Moving From USA To Spain

Are You Sure ? section                  (Home / Travel / Moving To Spain)
What Visa ? section
Getting a Visa section
Moving section
Miscellaneous section
 

My Living in Spain page
My Driving in Spain page
My Health Insurance and Healthcare in Spain page
My Taxes in Spain page




Are You Sure ?



Spain is not paradise. It has high unemployment and other economic problems, bureaucracy, some corruption, crime, stresses because of immigration, tourism, racism, regional strains, air pollution. The south/interior of Spain is very hot in the summer. It's a nice place, but have realistic expectations.

There are downsides to moving to another country: The benefits of moving to another country, and the good things about Spain, are too numerous to list.



There is not one "Spain". Living in a big city (Madrid, Barcelona, etc) would be quite different from living in a small, quiet, traditional town, and both quite different from living in an expat-heavy tourist town on the Costa del Sol.

Also, living as a student, as a worker, as a business owner, as a retiree, as a tourist could be quite different experiences. Living childless versus raising a family; younger versus older people; Spanish-fluent versus not; etc. So take these differences into account as you read the experiences and advice of other people.



My story:

I grew up in New Jersey. Worked as a computer programmer for 21 years or so, in NJ and then Silicon Valley. Early-retired at age 43 to live and cruise on a sailboat (info here). Did that for 13+ years, in USA and Caribbean.

Took a 2-month vacation to Barcelona (info here), loved the place, and fell in love with a Peruvian-Spanish woman there. So, off to Spain ! I moved in October 2015. By the time of the move, I had spent a total of about 10 months over 2.5 years (on tourist visa) in Barcelona. After another 10 months in Barcelona, we moved to Jerez de la Frontera.

So, my situation probably differs from that of others. I have been through the retirement and expatriation transitions already, I have money, I have some familiarity with my destination in Spain, I have housing, I'm living with a local person who speaks about 4 languages (including English).

Barcelona is wonderful, but my Spanish ability is pathetic, and adding Catalan to the mix makes it harder.



La Vida Alcalaina's "Thinking of retiring to Spain?"
Nick Anders' "I Hate Spain"
Steve Hall's "Why Expats Struggle in Spain"
Rhiannon Davies's "Should You Retire Abroad?"
Spain Made Simple's "Advantages & Disadvantages of Living in Spain"
Spain Made Simple's "Advice From Expats Now Happily Living in Spain"
Nick Snelling's "Why Does Moving To Spain Go Wrong"
Jose Luis Barberia's "Spain - A great place to live, a terrible place to work?"
Karen Banes' "Moving Overseas - Mistakes to Avoid"
Curtis Poe's "The Young Person's Guide to Moving Abroad"
wikiHow to Move to a Foreign Country
Young Adventuress' "5 Things No One Tells You about Moving Abroad"
Jo Fraser's "I Quit My Job To Be A Travel Writer, And Now I'm Broke And Unemployed"
Sarah McArthur's "What You Need To Know Before You Move Abroad"

From /u/ajl1239 on reddit 10/2016:

> What are the DOWNSIDES to living in Europe
> as opposed to the U.S. ?

I think I can give you some pretty honest analysis, because I've also lived in America most of my life, but traveled to around 50 countries (in Europe and around the world), lived everywhere from NYC to Phoenix to small towns in America, and have lived in England, France, and Slovenia. I'm also a U.S.-EU dual citizen, meaning I can live anywhere in the USA or anywhere in Europe, as I please.

First, however, let me disabuse you of the notion that Europe is one big place: no, it's about 30 different countries, and these vary dramatically in terms of quality of life and culture.

Anyway, that said, in no particular order, here are some things you might find "annoying". Note that I don't necessarily think these are bad things -- in many cases, I think they are good things -- but I'm trying to be open-minded as to what might bother your "average American".

1.) Gas is expensive and owning a car is more expensive -- from getting a license to registering the vehicle -- so if you're someone who just loves to drive a big car everywhere as much as you want as you please, Europe may not the be the best place for you.It's even harder to drive a car in/around most cities, which often have pedestrian zones in the center and cameras that ticket you if you drive in the wrong place at the wrong time.

2.) Apartments and homes are generally smaller than in the USA. For example, families in the UK often live in about the same amount of space as your average small-ish two-bedroom apartment in suburban USA.

3.) While most apartments and homes have their own washing machine (and this is nice, since a lot of apartments in NYC, DC, SF and LA don't have washing machines at all), they often don't have dryers; so Europeans have to hang their clothes out to dry.

4.) Fewer homes and apartments have dishwashers, although this is changing to some degree, given the Ikea-ization of European kitchens.

5.) Income taxes are, generally speaking, much higher in European countries. Now, if you're a young and healthy single man or woman, maybe this is bad for you, but if you have a few health problems, maybe dream of having children, maybe want to get a college degree or master's degree, maybe you prefer taking the train to driving; you'll find that those taxes do indeed pay for "nice things" in Europe, nice things that either cost money in America (visiting a doctor when you get sick or going to college) or nice things that just don't exist in America (excellent public transportation and rail service). So, you'll have to do the math for yourself: do the benefits for you outweigh the extra tax paid? And, again, taxes vary: for example, taxes are higher in Norway and Belgium than they are in the UK and France.

6.) Countries and societies may feel less welcoming to "outsiders." Canada and the USA, for example, are pluralistic nations of French, Italians, Jews, Catholics, Germans, Chinese, Japanese, etc. In contrast, in Europe, you might feel like "France is for the French", "Italy is for the Italians", and "Slovenia is for the Slovenes". In other words, it can be hard to "fit in" for some Americans in Europe. The other side of the coin is that if you have more liberal social values (e.g. atheist, tolerant of gay rights and drug use, progressive politics), you may feel like you "fit" more in Europe than in certain parts of the USA. It all depends on where in Europe and where in the USA we're comparing and contrasting.

7.) If you get hot easily and live in Central or Southern Europe, you may be surprised by the fact that, compared to the USA, many homes and businesses don't have air-conditioning. Similarly, in the winter, many Europeans are more likely to put on a sweater than blast the heat. Year-round indoor temperatures of 68-70 degrees are less common in Europe.

8.) By and large, Europeans are dramatically less religious than Americans. So, if you're a fan of "wearing God on your sleeve", you may not like living in Europe, particularly Northern Europe. The reality, though, is that even Italy is less religious than America -- let that sink in.

9.) Labor markets are much less "liberal" than the USA in many countries, which means it can be more difficult to find work as an "outsider" with education credentials from a different country. Of course, once you get a contract, it will be much harder to fire you than would be the case in the USA.

10.) Much of Europe is farther North than the continental USA, so in the winter, you will find it gets dark earlier and gets light later. In the summer, though, it will be light longer. If you like the desert climate of Phoenix or the sub-tropical climate of Florida, you won't find that in Europe. Italy's climate is a lot like California. The UK's climate is a lot like Oregon.

11.) Fewer stores are open 24/7. If you visit a small city or town in France on a Sunday (even the UK), you might wonder, "why is everything closed?". On Sundays, in many European countries, large stores and shops are closed, or only open for limited hours.

12.) Going back to #6, if you don't speak the language of the country in which you're living, life will be more difficult. Dealing with the government? Renting or buying a home or apartment? Talking to a doctor? Shopping? All of those things. Also, it goes without saying, that you will feel more isolated.

13.) Many countries have pretty restrictive immigration rules. If you're not a European citizen, getting the right to work and live in a European country is more challenging than, say, Canada or Argentina.

14.) In many countries, European professionals get paid less than U.S. professionals. That said, those in non-professional jobs (i.e. store clerks, etc.) will often make more than their U.S. colleagues in Northern Europe. In Southern Europe, almost everyone makes less money, but it's also the case that the cost of living is much lower than the U.S. and health care is still free, along with maternity and paternity benefits and paid vacation.





What Visa ?



I am a retired US citizen, little income but lots of savings, just want to live in Spain without working. Most things on this web page relate to that situation; things are different if you're an EU citizen, may be different if you want to work in Spain, etc.

Levels of permission:

Looks like what I want is "long-stay visa, temporary residence". From NY consulate's "Residing in Spain":
Residence in Spain can be temporary or permanent. Temporary residence is the situation authorizing a stay in Spain for a period longer than 90 days and shorter than five years. Authorizations for a period not exceeding five years may be renewed regularly, at the request of the person concerned, depending on the circumstances leading to their issuance.
Someone tells me that if you have a student or research or tourist visa, you don't get "residence", you get "estancia". One difference that makes: only residency time, not estancia time, counts toward getting permanent residency and then citizenship.

Types of long-stay visas:



If US citizen wants to stay in Spain full-time and not work:
KurpeDiem's "How to Get Residence in Spain as a US Citizen" (and read the comments)
The Expatriator's "Residence visa to retire in Spain (visa de Jubilados)"
Expatica's "The complete guide to Spanish visas and permits"
International Living's "Spain Visa and Residence Information"
Trevor Huxham's "How to Apply for a Student Visa for Spain at the Houston Consulate"
Rookie Notes' "How to Get Your Spanish Student Visa!"
Bucking the Trend's "How to Apply for Non Lucrative Visa for Spain as US Citizen"
Wagoners Abroad's "10 Tips for Spanish Resident Visa Application"
Aventuras en España's "The Non Lucrative Visa Process"
Aventuras en España
Mark Hendrickson's "Applying for the Spanish non-lucrative residence visa"
Tim Adams' "USA to Spain: Going Expat"

There are some e-books you can buy, about the process of getting a visa or moving abroad. I haven't bought any of them.
Wagoners Abroad's "Live in Spain"
COMO Consulting's "Moving to Spain"
Claude Acero's "Relocate, Survive And Be Successful In Crazy Spain: Families, Pensioners And Entrepreneurs Move To Spain The Easy Way" (on Amazon)

If non-EU citizen wants to stay in Spain full-time and work:
Victoria Fontana's "Freelancing in Spain; Work Permits and How to Get Them"
Expat Arrivals' "Work Permits for Spain"
SpainGuru's "Self-employment visa timeline: becoming an 'autonomo' (freelancer) in Spain"
Apparently there is a "highly-skilled worker visa" (trabajadores altamente cualificados) you can get or convert to even if you're already in Spain on another type of visa ?

Diana Edelman's "Getting student visa for Spain as an American"
Cale Gram's "How to Apply for the Spanish Student Visa at the Consulate in Chicago"



You have to apply at the consulate in USA that has jurisdiction over the US state in which you reside.

Spanish Embassy and Consulates in USA:
Boston
Chicago
Houston
Los Angeles
Miami
New York City
San Francisco
San Juan PR
Washington DC

Some key documents from the Consulate web sites:
Miami consulate's "Residence Visa for Retirees"
New York consulate's "Visas New York"
San Francisco consulate's "Residence Visa for Retirees" (PDF)
San Francisco consulate's "Consular Fees" (PDF)



It's unclear if a "retiree visa" exists; it may just be the standard "non-lucrative" (not allowed to work) visa. Application form from NY consulate web site just has a "Residence without work permit" category, nothing that says "retiree". But: KurpeDiem's "How to Get Residence in Spain as a US Citizen" and The Expatriator's "Residence visa to retire in Spain (visa de Jubilados)" and Spanish Visa's "Living in Spain" talk about a retiree visa. Consular Fees New York shows separate lines for "Retirement Residence visa" and "Non-Lucrative visa". Chicago consulate has Chicago's "Residence Visa for Retirees" (PDF). San Francisco consulate has San Francisco's "Residence Visa for Retirees" (PDF). Houston consulate has Houston's "Retirement Residence Visa" (PDF).



From Carole W:

We own an apartment on the Costa del Sol and spend about 6 months / year there. We opted against residency because a) you MUST declare your world-wide investments and assets. If you have income from those assets and pay US taxes at a lower rate than would be the case in Spain for the same assets, the Spanish will tax you for the excess. If you do not declare all your assets, you could run into a huge problem and a very steep fine.

The second reason we opted against residency is the health insurance problem. They want absolute proof that you are covered in the event of health care needs or an emergency. Some companies issue travel insurance that does cover emergencies but not doctor visits. It is up to the individual Spanish Consular Officer to accept or reject your insurance as qualifying.

The reason you find conflicting info on different web-sites is because practically no one inside Spanish immigration offices or in the Consulates know the latest rules or are in any way consistent. Living in Spain is just that: everyone will tell you something different. And the reality of living there doesn't always coincide with the legalities that you might read online.



A dodge, supposedly:

While I was in Barcelona, a Pakistani guy told me a trick that he swears works, if I have a local partner.

Enter Spain on a tourist visa. Rent an apartment in a small town 30-50 KM outside Barcelona. Have the partner move her padron to there, and write a letter saying that you are living there with her. Apply there for NIE, padron, residencia. All of the processes will be complete in a month or so. Terminate the apartment rental and both of you get on the padron in Barcelona (where my partner lives and I want to live).

He says Barcelona (and other big cities) have tough, long processes because many immigrants apply there.

I don't think this trick would work. I think if you try to apply for residencia with no long-stay visa in your passport, they will tell you to go back to your country and apply for a long-stay visa. But I could be wrong, or you could get lucky.

And even if it works, you still need most of the same things (criminal record check, health insurance, assets, medical examination) to apply for residencia as you need to apply for long-stay visa.





Getting a Visa






Documents needed in my particular case (non-lucrative retiree visa, single person, US citizen, not buying property, will live with citizen in Spain):

From CIEE's "Spanish Visa Application Guidelines" (PDF):
Specific visa application procedures vary from Consulate to Consulate, so for up-to-date and accurate instructions, it is IMPERATIVE that you check directly with the Consulate having jurisdiction over your place of residence. You must follow the instructions the Consulate provides with the application you request (or their web-site instructions).



[List omits some things that don't apply to me: marriage certificate, birth certificates for children, school or work letter.]



Can you get an NIE before going to Spain, by filing EX-15 form (PDF) at consulate along with your visa application ? Probably yes, but I'm not sure it's worth doing unless you really have to, and it will be a pain if anything goes wrong with the paperwork.
Spanish Property Insight's "Spanish NIE numbers: Why you need one, and how to get one in or outside of Spain"

Don't need it, but found readable EX-09 form here.

When I received my long-stay visa, stamped into my passport, it had an NIE on it, so they did that automatically.



Other document requirements:

Still unclear on the process; is this it ?
  1. If a document is an official US government document (birth certificate, marriage license, FBI criminal record check, state criminal record check, etc), it must be apostilled. Then:

  2. All English-language documents, apostilled or not, must be translated and certified by a Certified Translator (AKA "Official Sworn Translator"). Then:

  3. Originals and photocopies of the Spanish-language documents are submitted along with the application form.

  4. You keep the English-language originals (birth cert, marriage license, apostilled FBI criminal record check, doctor's letter, medical insurance letter, etc); don't submit them.

  5. Probably a good idea to take everything, and more, with you to the consulate appointment, just in case. English-language versions of documents, birth certificate even though you have passport, etc. Just in case.





From /u/alaninsitges:
There is going to be a lot (a lot) of paperwork and red tape and rubber stamps and oh-no-this-one-isn't-right-start-all-over-again. Welcome to Spain.



Sounds like I'm going to have to visit the consulate in person and ask about each specific document:
Or maybe it's better to just follow the consulate web page blindly, do the simplest thing, give it a shot, play dumb. But if I need something else, things I already have could expire while I'm getting the additional thing.

Well, I went to the NYC consulate 11/2014 to ask questions:

Since I didn't have an appointment, they wouldn't let me in through Security. But the guard got someone knowledgable to come out and I had a rushed conversation with him across the Security desk.

Amazingly, he said everything is simpler than the web site and other reading had led me to believe. Nothing has to be translated into Spanish, except for diplomas and such (not relevant to me). Nothing has to be notarized. No criminal record check from Spain, just one from FBI (they don't really like State Police check, would rather have FBI check). Black-and-white photocopies; color not needed. Copy only ID page of passport, not the whole passport. Don't have to show a travel reservation for going to Spain.

One new thing: I said I was going to have my lady in Spain write a one-sentence invitation letter to show I had somewhere to live in Spain: "[NAME] is invited to reside with me in my home at [ADDRESS]." Instead, he said they'd like it if she went to the police station in Spain, got some kind of letter from them saying she invites me to live with her, and then I give the letter to the consulate when I apply. He said the police would have the letter she needs to sign.
[I think this is a "Carta de Invitacion". But the application form says it's for maximum stay of 90 days; it's really for tourists not staying in a hotel. And cost is unclear; may be €77 !
Ministerio del Interior's "Carta de Invitacion"
National Police's "Requisitos, Resolucion, Tramitacion y Denegacion de la Carta de Invitacion"
National Police's "Solicitud de Expedicion de Carta de Invitacion" (PDF)
Ana Torres's "Carta de Invitacion"
]

The man said something like this a couple of times: "you are applying from USA, you are US citizen, so things have to be from here". Doctor has to be in USA. Criminal record check only from USA; he didn't seem to care about the "lived 6 months in any other country in last 5 years". I mentioned visiting Spain as a tourist for total of more than 6 months, but he said I don't need a record check from there. Perhaps you need criminal record checks from other countries if you officially were a resident there, not just a tourist.

And he seemed to say one main concern of the process is to make sure the applicant is taking the change of residence seriously, that you'll be a responsible resident of Spain, that it's a serious step. I may have to make my "letter of intent" a little more flowery.

I am a retiree with lots of assets (savings) but no monthly income. That's okay, but he's completely unable to give me a number for "minimum assets required".

For the doctor's letter, I showed him example text and asked if it was acceptable, and he kind of waved it away, saying "we just want something that says you're healthy".

For medical insurance, you must show a receipt showing that you paid for it. Not really a letter from the insurance company, certainly not anything notarized or translated.

He gave me the email address for the head person who will be doing the actual application interview, and encouraged me to gather the documents, then email this person before making the appointment, to confirm that I have everything the interviewer wants. I said that the main consulate email address never gets answered, but he assured me this person WILL answer his email. [I sent email to that address 6 months later, when I was ready to apply; no answer.]

An odd moment: he asked "just out of curiosity, where are you going to live in Spain ?", I said "Barcelona", and he said "Aha, I guessed so !". Hmm.
Occurred to me: the consulate may not require anything translated into Spanish for the visa, but later in Spain, when applying for the residencia card, translations may be required. [Answer turned out to be: no.]

A month before applying, I found an email address at NYC consulate that DID respond:

> Are documents in English acceptable ?

We accept all the documentation in English but since you would have to submit some of them in Spain I recommend you to get a translation into Spanish.

> When I apply for the long-stay visa,
> may I leave a copy of my passport, and keep my actual
> passport with me for travel while the visa application
> is pending ?

You can take your passport with you after the interview and travel to Spain for 90 days but have in mind that once you apply your visa should be ready in about 1 month and you have another month to pick it up since it is approved.

> For an invitation letter from the lady I will be living with,
> do I need a "Carta de Invitacion" through the Spanish police,
> or will a simple notarized letter from my lady in Spain
> be adequate ?

You don't need Carta de Invitacion.

...

Yes, you have to submit EX01 and 790 code 052. The fee, in total, is $151.

...

> Do you require any specific provisions in the
> medical insurance, or just require that I have
> paid for some insurance that is effective in Spain ?

Your medical insurance must cover at least $30,000 in medical expense and repatriation/evacuation.



My experience:

For visa application at NYC consulate, I submitted: apostilled FBI criminal record check (in English), doctor's letter (in Spanish written by Spanish-speaking doctor), bank account statement (in English), medical insurance letter (in English), invitation letter (in Spanish written by Spanish notary and notarized in Spain), my "letter of intent" (in English), and photocopies of passport ID page and driver's license.

I didn't have anything translated into Spanish.

I submitted originals of FBI criminal check, doctor's letter, and invitation letter, and asked to have them returned to me when the visa was approved, so I can use them when applying for residency. [They were not returned, but I did not need them in Spain.]






(Of course, US visa bureaucracy is no better: Colleen Hennessy's "Horrendous lessons I learned on a mission to get my husband a US visa").



Order and timing of doing things:

THIS IS UNCLEAR; STILL TRYING TO FIGURE THIS OUT.

From International Living's "Spain Visa and Residence Information":
All documents must be submitted to the consulate within 90 days of the issue date (except for marriage and birth certificates, if applicable). Processing the application [for non-lucrative visa] may take up to three months.

Chicago consulate page says "Visa applications are accepted 3 months prior to the departure date, not before."




From /u/AidenTai on reddit:
[When the visa is granted, you have been approved for residency.] In your home country you applied for residency and the Secretary of State of Public Administrations' government delegation in the province that you requested to live in made a decision as to allow you or not based on your application as presented in one of the consulates. From that point on, their decision to allow you or not into their province became an official decision to grant or not grant residency. If you were granted residency by them, the decision was then sent to your local consulate where they, noting that you had been granted residency, processed the additional paperwork to also grant you a visa. A visa in Spain is merely a sticker attached to your passport that is needed to enter the country from abroad. It grants no rights of residency, but rather is freely given when you have already previously acquired the right of residency associated with the visa type (as you already had by that point in the process).



Money I paid:


Timing of my application:


My experience:

When I received my passport back, the visa was stamped into one page (about 3" x 5"), and a small paper notice was clipped on with a paperclip.

The notice says "Take notice. Once you arrive to Spain you should go to the Police Station, within the FIRST MONTH, to request your Studies Card, which is valid for the duration of your program."

But I applied for a long-stay non-lucrative visa ! Did they give me the wrong visa ? Or is this just a standard notice they add to every visa ?

The visa says Type "D", Number of Entries "Mult", Duration of Stay "90 days", Remarks "Residencia", and gives an NIE. Start date is a month earlier than I requested, but the 3-month window to use the visa will work fine for me.

Explanation of some of the terms here: SchengenVisaEU's "Como leer y entender facilmente la etiqueta de tu Visado Schengen". "A" is transit visa, "C" is tourist visa, "D" is long-stay visa. Looks like I have the right visa.

Others who received long-stay visas say theirs are type "D" also. I think it's making sense now. The visa allows me to come in and to stay long enough to get the residencia. And the "Remarks: Residencia" must signal that to the Extranjero office. Consulate says my visa is correct type, and after arriving I must start applying for residency within first month.

Anti-climax: when I entered Spain with my shiny new visa in the passport, they ignored it ! As I handed the passport to the Immigration officer, I said "I have a long-stay visa", but he just looked at the ID page of the passport, found a free space on another page, and stamped the usual entry stamp. I pointed out again that I had a long-stay visa, he glanced at it, said something like "you don't need this to come in". I said "I'm going to apply for residency", he shrugged and handed my passport back. (I assume the visa will matter when I start applying for residency.)











Moving



As with any move, everything is easier if you first simplify your life. Sell things, give things away, donate things, throw things away. Do not rent a storage locker and store things ! (You won't want half of it if/when you come back, storage costs money, your stuff might get damaged during storage, if you miss a payment they'll auction off your stuff.)

Fix any legal/financial/paperwork issues you have in USA (missing documents, divorce not finalized, child custody issues, sale of business not complete, inheritance probate not complete, legal dispute, pension about to kick in, about to cash in bonds, will not up-to-date, accounts you've been meaning to close, etc) before complicating things by moving to another country. Give up any signing authority or power of attorney you have over someone else's affairs, so their accounts don't have to be reported on your Spanish tax forms.

One idea: move from a high-income-tax state to a low-income-tax state, before moving to Spain ? And maybe give up anything that ties you to any state.
Taxes for Expats' "State Taxes and American Expats"



Before leaving for Spain, what has to be done ?

[Note: retaining US address and driver's license etc may have tax implications.]




From /u/degroves on reddit:
[Re: moving USA to UK:]

Advice: Take nothing. Seriously. Your electronics will not work for the most part (save computers with adapters). [Formal business suits are different.] Your furniture is too large for small UK flats. etc ... Plus, it costs a lot of money to move all that stuff you need to replace - oh, and it is not even possible to donate to charity because it violates UK safety laws (the "do not remove under penalty of law" tags are not valid in the UK).

In short, we took everything, had to get rid of it all, after paying to move it. ...





Miscellaneous



Typical "what should I know before moving to Spain ?" tips from people who have done it already:



Spain has 17 regions (AKA autonomous communities) and 50 provinces within those regions. For example, Andalucia is a region that consists of the provinces of Huelva, Sevilla, Cordoba, Jaen, Granada, Almeria, Malaga, and Cadiz. Often the province will have the same name as its major city.



See my Living in Spain page.







This page updated: July 2017.



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