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US-Spain city comparison: A guide to help Americans decide where to move to

The Local Spain
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US-Spain city comparison: A guide to help Americans decide where to move to
Manhattan and Madrid at sunset. Deciding where to live in Spain isn't an easy decision for Americans, so this city comparison should help out. Photos: Michael Discenza, Florian Wehde/Unsplash

For US nationals planning a move to Spain, picking the Spanish city, town or region that's most suited to them is hard. So where can Americans find the Spanish Seattle, the Castilian New Orleans or the Iberian Hawaii?


The Manhattan feel of Madrid

The financial centre of Spain, Madrid’s wide streets, impressive buildings and bustling crowd offer a homesick New Yorker a semblance of the familiar. Like Manhattan, Madrid has a built-up public transportation network that will bring you to the heart of the city, where you’ll find plenty of high-end fashion and top-notch restaurants. You’ll also find unique Madrid surprises, like free tapas with drinks and boisterous terrace scenes late into the evening.

Bottom line about Madrid: As a major economic hub, Madrid is a great choice for foreigners relocating for work, and with a large international community, you’ll have more time to work on your Spanish.

READ ALSO: How much does it really cost to live in Madrid?

The L.A. and S.F. mix of Barcelona 

Spend a day in the Barceloneta neighbourhood, watching skateboarders collide with bikini-clad couples on rollerblades, and you’ll have a dose of Los Angeles’ city beaches. A stroll towards the mountains for drinks and a meal along one of Eixample’s tree-lined streets, and you’ll be reminded of an evening in one of San Francisco’s ‘vibier’ neighbourhoods. There’s a reason foreigners migrate to Spain’s second largest city; brimming with music, art, and multiculturalism, Barcelona is a certain type of freedom that you’ll have to experience to understand.

Bottom line about Barcelona: While one of Europe’s more affordable hotspots, rent prices and the overall cost of living are rapidly increasing in the Catalan city.


San Francisco and Barcelona seen from the air, two exciting progressive cities. Photos: Chris Leipelt, Logan Armstrong/Unsplash



San Diego sentiments in Valencia 

With its impressive squares, scores of independent shops, and funky cafés, it’s not just the Mediterranean climate and impressive coast that likens Valencia to San Diego. From the local- hipster vibes of Benimaclet to the extravagant architecture of Ciutat Vella, Valencia is brimming with character. Valencia’s beaches don’t get the waves or surf culture of San Diego, but you’ll definitely get that seashore feel.

Bottom line about Valencia: English is pretty common in Valencia but not as common as in larger cities, so you’ll want to have some basic Spanish to start with. It’ll be worth it, Valencia was named the best city for foreign residents in 2022, according to Internations.  

READ ALSO: 11 Valencia life hacks that will make you feel like a local

The beach promenades of San Diego and Valencia. Photos: Sean Mullowney/Unsplash, José Jordan/AFP



The Hamptons mood of northern Ibiza

It may be more well-known for its party scene and techno rhythms, but Ibiza’s northeast is defined by vast stretches of untouched nature. Tree-covered mountains scent the air with pine and small beaches have a personal feel. In the evening, head to one of the many farm-to-table restaurants and ask the chef about Ibiza’s local agro-farming culture.

Bottom line about northern Ibiza: This smaller Balearic island suffers the consequences of its international popularity during the summer months, something that can be hard to escape even in the quieter northern half. Unless you live in the centre of town (which you probably won’t) you’ll want a car in Ibiza; public transportation is needed on the island.

The Hamptons and Northern Ibiza both ooze class. Photos: Luc Vlekken/Unsplash, Mark Sagliocco/AFP



The Seattle sensations of San Sebastián 

Moody in weather, distinguished in character, and adjourned with an impressive food scene, these towns have similar feels, even if distinctly their own. Spend a few days enjoying the food, the mountains, the extraordinary architecture, and pristine beaches.

Bottom line about San Sebastián: While the town sometimes gets a reputation for its stern disposition, the Basque are very warm people. Be open to the northern culture and you’re in for a happy surprise. Keep in mind however that San Sebastián is the most expensive city in northern Spain, with rents and house prices akin with Madrid and Barcelona.

READ ALSO: Ten superb reasons why you need to visit San Sebastián

Seattle and San Sebastián, two affluent cities. Photos: Jesse Collins , Raúl Cacho Oses/Unsplash


Provincetown reminders in Sitges

It’s not just the celebration of gay life that unites these two towns. Small and beautiful cobblestone streets, lined with independent shops create similar atmospheres. A beach town constitution and local celebrations make them cousins from afar. A quick and easy train ride from Barcelona, Sitges’ stunning promenade, friendly bars, and incredible views make it everything you’ll want in a Mediterranean fairytale.

Bottom line about Sitges: Even though it's a town rather than a city, classy Sitges has some of the most expensive property and rent prices in Catalonia.

READ ALSO: Six beautiful villages and small towns which are close to Barcelona

Provincetown and Sitges both offer a non-traditional lifestyle on the seaside. Photos: Mark Martins/AFP , Mercedes Dalinda/Unsplash



Miami vibes in Málaga 

Both cities share that laid-back coastal vibe mixed with the perks of a multicultural city, Málaga’s Mediterranean culture is more relaxed than the beach parties of Miami and the Spanish city is less pricey and less plastic than its American counterpart. For a more glitzy side to Málaga which shares more with Miami, there’s Marbella, where multimillion euro yachts and international DJs are part of the furniture.

Bottom line about Málaga: An increasingly popular spot for digital nomads, rents in Málaga are rapidly increasing; try searching housing pages on social media for better deals and inside info.

READ MORE: How much does it really cost to live in Spain's Málaga?

Miami and Marbella in Málaga province, two distant glitzy cousins. Photos: Claudiu Danaila, Joe deSousa/Unsplash


Hawaiian scenes in the Canary Islands

These volcanic islands share stunning scenery, dense forests and an abundance of activities in nature. Spain’s Canary Islands have different landscapes and individual personalities. While Fuerteventura’s arid lands are otherworldly, Tenerife boasts an unrivalled diversity of climate and ecosystems akin to Hawaii’s Kona (Big Island).

Bottom line about Canaries: The archipelago may be cut off from the rest of Spain, but locals benefit from the mildest year-round climate in the country, and probably Europe. There are also some impressive flight discounts for residents — get ready to start island hopping for next to nothing and expect decent prices to the mainland.

READ ALSO: The pros and cons of moving to Spain's Canary Islands

Far removed and exotic, Hawaii and the Canary Islands have plenty in common. Photos: Chloe Leis, Mihály Köles/Unsplash


Reflections of Maine in Galicia 

Spain doesn’t have to be warm and sunny to be beautiful. On the Atlantic coast, Galicia might remind you of Maine’s seaside towns, with their gusty wind and unique charm. A strong connection to the sea and rich history gives Galicia unique character. The region’s incredible nature and beautiful architecture are complemented by a warm, open culture and delicious gastronomy.

Bottom line about Galicia: All that beautiful greenery comes at a cost: plenty of rain. Work prospects aren’t great either in this corner of Spain, but you can expect to pay considerably less to rent or buy a home than in other coastal regions. 

READ ALSO: The pros and cons of living in Spain's Galicia

Maine and Galicia are both picture-perfect windswept locations. Photos: Mercedes Mehling, Victoriano Izquierdo/Unsplash


A bit of New Orleans in Seville 

It may not have the jazz history of New Orleans, but Seville’s flamenco music and festivals inject it with a liveliness akin to the Crescent City. Incredible food, warm weather, and a friendly atmosphere will make any southerner feel at home. Seville is a good choice for Americans who aren’t interested in Spain’s beach scene and prefer a place that oozes history as well as a vibrant culture and lifestyle.

Bottom line about Seville: Summers are insufferably hot in Seville, as they are across much of Andalusia. If you get a place with air con and embrace the night-time bar terrace habits of locals, Seville can be a truly happy and fun place to live in.  

READ ALSO: How much does it really cost to live in Seville?

New Orleans and Seville both live life to the rhythm of music. Photos: João Francisco, Venus Major/Unsplash
Jennifer Lutz is a writer and journalist. She’s written for the Guardian, The Independent, New York Daily News, BuzzFeed, Thrive Global, and more. You can contact her on or @Jennifer_E_Lutz on Twitter. 


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Wayne Mason 2023/08/22 11:29
Thanks for sharing. Very interesting. What city in the US does Alicante comapre to in your opinion?

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