7 Biggest Mistakes When Moving to Spain

March 25th 2024 | by Darren Burns

Moving to Spain can be an exciting adventure filled with the promise of sunny beaches, vibrant culture, and delicious cuisine. However, amidst the excitement, many expats often find themselves encountering unforeseen challenges that can turn their dream relocation upside down. I moved to Spain with my family in 2022 and overall it has been even better than we had hoped. Of course, that does not mean it has been plain sailing at every step. My “7 Biggest Mistakes When moving to Spain” guide is written from my own personal experiences combined with experiences of others who have also made the move.  

We will delve into the seven most common mistakes that individuals make when moving to Spain, providing valuable insights and practical tips to ensure a smooth transition. Whether you’re relocating for work, retirement, or simply seeking a change of scenery, understanding and avoiding these pitfalls will help you make the most of your Spanish adventure while minimising stress and frustration. From navigating bureaucracy to cultural adjustments, let’s explore how to make your move to Spain a success.

Spanish Bureaucracy

Naturally we must start with what is probably the most common complaint that expats make when moving to Spain. Bureaucracy is often slow when compared to other EU standards that I have experienced. Some things can seem complex at first, but in my experience, this is often only because it is different from what you may be accustomed to. For example, registering at the local town hall, registering again for permanent residence, and again if you want to work. Then you need to register for a tax identification number and don’t forget to apply for your visa if you are from outside the EU. It is a long and inefficient process.

Spanish Bureaucracy


Part of the reason for this, can be put down to the decentralisation of Government. Various regions (or municipalities) have their own laws and regulatory processes, which must then align with national law. In my own personal experience, I have found that there is also a cultural effect. Life in Spain is relaxed, and often this can spill over to work especially in government sectors. 

But worry not. There are solutions. By employing an Abogado (Spanish Lawyer), you will be able to easily navigate all of these processes. While some things may take longer than expected, you can be assured that everything is being professionally taken care of. Many Abogados are specialists in locating to Spain, and offer low cost solutions to complete all of the necessary documents. I personally used this service and found it very cost efficient and it saved me and my family a lot of work and stress.

Ignoring Cultural Differences

Respecting cultural differences is essential for expats moving to Spain. Being unprepared for this can lead to frustration and difficulties in everything from sense of humour to driving or social etiquette. Ignoring these differences could result in misinterpretations or even offence, impacting relationships and interactions in both personal and professional settings.

I have personally experienced issues when driving, working and in social situations. In most cases it caused me real problems, but instead provided me with experience for future note.

To help your integration into Spanish society, I think it is important to embrace the culture and way of life here and take the good with the bad. Do not seek to change a way of life. Instead, be patient, seek understanding and go with the flow. Observe how things are done here and learn from your experiences.

Healthcare Planning

Assuming that healthcare services in Spain are identical to those in one’s home country, can cause issues with your relocation. Like many things, the healthcare system here is not always the same as the rest of europe.  EU citizens must register for permanent registration, and only then you will be able to apply for a TSI card which will grant you access to permanent free healthcare while you reside here. Alternatively, Private healthcare can be beneficial for many reasons. In fact some visa or residency permits will require this.Spanish Healthcare System

In my first year of living in Spain, I encountered multiple health issues and was very glad to have my private insurance in place. This ensured swift action to get me back to good health.

Again, the services of an abogado will help you to navigate setting up your required healthcare easily.

Build a Support Network

Naturally this is different for everyone, but often people who relocate to Spain will be moving away from family and friends. Even if you are the sort of person who prefers your own company, having relationships with people who living in Spain can be invaluable for many reasons such as

  • Practical advice from someone who has also relocated
  • Cultural Integration with locals
  • Professional Networking, helping you to find opportunities
  • Health and fitness goals can be achieved easier with friends
  • Finding hidden those gems will be much easier when you ask
  • Language practice is much easier and more fun with others
  • Emotional support can be be helpful when experiencing the challenges of relocating

I personally was worried about making friends when relocating to Spain. It seems that my concern was misplaced, at least in Marbella. In areas where there are a lot of expats, you will find that people are eager to help you integrate.They have all been new to the area before and know how important a support network can be.

Ignoring Visa Restrictions

Overstaying visa allowances or working without the proper permits can put you at risk of deportation, fines, or being banned from re-entering Spain in the future. It is important to ensure that you meet all the necessary requirements before moving, and that you complete the required registrations on arrival. 

As mentioned before, a local abogado will be able to help you navigate all of this with relative ease. This was my personal choice and it alleviated any worry or stress for me and my family.

Underestimating Job Market Challenges

Moving without securing employment can of course lead to issues. In some areas it is vital to understand the competitiveness of the job market, especially if one’s Spanish language skills are limited. Often qualifications gained outside of Spain are not accepted , and retraining is required.

Ensure that you research your profession thoroughly, and speak with potential recruiters in your sector, before packing your bags permanently. I personally found work within a few short months of relocating, but I am aware of others who have struggled to do so. In some cases, remote working can be a great alternative enabling you to live in Spain, while working for a company in another location.

My Own personal mistakes

Condensing everything into just 7 mistakes can be a little restrictive. That’s why I want to share some of the challenges my family and I have faced personally. Hopefully, by learning from our experiences, you can avoid making the same blunders we did.

Not fully researching the pros and cons of the area I was purchasing in

During our search for a villa to buy in Estepona, we spent half a year renting in the vicinity. Looking back, we realised we might’ve fixated too much on finding a house near the beach, overlooking other crucial aspects. Community dynamics, for instance, were brushed aside in our search. Often, areas outside the bustling tourist spots receive less attention from local authorities in terms of upkeep like street cleaning and waste collection. Fortunately, proactive local communities can bridge these gaps with additional maintenance efforts. Unfortunately, we discovered that our community in the area we chose lacked such initiative, leaving it a bit neglected. 

Making Friends Too Quickly

Living on the Costa del Sol can really ease the process of fitting in. With about 18% of residents being expats, you’re bound to bump into people who’ve gone through the same experiences in their own move to Spain.

Making Friends Too Fast in Spain

We found that people here are super eager to lend a hand and swap stories. Naturally, we were a bit anxious about making new friends, so we might have jumped into friendships a tad too quickly with some of the first expats we met. Fast forward a few years, and we’ve met a bunch of wonderful people we really click with. Still, it can feel a bit awkward sometimes having to gently say no to folks we met earlier on.

Not Putting Enough Priority On Learning The Language

Moving to a new country involves a ton of organisation. On top of that, my partner and I welcomed our daughter, giving us plenty of reasons to put off fully diving into learning the language. Although we made some attempts, after two years, we found ourselves not quite where we wanted to be with our language skills. We have to take full responsibility for that. I wholeheartedly suggest making a commitment to learning the language sooner rather than later. It’s actually quite enjoyable and makes a world of difference in integrating into the local culture

Find a Real Estate Agent

Full disclosure here, we may promote our own business, but with very good reason. An experienced Spanish real estate agency will make a huge difference to your move. Communicating with them about your lifestyle, budget and expectations will help ensure you find an area that fits your needs. In Spain, almost anyone can be a realtor, and this leads to some varied experiences. Using an established local agency, will not only help you find the right home for you, but also help you to avoid some of the common mistakes discussed in this article.

I hope that you found my 7 biggest mistakes when moving to Spain guide helpful. Maybe it will help you to avoid some of the common mistakes people make when moving to Spain. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to our office in Marbella who will be delighted to help.


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