50 Important Tips for Studying, Working, & Living in Spain

Spain is a fantastic (and popular) country to not only visit, but as a student destination for studying, working, or volunteering abroad! And if you’re curious about how these programs work, you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’ve rounded up some of the best program options, as well as tips from students and expats, to help you prepare for your adventure.

Already have something in mind? Feel free to jump to the sections on studying abroad in Spain, working in Spain, or living in Spain — or read start to finish for a helpful overview of your options.

Before you go: Do some research so you know what to expect in Spain! Check out our infographic featuring 8 big cultural differences in Spain.

Study Abroad programs in Spain
studying in Spain

Best Study Abroad Programs in Spain

  • Barcelona Study Abroad Experience – Semester, short-term, summer, and internship programs in Barcelona
  • SpainExchange – The largest database of schools and programs for studying in Spain
  • Sol Education – Summer, semester, winter break, intensive month, and spring break programs in Granada
  • CIS Abroad – Semester, summer, and internship programs in Barcelona and Madrid
  • SPI Study Abroad – Two-week, four-week, or six-week programs in San Sebastián or Santander for high school students
  • CEA Study Abroad – Several study programs in various cities, including Alicante, Barcelona, and Seville
  • API Study Abroad – Several programs in various cities, including Cádiz, Bilbao, and Salamanca
  • Abbey Road Programs– Teen Summer Programs in Cádiz & Barcelona with Flexible Dates, & Apartment or Homestay Options.

Studying abroad is a great opportunity to get credits toward your college degree while fully experiencing the Spanish culture!

While many universities will have programs specifically tied to your school, that’s not your only option! Whether you want an intensive excursion focused on one course or line of study, or a year-long adventure that allows you time to take multiple classes and travel freely on the weekends, it’ll be an experience you’ll always remember.

Below are some of the best study abroad programs in Spain to check out, along with additional resources, FAQs, and tips.

How to Find Study Abroad Scholarships

Need some financial help to make your study abroad dreams come true? Here are some scholarships and tools to help:

We also recommend checking out StudyAbroad.com and StudyAbroad101– both sites have filter tools to learn more about the best study abroad programs based on your needs (term offered, student age, specialty/major, etc.)!

FAQs about Studying Abroad in Spain

What kind of research or prep should a student do before studying abroad in Spain?

“Do as much research as possible before going to Spain. It is a completely different culture and students should be prepared. Make sure you look into their customs; some things that you normally do could be considered rude in another country. For example, people in Spain do not eat on the go like a lot of people do in the United States. If you are eating on the metro, people may stare at you. 

Also, look into how the locals dress. During the summertime girls in the US might wear shorts and flip flops, but the locals do not dress that way at all. They wear looser fitting and more conservative clothing. Even though you are a tourist, you want to experience the culture as much as possible and that might include changing your lifestyle a little bit!”

Makenzie Piatt, study abroad alumni and contributor at College Tourist

What are the most important things to look for in a study abroad program?

“For me, the most important things to consider were location, how easily my academic credits would transfer to my home college, and the level of immersion into the culture of the host country. I wanted an urban location that was accessible to other parts of Europe, relatively affordable, and had a lot to offer culturally. I wanted to ensure the classes I took abroad would not only be interesting and relevant to me, but also transfer easily to my home college so I could focus on enjoying my time abroad, and not have to worry about taking on an extra semester when I got back to catch up.

Finally, I was very interested in finding a study abroad program that encouraged integration into the local culture (living with host families, for example) while also providing enough support to make the transition manageable.”

 Melanie Prior, study abroad alumni and contributor at The Abroad Guide

As an international student, do I need a visa to study in Spain?

“It depends where you are coming from. If you come from a country outside the European Union you will need a visa. The type of visa that you need will depend on your country of residence as well as on how long you will be studying in Spain. If you come from outside the European Union and you are staying for a period over six months, you will need a long-term visa.”

— Alejandro Luengo Gonazáles, Pack to Spain

Editor’s Note: Keep in mind that if you go through a good program, they will know exactly what you need, and guide you through the process! For more information about student visas, see this article: 5 Factors to Consider When Getting a Spanish Student Visa

Do I need to be fluent in Spanish before studying abroad?

“No, but depending on which part of Spain you travel to and the nature of your program, being able to speak Spanish definitely helps. I had taken Spanish throughout middle school and high school, but hadn’t spoken in a few years before studying abroad in Madrid.

However, having that background allowed me to “re-learn” the language much more quickly, as did taking a Spanish language course while I was abroad. I was also able to practice speaking Spanish with my host family and made local friends who helped me practice. Overall, even if you do not speak Spanish well before you study abroad in Spain, being willing to learn, practice daily, and mess up a few times along the way is just as valuable.”

 Melanie Prior, study abroad alumni and contributor at The Abroad Guide

Editor’s Note: Want to brush up on your Spanish? We recommend working with a Spanish tutor to get helpful 1-on-1 attention, or go through a few of our live, online classes to get practice speaking with others!

Will I become fluent in Spanish after studying abroad?

“In a perfect world, yes! In reality, no, unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean a person won’t drastically improve their fluency while studying abroad!

How fluent or not someone becomes during or after a study abroad greatly depends on what level they were when they arrived. It also takes work. Full language immersion is the best way to become fluent — but even on a study abroad trip, it can be tempting to cling to English-speaking classmates and friends. But going out on that language limb is where changes and improvements are made!”

— April Todd, Director, SPI Study Abroad

How do I find a good place to live, if I’m not living in dorms or with a host family?

“When it comes to rental rate, some cities in Spain are more expensive than others. If you have a tight budget, it may be a good idea to choose where to study or live before applying for a specific program.

In larger Spanish cities, such as Madrid or Barcelona, it can be quite a challenge to find housing if you wait until the last moment. If you can, book in advance and it will be much easier to find your ideal home!

Also, it is not always the best option to find housing next to your university or office! You may like other neighbourhoods in the city better. Inform yourself about them before choosing your area.”

–Beroomers team

Additional Tips and Resources

Working or volunteering abroad can be an awesome experience, but also a fantastic resume-builder! It shows employers that you’re culturally-aware, willing to try new things, and committed to personal growth. Plus, you’ll expand your network to global contacts, boost your language skills, and you might even make more money when you return!

So, where to start? First, decide if you’re looking for a short-term assignment through a dedicated program, or if you’ll go out on your own to find work. The latter is more difficult, but not impossible. Below, we’ve rounded up a few program options (including volunteering, full-time jobs, and internships in Spain), as well as additional resources.

Best Volunteer and Work Programs in Spain

  • Greenheart Travel – Programs for teens and adults for teaching or volunteering in Madrid and Ibiza
  • Adelante Abroad – Internship programs in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, and Marbella, as well as study programs in Seville
  • Teach in Spain, via CIEE – Work or volunteer by teaching English in Madrid, Castilla y León, or Castilla-La Mancha
  • GeoVisions – Various programs for volunteering or working in Spain
  • InterExchange – Programs for tutoring and teaching English in various cities in Spain

What Do Participants Say?

I didn’t realize until I got back home how much of a deep impact the program had on me. I loved living a healthy, more sustainable and green lifestyle. Since coming home, I’ve gone out and bought lots of books on healthy eating because I’m trying to buy only organic products. But also, I have become much more relaxed and open as a person thanks to living with everyone in Ibiza. Overall, I’ve got a new outlook on life and I’m very much enjoying it! Thank you for providing me such a great experience in Casita Verde!”

— Guy Whittaker, Ibiza Volunteer Abroad Alumnus, Greenheart Travel

FAQs about Working or Volunteering in Spain

What should students keep in mind when deciding between studying or volunteering/working in Spain?

“The best advice I (as the program manager) and alumni of this program can give is to be open-minded and flexible. On the surface, Spain seems like a really easy destination to travel to — friendly people, delicious food, beautiful scenery. But even in an environment like this, there will inevitably be cultural challenges and awkward situations that you need to be able to adjust to, learn from and grow out of. That’s just the nature of travel, after all!

This is certainly true at Casita Verde, where participants are exposed to lots of new ideas about the environment and sustainable choices while practicing this lifestyle in person at a rustic and frills-free location. It offers participants the amazing opportunity to grow and learn, as long as they are open to new ideas, different ways of life, and passionate people.”

–Megan Arzbaecher, Program Manager at Greenheart Travel

What kind of research and prep should a student do before interning or working in Spain?

“First and foremost, refreshing and sharpening your Spanish skills would probably go furthest in terms of prep work for Spain. The better your Spanish is, the easier and more enjoyable your time will be. You also create the opportunity to be more impactful in the company you intern with the more fluent you are.

Additionally, it helps to do a little bit of research on the culture, which is markedly different from what we are used to here in North America. As much as anything else, it is good to mentally prepare yourself for a new and fresh experience that you are not used to which may, and probably will, take you out of your comfort zone.”

–Ryan Cruz, specialist at Adelante Abroad

Do I need to be fluent in Spanish before interning in Spain?

“No, you do not. We have a range of Spanish speakers that participate in our programs. However, beginner speakers or individuals who speak no Spanish at all are limited in the types of internship placements they can take advantage of. Usually, individuals of this fluency level do programs in teaching English. In some special cases, there are placements where no Spanish is needed (e.g. social media in Barcelona).

The more fluent you are, however, the easier it is to place you in your field of choice; you also have a better opportunity to land an internship with a great company.”

— Ryan Cruz, Specialist at Adelante Abroad

Moving to Spain and Living in Spain
moving to and living in spain

Perhaps you’ve already participated in a study or internship program in Spain, and loved it so much, you can picture yourself living in Spain for a while. We don’t blame you! But you’ll need to do some research before you pack up your stuff.

If you’re not part of a study abroad or work program (which often handle all the behind-the-scenes paperwork and planning), you might be surprised at how much work goes into making the transition to expat.

For a great checklist and overview, take a look at this post from Working Abroad. Below you’ll find some FAQs and other resources, as well.

FAQs about Moving to and Living in Spain

What do I need in order to work or live in Spain?

If you’re making the move on your own (that is, not through a dedicated program), give yourself a lot of prep time to ensure you have what you need.

For example, American and EU expats need an NIE number (Número de Identificación de Exrenajeros, or “foreigner’s identification number”) in order to do pretty much everything in Spain, from getting health care to setting up a cell phone contract.

If you’re planning on staying long-term in Spain, you may also want to apply for residency. Lisa Sadleir offers a great guide to applying for NIE and residency on her blog.

You’ll also need a work visa so you can make a living. Expatica has a great guide here.

What should I expect in Spain?

“1. Be prepared to slow down. Get ready for a more relaxed pace of life. If it doesn’t get done today, it will get done tomorrow… or maybe the day after! Stressing about it will not get it done any faster.
2. Forget the “but where I’m from, they do it this way…” attitude.
3. Research. Research. Research.

Spaniards are such open, friendly people. A simple smile shared with a passerby can open so many doors to Spain, its culture, and its people. Being open, friendly, and approachable is the easiest way to be welcomed by and to learn from the locals.”

— Lisa Sadleir, Family Life in Spain and Cooking With Languages

What’s something you wish you would have known before moving to Spain?

“Castellano! I had been to Spain three times (as a tourist) before moving here, but none of those visits were long enough to really learn the local language. Sure, I could have read up and studied Castellano before moving here, but I was busy doing a million other things preparing to move abroad! It wasn’t until I moved here that I realized how drastically different Español and Castellano are!  

I’ve spent a great amount of time in both Latin America and Spain, and my preference is Español to Castellano, but I certainly continue to enjoy and respect the local language that surrounds me! Being abroad – whether it’s studying, volunteering, working or just traveling/vacationing — provides the most rewarding opportunities for growth, be it linguistic, professional, or personal. If anything, NOT spending tons of time and energy trying to learn Castellano ahead of time has been perfectly fine as I’ve learned all of my lessons in context!”

— April Todd, Director, SPI Study Abroad

Additional Tips and Resources

trip to Spain

Buena suerte!

Whether you’re leaving for the short- or long-term, you’re embarking on an incredible journey. Good luck, and enjoy the experience!

(P.S… Did we miss a resource that helped you through your trip? Send us an email at blog@takelessons.com and we’ll add it in!) 

Looking for more Spanish-learning resources and guides? Go back to the blog homepage.