A Guide to Living in Spain

Spain appears at first glance to be an unlikely candidate in terms of attracting foreign investment and business. The country has been badly hit by the drying up of institutional funding (from the EU in particular) and almost total freezing of the construction market upon which much of the economy once rested. Spain’s banks are by and large extremely fragile, unemployment is excruciatingly high and the payment system is somewhat dysfunctional.

Yet Spain is constantly tarred with the same ‘scapegoat’ brush, repeatedly lambasted by the media as one of Southern Europe’s irresponsible tearaways, supposedly deserving the economic strife it is experiencing. Read on to discover why a) this is unjustified and b) why you should be getting a job in Spain or looking to Spain to expand your business.




When the going gets tough, the tough get going – so goes the adage. In a country with few available jobs and a vast number of people available to fill them, hiring has to be justified by performance. This has meant longer hours for less pay and a need to increase efficiency or face insolvency. The statistics reflect this: Spain’s overall productivity per worker has consistently risen, increasing by 15% since 2008, while Germany’s – supposedly the leading Eurozone economy – has fallen by 10%.


The healthcare market is big business in Spain. As the world’s #9 consumer of healthcare products and with an exceptionally high standard of public and private healthcare (ranked seventh worldwide according to the WHO), Spain is a market to keep a watchful eye on. Given that 70% of healthcare is publicly funded, cash-strapped regional governments are keen to invest in new medical technologies aimed at improving efficiency and promoting overall sustainability. Not only this – by 2030, a quarter of Spain’s population will be over 65. Private ‘med-tech’ companies in Spain are generally small and always looking for partners or joint ventures, whether in production, distribution or research.

Latin America

For EU companies looking to establish a route into Latin America, Spain is the place to start – either as a gateway across the Atlantic, or as a testing ground for businesses planning to take the leap. Though they have their own idiosyncrasies, most Spanish-speaking countries adhere broadly to the business practices prevalent in Spain, despite their cultures being very different in most other respects. The first thing to understand is that in Spain, it’s all about who you know, and how you can help them. Being approachable, shrewd, accommodating, and an excellent networker is a basic requirement for running a successful Spanish business. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll be much better prepared to take your business over the ocean.



Spain’s property and construction crash was bad, catastrophically bad – so acute, in fact, that entire ghost towns comprised of thousands upon thousands of empty houses are dotted across the country. Yes, they really do exist. What’s the upside? Well, most of these empty residential areas come complete with paved roads, street lighting, water, telephone wires and mobile coverage – the infrastructure is all there. Property prices are so low at present that a three-bedroom house in an ideal coastal location (particularly in the southern province of Andalucía) will set you back less than €100,000, compared with five times that a few years ago. Time to invest! At this stage, prices can only rise – a good return may yet take two or three years, but rise they will.


Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, Spain is obsessed with technology. Even in times of crisis, the latest apps, hardware, gadgets and phones can be seen everywhere. The Spanish smartphone market is growing faster than almost any other Eurozone state – including Germany – at 14% annually. International business accounts for over half of Spain’s start-up and entrepreneur-friendly e-commerce market, in itself worth well over €10 million. With an estimated 98 million internet terminals currently online in the country, the pace of growth is unlikely to slow.


So, if you’re looking to expand into any of the markets mentioned here – or create one for yourself – the tools and conditions are there, as unlikely as it may seem. If you are to succeed, however, it’s vital to identify your market and how you’ll approach it before you even set foot in Spain.

Living in Spain on a Budget

Spain is currently in somewhat of a rut. Endemic unemployment and the highly dysfunctional payment system mean that millions are running out of money before the end of each month, often having to wait three to six months to be paid. Expat businessmen and immigrants from Eastern Europe to Latin America are fleeing the country in their droves. The high incomes and regular employment many unskilled workers sought upon arriving in Spain are now no longer available. Is this a sign that Spain should be avoided at all costs? Absolutely not; if you can teach English or possess useful skills, it’s an opportunity to enjoy a high standard of living for much less than almost anywhere else in Europe.

Shopping Around

Endless complaints seem to be surfacing throughout the developed world regarding the price of food. Fruit, vegetables and meats in particular appear to be skyrocketing. Most people, however, don’t look beyond the headlines. Supermarket food is becoming less affordable, without a doubt – but this is mostly a result of increased logistical and material costs being passed on to customers. Local and national market produce has not suffered nearly as much, believe it or not. Traditional Spanish fruits like oranges and watermelons, along with vegetables like onions and peppers, are not only absolutely enormous and full of taste but also substantially cheaper than their Northern European counterparts.

Even if you’re not close to a market, the budget German supermarkets Lidl and Aldi, as well as the Spanish equivalent, Mercadona, have been able to keep their prices a long way below the rest of the market. It’s easy to eat for very little in Spain, as long as you’re an imaginative cook and are willing to shop around.

Buses, Trains and Metro lines


Commuters and travellers in the UK in particular are increasingly subject to ticket prices bordering on extortion, where getting to the workplace sets people back hundreds of pounds a month. A similar story is seen across the developed nations, with one or two exceptions. In Spain, it’s a different story. Spanish public services, from health to transport and infrastructure, are by and large excellent, reliable and reasonable. Metro services in major cities are world-leading, and intercity coach transport is unbelievable value for money – travelling from Madrid to the Southern coast (around 700km) will set you back a mere €25-30. Monthly and yearly passes will save you money, and if you’re under 23 and have the right documentation, you can get further discounts.

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork

Though EU law protects its citizens from discrimination based on nationality and supposedly allows for freedom of movement between all member countries, the Spanish government’s attitude to foreigners has hardened noticeably over the past few years. No matter though: if you’ve got some qualifications or relevant skills, along with endless patience and amenability to the frustrating and often bewildering mechanics of bureaucracy, it’s relatively straightforward to acquire documentation that will allow you to work in Spain. Currently, the document in question is the NIE (Foreigner Identification Number), equivalent to a national ID. If you’re planning on staying, after a while you will become eligible for a residence permit, which will make finding a job much easier, as well as eliminating various bank charges and social security costs levied by the State on your finances (often without your knowledge).

Cash is King

Official unemployment figures are based on income statements and tax revenues, combined with various error-prone statistics such as unemployment benefit claims and vast reams of governmental paperwork. The real figures are much lower than government analyses suggest. Given the difficult situation many people find themselves in, a huge amount of income remains undeclared, and given the often ridiculous delays in bank payments and invoice processing, cash (especially upfront) is the undisputed king. Do everything you can to ensure you are paid in banknotes, and put as little money as possible in the bank. Not only will this make you more flexible – it will reduce the impact of punitive and sporadic charges levied by commercial banks, local and national governments and any number of companies (e.g. water, gas, mortgages and loans), often without your knowledge. Waking up in the morning to find a couple of hundred euros have left your bank account permanently for no clear reason is not a pleasant experience.

Paying the Rent

The property bubble that burst spectacularly in 2008 inflated house prices in Spain to absurd proportions and prompted humongous oversupply in the market. Bad news for homeowners, construction firms and real estate companies. Good news for buyers. Now is the best time to make a move – rent figures are almost unrealistically low, landlords are desperate for tenants and houses are readily available for less than €100,000 outright, even in highly desirable, central locations. Compare that to similar areas in London, Hong Kong, New York, Paris, Rome or Moscow. What’s not to like?

Social Life

Following the total collapse of the construction industry upon which so much of the Spanish economy depended, one of the only remaining reliable sources of national income is the thriving tourist industry. Over 50 million foreigners visit Spain each year, making it the fourth most popular destination worldwide. This inevitably means that in tourist hotspots, prices can be astronomical.

If you’re willing to do a little exploration, however, it’s not at all difficult to find cheap bars, restaurants and clubs everywhere you go. Particularly in the summer, Spaniards are so accommodating that it’s perfectly possible not to go to any bars at all, and have a party in the middle of the road or town square. Franchises like ‘100 Montaditos’ sell pints of beer and ‘tinto de verano’ (iced wine with lemonade) for one or two euros depending on the day of the week. As long as you’re happy with plastic chairs and tables (in my experience, often a sign of an excellent restaurant), eating out need not set you back much more than €10 a head – €15-20 with wine. As for clubbing – well, not for nothing is Spain’s party culture so widely respected. Having a good time until sunrise and well into the following day is perfectly possible – almost obligatory in fact – regardless of your financial status.

Learning Spanish

The world is transforming itself rapidly into a multilingual, interconnected whole – and Spanish has already cemented its place as one of the key languages of the future. Today’s young people – in their teens, twenties or thirties – are in a position to provide themselves with a significant advantage in a whole host of spheres by taking the time to learn it. Here are ten reasons why they should.

More people speak Spanish at home than English

Worldwide, there are 329 million native Spanish speakers, just ahead of English at 328 million, and second only to Mandarin Chinese. By 2030, this number is predicted to rise to 535 million, representing 7.5% of the world’s population. And it gets better: there are at least three million native Spanish speakers in 44 countries, in 21 of which it is the official language. In fact, Spanish is the fourth most-spoken language, full stop (after English, Chinese, and Hindustani).

It’s a Latin Language

Spanish is part of what’s known as the Romance language group, deriving from Latin and including French, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian. What does this mean? Well, since all five languages have the same roots, they also share a great deal of vocabulary and grammatical structure. Spanish, widely regarded as the easiest to learn, serves as a great foundation for the other four. Not only is it spoken across South America, with Spanish under your belt, learning Brazilian Portuguese would be relatively straightforward.

It’s also part of the Indo-European family of languages, which includes English, Slavic, Scandinavian and German – spoken by a third of the world’s population and again sharing a large amount of etymologically identical vocabulary. Furthermore, seven centuries of Moorish occupation means that modern Castilian (standard Spanish) is heavily influenced by Arabic, offering yet another insight into an important modern language.

It’ll improve your English

The linguistic connections between Spanish and English in particular are much stronger than they may appear. A significant amount of English word etymology is linked to Latin languages (notably French), meaning that many English terms make more sense when traced back to their Latin roots. Moreover, the methodical and logical nature of Spanish generally (particularly regarding verb conjugations) can often substantially widen the learner’s appreciation of how and why the English language is structured in the way that it is.

It’s completely phonetic

Written and spoken Spanish are almost completely identical – there are next to no silent letters, no tricks – no strange, unpronounceable words. And vowels only have one sound, not ten wildly different ones like they do in English. Nor are there any Mandarin-style intonations. So, you can learn to speak it at the same time as learning to read it. The importance of this is often underestimated – it essentially halves the workload and makes the language both quick and relatively easy to learn from scratch.

It’ll get you hired

Speaking more than one language, particularly if it is as widely spoken as Spanish, can be an immense advantage in the workplace. In fact, given the increasingly global nature of both companies and networks, being bilingual or even trilingual is fast becoming a requirement. The rapidly expanding Hispanic population in the US is just one example – an enormous array of career opportunities are opening up where being able to communicate in Spanish will distinguish you from the crowd. The Hispanic populace needs nurses, teachers, salesmen, translators and a whole lot more. Internationally, opportunities extend to diplomacy, interpretation and security, among much else.

Emerging Markets

Spanish is widely spoken across most of South America, almost all of Central America and across large swathes of North America (which includes Mexico). Together these areas comprise some of the business world’s fastest growing regions with the brightest economic futures. In 2011, Latin (Spanish-speaking) America averaged 4.6% GDP growth, far ahead of the fully industrialised (and currently stagnating) West. Trade is booming, with free trade associations such as MERCOSUR and NAFTA beginning to mature and bear fruit.

The US is fast becoming a Hispanic nation

From being largely confined to states bordering with Mexico, Spanish is now commonplace all over the US (even up to the border with Canada) and is already extremely useful as an alternative means of communication – in many neighbourhoods of countless towns and cities, it’ll take you much further than English. 37 million Americans speak Spanish at home, and the Spanish-speaking market accounts for 11% of US e-commerce In LA county alone, the 2012 census counted 3.8 million people of Hispanic descent. By 2050, estimates suggest there will be more Spanish-speakers in the US than anywhere else, and that Hispanics will comprise a third of the American population.

Cultural Understanding

Like any other, Spanish is much more than a language – it’s represents a culture in its own right. The way in which languages work routinely offers an insight into the cultures in which they are predominantly used, helping the speaker to develop a new level of understanding. While this is useful on a personal level, it is also vital in the business world. Being able to communicate effectively with Spanish business contacts, while understanding how and why things work in a Hispanic business environment, is a prerequisite to working effectively either in Spain or Latin America.


Spanish and Hispanic art, film, music and literature has always had a solid foundation – Don Quijote is the second most translated book in history after the Bible. Several Nobel literature laureates are Spanish speakers, including Gabriel García Marquez in 1982 and Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in 1971. The works of Picasso, Dalí, Velázquez and Goya are widely acknowledged as exquisite. More recently, Mario Vargas Llosa and Isabel Allende have enjoyed enormous success. Film directors such as Pedro Almodóvar and Guillermo del Toro are enjoying great success, as are countless numbers of Spanish or Hispanic musicians.

And finally: it’s just good for you

Learning Spanish will not only expand your understanding of the world and those populating it, but it will extend and enormously enrich your cultural experience in any Spanish speaking country, whether as a tourist, businessperson or entrepreneur. So dive in! You’ve got nothing to lose, and absolutely everything to gain. The Spanish speaking community has a tangible passion for living that you’ll have a hard time resisting!