A Quick Guide to Moving to Spain

It’s that time of year again: auxiliar placements are right around the corner, and then starts the mad dash to pull together paperwork, get a visa  and book flights to La Peninsula.

I’ve said it once and I will say until se me caiga la baba: DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

To make it easier on you, here’s a quick guide to the most important steps when considering moving to Spain:

Legal Matters

The two most practiced law systems in modern society are:

  • Common law – This is where the laws are uncodified, so no compilation of laws and statutes exists. This is where legislative decisions are generally based on precedent; what has happened before in similar cases. These are then compiled and referred to in later cases, meaning judges play an incredibly leading role in the law of Common Law countries like America and Britain. Common Law systems use two parties and a jury to decide the outcome of the case, which a judge presides over and gives the appropriate sentence.
  • Civil Law – Civil Law is codified. This means there is a regularly updated law code which lists all possible reasons to be brought before a court and the applicable process and sentence for each offence. This is far more structured than a Common Law system, as each case has a set punishment. This gives the judge a different job, as they will need to investigate the case, establish the facts and give the appropriate ruling from the appropriate framework themselves. This makes the judge’s work less influential on the overall law system. This is more like Spain’s legal system.

As the US and UK have a more Common Law system, it can be quite a shock moving to Spain where there is more of a Civil Law system in place. This affects everything from property to taxation and health systems, and there are laws you need to be aware of when moving or buying a second home.

Before you leave

There are a number of things you need to take care of before you leave the country.

Learn (some of) the language

It’s only polite to learn the language of a country before you visit. Not only will it allow you to fully immerse yourself in the culture, but it will make communication and day-to-day life much easier. Even if you only learn some basic phrases before moving, knowing some language will show you’re making the effort, and this can go a long way. Moreover, rural and non-tourism areas will be populated only by people who only speak Spanish or a local dialect.


You’ll need a valid passport to travel to Spain, much as you would any other foreign country. It’s always advisable to have more than six months left before it expires when you travel, especially if you’re planning on moving around Europe in that time as it negates the risk of your passport running out while you’re out of the country.


There are a number of different reasons why someone would move to Spain – to study, to work, to retire – and these all require different visas. Outstaying or having the wrong visa can cause problems when you try to leave the country, as passport control will be able to see you’ve broken the terms of your visa. This is why it’s important to know what kind of visa you need and stick to its terms. To see which visa you need, and how to get it, contact COMO Consulting Spain.

Notify everyone that you’re moving

If you’re moving to Spain to live, you’ll need to let everyone know. This includes the Post Office so they can redirect your mail, your bank, life insurance, council and any organizations that might need to know. Sign up for Skype, Line, Whatsapp and any other channel that will allow you to communicate with everyone back home.

When you arrive


The first thing you’ll need when considering a move to Spain is an NIE – Número do Identificación de Extranjeros (Foreigners’ Identification Number). A NIE is for anyone who isn’t a Spanish National, and is used for buying land, if you’ve inherited a property in Spain, opening a bank account or applying for a mortgage (among other things). The intricacies of applying for a NIE are varied and extensive, but see this guide on applying for a NIE to find out more.

Register with your local town hall

After getting your NIE, you need to register at your local town hall as living at your new address in the area, called an empadronamiento. This will similar to the electoral role in Britain, and will allow you to buy or sell a car, apply for a NIE, register a child into school and apply for a local health insurance card. Note that only fully-fledged Spanish citizens can vote in local and national elections.

Health care

Spain has a health care system similar to the UK’s, as there is a free health care system in place which as a non-Spanish national, you will need to sign up for. Despite this, around 18% of people opt for private health care, which is roughly double the amount of those in the UK. This is of course different to American health care, where you have to pay for insurance.

If you’re working with the auxiliar program, you’ll receive private health care from your assigned province along with a booklet about coverage. 

Living in Spain is worth the hassle of getting all your ducks (can we just go ahead and say patas negras) in a row. By anticipating what you’ll need to do before take off and once you arrive will help make the transition smoother.

For everything else, check out COMO Consulting Spain, my expat in Spain site.

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. Great post, Cat!
    Ryan from Jets Like Taxis recently posted..Expat Tips: Humility and Grace in a New LandMy Profile

  2. Great, helpful information, Cat! It will certainly come in handy as I prepare to head off to Spain in September. I’ll be sure to pass this along to anyone looking for some comprehensive information about moving to Spain!
    Mike recently posted..Learning Spanish Before Going to SpainMy Profile

  3. This will great for the new auxiliars!
    Even learned a few things myself
    Lauren @Roamingtheworld recently posted..A blind-date adventure with Lauren from Sobremesa in SpainMy Profile

  4. Pedro Meca Garcia says:

    i am really happy that you have brought up the issue of Law in Spain or Civil and Penal Code as we call it, quite different from Common Law, and may i add that our Code is an infernal joke, a massive compilation of bureaucratic rules that do punish any “bad” action a person may commit anywhere at any time, and i mean all human actions that you can imagine are fully covered.

    this is something that comes from ancient Roman Law/Right or whatever it is called, and you also find it in another European countries.

    judges in Spain are rotten to the core because they lead the investigations instead of prosecutors as in Britain or USA…..i do prefer Common Law to Roman Law!

    as for Health Care, well a non-Spanish/European national does have free care even without signing up for it, i mean, free care through “urgencias” (emergency room), then after being treated/saved he or she is given a bill.

  5. Some great tips here, thanks for sharing. Not actually planning a move to Spain, but some of the points here are relevant to any move or plans for long term travel.
    Catherine recently posted..Dharavi: Asia’s Largest SlumMy Profile

  6. Hi Cat,

    Great post. I did do lots of research, or at least I thought that I had, before I moved to Spain and I studied the language but nothing can really prepare you for actual reality of the Bureaucracy. A bit like the pain of child birth – people tell you about it, but you have to experience it yourself to fully understand.

    One thing that I forgot to do, that ended up biting me on the bum, was to inform the DVLC in the UK that I was exporting my car to Spain. I ended up getting fined for non-payment of UK road tax as a result. Having jumped through all the hoops and paid out so much money to re-register my car in Spain, this was a bit of a blow.
    Sophie RR recently posted..Silent Sunday 16 March 2014My Profile

    • People tell me I moan far too much about bureaucracy, but when they actually have to take care of things myself, they feel my pain!

  7. Hi Cat,
    Great post, we’ve been here for 4 months renting a property and have at last, over a year’s worth of planning bought a wonderful property to live in. (Still got to go back to the UK at the end of March to sell up there). Groan. However, I have a previous medical condition and have done a lot of research. After reading what it has to say on your link to the .gov website, we saw in the news since we’ve been here that the UK government (in their infinite wisdom) have scrapped the S1 form for new applicants. Can you confirm this? The date on the website says it’s current but their info on this matter is now a completely grey area. This is of real concern to me as we’ve established without S1 or SIP my meds will cost 230 euros per month!!!!!!
    We have a solicitor “on the case” but without being able to obtain a SIP card, looks like I’m out of luck as will many others be in the future.
    Is it possible you can confirm this? Believe me, there isn’t much online about it, so for now, I’m at a loss.
    Many thanks

    • Hi Heth, unfortunately, I’m not a property owner nor am I British, so I’m not even remotely familiar with housing laws or British health plans. I’d suggest contacting Lisa Sadlier at Costa Consulting Bureau – she’s great!

  8. Moving to Spain is not very tough task. Applying for student visa is , though. You need 14 documents. I am planning to study there and I am kind of frightened of all the things I should have. Your article is really helpful. Greetings!

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