Retiring to Spain

Since the 1970s, Spain has been luring the British to its shores

Attractions include reliable sunshine, and a high standard and relatively low cost of living.

If you are thinking of moving to Spain, you are not alone. There are thought to be more than one million Britons living in Spain permanently, and more British pensioners in Spain than in any other country outside the UK. 

The locations favoured by Britons have varied little over the decades. It is the big cities and best-known coastal towns that have bounced back best economically from the 2008 financial crises and it is to these places people will always want to return.

Spanish culture is underpinned by three elements: family, food and festivals – often enjoyed all at the same time. A classic Mediterranean mix, that influences many facets of Spanish life, it determines the shape of the days (siestas and late nights), embodies Spain’s core values (a sense of community and religion) and gives the Spanish every opportunity to do what they do best – enjoy themselves.

As many a British expat in Spain demonstrates, you can get by without any knowledge of Spanish. There are many places where that is entirely possible, from Barcelona to Marbella to Palma to Benidorm. You will often find that even if you try to speak in Spanish, the reply comes back in English – which you will find either frustrating or a huge relief.

Proximity to an international airport comes high up the list of requisites for many, to make life easier to visit family and friends and for them to come and see you. If you are buying a property, it will be an important factor when you come to sell as most buyers tend to want a home within an hour’s drive of an airport.

Madrid, Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca are Spain’s busiest airports – and their passenger numbers are growing each year. Malaga airport on the Costa del Sol is now Spain’s fourth busiest airport and has seen a major expansion.


Think of a typical winter’s day in Spain and how do you see yourself – wearing t-shirts and shorts on the beach, or tucked up in a restaurant next to a roaring fire? 

Southern Spain remains mild in winter with bright, blue skies and sunshine that makes Christmas Day on the beach a distinct possibility. Summer temperatures in the Costa del Sol can reach 40C. The region registers 16 sunshine hours a day in July and almost no rain.

On the Costa Blanca, the rainy season starts in September, typically with the days starting clear and bright then turning rainy and sometimes stormy. Temperatures also drop rapidly in the autumn months and winter can fluctuate between cool and windy and pleasingly temperature. Summers are reliably long and dry.

The Costa Brava enjoys long, hot summers and short, mild winters, protected from the wet weather in the west by the Pyrenees mountains. The region faces weather systems crossing the Atlantic, which can lead to some unpredictability.

Mallorca also sees some fluctuation throughout the year – and, as a mountainous island, differences between the warmer, drier south and the slightly rainier north. Summers are hot, autumn is typically warm but possibly wet and winters are usually dry and bright, but the odd snowfall has been seen.

The main draw of the Canaries is year-round warmth, with little variation in summer and winter temperatures and only six rainy days per month in winter.


After years of recession, 2015 marked a turning point for the Spanish economy and property market. Estate agents had been forecasting the bottom of the market for a few years, but it seemed there was always a little further to fall. But 2015 saw greater economic growth than the EU average and, in some areas, a return to more positive levels of property sales, mortgage approvals and new construction.


Emergency cover in Spain is available to anyone, whether you are an EU or non-EU citizen. To qualify, you will need to register on your local town hall’s census (padrón), which brings a variety of other benefits including discounts on your IBI tax (which is similar to the UK’s council tax), the right to vote and free or discounted access to municipal services such as sports centres and libraries.

If you live in Spain and receive a UK state pension or long-term incapacity benefit, you may be entitled to state healthcare paid for by the UK. You will need a Form S1, which must be obtained in the UK, and certifies that you are of retirement age and have paid all the necessary social security taxes in the UK. You will then be entitled to the same benefits as a Spanish national.

If you do not qualify for free state healthcare you can take out private health insurance, or pay the full cost of any medical treatment.

Another option is the Spanish health scheme called the convenio especial. If you have been registered on the padrón at your town hall for a year, then you can participate in a state insurance scheme for a basic monthly fee (about €60). 

Of course, Brexit may change all that. Refer to for important Brexit updates.


Spain has a reputation for high taxation, but this is not always true. With the right advice you may find you could pay less tax than you would in the UK.

It is important to understand where you are tax resident. In Spain, you are considered a tax resident if you spend more than 183 days during the Spanish calendar year, or if your family, main professional activity or most of your assets are based in Spain.

If you are a Spanish resident, you will be liable for tax on your worldwide income and gains. Non-residents of Spain will be liable for Spanish income tax only on Spanish-sourced income and capital gains.


If you are an EU citizen, you automatically have the right to live in Spain but you must still apply for residency. That simply means presenting your passport, and four photos, and proof of income at your main police station. You will then receive your residency card (tarjeta comunitaria) within weeks. You also need a NIE from your local Policia Nacional.

If you are not an EU citizen, you cannot stay in Spain beyond 30 days. You will need to get a visa from the Spanish consulate in your home country before you enter Spain. But, of course, all this could change during the Brexit process.

  • This article is just a brief taster of the book ‘Retiring to Europe’, which is out now. Find out how to get all the information at There you can download the comprehensive guide free of charge and receive Brexit updates.
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Mother of three grown-up daughters I am the ultimate multi-tasker and am passionate about my role as Silversurfers Website Editor and Social Media Manager. Always on the lookout for all things that will interest and entertain our community. Fuelling fun for the young at heart!

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