Top places to live as an expat on Spain’s Costa del Sol

Top places to live as an expat on Spain's Costa del SolTop places to live as an expat on Spain’s Costa del Sol.

So you have finally decided that you are ready to move to southern Spain but are not quite sure of where on the Costa del Sol you want to live. First of all congratulations for choosing Spain, where the locals treat their expat neighbours like long-lost relatives and where the sun shines brightly for over 300 days per year. You may have decided that southern Spain was for you after having spent many holidays basking in the Spanish sunshine but where you decide to retire on the Costa del Sol depends very much on what set of criteria you have. For some, a sea view is a must while for others it may be a golf course or a marina to moor the boat.


Quality of life in Spain

When it comes to quality of life, Spain tops the charts in just about every category that relates to health comfort and happiness with its endless sunshine, blue-flag beaches and a laid-back people that work to live rather than live to work. Spain is also a country that puts family before all else, where the elderly are given the respect they deserve. Spain’s healthcare system is ranked the 8th best in the world 22 places ahead of the UK who finished 30th in the Healthcare Access and Quality Index.


Cost of Living

Compared to the rest of Europe the cost of living in Spain is relatively cheap so long as you take Madrid, Barcelona and San Sebastian out of the equation where accommodation is nearly double the price of Malaga. Popping out for a morning coffee, juice and a little breakfast will cost you 2.50- 3€ while a three-course menu del dia including beer or wine can be had for around 9€! Spain does, however, have high electricity tariffs but given the mild winters and the months where you need no heating or cooling it still works out to be a lot less than you would pay in other parts of Europe.

In the list below we have taken a look at several of the more popular towns in the region and listed what we think are their most attractive selling points for an expat looking to move to Spain.




Top places to live as an expat on Spain's Costa del Sol. Map



Home to the region’s main airport, Malaga offers big city living at an affordable price with excellent high-speed rail links to the rest of Spain. Over the past decade, Malaga has received a Cinderella-like makeover that has seen the introduction of a pedestrian-only city centre and a revamped harbour area full of museums and trendy boutiques. For those interested in watching European football, Malaga has a very good top flight football team that competes with FC Barcelona and Real Madrid for La Liga and Copa del Rey honours as well the Champions and Europa League. So there’s plenty of exciting matches to watch in Malaga, keeping sports fans occupied.

Health-wise, Malaga is slowly becoming more and more health conscious, with  smoothie bars & restaurants promoting organic, vegetarian, vegan & gluten free products. Of course it has been long been known that changing to a mediterranean diet, may help us all ‘lower risk of heart disease’, and Malaga has some great snacking & eating habits to promote this. Local healthy snacks include delicious green olives, sometimes served free with your chilled ‘agua con gas’ & slice of lemon. Porra Antequerana, gazpacho soup & boquerones in vinegar or olive oil are healthier options that you will be tempted to include into your diet as soon as you relocate to Malaga. Replacing many of the bad fats that are everywhere in Britain with the finest local extra virgin olive oils, many expats have completely transformed their diet since moving here.

Below: Malaga

Malaga, Spain.



Heading west from Malaga you come to the seaside resort of Torremolinos and its seven-kilometre long beach full of high-rise hotels and apartment buildings. With its close proximity to the airport (10-15 mins) Torremolinos is a popular destination for the package holiday crowd and is geared up for fun in the Spanish sun. Quieter gated residential developments with good facilities can be found in Playa Mar and Pueblo Blanco districts, with attractive two-bedroom flats selling for around 200,000€.

Below: Torremolinos (Photo Credit)

Torremolinos, Spain.



Hugely popular with tourists thanks to its facilities that include Tivoli World amusement park, Selwo Aquarium, and a 7,000-square-metre sports centre that features a 900 square metre ice rink. The town also boasts an award-winning marina and a cable car ride that will whisk you to the top of the nearly 800-metre high Calamorro Mountain for views of Gibraltar and the African Coast. Property prices vary depending on size with a two bedroom apartment in the main residential and commercial district selling for around 200,000€.

Benalmádena, Spain.



Being just 20-25 minutes from Malaga Airport the coastal town of Fuengirola is very popular with second homeowners who enjoy the broad sandy beach, seafront restaurants and a lively nightlife scene. Being built on flat land, the front line apartment buildings overlooking the Paseo Marítimo command premium prices but if you are willing to give up having a sea view, two-bedroom units are available a few blocks away for as little as 150,000€.

Fuengirola. Top places to live as an expat on Spain’s Costa del Sol



Away from the coast perched up in the mountains 430 metres above the sea is the picturesque & white-washed village of Mijas Pueblo and the nearby town of Alhaurín el Grande. The area is a golfers dream with golf course properties available for less than 150,000€. Mijas has a real community feel to it full of authentic Spanish culture while at the same time offering the familiar creature comforts of home. Add to this an international school and you have the perfect place for families looking to make a home in Spain.

Mijas, Spain.


Torre del Mar and Nerja

Heading east out of Malaga you come across the towns of Torre del Mar and Nerja with the latter maintaining a typical Spanish fishing village feel thanks to a ban forbidding the building of high-rise apartments. Nerja is  just 35-40 minutes from Malaga Airport by taxi and is geared towards families seeking a beachside location which has all the amenities you need at hand. Torre del Mar and its four-kilometre long beach and promenade is a popular summer destination for both Spanish and foreign tourists offering a city like feel during the summer months before hibernating for the winter. A good choice of properties can be found if you set your budget at around 150,000€.

Update 2020: We’re now settled in Nerja. Read why we chose Nerja as our new home in Spain

Below: Nerja

Nerja, Spain. Top places to live as an expat on Spain’s Costa del Sol




Historically Spain’s most upmarket and fashionable place to live since being discovered by the jet-set back in the 60s, Marbella and the glitzy Puerto Banús Marina boast top designer shopping and celebrity chef restaurants that cater to an exclusive clientele. Property prices compared to other parts of the Costa del Sol tend to be on the high-end with frontline penthouses and villas selling for millions of euros. Being just 40 minutes by taxi from Malaga airport to Marbella, it’s within easy reach of the airport for frequent flyers. In some ways, the cost of living here is no different to other places on the Costa Del Sol, such as weekly shopping & utilities. Other ‘luxuries’ such as eating out is noticeably different. Away from the marina and seafront, you can still live like a millionaire with decent two-bedroom flats available for around 200,000€.

Marbella, Spain


 Malaga Airport (code: AGP) is the main airport on the Costa del Sol.

This Guide is contributed by Nicola Griffin. Originally from the UK, she moved to Spain’s Costa del Sol. She loves it. She has much more on the Costa del Sol on her website.


Related: Where to live in Spain as retiring expats? Choosing our base…


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Top places to live as an expat on Spain’s Costa del Sol
Top places to live as an expat on Spain’s Costa del Sol
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  1. Hello lovely people!

    My partner and I are a young couple (25&26) and are looking to move to Spain with our 3 dogs. We are planning on driving over possibly. Where would you recommend would be best for us? We would like to rent a ground floor apartment or a bungalow on the beach so that our dogs are accommodated for. We enjoy a modern and young lifestyle with good bars, clubs and restaurants and plenty of activities too. We don’t want to move somewhere quiet that attracts older retired people or somewhere that it is necessary to speak fluent Spanish. We want a home away from home kind of thing while also enjoying the Spanish culture of course. Does anyone have any recommendations or ideas for us? Any help and advise would be fantastic.

    Many thanks, Emma & James

  2. I am coming to Costa del Sol for the month of June. I am a retired, healthy and fun 71 year old women from Monterey California. I want to spend my time writing my book, meeting at least some people who speak English and to play bridge. I found bridge clubs in both Malaga and Nerja which of the two towns would you recommend and why.

  3. Where would you recommend for a permanent home with children and what is the employment like? I am a holistic therapist and my husband is in construction but we have been considering opening a cafe

    1. Hi, I’m a 50 + and active women, wood Like to rent for at least six months to a year before deciding where to buy. I do not know Spain that well, would like to live in a area where I can have both views of Mountains and sea-views. I probably won’t be driving so I would like to be in walking distance to all amenities {restaurants, shops, beaches} and somewhere I can cycle and walk. I live in the UK and would love to live in Spain mainly because of the weather and the lifestyle.

      1. Hi Jackie,
        Firstly hope you are safe and well where ever you are.
        I apologise for jumping in on your enquire but was wondering if you had received any good advice. I live in Barcelona and I have been thinking about moving South. If you wouldn’t mind sharing any advice you have received I would appreciate it and of course I would reciprocate.
        Look forward to hearing from you.


        1. Hello John,

          My apology for writing you out of the blue like that , but just thought I would ask you as to between Barcelona and Marbella which is better city to live in ? I was just reading your reply to Jackie question so I thought I would ask. Many thanks

  4. Hi my husband and I are both keen road cyclists (in our 50’s) and plan to spend winters in the Costa Tropical. We are looking for somewhere not too touristy and built up but more quiet and inland. We would like access to some mountain climbs without being too far inland. We were considering Gualchos and El Rescate? Any suggestions please?

  5. Hello from Canada! Young 50+ couple looking for long term rental in southern Spain. Looking for authentic Spanish feel, tapas, restaurants, nightlife, easy transportation access. Walking accessible.. which region/ town would you suggest?

    1. Hello Dina,
      You may wish to consider the whitewashed villages and towns of Frigiliana, Mijas, Torrox pueblo where the you can usually rent a 2 bedroom place for €500+. Although prices are increasing.
      But if you like more choice of restaurants and a little more buzz then even Malaga city is worth a visit before you decide.
      Malaga has much more to offer in choice of nightlife, restaurants and has many beaches on the doorstep. Malaga city has a diverse range of small regions within, from the very low priced to the more expensive price range. Getting around on foot is easy and trains and buses are excellent.

  6. Hello, I am looking to retire to Spain and would love to buy in the city of Malaga but think it may be too expensive so would also consider a sizeable town about 20/30 minutes drive away; inland is fine, ideally with a high percenage of spanish people rather than ex pat brits. Can you recommend anywhere? Many thanks, Susie

    1. Hi Susie. I’m sure Nicola will respond, she’s the expert on Spain. But I’m also looking at settling in Spain (maybe next year) and Granada is a place we’re considering. Pretty place, prices are good. Jaen is another place that has been recommended to us.
      I’m sure Nicola will have a few other suggestions.

  7. Good day, i am looking to buy couple of real estate like apartments or small houses so that i can rent them out for income purposes. What is the most appropriate size to own so that i can rent quickly? (say 1 or 2 bedroom) and what areas you recommend to look at? My trip will be in May to inspect the area.
    Thank you.

  8. Hello Ned
    One location that is not far from the airport ( approximately 30 minutes is an interesting town called Torre del Mar. ( The fascinating Torre or watchtowers can still be seen along the coastline )
    Torre del Mar is unspoiled and very Spanish and has excellent facilities. The long sandy beach and attractive promenade is a favourite of some English speaking residents. Although it has a lively buzz to it during July and August, it is not massivly commercial at all. In my opinion, it’s an unspoilt seaside town with an abundance of local restaurants and cafés, and of course, year-round sunshine.
    If you’re looking for more of a busier area that’s an attractive holiday hotspot, then
    Fuenguirola may be more suitable.

  9. Hello we are a couple in our early 50s and wanto look at areas in Southern Spain to possibly buy an apartment in the next 3-4 years. Unfortunately, we really dont know Spain that well to look at areas. We are looking at Costa del sol to go for a holiday to check it out, but the areas we ideally would like would be near an airport possibly near the sea, not massively commercial, and it would be for the 2 of us, not young children etc. Any info would be very gratefully received, I can then start narrowing down searches for holidays and checking out areas. Thank you

  10. La. Cala lovely small town between Fuengirola & Marbella. Very safe, quiet but plenty of restaurants & playgrounds for children. Fab beach as well. Bus passes through every 1/2 hour to Fuengirola & Marbella.

    1. Thanks for the input Joan. I know Nicola will reply to a few of these questions (she knows this region more than I do) but I love getting input from others. We’re actually looking to settle somewhere in Spain over the next few years as well.

    2. Thanks Joan for your comment. Overall I recommend anyone visiting each area before you purchase a second home / holiday home, as personal experience will of course give you the most accurate feel of the place. We have friends that have holiday homes on the coast and we do hear different opinions when describing the area. Asmaller towns such as La Cala is maybe an ideal place that would allow a family to feel secure within this region. Larger towns such as Fuengirola of course will have much more to do on the immediate doorstep which is a great ‘selling point’ should you decide to rent out a property in the future.

  11. Nicola – iam also looking for a 2nd home on the costa del sol.
    A modern apartment to be used by the whole family
    Bars ,restaurants , stuff for the children .
    In a safe family environment
    Any ideas ?

    1. Hi Andy, as you are looking for activities and a family based holidays I would recommend starting to look at Fuengirola and nearby areas. There’s loads to do nearby including a zoo, waterparks, long stretches of beach with many waterbased activities in Summer, plenty of shops, restaurants etc. It also makes a great base for visiting other places nearby. There are good transport links too.

  12. Hi
    We are a married couple (both 70 yrs) with two Small dogs…. looking to buy in Spain, we looked at Murcia/Torrevieja area, spent two trips this year 2 months each trip, drove form the UK and back again….We love Spain and all it has to offer, however we did not find the areas to our barren ect..we would like to come South to Rent for 3/6 months early next year..where would you suggest……. I would again Drive down…Ferry to Santandare…

    1. Hi Barry, I would suggest that you take a look around Nerja a Sppanish town which has everything you might need and has a thriving community. Its ideally located within an hours reach of both the wonderful cities of Malaga and Granada. Rentals in winter in Nerja vary from €500-€800 depending on what type of accommodation you are looking for. Nearby is Frigiliana, a traditional Spanish village located further inland but only 15 mins away from the coast, supermarkets, motorway etc. So if you love the ideal of living in a Spanish community yet still within easy reach of busier towns etc, Frigiliana might be the place for you!

  13. I am interested in moving to Costa Del Sol. I currently live in Los Angeles CA USA , I am getting ready to retire in few years and wanted to start looking at homes in both Fuengirola & Benalmádena. Do you have an area in both cities that you can recommend for me to start looking for homes that are for sale.

    Thanks in advance

    1. Thanks for your comment Amin. I suppose the answer to your question all depends on personal preference really. You may prefer to live near the hub of the city or you may prefer the quieter rural type of area. Some want to live right next to the coast and others are happy further inland. I would advise to begin considering carefully what you really want. The great thing about Spain is you can have the choice of both. I have found some articles that may be of use to you: and
      Both of these websites also provide specific information regarding moving to Spain and the buying process here in Spain.

    2. Try this property website:

      It collates nearly all of the estate agents’ properties that are for sale, at any one time, across the whole of Spain (it’s fairly common knowledge in Spain, but maybe not to someone in USA). And very easy to navigate towards the areas you’re interested in.

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