Retired couple on a beach in Spain

This article is from our sister site Moving to Spain and is reproduced here with permission.

Here’s the complete guide to retiring in Spain. We’ll walk you through the process because it can seem overwhelming. We start with immigration, visas, healthcare, tax, and financial planning. We’ll explore the cost of living for retirees in Spain and the budget for your move. Then, we’ll cover the Spanish lifestyle and the best places to retire in Spain, from quiet beach towns to buzzing cities.

Retirement in Spain: Immigration Essentials

In this section, we’ll look at your choice of a Spanish retirement visa (and how to apply) and some Spanish residency paperwork when you arrive in Spain.

Choose the perfect Spanish Retirement Visa

There are two main options for non-EU citizens planning a Spanish retirement. Most American and British retirees in Spain will use one of these options.

Spain Non-Lucrative Visa (Spanish Retirement Visa)

The Spain non-lucrative visa is often called the Spanish retirement visa because it fits the bill perfectly. There are six important factors.

  1. You must show a steady income from passive income sources (like pensions, annuities, or investments).
    • Primary Applicant > €28,800 annual income (4 x IPREM)
    • Each Dependent > €7,200 annual income (1 x IPREM)
  2. You can’t work either in Spain or abroad.
  3. You can include direct family members under your application.
  4. You’ll need qualifying private health insurance in Spain; you won’t qualify for public healthcare in Spain.
  5. You must apply for a non-lucrative visa in your home country before you move to Spain.
  6. The non-lucrative visa is a pathway to permanent residency (P.R.), Spanish citizenship, and an E.U. passport.

More information: You can see more in our detailed guide to Spain’s Non-Lucrative Visa.

Golden Visa (Investment Visa)

The Spanish Golden Visa is an excellent option for international retirees looking to buy a home in Spain. Again, there are six important factors.

  1. You must invest at least €500,000 in real estate (or €1,000,000 in other investment classes).
  2. You can work in Spain or abroad as an employee, company owner, or self-employed person.
  3. You can include direct family members under your application.
  4. You’ll need qualifying private health insurance in Spain. You’ll only be eligible for public healthcare in Spain if you work and pay social security contributions.
  5. You must apply for a Golden Visa in your home country before you move to Spain.
  6. The Golden Visa is a pathway to permanent residency (P.R.), Spanish citizenship, and an E.U. passport.

More information: You can see more in our detailed guide to the Spanish Golden Visa.

Phil and I had always dreamed of selling our little place back in Montana and finding ourselves a cozy apartment right here in Dénia, a spot we’d fallen in love with on our holidays. The Golden Visa just seemed like the perfect fit for us, especially since it meant Phil could keep on doing a bit of consulting for his old company even after he hung up his hat. And let me tell you, getting a lawyer to help us out with the visa and tying it in with buying our new home? It was a blessing!

Gwen (61) now living in Dénia from Livingstone, Monatana (USA).

Residency in Spain for Retirees (Including the U.S.A. and U.K.)

All non-EU retirees, regardless of their immigration pathway, must apply for a residence permit when they get to Spain. There is a bunch of immigration and residency red tape you’ll navigate once you arrive in Spain. But don’t worry – our guide to your N.I.E., T.I.E., padrón, and more has you covered.

Post-Brexit Considerations for U.K. Retirees

British citizens can still return to Spain after BREXIT. However, like all non-EU retirees to Spain, you’ll need a visa. The non-lucrative and Golden visas are the preferred options for Brits retiring to Spain under the new arrangements. 

E.U. Citizen Residency

E.U. citizens have a different process for residency in Spain, as they don’t require a visa. However, as an EU citizen, you still must register as a resident in Spain to get a padrón and your EU residency certificate.

Understanding Spain’s Tax System for Retirees

Once you live in Spain for more than 183 days a year, you’ll generally be a tax resident in Spain. That means that your global income and assets may be taxed in Spain. There are three main areas to consider.

  1. Income tax (Impuesto De Renta).
  2. Wealth Tax (Impuesto Sobre El Patrimonio).
  3. Inheritence Tax (Impuesto de Sucesiones y Donaciones).

Taxation is complex, and you’ll need to understand what is taxable and exempt and how these impact your tax liability. The U.S.A. and U.K. (as well as many other countries) have double taxation agreements with Spain. This agreement means that you won’t pay taxes on the same income twice, and where you pay tax outside of Spain, you’ll be able to offset it against your Spanish tax returns.

Important: Most pension income is taxable in Spain (but covered by double taxation agreements), but this rule has some significant exceptions. Pension income, including social security, may be liable for Spanish income tax for Americans moving to Spain.

You can read about the Spanish tax system and Spain’s Wealth Tax in our articles. Alternatively, book a consultation with our Spanish tax expert partner – they help hundreds of international retirees manage their cross-border taxation effectively.

When we first discovered the wealth tax in Spain, I won’t lie, it threw us for a loop. But, once we dug into the details, it turned out that becoming tax residents in Spain wasn’t the budget buster I feared. Sure, the taxbill is bigger than what we were used to back in Texas, but with everything organized just so, it’s manageable, not a world apart from what we had planned.

Carlos (68) living in Alicante from Plano, Texas (USA)

Cross-border Financial Planning for International Retirement to Spain

Structure Your Assets for Tax Efficiency

Financial strategies effective in your home country, especially the U.S.A. and the U.K., may yield different benefits in Spain. UK I.S.A.s, for example, are not tax-free in Spain. Understanding and leveraging Spain’s tax mitigation opportunities is critical. Properly structuring your assets can significantly lower your tax liability.

Review Your Pension, Savings and Investments

Your financial priorities and risk tolerance may shift once you settle in Spain. A thorough review of your savings and investments is essential to ensure they align with your new objectives. Diversifying your portfolio and considering the currency of your assets is critical to minimize risks associated with currency conversion and exchange rates.

Estate Planning Considerations

Spanish inheritance laws and tax regulations significantly differ from those in the U.K. and the U.S.A., including forced heirship rules. However, with strategic planning, you can effectively manage your estate. For those intending to live permanently in Spain, seeking advice on adopting a Spanish domicile could influence your U.K. inheritance tax liabilities.

Calculating Your Cost of Living In Spain

How much will retiring to Spain cost you? That depends on how you move and your chosen lifestyle in Spain.

Here’s a very rough guide. According to our research and experience and based on a similar lifestyle:

  • Spain is 32% cheaper than the U.S.A.
  • Spain is 24% cheaper than the U.K.

Every retiree we speak to is amazed at how far their pension or investments go after they move to Spain. And, your savings on accommodation and healthcare leave much more money in the bank for enjoying the fantastic Spanish lifestyle.

Find out more about how we got to those figures, plus many real-world examples, in our cost of living in Spain guide. Or download our easy-to-use Spain cost of living calculator to compare prices in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Spain overall. You can easily adjust more than 30 categories to match your spending and compare it to your current spending.

Here, a fresh baguette from our local baker is just €1.20, and we enjoy a menu del dia (three course meal and wine) for €30 for two of us. The lower costs of rent and healthcare here mean we’re living a better life than we did back in Cranston. It’s like we’re getting a little more out of every dollar, or should I say euro?

Jennifer (66) living in Cadiz from Cranston, Rhode Island (USA).

How Much Will Your Move to Spain Cost?

When you’re doing your budget, remember to calculate the one-off costs you’ll have during your actual move. You should cover relocation, immigration, accommodation deposits, and more. Use our simple Spain Moving Budget Planner to ensure no surprises. 

Healthcare in Spain

One of the biggest drawcards for retirees, considering Spain, is the brilliant Spanish healthcare system. And while the public system is excellent, retirees on non-lucrative and Golden visas will need Spanish private healthcare.

Spain’s low cost and high quality of private medical care still amaze us. We have access to world-class facilities and medical professionals who speak English. And it costs us much less than the equivalent we used to pay in Australia. For Expats from the U.S.A., the cost of cover may be a fraction of your current expense – and the care is often better!

For people with pre-existing conditions or those over 75, finding qualifying healthcare can be difficult. We have found a specialist partner who provides cover in these cases.

Addressing healthcare costs became essential as we got older. Back in the US, our insurance premiums were soaring to $3,500 monthly, and that’s before extras and co-payments. Now in Alicante, we have a reliable English-speaking GP and access to an excellent hospital with several English-speaking doctors for a 10th of the cost.

Kay (72) Living in Alicante, from Coral Gables, Florida (USA).

What Kind of Healthcare Insurance Do You Need For A Spanish Visa?

Our immigration lawyer partner, Raquel Moreno, has some advice for choosing your health insurance for a Spanish visa application. She explains that consulates will only accept some health insurance plans with these four essential attributes.

  1. Fully comprehensive cover with no co-payment.
  2. There are no waiting periods, so the policy offers full cover from your arrival in Spain.
  3. Policies issued by authorized insurance companies in Spain.
  4. There are no excluded pre-existing conditions.

Note: The consulate will not accept Travel insurance for any long-stay visa. You can use travel insurance for a short-stay SCHENGEN tourist visa.

The Price of Medication: Spain Versus the U.S.A.

A 2021 study by APSE found that brand-name originator drugs can be 250% and 350% higher than in European countries. So expect your pharmacy bill in Spain to be much lower than in the U.S.A. Some private healthcare insurance policies cover prescriptions, too.

Use this easy tool to get no-obligation Spanish private health insurance quotes from our recommended private health insurance companies.

The Spanish Lifestyle For Retirement Abroad

When people ask what life in Spain is like, it is a tricky question. Barcelona’s hot, buzzing streets in August are a world away from a small Galician village in April. The sparkling Mediterranean coast has Expat-packed areas with English pubs and supermarkets just miles from traditional villages. The cold Madrid winter is nothing like the balmy South, and the interior of Spain is vast. In some places, you’ll hear no English spoken at all. A sea, an ocean, deserts, mountain ranges, rivers, forests, amazing cities, and tiny villages. Golf estates, national parks, endless restaurants, and adventures. There is something for everyone.

There are some common themes. For Expats from countries like America and Britain, the pace of life in Spain is much slower. People focus on enjoying life and spending time with family and friends. They stop to have a coffee in a sidewalk cafe to catch some sun or meet friends for a lazy Sunday lunch that takes hours. The expression “sobre mesa” is directly translated as “over the table,” but it means much more. It means taking the time to talk and laugh with those you love over food and wine. It sums up life in Spain for me.

Europe Is Now On Your Doorstep

The other big plus we hear from many retirees in Spain is that European travel is cheap and easy. From the glory of Paris to an adventure in Latvia, you are just a short plane ride or an epic train journey away from a whole new world. Exploring Europe can be cheap and easy or expensive and luxurious – the choice is yours when you retire in Spain!

We were still running at NYC pace when we got to Barcelona, and it took a while to really get into the pace of life here. It wasn’t until we took a breath that we worked out how strung out and stressed out we had been back in the US. Our family all comment on how chilled we are now!

Ronald (65) living in Barcelona from New York City, New York (USA).

Cultural Integration for American and British Expats

Our Experience: I know an English retiree who moved to Alicante from Birmingham in 2014 and speaks very little Spanish. He’s happy socializing with Expats and a group of Spanish football (soccer) enthusiasts who speak enough English to get by. I’ve also met an American couple who use the Spanish they picked up in Texas to live in a small village in Cantabria. They are the only people who speak English and love living as an integral part of their community.

As a massive generalization, the happiest people accept that Spain is magical but imperfect. They explore and embrace the differences between Spain and their homes.

How to adapt to retirement in Spain

Learn as much Spanish as you can to at least make some small talk with your neighbors. Explore the local food, wine, festivals, and other cultural events. Don’t sweat the small stuff; red tape and tardiness will happen, and customer service may be slower and more relaxed than you are used to. Get help from qualified professionals, seek support from fellow Expats in your areas, and accept that there will be hard days.

The other awesome advice we hear is to get involved with like-minded people who have retired in Spain. We’ve heard of friendships from activities as diverse as hiking groups and beach litter clean-ups. We know retirees in our town who joined the local bridge clubs and some who have taken group Spanish lessons. Use tools like Facebook and MeetUp to reach out to people, and you’ll be amazed at the warm welcome you receive.

We also suggest you work on keeping in contact with friends and family at home. Make time for regular chats and updates – tools like WhatsApp, Zoom, and Skype have made the world much smaller. And you have the carrot of a fantastic Spanish holiday to persuade your favorite people to come and keep you company. And with major international airline hubs in Barcelona and Madrid, plus other regional airports, you can often go home for a visit on the cheap.

Dealing with the time zone difference is a bit of a challenge, since our family’s back on the West Coast. Trying to catch up when it’s our evening and their morning can be tricky. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t swap this Madrid life for our old one, but I’d be lying if I said we don’t miss our kids and grandkids something fierce..

Charles (59) living in Madrid from Eugene, Oregon (USA)

The Best Place For Your Spanish Retirement

Choosing a retirement destination in Spain requires considering several critical factors like climate, Expat communities, and cost of living.

Begin by evaluating your climate preference, whether you prefer Costa del Sol’s warm, sunny coasts or the cooler, greener areas of northern Spain like Galicia.

Next, consider the size and activity of Expat communities, which ease social integration and support. Places like Alicante and Malaga have thriving Expat populations. Lastly, assess the cost of living, which can vary significantly between regions.

Cities like Barcelona and Madrid are more expensive, whereas smaller towns in Andalusia or the Valencia region offer more affordable options. Balancing these factors with your personal preferences and lifestyle needs will guide you in finding the ideal Spanish locale for your retirement.

We’ve picked seven places in each of the five categories for you to start your explorations.

7 Best Small Towns for Retirement in Spain

ProvinceCommunityPopulationExpatsWhat does it offer
RondaMálagaAndalucía                34,000MediumRomantic setting, Moorish monuments, and stunning gorge views
CadaquésGironaCataluña                  2,000LowArtistic haven and whitewashed houses
FrigilianaMálagaAndalucía                  3,000MediumWhitewashed village, Moorish heritage, and panoramic views
Tossa de MarGironaCataluña                  5,000LowMedieval walls, golden sands, and charming tapas bars
AlteaAlicanteComunidad Valenciana                23,000LowMediterranean charm and stunning views
LlanesAsturiasAsturias                13,000LowHidden gems, rugged coastline, and traditional villages
HaríaLas PalmasCanarias                  5,000HighA Hidden Gem in Lanzarote’s Emerald North
7 Best Small Towns for Retirement in Spain

7 Best Golf Cities/Towns for Retirees in Spain

ProvinceCommunityPopulationExpatsWhat does it offer
MarbellaMálagaAndalucía             140,000HighSierra Blanca mountains, sea, and cosmopolitan lifestyle
EsteponaMálagaAndalucía                70,000HighLuxurious life, stunning beaches, and vibrant atmosphere
JáveaAlicanteComunidad Valenciana                33,000MediumMediterranean paradise, crystal-clear waters, and stunning landscapes
TorreviejaAlicanteComunidad Valenciana                84,000HighSunshine, beach resorts, and a vibrant Expat community
SantanderCantabriaCantabria             172,000MediumCoastal elegance, lively atmosphere, and charming old town
GijónAsturiasAsturias             272,000LowDive into the Heart of Asturias’ Coastal Splendor
TarragonaTarragonaCataluña             184,000MediumAncient Roman Legacy Meets the Catalan Culture
Best Golf Cities/Towns for Retirees in Spain

7 Best Beach Towns to Retire in Spain

ProvinceCommunityPopulationExpatsWhat does it offer
NerjaMálagaAndalucía                14,000LowTropical vibes, breathtaking cliffs, and Moorish influence
SitgesBarcelonaCataluña                29,000HighArtistic flair, bohemian vibe, and stunning beaches
San SebastiánGuipúzcoaPaís Vasco             187,000HighCulinary paradise, Basque culture, and cosmopolitan atmosphere
TarifaCádizAndalucía                18,000LowSurfing mecca, laid-back lifestyle, and Moroccan influences
RosesGironaCataluña                20,000LowCatalan charm, medieval fortress, and idyllic beaches
AdejeSanta Cruz de TenerifeCanarias                48,000MediumWhere Elegance Meets Endless Beaches
RibadesellaAsturiasAsturias                  6,000MediumAsturian Tradition Sparkles Along the Waterfront
7 Best Beach Towns to Retire in Spain

7 Cheapest Provinces to Retire in Spain

CommunityPopulationExpatsWhat does it offer
LugoGalicia                                 98,000MediumRoman walls, Baroque architecture, and Galician traditions
JaénAndalucía                               112,000HighOlive groves, medieval castles, and historical monuments
OurenseGalicia                               104,000MediumThermal springs, Roman bridges, and Galician folklore
ZamoraCastilla y León                                 61,000MediumRoman bridges, Gothic cathedral, and Old Castile charm
TeruelAragón                                 35,000MediumMudéjar architecture, Roman ruins, and Aragonese traditions
CuencaCastilla-La Mancha                               215,000LowWhere History Meets the Mountains
HuescaAragón                               222,000LowThe Gateway to the Majestic Pyrenees
7 Cheapest Provinces to Retire in Spain

7 Best Cities to Retire in Spain

  Province CommunityPopulation  Epxats What does it offer
ValenciaValenciaComunidad Valenciana             814,000MediumCulinary delights, vibrant arts scene, and futuristic architecture
AlicanteAlicanteComunidad Valenciana             334,000HighCoastal capital, vibrant nightlife, and ancient ruins
MálagaMálagaAndalucía             574,000MediumCosta del Sol hotspot, Moorish heritage, and flamenco rhythm
BarcelonaBarcelonaCataluña          1,621,000HighModern metropolis, Gaudí’s masterpieces, and Mediterranean flair
MadridMadridComunidad de Madrid          3,256,000MediumCultural hub, historic landmarks, and lively tapas bars
SevillaSevillaAndalucía             703,000MediumAndalusian culture, with flamenco, royal palaces, a festivals
BilbaoVizcayaPaís Vasco             344,000MediumHistoric beauty, modern charm
7 Best Cities to Retire in Spain

Buying a Property vs Renting

Buying Property in Spain

Buying property can be an attractive option for those retiring to Spain from the US or UK, especially if you’re considering the Golden Visa program. This visa, which grants residency in exchange for a significant investment in Spanish real estate, requires a minimum investment of €500,000.

Owning property in Spain can offer stability, a sense of permanence, and the potential for property value appreciation. However, it’s essential to be mindful of the complexities involved, including transaction costs (such as notary fees, property registry costs, and legal fees), ongoing property taxes, and potential fluctuations in the real estate market. The process also demands a good understanding of Spanish real estate laws and regulations, which can be daunting for those not fluent in Spanish or unfamiliar with the local system.

See our guide to purchasing a property in Spain to help you through the process.

Renting Property in Spain

Renting in Spain offers flexibility and less financial commitment, making it a good choice for those still exploring different regions or prefer not to invest a large sum upfront. It’s an excellent way to get to know an area before committing to it long-term. Renting eliminates the need to navigate the complex property buying process and the associated taxes and fees.

However, you miss out on property ownership’s potential long-term financial benefits as a renter, like capital gains. Additionally, rental prices can be subject to increase, and you may have less security in terms of long-term tenancy compared to owning a home.

See our guide to renting property in Spain to get the most out of your rental.

Pros and Cons of Spanish Retirement

To sum up, we’ve condensed some of the points above into our top 5 pros and cons of a Spanish retirement. 

5 Pros of Retiring to Spain

  1. Cost of Living: It is generally lower compared to many parts of the U.S. and U.K., allowing a more comfortable lifestyle.
  2. Healthcare: A high-quality healthcare system complemented by affordable private health insurance options.
  3. Climate and Geography: Offers a range of climates and landscapes, from sunny coastal areas to tranquil mountains.
  4. Lifestyle and Culture: Relaxed pace of life focusing on enjoyment, family, and a rich cultural heritage.
  5. Cultural and Regional Diversity: Spain’s diverse regions offer a variety of geography, climate, cultural experiences, traditions, and cuisines.

5 Cons of Retiring to Spain

  1. Bureaucracy: Dealing with Spanish bureaucracy can be challenging and time-consuming.
  2. Language Barrier: Limited Spanish can hinder deeper integration and understanding of local customs.
  3. Adjustment Period: Adapting to the cultural and lifestyle differences can take time.
  4. Property Ownership Issues: The property market can be complex, with legal and bureaucratic challenges.
  5. Distance from Family: For retirees from the U.S. and U.K., the distance and timezone shift can be a drawback.

If you want more pros and less cons, then please get in touch. We’re here to help you with every step of your plan to retire in Spain.

FAQs – Retire In Spain

What are the visa requirements for retiring in Spain?

Non-European Union (EU) citizens, including US and UK citizens, need a visa to retire in Spain. The two most popular immigration options for retirees in Spain are the Spanish non-lucrative visa (also called the retirement visa) and the Spanish Golden visa (or Investment visa).

How much does it cost to live in Spain?

Our research shows that the cost of living in Spain is 32% cheaper than in the USA. and 24% cheaper than in the UK for an equivalent lifestyle. Private health insurance in Spain costs a fraction of similar coverage in the USA.

Where are the best places to retire in Spain?

Spain has an endless variety, but provinces popular with American and British retirees include Alicante, Andalucia, Valencia, Malaga, Barcelona, Madrid, and the Balearic and Canary Islands.

What healthcare options are available for retirees in Spain?

International retirees to Spain almost all require private health insurance in Spain. The public healthcare system is only open to Spanish citizens and Epxats who pay social security contributions.

Can I receive my pension from my home country while living in Spain?

Most retirees can have their pension income paid directly to them in Spain. Just remember that this income may be taxed at standard Spanish income tax rates (along with any other global income).

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