7 Things Every Expat in Spain Should Know

The dirty little secret that’s not so secret..."

Posted by Dreamer

Essential information about living in Spain that you may or may not know, but probably should.

Whether you’re thinking about packing up your house and heading for Spain or you’ve already been living here under the Spanish sun for a while, there are 7 things about expat-dom in Spain that affect both your work and play, but that most people don’t get around to telling you. In other words, the 7 things every expat in Spain should know…

The Legal Age for Your (or Your Kids’) Favorite Activities
The Truth About Visa Runs
The Best Places to Find English-Speaking Expats
The Best Places to Avoid English-Speaking Expats
What the Deal with English Teaching Is
The Importance of Employment Contracts
Saying It with Confidence

The Legal Age for Your (or Your Kids’) Favorite Activities

Knowing what the laws are in Spain is a must if you intend to keep yourself, or your kids, out of trouble. Here is the lowdown on the legal or minimum ages for a few common activities in Spain:

Spain’s drinking age is generally 18. For that reason, admittance to bars and clubs that serve alcohol is restricted to persons aged 18 and over. However, in some regions the drinking age is 16.

Spain’s minimum age to buy cigarettes is 18.

Spain’s age of consent is 13. That’s right, 13! However, if “deceit” was used to obtain consent from minors aged 13-16 and the parents complain, there can be legal consequences.

Spain’s minimum age to obtain a driver’s license depends on the type of vehicle in question. A license to drive a moped can be obtained at 14. In this case it is called a licencia de conducir. A license to drive certain types of motorcycles can be obtained at 16, and a license to drive cars and all types of motorcycles can be obtained at 18. In these cases it is called a permiso de conducir. A license to drive certain types of commercial vehicles and trucks can be obtained at 21.

The Truth About Visa Runs

Note: Since citizens of European Union countries don’t need to worry about visas to stay in Spain, the following information is for citizens of the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other non-EU countries.

Contrary to what you may have heard, a weekend trip abroad doesn’t automatically renew your tourist visa when you re-enter Spain. It would be great if it did, but this is false. Spain is a member of the Schengen Agreement, which means that tourists (from the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and a number of other countries) are only authorized to stay in the entire Schengen territory (covering most of the EU countries) for up to 90 days in any six month period. To stay in Spain longer than 90 days, you’ll need to get a visa (work visa, student visa, etc.) and no weekend “visa run” is going to change that; otherwise you’ll be staying in Spain illegally. To be honest, some people do stay in Spain illegally (some run into problems, some don’t), but we can’t recommend this.

The Best Places to Find English-Speaking Expats

To take a break from speaking Spanish for a while and find other English-speaking expats, look no further than: the Costa del Sol, Barcelona, Madrid, the Balearic Islands, Irish pubs, the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, your local British/American/Australian food import shop, Irish pubs, “international nights” at dance clubs and pubs, local British/Irish/American/Australian social clubs, English language bookshops and of course, Irish pubs. Did we mention Irish pubs? 😊

Your local English-language newspaper is also bound to have dozens of leads on how to find other English-speaking expats. Go pick one up at your local Irish pub or English-language bookshop.

Did we mention Irish pubs?

The Best Places to Avoid English-Speaking Expats

If you’ve heard enough English to last you a good while, then look no further than: Asturias, Cantabria, northern Spain in general (except Catalunya), padel tennis courts, local cultural centers, anything related to Spanish politics, the traditional Spanish “old man bar”, religious brotherhoods and organizations, and restaurants with menus in Spanish only.

What the Deal with English Teaching Is

English teaching is that dirty little secret that’s not so secret. Teaching English in Spain means that you won’t starve and it may be able to keep you in Spain if everything else fails you. You won’t get rich or even live comfortably, that’s for darn sure, but neither will you starve (we’re talking minimum self-sufficiency here). Whether you have teaching experience or not, are here legally or not, or are even a native speaker, if you can read this article, then you have what it takes to teach English for money in Spain. A sad state of affairs for foreign language teaching perhaps, but the reality is to your advantage. Language academies and private students in Spain are always in need of a few good (and not so good) English teachers.

The Importance of Employment Contracts

Especially as a foreigner, there is no substitute for an employment contract in Spain. No matter what the laws or situation may be in your home country, if you plan to work for someone else in Spain – whether for a short length of time or for the long haul – you need more than a handshake: you need a signed contract between you and your employer. (Make sure to keep a copy.) And don’t let someone talk you out of a contract. The benefits far outweigh any possible disadvantages. Chief among the benefits are that your working conditions will be firmly spelled out from the start and that you will have a clear path to recourse if something goes wrong. (I had to learn the value of employment contracts in Spain the hard way – being cheated by an unscrupulous employer.) At the very least, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, have a back-up plan and be prepared to stand up for your rights. Being a foreigner may make you more vulnerable to some of the more unsavory elements in the labor market than if you just had a job back home.

Saying It with Confidence

We all know that learning to speak Spanish is important for any expat in Spain, but did you know that there’s one simple trick that could help your Spanish immeasurably – at any level? It’s simple: speaking Spanish with confidence. This helps your audience focus on what you’re saying, and not on how you say it.

Who cares if you feel like an idiot and can’t remember which subjunctive tense to use? Fake it and just keep going! Chances are that you have something valuable to contribute, and nothing should stop you from doing so. Just keep on talking – don’t stop to search for an elusive word – and be sure to sound confident. For if there’s doubt in your voice, then your audience will doubt you, your abilities and what you’re saying too. As with anything, practice makes perfect, but speaking Spanish with confidence is one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself; that’s when people start to listen to what you have to say.

Last updated 19 03 2014

Donation to SpainExpat.com

If you find this site helpful, please leave a donation for us. This will encourage us to remove ads, keep responding to your questions and add more great information about living in Spain to SpainExpat.com.


If you'd like to ask a question for discussion, please mosey on over to the Spain Forum. See our posting rules and instructions here.

Register, then sign-in with your SpainExpat username to post your comments.

Go to Top

Recent Discussions
La Liga table , Spanish Football Round Up - By: jurdyr

Total Views: 10458, Last Post On: 01/12/2021 07:59 am By: Alessandro01

But what if I don’t like French Fries? - By: mightyfrea

Total Views: 13602, Last Post On: 01/12/2021 07:56 am By: Alessandro01

How do you spend your weekend in Spain? - By: Garry_Oldman

Total Views: 1909, Last Post On: 02/25/2019 11:21 pm By: Alessandro01

Online Shopping from Spain... who delivers? - By: The Expatriator

Total Views: 7511, Last Post On: 02/24/2019 05:24 pm By: TolDR

Inflatable swimming pools - for all the family! - By: susanspain

Total Views: 7332, Last Post On: 02/10/2019 10:23 am By: angelala

Top 10 Tips for Learning Spanish - By: don Pablo

Total Views: 6476, Last Post On: 02/09/2019 04:30 pm By: mikkelkasper

Spanish Culture and Lifestyle - By: hollysurly

Total Views: 3863, Last Post On: 02/06/2019 05:30 pm By: Kate2228

Recent Talkbacks
On EU Residency in Spain for EU Citizens, Their Spouses and Family Members, Dreamer said:

"Hi Billy,

The article has just been updated with all the new info."

On EU Residency in Spain for EU Citizens, Their Spouses and Family Members, redglasses said:

"Can a british resident live in spain? Is Britain considered part of the European Union?
What about taxes for running a business in Spain for an Expat?"

On Moving to Spain, rojo36 said:

"Glasgow Man and Van has a dedicated team of movers who can provide a reliable removals service to Spain. We are often able to move you along with your belongings if transport is a problem, keeping the cost down."

Expats on Facebook