For many, moving to Spain for a lifetime of siestas and sand is a pipe dream. Even now as an economic crisis is wreaking havoc on much of the country’s industry and infrastructure, young people in Spain are becoming better prepared for the future after ‘La Crisis, ’ entrepreneurs are a growing crowd, and Spain is modernizing in ways that could change the way they’re viewed worldwide.
THE COST OF LIVING IN SPAIN IS BEYOND BARATO
Depending on where you live in Spain, you could be paying far less in rent and utilities than you would in your home country. Even on a humble salary, you can save some money and live well. In Andalucia, the region I’ve called home since 2007, I’ve made between 1000€ – 1500€ a month, whereas the average salary sits around 1,100€. Rent for a shared apartment is generally under 300€ a month with utilities (um, but don’t expect to be on the beach, have an oven or even air conditioning), and your other big costs will be phone, Internet, food and transportation. During my first few years in Spain, when I worked as a Language and Culture Assistant, I made 700€ at my day job, and then tutored, making about 1200€ a month. The tutoring money went to my everyday costs, while my salary paid for my flat. That meant I could put away between 300-400€ for travel, unexpected costs or entertainment. A breakdown of my costs as a Language Assistant:
- Apartment and Utilities: 248€
- Mobile Phone: 50€
- Groceries: 100€
- Transportation: 45€
In general, buying groceries is cheap and even going out for a few beers is cost-effective (really, the beer is cheaper than water in these parts). In bigger or more touristic cities like Madrid, Barcelona, and the Costa del Sol, salaries reflect the higher cost of living. The rule of thumb is, the larger the city, the higher the rent. That said, living outside of the city center and with other roommates will cut your costs significantly, especially with regards to bills and Internet.
THE EASE OF LEARNING SPANISH
There’s no better way to learn Spanish than by living in a Spanish-speaking country. The Spaniards are very proud of their country, as such, they are very open to chatting with foreigners about places to visit in Spain and just about life in general. Dealing with day-to-day tasks will help you radically improve your spoken Spanish, particularly if you’re in a smaller city where there are fewer expats who speak your language. Dive in, talk to everyone and don’t be embarrassed about making mistakes (which is, incidentally, what I tell my English students!).
THE SOCIAL HEALTH CARE
Surprising fact about Spain: Iberia has the highest rate of organ donations in the entire world. Amidst the crisis – and the cuts that the healthcare system has had to endure over the last five years – the system is one of the most comprehensive in Europe. Hospitals in Spain are modern and most towns have one. What’s more, all immigrants who are legally living in Spain – even students and the unemployed – can be part of the system, known as the Sistema Nacional de Salud. If you’re working legally, your employer will pay into your social security, allowing you free healthcare at public hospitals and clinics and a 60% discount on prescriptions.
THE ABUNDANCE OF PRACTICAL WORK EXPERIENCE
The crisis has had a bright side for those fresh out of university and looking for some sort of work experience – companies who can’t afford to take on a full-time employee are willing to hire part time interns for practical work, called ‘prácticas.’ Pay isn’t much – expect between 200-500 per month – but it could be a good transition for aspiring candidates. Between the actual work experience and the added benefit of language, now is the best time for considering coming to Spain for this type of work. Do your research before coming to Spain, especially with regards to sectors, cities (these opportunities are typically found in bigger cities) and visas. Realize that the work culture is likely different than in your home country, so remember etiquette with regards to dress and company culture.
THE FIESTA CULTURE
That saying, all work and no play? Forget about it in Spain. Not only does Iberia live up to its reputation for great nightlife, but local fiestas are a great way to experience regional culture. Spaniards work, on average, 35 hours a week and are granted a month’s paid vacation, plus time at Easter and Christmas (teachers have twice this, in most cases). This also means that time off of work is spent with family and friends, taking the evening paseo, or stroll, around town. Lunch breaks are long and the general life expectancy in Spain is one of the highest in the European Union. Spaniards are proud of their country and heritage – and with reason. There is, of course, the ugly side to the crisis: cuts in education and health care have been rampant, but the Spanish have always been a resilient people. Looking ahead to the future, many are determined to build a better, stronger country that can compete internationally while still taking the time to enjoy life. And, let’s be honest: the Spanish lifestyle appeals to just about anyone.