak Basque as their first language. Gallego is spoken in Galicia, in the far northwest, and Valenciano in the Community of Valencia (the provinces of Valencia and Alicante). While all Spaniards do speak Spanish fluently, street and shop signs are often in the local language in these regions.

Moving to Barcelona

A thriving hub of fashion, culture, dining, and sports; Barcelona represents the highest standard of big-city living in Europe. Spain’s spruced-up second city has a 24-hour lifestyle and is popular for weekend breaks with Europeans.

Moving to the Costa Brava

Situated between the snow-capped Pyrenees and the Mediterranean, the picture-postcard province of Catalonia boasts Spain’s most spectacular coastal scenery–the Costa Brava. The name means “Wild Coast,” and it’s a ruggedly beautiful place of pine-covered cliffs and secret coves.

Moving to the Costa Blanca

The Mediterranean coast between the cities of Valencia and Alicante is sunny and warm for much of the year and filled with small beach communities. Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city, offers big-city style with beach on the side. Alicante is more obviously a beach-tourism city…yet walk just a few blocks inland and you have a traditional Spanish city, village-style friendliness included.

Moving to Málaga

Hub of the Costa del Sol, the ancient port city of Málaga is less than 100 miles from the North African coast. With a lively, pedestrianized city center and plenty of museums, shops, and Moorish ruins, Málaga offers a year-round sunny, warm climate and surprisingly affordable living. With its international airport and fast rail connections, it’s also very accessible.

Rural Andalusia

For a taste of a more authentic Spain, the hills behind the Costa del Sol’s busy resorts and golf course condominiums turn up plenty of treasures. Magical places to go house-hunting include the 31 towns and villages of the mountainous Axarquia area, high in the foothills above Malaga.

Moving to Granada

Baking under Andalusian skies, Granada pleasantly taps into the emotions as well as the senses. It bridges the worlds of Islam and Christianity, meshing together Jewish and Gypsy traditions along the way. With the Sierra Nevada mountain range as a backdrop, it’s difficult to envisage a more dramatic setting for a city or a sultan’s palace. And most foreign buyers are impressed by the “wow factor” of Granada’s compact center.

Why I Moved to Spain

By Marsha Scarbrough

In 2008, I lost everything in the housing crash.

I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, selling real estate and had a retirement plan in place. I had bought two houses, fixed them up, and was renting them out. The idea was that they would pay for themselves and would become my nest egg for a comfortable retirement. Then, in 2008, they went totally upside down and since I was selling real estate, the sales dried up and I no longer had an income. The houses went into foreclosure. The interest rates went up on my credit cards and by 2010 I was bankrupt. I had nothing—less than nothing, in fact, because I owed money to a friend. I was left with an old laptop, an older car, and a fragment of an IRA, which had never been a big IRA, to begin with.

At that moment, even though my life was a total disaster, I felt completely free. I had no responsibilities; I was divorced, had no children, and now I had no real estate either. So I decided to take my Social Security early. I was able to live in one of the houses while it was going through the foreclosure process rent-free, and I rented out some of the rooms in that house which kept me afloat during that time.

Next, I took a class to get a certificate to teach English and got a part-time summer job teaching in an English immersion program in one of Santa Fe’s universities. The students in that program were faculty from affiliated universities in Central and South America, and some European countries that needed to improve their English.

So I was making a little bit of money and more importantly, I was making contacts with people who lived in other countries. I had always been a traveler. I had lived in Mexico already, in Ajijic in Lake Chapala, for six months during the year 2000. So the idea occurred to me that I could have a good quality of life in another country on the money I had. During that period when I was teaching and living in the foreclosed-upon house, I had a second pension from my years in the movie business that kicked in. So by the time I had to move out of that house, I had a little over two thousand dollars a month as a passive income, which is not enough to live where I wanted to live in the U.S. I knew I had to scout out another location to move to.

When I moved out of the house, I put everything in storage and I started traveling during the winter months to places where my former students lived, and where I had some friends that I could make contact with. I would travel for three to six months, scouting places out, and then come back to Santa Fe, rent a furnished short term rental for six months, do the summer teaching job, and then go off again. I went to Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, and had a really good time traveling and being with friends.

Then in 2016, one of my former students invited me to visit him in Madrid, Spain. He was someone who had become quite a good friend. Originally, he was my student and he did so well learning English that the next year he came back as a visiting professor. He was a fine arts professor at the same university. He had been living in Santa Fe but was now back in Madrid.

I had never really considered Europe because I had a preconceived idea that it would be too expensive. But I wanted to visit Alberto and he was inviting me to Madrid. So I took a chance and went… and I didn’t regret it.

Madrid is a fabulous city. Alberto introduced me to his friends and then we traveled to Seville to meet his parents. While we were there, we visited the Alcázar, an old Moorish fortress. We were sitting there in the garden on a spring afternoon. It was the perfect warm temperature, flowers were blooming, birds were singing, and we were sitting having a coffee. And I thought… this feels good. This feels like what I'm looking for.

That was the beginning of my journey. Alberto went back to Madrid and I went on to Granada by myself. As I was walking around Granada, I began wondering how much it would cost to rent an apartment there. I started looking at the cost of apartments in the different places that I went to, and I traveled around quite a bit—Barcelona, Cordoba, Cadiz, some other places in Spain, and they were all really beautiful.

Another thing I did during that 2016 six-week scouting trip was I volunteered at an English immersion program. This was an eight-day program called Pueblo Ingles, where an equal number of Spanish students learning English and native English speakers go together to a resort and speak English for eight days. And then you also play games, have group discussions, do a little amateur theater, and have fantastic meals and wine. And for me, it was super fun and in eight days when you're having a lot of one-on-one conversations, you make some pretty good friends.

So by the time I got back to Madrid, I had the friends I had made at Pueblo Ingles. I had Alberto and a couple of my other former students, as well as some of Alberto's friends. So I had like 10 friends in Madrid and I thought with 10 friends, I could move here.

The other thing I noticed as I was traveling around Spain is that it was quite affordable and I really could have a good quality of life there on the money that I had. Of course, the weather was fantastic, the food is great, and the culture is really interesting. All of those things impressed me about Spain. There was also the infrastructure. There's always hot water for a shower. You can drink the water from the tap. They pick up the trash every night. The roads are really good. There's electricity 24/7. And those are sort of first-world luxuries that to me were very attractive about life in Spain.

It’s also a very safe country. You can walk on the streets at any time of the day or night as a woman alone and not even think about it. There might be a couple of pickpockets, but there is almost no violent crime and people are out walking around the streets late at night and feel completely safe. People don’t have guns. To me, that was a big plus.

Spain runs on its own schedule and for me, it's great. It's a perfect schedule for me because I have never been a morning person. In Spain, stores don't open until 10 a.m. or so. Lunch is between two and four and it's the big meal of the day. And maybe you have some wine and maybe you take a siesta after because dinner isn't until 9 p.m., and then everybody stays up late socializing with their friends and sleeps in the morning. For me, it's perfect. Now, if you're an early to bed, early to rise person, you might not like that, but I do.

There's a Joie de Vive in Spain. People enjoy life and they value friendships. And it's very important for them to go out and socialize with friends and families. People are well-traveled. The people I am met, especially in the English immersion classes, were very well educated. There's quite an exuberance for life that I liked.

By the time the six weeks were up and it was time for me to leave Spain, I was sad. I didn't want to go. And I was thinking, I really could live here. I should figure out if I can do it. So on the way home, I flew from Madrid to Dallas Fort Worth, where I had a seven-hour layover before I got the plane to Santa Fe. And during that seven-hour layover, I got the worst food poisoning I've ever had. I was so sick in the airport and on the plane going back to Santa Fe, and for a couple of days afterward. I took that as a sign, that if the universe was ever going to send me a sign, this was it. You were six weeks in Spain. You were perfectly well and happy. The minute you hit U.S. soil, you got sick. So the U.S. is making you sick. You need to move to Spain.

I started to investigate how to do it, what the financial requirements were, and the other requirements. And I just barely had enough money to do it so I thought I better do it now, because if they raise this financial requirement, it won’t be an option for me anymore.

So it took me about a year to get all the paperwork together. And there were some bumps along the way. When I hit those, I reached out to those Spanish friends I had made at Pueblo Ingles and they came through with some really good suggestions that helped solve the problems.

I got the visa and when I found out, it was right around my seventieth birthday, which was also a couple of days before or after the Trump inauguration. So I guess I had some kind of intuition about how this political situation was going to change in the U.S. and I made a perfect choice.

Now, an interesting little sidebar here is, at the time that I found out I got the visa, I was visiting friends in L.A. To get the visa, you have to go back to the consulate where you submitted your paperwork and pick it up in person, which means I was going to have to fly to Houston to get the visa. So all my friends in L.A. were aware of this. One of my friends went to a charity event where she was seated at a table with people that she didn't know and they were introducing themselves. A man said he was from Madrid and he was a correspondent on the daily newspaper El Mundo. She said that was interesting because one of her friends is moving to Madrid. And he said we'd be interested in talking to her because we want to do a story about Americans who are leaving the country because of Trump and moving to Spain. But we haven't been able to find anyone. So she made the connection and he interviewed me as he drove me to the airport to fly to Houston to pick up my visa.

That interview ended up being on the front page of El Mundo with color photos and was picked up by newspapers all over the Spanish-speaking world. I was getting messages from my former students in Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico, all saying, you're on the front page of the newspaper in our country. Congratulations! By the time I went back to Santa Fe, packed up my stuff, and got ready to go to move to Spain permanently, I'd been interviewed for all kinds of different Spanish publications and television stations, including CNN en Español. By the time I was ready to actually move to Spain, there were reporters asking to meet me at the airport and interview me as I stepped off the plane, which I refused. That was way too much. But I did arrive in Spain with a bit of notoriety, which kind of served me well.

As my seventieth birthday was approaching, I was thinking of my mother because she died when she was 70, and I realized that I was going to outlive her. To honor her, I decided I should really make this last chapter, these years that I'm going to have that she didn't get to have, a great adventure. And that's what my life in Spain has been. I've never been happier. I have so many friends, young people who think I'm really interesting. My social life is on fire. I go dancing, we go out for wine and drinks, and go on picnics. It's been a great adventure.

I don't think that that would have happened if I stayed in the U.S. I don't think I would have made this brilliant choice and had the courage to make the move if my comfortable little retirement plan had worked out. I think it was the absolute disaster and that low point of my life… bankrupt, foreclosed on, and with nothing, that allowed me to close that door and open this door into a brilliant choice.