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What are the pros and cons of life in Spain’s Basque Country?

Esme Fox
Esme Fox - [email protected]
What are the pros and cons of life in Spain’s Basque Country?
Pros and Cons of living in the Basque Country. Photo: Eric Prouzet / Unsplash

The northern central region of the Basque Country may be very different from the Spain you imagine, but there are plenty of reasons to love it and great reasons to move there.



The food

The Basque Country is known throughout the world for its excellent cuisine, and its regional dishes have earned the Basques more Michelin Stars than any other region in Spain. Forget tapas and paella, if you live in the Basque Country it will be pintxos, cod pil pil and many other glorious seafood inventions. The foodie hub of the Basque Country is the coastal city of San Sebastián, but both Bilbao and Vitoria-Gasteiz are also known for their tasty offerings and award-winning bars and restaurants.

READ ALSO: A gourmet guide to ordering pintxos in Spain's Basque Country

It has a spectacular natural side

The Basque Country is one of Spain’s greenest regions, home to more than 10 natural parks. Its landscapes range from dramatic coastal cliffs to soaring mountains, dense forests and biosphere reserves. This makes the region an excellent place for adventure sports and outdoor enthusiasts with a myriad of activities including surfing, hiking, kayaking and rock climbing.


Exciting cities with lots of culture

The Basque Country may be filled with nature, but it’s home to several thrilling cities that rival some of the biggest in Spain for cultural attractions and events. The two best are Bilbao and San Sebastián. Bilbao is an artsy city, famed for being the home of the Guggenheim, as well as several other architectural highlights by world-renowned designers and art museums. San Sebastián on the other hand has several excellent museums, as well as vibrant festivals from Semana Grande in August to the Tamborrada, a 24-hour drum parade in January.

San Sebastián is one of the most exciting cities in Spain. Photo: ultrash ricco / Unsplash


It offers competitive tax rates

Data from the Taxpayers’ Union (UC) and the Taxation Competitiveness Index (IACF) reveals that the Basque Country has some of the most attractive tax rates in Spain when it comes to income, wealth tax, inheritance, and property transfer tax. It also offers great incentives for businesses and attracts global companies.



The salaries are some of the highest in Spain

It’s well known that you’ll probably be taking a pay cut if you move to Spain from other northern or western European countries, as well as from the US or Australia. If you find a job in the Basque Country, however, you can still enjoy high salaries compared to the rest of the country. The latest stats show that those in the Basque Country earn the most in Spain with an average salary of just over €31,000 per year. It’s also one of the richest regions in Spain. 

READ ALSO: Why are the Basque Country and Catalonia so rich compared to the rest of Spain?


Easily located for frequent visits to France

If you’re a fan of France too, then living in the Basque Country enables you to travel easily between the two countries. The region has a great public transport system, one of which is the Euskotren, like a metro, but connecting most of the major towns and cities in the region, as well as small coastal villages and across to Hendaia or Hendaye in southern France. 


It has low levels of unemployment

If you’re hoping to find a job in Spain, then the Basque Country is one of the best places to do it, particularly because of the low levels of unemployment in the region. The Basque province of Gipuzkoa topped the list of Spanish provinces with the lowest unemployment rate as of the second quarter of 2023, with an unemployment rate of 6.51 percent. The region has also attracted many big foreign companies, meaning that there are many more vacancies than in some other regions, such as Extremadura for example.

The Basque Country is a great nature destination. Photo: Rens Greveling / Unsplash


It has one of the best education systems in Spain

If you have school-aged children, making the move to Spain can be worrying as you’ll wonder how they’ll cope and whether the level of education will be the same as what they received back home. The latest stats from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which carries out tests every 3 years on 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science, show that the results from the Basque Country were above average compared to the rest of the country.  




It’s expensive compared to other regions

Yes, the Basques may earn the most money in Spain, but the region is also generally considered to be one of the most expensive to live in too. San Sebastián is among the top 10 municipalities where the rent is the highest in the country. According to stats from Insurance broker Kelisto, the cost of living in San Sebastián is 33.44 percent higher than the national average, making it the most expensive city to live in Spain.

When it comes to buying a property it’s also the most expensive with an average cost of €511,830 for a 90m2 home. Both Bilbao and Vitoria-Gasteiz are still among the most expensive cities to buy a home in Spain but are still cheaper than San Sebastián. When it comes to rent, San Sebastián is the third most expensive in the country behind Barcelona and Madrid, while Bilbao comes in fourth place. 

According to the cost of living website Numbeo, consumer prices, restaurant prices and grocery costs are all higher in San Sebastián than in the capital of the country Madrid. When compared with Barcelona, however, it’s slightly cheaper in all categories apart from groceries. The cost of living in Bilbao is also higher than in Madrid, with the exception of rent. Of course, if you choose to live in the smaller towns or countryside, it will be cheaper, but not as cheap as some of the least expensive regions in Spain such as Andalusia or Extremadura.



The weather can be unpredictable

The weather in the Basque Country is not the typical weather of sunny hot days and mild winters that you might be imagining. The weather can often be rainy and the winters cold. According to data from the national weather agency Aemet, San Sebastián is the rainiest city in Spain with an of average 141.1 wet days per year. Bilbao comes in at number seven on the list with 124 rainy days per year and Vitoria-Gasteiz with 99.3 days. Summer temperatures are not always hot enough for the beach either, with the average between 23C and 27C.

It can often be rainy and overcast in Bilbao. Photo: Rodrigo Curi / Unsplash


You have to learn another language

This can actually be a pro or a con, depending on how good you are at learning languages. If you move to the Basque Country, as well as learning Spanish, it’s a good idea to learn some Basque too. Many signs and street names are Basque, plus it will earn you some brownie points with the locals. The downside is that Basque is known to be one of the most difficult languages in the world. This is because Basque isn’t related to any other known language, meaning nothing will be familiar, and knowing another Latin or Germanic language won’t help at all. 


Political tension

The Basque Country has had a very turbulent history and tensions between separatists and the rest of the country have been high for decades. Thankfully, the separatist Basque terrorist group ETA formally disbanded in 2018, but there are still many in the region who want to be independent from Spain and it's still a contentious issue that's best avoided in conversation. You'll notice that some towns in the Basque Country hold onto to strong separatist beliefs, hanging flags that call for ETA prisoners to be returned to the region. 

Locals are not known for being warm and friendly

The Basques are not known to be as open or as friendly as people from the south of Spain, such as Andalusia for example. Locals often tend to stick to their friend groups that they’ve known for years or who they’ve grown up with. You may find it easier to make friends with other foreigners or Spaniards from other regions who have moved to the Basque Country. Having said that, if you do manage to break into a local Basque circle, you’ll find that they make very loyal friends.


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