10 things to know before moving to Spain

10 things to know before moving to Spain

Comments141 comments

In the Garlic authors share 10 tips about surviving and loving Spain in all its diversity.

Moving to Spain is not like moving to paradise. Yes it’s sunny throughout, has beautiful beaches that run for miles and looks really pretty, but it’s also a place which can drive you wild if you don’t know it right

In the Garlic authors Valerie Collins and Theresa O'Shea share their top 10 tips on how life is really lived here in Spain.

Tip 1
When dealing with any facet of Spanish bureaucracy, remember The Law of Falta Uno: that however many documents and photocopies you take along there will always be one missing. Always double check that you have every piece of paper that you think you might need – and possibly even a few more that you don't.

Be patient. Be assertive. Take plenty of reading material. Rope in a friendly mentor who speaks the lingo, and check any papers you are given with a fine tooth comb for names, dates, accounts numbers and more before you leave the desk or ventanilla (window). Any undiscovered glitch may set you back years. Oh, and don't forget the rabbit’s foot.

Tip 2
Do not forget to tip the butanero – the man (and it will be a man) who throws those two-ton, orange gas-bottles on his shoulder and climbs four flights of stairs when the lift is broken to deliver what may well be your main source of heating and fuel.

Many jokes and myths surround the role of the 'butanero' (video in Spanish).

Tip 3
If it is your birthday, don't stand around grinning, waiting for someone to buy you a drink, or bounce jauntily into work expecting to be showered with goodies. Not only do the Spanish drive on the wrong side of the road, they've also got the whole birthday thing completely wrong.

It's your birthday, it's your shout. As if it's not bad enough chalking up another year, you have to treat your colleagues and friends to boot. If it's your child's birthday, make sure he/she takes a big bag of sweets to school to share with classmates.

Tip 4
Do not go to the beach in August. Three quarters of the population of Spain and their families will be there, too. Along with several kitchen sinks. You will wait nine hours to get served at a restaurant, another nine hours for the food to arrive, plus two or three more before you get fed up waiting for the bill and do a 'sinpa' (ie. a runner, from sin pagar – without paying).

Tip 5
Do not pop into the bank/ gestor's office/ estate agent/ post office/ mechanic's between 9.30am and 11am. There will be a queue and one over-worked, stressed-out, don't-you-dare-complain employee will be holding the fort.

Should you wish to see a specific somebody, you can be sure said somebody will be in the nearest bar, tucking into a segundo desayuno (second breakfast). If you can't beat them, join them, and order a nice large café con leche with a torpedo-shaped toasted roll drizzled in oil, rubbed with tomato and topped with either ham, cheese, tuna or tortilla, or any combination thereof.

Moving to Spain'Tostada de tomate' is a Spanish staple.

Tip 6
Remember, children are not only to be heard and seen. They are also to be picked up and cooed over at every possible instant, allowed to stay up as late as their parents during summer holidays, and thought of as nothing but cute as they scream around your table while you try enjoy a quiet drink.

Tip 7
If you need to attract the barperson's attention, a polite raised finger and a timid 'perdone' or 'disculpe' (excuse me) won't get you very far.

Clear your throat, along with however many decades of ingrained politeness, and yell, "¡Oiga!" (Listen, person-that-I-don't-know). Or if you're really really brave yell, "¡Oye!" (Listen, person-that-I-don't-know-but-will-speak-to-as-if-I-did).

That should do it – you'll fit right in and no-one will mutter anything about 'manners' and 'upbringing'. Forthright and direct is ok. Just remember you can make your intonation sound polite – and smile.

Tip 8
Remember, time is relative. In Spain la mañana lasts until about 2pm, la tarde (the afternoon) stretches to nightfall, there is no word for evening, and the early hours have their own special name: la madrugada.

Tip 9
Do not attempt to buy a house, get a new kitchen put in, renew your driving licence, make an insurance claim, see a doctor or give birth in August. Spain is not in (it's gone to the beach; see point four).

Tip 10
Do not refer to Catalan, Valenciano or Gallego as dialects of 'Spanish' or Castilian – unless you want to get right up the nose of a Catalan, Valenciano, Gallego big time. They are all languages in their own right, and are co-official with Castellano in the autonomous communities in which they are spoken (ie. Catalunya, Valencia and the Balearics, and Galicia).



Valerie Collins and Theresa O'Shea / Expatica

In the Garlic is a quirky A–Z guide about Spain written by Valerie Collins and Theresa O'Shea. It is available from the Bookworld España chain, amazon.co.uk and bookshops. More information can also be found on www.inthegarlic.com.
Photo credit: Tamorlan via Wikimedia Commons (tomato toast) / Published 2009; updated by Expatica 2016.

Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.

If you believe any of the information on this page is incorrect or out-of-date, please let us know. Expatica makes every effort to ensure its articles are as comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date as possible, but we're also grateful for any help! (If you want to contact Expatica for any other reason, please follow the instructions on this website's contact page.)


Captcha Note: Characters are case sensitive
The details you provide on this page will not be used to send any unsolicited e-mail, and will not be sold to a third party. Privacy policy .

3 Comments To This Article

  • Javier posted:

    on 17th June 2008, 12:08:53 - Reply

    "Not only do the Spanish drive on the wrong side of the road, they've also got the whole birthday thing completely wrong"

    Really???!
  • Homemaxico posted:

    on 17th June 2008, 12:07:45 - Reply

    Hello, I'm from Spain, and I have to say that the post it's absolutely true, specially the points 1 and 9.
    About the birthday comment, it's not that bad, we have the "ronda" concept, it's a good thing to invite your friends and co-workers once in a while, they do the same for you too.
    Best Regards
  • Mario posted:

    on 17th June 2008, 11:42:56 - Reply

    Hello Valerie Collins and Theresa O'Shea,

    I just want to add to your article the fact that to find bad things about a culture or even a country is really very easy. I am spanish, I live abroad and think each country and culture has its own disadvantages, but always (and I am sure about this) many virtues.

    As spanish, I felt that this article of yours is a little bit unpleasant. It only helps to feed the prejudices between cultures. I also have to say, that the british tourist usually forget his/her good manners and education at home. (I saw it where I come from, the canary islands).

    With kind regards,
    Mario