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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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How to find temporary accommodation in Spain when you first arrive

One of the most common questions people moving to Spain ask is where they can rent temporary accommodation while looking for somewhere more permanent. This can be particularly tricky, but we've found some of the best places to look.

How to find temporary accommodation in Spain when you first arrive

So you’ve sorted out your visas, you’ve done all your packing and have either sold or moved out of your home, but when you arrive in Spain you’re not exactly sure where you’re going to stay.  

Of course, it’s not the best idea to sign a contract ahead of time for a more permanent place before you’ve actually seen it in person. Photos don’t always accurately represent what the house or apartment looks like in reality and you won’t really be able to get a feel for the neighbourhood without being there. 

On top of this, rental scams are rife in some places in Spain, particularly in the bigger more popular cities like Barcelona. Often people will place an ad (which usually looks too good to be true) and get you to wire over a deposit to secure it in advance, but here’s the catch – the place doesn’t usually exist.

This is why it’s important to never hand over money to secure a place to live in Spain before you’ve actually seen it in person and you can get the keys as soon as you sign the contract.

But, finding a place to live in a new country can be difficult and it can take time, so while you look for somewhere, you’re going to need temporary accommodation for a couple of months. This can be tricky too because often temporary accommodation is geared towards tourists and you’ll be paying tourist prices too.

While Idealista and Fotocasa are two of the most popular sites to look for accommodation in Spain, when you only want somewhere for a couple of months, there’s no point looking there, as most places will have yearly contracts.

Keep in mind with short-term rentals for a couple of months, you’re going to be paying higher than the average monthly rent, however, for this, the apartments are usually fully furnished, including kitchen utensils, wi-fi already connected and offer you the flexibility of shorter contracts.

Short-term rental agencies

Specialised short-term rental agencies are the best way to go, which will allow you to sign contacts for less than the typical one year. These types of agencies are usually found in Spain’s big cities that are popular with foreigners, such as Madrid and Barcelona.

Trying searching in Spanish too by typing alquiler de temporada or alquiler temporal plus the name of the city or town you’re looking in. This way you may be able to find places that offer better value. 


In Barcelona, check out aTemporal an agency that started up precisely to fix the problem of trying to find accommodation in-between tourist accommodation and long-term rentals. They rent out apartments for anywhere from 32 days to 11 months.

ShBarcelona is another agency that specialises in these types of rentals and have properties all over the city.

READ ALSO – Moving to Barcelona: A guide to the best neighbourhoods to live in


In Madrid, try DFLAT, which was created by two professionals from the Instituto de Empresa University after discovering the difficulties professionals and foreigners found when looking for an apartment in Madrid. Sh also has a good branch in Madrid.  


In Valencia, Dasha Living Space has both short and long-term fully furnished flats available and  Valenvi Flats also offers rentals for between three and six months.

READ ALSO – Moving to Valencia: A guide to the best neighbourhoods to live in


While the nightly rate of Airbnb apartments is typically too expensive to rent for a couple of months, you may be able to find some deals. Often when you input dates for a month into Airbnb, you’ll find that several places have a monthly discount offered. Also, some owners will do a deal for a couple of months. If it’s winter for example and they know they’re not going to get many tourists anyway, they may be willing to negotiate.


Like Airbnb, the properties on Vrbo are rented out directly by the owners. While the site is also mainly focused on tourists, some owners may negotiate outside of the tourist season.


If you’re willing to try something a little bit different, then housesitting could be the way to go. This is where you live in somebody’s house for free, in exchange for looking after their pets and their property.

Often people only need someone for a few days, but sometimes you’ll see house sits available for a month or longer. This is perhaps a better option for those who are flexible on where they might want to live and are trying out a few different places. It’s also better for those wanting to live in smaller towns or villages rather than the bigger cities, as there are fewer postings for these popular locations. Trusted Housesitters and Mind My House are good options.