The 10 commandments for expats in Spain

Thinking of a move to sunny Spain and wondering where to start? Once you have all the travel arrangements and new home sorted out, and finally unpacked, you should then find out how best to fit in. Confused? Then follow some simple rules, and feel more at home in Spain. After a decade here in the Alpujarra region of southern Spain, we have fallen foul of at least a few of these ‘rules’ – so be prepared!


Commandment 1.

Thou shalt give blood, sweat, tears – and another Xerox copy.

When you go to finalise paperwork (a bit of an oxymoron as there is always more, and never a ‘final’ ream of paper to get through) always remember to bring many, many copies of absolutely everything that pertains to the subject at hand. A vial of blood may also be handy. Add approx one ton of patience and you’re almost there.


Commandment 2.

Thou shalt punish the liver – an evil organ.

Party etiquette. Your child  – settled in school and lisping like a local – has been invited to a friend’s birthday. Yay – a couple of free hours. Wrong. Forget pinning the tail on the mulo, or birthday games of any sort. You will also be expected to attend. The kids will be kicked into the street to play (whatever the weather) while the adults eat Russian Salad and get completely sloshed on home-made wine. There will be many of these – prepare your liver now.

images (6)

Commandment 3.

Thou shalt not poison thy neighbour’s wife.

Foreign food. Never bring a non-Spanish dish to a party. It may as well be labelled ‘radioactive polonium’. Everyone will ask you to explain what it is, what’s in it, how did you make it – but NO-ONE will eat it. You’ll be encouraged to bring it home again, where it can sit in the fridge looking reproachfully at you for 3 days before being slung in the bin. As for curry – ha.

spices in bowls: curry, pink and black pepper, paprika powder

Commandment 4.

Thou shalt not get frustrated.

Never assume a free morning is the ideal time for popping to the bank, the doctor and the Town Hall. One thing at a time. Always. Listen to everyone’s aches and pains in line at the bank, their marital troubles in the doctor’s, and be prepare to be surprised at the Town Hall – Ayuntamiento – where you’ll be presented with another bill or ten you hadn’t known about.


Commandment 5.

Thou shalt not arrange anything in August.

Never attempt to get anything at all done in August. Spain is closed. The roofer, gynaecologist and lawyer you desperately need to speak with are all at the beach.


Commandment 6.

Thou shalt stay pale and interesting.

Oh no. Never go to the beach in August. In addition to it being packed out with all of the above  – see Commandment 5 – you’ll feel hopelessly, pathetically under qualified when you take out your sandwiches. Mama and extended familia next to you will have salad, wood fire cooked Paella and cold beers, coffee and cakes, and a tablecloth on a table to seat 20.



Commandment 7.

Thou shalt be assertive.

STOP being so polite. Please and Thank You gets you nowhere. If you want another drink, bang your glass hard on the counter. Shout louder, harder, stronger.

No, we still can’t do it either.



Commandment 8.

Thou shalt become a supergrass.

Be prepared to tell everyone in a room how much you earn, how much you owe to the bank, how much you weigh, and the details of your sex life. In detail. Ya Está…


Commandment 9.

Thou shalt honour the little people.

Never expect to find somewhere to eat a quiet, romantic meal, with all kids tucked up in bed. Noooo, kids stay up as late as everyone else, and are happily ignored as they scream and run in close proximity to your prawn cocktail. Grin and bear it. Tell one off at your peril. That might be a hanging offence, I’ll have to check…


Commandment 10.

Thou shalt remain smug.

Enjoy yourself, turn your face to the sun, and your back on stress and worry. Never worriedly say “but what if…” instead wait until it might happen. Have a healthy respect for football and local fiestas, take the generous gifts of fruit and vegetables with gratitude, and you’ll soon settle into your new life in Spain.

Good choice, by the way 😉

relax in hammock, lazy vacations



Photographs author’s own, Google free images and from Pixabay.


21 thoughts on “The 10 commandments for expats in Spain

  1. Very true Carol, I think perhaps Commandment 11 could be: “Thou shalt not be alone.” You go out of your way to find a nice big empty space on the beach – just be prepared for a Spanish family to come and set up Commandment No 6 within 2 meters of where you’re sitting when there’s plenty of room elsewhere on the beach. The Spanish just like to be sociable

  2. It is so very true,in fact it’s the truest account of living in Spain I have read.Bloody brilliant observation .😂😂👍

  3. I cannot stop laughing. My husband and I are moving to Spain next month, after my having left Madrid almost 30 years ago. Interestingly enough, it sounds like nothing has changed. Guess that’s why I’m on my way back:))

  4. Having lived in Spain for the last 26 years, I can safely say that every word you say is true. As the Spaniards say, “Hay que adaptarse o morirse”! My transition was helped by the fact that I had already lived in several foreign countries before (France, Spain and Mexico) and already spoke the language. It was also helped by the fact that I met and married a local girl. However, there is quite a difference between spending 6 months in a place and spending the rest of your life there and marrying a Spaniard is not without its challenges! Perhaps I should write the 10 commandments for marrying a Spanish lady!!

  5. I am planning to retire in Seville in early 2017 from the US – Tampa, Florida. I’d love to correspond with anyone who has made a move there. I’ll be visiting one last time in early September and would happily share tapas and wine with you then to learn about your experience. Feel free to contact me.

    • Hello Donna, I am far from Sevilla I’m afraid, though we have visited the city recently. There’s a big expat community there, and plenty of groups on Facebook that will point you in the right direction. Enjoy your retirement!

  6. How true we have had our house for 6 years in March we come over home Rio Frio Loja a lovely village about 6 times a year our neighbor is the local mayor what ever we need they all help us out even when we only know a bit of Spanish lovely people lovely place can’t wait to go back in February! Nigel x Tina light thanks for laugh .

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