Living in Spain: What It’s Really Like

Posted on May 10, 2017 by

After three months in Southeast Asia, we’re now back at home in Granada, Spain. I can’t believe it’s been more than 7 years since we first moved to Spain (first Madrid, then Seville and now Granada) and I actually haven’t written anything about what’s it like to live here. I think it’s finally time to spill the beans on what it’s really like living in Spain.

What You Need to Know about Living in Spain

Living in Spain is the dream for many. Most people imagine romantic strolls on beautiful cobblestoned walkways with flamenco music playing in the background, sipping sangria at al fresco bars and watching the sun set over the sea, or wandering through thousand-year-old churches as the bells chime…

While it can be pretty dreamy, living in Spain might not always be what you imagine. Life isn’t perfect here, just as it is everywhere else. There are times when you’ll be puzzled by Spanish traditions (trust me, they have a lot!), annoyed by waiters who seem to prefer chatting with their colleagues than getting your order, or get frustrated with the crazy amount of Spanish bureaucracy.

I’m not trying to burst anyone’s bubble, but I just want to show both sides of the story. For those considering moving here, here’s what you need to know about living in Spain.

Great quality of life — but not everyone gets to enjoy it.

In my past life (before becoming a travel writer), I climbed the corporate ladder, working long hours and leading the big city life — but that’s not the kind of life I want anymore. It’s precisely why Alberto and I chose to live in Granada. The quality of life here is great, with much more emphasis on living life rather than work. People work to live, not live to work.

We try to spend as much of our time outside than at work. I set my own working hours and Alberto finishes work by 5pm everyday, so we usually have quite a lot of time to hang out with Kaleya, go to the park or meet friends in the evenings. In summer particularly, the sun doesn’t set till 10pm, so it feels as though we have extra hours in the day to have fun.

However, not everyone is as lucky as us. Contrary to what most people think, most Spanish people actually work long hours — they have two-hour lunch breaks from 2 to 4pm (which sounds amazing, I know) BUT they end up working until 8 or 9pm everyday. That’s a long day of work and it’s much more exhausting than the usual 9-to-5 schedule. Many of our friends who work those hours complain that they don’t have any time with their kids because their kids are ready to go to bed when they get home.

And not everyone has a job here. The unemployment rate in Spain is still relatively high, at 18.75% in 2017 (compared to 4.7% in UK and 4.4% in US). Some of our friends are still jobless after months of searching, despite having university qualifications and plenty of work experience. The job market in Spain is terrible, so think twice if you’re planning to look for work in Spain.


living in spain

Cost of living is very low — but so are salaries.

Spain, and Granada specifically, is very cheap to live as compared to other parts of Europe. An apartment in Granada costs between 300 – 600 euros to rent per month; even a three-storey house in the suburbs like the one we’re living in costs around 700 euros per month to rent.

Food wise, it’s really affordable to eat out in Granada, a city famous for its “free tapas” tradition.  Almost every restaurant and tapas bar serves a free plate of food, such as patatas bravas or carne con salsa, with a drink (beer and wine costs only 2 to 3 euros). A menu del dia (lunch set) costs around 10 euros and raciones (mid-sized dishes) go for 5 to 8 euros in an average restaurant.

Sadly, the average salary in Granada is just as low as the prices. Most professionals earn around 1,500 to 3,000 euros a month. That translates to an annual income of around 20,000 to 40,000 euros after taxes. BUT thankfully things are so cheap in Granada that it is possible to live comfortably on very little money. With what we’re making, we can afford to have eat out at tapas bars, go explore on the weekends and travel often without much worry for our finances.

living in spain

Life in Spain is relaxed — sometimes a little too relaxed.

Granada has a small town feel and it has bohemian, hippie vibes that lots of travellers (including us) love. It’s very chilled and laid-back; Nobody is in a rush to go anywhere and everyone’s just enjoying the beauty of the city. When we first moved to Granada, I felt my pace of life completely slow down and I embraced the relaxing, care-free way of living.

It’s all very charming for a tourist, but it’s a different story when you’re living here. Everything comes to a stand-still at siesta time (after-lunch nap) and on Sundays; everything is closed and you’ll find Granada turning into a zombie town at those hours. Things also move slowly in Spain, especially when it comes to government-related stuff. Spanish bureaucracy is notorious and funcionarios (civil servants) seem to take advantage of it and work at the speed of sloths.

Whether you’re going to the bank or post office, expect to wait… because nobody’s in a rush. Customer service at shops or restaurants are the same — you’ll often find yourself waiting for the staff to finish chatting before attending to you. I guess this is something I’ll never get accustomed to, as a foreigner.

living in spain

Spanish language is beautiful — but it’s actually pretty vulgar!

I know I sound like a prude, but it’s true that the Spanish language can be quite shocking for a foreign ear. The Spaniards have an alarmingly rich vocabulary of swear words and vulgarities – ranging from one-word cusses to full-sentence chants like “me cago en todo lo que se menea!” (which translates to “I shit on everything that moves”). If you get to know the Spaniards, you’ll come to observe that they tend to use palabrotas (Spanish cuss) openly in their daily conversation. Words like “coño’”(cunt) don’t contain extremely vulgar connotations, and so are used commonly by people in Spain.

Mind you, I adore the Spanish language: combined with expressive hand gestures, it’s full of vigor, passion and emotions. They have a word to describe everything — a word in Spanish can be used to translate whole sentences in English. I also find myself much more animated and energetic when I speak Spanish. It’s a hard language to learn (I still haven’t completely mastered it after 7 years) —  but once you’re fluent, you will be warmly welcomed and treated like one of them.


what to know about living in spain

Climate in Spain is great — but it’s not always warm.

Mention Spain and most people think of bright sunshine and warm beaches. In reality, only the southernmost areas and the Balearic and Canary islands are blessed with warm climate all year round. Most parts of the country experience all four seasons, and it can get quite cold in winter. We get sub-zero temperatures in Granada and even snow sometimes.

But it is true that you can count on the sun to always be there, whether in winter, spring or autumn. It’s always sunny in Granada, making it possible to sit under the sun and enjoy a meal regardless of the season. While it can get ridiculously hot in summer (temperatures of above 40 degrees Celsius), we’re just a 40-minute drive to the beach and there are plenty of swimming pools in town to cool off.

what it's like living in spain

Spanish houses are beautiful — but they’re not built for winters.

I’m sure you’ve seen photos of beautiful rustic, white-washed houses perched on hilltops in the medieval villages of Spain. There are plenty of those here in Granada, particularly in the Albayzin area, right in the city centre. These houses have so much history and charm to them but sadly they aren’t built for the cold.

It’s not just these older houses — most apartments, old or new, have single glazed windows and very little insulation, and marble or tiled flooring that makes the interior feel just as cold as the exterior. It’s great for summer, as it’s much cooler in the house than outside, but terrible for winter. I usually put on thick layers and sweaters at home in winter, even with the heating on.

living in spain

To clarify, I love Spain — otherwise I wouldn’t be still living here after 7 years! There are good and bad to living anywhere in the world. I just wanted to show you both the good and the bad of living in Spain. I hope you’re still plotting your move to Spain. Let me know if you have any questions!

Have you lived in Spain are you thinking of living in Spain? Share your experience or thoughts with us below!



About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

5 Responses to “Living in Spain: What It’s Really Like”

  1. Spaniard May 11, 2017 1:18 pm #

    I am an spaniard living in the UK, I have lived and worked in the Basque Country, Navarre, Madrid, andalusia and now in London. Although many things you say might be applicable to Granada, or Andalusia in general, it’s not applicable to Spain as a whole. It is a very extense and diverse country, with different autonomous comunities that do not fit in this mould. For example, galicians, basques or catalans. You might be surprised that the most succesful cooperative in the world is basque. Burocracy is different depending on the community you are on.
    Come on, I don’t feel London too different from Madrid ex.g. It’s as stressful.
    The international image of Spain (the one you are describing, bulls, flamenco, white houses) only applies to Andalusia. Don’t get me wrong, I love Andalusia, but if someone is looking to come to live to Spain, he needs to know that it will be a whole different story depending on the exact place he is choosing.

    • Nellie Huang May 12, 2017 1:35 pm #

      hi Spaniard, what you said is very true and I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I should probably change the title of this piece to “What it’s really like living in Granada.” Spain IS a diverse country and each region and community is different. I have lived in Madrid, so I know how different life is there. It can be very hectic and stressful — Alberto used to drive two hours to go to work and back, because of the horrible traffic. Life in Granada can be very different to life in Madrid, Asturias, or Santiago for example, or even just in the city vs a pueblo. I just wanted to compare the general stereotypical idea of what people from the outside world think of Spain (hot, sunny beaches) vs the reality.

  2. Tikva May 11, 2017 6:12 pm #

    Interesting read sometimes after a holiday somewhere you feel you can live there. But actually living in this place will be a lot different. And those unemployment rates wow so high.

    • Nellie Huang May 12, 2017 1:30 pm #

      Yes, living in a place can be different from traveling there. I hope I haven’t scared you off from moving to Spain though. I just wanted to show both sides to it. Despite its flaws, Spain is still a great place to live, with year-round sunshine, great people and low prices.

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