Retiring to live in Spain

Becoming a resident in Spain when you’re a pensioner

Life in Spain Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Retirement in Spain

For many people, it’s their dream. After years of the daily grind, to make the most of their retirement by coming out to live in Spain. What better place to enjoy the extra time you have than in a beautiful climate with fresh, healthy food and where there are so many sites to see and things to do.

However, it is very important that you plan your move to Spain  carefully and know a little of what to expect. Spain has changed over the past ten years when many people were first coming out to live here. You must now be able to demonstrate that you have sufficient funds to provide for yourself and expectations around documentation have increased.


If you want to live in Spain you must apply for an NIE number, if you don’t already have one, and a residencia. Once you have these then you should register on your town’s padron. This will entitle you to join your local library and apply for a bus pass.

If you are a pensioner with a state pension awarded in Europe then the process of coming to live in Spain is relatively straightforward in comparison to that of younger compatriots. You will be entitled to access national health care just as you would in your own country. Some people still prefer to take out private health insurance, but you will not be covered for any existing health problems you have.

In order to obtain a SIP (Spanish health card) you need the document S1 (formerly E121) which you can obtain from the pension service in your own country. You take this along with your residency certificate, passport and padron to the Social Security centre and they will issue you with a Certificate of Registration that you can then take to the Health Centre.

There are some differences for pensioners to other individuals. For example you will still have an EHIC card to cover you when you travel to other countries in Europe rather than the TSE which is the Spanish equivalent. The EHIC continues to be issued by the NHS in the UK.

Living in another European country is no impediment to you drawing your pension and currently, with the very favourable euro to sterling ratio, it’s a very good option with you getting plenty for your money.

If you are a pensioner then you must make a resident tax declaration in Spain every year before the 30th June. This applies to almost everyone and certainly if you receive one or more pensions from abroad that total more than €11,200. You may not have any tax to pay, or very little, but it is important that you make this declaration.

If you have assets outside of Spain that total over €50,000 within any one group (savings, property or other assets) then you must complete the asset declaration form. This is for information purposes only but there are heavy fines if you do not do it or if you do not disclose correctly.

It is advisable for you to make a Spanish will if you live in Spain. EU legislation to be introduced in August 2015 means that your own national succession law will not apply unless you stipulate in your will that you would like it to. This is particularly important if you want to leave your property in its entirety to your spouse as this does not happen in Spanish succession law. Spanish succession law automatically bequeaths a portion of your estate to any children.

Consider renting

The rent v buy debate continues. With difficulties selling properties in Spain in recent times, much advice has tended towards the rent-it-first and see option if you want to live in Spain. The idea is that you have chance to try out the location and decide whether the expat life really is for you. If it isn’t, at least you tried it and you can return to your home country and your property there, or you can take the plunge and sell up and stay in Spain.

There is a different view. Some people argue that you are best to make your decision and stick by it. They suggest that making a commitment and being resolved means that you are more likely to work through those odd times when you might doubt your decision. Times that you can soon shake off to be relieved that you didn’t react and return home after all.

Some advice

For the majority, retirement in Spain does prove to be everything they had hoped it would be. However, enjoying your new life takes some management and awareness of what the issues can be. When couples retire and come to live in Spain they can find the change in their circumstances as well as country takes a fair amount of adjustment.

Perhaps in their home country they were both working and saw each other in the evenings and at weekends. Contrast this with suddenly being thrown together for 24 hours a day, perhaps in a property much smaller than the one you’ve been used to. Retired couples often feel it’s like getting to know each other again.

What seems to work well, is finding things to do. In most areas of Spain where pensioners settle, there are a number of groups and associations that they can join. Anything from line dancing to amateur dramatics, charity work and sports clubs. There are hundreds of opportunities for you to meet other people and make sure you have plenty to talk about at the end of the day.

You can also benefit from Imserso, the subsidised holiday scheme. This enables resident pensioners, of any nationality, to register and select a discount holiday in Spain, the Balearics or Canary Islands. This has proved to be a much-appreciated way of travelling to different parts of Spain and mixing with the Spanish community.   

Another issue that needs your consideration is that of missing the family. In the early days many people find that relatives are more than happy to make the short journey to enjoy the lovely Spanish weather and check out how you are getting on. This can dwindle a little as the years go on and as their lives change too.

Some people find that missing children and grandchildren is a big obstacle and you do need to consider how you will manage this. It is worth mentioning that there is no guarantee that even if you stay in your home country your children will stay close by you. However, the pull of the family is a strong one and you shouldn’t under estimate it’s power on those ‘off’ days that you’re bound to have.

Many retired people living in Spain have found that new technology has helped overcome some of the pangs linked to missing their extended family. Skype, instant messaging and FaceTime have made life a lot easier when it comes to staying in touch.

Even though you miss them on a day-to-day basis, you can find that when they do come to visit you get to spend quality time together. Spain is such a child-friendly country and children are welcome almost anywhere. You can really enjoy your time with them instead of snatching minutes together in between the hubbub of their everyday lives.

All this said, retiring to live in Spain is the beginning of an adventure. Those people who have taken the step generally do not regret it. The majority have found it to be a rejuvenating experience that has brought many new friends, new opportunities and some challenges too.

Do you have any questions?

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