Why More Americans Are Moving to Spain

Free healthcare and cheaper transport inspires American citizens to make the big move across the Atlantic for a more laid-back lifestyle
The citys growing U.S. population stocks up on Pop-Tarts, cake mix and other familiar dry foods at Taste of America.
The city’s growing U.S. population stocks up on Pop-Tarts, cake mix and other familiar dry foods at Taste of America.
Amelie Van Hess

Heather Erickson moved from California to Madrid 11 years ago when she married a Spaniard. She had previously lived in other European and Middle Eastern cities. “Madrid beats most of them, it compares only to Berlin — if only Berlin could be warmer and have Jamón Serrano,” said Erickson, 46.

Erickson is one of 41,700 Americans living in Spain, according to the National Institute of Statistics, and according to American Home Shield, Spain has the biggest American population in Europe, and it keeps growing. The number even increased during the pandemic — by 13 percent.

Some U.S. citizens are lured by Spain’s recently approved digital nomad visa, which allows foreigners to work legally here if they are employed by a foreign company and carry out remote work “through the exclusive use of computer.”

Julie Batlik, 33, moved to Spain in order to skip cold winters and enjoy a more intense social life. She got a job teaching English in a school. “People in Madrid are super friendly, traveling is easy and not pricey. I can’t picture myself back in Nebraska!” said Batlik, “Life is affordable, but salaries suck.” The average salary for a teacher in Spain is roughly 1.500€ and in the U.S. it is around $6.000, Batlik said.

“In the US you couldn’t live on such a salary, but here transportation and food is cheap, and healthcare is pretty much free. On the other hand, housing costs are going up quickly,” she said. She shares a small apartment with her boyfriend, which helps reduce the rental burden.

Laura Gatlin, 65, is a retired woman who left Greenville, South Carolina, in 2017 due to the political environment after the elections.

“The political and social environment in the States were crazy after Trump won the elections. Americans were upset and confronting each other as never before,” said Gatlin. “We didn’t want to spend our time arguing with neighbors, and Madrid offered us a very affordable, fun and relaxed place to enjoy our savings.”

Her husband, Paul Gatlin, 66, added: “Politics in Spain are as crazy as they are in America, so good we don’t mind here and never get involved in Spaniards political discussions!” he said.

But what do Madrileños feel about the growing population of Americans and other foreigners in their city?

“Prices are going up, when you arrive at shops it is difficult to hear someone speaking Spanish, and signs are more and more written in English,” A 77-year-old Spanish woman complained. “What happens to us? It is becoming hard to navigate the city with so many guiris.”

Ramón García, 41, doesn’t agree: “Finally Madrid is becoming a more cosmopolitan, European capital,” he said. “Years ago everything was about tortilla and sangria, but culturally and socially, Madrid was 40 years behind Paris or Berlin.”

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