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What makes Spain a great place to retire to?

Spain has long been a favourite destination of those dreaming of retiring in the sun. But what really makes Spain the "third best country in Europe" to head to at the end of your working life? The Local takes a look.

What makes Spain a great place to retire to?
Photo: monkeybusiness/Depositphotos

A new study has ranked Spain as the third best country in Europe to retire to after Finland and Slovenia in 2020.

The study, calculated by using weighted metrics of cost of living, crime rates, life expectancy, property prices and population age, put Spain in the number one spot in 2019, followed by Finland and then Italy. 

“The historic country hosts a wealth of great towns, cities and coastal locations which draw millions of retirees to its borders each year,” explains the report.

“The great weather, food and friendly locals make Spain the perfect destination for anyone looking to relax in their ‘golden years’.”


Let's get the obvious advantages out of the way first. Spain has a great climate and for older bones that can be a huge advantage.

While rainy Galicia might not be the best place to choose for those who suffer rheumatoid arthritis, the southern coast boasts the most sun-filled days in Europe. 

Residents along Spain's southern coast enjoy around an average of 2,905 sun-filled hours each year, nearly one hundred hours more than the next sunniest zone, the Canary Islands with 2,822 sunny hours.

Sun seekers should base themselves on the Costa del Sol which boasts the most sun-filled hours in the whole of Spain, an average of 3,000

Nearby Almeria clocks up 2,994 sunny hours and Granada records an average of 2, 917 according this report from Spain's weather agency.

Cost of living

In a recent expat survey conducted by Internations, Spain scored very highly for its low cost of living.

Over eight in ten expats (81 percent) are pleased with the cost of living in Spain in general, 34 percentage points above the global average (47 percent).

Living on a pension isn't always easy but with great value Menu del Dia's on offer and reasonable wine for €2 a glass in most bars, it's easy to live well without busting the budget. 

Of course, prices are going up in Spain, and people living off a pension from the UK have been hard hit by the falling value of sterling. 

High life expectancy 

Photo: AFP

Spain has the highest life expectancy at birth among European Union nations and is expected to overtake Japan by 2040 to become the country with highest lifespan in the world.

With a projected average lifespan of nearly 85.8 years, Spain — formerly in 4th place — will dethrone Japan, which sits atop the rankings today with a lifespan of 83.7 years, and will drop to 2nd place in 2040.

Clearly a part of that might be put down to genes but you don’t have to have been born here and lived your whole life in Spain to reap the benefits.

READ MORE: Spain set to have longest life expectancy in the world

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is routinely held responsible for Spain's high ranking on the health and life expectancy lists. 

Researchers say eating habits may provide clues to health levels enjoyed by Spain and other countries in southern Europe as a “Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, had a lower rate of major cardiovascular events than those assigned to a reduced-fat diet,” according to a study led by the University of Navarra Medical School.

Public healthcare

A huge part of Spain's appearance at the top of the rankings is thanks to the free public healthcare enjoyed by 99.8 percent of the Spanish population, two points above the OECD average, according to El Pais newspaper.

And even though austerity measures during Spain's economic crisis saw the health budget cut, its healthcare professionals and access to services remain among the best in the world,  with Spain ranked eighth in the world for its standard of healthcare, out of 195 countries. 

“Primary care is essentially provided by public providers, specialized family doctors and staff nurses, who provide preventive services to children, women and elderly patients, and acute and chronic care,” according to the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies 2018 review of Spain.

Photo: pressmaster/Depositphotos

World's best organ donation record 

Part of the outstanding healthcare record is the fact that Spain has been the world leader in organ donation for the last 25 years and consistently breaks its own record for the number of transplants carried out. 

A total of 4,818 organ transplants were carried out in Spain during 2016, beating the record of 4,769 from the year before, according to data published by  the National Transplant Organization (ONT). 

It means that Spain saw 43.4 individual donors per million people (pmp) in 2016, an increase from 39.7 pmp in 2015 and 36 pmp in 2014, “much higher” than the EU average (19.6) and the US average (26.6) according to stats published by Spain's Health Ministry.

Spain has maintained its gold standard in organ donation despite deep austerity cuts which saw public spending on health slashed during the economic crisis years.

READ ALSO: Spain is the undisputed world leader in organ transplants

Laid back lifestyle

Photo: AFP

Spain is consistently among the top ranked nations in Europe for expats, with people expressing a positive experience with the climate, the lifestyle and cost of living. 

More expats in Spain than any other country said their mental wellbeing improved on moving there, feeling happier, healthier and more comfortable. “Those seeking an improvement to their quality of life should look to Spain,” thelatest HSBC global expat reported stated.

Where Spain does fall down in career opportunites. 

But if you looking for a place to retire, what's the downside? 


OPINION: Why Valencia is the best place to live in Spain 

Moving to Spain will make you happier and healthier (but there's a downside)

OPINION: Lucky? It takes a lot of effort to pursue the 'expat' dream in Spain. 

Spain is safe

Spain is one of the safest countries in Europe most especially when it comes to violent crime. 

Eurostat figures reveal that Spain falls into the bottom 10 lowest countries for crime out of 41 countries analysed.

The country has a particularly low murder rate, coming 34 out of 41, and 31 out of 41 for robberies.  Spain’s rape figures were slightly higher, putting the country at 27, while it was 21 for sexual assault.

Murder rates were significantly lower than neighbouring countries; at 0.48 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 1.31 in France, 0.67 in Italy, and 0.91 in Germany. 

That's not to say crime isn't a problem. Unfortunately Spain ranks high in the number of reported pickpocket thefts especially among holidaymakers in busy tourists spots in cities such as Barcelona and Madrid. 

The elderly are cherished

You might be forgiven for thinking that in some Western countries, when grandparents reach a certain age they simply disappear; banished to an old people's home and visited – at most – on a weekly basis by their families.

Not so in Spain. Wander round any Spanish town or city and you see multi-generational groups socialising together, enjoying an aperitivo or a Sunday stroll around the local park. Grandparents are the cornerstone of family life in Spain and are – on the most part – cherished, and never viewed as a burden. 

In fact, an estimated 20 percent of grandparents in Spain live in a “multi-generational” home with their children and grandchildren, which forges strong bonds between the oldest and youngest members of the family.

And not only do they financially help out their children but they also provide essential childcare. Forget nannies, its grandparents who are the main caregivers to children in Spain after their parents. More than half (59 percent) admit to looking after their grandchildren while their children are at work.





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Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.