Plenty of people are moving from Spain to the US—and vice versa.

In fact, the percentage of the US population with Spanish origins increased by 40% from 2010 to 2021. Additionally, immigration from the US to Spain is also on the rise, with many Americans choosing to embrace the culture and lifestyle of the European country.

Even though Spain-US moves are becoming increasingly common, there are still a few possible snags you might encounter during your relocation. To prepare you for a stress-free move, we’ve put together a list of relocation tips and cultural notes. With these at hand, you’ll avoid the common pitfalls we see in relocations between Spain and the US—and set yourself up for a stress-free move.

We’ll start with a quick overview of both countries.

Spain and the US—in Brief


US flag

331.9 million

47.4 million


US flag

3.797 million mi²

195,379 mi²

Major Cities & Popular Destinations for Expats

US flag

New York City, Los Angeles, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Miami Beach, Washington DC, San Francisco, San Diego, and Las Vegas

Madrid, Bilbao, Pamplona, Barcelona, Valencia, Málaga, Mallorca, Seville, San Sebastián, Granada, and Alicante

Expats Populations

US flag

45 million (13.6%)

8.3 million (17.5%)

Now that you’ve got a lay of the land, let’s talk about some must-knows before you move between Spain and the US.

#1: Understand Your Visa Options

If You’re Moving to the United States

Spanish citizens who plan to stay in the US for fewer than 90 days don’t need a visa. For those who plan to stay permanently, the US has a number of immigrant visas, including family-sponsored and employer-sponsored visas. Residents of Spain might also consider applying for one of the 55,000 diversity visas (DV) available each year.

Alternatively, if your stay in the US will be temporary—but longer than 90 days—there are a number of options available for nonimmigrant visas.

Review all the options carefully to select the visa that’s right for your situation.

If You’re Moving to Spain

US residents who plan to 1) work in Spain or 2) be in Spain for more than 90 days in a 180-day period need a visa.

Some of the most popular Spain visas include:

  • The Golden Visa/Investor Visa – Available to those who make a significant capital investment in Spain. This can include purchasing real estate worth a minimum of €500,000, establishing a business project in Spain, or making a significant investment in Spanish companies, venture capital funds, etc. Ultimately, this visa can be a pathway to citizenship for qualified residents.
  • Visa for Highly Qualified Workers or Intra-Company Transfers – These visas offer the holder permission to work in the country, under specific conditions.
  • Non-Lucrative Residence Visa – Also known as the “non-working residence visa” or a “retirement visa,” this visa allows the holder to live in Spain, as long as they can prove they’re financially independent. As the name implies, this visa does not come with the rights to legally work in Spain.
  • Telework / Digital Nomad Visa – This newer type of visa applies to those who do remote work for companies located outside of Spain. Those who qualify for this type of visa may also be able to bring their spouse/partner, dependent children, and older relatives in the visa-holder’s care to Spain.

You can view the complete list of available on the website for the Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

Moving to Spain? There’s More …

Once you get your visa, you’ll still need a bit more documentation to set up your life in Spain:

  • Número de Identidad de Extranjero (NIE) – On approval of your visa, you’ll get this number, also called your “foreigner identity number.” Think of this number like your US social security number, and you’ll need it to pay taxes, open a bank account, etc.
  • Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (TIE) – Also known as a “foreigner identity card,” your TIE provides documentation of your legal residence in Spain. To apply for your TIE, you’ll need to schedule an appointment (in person) and present the appropriate paperwork.

To someone used to living in the US, it can feel like a heavy lift to get this paperwork done. However, these items are essential for establishing yourself in Spain.

#2: Say Hello (or Goodbye) to Siestas

Sign that reads siesta

Spain has long been famous for its charming siesta tradition, an opportunity for workers to take an afternoon rest (descanso). A recent survey suggests that the tradition may be waning, with 60% of Spanish residents foregoing their siesta.

That said, Spanish workers do tend to take a long lunch break around 2:00 pm-ish, and then return to work to finish the day. Whether or not there’s an actual nap involved, this split work day is certainly different than the typical American workplace experience.

Some are advocating for Spanish businesses to align their business hours more closely with the rest of Europe. In the meantime, US residents moving to Spain may need to adjust to a new work day routine.

If you’re moving to the US, get ready for the 24/7, go-go-go American culture. It’s not unheard of for Americans to skip lunch entirely and eat at their desks, something that may feel completely foreign to those used to the workplace culture in Spain.

Whichever way you’re moving, try to stay flexible as you adjust to the habits of your new co-workers.

#3: Securing Duty-Free Entry Involves Some Paperwork in Spain

Remember our notes above about the procedures you’ll need to go through to get your NIE and TIE? They hint at the level of bureaucracy you’ll encounter when setting up your life in Spain—including what it takes to obtain duty-free entry for your household goods.

Let’s take a look at the process.

Obtaining Duty-Free Entry for Household Goods in Spain

In many countries, duty-free entry is reserved for items that have been used by their owners. Spain is no exception. To qualify for duty-free entry, household goods must be used and owned by you for at least six months.

Additionally, you’ll need to gather a significant amount of documentation to qualify for duty-free clearance. Items for non-citizens include—but are not limited to:

  • Your passport
  • Your visa
  • Your Número de Identidad de Extranjero (NIE) Card
  • An official change of residence certificate, which may require you to deregister as a resident of your current location at the nearest consulate. If consulate access isn’t possible, alternative documentation may be possible
  • Your Alta de Padrón, issued in your future city of residence
  • A detailed inventory in Spanish
  • And several other items your moving company will assist you with.

Make sure you work with your relocation company closely to gather the right paperwork for duty-free clearance.

Obtaining Duty-Free Entry for Household Goods in the United States:

Household items—including furniture, carpets, paintings, tableware, books, artwork, and other usual household furnishings and effects—can clear into the US duty-free, as long as they:

  • Were used abroad for not less than one year.
  • Are not intended for any other person or for sale.

While you will need to provide some documentation for clearing your household goods into the US, the documentation requirements aren’t as onerous as those for clearing into Spain.

For more information, see the US Customs & Border Patrol website.

#4: “Dinner Time” Means Something Different in Both Countries

One of the biggest culture shifts for people moving between Spain and the US is the overall timing of their days—especially dinner time.


usual dinner time in Spain

In Spain, dinner often happens somewhere from 9:00–11:00 pm. If you’re moving from the US, you might wonder why Spanish residents eat so much later than you’re used to. Workers in Spain tend to start their work days around 9:00 am. Then, as we mentioned earlier, they’ll often go for a longer lunch break around 2:00 pm, then return to the office and work until around 7:00–8:00 pm. Given that schedule, timing dinner at 9:00–11:00 pm makes sense.

In contrast, the average American work day might start around 8:00-8:30 am and go until 12 noon, at which point workers might take lunch for 30-60 minutes. Then, they’ll resume work until 5:00-ish, with schedules varying a couple hours on either end. (It’s worth noting that many Americans report working more than 40 hours a week, so keep that in mind when calculating your potential work schedule.) The average American then eats dinner at 6:22 pm.


average dinner time in the US

Looking at these two schedules, the difference is clear. A move between the US and Spain will take some adjusting, no matter which way you go. Your best bet is to wholeheartedly embrace the new schedule as soon as possible so you can adjust quickly.

#5: Packing Your Own Boxes Can Create Problems

If you’re on a tight budget for your Spain-US move, you might be looking for ways to save money.

We specialize in safe and affordable moves. However, we don’t recommend that customers pack their own boxes for an international move. Here’s why:

Limited Valuation Coverage

Protecting your household goods during an international move—especially one as significant as a Spain–US move—is always a good idea. That’s where Full Value Replacement coverage comes in. (Some people think of this as “moving insurance.”) However, any boxes that you pack will be marked PBO (packed by owner). Full Value Replacement coverage doesn’t extend to PBO items. If anything happens to these items during their journey, coverage won’t apply.

Higher Potential for Customs Inspections

Additionally, packed by owner boxes can be a red flag for customs. After all, there’s no third-party verification of their contents. Shipments with PBO boxes tend to be subject to more frequent customs inspections. Inspections come with delays and extra charges, which will be your responsibility to pay

Exposure to Potential Damage

The crews who pack international moves are pros at what they do. They know exactly how to wrap and pack items right for their long journey. They’re also experts at using all of the available space to get the density of your boxes just right. Let the pros do what they do best, and leave the packing to them.

Extra Material Costs

When you select packing services, your crew will arrive with all the packing materials they need—boxes, packing paper, tape, and more. When you pack yourself, you’re on the hook for all the materials. Those costs can really start to add up, and you’ll eat into your “savings” significantly.

To sum it up, we’re happy to help you stick to your moving budget, but we wouldn’t recommend doing it by packing your own boxes.

#6: The Language Barrier Is Lower Than You’d Think


Call it the “expat blues,” “homesickness,” or “culture shock.” However you identify it, there will be periods where you feel lonely, isolated, and uncomfortable after an international move. This can be especially true if you don’t speak the language.

However, for those making the move between the US and Spain, here’s a piece of good news: In the US, Spanish is the most common non-English language spoken at home. And in Spain, English is the most-common spoken second language.

Official Languages: US vs. Spain

US flag

There’s no official language on a federal level, but English is the most commonly spoken. Spanish is the most common non-English language spoken at home.

Spanish or Castilian Spanish (castellano) is the official language of Spain. English is the most-spoken second language, with 28% of residents able to speak it.

In other words, even if you don’t speak the primary language in your destination country, it’s pretty likely you’ll find someone you can communicate with.

If you’re lucky enough to speak both English and Spanish fluently, this won’t be much of an issue. But while you’re adjusting to new environs and a new culture, it can be a relief to speak your mother tongue. It might not cure your homesickness, but it might help!

#7: Healthcare Works Very Differently in Both Countries


percentage of Spain’s population covered by the National Health System

57% of Americans under 65 get their health insurance through their jobs. If you’re moving from Spain to the US, this may come as a surprise, since Spain’s National Health System (Sistema Nacional de Salud or SNS) covers 99.1% of Spain’s population.

If you’re a legal resident working in Spain, you’ll be eligible to use the National Health System. So will your spouse, any children under 15, and any students under the age of 26. Some residents of Spain choose to purchase private health insurance to get coverage for additional care, including dental work. You may decide that it’s in your interest to do the same.

If you’re applying for a non-lucrative visa, you’ll need to prove that you’ve purchased private health insurance. Note that whatever coverage you choose must be equal to that of the Spanish public health system. Even still, you’ll generally find the options more affordable than those in the US.

Once you’ve been in Spain for a year, you may be eligible for the convenio especial. By paying a monthly fee, you’ll be able to access the services of the SNS. For those used to US healthcare premiums, the costs will seem low—€60 for those under 65 and €157 for those aged 65 and above. Note that prescription drugs are not included in these plans.

Tip: If you’re moving to the US and your job does not include health insurance, is a good place to explore options and costs for purchasing coverage for you your options for purchasing coverage.

#8: You’ll Find Great Food in Both Countries

Dish of Spanish paella

What better way to explore the culture of your new home than through food? No matter which way you’re moving, you’ll find plenty of culinary specialties to savor.

In Spain, sample the jamón ibérico, paella, patatas bravas, chorizo, gazpacho, tortilla Española, gambas al ajillo, pulpo a la Gallega, and as many other signature dishes as you have room for.

In the United States, you’ll easily find what many people think of as “American food,” which ranges from fast-food burgers and fries to high-end nouveau American delicacies. But you’ll also find an absolute kaleidoscope of dishes that US immigrants brought from their home countries. Enjoy the opportunity to sample tastes from all over the world, some of which have been modified to fit American tastes and some of which are as authentic as if they were prepared in their home country. In the US’s urban areas, you’ll find nearly every region of the globe represented.

(And maybe you’ll even find a decent Spanish restaurant—or at least an excellent serving of paella—to remind you of home!)

Make a Smooth Move Between Spain & the US

International relocations come with a lot of moving parts—paperwork, logistics, to-do lists, cultural adjustments, and more. However, by knowing a bit more about what to expect, you can set the stage for an easier relocation between the US and Spain.

We’d love to assist with your move! Our experts have personal experience with coordinating relocations to and from Spain, and we’d be happy to make your moving experience a simple and stress-free one. Request a complimentary quote to get started.

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