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MOVING TO SPAIN

The charms and challenges of life in Spain for its Irish residents

With some 15,000 Irish citizens now living in Spain long term, what is it that attracted them to make the move a permanent one? What were the challenges and what's their advice for other Irish nationals considering relocating?

The charms and challenges of life in Spain for its Irish residents
Neil, Dermot, Sophie and Andy are four Irish nationals who have made Spain their home. Photos: Handouts

Madrid-based Irish reporter Cormac Breen sat down with four Irish nationals to ask them what it is about Spain that has seen them come to call it home, what brought them here first, their experience of life here, and any advice they would offer to someone from Ireland considering Spain as a possible home away from home.

What brings Irish people to Spain?

As both countries are members of the EU, Irish people can easily live and work in Spain without having to worry about visas and or work permits. The global financial crash of 2008 severely impacted the Irish economy and the subsequent years of financial austerity led to high unemployment levels in the country. At this time, many young Irish graduates chose to move abroad in search of work.

Neil, originally from Limerick, told The Local why he decided to make the move to Spain: “I came in 2009 when the economy in Ireland and the world at large was crashing and there was no real reliable teaching work in the language schools in Ireland. The economic crisis that started in 2008 actually turned out to be a boom time for the language schools in Spain as many unemployed people tried to add English to their skill set to improve their employment prospects so there was plenty of work here”.

Spain is also a favourite of Irish Erasmus students with almost one in five choosing to study here.

For Sophie, originally from Tipperary, her love affair with Spain started after a year spent studying in Almería on the south coast.

“I first came to Spain to study Spanish as part of my degree, European studies. After I finished my degree, I came back to Spain to work, not because I couldn’t find work at home, but just because I wanted to come back here. I really like Spain as a country, the weather, the food, but I really love the Spanish way of life.

“The people are great too. I think they are very welcoming and fun to be around. They’re very family oriented with an attitude that is more work to live than live to work”.

Sophie works for PwC and has been living in Spain for six years.
 

What makes Spain such an attractive place for Irish people to live in?

It goes without saying that the weather plays a significant role in why so many Irish choose to stay in Spain. That is not to say Spain has 365 days a year of sunshine and warm temperatures. In fact, the climate in many northern regions such as Galicia might leave you thinking you never left Ireland with its windy and wet weather. Having said this, Spain boasts some of the sunniest cities in Europe with places such as Málaga, Alicante and Valencia enjoying up to 350 hours of sunshine per month with an average temperature between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius.

For Andy, originally from Limerick, Spain’s climate is one of the main reasons he has called España home for over ten years.

“To live somewhere where people come for holidays, to have so many sunny days, so much dry weather, so much outdoor life, where even when walking to work in the morning it’s dry most mornings, and very rarely windy.

“It’s a small thing, but it affects every aspect of life just to see people outside, seeing old people sitting in the street, seeing people eating outside. Living here and just to be outside a lot of the time, I just think it’s better for my mental health personally.”

Andy works as an English teacher and has lived in Spain for 10 years
 

While it may not seem this way at first, Spanish and Irish people share a similar outlook to life.

A love of family and socialising, both countries place time spent with people high on their list of priorities and for Neil, this was one of the reasons why he has decided to stay in Spain.

“I think people here have a fairly laidback attitude to life, which in some circumstances can be annoying, but in general it’s a positive. I think Spanish people are quite like Irish people, they are friendly and open and enjoy socialising. It can be hard to see that maybe if you don’t have the language, but once you do, I think it’s quite easy to settle in.”

Sophie pointed to Spanish people’s pride in their country as one of the main reasons she loves living here.

“I like the way Spanish people are very passionate about Spain and they’re very proud of their country. They know a lot about their country in general and Spain is just such a richly diverse place with so many different aspects to the culture depending on where you go, language, customs, traditions, food, everything really.”

READ ALSO: Where do Spain’s Irish residents live?

What are the challenges Irish people might face living in Spain?

Moving abroad will always present challenges whether that be homesickness, culture clashes, language barriers or simply a feeling of isolation and loneliness.

“You’re always going to feel like somewhat of an outsider or someone who is a little bit different, which also can be a good thing sometimes,” Sophie told The Local Spain.

“It’s kind of nice in a way, sometimes to feel special, but then it’s also a drawback because there’s always a slight barrier to really feeling fully integrated, feeling part of the place you’re in.”

For Andy, language was the hurdle he needed to overcome in order to feel more at home in Spain.

“The language is one thing. I haven’t mastered the language, I get by, but that’s a big barrier to a lot of things. I really miss the kind of crack back home and the little interactions you have, kind of with people every day, just out and about. I really miss that. I love going home and having those interactions.”

Learning Spanish shouldn’t be a deterrent to anyone from Ireland considering a move to Spain. Starting it will be challenging and time consuming but once you get a grip of the basics and can start to have some basics conversations, you’ll feel yourself immersing more and more.

There are plenty of ways to practice and learn Spanish from language academies to social nights in bars for language learners. Making that initial effort at the start will pay dividends years down the line.

READ ALSO: Swapping Dublin for Madrid – The right escape from Ireland’s cost-of-living crisis?

Can Irish people expect a better quality of life in Spain?

Ireland, like most countries in Europe, has seen a sharp increase in the cost of living with many people having to cut back on their spending to save money. Spain has not been immune from the same financial pressure with inflation peaking at 10 percent this year.

For our interviewees, while the cost of living may be going up in a country already famous for its lower than average salaries, the minimum average being €1,166 gross per month, they still feel Spain offers much more in terms of the quality added to their life by living here.

“In terms of money, I make less here and there’s a big difference in wages compared to Ireland, so that’s definitely a downside,” Andy admitted.

READ ALSO: Dutch, Irish and Norwegians buying twice as many homes in Spain

“But sure look, you can’t save in Ireland, you kind of have to spend money to do things whereas here, even if you only have enough to get by, you go to the park or sit at a terrace, have a have a beer and relax.”

The same sentiment was echoed by Dermot, originally from Mayo, who noted how “definitely my quality of life here is better even if I’m not earning as much as I could be in Ireland.

“I never ate out much in Ireland, here it’s cheap and good quality and something you can do at least once a week if not more. On top of that the public amenities are great. There are so many pools, football pitches, gyms, ping pong tables etc. It’s much easier and cheaper to have fun here.”

Dermot works as a research physicist and has lived in Madrid for almost 10 years
 

Advice for Irish people moving to Spain

If this article has convinced you to swap Ireland for Spain, then you’re probably wondering what’s the best way to prepare for your move here. According to these four Irish in Spain, the answer is simple – start learning Spanish.

Neil put it plainly: “Start learning the language. You can definitely get by somewhere like Madrid without Spanish, just living in an English-language bubble – but you definitely won’t fully experience what it is to live here without learning Spanish”.

Neil has been living in Spain for over 10 years and works in the education industry.
 

Sophie also felt learning some Spanish was the best advice she could offer to anyone from Ireland thinking about moving to Spain.

“My advice to someone moving to Spain would be to learn Spanish, you can get by just hanging out with English speaking people, but I really think you would be missing out on what Spain has to offer and some great experiences”.

For Andy, his advice is to take a chance on the lesser-known parts of Spain that many Irish people might not consider when choosing a place to move here.

“Something I will say is if you’re thinking about Spain as somewhere to live, don’t ignore the north of Spain. Spend a couple of weeks here if you can before making the decision to move and try and explore as much of the country as possible. A lot of people kind of forget about the north of Spain, and when they think of coming here, they think of moving to Madrid or Barcelona or one of the cities down south.

Bilbao, Santander, San Sebastián, Galicia, there are so many great cities in the north. Galicia is quite similar to Ireland, and the people in different parts of Spain do have a different character as well, a noticeably different character. There is such an amazing variety of culture here, fascinating history, great food, wonderful weather and friendly people. It’s not just beaches and cheap beer!”

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READER QUESTIONS

Do I have to do Spain’s annual tax declaration if I arrived recently?

There’s less than a month left to file Spain’s annual tax return, so where do new arrivals stand regarding this? Are they already tax residents? What if they didn’t work in Spain last year and only arrived in 2024?

Do I have to do Spain's annual tax declaration if I arrived recently?

The Spanish tax system can seem a little complicated at times. This is especially true if you’ve just arrived in the country and don’t speak the language.

A common question among newcomers to Spain is whether or not you’ll need to do an annual tax declaration if you recently arrived in the country.

The Local has covered the tax declaration, known simply as la renta in Spanish, in considerable detail before. You can find our collection of tax articles here

But do you have to do Spain’s annual tax declaration if you arrived recently?

The Local Spain spoke to lawyer Maryem Essadik, CEO of Spain-based Marfour International Law Firm, to find out more. 

Do people who have recently arrived in Spain have to file an income tax return?

“It depends on your status as a tax resident or non-resident in Spain, which will be determined based on the requirements provided for in Article 9 of Law 35/2006, of November 28, on Personal Income Tax (LIRPF). 

“If considered a tax resident, that person will be required to submit a Personal Income Tax return, provided that they obtain the minimum amounts to be required to submit it.”

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Spanish tax residence begins after 183 days in the country. Are there any circumstances in which a person who has recently arrived in Spain (less than 183 days) has to do it?

“If a person stays less than 183 days in Spain during the fiscal year, they will generally be considered a non-tax resident in Spain, and it must be taken into account that “sporadic absences” abroad could be part of said calculation, in accordance with Article 9 of the LIRPF. 

“Additionally, a person may be considered a tax resident in Spain (even if they do not remain in Spanish territory for more than 183 days during the fiscal year) if their base of activities or centre of economic interests is located in Spain, or when your family are considered tax residents in Spain, unless the opposite is duly proven.

“The person who is considered a non-tax resident will only pay tax in Spain on the Spanish-source income obtained during the corresponding fiscal year. 

“Your obligation to file an income tax return will depend on the type of income obtained and whether the payer has applied and paid the corresponding withholding/payment on account, to the extent that they are required to do so.”

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Keeping in mind that the 2024 Declaración de la Renta applies to the previous year, would they have to pay taxes in Spain for their 2023 income if for example they arrived in March 2024?

On the basis that in 2023 that person did not reside in Spain, in principle they would be considered a tax non-resident in said country. 

Therefore, as mentioned, they should only be taxed in Spain in 2023 if they obtain any income from a Spanish source.

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