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7 Biggest Mistakes When Moving to Spain

June 9, 2024June 16th, 2024No Comments

Moving to Spain can be a big but manageable transition when you know what to look for. From scouting out a potential spot to integrating with like-minded expats, there’s plenty you can do to make your move as comfortable as possible. In this guide, we will go through the typical potholes that expats encounter when moving to Spain, and how best to deal with them.

Ignoring Healthcare Requirements

One of the most critical mistakes expats make when moving to Spain is not fully understanding the healthcare system and ensuring adequate coverage. Spain boasts one of the best healthcare systems in Europe, but navigating it can be challenging for newcomers. Spain’s public healthcare system (SNS) is funded through social security contributions. Residents paying into the system are entitled to free or low-cost healthcare. However, if you’re not employed in Spain or receiving social security benefits, you may not be eligible immediately.

For those not covered by SNS, private health insurance is essential. It offers access to more services and shorter wait times. Popular providers among expats include Sanitas, Mapfre, and Adeslas. Upon arrival, register with your local health center (Centro de Salud) using your residency card (TIE) and social security number. This grants access to general practitioners and medical services. Obtain your health card (Tarjeta Sanitaria) once registered. This card is necessary for accessing healthcare services. Ensure you have all required documents, such as proof of residency, identification, and social security affiliation.

Emergency Services: Spain has an efficient emergency response system. Dial 112 for emergencies. Knowing basic Spanish medical terms can be helpful in urgent situations.

Not Properly Researching Visas and Permits

Since the UK left the EU, acquiring the right to live and work in Spain has become more complex. UK citizens need a Spanish Long-Term Visa for stays longer than 90 days, and the application process can be time-consuming and require several documents.

Tip: Begin the visa application process as early as possible. Here’s a detailed plan to help you manage this effectively:

  • Research Visa Types: Determine the type of visa you need based on your situation—whether it’s a work visa, student visa, non-lucrative visa, or any other. Each visa type has specific requirements and conditions.
  • Gather Necessary Documents: Collect all required documents, such as your passport, financial statements, proof of accommodation, health insurance, and any other supporting materials. Ensure these documents are up-to-date and meet the visa requirements.
  • Translate Documents: All documents must be officially translated into Spanish. It’s advisable to use a certified translator to avoid any issues with your application.
  • Apply Through the Consulate: Submit your application through the Consulate of Spain in the UK. Be prepared for potential delays and ensure you provide all requested information accurately.
  • Follow Up: After submission, regularly check the status of your application and be ready to provide additional information if requested.
  • Arrival in Spain: Once you arrive in Spain, the paperwork continues. Within the first few weeks:

After arriving in Spain, you need to continue with essential paperwork to ensure a smooth transition. First, apply for your Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (TIE) at your local police station, as this residency card is crucial for living in Spain for more than six months. Next, obtain your Número de Identificación de Extranjero (NIE), which is necessary for conducting any financial transactions, such as opening a bank account and signing rental agreements. Finally, register your address at the local city hall to get your Empadronamiento certificate. This certificate is required for various administrative tasks, including enrolling in healthcare, schools, and participating in local elections.

By starting early and staying organised, you can avoid many of the common pitfalls associated with the visa and residency application processes.


Failing to Understand Tax Obligations

Taxation is a complex area that can trip up many expats moving to Spain. It’s essential to understand both Spanish tax laws and how they interact with those of your home country.

Spanish Tax Residency: You’re considered a tax resident in Spain if you spend more than 183 days in the country in a calendar year. Tax residents are liable to pay taxes on their worldwide income, not just income generated in Spain.

Double Taxation Agreements: Spain has double taxation agreements (DTAs) with many countries to prevent being taxed twice on the same income. For example, the UK-Spain DTA ensures that income taxed in the UK is not taxed again in Spain. Understanding these agreements can help you avoid unnecessary tax burdens.

Types of Taxes in Spain:

  • Income Tax (Impuesto sobre la Renta de las Personas Físicas – IRPF): Progressive tax rates apply, ranging from 19% to 45%.
  • Wealth Tax (Impuesto sobre el Patrimonio): Levied on the value of your assets, both in Spain and worldwide, above certain thresholds.
  • Property Taxes: If you own property, you’ll pay municipal taxes (Impuesto sobre Bienes Inmuebles – IBI) and potentially capital gains tax on any profit from selling property.
  • Inheritance and Gift Tax (Impuesto sobre Sucesiones y Donaciones): Taxes on inheritance or gifts received, which vary by region.

Engaging a tax advisor who specialises in expat taxation is crucial to navigate the complexities of Spain’s tax system. A tax professional can ensure all your income, both local and international, is reported accurately, help you identify and utilise deductions to minimise your tax liability, and keep you up-to-date with changes in Spanish tax laws. Key deadlines include filing your annual income tax return by June 30th, making quarterly payments if self-employed or having significant investment income, and submitting the mandatory Model 720 declaration for assets over €50,000 abroad.

Overlooking Schooling Options

For families moving to Spain, one of the biggest concerns is the education of their children. Overlooking this aspect can lead to significant challenges in their integration and overall happiness.

Types of Schools in Spain:
  • Public Schools (Colegios Públicos): Funded by the government and free for residents. Lessons are taught in Spanish, and in some regions, a regional language (e.g., Catalan, Basque) is also used.
  • Private Schools (Colegios Privados): Offer more specialized education and often have better facilities. Tuition fees are required, and the language of instruction can vary.
  • International Schools: Cater to expat families and offer curricula in English or other languages. They often follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) or British/American curriculum. These schools can be quite expensive but provide a familiar educational environment for expat children.
Choosing the Right School:
  • Research: Start by researching schools in your chosen area. Look for schools with good reputations, strong academic records, and positive reviews from other expats.
  • Visit Schools: If possible, visit potential schools before making a decision. This will give you a feel for the environment and facilities.
  • Curriculum and Language: Consider the curriculum offered and the language of instruction. If your child is not fluent in Spanish, an international school might be the best option initially.
  • Extracurricular Activities: Look for schools that offer a range of extracurricular activities, which can help your child make friends and settle into their new environment.
Enrollment Process:
When preparing for your child’s schooling in Spain, ensure you have all necessary documentation, including their birth certificate, passport, proof of residency, and previous school records. Be aware that public and private schools have specific enrollment periods, typically in the spring for the upcoming academic year, while international schools often have more flexible timelines. Many schools also offer language support programs to help non-Spanish speaking children learn the language and integrate more easily.
Adapting to the Spanish Education System:
  • School Hours: Spanish school hours can be different from what you’re used to, often with a longer lunch break and later finish times.
  • Parent Involvement: Spanish schools often encourage active parent involvement. Joining parent-teacher associations (PTAs) and attending school events can help you stay engaged in your child’s education.
  • Cultural Differences: Be aware of cultural differences in teaching styles and expectations. Embracing these differences can help your child adapt more quickly.

Underestimating Cultural Differences

Spanish culture can be quite different from what you might be used to. From social interactions to daily schedules, the Spanish lifestyle emphasises family, social gatherings, and a relaxed approach to time. For instance, Spaniards are known for their warm and expressive greetings, often involving hugs and kisses on the cheek, which might be more intimate than what you’re accustomed to. Additionally, conversations tend to be open and animated, with people frequently sharing their opinions and engaging in lively debates.

Tip: Learn about Spanish cultural norms and be prepared to adjust. Understand the importance of family and social life, as family gatherings and communal meals are central to Spanish culture. Spaniards typically have a long lunch break, often followed by a siesta, which means that many businesses close for a few hours in the afternoon and reopen in the evening. Dinner is usually served late, around 9 or 10 PM, and is often a leisurely, social affair.

Work schedules can also differ, with the workday often extending later into the evening. Embracing these differences can help you integrate more smoothly into Spanish society. Participate in local festivals and events to get a better understanding of regional traditions and customs. Being open to these cultural nuances and showing a willingness to adapt will not only help you feel more at home but also earn you the respect and friendship of your new Spanish neighbors.

Buying Property Without Renting First

While buying a property in Spain might seem like a great investment, it’s a significant commitment. Without living in the area first, you might end up in a location that doesn’t suit your needs or lifestyle. Different regions in Spain offer varied living experiences, from the bustling urban life in cities like Madrid and Barcelona to the tranquil coastal towns in Costa del Sol or the cultural richness of Seville. The cost of living, availability of amenities, and local community vibe can differ greatly between areas, and these factors can significantly impact your quality of life.

You should consider renting before you buy. This allows you to experience daily life in your chosen area and ensure it’s the right fit. Renting also gives you flexibility to explore different neighborhoods without the long-term commitment of a property purchase. By renting, you can evaluate crucial aspects such as the convenience of local transportation, the quality of nearby schools if you have children, and the overall atmosphere of the community. Additionally, renting provides an opportunity to interact with local residents and fellow expats, gaining insights and advice about the area that you might not get through short visits or online research.

Living in a rental property can also help you understand the seasonal changes in different regions, as some areas might be bustling in the summer but much quieter in the winter. This hands-on experience is invaluable in making an informed decision about where to eventually settle down permanently. Moreover, renting before buying can save you from potential financial pitfalls, such as unexpected property maintenance costs or fluctuating property values. In essence, taking the time to rent first can ensure that when you do decide to buy, it will be in a location that truly meets your long-term needs and lifestyle preferences.

Not Using a Currency Specialist to Get a Better Rate

One of the costliest mistakes you can make is using your UK bank to handle international money transfers. Banks often charge high fees and offer poor exchange rates, which can significantly impact your finances. Every time you transfer money from the UK to Spain using your bank, you could be losing a considerable amount in transaction fees and getting less favorable exchange rates. This can add up quickly, especially if you’re making regular transfers to cover living expenses, mortgage payments, or other financial commitments in Spain.

You can use a currency specialist like Rutland FX. Currency specialists offer competitive exchange rates and lower fees compared to traditional banks, potentially saving you a substantial amount of money. These specialists are designed to cater to the needs of expats, offering services that simplify the process of managing finances across borders. For example, they provide forward contracts, allowing you to lock in a favorable exchange rate for future transactions, thus protecting you against currency fluctuations.

Additionally, currency specialists often offer regular payment plans, which are perfect for those who need to make frequent transfers, such as pension payments, mortgage installments, or sending money to family. These plans can be set up to automatically transfer funds at set intervals, ensuring you get the best rates without the hassle of arranging each transfer individually.

Using a currency specialist not only saves money but also provides peace of mind with enhanced financial planning and management tools tailored for expats. Moreover, these services typically come with dedicated support, giving you access to expert advice and assistance whenever needed. This support can be invaluable when navigating the financial intricacies of living in a foreign country. By opting for a currency specialist, you ensure that more of your money is retained for enjoying your new life in Spain rather than being lost to hidden fees and poor exchange rates.


Moving to Spain can be an incredibly rewarding experience, offering a rich cultural tapestry, beautiful landscapes, and a relaxed lifestyle. However, to ensure a smooth transition, it’s crucial to avoid common pitfalls such as neglecting visa requirements, underestimating cultural differences, and not learning the language. By thoroughly researching your new home, securing employment in advance, renting before buying property, and connecting with local expats, you can make the most of your new life in Spain. With careful planning and an open mind, you can embrace all that Spain has to offer and make your move a successful and fulfilling adventure.

Sending Money To Spain?

If you are making international payments to Spain, Rutland FX can help you by reducing the cost of cross border payments, you can call us on 0203 026 0112 or request a callback to discuss your requirements.