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QUALITY OF LIFE

RANKED: The regions in Spain with the best and worst quality of life

Which places in Spain are the best for work and healthcare matters? Where are people most unsatisfied with education and public services? We’ve crunched the official data to unveil the regions in Spain with the best and worst quality of life according to their inhabitants. 

RANKED: The regions in Spain with the best and worst quality of life
A satellite view of the Iberian peninsula seen from space. Which one of Spain's 17 autonomous communities offers the best quality of life. Photo: NASA

Let’s face it – quality of life is subjective. For some, it’s how often the sun shines and whether they can buy a coffee for under €1, for others it’s how well public services work or how long they have to wait to see a doctor. 

International evaluators of quality of life such as the OECD’s Better Life Index, the World Happiness Report and the Social Progress Index usually rank Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, Australia and other wealthy nations among the best. 

Spain tends to rank between 20th and 30th position in such studies, although in the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey Spain is consistently among the five best countries to move to for foreigners, scoring especially high for “quality of life”, “physical & mental wellbeing”, “cultural, open and welcoming communities”, “political stability” and “ease of settling in”.

But what do Spaniards think? And which regions are the best and worst to live in in their eyes?

Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE) uses 60 indicators to assess how Spain’s 17 autonomous communities stack up against each other. 

That’s certainly a lot, but before we find out which places offer the best “calidad de vida” (quality of life) in Spain, let’s quickly have a look at the rates that have been assessed in order to get a clearer picture of what is being judged.

  • Disposable income available
  • Population at risk of poverty 
  • Inequality 
  • Household income satisfaction
  • Difficulty making ends meet 
  • Material deficiency 
  • Certain deficiencies 
  • Lack of space at home 
  • High spending on housing 
  • Satisfaction with housing
  • Impossibility of dealing with unforeseen expenses 
  • Payment delays
  • Employment rate
  • Unemployment rate
  • Long-term unemployment
  • Involuntary part-time employment 
  • Low salaries 
  • Long work hours (40 to 48 hours)
  • Temporary work rate
  • Job satisfaction
  • Life expectancy at birth 
  • Good or very good self-perceived state of health 
  • Chronic morbidity 
  • People with severe or limited limitations in daily activity 
  • Unmet health care needs 
  • Body mass index 
  • Daily smokers 
  • Regular physical exercise 
  • Sedentary lifestyle 
  • Level of work training among total population (youth and adults)
  • Early school dropout rate
  • Continuous training rate
  • Satisfaction with available time
  • Cinema attendance rate
  • Cultural interest attendance rate(monuments, museums)
  • Theater, concerts attendance rate
  • Live sports attendance rate
  • Low frequency of meetings with friends, family or colleagues
  • Average satisfaction with personal relationships 
  • Availability of family, friends or neighbours to whom to ask for help 
  • Availability of someone to talk to about personal matters
  • Trust in others 
  • Homicide rate 2020
  • Crime rate 2020 
  • Crime or vandalism 2020 
  • Safety walking alone at night 
  • Average trust in the political system
  • Average trust in the judicial system 
  • Average trust in the police 
  • Participation in political activities 
  • Pollution and other environmental problems 
  • Noise pollution
  • Air quality 
  • Satisfaction with green areas and recreational areas 
  • Satisfaction with the environment 
  • Overall satisfaction with life 
  • Rate of happiness over the last four weeks
  • Satisfaction with meaning and purpose of life 

So obviously INE’s data covers a huge range of factors which constitute to a greater or lesser extent what makes a fulfilling and happy life (we’ll summarise it a more digestable manner below). 

But first, which Spanish regions scored highest and lowest overall in these quality of life categories? Here’s the full ranking from best to worst:

  1. Navarre
  2. Aragón
  3. La Rioja
  4. Basque Country
  5. Balearic Islands
  6. Cantabria
  7. Madrid
  8. Castilla y León
  9. Asturias
  10. Catalonia
  11. Galicia
  12. Valencia region
  13. Extremadura
  14. Castilla-La Mancha
  15. Murcia
  16. Canarias
  17. Andalusia
Redín Square in Pamplona, the capital of Navarre, the region in Spain which ranks highest for quality of life according to INE stats. Photo: Sergio Garrido/Unsplash
Redín Square in Pamplona, the capital of Navarre, the region in Spain which ranks highest for quality of life according to INE stats. Photo: Sergio Garrido/Unsplash

It seems that overall northern regions offer a better quality of life than southern autonomous communities, according to their inhabitants.

In terms of material belongings (in other words, owning anything from a car to your own home and having the income or savings to afford them), the Basque Country comes first in Spain followed by Aragón, Navarre and La Rioja. On the other side of the spectrum are Murcia, Andalusia and the Canary Islands. 

As for work matters (everything from wages to employment and training options) Aragón, the Basque Country and the Balearics are the top three regions whereas the Canary Islands, Extremadura and Andalusia are last. 

READ ALSO: Where are workers’ salaries highest and lowest in Spain?

Regarding health matters, and we’re starting to see a trend here, Navarre, the Basque Country and Aragón are top and Murcia, the Canary Islands and Andalusia are last.

Vis-a-vis education, the Basque Country, Navarre and Madrid lead the rankings and Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha and Andalusia trail way behind. 

In terms of leisure and free time, the offering and the time availability is best once again in Navarre, the Balearics and La Rioja and worst in, you guessed it, the Canaries, Murcia and Andalusia. 

In terms of crime, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia are the safest and Murcia, Catalonia and Madrid have the most crime problems. 

For environmental issues, the inhabitants of Navarre, Castilla y León and Cantabria are satisfied with the state of their nature and green spaces but people in Andalusia, the Canary Islands and Murcia not so much. 

And as for the overall life satisfaction levels, the people of the Balearic Islands, Aragón and Extremadura are the most content whereas in Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León and Galicia, suggesting once again that happiness and perception of quality of life can be subjective.

Afterall in a country like Spain – where despite the problems that plague official matters it’s perfectly possible to be happy – life is really what you make of it. 

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MOVING TO SPAIN

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. 

Barcelona

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

Madrid

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.  

Valencia

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

Airbnb

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.

Vrbo

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.

Housesitting

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. 

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