Being an expat in Madrid: a guide to housing, work, and culture in Spain
Being an expat in Madrid can be an amazing experience, but finding a job and adjusting to the unique Spanish lifestyle takes time. Read our tips to help you adapt in record time.
13 min read
Spain is one of the liveliest and most exciting countries in Europe, and Madrid is an ideal place for expats to experience the country's charms. People who choose to live in Madrid are often attracted by the simple, relaxed lifestyle — although living in a large Spanish city still has its share of stress.
The good news: In general, the cost of living in Madrid is more affordable than in other European cities such as London, Paris, or Amsterdam. The earning potential may not be as high in Madrid, but many people find the warm climate and cultural richness more than make up for it. Expats who thrive in Madrid tend to focus less on the potential drawbacks and more on the positives, such as:
- The extensive transportation network — it runs frequently and it’s very convenient for getting around the city
- The wide range of artistic and cultural attractions, with countless concerts, theaters, events, and much more
- The diverse people and environments within the city
Ready to learn more? The following guide covers what you need to know about being an expat in Madrid so that you can adapt to your new life in record time.
The expat community in Madrid
Thanks to its climate, lower cost of living, and the great recreational activities, Madrid is a very popular city among expats. The relatively low cost of living in Spain and the growing number of companies will likely make Madrid even more attractive for expats in the coming years.
So, how many expats actually live in Madrid? According to the Madrid City Council, 520,177 of Madrid's residents are expats or foreign-born.
That all adds up to a robust community of people to meet and interact with, and you should have no trouble finding bars and events that cater to the expat crowd.
Most social media platforms have groups created specifically for expats living in Madrid, which you can easily join to meet people.
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Expat housing in Madrid
Because you may be interested in either renting or buying, let’s look at some key facts about how both housing options work in Madrid.
Basics of renting in Madrid
If you’re planning to rent an apartment or a house in Madrid, you can expect to pay an average of €16.80 per square meter per month, according to estimates from Idealista. That's about €800 for a 50m² apartment. But that’s not all.
Madrid is a popular destination, and the rental market reflects this. Even so, it’s not impossible to find an apartment at a good price — you just have to search a little harder.
Most rental contracts in Spain are valid for 6-12 months, although it’s generally possible to renew them for the same period.
When calculating a budget for rent and moving costs, be sure to factor in a security deposit equivalent to two months' rent, plus a one-time fee of a few hundred euros if you use a real estate agency to find your home.
If you want to be closer to the city center, opt for a smaller apartment. Also keep in mind that a furnished rental usually costs more than an unfurnished one — although if you choose an unfurnished place, you’ll have to budget for the furniture yourself.
Basic aspects of buying a home in Madrid
Madrid may be a popular destination for expats and Spaniards alike, but don’t worry — the real estate market isn’t out of control (at least, not yet). There are good reasons to invest in a house in Madrid.
If you’ve decided to buy a property, the average price of housing in Madrid as of 2023 is €1,990 per square meter, according to Idealista.
As with renting, the price to buy a house can vary dramatically depending on the area. The most expensive houses and apartments tend to be located in affluent neighborhoods, such as Salamanca and Retiro.
You could limit your property search to less expensive areas such as Villaverde, Puente de Vallecas, or other districts further away from the center.
Buying a house in Madrid can make a lot of sense for those who are in love with the local culture and know they want to live here for many years.
But you have to go into the decision with your eyes open. When comparing prices, think beyond just the purchase price of the house. You should also take into account the financing costs and other expenses that you may have to pay when purchasing property, such as hiring a real estate agent to help you find a home, a surveyor to inspect the building, and a lawyer to make sure the paperwork is in order.
The best places to live for expats in Madrid
The most popular and in-demand neighborhoods in Madrid are:
- Centro: This is the most cosmopolitan area of the capital, with a multitude of restaurants and the best leisure and entertainment.
- Carabanchel: Thanks to its wide range of green spaces, this district is a perfect choice if you’re looking for an ideal place to live with your pet.
- Tetuán: This is the trendiest neighborhood in Madrid — the epicenter of contemporary art and cultural offerings, such as photography workshops.
- Puente de Vallecas: Today, this very diverse, working-class neighborhood is known for welcoming newcomers with open arms.
- La Latina: The whole area is characteristically bohemian, so this neighborhood is a great choice for creative and curious people.
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Finding a job in Madrid
Madrid is home to a growing network of companies, so job opportunities are much easier to find than ever before. Booming sectors such as electronics manufacturing and the repair and installation of machinery and equipment make Madrid a particularly attractive place to look for work. In fact, companies like Amazon and Banco Santander are always on the lookout for local talent.
Getting a residence permit for Madrid for non-European expats
One major difficulty for some people wanting to live in Spain: residency status.
If you’re not an EU citizen and you want to move to Madrid for work, you’ll most likely have to find a job and a company to sponsor your residence permit or visa.
Expats have to complete a number of formalities when they arrive in Spain. Before moving to Madrid, it’s best to familiarize yourself with what you need to do.
Getting a residence permit for Madrid for expats from the EU
If you come from an EU member country, you’ll have no problem settling in Madrid, although you’ll still have to complete some formalities.
Expat salary expectations in Madrid
If you’re imagining getting a job in Spain with a large salary, you may need to rethink your expectations. Compared to other major European economies, such as France and Germany, the average base salary in Spain is not very high.
According to the Spanish Statistical Office, the average base salary in Madrid is €29,512 per year, which is equivalent to an average hourly rate of €13.97. This is higher than the average base salary across the rest of Spain, which is €25,896 per year.
If you’re looking for a job in Madrid, keep in mind that a place can seem more or less expensive depending on how much money you earn. If you can, negotiate a salary that equals or exceeds the average salary in Madrid.
Cost of living in Madrid
Living in a city like Madrid doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically save more money. People who live in Madrid tend to earn higher salaries than their suburban or rural counterparts — but they also tend to pay more for essentials such as rent and food.
Madrid in particular is known for its high prices for eating out and enjoying some of the city’s art exhibitions, as well as for housing, which is more expensive than in other cities.
Keep in mind that the cost of living in Madrid includes not only essentials, but also activities that allow you to really explore the local scene. If you’re looking for a quick way to balance your main expenses, check out our 50/30/20 calculator, designed to help you divide your income among three major categories: basic needs, disposable income and savings/debts. Or, input your specific expenses into our monthly budget calculator to get a clearer idea of your monthly spending.
Healthcare in Madrid
Healthcare in Spain is free and generally high quality, but you’ll have to register with the Social Security system in order to access it. There are different ways to do this, depending on where you live and what your situation is.
Check out our complete guide on how to register for Social Security in Spain, which includes everything an expat living in Madrid needs to know.
Education in Madrid
If you plan to study in Madrid as an expat and you don’t speak Spanish, you might encounter some difficulties because Spaniards aren’t generally fluent in English. Although more and more programs are becoming available in English, the vast majority of courses are taught only in Spanish.
That said, universities such as La Salle International Graduate School offer more courses in English.
Looking for a study program in English in Madrid? We recommend checking out programs at the best universities in the city, including:
- Universidad Rey Juan Carlos: A public school with 81 degree programs that can be studied in English, either face-to-face or online.
- Universidad Carlos III: Also a public school, it has 11 degree programs taught only in English and three others that are bilingual. Most of these degrees are in the engineering and social sciences.
- IE University: 70% of its students aren’t Spanish, which means that the majority of its courses are in English. Unlike the previous schools, however, it’s a private university.
Children’s education for expats in Madrid
As in many other European countries, the school year in Spain usually runs from September to June, with a break in the summer. If you have kids, you might choose to enroll them in a local public school, which is free. Classes will almost certainly be taught in Spanish in public schools.
You can also choose a private school, where teaching may be in English or another language, and there may also be a religious component. Some of these schools can be quite expensive, especially the internationally oriented ones.
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Getting around in Madrid
As a major communications hub, Madrid is well connected to the rest of Spain. This makes it an ideal starting point for expats who want to explore the country.
Madrid also has a modern network of trains, buses, and trams that allow you to travel relatively quickly to any point in the city.
Public transport in Madrid
Public transportation is a relatively affordable and reliable option. A single public transport ticket costs €1.50 and is valid only on the same day of purchase.
Other options are also available. For example, you can buy a 10-trip ticket, which costs €9.10 and has no expiration date, or opt for monthly passes, which allow you unlimited travel in the metro zone of your choice.
Keep in mind, however, that bus and intercity train services may be less frequent on weekends. To help you plan your route, the Spanish rail network RENFE has a website available in a range of languages, including English, Spanish, Catalan, and Basque.
Cycling in Madrid
More and more expats living in Madrid are choosing to cycle to work, school and social events. Cycling is especially easy if you live in central neighborhoods such as Retiro and Legazpi.
If you decide to travel by cycling, you can expect to pay between €250 and €1,000 for a bicycle, depending on the quality you’re looking for.
Driving in Madrid
Car-sharing apps such as Uber are available and becoming increasingly popular in Madrid, although there may be a surcharge at peak times. Cabs are also common, and fares are usually not too high.
If you plan to drive yourself, keep in mind that parking in the city can be expensive and traffic can be a hassle.
You can exchange your driver’s license for a Spanish one if it was issued by a country that has an agreement with Spain. Otherwise, you’ll have to get an international license or apply for one once you settle in Spain.
Cultural differences in Spain and Madrid
Madrid is a large, multicultural city where many people live together in relative harmony, but Spanish culture is still very important here.
Some expats find it difficult to adapt to the Spanish way of life, while for others, it’s exactly what they’re looking for. For example, punctuality isn’t exactly a priority in Madrid. You might schedule dinner for 8:00 p.m., but people don’t start arriving until 8:15 p.m. Although it may be frustrating at first, look on the bright side: It also gives you a little leeway when you’re running late!
Other things that expats find a bit strange in Madrid are:
- The calamari sandwich: Madrid has no coastline but that doesn’t prevent locals from enjoying one of the city’s gastronomic hallmarks: eating a calamari sandwich in the Plaza Mayor. A bit strange? Maybe, but it’s very tasty.
- Difficulty in meeting locals: As we’ve already mentioned, Madrid is very welcoming to foreigners — to the point that it can feel impossible to meet people who are originally from Madrid.
- Being 30 minutes away...supposedly: No matter where you live, what time you’re supposed to meet someone, or how late you (already) are, you’ll say that you’re 30 minutes away — and that will most likely not be true.
- Greetings and farewells: Spaniards usually greet each other and say goodbye with a small kiss on the cheeks. Often, it’s just an air kiss and there isn’t any actual contact. One exception is when men greet other men — in this case, a warm handshake is customary.
- Spanish slang: Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, but there are many differences between countries. Spain is no exception, and terms that are familiar in Argentina, Colombia, or Chile might be completely different in Spain. You won’t have any trouble getting by in Madrid with your Spanish, but to really participate in the culture, we recommend learning the local slang. Spaniards will appreciate it.
- Siesta time: Even if you’ve never been to Spain, you may be familiar with the concept of the siesta: a break in the day between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm that in some parts of the country is used to take a nap. In a big city like Madrid, with its cosmopolitan atmosphere and pace, it’s not very common for stores and restaurants to close in the afternoon, and you won’t find many people taking a siesta here.
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Managing your money as an expat in Madrid
If you’re preparing to move to Madrid, you may be feeling some stress about how to maintain your saving habits in a different city and country.
The good news? N26 makes it easy for you. With our fully online bank account, you can set daily spending limits to help you stay on track with your budget goals and use Spaces to create sub-accounts for different needs.
Oh, and speaking of bank accounts, you probably need more information to get started. See our guide on how to open a bank account in Spain for the whole process.
Is Madrid a good place for expats?
Thanks to its culture, history, architecture, and all the activities and experiences it offers, Madrid is an ideal place for expats. It’s also a center for business, education, and research, which makes it an interesting destination for people from all over the world
Where do expats in Madrid live?
Expats in Madrid live all over the place, but the highest concentrations of expats tend to live in international neighborhoods located in the Centro and Usera districts, among others.
Can I live in Madrid without speaking Spanish?
It can be difficult to live in Madrid for a long time without speaking Spanish, at least at an intermediate level. Even if you can manage, you won’t get a full experience of the local culture. You’ll also find it more difficult to do basic tasks such as shopping, filing a tax return, or getting around.
Is Spain friendly to foreigners?
Spaniards are usually quite friendly to foreigners. Still, it’s a good idea to make an effort to learn their language and respect local customs. Spaniards who see you at least giving it a try will likely be impressed and warm up to you more quickly.
Can I live and work in Spain if I don’t have an EU passport?
Yes, you can live and work in Spain if you’re not a citizen of another EU country. To find out what options you have, visit this link.
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