Let me share with you all the perks of being an expat in Spain. There’s no better way to present this topic rather than to talk about all the things I love about this country. Why is moving to Spain worth it?
Being an expat in Spain
My life in Spain
This year my residence in Spain hits a 10-year-mark, so does a relationship with my Spanish husband, by the way. Therefore, there’s no better moment to reflect on and evaluate all the pros and cons of being an expat in Spain. Do I regret I moved here? Is moving to Spain really worth it?
While I do have a lot to say about the disadvantages of living in Spain, we´ll leave this topic aside till the next week. No country is perfect for everyone, but we all owe it to ourselves to live in a place that sets our soul on fire, don´t you think so? Sometimes it takes years of self-discovery and travels to find this place, sometimes we find it right around the corner.
But one thing I know for sure, being an expat in Spain for the past 10 years has made me grow through life in a completely different direction. You can read more about my story here. Moreover, I feel like I learned to appreciate the small things, to adopt a positive attitude towards everything, and enjoy the pleasures of life to the fullest.
Spain definitely has a lot to do with this, because I literally learned from the best. All the things I admired back when I first visited Spain as a tourist have randomly become my own reality. In the end, we are products of our surroundings, aren’t we?
Let me share with you all the things I love about this beautiful country. I hope my experiences will help you to decide whether being an expat in Spain is the right thing for you.
Top 10 Thing I love in Spain
1. Weather vs. Climate Diversity
Most of the people I know move to Spain in search of the sun. While it is true that Southern Spain has 320 sunny days per year, what I mostly love about the Iberian Peninsula is its climate diversity. Not everyone is a beach lover, some of us want to feel the fragrance of rain in the air, get lost in the greenery of woods, or have a snowball fight in winter. Well, Spain has something for everyone.
In Northern Spain 65% of days are cloudy, and there are snowfalls during the winter months. This is quite a contrast with a sun-kissed Andalusia.
Let´s not forget the Spanish islands. The Balearic Islands with its Caribbean paradise of Formentera and party capital of Ibiza. Then you have The Canary Islands: Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Lanzarote, and Fuerteventura. All located approx. 1000 km from the Spanish Peninsula and only 150 km from the African continent. Which is already quite exotic, isn’t it?
No wonder I absolutely love having such a climate diversity within a single country. Your travel choices are unlimited.
Spain unofficially ranks worldwide as the “land of fiesta and siesta” for a reason. The Spanish are the biggest life-lovers. They know how to enjoy it to the fullest: no matter whether they´re having a few tapas with friends in one of the local bars, or sharing the romantic sunset while sipping a glass of Rioja with a partner. Enjoying the small things is an essential part of the process.
Years ago, back when I frequently visited Spain as a tourist, cab drivers used to be my insiders. Actually, they are often quite social (especially outside of the big Spanish capitals, where they are spoilt with tourism). So don´t you ever expect to arrive at your final destination without sharing your life story. If you speak English – chances are it will end up a small talk. But if you happen to be fluent in Spanish – you´re doomed.
That day a cab driver got me on complimenting my Spanish, and suddenly we were discussing the lifetime issues of a work-family balance. I remember how he was complaining about unemployment in Spain and that the cab drivers, and businesses in general, have less work. So I made a mistake suggestion that working on Sundays might be good for businesses, as this is the day when people have time to shop. He looked at me like I was born yesterday and said: “This is impossible. How people will spend time with families and enjoy their life if they need to work on Sundays”.
Workaholics, you know nothing about life.
As an expat in Spain, you’ll notice that people around you are generally friendly and social. Therefore, for a foreigner, it is easy to engage in random conversations with locals and get a first-hand travel experience. Even introverts might eventually end up making friends because in most cases you won´t be the one making the first step.
3. The Family Culture
Of course, in the modern world, the internet, social media, and Netflix are taking over the lives of the youngest generations in Spain. Globally, we are all on the same page here. But in my experience, the family culture is still the strongest pillar when it comes to the Mediterranean regions (especially in Spain, Italy, and Greece).
Let´s take, for instance, my Spanish family. My husband Carlos comes from a very traditional household. Plus both of my parents-in-law come from large families. My mother-in-law still has 3 siblings and my father-in-law had 5 (unfortunately only one sister is still alive). Each of their siblings has had at least two kids – so in the sum up, you realize that as the newest addition to the family you need a “cousin agenda” to cope up with everything. Pay attention: I´m not even talking about his parents´ cousins – and these were invited to our wedding as well. Within the family circles, you have bodas – bautizos – comuniones (eng. weddings – epiphanies – communions) where not inviting someone is a literal sin.
Every Sunday and holiday, my parents-in-law take our visit as a matter of course. They are the happiest when someone else from the family unexpectedly visits on Sunday and we are all united at a huge table in their country house while sharing a delicious paella.
Are all the Spanish families like this? – Of course, not. But generally, a huge bond between parents and children is undeniable.
Also, people in Spain stay with their parents longer than in the rest of Europe and older parents often live with their kids. I remember back when we traveled to Riviera Maya our tour guide told us: ” In Mexico when a boy turns 15, his dad sits him down and explains that he’s done everything he could for his child and now it’s the kid´s turn to find his way in life and provide for himself.” Our Spanish neighbor is 40 and he still lives with his parents. Awkward silence. It’s obviously not a rule in Spain, but living with parents after 30s – it happens quite often. The official data shows that 53.1% of people between the ages of 25 and 29 are living with their parents.
So, the family culture in Spain is strong. Therefore, while my inner egoist loves having Sundays for myself, I should admit that bringing up your kids within this traditional environment is an awesome lesson of true values and priorities for them.
The food feast in Spain goes into a separate chapter.
Local fruits and vegetables are available all year round, often brought from the Almeria province. Then you have mangos, bananas, and avocados from the Canary Islands. Don´t forget the seasonal products and the gastronomic weeks. Aside from traditional foods, there´s no shortage of exclusive gastronomic experiences in Spain: from the well-known wine-tasting in Rioja and pintxos in the Basque Country to the random food crushes like that truffle fondue we had in Baqueira Beret or a cod with an apple alioli sauce in Morella.
Spain is one of the 10 biggest oranges producers in the world, harvested at different times depending on their variety. Plus, starting from November you have fresh mandarin oranges. But keep in mind that locals mostly have orange juice for breakfast, or in the cafes throughout the day, and not with lunch or dinner. My parents are still shocking the Spanish when they visit me. As huge fans of orange juice, they ask for it in restaurants for lunch and dinner, which often ends with the waiter´s confused look and the words: “Orange juice? Now? Let me check with the kitchen whether we can make it for you right now”.
Despite my love for Asian cuisine, I feel like the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest in the world.
The first thing that dragged my attention as an expat in Spain was the strict meal hours. That’s to say restaurants are open for lunch from 1 p.m till 4:30 p.m, while the dinner starts around 8:30 – 9:00 p.m. In Ukraine, where I was born, restaurants are open all day long. So if you were running some errands and had no time to eat, you can have a late lunch-dinner. In Spain this is unapologetic.
The only thing I would, personally, change as an expat in Spain is the late dinner. At my home, we normally serve dinner around 7.3o p.m. For me, 9 p.m seems like way too late. But when we go out for a dinner we have no other choice but to eat late. Consequently, you understand why the Spanish don’t go for abundant breakfasts. They place their bets on almuerzo (mid-morning snack) around 10:30 am.
I´ve already shared with you that we live near Castellon (in the Valencia Province), where we have lots of Ceramic tile factories, so most of the local cafe-bars serve huge almuerzos for the factory workers. This is the tortilla+ajoaceite sandwich I´ve ordered a few days ago in one of the local bars (this is a half-portion).
However, the star-food of the Valencia region is obviously paella. My father-in-law often says: “There’s no Sunday without paella”. This is true for the locals. If you plan a Sunday lunch out you’ll mostly notice two unmissable attributes – people in the restaurants are families and 99% of them are having a paella.
5. Local travels
Spain is the perfect travel destination for road trips and weekend getaways. I feel like the Spanish, in general, travel more locally than they do internationally. This wide range of climate zones, historical sights, and traditional foods – is something I did not expect before starting my expat life in Spain.
You might have noticed that I do have some non-Spanish travel content on my blog. Primarily because once I’ve started At Lifestyle Crossroads I was fully convinced I’d always be focused on international travels. But Spain has made me change my mind. At present I love local travels as much as I enjoy the far-away exotic destinations: you do not need to go far to have your breath taken away.
Plus, a road trip is my current travel-choice 90% of the time. Since I’m mostly bringing my kids along everywhere I go, being able to simply load tons of baby-stuff and hit the road, is an absolute game-changer. Spain is one of the best road trip destinations in Europe: the weather conditions are epic (except the Nothern regions perhaps), the roads are decent, plus, if you book a car in advance you can find some pretty good deals online.
For more off-the-beaten-path local destinations check my blog series Undiscovered Spain.
6. Golden Age in Spain
When it comes to empowering older people to lead fuller lives as actively engaged citizens – Spain is an absolute champion. Here, retirement is the moment to enjoy life like never before.
Consequently, the age division in Spain is quite simple: up to 30 – you´re a child, from 30 to 50 you´re young, and 60+ is what I call the Golden Age. It´s time to travel, live for yourself, go out with friends. You rarely find a young woman wearing furs and diamonds in Spain – it´s the unspoken priority of the older generation.
Let me share a few real-life stories here:
- We have an apartment by the seaside in one of the Spanish coastal towns, which happens to be a party hub in the summer months. My parents-in-law (they are 72 and 76 y.o) meet up with friends every Saturday and afterward spend a night in our place to avoid a 30-min-long drive back home. Most of us have been woken up by babies at night at some point in our lives, but have you ever been woken up by your senior parents, as they get back home around 3 a.m and make a lot of noise with doors?
- At my wedding, once the dance floor got open it was immediately packed with my husband’s senior relatives. Not only did they enjoy dancing, but most of them knew how to dance partner dances like bachata, salsa, merengue, cha-cha, and paso doble. I had the DJ coming to me with words: “I know we´ve agreed on the list of music being significantly more modern, but the guests are asking for the Spanish oldies”. So, the 70s romantic hits were the most modern tunes at my wedding.
I could go on with the personal stories from my family-friend circle, about how the 65+ seniors in Spain are setting an example for the younger generations in terms of being positive, active, and enjoying life to the fullest. While I might have my issues in Spain with business, taxes, and unemployment, let me put this straight – Spain is the county I want to retire in and hit my Golden Age. No doubts about that.
7. Child-friendly culture
As a traveler, who also happens to be a mom of the two-toddler girls, I have a lot to say about the child-friendly culture in Spain. 90% of the restaurants have tall chairs (sp. tronas) for kids, some even bring them pencils and paper. Last time we went to an Italian restaurant the waiter had brought for the kids some pizza dough so that they play with it (it´s definitely not the typical thing to bring, not sure they are even allowed to, but it´s just an example of how the Spanish love making kids smile with smallest details).
To my surprise, I especially notice the child adoration in the case of men from 35 till 50 y.o. The Spanish are great fathers, who love to be hands-on with kids. They don´t have children early, but once they go for it, they are ready to part-take as much as they can.
Those who went through pregnancy in Spain might have taken birth and parenting classes for the first-time parents. So, in my case, the biggest take out was: not only no woman went there alone, but men were putting more interest into it and even asking more questions than the women did.
Planning to go out with a baby? – You should only call in advance and warn the restaurant that you’ll need a space for the baby stroller. Seeing a couple dining out with friends and bringing along their newborn is the most common thing in Spain. If the baby wakes up and cries a mom might breastfeed it, and the dad will be there to carry it around while gently swinging it. After the newborn falls asleep again the diner with friends goes on for the couple.
No one will ever complain about your baby crying or making noise. On the contrary, last time one of my toddler girls was throwing a tomato pasta on the floor and I was stressing out to explain to her that this was not the way to go, the waitress came to me with words: “Oh, don’t worry! She’s so small, it’s normal. We´ll clean it up afterwards!”
Of course, there’s another side of this for child-free people though. I should admit that before we had our kids we were booking Adults only hotels. Kids in Spain are brought up in the spirit of freedom, they might play loudly and run around, while no one will ever say a word. If you are the one complaining about the situation, everyone will explain to you that “they are the kids”. None of the locals will ever back you up on this.
Therefore, as I´ve told you in my Switzerland post when friends shared with me they could easily get fined for having their dog barking too loudly, or kids making noise after 10 p.m. It really gives me some goosebumps, cause with my kids – we´d literally need to settle down in a police office. I feel so sorry for the neighbors when my youngest Olivia starts crying with her operatic voice. Yet, none of my neighbors has ever complained about anything, especially to the police. Neither did I.
8. Relative safety
If you avoid the pickpockets operating in the big cities and don’t take long walks in dangerous, sketchy neighborhoods (every capital has those), Spain generally feels safe. I often get busy through the day to do sports and end up sending my kids to bed and then going out jogging in the middle of the night. We live in a small coastal town, but the police is patrolling the public areas quite often. Plus, the green paths for biking, jogging, and walking are lightened all night long.
Spanish people are expressive and emotional, but they’ll be holding back to show you that they don’t like the way you’re dressed or strongly disagree with something you say. You might see two friends sitting in one of the local bars, sipping their freshly-brewed coffee, and debating the politics. But people will mostly avoid controversial issues and talks with strangers or someone they don’t know well.
My oldest daughter goes to the traditional kindergarten (they even have a religion class) and she’s 3 y.o. A few weeks ago she came to me for Valentine’s day with words: “Mom, we´ve learned that today is the day of love. Sometimes boys and girls are friends, sometimes they date, and sometimes boys date boys and girls date girls.” At the age of 3, they have already slightly covered the topics of race, gender equality, same-sex relationships, charity, kids in developing countries, and even anti-gun control.
While some people in Spain might have more conservative views than others, no one will ever publicly show their judgment against you. The Spanish teach kids to be tolerant from a young age and try to live by the same principles themselves.
Spain is known worldwide for its fiesta spirit and has quite a few famous festivals and celebrations: San Fermin in Pamplona, La Tomatina in Buñol, Las Fallas in Valencia, and The Moors and Christians in Alcoy. Don´t forget the horse shows in Andalusia, corridas (eng. bullfights), medieval fairs, gastronomic weeks, local celebrations (every small town has its own festive week or two), La Cabalgata de Reyes Magos, and, of course, football games (especially “el Clasico“, when FC Barcelona plays against Real Madrid CF).
I won’t lie to you: it is often annoying when you need to run some errands urgently, and everything is closed because today is “El dia de San Jose“, the day of the town´s patron saint.
But on the plus side, you often have puentes, long weekends due to the public holidays. When a public holiday falls midweek, you can bridge the gap and also have the days between off as a holiday too. As my husband used to have a 9 to 5 job, this was our best chance to travel. Carlos would take 2 days off work and we could plan a week-long vacation.
Are you an expat in Spain?
Any other things you love about Spain and would like to add to my list?