living in Spain

Relocation to Spain: Living in Spain

Located in the Iberian Peninsula, on the southwestern tip of Europe, Spain is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea, Gibraltar to the south; to the north by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean and Portugal. The Spanish territory includes the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the African coast, and two autonomous cities in North Africa, Ceuta and Melilla. Covering a total area of 504,030 km², Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe after France.

As the eighth largest economy in the world based on nominal GDP, Spain is a member of the European Union and NATO. Its democratic rule is organised in the form of a parliamentary government under a constitutional monarchy with a hereditary monarch and a bicameral parliament, the Cortes Generales. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, its current President of the Government, presides over a Council of Ministers, proposed by the monarch King Juan Carlos I and elected by the National Assembly following legislative elections. The King has been Head of State since 22 November 1975.

Spain is nowadays divided into 17 autonomic communities and 2 autonomic cities. These regions remain diverse in their geography, climate, culture and gastronomy.  Although Madrid is the capital there are many cities and regions that are recognised as equally important business and cultural centres, such as Barcelona; San Sebastián and Bilbao, the Navarra region, Valencia and Málaga. To understand the essence and traditions of each region one must look deep into the past.

Brief History

Spain’s convoluted history dates back to prehistoric times, yet its richly emergence as a defined territory points to the times when the Iberian Peninsula was a Roman Empire called Hispania. Since this period, Spain has been claimed, conquered and reclaimed by Germanic, Visigoth and Celt Iberian tribes, Muslims and Christians.

During the 16th century, after the fateful discovery of the Americas led by Christopher Columbus Spain became the strongest kingdom in Europe and the leading world power until late 17th century. During this time it maintained several colonies in the New World and benefited from its trade operations. The French invasion of Spain in the early 19th century and the Spanish American War debilitated the strength and authority of the country.

In the 20th century, a devastating civil war gave way to the rule of an authoritarian government, leading to years of stagnation. However, the country saw an impressive economic surge. Following the death of General Francisco Franco, democracy was restored in 1978 in the form of a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. In 1986, Spain joined the European Union; experiencing a cultural renaissance and steady economic growth.

It is precisely the legacy of its intricate history and fascinating evolution what makes Spain such an exciting fusion of cultural, social and architectural influences. Its many cosmopolitan cities and picturesque towns hide Moorish palaces, fortresses, rustic farmhouses or ‘masías`, Roman ruins, and Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals. Spain has the second highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world, with a total of 40. Since the late 19th century modern architectural landmarks have surfaced on the urban and countryside landscape, making Spain an obligatory stop in many tourist agendas and a preferred place to live.


The climate in Spain is extremely diverse due to its geographical situation and topographic conditions. On the eastern coastal region  it enjoys a Continental Mediterranean climate with frequent winds along the coast. To the North West, you can find Oceanic climate resembling most of the Western Europe coastal cities. A Continental Mediterranean climate is common in the country’s interior, while in the Canary Islands there is a sub Tropical, humid climate.


Spanish or Castilian is the only language with official status nationwide. Other languages have been declared co-official in the constituent communities where they are spoken: Basque (euskera) in the Basque Country and Navarra; Catalan (català) in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands; Valencian (valencià) in the Valencian Community; and Galician (galego) in Galicia.


Catholicism is the main religion in the country. About 76% of Spaniards identify themselves as Catholics, about 2% identify with another religious faith, and about 19% identify themselves as non-religious.

Cultural and Social Life

Family and friends are vitally important to most Spaniards. Spaniards normally act and speak in an informal and spontaneous manner during social interactions. Physical contact is frequent and usually involves greeting, kisses and embraces, which initially may take foreign visitors by surprise.

The normal time for lunch is between 14.00h and 16:00h and the normal time for dinner is from 21:00 to 23:00. It is common to go out to dinner with friends during the week and especially on weekends.

Spanish nightlife is legendary and one of Spain’s greatest attractions. Bars and discothèques stay open until early morning. The hospitality sector is one of the most vibrant sectors of the Spanish economy.

The family is still at the heart of personal relations and is a very important element especially during the weekends and holidays. Maintaining ties of friendship is also very important.

There are numerous popular festivals throughout Spain, some of international renown, which are normally related to religious traditions. You should find out which holidays are observed in your city, as there are national and regional holidays.

Store opening hours are usually from 9.30 in the morning to 20 or 21.00 in the evening. The opening hours are usually longer in shopping centres and around holiday season. The smaller establishments tend to close during the lunch and siesta hours.

Summer vacation months are from July to August, the latter being the preferred period. Most businesses and shops close their doors during this season. In some cases, during the summer, the working hours are cut back to what is known as intensive schedule (horario intensivo), meaning working from 9.00 to 15.00h with short snack break and without the usual and longer lunch hour.

Spanish food is quickly garnering worldwide attention. The tapas tradition and a rich and booming wine industry have helped put Spain on the international map. The Mediterranean and Basque regions offer plenty of fish, seafood and vegetarian options. As you move inland you will find more traditional dishes, many of which include ham game meats and endless variations of the versatile codfish (bacalao). Spain boasts 146 Michelin awarded restaurants.

(Part of this information was compiled and adapted from online sources:,  and