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How Americans can retire in Spain

Spain is an attractive country for US nationals looking to retire in Europe. But before you consider making the move, here are a few things you should consider, including visa options, healthcare and living costs.

How Americans can retire in Spain
Retired citizens who want to move to Spain can apply for a non-lucrative visa, which can be renewed after a year. Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP

According to Spain’s national statistics agency, the INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadística), there are some 40,712 Americans officially residing in Spain: 21,933 American women and 18,779 American men, spread out across Spain’s 19 autonomous regions.

Madrid is the most popular region, home to a quarter of US citizens (11,634), followed by Catalonia (9,431) and Andalusia (6,652).

READ ALSO: Where in Spain do all the Americans live?

Americans of all ages are seduced by the Spanish culture, the food, the history, the weather and its overall great quality of life, all of which can be fully enjoyed during retirement. 

But before US retirees start dreaming about a move to Spain, they should first consider the practicalities, starting with visa and residency options. 

Given that the main purpose of this article is to help American pensioners to enjoy their retirement in Spain, the two most suitable visas are the non-lucrative visa and the golden visa, as they’re not focused on work or study. 

Non-lucrative visa

Often referred to as a retirement visa, Spain’s non-lucrative residency permit (visado de residencia no lucrativa) allows non-EU citizens to stay in Spain for a period of more than 90 days without working or carrying out professional activities. To get it they must demonstrate that they have sufficient financial means for themselves and, if applicable, their family.

It’s the best option for retirees from the US who want to move to Spain. It’s a temporary residence visa that lasts for one year.

The first and second residence renewals last for two years each. After five years of residency, they can apply for a long-term residency, which lasts for another five years.

After ten years of residence in Spain, US citizens can obtain Spanish citizenship, although they will technically have to renounce their American nationality in the process.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about applying for Spain’s non-lucrative visa

To get the visa, US citizens will have to demonstrate that they have “sufficient financial means”, but the exact amount of money you have to have can vary between Spain’s regions and provinces.

The Spanish government is referring to the IPREM, an indicator that in 2021 stands at €564.90 ($680.90 with the current exchange rate) per month, just under €30 more than in 2020.

The standard financial requirement for non-lucrative visa applicants is 400 percent of the IPREM: €2,259 ($2,722) per month.

So for a US national wanting to apply for the non-lucrative residency permit for Spain for the first time (it lasts one year), the amount they need to prove is €27,115 ($32,683).

However, these figures should be used only as a reference.

It’s important to note that applications for a non-lucrative visa have to be made from the US. 

READ ALSO: How much money do Americans need to become residents in Spain in 2021?

Golden visa

Spain’s golden visa, sometimes referred to as an investor visa, allows non-EU citizens the right to live in Spain if they meet several requirements.

These include buying a property worth over €500,000, investing €1 million in a Spanish company or having €1 million in a Spanish bank account.

Your spouse/partner, any children under 18 and dependent parents can be included in the visa, and it also enables you to have freedom of movement throughout the Schengen area’s 26 countries. However, it’s only valid for one year, after which you can exchange it for a residence permit, valid for another two years and then get permanent residency after five years.

When applying, you will also have to prove you have sufficient financial means or income to cover your and your family’s costs.

The golden visa requires a sizeable investment, even for those earning six figures every year, and you may have to pay a non-resident tax and wealth tax. So before you decide whether this is the best visa or residency option for you, here is an important list of advantages and disadvantages that come with Spain’s visado dorado (golden visa).

Applications for a golden visa can be made from either Spain or the US.

PROS AND CONS: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain’s golden visa

Health care options

Most foreigners in Spain without residency or work permits cannot automatically receive public free healthcare in Spain. 

In fact, both the non-lucrative visa and the golden visa require you to have comprehensive private health insurance taken out to be able to get residency, covering as much as the Spanish public healthcare covers.

While private healthcare is generally affordable in Spain, costing between €50 and €200 a month, it can add up to a much heftier bill for those with pre-existing conditions.

You’ll find a list of the best private healthcare options in Spain here.

READ ALSO: What are the best private health insurance options in Spain for foreigners?

It’s worth noting that there is a scheme called convenio especial, which is the pay-in public insurance (SNS) for those who are not eligible to be covered. The plan provides access to the public healthcare system for a monthly payment and covers all pre-existing medical conditions, but not prescriptions. It costs €60 per month for anyone up to the age of 65 and €157 euros for those 65 and above.

However, you can only apply for a convenio especial if you have been registered at their local town hall in Spain for at least a year.

Cost of living

A lower cost of living is among the many reasons US citizens may choose to retire in Spain. 

According to the Number Cost of Living Index, Spain was given a score of 53.77, which means it is 46.23% cheaper than New York (excluding rent).

Spain is the cheapest Eurozone country for clothing, according to a report from Eurostat. The price of alcohol and tobacco is also much cheaper here than in other EU countries, while the cost of groceries and transport are also much lower compared than the EU average.

However, some bills like internet, electricity and banking services can be more expensive in Spain than in other countries. Prices for internet typically vart between €30 and €50 per month.

READ ALSO: The hidden costs of moving to Spain


Another thing to consider before you move to Spain is declaring any assets you hold abroad. 

If you have money in a foreign bank account, private pensions, property, shares or any other assets back home that are over €50,000 in value you have to declare it to Spanish tax authorities.

It applies equally to Spanish citizens and foreigners legally resident in Spain and is for information purposes only. In other words, you won’t be expected to pay tax on assets held abroad but can be fined if you don’t declare it.

But it’s also worth noting that tax residents in Spain will be taxed on their worldwide income from employment, pension schemes, renting out a property, etc.

There are also taxes such as inheritance tax to keep in mind, which are generally higher in Spain than in other countries and also vary greatly between regions, and the wealth tax (impuesto sobre el patrimonio) for those lucky enough to have considerable assets (upwards of €700,000). 

READ ALSO: The most common tax problems foreigners in Spain run into

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For members


Worker, retiree or investor: What type of Spanish visa do I need?

If you’re from a non-EU country you will need a visa in order to stay in Spain for longer than 90 days, but knowing which type of permit is best for you can be tricky. Here's how to find the right one for you based on your circumstances.

Worker, retiree or investor: What type of Spanish visa do I need?

If you are a citizen of a non-EU country then you may benefit from the 90-day rule, allowing you to visit Spain for 90 days out of every 180 without needing a visa. Countries including the UK, USA, Canada and Australia all benefit from this rule.

Citizens of certain countries require a visa even for a short trip – find the full list here.

However, the tricky part comes when you want to move to Spain and spend longer than just those three months. What are your visa options, whether you want to move to Spain to retire, to work or even to set up your own business? 


The best option for retirees is to apply for the non-lucrative visa (NLV). This allows you to live in Spain for one year, but as the name suggests you are not allowed to work.

In order to apply an applicant must show they have €27,792 at their disposal for one year (€34,740 if it’s a couple), as well as comprehensive health insurance.

If you want to stay in Spain beyond this year, you can either renew it for a further two years (again proving you have the financial means) or change your visa for a work permit or a self-employed permit through the residence modification process.

The NLV is also the best option for those who want to live abroad temporarily. Those who want to stay in Spain for more than three months, but are not planning on living here permanently. It’s ideal for those on a sabbatical for example who have savings or investments and who do not need to work in Spain while here, but want to stay here for a year. It’s also the best option for those who have the financial means to do so.

READ ALSO: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s non-lucrative visa?

retiree in Spain

The NLV is the right visa for most non-EU retirees who want to live in Spain. Photo: pasja1000 / Pixabay


If you plan on moving to Spain for work or in order to look for a job, then you will need a work permit. Unfortunately getting a work permit can be tricky because in most cases as a non-EU national, the position you apply for must be on Spain’s shortage occupation list.

Your employer will also have to prove that there were no other suitable candidates within the EU to be able to fulfill the vacancy. This means that only highly skilled workers or those that work in industries that need workers are likely to be successful. These mostly include jobs in the maritime or fishing industries or sports coaches.

If you are wanting to become self-employed, then the entrepreneur visa could be a good option, allowing you to live in Spain for one year in order to open up a business. Be aware however your business must be considered as anything of innovative character with special economic interest for Spain.

You will have to prove you have the necessary qualifications to set up your business and will also have to submit your business plan to the authorities for it to be approved. The entrepreneur visa can be extended for a further two years after your initial one has been granted.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Spain’s visa for entrepreneurs


If money is no object and you want to invest in a Spanish property then, you’ll want to apply for Spain’s golden visa. To be eligible, you must invest €500,000 before taxes in a property here. It won’t allow you to work, but it will allow you access to the entire Schengen area. This will also allow your spouse and any dependent children to move to Spain with you.

Another option for investors is the entrepreneur visa as described above, if you want to use your investment to set up a business in Spain.

Joining family members:

If you happen to have a family member who is an EU citizen and lives in Spain or a non-EU relative that has residency in Spain, then you have another option. This is called the family reunification visa. However, in order to be eligible, you need to be a spouse or a dependent child and your relative must have the means to financially support you. 



Enrolling on a course and applying for a student visa is one way for non-EU citizens of any age can live in Spain beyond the regular length of a tourist stay. 

You will have to apply for a short-term or long-term student visa, depending on the length of their course. A student advantages can several advantages such as being able to work part-time or bringing over family members. 

READ MORE: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s student visa?