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MOVING TO SPAIN

Moving to Spain’s Canary Islands: The pros and cons

The Atlantic archipelago is a paradise with arguably the best climate in Europe, but there are many practical considerations foreigners should factor in before moving there. The Local Spain’s editor Alex Dunham, who grew up in Tenerife, explains. 

Moving to Spain's Canary Islands: The pros and cons
There’s a big difference in population between the islands. The order, from most populated to least is Tenerife (928,604 residents), Gran Canaria (855,521), Lanzarote (155,080 - pictured in the photo), Fuerteventura (119,732), La Palma (83,458), La Gomera, (21,678), El Hierro (11,147) and La Graciosa (732). Photo: Daniil Sliusar/Unsplash

The Canaries have the best weather in Spain, but it isn’t always perfect 

The islands’ location off the coast of Western Sahara, together with the trade winds (alisios) that constantly breeze through the archipelago, ensure that for the most part it’s never too hot and never too cold. 

From September to July you can expect it to be between 18 and 28 C, remaining warmer than other coastal locations in southern and eastern mainland Spain in winter. 

It’s no wonder that the Canaries are known as the land of eternal spring, but those who enjoy a change of seasons (and wardrobe) may find it ‘too’ perfect.  

It’s also worth noting that the more mountainous islands tend to have microclimates, meaning that you aren’t guaranteed warm weather in places of high altitude. 

And the biggest meteorological drawback of the Canary Islands is that calima – sand from the nearby Sahara desert – is blown over several times a year, turning the sky yellow, making it harder to breathe and covering everything in dust.

READ ALSO: What is calima and is it bad for you?

With sun almost all year round and arguably the best beaches of all the Canaries, Fuerteventura is perfect for sun seekers, but it’s also very exposed to calima. Photo: Michal Mrozek/Unsplash

You get huge discounts on flights and the islands are well connected 

For some Spaniards and foreigners who settle in the Canary Islands, one of their main complaints is that after a while they get the sense of being cut off from the rest of Spain and Europe. 

This Canary cabin fever is somewhat justified, as it takes two and half hours to fly to Madrid, three hours to Barcelona, and more than a day by ferry to southern Spain. Unfortunately, spontaneous road trips to another European country aren’t possible.

If there is a silver lining to draw it would be that most Canary residents get a discount of up to 70 percent on flights, making it possible to travel to and from mainland Spain for cheap prices. 

There are also a surprisingly high number of direct flights from the main islands of Tenerife and Gran Canary to many countries in Europe, a couple of direct flights to Africa and a new route to New York.

Tourists check the arrival and departure boards at the Reina Sofia Tenerife-South airport. Photo: Desirée Martín/AFP

Overpopulation has its knock-on effects

Despite the small size of the eight Canary islands (with a surface area of less than 7,500 km2), they have a population of more than 2.2 million inhabitants.

That means that the region is the most densely populated in Spain, but this is really only the case in Gran Canaria and Tenerife, which are home to more than 90 percent of the archipelago’s population. 

This overpopulation on the two main islands has had other unintended consequences of keeping rent as well as land and property prices higher on average due in part to the lack of space, even though wages and living costs in the Canaries are lower than in many parts of the mainland. 

Another knock-on effect is the sheer number of vehicles on the islands. If the Canary Islands were a country, they would be the sixth in the world in terms of most cars per capita.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is by far the most populous city in the Canary Islands with 378,000 inhabitants. Photo: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen/Unsplash

It’s not all tourism

Many abroad believe the Canary Islands are one big holiday resort where British breakfasts and German socks in sandals reign supreme. 

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), this image has been perpetuated by visitors who haven’t ventured much further than their hotels or closest beach. 

The reality is that tourism in the Canaries remains centred around a handful of holiday hotspots where everything is focused on accommodating foreign visitors, but the majority of cities, towns and villages across the islands are Spanish in appearance and culture and inhabited mainly by canarios.

There are beautiful colonial towns such as La Laguna in Tenerife, Teror in Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de la Palma that have hardly changed over five centuries and offer a real experience of true, historic Spain. 

Centuries-old Canary balconies in Santa Cruz de La Palma. Photo: Flo/Unsplash

Online shopping is a nightmare

The Canaries’ 1,700km distance from mainland Spain, along with the fact that they have their own specific sales tax (IGIC instead of IVA/VAT), means that many businesses in Europe don’t bother to deliver their goods to the archipelago.

Any attempted purchase on Amazon for example is likely to be met with a “no enviamos a Canarias” (we don’t send to the Canary Islands). There are some companies now specialising in making online shopping easier for isleños, but delivery times are longer and fees are higher.

 The Canaries have historically been a key trading stopover point between Africa, the Americas and Europe, and to this day their ports are well supplied and you will be able to find most of what you want in the shops. But if you’re looking to purchase something very specific, you may run into some problems. 

The port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the most important in the archipelago together with Las Palmas de Gran Canaria’s. Photo: cocoparisienne/Pixabay

Work for foreigners is mostly limited to tourism and teaching 

The islands’ economy relies heavily on tourism and Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria are not exactly Madrid and Barcelona in terms of varied work opportunities. 

Foreigners looking to work for a local business may find their greatest chances of landing a job are with something relating to language teaching or tourism as this is where they have the upper hand. 

There’s the same lack of entrepreneurial spirit on the islands as in many parts of Spain, not least because bureaucracy and official matters are complex and slow, so standing out with a bright idea is possible for anyone who’s business savvy and patient. 

What does seem to be booming is the community of digital nomads and remote workers on the islands, with authorities keen to promote the quality of life of the archipelago for anyone wanting to work remotely.

READ ALSO: Spain’s new law for startups, investors and digital nomads

Tourists walk past a souvenir shop in Los Cristianos in Tenerife. (Photo by Desirée Martín/AFP)

Canarios are friendly but insular-minded 

Spaniards from the mainland will be the first to tell you how amiable canarios are and how they love their soft accent in Spanish, closer to how Cubans or Venezuelans sound. 

They may also point out that canarios are aplatanados (lazy or bone idle) as they definitely take life more in their stride than people from northern Spain. 

What’s certainly true is that despite the many nationalities that visit the archipelago, canarios don’t generally mingle with foreigners (nor are all foreigners interested in mingling with canarios either) . 

Their foreign language skills aren’t great and they tend to stick to their own traditions and people, many seeming content to live in their familiar little paradise rather than taking an interest in the outside world. Most of those with big aspirations tend to leave. 

Santa Cruz de Tenerife’s carnival is the biggest in Spain and a great place to mingle with ‘canarios’. Photo: Desirée Martín/AFP

If I had to describe life in the Canaries in one word…

It would be mellow. 

A move to the Canary Islands will not necessarily provide you with career opportunities or the entertainment and hustle and bustle of Spain’s big cities, but it is a benign place with plenty on offer for a happy life.

The Canaries has one of the best climates in the world for a life best enjoyed outdoors, incredible and very varied nature, a lower cost of living overall, more history and culture than most outsiders imagine, easy-going locals, and despite their far-flung location, great links to Europe.

The laurisilva forests of the greener Canary islands are the perfect place to avoid the crowds and popular tourist spots. Photo: Mihaly Koles/Unsplash

Member comments

  1. Yes, businesses on Amazon Spain often won’t send items to the Canaries. I experienced this as I live on Tenerife. The way to get round it is to order from Amazon Germany where they have no problem sending goods here. Quite a few of the things I’ve ordered from Amazon Germany actually are despatched from Spain.

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MOVING TO SPAIN

CHECKLIST: Everything digital nomads moving to Spain need to consider

Spain’s Startups Law is 100 percent going ahead after its very last ratification by the Senate and Parliament. If you’re a remote worker who’s now planning to come to Spain, there’s a lot more apart from the enticing law to consider beforehand, from costs to location.

CHECKLIST: Everything digital nomads moving to Spain need to consider

Spain’s Startups Law has now been completely ratified by the Spanish Senate and on Thursday December 1st was voted in definitively by Spain’s Parliament in one final vote, meaning that there are no more obstacles for the legislation to jump through.

In other words, it is a reality and there is no looking back or toing and froing for a law which has continued to receive support from all sides of the political spectrum in these very final stages.

In these last stages, the Spanish Senate added several amendments relating to better perks for serial entrepreneurs (people who start multiple businesses), incentives for startups in rural communities of Spain and denying the condition of “startup” to companies that have partners that “present risks”.

In a nutshell, Spain’s Startups Law is considered a first in Europe, with lots of incentives and tax benefits for foreign startups, less bureaucratic obstacles overall and favourable conditions for non-EU remote workers and digital nomads, including a residency visa.

The following two articles cover everything that you should know if you’re looking to benefit from the new law as a startup in Spain, but in this article our focus will be on non-EU remote workers and digital nomads and what to consider with a move to Spain.

Here is a list of what digital nomads should consider if they’re thinking of taking advantage of Spain’s new legislation.

Spanish residency and taxes   

The new digital nomad visa is particularly promising for non-EU digital nomads from countries such as the UK, US or Australia for example, as until now getting a residency permit for remote work hasn’t been at all easy, with the best option being to apply for the self-employment visa which requires a business plan, proof of guaranteed earnings and more. It will also be available for remote workers with a contract for an overseas company.

Digital nomads will be able to benefit from Spain’s Non-Residents Tax (IRNR) at a reduced tax rate of 15 percent for the first four years, even though they can spend more than 183 days a year in Spain and are therefore technically fiscal residents.

You can read in more detail about what digital nomads stand to gain in terms of taxes and a residency visa in the article directly below.

READ MORE: Spain’s new digital nomad visa – Everything we know so far

Where to move to in Spain as a digital nomad

This will be one of the most important decisions that you have to make, but again we have you covered.

From the best places for co-working and digital nomad culture to the best place for cost of living and for integrating into Spanish culture, the article below gives you an overview of some of the most popular destinations for nómadas digitales.

FIND OUT: Ten of the best cities for digital nomads to move to in Spain

Then again, you may be interested in enjoying a quieter life in rural Spain. You’ll sometimes see news stories about the offer of free accommodation in quaint Spanish villages that want remote workers, but these quickly get filled.

One of the best ways of finding the right place is by searching yourself, the article below explains how to do it.

FIND OUT: How to find Spanish villages that are helping people to move there

And do you really know what life in rural Spain will be like? Here are some points to consider.

READ MORE: Nine things you should know before moving to rural Spain

Rental costs

Spain is generally seen as having a very affordable cost of living, but it greatly depends on where you move to in the country. 

According to Spain’s leading property search portal Idealista, who released a report earlier this year, the most expensive cities to rent in Spain are San Sebastián and Bilbao at around €901 a month, followed by Barcelona and Madrid with €875 and €848 a month respectively.

The Balearics, the rest of the Basque Country and the area around Marbella also have above-average rental prices.

The cheapest places to rent are in the interior of the country around Teruel, Cuenca, Ciudad Real, Zamora and Palencia, while Almería and Huelva were the cheapest coastal cities averaging €504 and €477 a month.

As inflation rises, rents are increasing, so you may find that they are higher come January 2023.

You’ll also have to consider temporary accommodation for when you first arrive in Spain, the article below should help you with that.

READ MORE: How to find temporary accommodation in Spain when you first arrive 

General costs of living

As with rent, the general cost of living varies greatly, depending on where you want to base yourself within Spain. Barcelona, Madrid and places in the Basque Country generally have the highest cost of living, while places in central Spain and inland Andalusia have some of the lowest prices.

It’s worth keeping in mind that if you choose Barcelona, the cost of living has risen by 31 percent in the last five years. According to the annual report by the Metropolitan Area of ​​Barcelona (AMB), the minimum wage needed to be able to live comfortably in Barcelona is €1,435 gross per month.

You will need similar amounts for Madrid and the major Basque cities but will be able to get away with earning less in some of the smaller towns and cities.

Keep in mind as well that Spain is yet to disclose what the minimum income will be for digital nomads to be able to access the visa.

READ ALSO: 

Costs of co-working spaces

You’ll find co-working spaces all over Spain, mostly in the main cities but, even in small villages that are trying to attract more people because of depopulation. 

According to the latest report on the Status of Coworking in Spain in 2020-2021, Barcelona has the most coworking spaces, followed by Madrid.

Málaga, Seville and Granada, however, have the greatest offer of coworking spaces at the most affordable prices.

Co-working spaces are available to rent in Spain by the hour, day or month and also have the option for private offices for meetings and calls. 

According to the report, in 2021 the average price of a desk in a co-working space was €188 per month.

If you want to find out more about renting in Spain, check out The Local’s page on renting here

Internet speeds

Internet speeds are generally good in Spain, across much of the country, even in small villages. 

According to the Speedtest Global Index, Spain has an average broadband download speed of 154Mbps and an upload speed of 107Mbps.

For mobile speeds, the average download speed was 35Mbps and the upload speed was 10Mbps. Phone internet speeds were slightly faster in the bigger cities such as Barcelona and Madrid.

Healthcare in Spain

Even though the Startups Law will not be tweaked anymore and all that needs to happen is that it comes into force, one of the matters that still hasn’t been mentioned by Spanish authorities is what healthcare options will be available to holders of digital nomad visas. 

Will they need to get a private healthcare scheme as is required for non-lucrative visa applicants which can be expensive especially if you have pre-existing conditions? Will they be able to pay social security fees or the convenio especial pay-in scheme to access public healthcare? 

Whatever the outcome, Spanish healthcare has a good reputation although in recent times there have been protests about the lack of doctors and health workers in the country and consequently longer waiting times. 

Private healthcare options are affordable for people with no pre-existing health conditions.

READ ALSO:

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