Retire in Spain

Retire in Spain

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Photo By Raúl A.- via

When you’ve been to Spain, and picked the perfect location and decided to go, there are a couple of things you need to know before packing your bags.  (How exciting!  You get to retire in Spain!)

1.  Be prepared to learn some Spanish.   If you do this, you can make many more friends with the locals. You will find many similar words in English, so learning is easy and fun.  Take class or get the Rosetta Stone package.   You are in their country and you will enjoy your stay better if you embrace the culture and language.   Try not be the ugly American who is unwilling to learn new cultures and languages.   We suggest you make a few friends with people who speak fluent Spanish to help you until you can speak for yourself.   

2.  Things are slower in Spain and you need to roll with it.   Make do.  Be patient and put a smile on your face when everyone is going at the slower pace, and also when the shops are closed.   You will find many shops or services are not available during the heat of the day.    Mid to late summer’s heat has everyone on edge and many have just simply gone on siesta.  Embrace this part of the culture.

3.  You will need a NIE card from a police station with a foreigner’s department  (Oficina de Extranjeros).  It doesn’t matter if you are part of the European Union or not.   This is an official document that has a non-native identity number.  It is used for everything from opening a bank account, to purchasing property or renting, getting utilities.   To get the card, you must have:  your passport and two photocopies in hand.  If you have been able to get any contracts, deeds – bring those documents with you.   Two photos the size of a passport photo.   You will need to have completed the application – but do not sign it until you are standing at the desk.  (The application is on-line but is in Spanish – another reason to take that class!)    Be prepared to pay the fees.   As a retired person, you will need proof that you can support yourself so take notarized copies of bank statements, social security documents, and pension income information.    No matter what you do, you will not have all the documents you need.  Be patient.    After some inquiry, we were told you could go to a Spanish Embassy, at home, and they will help you with the forms.  It takes about a month to get the NIE number, so relax.   You may have to live in a hotel or guest house until the number arrives.

4.   If you are going to bring your pet to the EU, you need a pet passport.   This information is also available on-line.

5.  We do not recommend having your car shipped to the EU.   This is expensive and you may find that you don’t need one anyway.   They will add a VAT (value added tax) to the vehicle when it is registered – within 6 months of arrival.    You can get car insurance in your host country as long as the company is licensed by the host national authority.  Make sure the insurance is good if you decide to travel to another country in the EU.

6.   You can move household goods to Spain, but there are restrictions on firearms, and some genetically altered foods.   Our advice:  pack everything you absolutely cannot part with as if you were going to ship it to Spain and make an inventory of each box’s contents, numbering each box.  Put it in storage and give a good friend or relative the key.    After you move, stay awhile and see what you need or miss and have your friend/relative ship you that box only.   After a year, have the friend or relative take the boxes out of storage and let them keep, sell or give away anything you didn’t have shipped.   You can always buy another bed – but you may want a photo album or a keepsake.  If you do decide to have items shipped, it can take up to a month before they arrive.  You can also decide to leave it all in storage because you plan to return. 

7.  You will need a passport that still has several years on it, birth and marriage certificates, visa, social security cards, vaccination and copies of medical and dental records.   You will need insurance policies, academic records or diplomas, employment records, and a living will/medical power of attorney.   You will definitely need proof of health insurance and make sure what your local carrier will cover for at least six months until you get a EU policy.   You will need 3 month supply of your prescription drugs and documentation that you need those drugs.  (Take these in your carry-on luggage)

8.  Have your home bank accounts transferred to an international bank that can easily do transfers to a foreign bank.   There several schools of thought about moving all your money to the country you have selected or leaving most of it at home and having it transferred.   We recommend leaving it at home until you have confidence in the new banking system, the political climate, and you have definitely decided to stay.    It’s interesting to note that the US Social Security department sends over 600,000 checks every month to foreign countries!  There are a lot of retired people living overseas!

9.  Make sure you do your homework about Spain’s tax law’s, how to get a driver’s license, establishing residency, etc. before you leave home.

Prior preparation!


Cheryl and her husband have just recently retired and live in the Pacific Northwest. She has been enjoying her herself by traveling around the world, playing with her grandchildren, and she frequently volunteers in her community. There is certainly never a dull moment with Cheryl. She cheerfully co-founded RetireBook and wants to share her energy, hoping that it inspires her readers to live life at its fullest.