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11 burning questions for Americans wanting to move to Spain

11 burning questions for Americans wanting to move to Spain
Cepee Tabibian used the lockdown in Spain to write a passion project book to help other Americans make the move to Europe. Photo: C. Tabibian
While confined to a shoebox-sized apartment in the Madrid district of Lavapiés, Cepee Tabibian used the forced isolation of the strictest lockdown in Europe to get started on a pre-pandemic plan of writing a book to help fellow Americans make the move to Europe.

Here she shares the story behind the book and tackles those burning questions Americans have when considering a move to Spain.

The idea for my book came from a blog post I shared in February which highlighted the best places for U.S. citizens to relocate to in Europe. In that post, I focused on Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Germany, as they are some of the most popular countries for Americans to relocate to, largely due to the ease of obtaining a visa and permit for long-term living. 

I was shocked by the amount of attention the piece received and that’s when I had my a-ha moment! It dawned on me that most Americans assume moving to Europe is out of their reach, reserved either for the wealthy or for the lucky few who are transferred there by their companies. They are unaware of the many viable options they have to make their European dream a reality.

Recognizing this knowledge gap, I checked to see if anyone else had written a book or guide on how an American could get a visa to move to Europe and much to my surprise, a book like this didn’t yet exist. That was my cue to write the book myself!

With almost two decades of experience moving back and forth between the U.S. and Europe, who better to write this guide than me?


Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash

From April to August I researched all 44 European nations to identify which ones offered visa options that were a possibility for the average American. I was then able to narrow down that list to 16 countries, with over 50 visa possibilities, and compile information on 34 key cities for expats within those countries to start anew. 

I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe was launched on September 14th. This book is for anyone who wants to move to Europe—whether to relocate for a year or two or to permanently resettle—and doesn’t know which visa options are available. While the book was specifically written with U.S. citizens in mind, much of the information can be applied to other nationalities as well. Such as a Brit looking for options in a post-Brexit world for example. 

While the book covers 16 European countries, I live in Spain so I want to share some answers to the most common questions I get regarding moving here. 

Why do so many people move to Spain?

Call me biased, but Spain is the absolute best! A southern European country with a distinct culture, friendly people, warm weather, and a relatively low cost of living make it a big draw for foreigners. In addition, teaching programs like the Ministry of Education’s North American Language and Culture Assistant program, aka the auxiliares program, as well as the non-lucrative visa make Spain one of the easier countries to relocate to long-term. 

How hard is it to get a job in Spain?

It’s not easy. If you are not an EU citizen, potential employers have to prove they can’t find a skilled EU worker to fill the position first. Hiring a non-EU citizen can be a timely and costly process for employers, so unless you are a highly skilled-worker obtaining a work visa will be a challenge, but it’s not impossible—I got one in 2016. Keep in mind though that unemployment in Spain is high, around 15.3 percent. If it’s difficult for locals to find employment, it will most likely be even more difficult for you. 

Do I need to speak Spanish?


Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Wisegie/Flickr

While it may come as a surprise, English is not widely spoken in Spain. With the exception of younger Spaniards—who are often pretty shy about speaking English to a native speaker—you need to learn Spanish in order to navigate living here. Especially as you get settled, do not expect people working at banks, government agencies, telephone companies or landlords to speak English.

The good news is that Spanish is a relatively easy language to learn. Spaniards are usually patient with language learners, and since they have the gift of gab they’ll easily fill in the gaps in a conversation.

How much money do I need to move to Spain?

This really comes down to your lifestyle and income. The average salary in Spain is €23,000 which can be a fraction of what many foreigners make in their home country. Depending on where you want to live and more crucially, how you want to live, you’ll need to do further research on the cost of living for your chosen area to determine if you have enough money to live comfortably. In I’m Outta Here! I profile the top 5 cities to relocate to and offer insight into their average costs of living. 

Is healthcare expensive? 

If you are coming from the United States, then no! Spain has one of the very best healthcare systems, according to the World Health Organization – it ranks in the top 10 in the world. Depending on which visa you have, you may or may not qualify for access to the public healthcare system. However if you don’t have access to it, that’s not an issue as private health insurance is very affordable, starting as low as €45 a month.

Madrid or Barcelona?


The emblems of Spain’s two largest cities: Madrid’s bear and the Gaudi Lizard of Barcelona. Photo: Cristian Santinon/yosoyjulito/Flickr

This depends exclusively on your preferences. I have always been #teamMadrid because the city has maintained its authenticity and it has a vibrant energy like no other. However, many people prefer to be near the coast to enjoy the international vibes of Barcelona. There is so much more to Spain than just Madrid and Barcelona though, so be sure to venture out and explore some of the smaller cities to see if they are more your speed. 

As an U.S. citizen, how can I legally move to Spain?

You have more options than you think! I highlight 6 options in my book but I already mentioned the two most popular pathways, via the auxiliary program or non-lucrative visa. 

Can I work on a non-lucrative visa?

This is one of the most common questions I get. The answer is yes…and no. I cover this in more detail in the book, but the short answer is, technically you are not permitted to participate in lucrative activities while residing in Spain on a non-lucrative visa. In practice, however, many people do. 

Do I have to pay taxes in both the U.S. and Spain?

As a U.S. citizen your income is subject to U.S. income tax, no matter where you live. Additionally, if you live in Spain for more than 183 days out of the year you are considered a tax resident. If this is your situation you will be required to file taxes in both countries. Be sure to find a tax lawyer or accountant who is well-versed in the particularities of the US – Spain tax treaty so you can avoid double taxation. 

How will the pandemic and closed borders affect visa applications and approvals? 

Visas have continued to be processed and approved throughout the pandemic, even while borders have been closed to tourists. If you are applying for a visa that allows you to work or reside in Spain you should not face any additional challenges in getting approved, however the application process may take longer than usual. 

Other than Spain, what countries can Americans move to?

There are 15 others! In the book I cover the 16 easiest countries to get your long-term visa. Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany as well as lesser known options such as Bulgaria and Georgia are highlighted and many others in between!

Join Cepee Tabibian at She Hit Refresh and get your copy of I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe.

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Member comments

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  1. Madrid or Barcelona? Both are expensive and crowded. Why not Valencia, Denia or the Basque country instead?

    Disclaimer: I’m an American who moved to the mountains an hour south of Valencia.

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