11 Top Reasons Why Expats Fail When Moving to Spain

A quite astonishing letter sent to us from Steve Hall who runs the popular website www.thisisspain.info – this is the completely brutal, down-to-earth truth about moving to Spain and what it REALLY takes to survive.

Why Expats Struggle in Spain

This is a reply I gave to “Ronny” many years ago on an expats forum but my thoughts remain the same. It was referring to Torrevieja but in truth it applies to any expat area in Spain ……and probably anywhere else where expats are trying to start a new life.

“Hi everybody. Every week on the various forums relating to Spain there is a question from hopeful couples in their thirties, often with a child or two asking about jobs and schools in Spain. Do any of these families make a proper go of it or do they just end up hand-to-mouth.

I ask because the more I see of Spain the more I think my fate is in the UK. I have a UK income. Ronny”

Lazy imageNow, that’s what I call an interesting question. I get perhaps 15/20 people every month asking me questions like:

1) Will I get a job as a bowling alley technician? 2) Would you tell me everything you know about Spain? 3) Will I like Spain? 4) What’s the best part of Spain to live in? 5) How little Spanish can I get by on? Is English enough?

Many of them start with “Hi, my name’s X and I’m thinking perhaps, maybe, possibly, at some time in the future of moving to Spain or maybe Malta, Florida, Greece or ….if………. I send them a list of URLs, advise them to join expat forums and do some SERIOUS preparation.

A lot of them have children and many have absolutely no idea whatsoever re education, Spanish, Spain itself, job opportunities etc etc. I usually also tell them the FACTS. There are very few employed (as opposed to self-employed) opportunities.

If you do not speak Spanish the opportunities at getting much above the minimum wage are extremely limited. You only need to see the vacancies section in the English language papers to recognise that. Nevertheless thousands come every year looking for a land of milk and honey. Whilst the grass maybe greener here in Spain (figuratively at least!) it most definitely needs cutting.

I have now had some 700 people who work with me / for me so I meet up with a lot of these types of people. Ronny, you are 100% correct in your underlying assumption that many do not make a fist of it. I can give many reasons.

1) Firstly and most importantly they have not done enough, if any, homework. They have absolutely no comprehension that for example someone who was, say, a dental receptionist in the UK is going to find it almost impossible to get the same job over here.

2) They have absolutely no comprehension of how expensive Spain is. I am sure I speak for many when I say that I find Spain is now only marginally less expensive than the UK for many things.

3) They make very little effort to learn any Spanish. A hobby-horse of mine so I won’t continue. NOWHERE in Spain is English universally spoken. Even in Benidorm, Torremolinos, Marbella or Torrevieja, Spanish is still the official language. NOT speaking Spanish will massively harm your chances of getting work. FACT.

4) They quite bluntly do not have a work appetite. Somehow they expect to work fewer hours for more money than they did in the UK.

5) Many were losers in the UK. Somehow they think if they come to Spain and do all the things they did wrong in the UK they will succeed. It’s pure folly to think if you do the same things you failed with before that you will get a different result if you continue to do them wrongly over here.

6) On the same track many are quitters. (Winners never quit and quitters never win.)

7) As they have done so little preparation re 1, 2 and 3 that when a problem happens they are not ready for it and struggle to overcome whatever the problem is.

Can people make a go of it?

Yes, absolutely, many of my guys have a lifestyle they could never have dreamt of in the UK. Some earn serious money – very serious money in some cases. Many others give up and either flee back to the UK or mess around with airport runs, villa cleaning etc etc trying to eke out a living until they win the lottery (Spanish or otherwise!).

I’ll give anybody a chance – that’s my style BUT at the first meeting I know pretty well who’s a talker and who’s a walker. I know most times who will succeed, who will survive and who will fail. Equally, many have absolutely no direction whatsoever. I am fortunate that I am not down to my last five bob. I’m not into flash cars or a fancy lifestyle.

So, I often say to the people who don’t seem cut out for what I have to offer, “Is there anything that you would like to do, if I were to fund a new project with you?” Unbelievably, most have absolutely no idea. So if I help them set it up, get the papers in order and even fund it they wouldn’t know what they wanted!!! ¡No digo nada! On the other hand, I mentioned it to a couple the other day and the lady immediately came up with what I believe was a very credible business proposition for here in Spain.

Sorry if the answer is a bit long winded but it is one of those “meaning of life questions” where the answer is more likely to be observations and opinions rather than “the police station is at Calle Mayor 36 and the telephone number is 9……..

Here is another and earlier reply to a similar question:

Message: I agree with Bob 100%. I have over 400 people who work with me over here on various projects and I am constantly in need of quality people. By the same token I am constantly amazed at people’s job expectations – would you be happy if you rang, say, your dentist in Derby and found that the receptionist spoke only Spanish? So why should a dental receptionist expect to find work in a Spanish dental surgery? “Oh, well I could learn.” ¡No digo nada!

FACTS there are almost NO permanent employee positions with contracts UNLESS you speak Spanish FLUENTLY. Usually, even then FLUENCY in another language French, Norwegian or German is also required. That is why you see so many Belgian and Dutch people working for estate agents etc. From birth they have been comfortable in 3 or 4 languages.

FACTS – my two secretaries are German and Dutch. One speaks Dutch, German, English and Spanish and the other speaks German, Spanish, French and English.

When I last interviewed for a secretary I got over 70 applications. Over 30 were from English speakers BUT only 3 had the MINIMUM number of languages clearly stated in the advert – three. My short list was a Finn, two Dutch girls, a Belgian guy (who spoke SIX languages fluently) and a Norwegian. These people were applying for a position with a contract, 30 days’ paid holiday etc. Everything that so many people crave for.

Incidentally in the Valencian Community only 10% of all new positions advertised last year were with permanent contracts and that is the Spanish and not the ex-pat market place. Do not also forget that Spain has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe and that a lot of the best jobs in Spain are “word of mouth.”

That’s not to say that there is NO work. There is – this is Klondike at the moment BUT you dig your own gold. 90%+ of all the ex-pats over here are self-employed. There is as much work as you want in the building trade and in sales. I am frequently frustrated that I cannot start more projects.


The lack of quality staff. Corporation bus drivers with 20 years experience are NOT in demand over here BUT if the same man can sell or use his hands then he has a chance.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results!”

PS As an aside, two weeks ago I placed an advert which was written in Spanish (only- no translation) on an expats forum. It offers a guaranteed work contract, a realistic salary and everything else that goes with a Spanish permanent contract. To date, it has been viewed 437 times.

I have had one person who wanted to know why it was written in Spanish and one person who failed to turn up for an interview twice! I know I would have had more applicants if I had written in English or Swedish BUT absolute fluency in spoken and written Spanish is a pre-requisite so it saved me all the “I get by” dreamers.

11 Things They Don’t Teach Would-be Expats

I recently gave a speech about 11 things they did not and will not teach would-be expats. I talked about how feel-good, commission-hungry estate agents created a generation of expats with no concept of reality and how this “dream” set them up for failure in the real Spain.

Rule 1: Expat life is not fair – get used to it!

Rule 2 : Expats and Spaniards alike will not care about your previous life. They will expect you to accomplish something in expatshire BEFORE you are respected. Able seamen become admirals, DIY enthusiasts become Master Builders. Shelf-stackers become supermarket magnates. Nobody cares – get used to it. They will expect you to pay your round.

Rule 3 : You will NOT make 60,000 euros a year as you come straight off the plane. You won’t be employed and you won’t get a contract until you earn both.

Rule 4 : If you think the UK is tough, wait till you try Spain.

Rule 5 : Villa cleaning is not beneath your dignity. A previous generation of expats had a different word for villa cleaning; they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your neighbours’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you arrived, the traffic police weren’t as tough as they are now. They got that way from dealing with expats with no paperwork, no insurance, no ITV and listening to you bang on about how you thought you were in the right. So before you abuse another officer to his face or on a forum, try getting your UK car registered here. Just because you have not done it for 7 years does not make it legal.

Rule 8: The UK may have done away with winners and losers, but Spain HAS NOT. In the UK, they have a welfare state that supports people when they fall. They’ll give to you as MANY TIMES as you want to – housing benefit, disability allowances, single-parent allowances, job-seeker allowances, free dental care and a NHS service that has got itself on its knees with more administrators than surgeons. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in Spain.

Rule 9: Expat life is not divided into seasons. You don’t get summers off from paying bills and very few landlords or mortgage lenders are interested in helping you “FIND YOURSELF IN SPAIN”. Do that on your own time. Do that with your own money.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the bar and go to look for work. The prices on “A Place in the Sun” are pre the introduction of the euro….and it rains!

Rule 11: Be nice to Spaniards. Chances are you’ll end up needing one to help you. LEARN SPANISH …..you will not integrate and prosper with just English.

Kind Regards



Popular Related Reading…

Moving to Spain – Main Index

Property Main Section

Get a Job

Start a Business

Buy a Business

Home Page

Full Index – Sitemap


  1. Oooh my my – did the English weather make you all as bitter and spiteful as you all seem to be ? – or is that all natural flair ? – either way, thank goodness you all disappeared from the UK shores and decided to loiter elsewhere…saves the UK taxpayer an awful lot of benefit cash, eh ?

  2. Mike Houghton says

    I have searched the web a lot but cannot find all the answers to 3 Qs so I hope somebody here can help me please.
    1) Suppose I pay £150,000 for a house. What will I actually pay (roughly) to complete the purchase (please ignore Brexit, just as things are now.
    2) Our income is pensions, we do not work, are 67 and 71. On say £25,000 pa what tax and and other charges (such as local taxes etc) might a pay. again, roughly because I know it varies.
    3) Is there a health service, if not what might I expect to pay private?
    thank you all in advance, I need to move soon

  3. Well said. Even way out in “Here be Dragons” Spain we get the Raj mentality wandering in. One friend and I used to take bets on how long they would last. The shortest was 7 months! (After 13 having the house renovated.) it’s for sale at a vast loss. If anyone wants a 5 bed 2 bath townhouse in a quiet Spanish town for 100.00€??? Lol. That is actually what it is worth, the loss is to them, as they paid an English agent far more than it was. Happens all the time. Use Spanish agents. Just do your homework LEARN SPANISH and don’t expect a job or “Oh, we will make a living somehow” because it is highly unlikely either will materialise. If you have kids remember it is a big step being dumped in a strange school even in the UK. They will adapt, quicker than you probably, but consider them. It’s actually brilliant for kids. My friend is across the border in Portugal, her kids were born here and they are Portuguese! With English streaks! They weren’t taught English until they started school. They needed Portuguese to fit. Now they are trilingual at 8 and 5! But Portuguese! All their mannerisms, ways…. Mission accomplished.

  4. Hi everybody!!!
    If some body needs help with learning Spanish language I offer you Spanish online exclusive lessons. I am a native teacher with years of experience and I can help you with a lot of questions about Spanish culture and customs. Here some of my students talking about the lessons: ttps://martaspanishclass.com/testimonials/
    I will be very happy to meet you!!!

    • Michael Malone says

      Hi Marta, my wife and I will be moving to Spain in the future and would love to learn Spanish. Thanks

  5. Terry Holmes says

    Hi guys,
    I was referred to this page by a friend who already lives in Spain. We are settled on a house purchase but still need to transfer our sterling savings to euros to complete the transaction. Does anyone have any good money transfer companies to recommend, we’ve been told about transferwise.com, exchangefair.co.uk and hifx but does anyone else have another company they have used that is reliable (and cheap!) to transfer?


  6. Hi, We have found the comments/info from Steve very enlightening!! And we are still, if not more determined, to make our move to Torrevieja work!! We have done as much “research” from afar as is possible, and have made plans to go to the area to see for ourselves!! We have also made contact with Spanish estate agent, who we will go see a few properties, to see what is available in our price bracket, and to get a better idea of the necessary taxes etc.. Also we have made contact with The Spanish Buying Guide, and have been advised to have 3 things in place, 1) an independent English speaking solicitor, 2) A good property agent and 3) A currency exchange agent. We are now in the process of signing up with agents ( who offer no obligation info and are accessible while we are over in Spain should we need them!!)
    We are also in the process of learning Spanish, and we are at the very beginning with that!! But hope to progress before our move!!!
    We would like to work, (but it is not paramount!!) I am a Nurse and my hubby is a ladies/gents hairstylist, but feel a working life would help us to integrate? My husband would probably look to working for himself, either mobile or rent a chair etc… Myself, well I am pretty open, so will just see what happens!!
    I have not been on a forum before, but, since this is a big deal, we would be open to any and all info/advice on moving/living/working/integrating and so on…..
    Thank you

  7. I agree totally that lack of preparation and unrealistic expectations are high on the list of causes for not making it as an expat in Spain. I moved several years ago because I liked the lifestyle and climate and relied on a friend of the family who promised to give lots of help. I knew nothing about the area or legalities and did no homework. It all ended dismally and I had to give up. Now, 6 years later, I might consider moving again but will probably have to wait till I’m retired as I’m unlikely to get work at 60. If I do, I’ll find out everything possible for myself, be realistic and take the good with the bad. There are challenges moving to any country

  8. How up to date is the above? Looks to me like the ‘Brits’ have the same problems in Spain as they do here in Panama. They are better than everyone else, are smarter than everyone else, and “why cant the locals learn to speak Brit English”… and they will cheat you in a minute if you do business with them. We have no problems with the local Panamanian… and DO NOT live in an EXpat community. Why in the world would someone move to another country other than their own and then want to live in an EXpat communicty. So stay home or go back to wherever you came from and let us who moved to another country be part of it as it should be. Hate SPain? Go home!!! And don’t bring yourself back to Spain and please, please don’t move to Panama… we have enough ungrateful Gringos.


    • Mark H Schwartz says

      My sentiments exactly. This could not apply more to my 8 years in Israel.

    • My sentiments exactly. All these sites are expats in ghettoes asking where they can get HP Sauce! Then setting themselves up as experts on Spain. When I took issue one told me she was in “rural Spain” in fact she is 20 miles from the coast! A bit like saying “I know all about rural England because I live by Hampstead Heath, “

  9. As soon as I got to the section where you talk about the emails you get from people, I had to laugh out loud. During the “birth” of the Internet, in the 1990s, I worked on Compuserve Forums as a sysadmin and I answered the same sort of questions from people wanting to live in Florida. I, too, got the stupidest question in the world, “Where is the best place to live?” “Best Place” according to which set of criteria???!!

    I was continually amazed at the number of people who were willing to give up the community in which they lived and loved and had friends to move to an area they had never visited – not even had a vacation there. And, that new place is hot and humid and full of big bugs. And, you can’t go outside between May and September because it’s too hot and humid. And, then you get sick/injured and you need help, but you don’t know anyone but your spouse/partner. And, the politics of the place??? Forget it. It’s wicked crazy.

    I was born and raised in Florida, but I have worked and lived all over the world. I love Florida to pieces, but even I can’t live there anymore. It’s full of incomers who just don’t “get it”. They think it’s all about Disney and Miami and they’re surprised by the number of uneducated rednecks they encounter. I can’t imagine even visiting a spot without researching the language and customs of the spot. How delusional are these people who think they can move to a new place and not know anything about it? I really don’t understand them. I guess the only saving grace is that they do eventually give up and go back home. (And then they tell all their friends/family how awful that “other” place was!)

  10. My wife and I are planning on moving to Andalucía from the U.S. and very much appreciate the information we have read so far regarding life in Spain and the trials and tribulations of obtaining employment.

    We are approaching our move in what we consider and hope will be a rational, realistic, and well-prepared manner. We started our retirement plans about 5 years ago; our immediate goal was Spain. As soon as we accepted the realization that we were headed to Spain for our eventual retirement/jubilacion, we began a very broad study: the country, heritage, customs, mores, traditions, music, and food. We found nothing wanting.

    It should be noted that my wife has extremely fond memories of her years in Spain as a student at La Complutense in Madrid, albeit 30 years ago! Her memories of Spain allowed me to see a country to which I had never been through her eyes.

    The language barrier will not be much of an issue as we integrate into Andalucía. Her Spanish skills are still strong; I have started my lessons and hope to be quite able to converse when we land at Malaga.

    Having read some of the comments, we are very bemused by the level of naiveté in the level of expectation. We are laying down a foundation that will allow us to integrate and start a rich life in our retirement years.

    Our situation is extremely different from most of the comments we’ve read: we will not be competing for jobs. Our goal is to become as much of a Spaniard as possible without having been born one!

    “When in Rome . . . ”

    We will count on common sense and life experience to assist us in integrating as seamlessly as possible into what will be our chosen community. What we do not want is to approach this goal with stars in our eyes and an unrealistic expectation of what life will be. This forum is an excellent resource to begin such research.

    We can research financial aspects (rent, food, medical, entertainment, etc.) but we cannot research from afar the feelings, attitudes, ambiance of a place that will eventually be “home.” Hopefully, this foray into communications with those who have gone before us nos ayudara a ser locales como toda la gente.

  11. I’m Spanish and I want to clarify that not all regions of Spain have low wages, in most industrialized regions like Madrid, Catalonia, Basque Country. Valencian Community etc earn more money, at least as the European average.
    And that put United Kingdom as a country “more developed”? the British railroad network is rubbish while Spain has the largest high-speed network in the world, Spain has a better sanitary system then all this is typical of an underdeveloped country?
    On the “siesta” … British citizens, do you have to learn and not say stupid things: the Spanish people not sleep during the day, do not know what that is only do the sick, the elderly, the little childrens. That was a custom that was permitted agricultural workers in the summer months, during hours middle day when pressed more heat. The Spanish of today do not know what is “siesta”, forget that stupid myth.
    Indeed, in the “underdeveloped” Spain have a health system that has allowed many Britons have come for the face (they never contributed here) to have free operations, gratis right? because in his “developed and dear” Britain it was much more expensive then … someone explains it to me?? And I end by saying that people here when the people here are left homeless, employment status etc. puts a social rented house and a small pay to survive. Noting as illustrated in this article so ignorant, so demagogue and so English. Because it is curious that our problems in Spain are always with the same misfits of ever.

  12. I thoroughly enjoyed this information. Very truthful, I’m doing all my homework before I try to work in Spain. =)

  13. Blunt but good 🙂

Help Add To This Page - Send Us a Tip or Comment - Add a Photo - Suggest a Correction...