UK vs Spain: Where Should You Live?

Spain is one of the most popular destinations for British expats and retirees, and there are so many reasons for this trend. The UK and Spain are totally opposite to each other when it comes to living and the lifestyle.

Yet, there are still some similarities between them. While the decision may boil down to personal preference, there are some key factors to consider when making your decision on where to live.

In this post, we’ll explore everything you need to know before choosing which of the two countries is best for you. We cover it all from the cost of living, work-life balance, infrastructure, and housing costs so you can choose one confidently, knowing you’ve made the best choice.

Living in the UK vs Spain

While the UK is the dream destination for professionals, Spain lures retirees and digital nomads. Nonetheless, both are popular countries for those looking to relocate.

The UK and Spain share some common things: stunning scenery, rich history, and culture. However, the key differences these places have could make one country a better fit for you than the other.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it’s only fair to start with the pros and cons of living in either country.

Pros of living in the UK

1. Almost free healthcare

One of the biggest advantages of living in the UK is that healthcare is more affordable than in most other countries in Europe and the world in general.

As a British national, you benefit from free medical services. Ultimately, the UK’s two-tiered system allows citizens and residents to get free healthcare while providing the leeway to upgrade their treatment with private health insurance.

While the level of access differs for tourists and visitors, the NHS has made healthcare more affordable than in most other countries.

2. Cheap air transportation

If you like traveling and prefer flying to save time, the UK is one of the best places to live. The country has plenty of airlines like Easyjet and Ryanair that offer budget flights to various locations.

Whether you travel frequently for business or fun, adventure, and vacations, living and working in the UK allows you to do so on a budget.

3. Public transportation

Transportation and specifically traffic congestion, is one of the biggest headaches plaguing most nations, let alone cities. Not only does traffic congestion waste time, reduce productivity, and increase economic losses, but it also increases vehicle emissions and reduces air quality significantly.

The UK public transport system is robust, featuring a wide range of options from buses, trains, the Tube, and trams. This makes it possible to live in many parts of the UK and not ever own or drive a car.

4. Excellent work opportunities

The UK has one of the most robust economies in the world, with cities like London having a reputation as global economic, tech, and financial hubs.

While Britain might have opted out of its EU status, statistics show it has among the lowest unemployment rates in Europe at 4.1%.

This means that the chance of landing a job in the UK is higher than in many other European countries.

Cons of living in the UK

1. Awful weather

The weather in the UK might be a contentious issue depending on who you ask, but even some Britons agree that they were dealt the short end of the stick when it comes to weather. 

If you love the sun, you may want to look past the UK. The country is notorious for dark, gloomy, and rainy days almost throughout the year. So, don’t be surprised if you need to be in an overcoat most of the time.

2. Train travel can be a nightmare

I know we put the UK rail network as a perk of living in the UK; however, it can be a nightmare at times. While it’s a good way to get around as the rail network is wide, it’s expensive and can be unreliable due to continuously ongoing engineering works.

3. Road congestion

Congestion is so bad in the UK that the government reckons it costs London’s economy alone about £5.1bn a year. According to London’s mayor, it’s about time the country looked into green, sustainable modes of transport that reduce the air pollution and gridlock the city experiences from traffic congestion.

4. The accent and slang

The UK might be English speaking, but you may be surprised that most words don’t refer to the same things as they do in places like the US. For instance, biscuits in the UK are what are referred to as cookies in the US.

Similarly, the English accent is often harder to understand for most foreigners and changes depending on where you are.

5. Boring, plain food

British food can’t be compared to Spanish cuisine. Traditional meals in the UK is missing almost everything – great taste, nutrition, and simple creativity. Plus, statistics show that Brits are among the unhealthiest folks in Europe!

6. British people

If the humor of Brits isn’t something you are looking forward to, then people in the UK won’t impress you much. They are typically less friendly, quite serious, and somewhat under tension.

Spanish people are some of the most welcoming and friendliest in Europe.

Pros of living in Spain

1. Excellent weather

Spain is one of the few European countries with sun-soaked weather all year round. If you prefer a warm climate where you can venture out, visit the stunning beaches, and take a dive into the warm water whenever you want, Spain is better than the UK.

Whether it’s winter or summer, it will always be warm in Spain.

2. Great culture and gastronomy

Spain has a long and rich historical culture whose influences you can see in the architecture, culture, and food scene. As a result, the country has a lot to discover for any expat moving into the country.

Similarly, Spain is choke-full of delicious meals and flavors with influences from all over the world to keep your palate begging for more.

3. A vast expat community

Thanks to its ease of entry, great Mediterranean climate, rich history, and welcoming population, Spain has a bustling expat community. This makes it easy for expats to move and settle in the country as you can always network with other immigrants.

4. Low cost of living

The cost of living in Spain is significantly lower than in the UK. Moreover, it’s the 3rd cheapest country in Western Europe.

A single needs about £1,257 per month to live in Spain comfortably, and the family does well on £2,555. In the UK, these numbers rise to £2,319 and £3,982. In rural areas, a couple can live on £17,500 a year quite comfortably.

However, not all Spanish cities are that affordable. For instance, living in Barcelona will cost you pretty much the same as in the UK.

UK vs Spain: Quality of Life

There are many factors to consider when it comes to the quality of life between the two countries. These include social welfare, healthcare, infrastructure, and lifestyle, among others, as we’ll see below.

Healthcare and Social Welfare

The UK and Spanish healthcare systems aren’t that different for expats, making any of the two countries a great place to settle. Still, it’s essential that you understand each system thoroughly before making your choice.

The NHS, UK’s National Health Service, is known as one of the world’s most affordable and efficient healthcare bodies. The NHS is a socialized system, which means it’s funded by taxes deducted from the salaries of the country’s workforce.

Anyone who contributes to the NHS is eligible for free medical treatment. However, there’s a limitation as to what services you can get. The medical services offered for free include:

  • Consultations with a doctor or general practitioner
  • Accident and Emergency treatment
  • Sexual and reproductive health services
  • Treatments by specialists provided you’ve been referred by a GP
  • Maternity services

While the list above is fairly comprehensive, you’ll have to pay or get private insurance for services such as:

  • Dental and optical care
  • Physiotherapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Tests and scans

While prescriptions are affordable, they’re not free unless you’re pregnant, over 60 or under 16, a new mum (up to 12 months after delivery), or suffering from specific conditions.

While most of these services are also available for expats, there’s a migrant entitlements health guide that regulates what services immigrants can get in the UK.

Like the UK, Spain’s free state healthcare is available for anyone living and working in the country. Similarly, the Spanish system is funded by taxpayers through salary deductions, making it accessible to more than 90% of the population.

However, not every foreigner can get access to Spanish healthcare. Usually, someone who doesn’t work in Spain will need to get additional healthcare insurance.

The following are categories of expats who can access free healthcare in Spain:

  • Residents in employment or self-employment who contributes to the country’s social security
  • Those who reside in Spain and qualify for specific state benefits
  • Spanish resident who’s recently parted ways with a partner who has registered with social security
  • Pregnant female residents of Spain
  • Students in Spain and under 26 years of age
  • State pensioner
  • Citizens and residents of other European countries with an EHIC card

Regarding GDP expenditure on health, Spain and the UK spend approximately 9% and 9.7% of their GDP on healthcare, respectively.

Lifestyle

When it comes to lifestyle, the biggest differences between the two countries are primarily cultural. People’s personalities in both countries are vastly different, as is the pace of life.

For instance, while people value punctuality more in the UK, Spaniards are more forgiving if you’re late for a meeting, especially when it’s casual. So, when deciding where to settle, you also need to consider how much you value punctuality.

You’d think that because the two countries are both in Europe, peculiarities such as the side you drive on would be similar. However, while Spaniards drive on the right side of the road, in the UK, standard practice is to keep left unless overtaking.

But perhaps the biggest surprise amongst immigrants is Spain’s siesta culture. In Spain, employees typically start working at 9 a.m. They then take a long lunch break from 2 p.m to 4 p.m; after they come back to the office to work until 7 p.m.

Contrary to popular belief, people don’t necessarily nap during this time. Instead, the long lunch break is used to run errands and grab a bite. Typically, small shops and businesses will also close at this open as most employees are away on their break.

While restaurants will, on the other hand, be busier, they close after the lunchtime rush, only to open again around 9 p.m to prepare for the dinner rush. 

Because of this cultural difference, Spaniards also tend to eat much later than people in the UK.

Work-Life Balance

Going by the OECD research on work-life balance, Spain beats the UK by some margin. According to the report, over 10% of the UK workforce works very long hours while in Spain, only 3% of the workforce works very long hours.

Against an OECD average of 10%, the numbers above show that Spaniards have more time to spend off work than their UK counterparts. Similarly, Spain’s siesta culture means people get to relax and refresh during the day, which makes them less likely to burn out from work pressure.

On the other hand, most people in the UK only get a 30-minute lunch break, which means people are almost always rushing to clock back into the office.

Another work-life balance where Spain shines over the UK is paid annual vacation. While UK workers get 28 paid annual leave days, Spaniards get slightly more at 30 days.

The UK and Spain are among the countries where employees are entitled to paid holiday leave for every full year of work. Typically, after each year of service, an employee is allowed to take a minimum of 4 weeks of paid vacation days.

Unlike in many other countries, employees can redeem this vacation time off at the same time. In other words, you can be off work for the whole time and only come back to work once your vacation days are depleted.

Additionally, while the typical UK work week is about 48 hours long, the average workweek in Spain is 40 hours long.

While the two countries are among European countries that put in the most hours at work, they’re working to reduce how much time employees spend at work. Both Spain and the UK are in the process of piloting 4-day work weeks.

Should it take root in the two countries, the 4-day workweek is expected to:

  • Increase productivity
  • Improve worker’s mental health
  • Boost work-life balance
  • Combat climate change

UK vs Spain: Cost of Living

According to the most recent data from Eurostat, the cost of living is 19% higher in the UK than in Spain. While this makes Spain a better country if you’re looking to spend less, there are certain items where you’ll spend more in Spain than in the UK.

Eurostat statistics show that the following items are more affordable in Spain than in the UK:

  • Groceries
  • Furniture and furnishings
  • Restaurants and hotels
  • Transport equipment
  • Transport services
  • Alcoholic beverages and tobacco

Similarly, specific items are more affordable in the UK than in Spain. These include:

  • Electricity, gas, and fuels
  • Household appliances
  • Consumer electronics
  • Some food and non-alcoholic beverages
  • Communication
  • Footwear
  • Clothing

Numbeo also conducted another study comparing the cost of living in the UK vs Spain. Like Eurostat, Numbeo concluded that Spain’s cost of living is significantly cheaper than the UK’s.

For instance, here is the cost of living in some Spanish cities compared to London:

  • Madrid is 34% cheaper
  • Barcelona is 41% cheaper
  • Valencia is 46% cheaper
  • Seville is 52% cheaper

Some of the data from this study found that rent and groceries cost 52% and 24% less, respectively in Spain. However, while living in Spain might be cheaper, wages are lower than in the UK.

According to the Numbeo study, Spaniards, on average, take home approximately £1,203 per month. However, the average monthly salary in the UK is almost double at £2,099. 

Similarly, the minimum monthly wages differed in both countries, with UK residents getting a monthly minimum wage that’s approximately 50% more than what Spaniards get. Overall, salaries in Spain are about 56% lower than in the UK.

Read a detailed guide about salaries in the UK.

UK vs Spain: Job Market

One of the best measures of a country’s job market is its employment and unemployment rates. According to the UK Labour Market Overview, the UK employment rate stands at approximately 75,5%, while its unemployment rate has slightly decreased in the first quarter of 2022 to about 3,8%.

On the other hand, the EU Labour Market Information on Spain indicates that the employment rate in Spain as of the first quarter of 2022 fell marginally to a low of 50,51%, while unemployment climbed to almost 4x that in the UK at 13,6%.

Considering the UK population has 21 million more people than Spain, according to Worldometers.com, it’s clear that the UK job market has more opportunities.

So if getting a job is your final goal, you should 100% choose the UK.

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Anna

Anna is an experienced expat and writer. She has been living abroad for over 6 years.

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