Are you one of those people who has visited a number of countries and perhaps contemplated making a permanent move to one of them? Have you ever thought to yourself, “I want to live here!” after falling in love with a country’s culture, gastronomy, or people? This has occurred to me a few times in my life, most recently when I moved to Spain in December 2019.
After living in the UK for a while and becoming tired of the cold weather and mundane office jobs, I decided to try my luck in Spain. It was a place I’d visited several times before, having driven from Barcelona to Gibraltar and back, and I really loved it. At the very least, as a vacation spot!
However, after 1.5 years in Spain, I can assure you that travelling and living in this lovely country can be two completely different experiences. Continue reading if you’re intrigued as to why.
#1 No Spanish Language No Full Integration
I visited Spain and its islands numerous times before relocating there. Communication was not an issue at the time because I could communicate with everyone in English. I was pretty amazed by how well people spoke English, but then again, you wouldn’t expect anything less in tourist areas.
However, it was a different story when I moved here. First and foremost, let me honestly state that I am not one of those ignorant individuals who believe that everyone in the world should speak English. When I moved to Spain, I understood that knowing Spanish was more or less essential for my survival.
Due to the high population of expatriates from all over the world, the Spanish language may not be as important along the coast. However, speaking little Spanish might be an issue if we travel further inland (which is where I first resided).
Initially, I stayed in Córdoba, an Andalusian city where practically no one spoke English. This meant that I had to rely on my partner, who spoke fluent Spanish, for anything and everything, including residency paperwork, hairdressers, markets, and restaurants.
For me, the fact that I couldn’t speak with others on my own is rather embarrassing. But, yeah, this was me during my first days in sunny Spain.
Things changed, though, when I relocated to Murcia and took a new job. I was immediately exposed to more of the language. I also started studying Spanish grammar and attending Spanish lessons, so I can now hold a basic conversation and get by in a variety of situations!
TIP: Achieve a conversational level of Spanish in order to successfully integrate and feel more comfortable in everyday situations.
#2 Cheap When You Travel, Moderately Expensive When You Live
Travelling in Spain is relatively inexpensive. Because it is so big, you have a lot of freedom in terms of where and how you explore it. Some regions of Spain (especially the islands) remain warm all year, which might help you save even more money on your travel expenses. However, living in Spain and leading a good life may be rather costly.
For example, while the food is reasonably priced, contemporary accommodation and bills can be rather expensive. The government also loves levying taxes on a range of things, which may quickly mount up. The following are some of the items that are less expensive and considerably more costly in Spain than in the United Kingdom. Note: this is based on my own personal experience.
Things that are cheaper in Spain compared to the United Kingdom:
- fruit and vegetables (+ some other products);
- ecological products, including food and cosmetics;
- car insurance;
- food and drinks in the restaurants;
- personal care services, such as hairdressers and beauticians.
Things that are more expensive in Spain than in the United Kingdom include:
- second-hand cars;
- the Internet (although the Internet in Spain is much better);
- bank charges.
#3 Punctuality and Working Hours
At this point we just accept that Spanish people have their own perception of time. I heard somewhere that arriving on time to a party is considered rude. That implies it’s perfectly OK to arrive 30 to 60 minutes late if you’ve been invited somewhere. Whilst this is something that I don’t really mind, the timetables and working hours, on the other hand, are particularly puzzling.
When I travelled across Spain, I didn’t pay much attention to the strict ‘siesta’ hours that are observed throughout the country. The ‘siesta,’ or the hottest hours of the day, must be respected here. However, this has an effect on the availability of some services.
During this time (from around 2 PM until 5 PM), for example, public transportation is scarce. Some restaurants and smaller shops just close for the evening and reopen later. Government offices close at 2:00 p.m. and reopen at 9:00 a.m. the following day. It takes some getting used to, but there are times when it is so hot that you are afraid to leave your house during those hours anyway. So, it’s all good.
However, the infamous Spanish mañana, on the other hand, can be a little more bothersome than the siesta hours. You take a day off to accommodate a wifi technician who is scheduled to arrive at 10:30 a.m. He doesn’t show up that day, and from then on, he can come at any time, on any day, and when you least expect him. He’ll simply phone and say he’s outside your house!
#4 Manager-employee Relations
Obviously, you don’t get to experience what it’s like to work in a Spanish company while traveling. However, when I initially arrived here, though, I was able to find work within a few weeks. Yes, I was fortunate, but I wouldn’t say my first encounter was particularly positive. I won’t go into detail about why since I feel this is a topic that deserves its own post.
However, I can absolutely give some views about working in Spain vs the United Kingdom. First and foremost, the managers and company owners here are straightforward. They tell you how to do a job exactly how they want it done. Some employers are strict and imposing, while others are more laid-back and let you get on with your work.
Also, Spain is renowned for its vertical hierarchy, which makes it very apparent who is in charge. This differs from the approach taken in the United Kingdom, where teams are integrated horizontally and managers treat you more like colleagues.
What’s surprising is that Spanish managers don’t have a lot of trust in you at first, so it takes time to earn their trust and respect. Nonetheless, if they see the results of your efforts, particularly positive customer feedback, they will go out of their way to keep you in.
Finally, the glorious Spanish cuisine known for its tapas, paella, and sangria. I can’t deny I enjoy Spanish food. The fact that fresh food is so affordable appeals to me. Spain is a diverse nation where you may sample a wide range of delicious dishes depending on whatever location you visit, so it’s always interesting to try something new.
Food is very inexpensive, especially if you stay away from the tourist traps. Little tapas dishes start from as little as 0.80 EUR cent. In many local places you get free tapas with a drink.
Menú del día is another popular concept here in Spain. It’s a three-course lunch meal (starter, main dish, and dessert) that’s very affordable.
However, things might become monotonous after a while. I’m not sure if it’s the spices that underpin so many recipes or the way they’re prepared, but there are moments when you just fancy something new. Fortunately, there are numerous international restaurants in all of Spain’s major cities, so it’s not a big deal. Though, it’s important to note that international food could be more expensive compared to the local eateries.
Spain is a truly remarkable country in the south of Europe. It is well-liked by visitors and those who have made it their temporary or permanent home. The Spanish are extremely proud of their country, culture, and heritage, which is quite unique.
There are obviously some stark differences between exploring the country as a tourist and living as a resident. I hope this post gave you some interesting insights, but if you’d like to share your own, feel free to comment below.
Until next time!