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Living in Spain - A Guide for Students

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

Aside from the educational experience and the benefits of studying abroad, there are lots of other advantages to be gained from time living in Spain whilst studying for a Spanish Masters degree. You'll be able to spend up to two years enjoying a climate that makes the country one of the most visited in the world. You'll also be able to experience vibrant cuisine and learn a new language. These benefits will stay with you long after you complete your Masters in Spain: the Spanish lifestyle is renowned for being healthy and speaking the Spanish language will allow you to communicate personally and professionally with over 500 million people worldwide - not a bad skill to have on your CV!

Better known as a holiday and expat destination, Spain is well-suited to young and dynamic students, providing a great place to live and plenty of resources for studies and extra-curricular experiences. Sometimes described as several countries in one, the country's landscape is certainly diverse, with beaches, mountains and hills all offering a wide range of pursuits: walking, swimming, playing golf, tennis, water sports, winter sports and much more. The Spanish climate is one of the hottest in Europe, although in mountainous regions the seasons are much more marked and snow is not uncommon, providing plenty of skiing and other winter pursuits. If you've time during holiday periods, you could visit some of Spain's sovereign islands, such as the Balearics in the Mediterranean and the Canarias in the Atlantic - all of which offer another experience of Spain.

Spain is also a country of culture having benefitted from many influences over the centuries. Romans, Iberians, Moors, French and Latin American immigrants and large communities of foreign residents have made Spanish culture what it is today. You won't be short of things to do, see and hear, from sleepy, traditional villages to dynamic cities teeming with some of the best museums and galleries in the world as well as music, both traditional and modern.

What's it like to study abroad in Spain?

Arriving in a new country is always a challenge, but most Spanish institutions have student services designed to assist and acclimatise new international postgraduate students. These may range from airport welcomes to assistance with accommodation and employment. Your university is likely to have an International Office which will specialise in helping students from outside of Spain with all aspects of non-academic life. Check what services they offer before leaving home and get in touch with them if you have any queries - helping international postgraduates like you is what they do!

Spanish culture and heritage

As a country that welcomes huge numbers of tourists each year, Spain won't be particularly hard to adapt to. Like other countries in hot regions of Europe you'll probably find that shops and services close for a siesta in the middle of the day during summer, but otherwise you'll have access to the same services and facilities you'd expect elsewhere.

Spanish culture is incredibly diverse, drawing upon the many successive civilisations that have existed in the Iberian Peninsula and left their mark on the region. With the third highest number of UNESCO world heritage sites, you'll have plenty to visit and explore, from ancient Celtic and Roman remains to stunning Gothic cathedrals. Spain's contribution to world literature has also been extensive. In fact, Spain can lay a claim to having laid the foundations for the novel with the free-roaming picaresque tales of 16th century authors. Spain then went on to produce one of the most famous and admired novels in the world, Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote. The central character's quest for heroic adventure in the face of modern and mundane world has become a model for 'quixotic' character types ever since - you might even see Don Quixote as a fitting figurehead for students whose spirit of exploration leads them to take up the challenge of postgraduate study abroad.

Sports and pastimes

Spain also has a vibrant sporting culture and excels internationally in sports as diverse as football, tennis and Formula One racing. Top competitors such as Rafael Nadal and Fernando Alonso call Spain home and, if you're a fan of football, you'll be able to see some of the world's greatest players plying their trade for teams like Atlético de Madrid, FC Barcelona or Real Madrid.

More traditional Spanish athletic pursuits include bullfighting, which is still a major attraction across large parts of the country. Like other blood sports, bullfighting has been criticised by animal rights activists and this has led to greater regulation and scrutiny of the sport and its associated practices.

Other popular pastimes in Spain take advantage of the country's climate and the juxtaposition of an extensive Mediterranean coast with spectacular mountain regions. So, whether you're interested in relaxing on the beach, putting out to sea for some watersports or going skiing, you'll find plenty to keep you entertained whilst living in Spain as a Masters student.

Food and drink

Chances are you're already familiar with some elements of Spanish cuisine. Tapas - a selection of appetizers and small snacks - have become popular in bars, restaurants and homes around the world where it forms an excellent accompaniment for good drink and conversation (just as it does in Spain!). Common tapas foods include olives, cheeses, sausage and seafood such as squid. All of these foods are hallmarks of Spanish cuisine more generally.

Olives have been grown and prepared in Spain for hundreds of years and olive oil is still a key ingredient in much Spanish cooking. Spanish cheese (or queso) is very varied, with blue varieties such as cabrales and more peculiar types such as murcia al vino which is made from goats milk and washed in red wine and is referred to colloquially as 'drunken goats cheese'. Spain also specialises in cured meats, which can be heavily spiced and seasoned and come in a huge range of artisanal varieties, from coarse, heavily-spiced chorizos to thinner, lighter, varieties such as fuet. Preserving meat in this way has a long history in Spain and may still be tied to seasonal festivals associated with the traditional agriculture calendar. Finally, Spain takes advantage of its extensive coast to produce some of Europe's finest seafood. Fresh grilled fish is a staple food in most of Spain's coastal regions and dishes such as squid are a particular speciality.

Spanish winemaking has a long and prestigious history that rivals that of neighbouring countries such as France. Traditional Spanish grape varieties such as Tempranillo and Garnacha have become popular around the world, whilst Spain's own wine producing regions such as the Rioja are internationally renowned. If your tastes are a little sweeter, don't worry; the town of Jerez de la Frontera is famous for producing and exporting Sherry (the name for which is an Anglicisation of 'Jerez'). Spanish beer is also popular, with a range of domestic varieties available alongside internationally successful brands such as San Miguel.

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With large numbers of international students arriving in the country each year it's no surprise that a wide range of accommodation options are available for foreign postgraduates in Spain.

Most universities will offer residences in the form of individual rooms or larger studio flats. These are often referred to as colegios mayores and usually take the form of student villages attached to universities. Other options include private rentals, which are available in most major university cities and boarding with a local Spanish family as a student lodger.

University accomodation

Accommodation in colegios mayores may be available to international students. As demand almost always exceeds availability you should make sure you apply early and within any deadlines set by your institution.

Prices for university accommodation will vary depending on location, type and accompanying facilities or utilities. As an indication, accommodation in a mid-price range city will cost around €360 ($402 USD) per month for an en-suite single room and around €500 ($559 USD) per month for a studio flat, inclusive of utilities and Wi-Fi. Half or full-board may also be available in association with university restaurants and will usually cost around €180 ($201 USD) per month or €300 ($336 USD) per month respectively.

Private rentals

If you are looking for a flat on your own, or with a group of other students, you can do so through local Spanish estate/letting agents. As in other countries, it is more common for students to group together and seek shared accommodation. It is possible that your university may offer a 'match-making' service to help you find other students with similar housing requirements and to then secure appropriate safe and convenient rental accommodation. Again, the best idea is to contact the international office at your local university and see what advice they can offer. Assisting international students with accommodation queries will probably be one of the most common questions they are asked, so they should be more than happy to help you. As a Masters student in Spain you're likely to be studying for at least one year, maybe two. This means that your programme of study will match up well with those of students on other programmes. If your degree takes two years you may also make postgraduate acquaintances in your first year with whom you can go on to seek accommodation in the second.

Rental prices for private accommodation vary extensively, depending on location, facilities and the number of students sharing. As a rough guide you can expect rent in a shared flat to be between €300 ($336 USD) and €500 ($559 USD) per month, but the cost may be substantially higher than this in some areas. Utility charges are also much less likely to be included in this cost.

Boarding with a local family

Some universities arrange for international students to board with Spanish families living near to the university. The availability of this option will vary between institutions and regions and may be reserved for students on certain study programmes, such as those funded through Erasmus exchange arrangements. If available, boarding or a 'homestay' with a Spanish family can be an excellent way to acclimatise to life in Spain, learn about Spanish culture and develop your language skills. You should be able to find out about local boarding options near your university by contacting its international office. Costs for boarding with a local family will vary. Some international exchange schemes will arrange for students to only pay a maintenance contribution instead of full rent; in other cases the arrangement will be similar to a private let, though the ultimate cost is likely to be lower.


Living costs in Spain are relatively low and yours will depend largely on your tastes and interests. If your accommodation includes self-catering facilities then you will be able to purchase groceries quite cheaply from supermarkets as well as taking advantage of local markets, butchers and fishmongers. As a postgraduate student you should also have access to affordable and / or subsidised catering and leisure facilities offered by your university. In general, you can expect to budget around €300 ($336 USD) per month for food and around another €40-50 ($45-56 USD) for transport in large cities. Full living costs, including accommodation, food, transport, utilities and basic leisure activities are estimated at around €900-1100 ($1,006-1,229 USD) per month. Again, these will vary quite a bit depending on where you live, which utilities and transport you require, and what you enjoy doing in your leisure time.

Typical student prices in Spain

The following tables give approximate prices for some of the common items and services you are likely to purchase whilst studying abroad in Spain:

Item Price (€) Price ($)
Milk (1 litre) 0.80 0.85
Loaf of bread (500g) 0.95 1
Potatoes (1kg) 0.90 0.95
Chicken breasts (1kg) 5.70 6.05
Rice (1kg) 0.95 1

Entertainment & Leisure
Item Price (€) Price ($)
Cinema ticket 8 8.50
Mid-price bottle of wine 4.50 4.80
Cup of coffee 1.55 1.70
Draught beer (0.5 litre) 2 2.10
Inexpensive restaurant meal 10 10.60

Monthly Utilities
Item Price (€) Price ($)
Monthly travel pass 45 47.70
Broadband internet (10mbps, uncapped) 33.15 35.10
Domestic utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water and Waste) 117.90 125

Note Information in the above tables is based on crowd-sourced data collected by Numbeo. Figures are approximate and provided for comparative purposes only. They do not take account of student discounts and may vary over time or between cities.

Learn more about studying in Spain

Looking for more information about Masters study in Spain? Our detailed guide covers everything from university rankings and courses to fees, funding and applications.

Working whilst studying

International students are permitted to work for up to 20 hours per week whilst studying in Spain. This employment is subject to various additional regulations, however. You will not be allowed to work whilst enrolled as a student if this is deemed likely to impede your studies and prospective employers will usually be required to apply to Spain's Foreign Nationals Office in order to receive permission to hire you. If they do, the duration of your employment contract cannot exceed that of your student visa.

Regulations for EU and EEA students may be more relaxed, but you should seek advice from your university's international office and / or the local Oficina de Extranjeros (Foreign Nationals Office) in the region of your university. Ensure that you comply with all relevant regulations, whatever your status, or your registration (and right to live in Spain) may be at risk.

Whatever your nationality, you can also use PostgraduateFunding.com to search a comprehensive database of small grants available to all postgraduate students. These could be a great way of topping up your funding if you have difficulty finding work alongside your studies.

Further information

By now you should have a good idea of what it might be like to live and study as a Masters student in Spain. Of course, there's more to day to day life in Spain than grabbing tickets to see some of the world's most famous footballers, relaxing in a tapas bar and working on your Spanish at the local market. You'll also need to familiarise yourself with some slightly less exciting features of Spanish life, including healthcare for students in Spain, banking and public transport. Read below for a brief introduction to these.

Travel and transportation

Spain benefits from well-integrated networks of long distance railway systems and inner-city metro systems. Several options are available and most cities in Spain will boast metro or tram networks (or both). Monthly passes are around €40 ($45 USD), although as a Masters student you will benefit from discounted rates.

Whilst in Spain, you will want to explore the country or at least the region where your university is. The transport network is excellent with well-developed road systems (however, motorways are tolled), as well as good rail and air travel networks for longer journeys. If you wish to visit islands such as the Balearics or the Canaries you can travel by ferry.

Due to its geographical situation, Spain is an important gateway between Europe and North Africa. There is currently work underway to increase and improve linkage with the rail systems of France and Portugal, including high-speed rail between Madrid and Lisbon. Air traffic is channelled through several international and regional airports, the largest of which is Barajas International Airport in Madrid, a well-connected international hub.


All non-Spanish students studying at a Spanish university must have adequate medical cover.

  • EU students must provide documents, showing their healthcare status in their home country to ensure full access to the Spanish system. These documents (charmingly named forms E106/E109/E120/E121/E33/E37) can be requested from your public healthcare organisation back home. Alternatively, you may demonstrate your eligibility by procuring a European Health Card.

  • Non-EU students should check whether there is a reciprocal healthcare agreement between their own country's healthcare authorities and Spain. If this is the case, students must complete the required procedure with their health department authorities to qualify for free public healthcare in Spain. If there is no agreement between your country and Spain, then you will have to arrange for a private healthcare insurance. As it may be a condition of your visa, you will have to sign up for this type of insurance before your arrival in Spain.

Money and banking

Spain has a modern banking system, with a range of services available from high street banks including online banking. In order to open an account you will need to prove your status as a legal resident of Spain by presenting your National Identity Number (received during your registration as a foreign resident). If you do not have this number yet, you may be able to open an account with a non-resident certificate from your local police station and presenting it along with your passport. Opening an account in this way usually carries a €15 ($17 USD) charge.

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Last updated - 21/11/2016

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