8-Step Guide | Moving to Spain from the USA

June 24, 2022 | Blog, Home & Relocation

We’re not the first, and we won’t be the last Americans moving to Spain from the USA.

I mean, Brad Pitt has a house on the island of Mallorca.

The director Orson Welles had his ashes scattered in Ronda, and that was 50 years after Hemingway called Spain ‘the last good country left’.

While Hemingway is known for his support of anti-fascists in the Spanish Civil war (For Whom the Bell Tolls) and passion for bullfighting (Death in the Afternoon) he spoke even more highly of Spanish culture.

“I have never been to a city where there is less reason to go to bed,” the Pulitzer Prize winner said of Madrid, the Spanish capital city.

A direct Spanish connection with America is obvious in that, well, Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas was funded by the Spanish crown. Many US states (Florida means ‘flowery’ in Spanish) and cities (Los Angeles = ‘the angels’) were formerly part of the Spanish empire.

But lesser known is the Spanish origin of the American cowboy lifestyle, hidden inside many borrowed words:

  • Mustang, from mesteño, meaning ‘a horse with no known owner’
  • Rodeo, from rodar meaning ‘to move in a circle’
  • Lasso, from lazo meaning ‘loop’ or ‘knot’
  • Ranch, from rancho meaning ‘a group of people eating together’
  • Bronco, from the Spanish meaning ‘coarse’ or ‘rude’
  • Stampede, from estampida 
  • Ten-gallon hat, from tan galán meaning ‘so handsome’

The word armadillo also comes from the Spanish meaning ‘little armoured one’ and alligator comes from el lagarto or ‘the lizard’.

Today, there are 40,000 US citizens living in Spain.

The vast majority live in the political, diplomatic and business capital of Madrid. But there are thousands living on the Spanish islands, in cultural enclaves like Ronda or the Basque Country, and all along on the Mediterranean coastline –  from Barcelona down to Valencia and southwards to Malaga, Marbella and Cadiz in Andalucia.

Below, you’ll find a comprehensive overview of what you need to know about moving to Spain from the USA.

moving to Spain from the USA

Ernest Hemingway with Lauren Bacall in Spain.

Moving to Spain from the USA – 8-Step Guide

If you’re reading this 8-step guide on moving to Spain from the USA, you might still be at the curiosity stage.

Perfect. This moving to Spain from the USA guide is laid out in descending order of importance – starting with visas and residence permits, then the cost of living, working, accessing healthcare, finding work, choosing where to live, integrating and falling in love with Spain for good.

If you’re already set on Spain, this guide can be a checklist.

We have more in-depth information in our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to Spain. Where you might want more detailed info on moving to Spain from the USA, we’ll show you this link again.

(You can also leave it in a new tab for later reading.)

But for now – ¡vamos!

Step 1 – Can I get a Tarjeta de Identidad Extranjera?

Let’s get one thing straight.

If you have a US passport, you can freely travel to anywhere in Spain without applying for any kind of visa. But you can only stay for 90 days within a 180-day period – and you certainly can’t find a job there.

(If you’re reading this in 2023, you’ll need to apply for the ETIAS visa waiver which is free and can be left until 72 hours before your flight departure time.)

Planning on moving to Spain from the USA for more than 90 days?

You need one of the following kinds of visado nacional (national visa):

  • Study visa
  • Investor visa
  • Visa for researchers
  • Internship visa
  • Family reunification visa
  • Visa for non-lucrative residency
  • Work visa (for employees)
  • Work visa (for self-employed)
  • Entrepreneur visa
  • Visa for recuperating long-term residency
  • Visa for highly skilled workers

If you’re moving to Spain from the US, you’re going to need a job offer, a university place, a pension, a self-employed business, a Spanish relative of husband/wife, sufficient funds to support living costs without working or at least $525,000 to invest in Spanish property or business interests.

Let’s look at the most popular national visas for Spain:

Study visa

You can stay in Spain for the duration of your academic course.

You can also do paid work for up to 20 hours per week.

But you must have an offer from your Spanish university of choice to be able to apply for a student visa for Spain.

Visa for non-lucrative residency

This is often called the ‘retirement visa’.

As such, you cannot work within Spain with this visa – not even remotely. You must prove you can support yourself in Spain without working. As of 2021, the minimum requirements were at least $28,600 in your bank account and an extra $7,150 for each dependent.

You can live in Spain as an American for one year with this visa. So long as you do stay for more than 183 days in a calendar year you can renew the visa twice for two further years each – and then, after five years in Spain, apply for permanent residency.

Work visa

You will first need a work permit before applying for a work visa.

Work permits are issued under the authority of the Ministry of Labor and Social Economy (Ministerio de Trabajo y Economía Social) in Spain. However, keep in mind that work permits are generally issued at the local level by Work and Immigration offices (Delegación Provincial del Ministerio de Trabajo e Inmigracion) in Spain’s autonomous regions. For example, Barcelona’s Work and Immigration office will issue your work permit if you get a job in the Catalan capital.

If you have a job offer in Spain, your employer will take of this for you.

If you want to join the 3.32 million Spanish autónomo or self-employed workers, you’ll need to apply yourself at the regional department where you intend to live and make a sound business plan which proves the positive impact of your work on the local economy.

A work visa is valid for one year. You can ask for two more renewals – each valid for two years – and then after five years in Spain you can apply for permanent residency.

Family reunification visa

You can apply for this if your spouse is a Spanish citizen.

Fast track visas (investors, entrepreneurs, highly-qualified professionals and researchers)

These are grouped together because the above visas can fast-track any process for getting a visa and subsequent residency in Spain.

The full list of details and requirements can be found on the Spanish government website (in Spanish).

Here’s a brief outline:

  • Aka the golden visa, you can get an investor visa if you plan to invest more than $525,000 into Spanish real estate, more than $1.05 million in shares in a Spanish company or to deposit in a Spanish bank, or you can buy $2.1 million worth of Spanish government debt.
  • The entrepreneur visa is for anyone planning to to develop an innovative business of special economic interest to Spain (and covers their spouse and children). You will need a favourable report from Spain’s Oficina Económica y Comercial (these are housed within the Spanish consular offices in the USA) which details your business plan and why it helps the Spanish economy. You’ll need to prove having at least $7,300 to support yourself for a year and $3,650 for each extra dependent (spouse and children).
  • The visa for highly skilled workers is for anyone with a sufficient standard of education (at least undergraduate) with a job offer in Spain – or anyone being transferred within the same company to Spain. This visa also covers your spouse and children.
  • The visa for researchers is for anyone undertaking vocational, investigative, development or innovative research or training in pubic or private entities in Spain. This can include university or business school professors or researchers from international organisations.

These visas let you stay in Spain for up to two years, renewable until five years when you can apply for permanent residency in Spain.

Congratulations, you have your visa – now what?

One you arrive in Spain, the first thing you’ll need to do is get a foreign tax ID number (numero de identidad extranjera, NIE). This can be applied for at the nine Spanish consular offices in the US – where you’ll also file visa applications.

While the national visa lets you stay in Spain, the NIE lets you find work, fill out contracts, purchase or rent property, file taxes, buy a car, open a bank account and more.

With your national visa and NIE number in hand, you can then apply for a Tarjeta de Identidad Extranjera (‘TIE card’) which validates your right to live in Spain as an American.

The final step to formalising your move to Spain is to register on your local municipal register (padrón) once you have an address. (You’ll need to be on the padrón to access Spain’s national healthcare system.)

Find out more about moving to Spain from the USA and gaining residency in our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to Spain.

moving to spain from the us

Example of a Tarjeta de Identidad Extranjera.

Step 2 – Can I afford to live in Spain?

Consumer prices including rent are on average 62% higher in the USA than in Spain.

Rent in general is as much as 111% higher in the United States than in Spain, while grocery prices are on average 71% higher than in Spain.

Even eating out in the United States is roughly 33% higher in the US than in Spain – and that’s not including tips, which you don’t need to give in Spain.

Where do I sign up, right?

But slow down for a minute. First of all, local purchasing power is about 27% higher in the United States that in Spain. Meanwhile the most recent OECD better life index report showed the average Spaniard earns $37,922 per year – less than the OECD average of $49,165 and well below the United States average of $69,392.

Secondly, the cost of living in Spain for an American will depend on where you live.

Barcelona has the highest cost of living index in the country (58) and has higher rental prices than even Madrid.

Meanwhile, the city of Murcia in the southeast has the lowest cost of living index (46) and rental prices on average half of those in Barcelona. Grocery prices are also the cheapest in Murcia, thanks to its proximity to agricultural industries which supply much of the wider European demand for fresh vegetables.

You can see an overview of average rental prices in 14 different towns and cities popular with Americans living in Spain in our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to Spain.

How much are taxes in Spain?

If you live in Spain for more than 183 days in a calendar year, you will be considered a Spanish tax resident.

If your worldwide income is more than $23,000 you will have to declare a tax return – if you don’t earn this much, you will still need to declare taxes if you’re self-employed, earn over €1,050 from rental income, have made a capital gain or it’s your first time submitting a tax return in Spain.

In 2021, the tax brackets and income tax in Spain were (in euros): 

  • Up to €12,450: 19%
  • €12,450–€20,200: 24%
  • €20,200–€35,200: 30%
  • €35,200–€60,000: 37%
  • €60,000–€300,000: 45%
  • Over €300,000: 47%

If you’re working in a company, your employer is required to pay the majority of your social security contributions (this lets you access healthcare, unemployment benefits and a Spanish state pension).

If you’re self-employed, you will be paying full whack for social security ($310 a month). If you’re a first-time autónomo in Spain, you get a discount and pay $63 for the first year, a sliding scale in year two, and then a full quota in year three.

Step 3 – Can I find a job in Spain?

Does access to (almost) free public healthcare and minimum 30 days paid vacation a year sound good?

How about the OECD statistic that full-time Spanish workers spend around 65% of their day on personal care on leisure?

Sounds alright, no?

It does. Except that in the vast majority of cases you’re going to need a job offer, your own self-employed business, an entrepreneurial idea, a pension or significant existing capital if you’re considering how to move to Spain as an American.

But this could soon change.

Spain is on the cusp of passing a new law to attract digital nomads and remote workers to its sunny shores. The benefits sound great:

  • A special, one-off visa valid for five years
  • Non-resident income tax status (max. income tax rate would be 15%)
  • Possibility for a range of managers & employees of startups, investors, digital nomads, remote workers and the family members of all the above to get residency in Spain

If this could be for you, then keep checking out the results for a ‘digital nomad visa Spain’ search on Google in 2022 and perhaps 2023.

Step 4 – Can I get healthcare in Spain?

Anyone with a tarjeta sanitaria individual (TSI) card can access public healthcare in Spain.

Between 75 to 100% of treatments and prescriptions are subsidised by the government if you’re carrying your health card. Most prescriptions can be found at your local pharmacy for a fraction of their retail price.

As an American living in Spain, you can get (almost) free state healthcare if you have a Tarjeta de Identidad Extranjera and

  • You’re employed by a Spain-based company
  • You’re self-employed and pay social security contributions
  • You have residency are are recently divorced or separated from someone who was registered on Spain’s social security system
  • You’re a child in Spain
  • You’re a pregnant woman in Spain
  • You’re under 26 and studying in Spain
  • You’re receiving a state pension

If none of the above apply to you, there’s an options to pay $63 monthly for under-65s and $166 for over-65s to receive state healthcare via the convenio especial.

The only catch for this is you must have spent 12 years on a Spanish municipal register (padrón).

If none of the above still apply to you, then you’ll be taking out comprehensive private healthcare.

Find out more about the benefits of the Spanish healthcare system in our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to Spain.

Step 5 – Where am I going to live in Spain?

If you’re thinking of moving to Spain from the USA, you’ll be interested to know where other Americans live.

According to the latest figures from Spain’s national statistics institute (INE) there were 39,812 US citizens living in Spain in 2021.

The vast majority (11,717) were living in Madrid, while the next largest American community live in Cataluña (8,802) with most settling in the regional capital of Barcelona.

The southern region of Andalucia is home to the next biggest American community in Spain (6,658) who are spread among the cities of Seville, Cordoba, Malaga, Jerez, Almeria, Cadiz as well as mountain towns like Ronda in the interior and sunny Marbella on the coast.

The next most popular place where Americans live in Spain is the Valencian Community (3.964) home to the regional capital of Valencia as well as Costa Blanca beachtowns like Javea, Denia and Moraira-Teulada.

Notable American populations exist in the Balearic Islands of Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca (1,337) as well as in northwestern Galicia (1,268) with the third-holiest site in Christianity, the Basque Country (1,123) with the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world and the Canary Islands (1,051) home to Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Tenerife.

moving to spain from the usa

A map of where Americans live in Spain. See interactive view here.

For a more in-depth look at renting and buying a house in Spain, see our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to Spain.

For a list of recommended businesses offering removals to Spain from the USA, see our Relocation Services Spain page.

Step 6 – Where do I send my children to school in Spain?

If you’re moving to Spain from the USA with young children, then school will be high up on your thinking list.

State education is free in Spain and compulsory for all children aged 6-16 years old.

While state education may be necessary for your family based on the high costs of private education or distance to quality schooling, there are pros and cons to consider.

Here’s a list of pros and cons of state education in Spain from a MumAbroad contributor:

  • Pro – State schools are free, while private international school fees can range from $1,000 to over $15,000 per year
  • Pro – Your children will pick up local Spanish friends easily at a local state school.
  • Pro – Your children will become fluent in Spanish at a local state school.
  • Con – State schools in Cataluña, the Valencian Community and other parts of Spain will teach predominantly in a native language (i.e. not Spanish, known as Castellano in Spain). While this can help your child become trilingual, their English proficiency will suffer and may be overwhelmed.
  • Con – If you’re only moving to Spain from the USA for a short time, your children will lose track of an American education. Many international schools in Spain offer American High School Diplomas, oftentimes alongside the IB and the Spanish national curriculum.
  • Con – Quality English education is not a given at Spanish state schools. Your child will need extracurricular support to gain a high proficiency in written English.
  • Con – There is no league table system for state schools in Spain. You will win a spot based on proximity, numbers of siblings in attendance, and more.

Find out more about the Spanish education system here.

You can also find a list of the top-rated international schools in Spain in our comprehensive directory which covers Madrid, Cataluña, Valencia & Murcia, Andalucia and the Balearic Islands.

Step 7 – Will I integrate well in Spain?

You should know that Spain has some of the worst levels of English among European countries.

Not only is Spanish the second most widely spoken language in the world, but Spanish people are extremely proud of their language and culture. Foreign films and TV shows will be dubbed into Spanish – and many Spanish voice actors are famous across the country.

You will struggle to perform basic administrative tasks at a bank or when applying for residency documents without speaking Spanish. Of course, you can always use the services of a translator or specialist in obtaining residency documents – but the frustration may still be there.

The best solution for a smooth integration in Spain is to learn Spanish.

That said, Spain is one of the most popular expat destinations with over 282,000 British citizens living there alongside more than 1.87 million citizens from across the EU.

No matter where you are in Spain, you’ll never be far away from other English-speaking expats.

Here’s a list of Spanish idiosyncracies you may find confronting:

  • Spanish supermarkets stock very little, if any, fresh milk. They prefer longlife milk in cartons and the supermarkets are full of it.
  • A lot of Spanish coffee is torrefacto, which refers to a process of caramelising coffee beans in sugar. Spanish coffee from many bars can be acrid and bitter without extra sugar.
  • Though not every Spaniard sleeps from 2-5pm, you’ll struggle to find many shops open at these times. Many banks, government offices and important phone lines will be closed from 2pm.
  • You’ll struggle to find whole turkeys in Spain.
  • Most Spanish people eat lunch at 3pm and supper at 9-10pm. While you might easily find a table between 7-8pm you’re equally likely to go hungry waiting for Spanish friends to turn up.
  • A 40-something-year-old American couple on SpendLifeTravelling.com explain how many drugs require a prescription at Spanish pharmacies – example, Sudafed. They also complained about bars and restaurants staying open until the wee hours, often underneath your apartment window.
  • When Spain has a fiesta, the whole town knows about it. Don’t be surprised to hear a firework extravaganza at 3am followed by a DJ until dawn.
  • Many expats complain that Spanish bureaucracy is confusing and laborious. The vast majority of self-employed workers will pay $50-$100 a month to have a gestor file their quarterly taxes for them, and having a specialist on hand can save your repeated trips to the foreigner’s office to get your residency.
  • There are no such words as ‘I am full, I can’t eat any more’ in Spain.

 

But all this aside, thousands of Americans are happily integrated into Spain and the Spanish way of life.

One of our MumAbroad contributors in a blogpost called Preparing for School in Spain talks about how finding a local Facebook group for expat mums was the catalyst for meeting other families and settling in.

Step 8 – Should I move to Spain permanently?

If you’ve answered all our questions so far, you’re bound to know if moving to Spain from the USA is for a season, a sabbatical, or for good.

You will, also, know that moving to Spain permanently is a possibility.

Here’s a list of interesting facts if you-re thinking about moving to Spain from the USA permanently:

  • Spain has the most blue-flag beaches in the world (579)
  • Spain has two of the five tallest mountains in Europe – including Europe’s tallest volcano, Mount Teide in Tenerife (12,188 ft)
  • Spain has 49 UNESCO World Heritage sites, from the magical architecture of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, to the in-tact Roman aquaduct in Segovia, to some of Europe’s oldest cave paintings in Cantabria
  • Spain is home to 212 Michelin-starred restaurants, with the Basque Country boasting the highest density of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world
  • Spain was the world’s most visited country in the world until 2019 (89 million visitors) when France just pipped it
  • The Spanish Mediterranean diet has been proven to lessen the risk of cardiovascular disease by at least 25%
  • The tomb of Christopher Columbus lies in Sevilla, along with his notebook in the Archives of the Indies
  • Spain has the second-largest forest area in the European Union and is the second most mountainous country in Europe
  • Spanish olive oil and cured ham (jamón) both feature in the nation’s top 10 most valuable export products
  • Spain has more area covered in vineyards than any other country in the world
  • About 8% of Spanish citizens say they attend a bullfighting event each year – these events are banned in Catalonia, and in the Valencian Community it is far more common for bulls to run around enclosures during summer fiestas (with any cruelty prohibited) and then spend the rest of the year roaming the mountains in a semi-wild state
  • Julio Iglesias is the most commercially successful continental European singer of all time, while his son Enrique holds the record of most number 1s on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs
  • Julius Caesar was once a governer of Spain
  • Spanish citizens live an average of five years longer than Americans
  • Spain has the most bars per capita in the world – with one bar for every 132 Spanish citizens
  • The Sierra Nevada in Granada, Andalucia, is home to Europe’s southernmost ski resort – while the Pyrenees in the north regularly receives the best snowfall in all of Europe
  • Spain is home to Europe’s only date palm grove, in Elche
  • Many of the best loved Spaghetti westerns (think The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) were actually filmed in Spain – you can visit the sets of Mini Hollywood in the Tabernas desert in Almeria, Andalucia

 

There’s so much to love about Spain it’s no wonder the culture has such a magnetic pull on expats across the world.

It would be easy to continue listing off fascinating facts about Spain, but unfair. We hope you will one day live in Spain as an American and figure the rest out for yourself!

If you still need more information about moving to Spain from the USA, read our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to Spain.

 

moving to Spain from the USA

The town square in Mini Hollywood, in the Taberns desert in Almeria, where many spaghetti western films were shot.

FAQ – Moving to Spain from the USA

Can I drive in Spain with an American licence?

Americans in Spain can drive on a foreign licence for up to six months. If you have your residency permit by this point, you you must apply to swap your licence for a Spanish driving licence or face a fine that starts at €200.

Americans will need to carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) alongside their US-issued driving licence from their first day in Spain. There is no special agreement between and the USA, so Americans will need to take a driving theory and practical test in Spanish to get a Spanish driving licence.

Find out more about driving in Spain as an American and importing your car in our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to Spain.

Moving to Spain from the USA with pets?

If you’re thinking of moving to Spain with your dog or cat, your pet must have an ISO pet microchip inserted, and have a rabies vaccine at least 21 days prior to arrival and no more than a year prior to arrival.

If your pet received vaccines before fitting a microchip, you’ll need to vaccinate again. You will also need a USDA accredited veterinarian to complete official health certificates. 

Find out more about bring your pet to Spain in our Ultimate Family Guide to Moving to Spain.

Is a Spanish tortilla like a Mexican tortilla?

Absolutely not! A Spanish tortilla is more like an omelette, but with friend or boiled potato and usually onion. A Mexican tortilla is a flatbread made from cornflour.

How to move to Spain from America?

The process of moving to Spain from the USA begins with getting a visado nacional (national visa). The list of available national visas includes: student visas, work visas, research visas, non-elective residency visas (for retirees), entrepreneur visas, investor visas, family reunification visas, and more. Read Step 1 for more information.

Can I travel to Spain from the US?

In 2022, you can travel to Spain from the US without applying for any kind of visa. You can stay for up to 90 days in a 180-day period. From 2023, you’ll need to apply for the ETIAS visa waiver which is free and can be left until 72 hours before your flight departure time.

Where to live in Spain as an American?

Half of all Americans in Spain live in the biggest two cities of Madrid and Barcelona. The next biggest American communities are in Andalucia and the Valencian Community, followed by the Balearic Islands, the Basque Country and the Canary Islands.

Most Americans living in Madrid and Barcelona are there to work, while Andalucia and the Valencian Community are most popular for families.

How to move to Spain for a year?

If you want to live in Spain for more than 90 days, you’re going to a need a visado nacional (national visa). You have a choice of a study visa, a work visa, a family reunification visa, a visa for pensioners, a research visa, an entrepreneur visa, an investor visa and more. These visas will typically let you stay in Spain for one year to two years, and can be renewed up to five years.

Can you move to Spain from the USA?

Yes, of course you can move to Spain as an American! There are 40,000 Americans who currently call Spain home. To join them, you will need one of the national visas detailed in Step-1 of this 8-step guide to moving to Spain from the USA.

Can I move to Spain permanently?

Yes, you can move to Spain permanently. If you remain a US citizen you will need to file US taxes as an expat from abroad – even after you become a tax resident in Spain. But with one of the many possible national visas detailed in Step-1 of this guide, you can keep renewing your visa for up to five years when you can apply for permanent residency in Spain.

How many US citizens live in Spain?

There are 39,812 US citizens living in Spain, according to the latest data from the Spanish institute of statistics (INE) based on 2021 data.

 

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