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Why life in Spain is better than in the US, according to Americans

Jennifer Lutz
Jennifer Lutz
Why life in Spain is better than in the US, according to Americans
American writer Jennifer Lutz moved from Pittsburgh to Barcelona five years ago and has never looked back. Neither have thousands of her compatriots. Photo: Jennifer Lutz

Diet, healthcare, work, stress, quality of life, community - Barcelona-based American journalist Jennifer Lutz speaks to other US nationals about how their lives have greatly improved since moving to Spain.

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More Americans are moving to Spain than ever before. I can’t blame them. I moved to Barcelona five years ago; life is better here, and it’s not just the sunny weather and tapas bars.

Curious as ever, I asked other Americans why they gave up life in the States for the Spanish system. Some answers were expected, some surprised me, others reminded me just how lucky I am.

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Safety

Safety overwhelmingly was the most common reason Americans moved to Spain. “The U.S. just doesn’t feel like a place that is safe from gun violence,” says Kendra from Cincinnati.

Spain certainly has its own political divide, particularly after the recent leftist-coalition government pardoned leaders of the Catalan independence movement. Like many European countries, Spain is witnessing a rise in extremism, with far-right party, Vox, gaining momentum, but gun laws and a multi-party system has held violence and extremism at bay.

READ MORE: Crime in Spain is different to the US, particularly if you're a woman 

It’s a topic I’ve written about before, but I was honestly overwhelmed by the response I got from other Americans.

“People don't carry guns or wear rifles on their backs when ordering at the coffee shops or while shopping,” says Kevin Cavanaugh who relocated to Alcalá la Real.

“You don’t have to worry about mass shootings,” says Janet, who moved to Valencia from Texas.

Feeling safe leads to other factors, like a sense of community and less stress, two other factors that were high on the list.

Community

Spain is a diverse country; each town and city has its own personality, but a sense of community runs throughout them. “I moved here alone, and found it easy to meet people,” says Bethany who moved to Barcelona from Austin. “Even just sitting on a terrace, or reading in the park, you can make friends because people are very social.

Much of this feeling comes from city design itself. If you walk around Barcelona, you’ll notice pedestrian areas with seats, tables, and playgrounds. You may even cross a few chairs bolted into the sidewalk on a street corner.

In Madrid, the restaurant culture might surprise you — large public squares with terraces where you can sit for hours. In addition to being deeply rooted in Spanish culture, community is being built into Smart City transformations.

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A greener life

Cities in Spain aren’t just cultivating community, they’re supporting green growth. Whereas in the United States, is fracking increasing and sustainability is an individual responsibility, Spain’s green policies translate into every-day life, making it easier and more economical for people to go green. Brian, who moved from Los Angeles to Jávea cited electric cars as one example, “Spain requires EV chargers in parking lots. In some public parking garages, they’re even free. In the U.S. there’s a huge fight against EVs.”

Part of Spain’s green plan translates to public spaces; in Barcelona, 20 miles of streets are being converted to pedestrian spaces. The move is about both planetary health and human health, with a big emphasis on mental wellbeing.

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Better food and a healthier life

We’ve all read plenty about Spain’s amazing food culture, but the Americans I spoke with commented on the food quality above all else. “The food is better because many additives used in the U.S. are banned here,” said Lisa who moved from Philadelphia to Madrid.

It’s true, you won’t find many common additives found in U.S. foods, because they’re banned in Spain, such as potassium bromate, which is found in many American breads.

“Ingredients are simpler and cleaner in Spain. Bread will actually get mouldy unlike the Dave’s Killer Bread or any Pepperidge Farms bread,” says Jennifer, who moved from Boston to Galicia.

Personally, my health is much improved in Spain. Since moving to here, I don’t need to be afraid of eating out, or struggling with the exhaustion of chronic conditions. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also much more affordable here.

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Healthcare

In addition to just loving my life, healthcare keeps me in Spain and I’m trying to convince my 61-year-old mother to move here; she won’t quit her job because she’ll lose her health insurance.

“Healthcare is included with certain residencies but full coverage private healthcare with zero deductible and zero co-pay is super affordable – under $100 premium even close to 60 years old,” says Melissa who moved from Chicago to Málaga.

Benjamin, who moved with his family from Brooklyn to Valencia says healthcare was their primary reason for moving.

As a freelancer, I went years without healthcare in the States; I’ll spare you the horror stories of getting stitches from friends. After living here five years, some things have just become non-negotiable for me; access to affordable health care is one of those things.

READ MORE: How does Spain's healthcare system compare with the US?

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A safety net

You won’t make the same salary working in Spain, but you also won’t be afraid of losing your pay check, healthcare, or house if you leave your job. Oh, and sick days aren’t a thing here.

“I don’t understand when Americans talk about sick days. If I’m sick, I get a note from the doctor and stay home. Why would I go to work and get my colleagues sick as well?” says Damiá, a native Spaniard who recently returned to Barcelona after living in San Francisco.

Carlos, who moved from Missouri to Madrid, explained, “I'm 34 and have been living in Spain for 8 years now. Whenever I go home, all my friends are so stressed regardless of income. There are just so many things beyond your control that can wipe out your life's savings. I have never felt that fear living here.”

Some perks of working in Spain include, laws protecting employees against unfair dismissals, minimum wage is €7.82 per hour (higher than in the States), a minimum 30 paid vacation days, 16 weeks of parental leave, and a maximum of 365 sick days.

If a big salary is important, you’ll probably want to work remotely, but if job security and benefits are higher on your list, look into local employment. The social system is Spain isn’t perfect, but you won’t worry about a cold costing you your job.

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Buying, renting, and the end of credit scores

One of my most freeing moments in Spain is when I cancelled my credit cards. The idea of building credit isn’t really a thing in Spain, and you won’t need to show your credit score before renting an apartment. The system here just doesn’t indebt you the way it does in the United States.

Melissa, who moved from Seattle to Alicante, explained, “In Spain, I showed a work contract, and paid a few months in advance. I didn’t have to write a letter saying I would be a good renter, and when you buy a house here, it’s a sale, not a novel you have to write with a compelling argument saying why you deserve to buy a house.”

Spain's Central de Información de Riesgo, or Risk Management Center (CIR) does track credit history, but it doesn’t keep a score like the American system does. Basically, if you don’t have negative marks against you, like defaulting on a loan, you won’t have much history to show.

READ MORE: How much does having a good credit score matter in Spain?

When renting or buying property, you’ll need to show proof of funds, which can be a bank account of work contract. Spain's rental market is stressed in big cities and popular spots, but Americans won't find the search or prices any harder to deal with than back home. 

READ ALSO: Six big differences between buying a property in Spain and in the United States

Quality of life

Aside from safety, the most common reason Americans gave for moving to Spain was a better quality of life. Honestly, everything seems better, and the overall culture is just much friendlier,” says Janet, who moved from Texas to Valencia.

“Spain is safer, kinder, more accessible, and the food and weather is great,” says Linda, who moved from Colorado to Alicante.

Quality of life is one of those intangible states — the feeling of wellbeing that results from all the above factors.

Americans are moving to Spain to feel safe; they’re moving for more time, better health, and a different sort of freedom.

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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 Jennifer-Lutz.com or @Jennifer_E_Lutz on Twitter. 

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Comments (1)

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Camila 2024/03/11 00:23
It is not that easy to "just move" to Spain. You must obtain residence visa, go through complete driver's training for a Spanish liscence, speak minimal Spanish, register with many government institutions etc. To get a residence visa, you must either invest minimum 500 000 euros, or wait several years. Unless you go to a place flooded with other expats, (and then, why even move,?) You will need a very high level of Spanish, as in Galicia, Asturias etc.

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