Expat Life

9 things you learn when you move to Spain

  • October 7, 2019

Living in Spain is quite different from living in the UK in many ways – and not just because of the weather! We’ve been here for 4.5 months now and we are all getting used to the way of life and learning how things are done here.

There are some things that take a bit of getting used to though and some things you might not have even thought about before you decided to move to Spain.

Here’s my list of 9 things you learn when you move to Spain…


In Spain, there is always a fiesta taking place for something. Many are for religious holidays, though usually also include fun events such as parades, street parties, and food. We have been sat outside a bar having a drink and a giant statue of Mary gets wheeled out of the church, or we’ve stumbled across a giant paella dish in the street!

There are also plenty of other events going on such as live music, inflatables for kids, and tapas trails – sometimes it seems like there’s something different going on every week. Here the local town hall lets off fireworks in the run-up to an event starting – it’s common to hear fireworks going off and rushing to see if you can find out on Facebook what it’s for! You definitely won’t be bored in Spain and most of these events are completely free.


Bank holidays

There are a lot more bank holidays (or ‘red days’ because they’re coloured red on calendars) in Spain compared to England. The confusing part is that some vary from town to town as they are often based on local saints days.

This week we have a bank holiday in our region on Wednesday that is limited to the Valencian region only and another national bank holiday on Saturday. There was also a bank holiday in the town next to ours on Monday – their school was closed and shops shut even though in our town everything was open as normal.

It’s always nice to have an unexpected day off though!



In the UK you’re probably used to having supermarkets open 24 hours now but that’s not the case here. In Spain, supermarkets are usually open 9am-9pm, so there’s no time to rush to the shop before school or late at night if you realise you’ve run out of milk or bread. During the summer months, the supermarkets were open on Sundays, but from September onwards they are closed all day on a Sunday meaning you have to get organised! You might also turn up at a supermarket only for it to be closed with no explanation. This is usually because there’s a bank holiday you’ve forgotten about.

You’ll also work out quite quickly which supermarkets stock ‘British’ things like Marmite or teabags (Mas y mas & Carrefour), and which are the cheapest (Mercadona & Lidl) and which are the most expensive (Carrefour).




One of the things you learn when you move to Spain is that you can’t do any errands after lunchtime! Most supermarkets stay open all day now but you will find that many banks and smaller shops will close at 2pm. The shops will usually open again later on in the evening but in the summer the banks were only open from 10am -2pm. You soon get used to it though and learn to get any chores done in the morning.

When visiting a smaller town or village there’s not much point going between 2pm – 5pm as everything will be closed and you’ll feel like you’re visiting a ghost town.

9 things you learn when you move to Spain



Anyone who has lived in Spain and tried to open a bank account, sign on at the town hall, or get residency will understand what I mean by this.

To do anything in Spain you need photocopies of everything. You’ll need passports, your Spanish ID documents, marriage certificates, birth certificates, bank statements, rental contracts or house deeds – you can guarantee if you don’t take it with you then you’ll be asked for it. And they often want more than one copy. When we got our Spanish residency cards we ran around the town for an hour trying to get bank statements printed off and photocopied.

We now have a folder with 5 or 6 copies of everything and always take the whole folder with us when we go to any official meeting.


Taking the kids out at night

It’s not unusual to be out at 11 pm and for there to be lots of kids running around. Not so much on school nights during term time, but in the summer and at weekends people go out until the early hours and take the kids with them. No need to find a babysitter in Spain!

We have spent many evenings sitting in a bar next to a park and letting Little H play with her friends until midnight. If there’s any fiesta event there are always kids running around until late – the fiesta parades in the summer didn’t even start until 10 pm and most of the groups taking part were children.



Obviously driving on the opposite side of the road takes some getting used to, but that does actually seem normal fairly quickly. The part of driving in Spain that is the hardest is the roundabouts – mainly because no one seems to know how to use them. We assume it’s the same as in the UK but just in the opposite direction, but who knows! Whatever lane you’re in someone will cut you up and no one ever indicates so you have to guess which exit they’re going to take. Drive in Spain and you’ll see what I mean.

Petrol stations can be tricky too – you never know whether you need to pay at the pump, go inside to pay before filling up, or wait until someone comes out to fill your car for you.


Paying in cash

If you’re living in Spain, or here for a while on holiday, you need to remember to always have cash on you. In the UK I was like the queen, never carried cash around, and I paid for everything with my debit card. In Spain, so many shops and bars still don’t accept cards so you need to always have money on you. We’ve spent many hours walking around looking for cash machines – you also can only use the cash machine for your bank unless you want to pay 3 or 4 euros in charges!

9 things you learn when you move to Spain


Lack of information online

Living in Spain is like going back 30 years in time in many ways, and the internet is no exception. Whilst broadband services here are much better than in the UK (Hello 400mb fibre!) and you can get Wifi in many public places, finding information online is a nightmare. So many businesses don’t have websites and those that do are hardly ever mobile friendly. No one seems to keep their Google listings up to date either so you can’t rely on the opening times you see online – I’ve seen many business listings saying they are open 24 hours when they are most definitely not!

We tried to book cinema tickets online but the website was so bad we ended up queuing up outside the box office for 30 minutes. Even the schools don’t have websites so it is impossible to find out any information.


As you can see there are quite a few changes to get used to if you move to Spain – some good, some not so good, but nothing that is too hard to get used to.

If you’ve moved from the UK to another country have you found any big or unexpected changes?


There are quite a few differences between living in Spain and living in the UK - and not just the weather! If you are planning on moving to Spain here are 9 things you will learn quite quickly... | relocating to Spain | moving abroad | expats in Spain | expat life | expat family | living abroad | life in Spain


1 Comment

  • Janine

    In this case I moved from Germany to Ireland over 13 years ago. I am well clued in now and Ireland would be the same as the UK BUT in Germany shops are not open on Sundays either and no 24 hours. I think it’s normal in any kind of European country I have gathered.
    I am very bad with having cash on me.


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