The Top 3 Challenges of Moving to Spain from the United States or Canada


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It’s not unheard of! Over the last few years, we have attended numerous North American clients who have decided to move their lives and business here. These are the most common reasons we hear:

  • “I want to enjoy the insuperable quality of life in Spain while working remotely for international companies.”
  • “I saw the business and investment opportunities in Spain and decided to take advantage of them.”
  • “I want to offer my family an international experience to broaden our horizons.”
  • “I want to retire in a place that I have always loved as a tourist.”
  • “I do not recognize my country anymore and want to try something else for a while”.

It is true that if you want to move to some other country, Spain is an incredible destination with so much to offer from history and culture to beautiful views and a way of life that most North Americans dream of.

However, relocating to Spain, especially full-time, comes with its own set of unique challenges. Of course, there are much more difficult places to move to, which in comparison make getting a residency permit in Spain a walk in the park.

In this article, we’re going to discuss the top three challenges of moving to Spain from the US, plus some worthwhile advice and things to know before you go.

Keep reading to learn more about the Challenges of Becoming an Expat in Spain.

Moving to Spain From the US or Canada

Before we dive into a list of the different and most-popular cities in Spain among expats, here are a few friendly words of advice to keep in mind:

  • You’ll never have all the answers before leaving, but doing ample research is critical. Moving to Spain isn’t something you want to swing blindly into. At the very least you need to know how which city in Spain is the right match for you, how to rent an apartment or purchase a home, where you can find work if needed, how to get a driver’s license, a residency permit, how does the move effect on your taxes, and so on. The point is you need to be prepared. AvaLanding can help you to figure out all these aspects long before you arrive.
  • There’s no “right way” to become an expat. For all intents and purposes, you don’t have to get dramatic about relocating to Spain by packing all your things and surrendering your American or Canadian citizenship. You can start slowly by living in Spain for just a few months out of the year before you fully commit. The limit you can stay as a tourist without any further formalities is 3 months within a period of 6 months.
  • English is the second most spoken language in Spain, and you can survive without speaking Spanish, but you may want to consider learning some words. It will open up the country and the people to you in a different manner.

Now that we’ve gotten those tidbits out of the way, let’s dive into the top three challenges Americans and Canadians face when relocating to Spain:

1. Deciding Where to Live

Figuring out where in Spain you’re going to live is arguably a challenging part of the process of moving to Spain from the US or Canada. Here are some of the best place to live in Spain (according to other expats) and what they have to offer:


Madrid, the capital of Spain, is a central hub of culture and commerce, and it’s home to some of Spain’s world-famous nightlife.

There are tons of attractions such as the renowned Gran Via, El Rastro Market, Templo de Debod, incredible parks, gardens, and architecture, the best food, and plenty of venues for concerts and theatre. You’ll never run out of things to do in Madrid, and if you’re moving from a big city, you’ll feel right at home.

Of course, Madrid is also one of the most expensive cities to live in. However, compared to other European cities such as London and Paris, it’s quite affordable, so the cost of living shouldn’t scare you off. This is especially true when it comes to eating—you won’t have to break the bank for a nice night out because you can enjoy some of the delicious and famous tapas at Plaza Mayor for just a few Euros.

You can also find plenty of places just outside the city to live or spend your time if you’re looking for a quieter time in Madrid.


Barcelona is the second-largest city and Spain, and it rivals Madrid in its popularity—and the number of expats currently living there. If you’re the type who can appreciate a city by the sea, then Barcelona is for you.

Barcelona is also known as the Silicon Valley of Europe, so if you are a tech talent or in business related to new technologies, this is your city. Many of the huge multinationals, like Amazon, Facebook, etc have chosen Barcelona as their main logistic or development hubs in Europe. They know that the talent likes Barcelona.

Barcelona holds so many gems in terms of attractions and things to do, such as La Sagrada Família, Park Güell, and La Rambla. Plus, the great weather, architecture, and easy style of living are what wins most people—not to mention Barcelona’s all-star club futbol team that’ll have you parading in the street with the entire city each time they win.

However, Barcelona is also known to be just as expensive if not more than Madrid. Of course, just like Madrid, it’s still affordable compared to other European cities especially when you consider that the cost of tapas is much lower (and food is typically a huge cost for tourists and expats alike.)


Alicante is one of the most popular areas for other European expats to move. Alicante is located in southern Spain. Its cost of living is affordable and the weather is beautiful year-round. The city is also famous for its palm-tree flanked streets, shipping, white sandy beaches, and historical sites.

There’s also a huge group of expats living in Alicante, which means it won’t be hard to make a few friends that have a lot in common with you.

San Sebastian

San Sebastian is located in the Northern Gipuzkoa region in Spain, which is considered Basque Country, another very unique and mysterious culture in Spain. It’s also just an eight-hour drive from Portugal, which is always worth a visit.

Being located in the north of Spain, San Sebastian doesn’t have warm weather all year round, however, it still offers an incredible quality of life. So much so that it’s sometimes referred to as a “mini Paris.”

The city has so much to offer from its rich history and stunning architecture, and it’s famous for its “pintxo” which is best experienced in La Parte Vieja. If you enjoy the occasional or frequent drink, you’ll also be happy to know that San Sebastian’s old city center has the highest concentration of bars in the entire world.

This city is very popular among expats, although not as popular compared to the others on this list, which is probably attributed to its high cost of living and lack of a warm year-round climate. While climate is usually a top-ranking factor in terms of relocation, especially among retirees, San Sebastian is worth looking into when deciding where exactly to move to in Spain.


Malaga is a very much-loved city among expats, mostly among retirees but also for younger generations that are still working. Malaga is located on the southern coast of the country, making it favorable largely for the great weather year-round.

Malaga is also well regarded for its great food and drinks, relaxed approach to life, incredible beaches, and high-quality public transportation.

Next to Alicante, Malaga is probably the second cheapest place to live in Spain, making it more affordable for all retirees, students, and the working class alike. You’ll find the quality of living here is next to perfect, which is why there’s such a large population of expats.


Sevilla is a province in southern Spain and is part of the autonomous community of Andalucia. Sevilla is most popular among expats who enjoy friendly conversation, traditional vibes, and mountains. While Sevilla is set back from the coast a bit, the year-round weather is still advantageous as it’s the warmest city in all of Europe.

Here you’ll get to truly enjoy the fourth biggest city in Spain, where they take their flamenco seriously as well as their music festivals. The cost of living here is also incredibly cheap compared to the rest of Spain, and you’ll be fully immersed in Spain’s most traditional culture—think horses, colorful clothing, and tapas, to name a few—history, architecture, and plenty of energy.

2. Getting a Spanish Residency Permit

The next challenge for the North American moving to Spain is garnering a residency permit.

Depending on your situation and goals, here are the options and criteria you’re looking at for residency:

Non-Lucrative Visa

If you’d like to retire to Spain or live here for a period of time and you don’t wish to work, then this is the visa for you.

All you need are the following:

  • Private health insurance
  • Proof of sufficient funds beginning at 26.000€
  • Private health insurance
  • Certificate of not having a criminal record

Investor Visa, i.e. The Golden Visa

Investor visas, otherwise known as the Golden Visa, is arguably the easiest way to get your residency and work permit here. It was created to attract foreign investment to Spain. To qualify for an investor visa, you’ll need to invest 500.000€ in Spanish real estate, by shares of a Spanish company by 1 million euros or buy Spanish bonds for 2 million euros. We have presented hundreds of successful Golden Visa applications for our clients, and curiously, none of them have chosen the bond option. For complete information on this subejct, please see our article on the golden visa [here].

Student Visa

If you’re planning on studying for your Masters or Ph.D. or participating in a research program in Spain, this is the visa you want to go for. This visa will allow you to work, get an internship, and study in the country with the advantage of allowing you to transition towards a work permit afterwards—minus the extra paperwork and other visa requirements.

Work permit for a highly qualified employee

If you’ve been offered a job as a highly qualified worker, the application procedure can be done in Spain. This permit requires that you have university studies, you’ve been leveraged in a technical position or as a manager and are projected to earn over 40.000€ per year.

Business Residency Permit

If you plan to set up a business and become a resident at the same time, you’ll likely qualify for a business residency permit or entrepreneur visa. Bonus points are given, if what you’re doing is of economic interest for the country, involving high levels of technology.

There’s also a self-employed work permit for other business categories if you don’t meet the requirements of the above.

Permanent Residency

If you’ve been living in Spain for at least five years under any residency visa (except for the student visa which does not count), you’ll be eligible to apply for permanent residency, which will grant you Spanish permanent residency.

All you really need to meet the requirements are your passport, current permit, and the proper paperwork filled out, and voilá! – you’re approaching Spanish citizenship.

3. Figuring Out Your Taxes

In the simplest of terms, if you are living and working in Spain over 6 months in a year, you’re expected to file a Spanish tax return and pay income taxes in Spain on both your income and assets worldwide. Both Canada and US have signed double taxation treaties with Spain, so you never pay double tax for any income, but you may end up paying the highest tax between the two options.

There are efficient tax planification tools to optimize the taxes. The first step, before you come, often consists of making a simulation and comparing how much you would pay if you were tax resident in Spain – and what you would pay if you stayed tax resident in US or Canada. Based on that, we can advise you on what time of the year to make the move, whether to sell or buy properties before or after the move, etc.

You become tax resident in Spain when:

  • You stay in Spain for more than 183 days (= 6 months) during a calendar year, and/or
  • The center of your economical activities in in Spain (you work in Spain for a Spanish company or have a business here), and/or
  • Your spouse and/or underage children are Spanish tax residents

In February 2021 we organized a seminar together with the City Council of Barcelona to go through all the relevant tax questions or expats and foreign-owned companies in Spain. Click here to see the video.


Moving to Spain from the US can be an exciting adventure, especially if you plan to take advantage of everything the country has to offer. Once you figure out where to live, the type of residency you need, and the taxes you’ll have to pay, you’ll be well on your way to living the easy life you’ve always dreamed of in one of the most exceptional countries in the world.

And we can help you with ALL of that! If you’re thinking about relocating to Spain from the US or Canada, we have an entire team of experienced lawyers, economists, relocation specialists, accountants, and real estate professionals to guide you through it all.

We speak both English and Spanish and can offer you a full-service consultancy of any of the professional help you require. Contact us today to learn more.

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