All ready for a laid back life in sunny Spain? After spending several weeks’ holiday on the Costa Blanca beaches, if you’re considering moving to Spain for fun in the sun there are lots of things you have yet to learn about living in Spain. Spare yourself the cost and embarrassment of moving abroad the hard way with this expat’s guide on how not to immigrate to Spain.  

What Not to Do When in Spain:

1. Drive to the shops in a bikini and flip flops. Spaniards take a certain pride in dressing smartly for work and at the weekends, so it’s considered highly inappropriate to wear beach attire on the streets. Flip flops are strictly for the pool or beach and it’s illegal to drive in them (or to drive barefoot). Avoid looking like a tacky tourist when visiting museums and the many cultural events you’ll find on offer. Respectfully cover bare shoulders and don’t wear shorts when entering a church, or you may be asked to leave. 

2. Think that you know a region if you’ve only visited in summer when it’s warm and lively. Try it in January, especially before deciding to purchase, because it may be quite cold and deserted. Winter is frigid in many regions, houses aren’t insulated and there’s no UK fuel benefit for pensioners, so don’t depend on year-round sun in Spain. Plan on layering clothing when out and about during the winter, since it’s much cooler when the sun goes down.  However, if you like skiing, you’re in luck as there are slopes an hour away from Madrid. 

3. Forget to register. Yes, as an EU citizen you do have the right to live and work in Spain, but you must register on the Empadronamiento at the local municipality after living in Spain for four months. Registering allows you to apply for a social security number, which will be necessary when acquiring a medical card at the local clinic. Since you need a national identity card to purchase property, open a bank account and access many other services in Spain, it’s rather surprising that not all of the 300,000 Brits living in Spain are registered. 

4. Assume you have free healthcare in Spain. You must plan ahead if you’re a pensioner planning to live in Spain by filling out an S1 form before you leave. Then you register your completed S1 form with your local Seguridad Social office before you can make an appointment with your local GP and have your medical card issued. Also, many expats find that medical insurance is important to have because public healthcare only covers about 70% of many medical expenses. It’s best to factor that in when budgeting as many treatments that are free in the UK may not be in Spain.

5. Think you need a pet transport company to fly Fido and Fluffy over. There are three ways you can bring pets along with you. The most expensive is by using a pet travel service which charges around £1,000 to transport a pair of cats from Manchester to Malaga. Flying can be stressful, so riding in the car might well be a better way to bring them along with you, and it’s less expensive to boot. It takes about 27 hours to drive from the UK to Malaga, so you’d need to plan on staying in pet friendly hotels. There’s also the ferry which brings you, your car and your precious pets over in about a day, with a cabin berth for two for around £950.

6. Drive your UK- plated car for more than 30 days after applying for residency. There are many who foolishly break this law although the risks are massive: insurance might not cover any accident and police will impound vehicles and charge huge fines if you’re caught missing this vital deadline. Vehicles must be transferred into Spanish registration within 30 days after you become a resident, which means getting it inspected (Spain’s equivalent of an MOT is an ITV), getting a tax disc and valid insurance. Also- beware of those offering to perform this service for you, as there are reports of them over-charging for what is actually a fairly straightforward process you can do yourself.

7. Hire a consultant and let them attend to every ‘overwhelming detail of life in a foreign country’. Sadly, there are those who make their living by scaremongering followed by offering to assist new expats. They warn and worry you endlessly and then promise-for a fee- to smooth your way so you can settle in and spend your days on a sun lounger. Using the available forums, Facebook groups, and other online resources will not only save you a great deal of money, it can also help you to make friends online so that even if you’re living in rural Spain, you needn’t feel so isolated. Make use of the plentiful online resources first, delegating only those challenges you don’t choose to handle to the local expat service agency that comes highly recommended. 

8. Turn up at a traditional restaurant at noon for lunch or expect them to serve supper at six. Spain’s dining customs differ in timing, with the main meal served sometime around two in the afternoon. A seven o’clock breakfast of churros and hot cocoa is traditional, as is a massive several course lunch in the afternoon followed by a light evening meal that might not be tucked into until around midnight. Look for menu boards advertising Menu del Dia around 2pm and you will find a 3-course feast of the chef’s best dishes that averages only €11 per person, including wine. Come for an early meal and you’ll likely get what’s left over from this luncheon repast, possibly at a higher price. 

9. Have your bank transfer your money over into your Spanish bank account. Currency exchange companies specialise in saving you money when transferring your sterling into euros. Since you’re already losing with the poor exchange rates since Brexit, the last thing you want to do is reduce what you’re getting further by using your bank. When you purchase your property your currency broker can save you money by locking in a good exchange rate with a fixed forward or assist you with a number of other money saving options. You’ll have more to spend every month you transfer your pension or send any regular payments to the UK or Spain by using a currency company, too.

10. Don’t get involved in the local community, because you’ve never been ‘a joiner’ sort of person. The opportunities to enjoy your new life abound so long as you are willing to take part in your new community. Try to learn some Spanish and you’ll be appreciated by the locals since 60% of expats don’t speak the language. Volunteer for charities including local causes, hospice fund raising, singing groups that raise money and try acting in the local productions to get to know both locals and expats. Lots of expats make the mistake of trying to save the stray cats by putting out a bowl or two of biscuits but this leads to issues with neighbours and more animals. Joining the existing rescue groups, or starting your own, is far more rewarding in the long term. Other ways you can help include donating funds, walking the shelter dogs and fostering kittens and puppies.