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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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UNDERSTANDING SPAIN

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

If you live in Spain or spend time here, you've probably noticed that the tap water tastes pretty bad in some parts of the country. Why is that? And where in Spain is the best (and worst) tap water?

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

A common query of foreign tourists abroad is ‘can I drink the tap water here?’.

Often these kinds of instincts come from memories of over-protective parents on summer holidays, but fortunately for us it isn’t really a relevant one in Spain.

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health.

In Spain there are over 1,200 dams and 100,000 kilometres of distribution network that supplies tap water across the country.

And it is heavily regulated and tested, experts say. According to the director general of the Spanish Association of Water Supply and Sanitation (AEAS) Fernando Morcillo, “it [water] is the food product that passes the most controls.”

Spanish tap water is, simply put, perfectly safe to drink and heavily tested.

READ ALSO: Drought forces water use rethink in Spain

The taste

Reassuring though it is that Spanish tap water is entirely drinkable and regularly tested, it doesn’t change the fact that there can be great variation in the taste depending where exactly in the country you are. 

So, why does the tap water taste a little strange in some parts of Spain when it should be odourless and tasteless? 

Speaking in general terms, water is collected locally in dams and swamps, and then filtered, chlorinated, and transported to wherever it is going before coming out of our taps.

The local geography of this process – that is, not only where you live but where your water is collected and where it passes through on its way – can have a big impact on how it tastes at the other end.

Water treatment also contributes to making it a ‘heavy’ tap water with hints of chlorine, and when it comes to desalinated seawater, leftover magnesium and sodium are common.

If you ask many Spaniards, they’ll tell you that the tap water is ‘bad’ or worse on the coast.

Tap water in places like Valencia, Alicante and Málaga usually has a chemical odour and taste and many locals prefer bottled water.

Why is that? After the filtering process, water on the way to the coast can pick up more sediment and chemicals. The taste of tap water has a lot to do with the terrain it is collected in and the type of earth and rock it passes through on the way to your house.

Let’s take the tap water in Catalonia, for example, which comes from one of two main sources: the river Ter and the river Llobregat.

The Ter has low levels of contamination, but the Llobregat does not. Therefore, if you drink water somewhere on the banks of Llobregat, it will have more of a noticeable chemical flavour than water from the Lobregat. 

Many people who live in Madrid swear they have the best tap water in Spain. Although not quite the best in the country, Madrileños are right that it’s better than most and it comes down to where the water passes through.

Unlike in Catalonia, Madrid’s Sierra de Guadarrama has an advantage over other areas because the stone is mostly made up of granite, which better facilitates the filtration of minerals.

tap water safe spain

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health. Photo: Kaboompics/Pixabay.

Where the predominant rock in the earth is more calcareous, it will generally taste worse, since limestone is soluble and produces a very ‘hard water’ that doesn’t taste as good. That’s why the tap water in areas such as Alicante, Valencia and Murcia has a worse flavour, plus the fact that they are all coastal areas.

Talking in very general terms, if you were to draw an imaginary line that ran from Andorra diagonally across Spain all the way down to Cádiz, the ‘soft’ or better tasting tap waters will be the north of the line and the ‘harder’ waters the south and east of the line.

There are some exceptions, of course, depending on local geography and filtration processes. 

The best and worst

Spain’s consumer watchdog, the Organisation of Consumers and Users (OCU), took samples of the tap water in 62 municipalities across Spain and had them analysed for their degree of mineralization and ‘hardness’, their hygienic quality, and level of possible contaminants. They then produced a report ranking the results

So, where in Spain has the best quality tap water and which has the worst?

The best

Despite what many Madrileños will tell you, Spain’s best tap water isn’t in Madrid. According to the OCU’s testing, the highest quality tap water in Spain was found in:

  • Burgos – Tap water in the northern Castile and León municipality had very few minerals, no lime no contaminants of any kind.
  • San Sebastián – Another northern area, San Sebastian in Basque Country has water with very light mineralization and is excellent in all hygiene and pollution parameters.
  • Las Palmas – Surprisingly, despite being on an island, Las Palmas de Canarias snuck into the top three.

Generally speaking, and as outlined above, the broader Levant coastal area, as well as the Spanish islands, are generally the areas where locals say the tap water isn’t quite as good.

The worst

And what about the worst?

  • Lebanza – In Lebanza, Palencia, the OCU found the presence of E. Coli, an indicator of fecal and recent contamination, and was generally found to have a very poor water quality.
  • Ciudad Real: Tap water in the Castilla-La-Mancha city had traces of trihalomethanes, a substance that comes from the combination of chlorine with the organic matter of water during water purification. 
  • Palma de Mallorca: Hardly surprising as it’s an island, but the water in Palma de Mallorca proved to very hard and very mineralized, which gives a bad taste. The most worrying thing, though, was that the OCU’s testing found that it contained 26 mg/litre of nitrates. Inside the stomach, nitrates are transformed into nitrites, which can cause serious health problems for children.
  • Barcelona, Huelva and Logroño: all cities on or close to the coast, the OCU found a high presence of aerobic microorganisms in the water in all three.
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