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

Where to live in Spain as retiring expats?

After over 5 years of full-time travel, 2020 is the year we’re going to settle in Spain and work towards permanent residency. We’re really excited and look forward to having a new home later this year somewhere in Spain.

Question is: where do we want to have our base in Spain?

The answer is difficult. We’ve done a lot of reading and have gone back and forth a few times, modifying our short list multiple times. In less than a month we’ll actually be in Spain, visiting the cities you’ll see in this post and trying to decide which is the best fit for us.

 

Different people will have different criteria. With that in mind, here are ours

A) What we’re looking for in choosing our base in Spain.

  • We prefer mid-sized cities, with the convenience of city life and nature in proximity.
  • Public transport is important to us.
  • We want to be within 3 hours of a major airport with accessibility by train.
  • We like mountains and the sea but don’t need both (although a location close to both would be perfection for us).
  • We don’t want to be in an overly-touristed or high-expat location. Lissette and I both speak Spanish in varying degrees and want to integrate into the local community.
  • We’d like to be in a place of interest to tourists for the sole reason we’d like to run an Airbnb or be involved in tourism one day (although, as per above, we prefer a spot not over-touristed ex. Barcelona).
  • Cost of living is important to us. We’re moving to Spain to retire, not work.
  • Temperature. We know the south will be very hot in summer, the north cold in winter.  I’m ok with heat, Lissette prefers cold…We know compromises have to be made.

B) What we know we don’t want:

  • We want Spanish to be the main language. As mentioned above we both speak Spanish and don’t want to be dealing with Catalan or Basque and, having lived in Quebec, don’t want to be dealing with separatist issues in our new home.
  • The other thing learned from our prior experience (living in Croatia): we don’t want to be in a place that dies when the tourists leave. We want to be in a vibrant Spanish city not dependent on tourism. So no seasonal beach towns. ie. we want a “real”city.

 

We all that in mind, below are the 6 cities on our list, along with perceived Pros and Cons based on our reading. It’ll be interesting seeing how reality compares…and I’m always happy hearing from people with their thoughts and recommendations.

 

Malaga as an expat

Malaga

I’m 99% sure Malaga won’t be our future base.

We fly into Malaga from Budapest. That’s one of the Pros with Malaga: it’s the gateway to Southern Spain (more specifically the Costa del Sol) with flights from all over Europe as well as a few to North America and the Middle East. It has lots of nearby beaches, lots of expats and tons of tourists (many coming in on cruise ships). Temperatures are hot, but moderated by Mediterranean breezes. It is a busy, bustling place and is relatively inexpensive as a place to live (compared to cities like Madrid, Barcelona and San Sebastian). As an indication, the average 3 bedroom apartment is listed at about 775 Euros/month in Malaga (outside the center). Malaga also has a metro system.

Cons: very touristy and a preliminary look at apartment rentals on Idealista (which is the most popular real estate site in Spain) indicates that many apartments are rented only outside tourist season. Malaga attracts many expats (mostly Brits) but most come here to work, they’re not retirees. Another con is the architecture: Malaga (along with most of the Costa del Sol) is a hodgepodge of unattractive apartment buildings. It’s not the Spain that attracts us.

Yet I’ve read a few people who knew all the above about Malaga but ended up seeing a whole different side of the city. They fell in love with it. So we’ll spend a few days looking around – besides which Malaga has a few very interesting highlights (the Castillo de Gibralfaro and the Moorish Alcazaba being at the top of the list).

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

 

 

granada. Where to live in Spain as retiring expats

Source

Granada

Granada is near the top of our list of potential future bases.

It has a beautiful old town (it’s famous for the Alhambra, one of Spain’s highlights) and proximity to mountains and sea. There’s lots of beautiful nature surrounding Granada. It is a smaller sized city with a relaxed pace of life. It is also very affordable, with the average 3 bedroom apartment listed at less than 700 Euros/month. Granada is touristy but tourists come here short term with culture (and not beaches and partying) in mind. Granada does have expats but they make up a small percentage of the population.

Cons. Granada gets very hot in summer, just like Seville. There is no moderating effect from the sea. Also, Granada has a small airport with expensive domestic flights. It is 3 hours by train to the airport in Malaga, 5 hours to Madrid. It’s not a big city: no metro or tram, you’ll be walking, taking the taxi or bus to get around.

I know of a few other bloggers happily living in Grenada who have only good things to say. I know there are some negatives but the more I read the more I think we would be happy there.

Related: Ask an Expat: Living in Granada, Spain

We’re intending to give Grenada 5 days to get a good feel for the city.

 

 

Jaen Spain as an expatJaen

I have no idea really what to expect of Jaen – but Norah (a friend of a reader of the blog) has been very helpful is giving us advice on Spain and invited us to visit her.

Jaen looks like a pretty, small-sized city. Although overshadowed by nearby Granada and Seville, tourists come to Jaen for its cathedral, hilltop castle and the largest Arab baths in Spain. Jaen is also known for its olive oil (it produces 60% of Spain’s olive oil).

It’s historical center is dominated by a large cathedral. It is a hilly city with steep, narrow streets and (like Granada) views of close by mountains.

Cost of living is low, you can find a 3 bedroom apartment in the center for 650 Euros. Jaen is on the train lines and it takes 3 hours to Malaga and 4 hours to Madrid.

We don’t have high hopes for Jaen as an expat base but since we are passing through in this direction we’ll stop and have a look (2 days) while also meeting Norah.

 

 

where to live in Spain as an expat? Alicante

Alicante

I would say that Alicante is among the top options based on our reading. A mid-sized city on the coast, it is lively and international, affordable (about 650 Euro for a 3 bedroom apartment just outside the center), and 2 hours by train from Madrid. You can get around the city by tram (something we really like). Weather wise, summers are hot and winters are mild. Alicante’s Airport is the 5th busiest in Spain and has flights to destinations all over Europe.

Cons. There are a lot of expats living in Alicante. I have nothing against expats but I think we want to integrate into Spanish life and having too many expats around makes it too easy not to integrate. There’s also a lot of tourism in the summer which can be overwhelming.

Otherwise, I can’t see much wrong with Alicante on paper. We’ll just have to see how we feel about it when we visit.

Related: Ask an Expat: Living in Alicante, Spain

 

 

Valencia

I originally didn’t have Valencia on this list because they speak Valencian (a dialect of Catalan) in Valencia. As stated above, we both speak Spanish in varying degrees and we’re coming to Spain to speak Spanish. We don’t want to be learning Catalan, Valencian or any other language.

What changed my mind was speaking to Glenn, proud wearer of a “Fuck Trump” t-shirt when I met him in San Miguel de Allende (Mexico) last year. He’s just moved to Valencia after going through the same Spanish non-lucrative Visa experience we’ll be going through.

Anyway, he loves Valencia and says everyone speaks Spanish (according to him only older people are unilingual in Valencian).

Pros of Valencia: Beautiful city with a mix of old and modern, vibrant, great beaches, nature all around. Good food, great café culture. Like Alicante, summers are hot (but not as hot as Granada or Seville). It has an airport with flights all over Europe. A bit more expensive for rent than Alicante but still much cheaper than Barcelona, Madrid and San Sebastian. There’s a metro which is great for getting around.

Cons. I haven’t come across any negatives in my reading.

Related: Why Valencia is the best place to live in Spain

 

Leon. Where to live in Spain as retiring expats? Leon

Leon is not a place that attracts expats. Which also makes it interesting to us.

I don’t know if we’ll make it there – that depends on how we’ve felt about the options above.

Leon is a beautiful and historic city in the northwest of Spain, an easy 2 hour trip to Madrid on the high-speed train. It’s a cultural destination (part of the Camino de Santiago) as well as a foodie destination. So it attracts tourists. It’s a lively city with many bars and restaurants and you get free tapas with drinks. Its climate is cooler than other parts of Spain and is quite cold in winter (which would make Lissette happy). Leon is also one of Spain’s cheapest cities.

Cons. No beaches anywhere close. I’ve also read that people in Northern Spain are not as friendly as those further south (don’t shoot me. That’s just what I’ve read).

Note: our friend Patti who’s a bit of an expert on the Camino de Santiago is very high on Leon and recommended we check it out. Thanks Patti!

 

 

Various other…and additional reading

We spent 2 months in Seville a few years back and loved it. So why is it not on this list? We just found it really hot for living long term. I also remember a lot of cockroaches on the streets at nights. I have a severe aversion to cockroaches (Lissette bugs me about my “cucaracha dance”, which is kind of identical to a cat walking in water). But Seville is otherwise a beautiful city and a place we could live (as a backup to the places above).

You’ll notice I haven’t listed Barcelona, Madrid, or San Sebastian above. San Sebastian was actually on my list until I found out how expensive it it. Barcelona is expensive and full of tourists. Madrid is expensive, too big, and far from beaches/mountains. Again, we’re retiring expats. If you’re young and working you’d probably find these cities stimulating and to your taste.

As I said off the top, where you want to live in Spain will depend on your preferences. Here’s a bit of additional reading if you’re doing your own research.

The 15 Most Liveable Cities in Spain
The Best Places to live in Spain for Expats
Spain’s ten cheapest cities and why (or why not) you should move there

In less than a month we’ll be in Spain actually visiting the cities I’ve listed up top. I’ll be writing about each in detail and telling you what we think of them. It’ll be interesting to see how these cities measure up to our research. 

 

Feedback or recommendations? Would love to hear them!

Like This Article? Pin it!

Where to live in Spain as retiring expats?

Ps. If you find our blog helpful, please consider using our links to book your flights, hotels, tours, and car rentals. Have a look at our Travel Resources page.

33 Comments

  1. This will be an exciting year for you and I am really curious where you will end up. Spain is a great country and easy to live I guess. Actually it would be the second choice for us too – after Berlin. I think we would prefer Madrid though…

  2. i like the look of Jaen. as it’s so coastal it will be hot but cool breezes may offer some relief. For me I really loved Seville and if i was living there I guess I could escape to other parts of Europe from May to August (eg Ukraine). its very handy and easy to get around. much friendlier than say a big town like Barcelona. BUT it does see a LOT of tourists these days. I reckon Jaen is worth considering

    1. Actually Jaen is in the interior and hot. But we’ll check it out anyway, we have a friend we’ll visit there and it’s always good to get a local’s insight. And what you say is exactly what Lissette says – escape to somewhere else in the summer when it’s too hot. And Ukraine exactly what she has in mind 😉

  3. It’s interesting to read about cities from Spain, my country. As I told you once, I’m from Javea, a very beautiful town between Alicante and Valencia. The only problem with this town, it’s that is very quiet in winter… and there are many expats, so is more an international place, I would say. Reading what you wrote, I think I would choose Valencia, it’s a really impressive city; nice weather, very affordable, stunning architecture, great metro system and trams, beach, perfect size (around 1 million, you can go almost everywhere walking), and a good airport with connections to many cities in Europe. Regarding the local language, Valencian, don’t worry… In the city of Valencia more than 90% speak spanish as their first language. Valencian is only widely spoken in the countryside, not in the city.

      1. Something that I forgot to mention is that there are fast trains from Valencia to Madrid, so It takes only 90 minutes from Valencia to get to Madrid (it’s quite impressive when you think that there are almost 500 kms between both cities). A couple of times for paperwork I had to go to Madrid in the morning and I came back in the afternoon. It’s quite affordable, and now from this year a low cost service is going to start, so I guess that you will be able to get to Madrid for no more than 25 euros.

          1. I have lived in both cities. Valencia and Alicante are two completely different cities; Valencia is much bigger with a lot to offer regarding sightseeing, architecture, culture, bars and restaurants… Alicante in comparison is quite small (350000 inhabitants), with much less to offer but very comfortable to live. The two things in my opinion that are better in Alicante compared to Valencia are: in Alicante the sea it’s right in the center, I mean, the beach and the promenade is the center of the city… in Valencia the sea is far way, 6 km from the historical center… so I would say that Valencia is more a “river city” (a river that is an impressive huge park of 8 kms, by the way), and Alicante a “beach city”. The second thing is the airport, both are airports with good connections to many cities in Europe… but the airport in Alicante has much more to offer: you can fly to almost every city in Northern Europe, good connections to Eastern Europe as well… and also many flights to Russia. I hope that is was interesting and helpful what I wrote.

  4. So many decisions to make and what fun you’ll have as you explore your options. I’m a total believer in serendipity but also think that making a major decision is kind of a series of steps until you see your sign. When you find the place that you feel at home, you’ll know it! P.S. Putting in my two bits, I love Granada, Valencia and Leon. I leave tomorrow for a week in Malaga and surrounding areas and the fact that you mentioned it in your short list has me intrigued.

    1. Ahh, thanks Anita! I’m glad you mention Leon because Lissette’s been moaning about the heat in Montenegro (where we are now) and I’m thinking that we’re going to have to look for a base in Northern Spain. So she was fine with Split, but take her to the other side of the Med and suddenly heat is an issue 🙂
      Enjoy Malaga and let me know how you find it. You’ll be leaving just as we’re arriving.

  5. I don’t have any recommendations because I visited only those Spanish cities that you excluded from your list. Therefore it will be terribly exciting to follow you this spring.
    Buen viaje!

    1. Thanks Victor. So of the places you saw, where would you live?
      By the way, tomorrow arriving at your favorite town in Montenegro: Budva. Will be there for 5 nights before taking the train to Belgrade.

      1. Nowhere. Spain is not my country.
        I hope the weather in Budva will be good and you try to repeat my favorite route (the long one) from Budva to Sveti Stefan or at least to Rafailovici.
        We are in Torino, Italy, right now.

  6. HI Frank,
    I did read from other travel bloggers too about the cockroach or cockroaches problem that they encountered in some part of Spain. I guess besides the high cost of rental that may be prevalent in some part of Spain; that is also one of the problems that one may have to beware of before one embark on the journey there. By the way, I am planning to go to Barcelona to study and to teach. I hope there is no cockroach or cockroaches problem there. Anyway, I am not that keen on Barcelona due to it being more like a concrete jungle though it has some very interesting architecture. But, I guess I would try living there for one year and and then perhaps, check out other places that may be more suitable to be called home.

    1. Congratulations Wendy! You must be pretty excited, people would die to live in Barcelona. It’s supposed to be an expensive but incredibly beautiful city.

  7. Hey Frank & Lissette ~ I don’t know how much of an expert I (we) am but thanks for the vote of confidence. I do love a good long walk. Okay, so you already know how I feel about Leon, I hope you get there and give it a shot before you choose. There was something very special that spoke to both of us and it’s a city we’d love to return to one day. Maybe by train, not our feet. 😉

    We have also been to Malaga. We spent 10 days and it was exactly what we needed after spending 3 months of non-stop fairly fast travel throughout Europe. There is a post on the blog, “How to Spend Ten Days in Malaga.” The city, I think, is a combination. The beaches were nice, a paved pedestrian promenade that we enjoyed nearly every day. The city does have a tourist population and a high end shopping district, but once you move away from there, you’ll find a lovely historic city. The people were friendly, although I got a brutal scolding from a bus driver 😉 but I couldn’t understand a word he said. I used the wrong door.

    As much as I loved Malaga (beautiful waterfront, great food, history etc.,) I think it may not be the place to settle, but well-worth checking out. Here is the link to the Airbnb we rented from our post. Wonderful owner, small but very clean and we walked everywhere from the apartment. Highly recommend.

    We visited Seville, in August, and I thought I would die. I could never live there because of the heat – and yeah, cockroaches?! No thanks. We lived in Hawaii for a year and it cured me forever.

    Safe travels, can’t wait to hear where you settle!

    1. Thanks so much Patti. Very nice to hear and I’ll be looking at Malaga differently. I’ve added to Airbnb link to your comment.

  8. Frank and Lissette, very interesting post. So your hunt for a place to call home is almost upon you, exciting times. Spain is definitely a country I could see myself living very happily indeed. Your selected places above all look like good possibilities, I know them all, apart from Jaen and Leon. For me, Valencia and Malaga would be top of the list. I am looking forward to following along and finding out what are your thoughts on each place you visit, and then finally which city will become home for you. Enjoy the search.

    1. Have you been to Malaga Gilda? I’ve gotten a negative impression of the city from various reading but you’re the 2nd person who’s mentioned it as one of their top picks. And which other cities on the list have you seen?

  9. We were in Seville for almost three weeks and didn’t see a single cockroach. Maybe it varies based on the time of year? Anyway, we LOVED Seville and didn’t love Valencia nearly as much. We found that in Seville the locals and tourists were more integrated and the locals were more friendly. In Valencia, the locals and tourists were more separate and the locals seemed annoyed with the tourists (we actually got thanked more than once for trying to speak Spanish). Now, if you are moving there for good and speak Spanish, you might prefer Valancia for the very reason that the tourists seem more segregated. But, as tourists, we preferred Seville and could seriously see ourselves living there someday.

    1. Thank you for the feedback. Curious. We were in Seville in September and October of 2016. As I say we loved it but we did see a lot of cockroaches on the streets at night which we found odd. Maybe they’ve fixed that? But it’s also a very hot city (supposedly the hottest city in Europe) which is maybe the worst thing going against it. But we’ll always keep it in mind if the other places on the list don’t inspire us.

  10. Frank, while in the area, check out Motril. It’s south of Granada and not too touristy. I was thinking about it for a base in the south during winter occasionally.

    1. Thanks Ted. I think you had mentioned it to me previously and had looked into it – but I just thought Granada is far enough from bit airports, and then to take the bus to the coast…I think Lissette would divorce me (she hates those buses!). But it’s a place we would visit when living in Spain, looks beautiful with the sea and snow-capped mountains in the background. Actually looks like some of the coastlines in the Adriatic (I’m in Kotor as I write this. Wow).
      But thank you for the recommendation and if you have others keep on suggesting!

      1. I would have thought Granada would be full of tourists, unless there’s a suburb away from them.

        Leon I’ve been to, but only overnight. Like Pamplona, though, it’s full of Peregrinos (more than Pamplona) waking people up at unearthly hours, stomping along the streets with those metal tipped poles. Plus it is way too far from an airport and the train was slower than the bus. Can’t think of any others.

        The buses aren’t too bad, some are quite luxurious, like Alsa Premier.

        1. Leon is 2 hours from Madrid on the high speed train. We just have issues with buses after all this time spent in the Balkans. And we took Alsa from Lisbon to Seville which was the same thing – 7 hours with no toilet. It’s fine where you’re backpacking but for a long term base we don’t want to be getting around by bus. We want a nearby airport and if it’s further away we want to get there by train.

          No, you’re right Granada has tourists. But it’s not the beach/drinking type of tourist that you’ll get on the coast.

          I love hiking and I still can’t figure why people need ski poles to walk around.

  11. Hey Frank, how exciting, you’re moving to Spain! For various personal reasons we got a long-stay visa for France, but keep wondering about the advantages of Spain (warmer people & climate, lower prices, great food & wine). We have been in Seville for Christmas & Kings Day the last few years, and yes, all the expats we know there leave for the summer. We’ve spent a month in Alicante twice, spring and fall. Although there’s always cultural activities, and some lovely venues, I find it a bit small for the long-term. Big plus though is the tram that runs up the coast—we got cards to ride free (€10 per month, but 65+, come to think of it!). Of course, all those towns up the coast are full of expats from the UK, but… Still, it’s a sweet town. And has that great beach!
    We haven’t been to northern Spain at all. I wish you luck in your explorations, and look forward to your future blogs on what you find!

    1. Lissette told me that if we ever lived in Spain we’d have to go to Ukraine in summer. The heat would be too much for her. But good to know others think the same way and we’re not crazy going the opposite direction to all those people flocking to the beach!
      Thanks for the feedback on Alicante. Size isn’t so much of an issue. We don’t mind smaller sized cities. Question is how much we’ll like Alicante.
      We’ll see how it all works out this time around as we have 3 months to find a base and start planning paperwork for the Visa. We might just rent something easy and non-permanent the first year, a place that fulfills the lease requirement on the visa.
      Anyway, it’ll be interesting visiting all these places we’ve only read about!

  12. santander, la coruna, vigo…

    i personally love malaga, would we be younger, we would move there, a very, very old city…

    we have now lived 5 yrs in porto and will probably move to lagos, better for our old bones…

    all the best!

  13. Thanks for bringing us along! I haven’t been to Valencia, Alicante or Leon so I’m curious to hear about your experiences. I’m particularly interested in Leon because I have a general preference for northern Spain (due to weather) and my wife and I will likely be spending considerable time there in the future.

    1. I’ll be honest – I prefer palm trees and beaches. But like you Lissette just doesn’t like it. It’s a whole different side of Spain and I think it’ll be an interesting contrast, and I do like that it’s not a place that expats flock to. And it’s not a city that gets great coverage by bloggers so I’m looking forward to discovering it for ourselves.
      Thanks for taking time time comment TJ.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

css.php