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Country Facts – Spain

This information is provided to offer guidance to those seeking to live and work overseas. Whilst this information has been compiled by the UK FCO and is therefore aimed at UK nationals, the advice may be appropriate to many nationalities looking to find additional information on a particular country.


Spain is one of the most popular destinations when choosing a new home abroad. With an estimated 800,000 expats living in the Mediterranean country, it has proved to be an attractive home offering a short flight time from other EU destinations, warmer climates and an extensive expat community.

But even though Spain may offer an ideal life for many, some have fallen foul of the potential pitfalls which have made their dream life in the sun an imperfect experience. But the good news is, with the right preparation many of these can be avoided. Here we talk to Stephen Jones, Spanish Consul for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who offers some invaluable insight for anyone thinking of moving.

“I started my overseas career aged 18 in Spain with a summer season in Magalluf, Mallorca. Since then I have worked all over Spain and the Canary Islands so have fairly extensive knowledge of the area. I am now the British Consul based in Malaga and have been here for almost two years.

Working at the British Consulate is an enjoyable, varied and sometimes challenging role. We are there to assist British nationals, which can include providing help when someone is hospitalised, supporting a partner with the death of a loved one or even visiting a British national in jail. We also issue emergency travel documents to get someone back to the UK. It’s always worth checking your passport every year to make sure you still have validity on it and apply for a new one well in advance of it expiring. Unfortunately, it’s those that don’t do this who desperately regret it (both emotionally and financially) when they need to travel urgently.

Popular locations

The Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca are the original second home/retirement destinations and through the ups and downs of scandals and bad publicity of land disputes – and despite a rise in competing destinations – they remain two of the most popular places for Brits to buy abroad anywhere in the world. This is likely due to a combination of factors; proximity and ease of travel to the UK, a long standing love of the Costas, the ability to live a semi British life in the sun, good property prices and beautiful scenery – from stunning mountains to some of Europe’s best beaches.

Spain has it all and the British love it. As always research is the best way to find out about the place you want to live. Make sure you really know the area well, talk to the locals and visit for more advice and tips before you decide to make the move.

I personally live in Malaga, and love the beaches of Cabopino (half an hour from Malaga) and eating lunch in one of the many “chiringuitos” (beach restaurants), which serve some of the freshest fish you will ever taste. As for culture, you can’t beat Malaga which was actually a candidate city for 2012 City of Culture. The cathedral is stunning and well worth a visit. About an hour from Malaga you have Ronda with one of the oldest bullrings in Spain or in the other direction is Nerja where the caves are breathtaking.

Buying property

Like in many countries, there have been issues over property development in Spain. My advice always remains the same: when purchasing property overseas, get independent legal advice. Do not rely on the agent or developer, however insistent they are that you don’t need a lawyer. A full list of English speaking lawyers can be found on the FCO’s web pages for the country you are intending to invest in. Have a look at

When we are contacted by British nationals who are having difficulty we are able to point them in the direction of associations or groups that may be able to help them with their concerns. But some of these problems can be prevented, so remember to research heavily beforehand so you ‘know before you go’.

Retiring abroad

We get lots of questions about pensions, and retirees who moved to Spain when the Pound was still strong against the Euro, e.g. £1=€1.5 but are now struggling with day-to-day living costs since the Euro has strengthened. For anyone thinking of retiring abroad, I would make sure that pensioners living here are registered with the local authorities. Registration has a number of benefits including financial discounts on local tax and rates. Being registered may also entitle residents to social security or assistance.

In Spain we have a wonderful relationship with Age Concern which is dedicated to looking after the over 50s. We often put our pensioners in touch with local Age Concern branches who can offer practical advice on financial hardship. This has become a very important subject and I would urge anyone who is thinking of retiring abroad to fully understand their financial position and entitlements – information can be found on the


The rules for getting state healthcare in Spain are different from those in the UK. The NHS is a residence-based system, which means that all you need to access healthcare in Great Britain is to be ‘ordinarily resident’.

In Spain however, the system is contribution-based, which means that normally you must be paying into the social security system, or in receipt of a Spanish state pension or benefit, in order for you and your dependants to get state healthcare. If you are working, social security contributions can be paid by your employer or by yourself as a self-employed worker. If you are not currently working but have paid contributions into the Spanish system in the past, you may be eligible to pay voluntary contributions, which will also cover you for healthcare. For more information, contact Tesoreria.

If you are not paying into the Spanish social security system you may also get state healthcare if:

  • You are in receipt of a UK state pension, long-term contribution-based Incapacity benefit or Bereavement benefit;
  • You are an early retiree to Spain and have paid UK national insurance contributions in the last 3 years – apply for an S1 form;
  • You are a posted worker for a UK company;
  • You are a dependant of someone who falls into one of the categories above;
  • You are a temporary visitor to Spain and have a valid UK European Health Insurance Card (EHIC);
  • You will be receiving planned treatment abroad or are in receipt of UK sickness or maternity benefit – apply for an S2 form (previously E112). For more information, please visit the NHS website
  • You are a child under the age of 18 and have no access to healthcare through your own or your parent’s means. This is called ‘La Ley de Minor’ and you apply through the social worker at your local health centre.

In some circumstances you may be asked to provide evidence of your UK income when applying for health care or social security benefits in Spain.

Please remember – if you do register with the state health system in Spain, it is important to de-register with your GP in the UK. Likewise, if you decide to return to the UK, then you must de-register with the Spanish authorities.”

For more information on moving abroad visit

Of course, if you’re planning on travelling to Spain please ensure you have adequate expat travel insurance.

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