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AMERICANS

MAP: Where in Spain do all the Americans live?

Some 40,000 US citizens have made Spain their home, according to the latest official stats. Which Spanish regions and cities do they tend to favour?

MAP: Where in Spain do all the Americans live?
Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP
 
According to Spain’s national statistics agency, the INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadística), in 2021 were some 39,812 Americans officially residing in Spain. That’s 21,567 American women, joined by 18,245 American men, spread across Spain’s 19 autonomous regions and cities.
 
While these figures are based on the padrón (town hall registry), and therefore may exclude those US citizens who have moved within Spain and not updated their registration in their new town or city, they do enable us to get a pretty good idea of where in Spain most Americans live.
 
The infographic below shows how many U.S. nationals are registered as residents in each autonomous region or city.
 
 

 
Madrid on top
The INE statistics show that the Community of Madrid is home to more Americans than any other autonomous region. Some 11,717 Americans live there, which is more than a quarter of all United States citizens registered in Spain. 
 
That makes the capital one of the few places in Spain where there are more Americans than Brits, which is saying something when one considers that UK nationals outnumber US nationals in Spain by almost 7 to 1. 
 
In fact, Americans make up a significant percentage of the English-speaking population in the capital. This is fairly impressive when compared to some other places with large populations of English-speaking residents, like Alicante and Almería, where Americans make up less than 2 percent.
 
The INE stats show a significant difference between Americans and other English speakers, especially their cousins from across the pond, who tend to cluster around the coastlines or on the islands
 
 
READ MORE: 
 
Madrid. Image: c1n3ma / Pixabay
 
Why so many Americans in Madrid? We put the question to members of the group American Expats in Spain, and got a number of interesting answers. 
 
Given that Americans, unlike citizens of EU member states, need a visa to stay in Spain longer than three months, a lot of them wind up in Madrid because of the activity that allows them to have a visa. That was the case for Susan Strongbow, who attributes the American presence in Madrid to “jobs – if an American is offered a job it is most likely in Madrid, at least I was.”
 
Similarly, many of the young Americans who are able to come to Spain are students, English teachers, or participants in the government’s Auxiliares de conversación English-language teaching assistant program, points out Andrea Summers. “I would say there are tons living in Madrid as auxiliares. And many, like me, who got a TEFL on a student visa.”  
 
Laura Reilly added that: “As for auxiliares, Madrid is the biggest city in Spain – meaning the highest amount of auxiliares, who are mostly Americans as it’s one of the few ways to get residency in Spain as a non-EU citizen.”
 
Annalisa Fernandez believes that the Spanish capital has everything “Madrid has the order of Germany, the weather of California, the café culture of France and the cost of Mexico,” she said. 
 
“Madrid is so undiscovered from a lifestyle point of view. You get all the culture of any European capital, at a much lower price point, better weather, and extremely safe. There is just no comparison to Manhattan with its dirty streets, recent crime wave, and high prices. In Madrid, you can have it all, and that used to be ‘have it all except a well paying job’, but now with Netflix and smaller tech cos growing here, you really can have it all,” she added. 
 
Christina S. agreed saying: “Madrid to me is ‘España puro‘ – as authentic as it gets. I liked that when I first arrived, it was ‘foreign enough’ that I knew I was in another country, however without a massive bolt of culture shock. I arrived nearly 15 years ago and I was most definitely one of only a handful of Americans who wasn’t working as a teacher. I moved here to live here – permanently,  and indefinitely. I’m still here discovering new things and places”. 
 
“I had zero expectations nor personal prior knowledge of Spain before I moved here. I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area originally. By pure ignorance, I thought Barcelona may be a bit too similar to that vibe. Madrid seemed like a better place to improve my Spanish speaking skills and pretty much the opposite of San Francisco. All these years later, I’m glad I chose Madrid, I just miss being near the coastline,” she added. 
 
Several respondents proposed a more surprising theory, based on the fact that the air base in Torrejón de Ardoz used to be American. Nathan Walter explains that “there were a lot of Americans stationed in this area say, 40 years ago. Those Americans either stayed locally, or returned home with Spanish spouses and Spanish ties. Now their children are coming back, or they themselves are coming back for retirement, and choosing a place they know where they have ties.”
 
There are also practical advantages, like the proximity to Barajas Airport, making trips to and from the U.S. easier, and the fact that Madrid currently is the only autonomous region in Spain where the wealth tax (impuesto sobre el patrimonio) is discounted at 100 percent. “ You don’t pay the wealth tax in Madrid,” reasons Imelda Fagin. “Maybe not important to everyone but it is to me.” 
 
Parque Retiro. Image: Carabo Spain / Pixabay
 
Besides all of the more circumstantial explanations, many of the Americans living in Madrid simply seem to really enjoy living there, like Daniel Catalan. “A huge factor is that it is a laid-back environment that is still stimulating and urban. I absolutely love it,” he says. “One can find whatever they are looking for here, bump into their friends on the street all the time because of the size, and walk home after a night out. It’s inspiring for creative types, and still relatively affordable, although that´s changing.”
 
Madrid’s status as home to the highest number of American nationals does not mean that folks from the U.S. avoid the coast. After Madrid, the next eight regions in terms of the American population are all near the water. Even so, the trend towards residing in cities continues in these regions.
 
 
The Catalan capital, an international city
 
This is the case in Catalonia, the region with the second-highest amount of U.S. nationals. Of the 8,802 Americans that live there, the great majority live in the province of Barcelona.
 
For many, this area’s combination of geographical assets and cities makes it an ideal place to live. Eron Bloomgarden, who lives in Sitges, lists “good weather”, “a major international airport”, “a major cosmopolitan city”, and “easy access to sea and mountains” as advantages that led him and many other foreigners to choose Barcelona province.
 
However, several people said that they had experienced linguistic and cultural difficulties in Catalonia, like Susan Strongbow who commented, “the magic wears off when you live there and you realise you aren’t speaking Spanish, but Catalan. Your children must learn Catalan as the primary language, and Spanish is only a second language.” 
 
Those who were more positive about Barcelona often cited its cosmopolitan or international environment, while those who were less positive focused on their impression that the area was very different from the rest of Spain.
 
 
The coast over the interior
 
After the provinces that are home to Spain’s twin economic capitals, the next most popular amongst Americans were those on the southern and eastern coasts, with Andalusia coming in third (6,658 Americans) and Valencia in fourth (3,964). Here, Americans are often drawn by the same natural advantages that attract their English-speaking cousins from across the pond. 
 
Cordoba, Andalusia. Image: Frank Nürnberger / Pixabay

 
Deborah Johnson, who lives in Granada province in Andalusia, said, “I have been living on the Costa Tropical – La Herradura for the past 14 years – a beautiful part of Spain with its subtropical weather, fantastic beaches and a ski resort only an hour’s drive away. What’s not to like?”
 
Lee Ann said, “I chose Almería because of the beach, sun and better and cheaper cost of living than Madrid”. 
 
For those who want to avoid their fellow Americans, the solution is a simple one: head to Spain’s interior provinces (except Madrid) or its outposts in Africa. According to the INE, the North African coastal cities of Ceuta and Melilla are the autonomous entities that count the fewest Americans (3 and 27, respectively), followed by La Rioja (155) and Extremadura (198) on the mainland. A full list of autonomous regions and cities, in descending order by population, follows:
 
Autonomous region/city – Number of American nationals
 
1) Madrid – 11,717
2) Catalonia – 8,802
3) Andalusia – 6,658
4) Valencia – 3,964
5) Galicia – 1,278
6) Balearic Islands – 1,337
7) Basque Country – 1,123
8) Canary Islands – 1,051
9) Castilla y León – 793
10) Castilla-La Mancha – 561
11) Aragón – 529
12) Asturias – 486
13) Murcia – 455
14) Navarra – 355
15) Cantabria – 320
16) Extremadura – 198
17) La Rioja – 155
18) Melilla – 27
19) Ceuta – 3
 
Data from the latest INE data from 2021
 
 

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PROPERTY

Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Despite being known for its year-long sunny weather, Spain is the EU country with the fewest homes with natural light, often intentionally. Why is it that when it comes to spending time at home, Spaniards seem to love being in the dark?

Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Spain – the land of sunshine. The country gets between 2,500 and 3,000 hours of sun per year on average, almost double the 1,600 hours the UK gets, for example.

You’d probably assume that finding a bright apartment in such a sunny country would be a piece of cake, but unless you’re renting or buying a modern home, it might be trickier than you realise.

More than one in ten Spaniards live in dwellings they feel are “too dark” – the highest percentage among all EU countries, according to figures from Eurostat.

As far as dark homes go, Spain is head and shoulders above the EU average of 5.9 percent, and higher than other nations with a high rate of gloomy homes such as France (9.5 percent), Malta (9.4 percent) and Hungary (7.7 percent).

At the other end of the brightly lit spectrum, it’s no surprise to see that countries with cloudier skies and darker winters such as Norway, Slovakia, Estonia, Czechia and the Netherlands have homes that let in plenty of natural light, and yet Spain’s sun-kissed Mediterranean neighbours Italy and Cyprus do make the most of the readily available light.

Dark homes are almost twice as common in Spain as the EU average. Graph: Eurostat.

So why are Spanish homes so dark?

Is it a case of hiding away from the sun, and keeping cool during the summer months? Or is it something else? 

Apartment blocks

The vast majority of Spaniards live in apartments as opposed to houses, often in tightly-packed cities with narrow streets.

In fact, in Spain 64.6 percent of the population lives in flats or apartments, second in the EU after Latvia (65.9 percent.)

By contrast the EU wide average is 46.1 percent.

By nature of apartment living, Spanish homes tend to get less sunlight.

Depending on whether they have an exterior or interior flat, they might not actually have a single window in the flat that faces the street.

If the apartment is on a lower floor, the chances of it receiving natural light are even lower. Internal patios can help to solve this to some extent, but only during the mid day and early afternoon hours. 

why are spanish homes so dark

A dark, narrow street in the centre of Palma de Mallorca. Photo: seth0s/Pixabay

Hot summers

During Spain’s scorching summer months, there’s no greater relief than stepping into a darkened apartment building lobby and feeling the temperature drop. 

In southern Spain, and in coastal regions, Spanish buildings were traditionally built to protect against the heat and hide away from the long sunny hours. White walled exteriors and dark interiors help to keep homes cool.

It’s often the case that bedrooms are put in the darkest, coolest part of the apartment, sometimes with just a box-window to allow for a breeze but no sunlight.

Spaniards’ obsession with blinds and shutters

Spain is pretty much the only country in Europe whose inhabitants still use blinds (persianas), even during the colder winter months.

In this case, rather than it just being down to keeping homes cool during the sweltering summer months, their usage is intrinsic to Spain’s Moorish past and the fact that they provide a degree of privacy from nosy neighbours. By contrast, northern Europeans with Calvinist roots such as the Dutch keep the curtains open to let in natural light and because historically speaking, keeping the inside of homes visible from the street represents not having anything to hide. But in Spain, the intimacy of one’s home is sacrosanct, especially when the neighbour in the apartment building opposite is less then ten metres away.

Keeping the blinds or shutters down also has the advantage of making it easier to have an afternoon nap (the siesta, of course) or to sleep in late after a long night out on the town. 

In any case, it seems hard to believe for some foreigners that many Spaniards are happy to live in the dark whilst spending time at home, regardless of whether they’re sleeping or not. 

A byproduct of this? Dark, gloomy homes.

why are spanish homes so dark

Spaniards aren’t fans of airing their dirty laundry, at least metaphorically speaking. Blinds have historically provided the privacy they’ve wanted from their homes. Photo: Quino Al/Unsplash

The long, dark corridors

Spanish apartments have plenty of quirks that seem odd to outsiders, from the light switches being outside of the room, the aforementioned shutters, the bottles of butane and last but not least, the never-ending corridors. 

Most Spanish homes built in the 19th and 20th century include these long pasillos running from the entrance to the end of the flat. They were meant to provide a separation between the main living spaces and the service rooms (kitchen, bathroom etc), easy access to all and better airing and light capabilities. But when the doors to the rooms are closed as often happens, these corridors become the opposite of what was intended: dark and airless.

Navigating these windowless corridors at night is akin to waking around blindfolded.

dark corridor spain

Light at the end of the tunnel? Dark corridors are a common feature of Spanish homes. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Are Spaniards rethinking their dark homes?

Times are changing, and modern designs are experimenting with more spacious, light-filled, open-plan apartments, especially as the Covid-19 lockdown forced many Spaniards to reconsider their abodes. 

It’s also increasingly common to see property ads stressing that the property is diáfano, which means that natural light enters the home from all sides.

However, the vast majority of Spanish homes are still gloomy for the most part, often intentionally.

A combination of traditional building styles, the crowded nature of apartment block living, the use of shutters, the desire to keep homes private, and the long windowless corridors mean Spanish flats can seem dark if you’re new to the country, and with good reason.

Ultimately, it is worth remembering that Spanish society is one that largely lives its life outdoors. Living in smaller apartments, Spaniards generally spend less time at home and more time out and about in the street.

Native to a hot and sunny country as they are, Spaniards’ homes are a place of rest, relaxation and, crucially, sleep.

Spanish people have enough sunlight and heat in their lives; they like to live, therefore, in homes designed to keep cool and dark.

READ ALSO: Why are Spanish homes so cold?

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