Bupa Global

Your wellbeing guide to living as an expat in Spain

Working in Spain

With a combination of hot, sunny weather, a relaxed eating and drinking culture based around siestas, and cities offering a range of cultural activities, Spain offers an attractive culture for many expats despite the fallout from the global financial and Eurozone crises.

Traditionally an agrarian economy, Spain is the world’s biggest olive oil producer and the third biggest producer of wine. Today, the country is heavily reliant on the industry sector, located in Madrid, Valladolid, Catalonia, Valencia and Asturias (which accounts for approximately 27% of the country’s GDP and the service sector (which contributes approximately 70% of Spain’s total production).

Spain is one of the busiest tourist economies in the world, with the Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol operating largely tourist based trade. Other key economic contributors are its automotive industry and fertilizer and chemical production. The Spanish biotechnology industry is also growing at a significant rate.

Spain’s official language is Spanish, although English is widely understood, particularly in tourist areas.

EU citizens and nationals from the European Economic Areas (EEA) – i.e. EU countries plus Iceland, Leichtenstein and Norway or Switzerland do not require a work permit or visa to be employed in Spain. However, Croatian citizens will need work permits till June 30th, 2020 (approximately). Spain is also one of the 26 Schengen countries with one common visa and no border controls.

US, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand nationals don’t need a short-stay visa to enter Spain but will need a long-term residence visa for stays exceeding three months.


In terms of lifestyle, Spain offers a diverse range of cultural and gastronomic cities and regions, outdoor activities, Mediterranean beach life and mountainous national parks that offer the possibility of climbing and skiing in winter. Spanish culture is work to live rather than live to work, with a 3 hour siesta in the part of the day, resulting in later business hours that lead on to a late eating, night time party culture in some areas.

Spain has a diverse climate, affected by its mountains, the Mediterranean and Atlantic Oceans and continental factors.

Mediterranean areas experience 6 – 12 hours of sunshine a day, with mild winders and little rain, although the northern coast may experience heavy downpours. Southern Mediterranean area can experience hot ‘Leveche’ winds from North Africa, although sea breezes prevent temperature hikes.

Central Spain and the Southern Atlantic coast have hot summers, with low rainfall and sunshine levels averaging 5-12 hours per day. The area can be windy, with cold winds coming from the sierras, which can also experience heavy snow in winter.

North and North West Spain are sometimes influenced by Atlantic depressions that bring rain, particularly in autumn and winter. Sunshine levels average between 3 and 8 hours per day from winter to summer and summer temperatures are lower than in other parts of the country.

Average temperatures range from 7C in Winter to 38 in summer.

Spain’s Cost of living index (excluding rent) ranges from 45.47 in Las Palmas to 62.86 in Barcelona (compared to an NYC comparison of 100% and a London comparison of 94.82%). Although there has been a moderate increase in crime in the past 3 years, general safety levels are very good and residents feel safe to walk alone at night.

Spain offers an array of stunning cultural cities such as Barcelona, Granada, Ronda and Seville, mixed with sunny coastal areas such as the Costa del Sol, unspoilt Northern regions such as Galicia and food and wine regions such as Rioja and Jerez.

Spain is famous for its tapas, particularly featuring its famous chorizo sausage and manchego cheese and croquetas. Paella, tortilla (Spanish omelette) and gazpacho (cold tomato soup) are also Spanish favourites. More regional dishes include meat and bean based stews can be found in the country’s ‘comedor’ dining rooms.

Breakfast typically consists of a cup of coffee, perhaps with Churros (long, thin doughnuts). Lunch is the main meal of the day, between 2pm and 4pm and may have several courses. Dinner is traditionally late, between 9pm and 11pm. Approximately 90% of Spain’s population is Spanish and almost 6% are expats, who include British, North African and South American nationals. Expats can be found in most regions but are mainly found in Andalucia in the South, Mallorca and Valencia.

Business/Working Life

Spain observes standard business hours of 8.30am or 9am to around 1.30pm, followed by a ‘siesta’, with work resuming from 4.30pm or 5pm to around 8pm. A standard 40-hour week is observed.

Employees are entitled to 14 public holidays and are normally entitled to 30 days paid holiday a year, except where they have opted out under a collective agreement or contract, and are usually taken between July and September.

Spanish working culture is generally very open, with strong value placed on personal relationships, cultural traditions and family life. Lateness is not usually considered impolite and deadlines are frequently regarded as targets rather than fixed project end points. Gifts are rarely given as part of business culture, unless at the end of a successful negotiation or as a thank you.

Business dress should reflect your professionalism, style and serious approach to business. Top quality materials in subdued colours are advisable and designer clothing and/or accessories are a good idea. Women are advised to wear well-cut suits or dresses in high quality fabrics. Due to the country’s hot climate, lighter fabrics are acceptable.

When dining out, a formal dress code is usual in top restaurants

Accommodation/Where to live/Housing

Housing costs can be high in cities and popular tourist areas and utility bills can cost up to 20% more than in the UK and US.

The costas offer a range of apartments to choose from, although villas are also available. Almeria and areas further down the coast from the main resorts offer the best value housing on the costas.

Getting Around

Spain is a large country with 900km between the North and South Coasts and approximately 1000km from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

Car journeys are recommended and the capital, Madrid is connected to many main Spanish cities. Train travel can also be convenient but is not a particularly fast option, the only high speed train (AVE) running from Catalonia (in the North) to Andalusia in the South. Bus transport is very popular, with coach companies offering better schedules and destinations than trains. Plane travel between cities is a good choice and will save a lot of time.

Customs/laws to be aware of

It’s advisable to be aware of current tourist scams. Passports are often stolen on arrival or departure at airports so it’s best to keep an eye out at baggage reclaim areas or when picking up a hire car. There has also been an increase in thefts from hire cars, so valuables should be kept out of sight.

In city centres and resort areas, though rare, it’s possible for thieves to pose as police officers and approach tourists to see their wallets for identification. Pickpockets also target money and passports and sometimes operate in teams of two or more people.

Lost or stolen passports should be reported to the nearest Policia Nacional, regional police or Guarda Civil Station, where you can file a police report (denuncia).


The Spanish healthcare system is among the best in the world with approximately 10% of GDP spent on healthcare. Private and public healthcare are available and some hospitals offer both. Private health insurance ensures faster treatment for non-emergency procedures.

Expats living and working in Spain are entitled to free healthcare following registration with social security (TGSS), which has offices throughout the country. A social security number is then issued with a certificate stating entitlement to medical help.

In an emergency, call 112, or dial 091 for police, 092 for local police, 061 for health emergencies, or 080 for the fire department. Visit the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website www.gov. uk for the latest advice for British people living in Spain.


Spain’s official currency is the Euro. Many banks will allow non-residents to open an account and be able to issue a card, cheque book and PIN within a week. You’ll need a certificate of non-residency (certificado de no residencia) from a police station (which usually takes 10 days) to do this.

To open an account you’ll need your passport or other proof of identity, foreigner identification number and proof of your address and employment status. Most banks offer credit cards when customers apply for a debit card.

If you become resident, you must inform the bank.

Most banks are open between 8.30am and 2pm Monday to Friday and 8.30pm to 1pm on Saturdays (between September and April).


If you’re living and working in Spain, you’ll need to file a Spanish tax return. Taxes are split between state and regional governments that have their own individual tax rates. Madrid has the lowest tax rates (which range from 19.5% to 44.5% for top earners) and the top rate in Andalucia is 40%.

Residents (who have lived in Spain for six months) will be subject to Spanish tax on their worldwide income, while non-residents will pay Spanish tax on Spanish income only, including Spanish property. VAT and investment interest are also charged.

Both residents and non residents will need to register for tax with the Agencia Tributaria (Spanish tax authority).


Spain has a state school system, along with a range of private and international schools. International schools are the only schools that teach in English, otherwise children are taught in Spanish. Enrollment requires an interview and documentation such as a birth certificate, proof of residence in Spain and a passport photo. New pupils must have their academic record verified (convalidation) and this is best completed before arrival in Spain.

Compulsory education begins at age six, when children attend primary school. At fourteen, children receive a school-leaving certificate. Those with higher marks go on to secondary school and less academic pupils move to a vocational school. Typical school hours are from 9am to 5pm with a two-hour lunch break or an early 2pm finish.

[All reported figures were accessed in May 2016 and will be validated in May 2017. We make no claims as to their accuracy as they rely on third party sources.]