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MOVING TO SPAIN

The pros and cons of living in Spain’s Marbella

Known not only as a glitzy holiday destination but also a great place to relocate, more and more foreigners are booking one-way tickets and settling in Marbella. Here are the pros and cons to living in this famous small city on the Costa del Sol.

moving to marbella pros and cons
Marbella more than triples its population during the summer month due to the rise in tourism numbers, but what's it like to live there all year round? Photo: Simon Hermans/Unsplash

Marbella may be famous with footballers and social media stars, but is the glitzy jewel in the crown of the Costa del Sol all it’s cracked up to be?

The high-end coastal resort town is well known across Northern Europe as a summer getaway destination where you can enjoy luxury bars, restaurants and hotels right next to the beach, but what’s it like to live there?

The Local has broken down some pros and cons of moving to Marbella.

PROS

Nature

Despite being famous for its luxury restaurants and resorts and its 27 km of coastline, you might not have known that Marbella is also home to some stunning scenery, and the city is surrounded by rolling hills.

There are also two national parks nearby: Doñana National Park, great for birdwatching, and the famous Sierra Nevada, which offers amazing skiing and breathtaking views just a two-and-a-half hours’ drive away.

There aren’t many places that you could go swimming in the sea in the morning, and ski that very same afternoon – Marbella is one of them.

Price

Price is quite a subjective thing. Obviously, it depends on where you’re from, your income and spending habits. In fact, in a place like Marbella price could be even be considered both a pro and a con, depending on your point of view. 

Although it is true that much of Marbella’s appeal is aimed at foreigners with a higher purchasing power, living in Marbella, (though on the whole slightly more expensive than nearby cities, which we’ll touch on later) is still likely to be cheaper if you’re relocating from another country in northern Europe or other developed nations.

Living in Marbella is 43 percent cheaper than living in London, for example, 39 percent cheaper than Paris, and 23 percent more affordable than Berlin. 

Simply put, Marbella is a place where you can enjoy a glitzy lifestyle for a bit cheaper than back home. If you’re relocating from elsewhere in Spain, or southern Europe more broadly, you might need to read our cons section below.

Climate

But the weather is good everywhere in Spain, you might say? Although it is true that Spanish weather is generally much better than most northern European countries, it’s certainly not blue skies and sun all year around across the whole of Spain.

Even within Spain, Marbella boasts one of the best climates in the country. With an average temperature of 16°C during the winter months, 320 days of sun a year, and the coastal breeze to keep you refreshed, locals say Marbella has the best weather in Spain. They might be right!

marbella old town

Marbella Old Town has a lot of charm. Photo: Lynn Vdbr/Unsplash

The old town

When many picture Marbella, they think of the rows of hotels and luxury restaurants. But not all of Marbella is like the flashy Puerto Banús, where foreigners tend to congregate for short stays. Marbella’s old town is much more Spanish, and replete with white washed houses and flowers, narrow, cobbled side streets lined with orange trees and filled with history.

Accessibility

Marbella is extremely well connected both domestically and internationally, with flights to most major cities across the UK and Europe, and you can drive or travel by public transport to nearby Málaga in around an hour, to Seville (3.5 hours), Cádiz (3.5), and Granada (2.45).

CONS

Overcrowding

Like many coastal resort cities, Marbella gets extremely overcrowded in the summer months. Marbella’s official population is around 148,000 but local authorities estimate that that number jumps to as many as 500,000 during the summer months.

Equally, and this could be a positive or a negative, during the winter months Marbella is much quieter.

Many clubs and restaurants don’t even open during the winter season, and if they do, it’ll just be on the weekends.

marbella pros and cons

Marbella is a different place in summer to what it’s like during winter. (Photo by Jorge Guerrero / AFP)


Authenticity

Though its old town is lovely and quaint, Marbella on the whole perhaps isn’t the most authentic Spanish or Andalusian experience you can find in the region.

Far from it, in fact; in the tourist hotspots during the summer season you could hear as much English, German, Dutch or Swedish as you do Spanish.

Marbella officially has around 148,000 residents, of which 39,000 are foreigners, plus the hundreds of thousands that visit every year that bump up the number of unofficial residents.

Traffic

Despite the swathes of tourists that flock to Marbella every summer, it is worth remembering that it is not a big city and the roads can become completely gridlocked with cars and taxis during the seasonal months.

With Marbella’s summertime population multiplying two or three-fold over the summer, the city’s street system often can’t cope, and good luck finding a parking space!

Marbella’s economy is highly dependant on tourism and hospitality. Photo:Astrid Schmid/Pixabay

Price 

But how can price be both a pro and a con? Well, it can be true that Marbella is both cheaper than most places in Europe, but also that its prices have been pushed up by the influx of rich tourists trying to take advantage of that.

It’s worth remembering prices in Marbella have been driven up compared to most other places in the province and broader Andalusia region.

Málaga province, where Marbella is located, was the second province with the highest rise in property price rises in all of Spain between 2015 and 2020, according to figures published by Spain’s Urban Agenda Ministry in 2022.

According to Spanish property search engine Fotocasa, in the upmarket Puerto Banús area homes are going for €5,305/sqm (the average home price is over €800,000), whereas in Marbella Old Town it’s more reasonable but still fairly pricy at €3,318/sqm (€486,710 for a home on average).

Rents are also on the up in 2022, rising by 19 percent in Marbella and Málaga province over the last year, according to Idealista.

Andalusia, and southern Spain in general, is full of towns and cities that are generally more cost-effective and authentically Spanish.

Seasonal economy

As Marbella fills up during the summer months and empties out in the winter, its economy is very heavily reliant on leisure and tourism.

That means that job opportunities can be harder to come by during the winter months.

Nor can you expect salaries to be much better than anywhere else in Spain, despite the generally higher cost of living. 

Unless you’ve got a pension, or savings, or a regular income from abroad, finding a job may be more difficult during that time of the year because much of the tourism sector cuts back if not shuts down entirely.

The international nature of Marbella does mean that the real estate industry stays strong year round, though.

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MOVING TO SPAIN

Spain is the second favourite country for Americans to move to

A study based on Google searches reveals that Spain is the second most popular destination of choice for US nationals looking to move overseas, and it’s the favourite in two states in particular.

Spain is the second favourite country for Americans to move to

Spain is the second-most visited country in the world just behind France, with a record 83.7 million international tourists visiting España in 2019. It is also among the EU countries with the biggest foreign resident populations, numbering around 6 million

So it’s perhaps not surprising that the country’s many attractions, from the weather and culture to the quality of life, have also proven a big draw for Americans.

According to a study by American insurance company Home Shield based on Google searches, Spain is the second most popular country for US nationals to move to.

The first is Canada, which is most likely due to the fact it’s next to the US and it shares the same language and has a similar culture.

“People in 31 cities, mostly in Texas and California, are currently looking for information on how to move to Spain,” American Home Shield revealed.

People in Tulsa, Tampa, Stockton, Santa Ana, San Jose, San Francisco, San Antonio, Riverside, Plano, Phoenix, Orlando, Oakland, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Laredo, Long Beach, Houston, Glendale, Fresno, Fort Worth, El Paso, Dallas, Corpus Christi, Chula Vista, Bakersfield, Austin, Arlington and Anaheim put in more Google searches for “moving to Spain” than for any other country. 

Texas and California along with Florida are among the US states where you’ll find the most Spanish speakers, so it’s perhaps understandable that people from there would want to look for a country where they can already speak the language.  But Spain was also the most searched relocation country in Georgia, Arkansas, New Hampshire and North Dakota.

Many Americans have already made the move over here and Spain is the European country with the most US residents.

READ ALSO: Six hard facts Americans should be aware of before moving to Spain 

Spain saw a 13 percent increase in the number of US citizens moving to Spain between 2019 and 2021. The latest data available from Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE) shows there are a total of 39,812 US nationals living in Spain.  

The current strong dollar against the euro could also be influencing why Spain is so high on the list, as evidenced by the spike in US tourists who came to Spain this summer. In June alone, more than 377,000 visited Spain, an 86.9 percent rise compared to the same month in 2019, a pre-pandemic year.

It’s not just Americans who want to move to Spain, however. According to a study by comparison site Compare the Market, Spain is the third most popular country in the world for people to move to.

For citizens from 12 different countries, including Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands, Spain is their top choice when it comes to deciding where to move to. 

Where do Americans choose to live in Spain?

Unlike most Europeans who favour the coast when they move to Spain, Americans prefer the inland capital region of Madrid.

According to the latest data from the INE as of 2021 there were a total of 11,717 Americans living in the region of Madrid. This was followed by Catalonia with 8,802 US citizens and then Andalusia with 6,658.

READ ALSO: What Americans moving to Spain wish they’d brought with them

How can Americans move to Spain?

Given the high unemployment levels, employment rules and great difficulties in getting some US professional qualifications recognised in Spain, getting a work visa for Spain isn’t easy, so most Americans opt for a different way.

There are several ways for Americans to be able to move to Spain, but one of the most popular and easiest is the non-lucrative visa (NLV). In order to be eligible, Americans need to prove they have a total of €27,792 ($31,390) for one year, an amount which rises if you include other family members. You also need to show that this money is from passive income, as you’re not allowed to work in Spain while on the NLV either for a Spanish employer or a US one.

Another way is the golden visa, which grants you residency in Spain if you invest €500,000 in property in Spain.

Spain recently announced the approval of its Startups Law which also includes a digital nomad visa which will be available from 2023. Find out more about it here

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