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View across the sea to Fuenguerola in the Costa del Sol

Living in the Costa Del Sol- an Expats Perspective

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The Costa del Sol in Spain has the reputation of being full of tourists in summer, particularly the British, and aging retirees the year round.  When we first considered moving to Spain a few years ago, I was very reluctant to even consider the area between Nerja and Estepona, which includes the city of Malaga.  I lived in fear of hordes of tourists and little to no Spanish culture.  But here we are, living on the Costa del Sol, and very happy, having lived just outside Benalmadena for nearly 18 months.  The Costa del Sol is one of the best places to live in Spain for expats. Many people ask us, what is it really like living in the Costa del Sol?

Quality of life

The Costa del Sol covers a huge area of the south of Spain with a large number of coastal and inland towns and villages with Malaga city as its focus.  Whilst obviously the vast majority of its inhabitants are Spanish it has attracted residents and tourists from across the world due to the mild climate (and hot in Summer!) and generally high quality of life.  There are a myriad of activities to take part in for those young and old which makes it an easy place to live and make the most of the outdoors in particular.  The cost of living in the Costa del Sol is also generally quite low and it is easy to travel across Europe with Malaga airport being well-connected.

Photo by Valentina Sotnikova on Unsplash

Costa del Sol Weather

Whilst the weather is mild year-round, contrary to some people’s perceptions there are cold and wet snaps – particularly in the winter and spring.  On one hand, we have been pleasantly surprised by warm weather on Christmas day where we have even braved swimming in the sea (but it was still cold!), and on the other hand, quite surprised by very wet and stormy weather and subsequent flooding in nearby areas in January/February. 

The colder temperatures are not helped by Spanish homes generally not having any central heating and being built to protect from warmth not cold!  We regularly use our fireplace in the winter and try not to use the expensive reverse cycle air conditioning.  But even if it is not sunny every day, we generally expect to see the sun within a few days of bad weather passing. 

Meanwhile summer is very hot, particularly in August and many opt to stay inside in air conditioning and avoid moving much! Spring and Autumn (May/June and Sept/Oct) are more pleasant and probably the best times to visit and live here and avoid the tourist rush.  We enjoy the seasons though and the differences they bring including the amazing sunrises and sunsets.

View across the sea to Fuenguerola in the Costa del Sol

Cost of living in Costa Del Sol

Cost of living in Costa del Sol is generally higher than other parts of Spain, except perhaps the big cities like Madrid and Barcelona.  It certainly depends on where you are located.  On the coast, particularly if you choose the area around Marbella then life is more expensive for nearly everything. Meanwhile living inland in the countryside or to the east of Malaga, most things will be cheaper.  House and rent prices vary hugely according to location, so it is definitely worth doing lots of research to see what is available and then trying to negotiate the price. 

On a day-to-day level, things like electricity costs are hugely variable from month to month, so be aware not all months will be the same.  Meanwhile things like mobile and internet costs are pretty low by European standards.  Supermarket shopping is generally cheap and high quality with lots of competition.  While out and about you can buy a coffee (albeit not a huge one!) for about 1 Euro 30 cents and a 3-course meal or tapas and a drink for approximately 7.50 euros and 12 euros for a good meal.  Other costs like lawyers, vets, and accountants are far cheaper than we have found in Australia, Costa Rica or the UK.  Generally, it is easy to live pretty cheaply, obviously depending on your tastes.

Photo by Jonas Denil on Unsplash

Working in Costa del Sol

Whilst cost of living is quite low, the wages are also proportionally reasonably low.  According to Statista, the average salary in 2019 was 27,500 Euros per year.  On the Costa del Sol it is not easy to find work currently (February 2021), but there are potentially lots of opportunities in tourism, the service industries and small businesses.  Many international people work in these areas. Job are also available in real estate and IT either as working from home positions or at the nearby Malaga Technological Park. Some expats also choose to work remotely from home for businesses that are located overseas.  

Sadly youth unemployment is particularly high in Spain currently and the market is obviously competitive.  Speaking both Spanish and English obviously gives a distinct advantage to those looking for work.

Community

The Costa del Sol has a mixture of large and small towns, many of the more rural towns are still predominantly Spanish with few to no international residents.  Along the coast and certainly west of Malaga the community is more international, with people from all over the world.  Whilst there are a lot of British people here, it is by no means the only nationality represented here as there are Danes, Finns, Dutch, German, Russian and other European and obviously those from other Spanish speaking countries.  It seems that the population in the Costa del Sol is a bit less transient than in many other expat locations as a lot of people have moved here to settle longer term or retire.  That said there is still some turnover. 

There are also a number of people who commute to their work in other countries. Or spend a lot of time, mainly the summer months elsewhere whilst renting out their home in the Costa del Sol or on the flipside they purely visit their home here during Summer. Whilst a lot of tourists visit between June and August, you can always find ways to avoid the busyness of the sea front and the beach by going further inland or along the coast to quieter less touristy areas. Of course, the tourists are come from all over, including around Spain so it hasn’t felt to us like the Costa del Sol is dominated by any one nationality during the summer months.

One of the benefits of being an international community is that you can eat and buy products from pretty much anywhere, with nearly all the nationalities having their respective shops. We were particularly excited by having access to the British supermarket, Iceland that sells Waitrose and Tesco products nearby in Fuengirola.  Having lived in Costa Rica for over 3 years where we could buy nothing like that at all, it feels like a strange, but welcome luxury!

Read all about Life as an Expat in this post.

We were apprehensive about how the Spanish might accommodate expats from elsewhere, but overall they are friendly and there is an acceptance that tourism in particular is vital to the local economy and community. However, we have found it easier to make friends with international families, or those that are mixed Spanish/international rather than ‘purely’ Spanish.

This is often a hot topic amongst expats, and the consensus is generally it is because many Spanish have their family close by which is very important to them to spend time with at weekends, plus long established friendships too.  To some degree, it would probably be the same the world over.  So, it is harder to make Spanish friends in our experience, but hopefully that will get easier as we become more established and our Spanish improves. Read all about our experience celebrating special occasions away from loved ones here.

Language

Spanish is obviously the predominant language here, especially in inland towns. However many people do speak English, particularly on the coast, making it one of the best places to live in Spain for English speakers.  Whilst a lot of people do speak English, speaking Spanish is obviously appreciated and preferred.  That being said a lot of locals do like to practice their English too, so often reply to you in English, even if you do try and speak Spanish!  You can easily find a Spanish teacher here for well-priced private or group lessons and also find a language exchange partner for Spanish – or pretty much any language!

Activities in Costa del Sol

One of the great things about the Costa del Sol is that you can do pretty much any activity within a 2 hour radius – whether it is sailing, scuba diving, mountaineering or skiing.  There are lots of great walking routes along the coast or the hills and also bike tracks, with cycling a popular activity at weekends.  We have been particularly impressed by the local sport centres, or ‘Polideportivos’ which offer sports facilities of all kinds for kids and adults at very reasonable prices (approx 30 euros a month).  Our children have taken part in football, surfing, ice-skating and athletics, which have been great for them to try a variety of activities  They also often offer great holiday camps too for kids. 

For less sporty types there are plenty of museums, theatres and shops/shopping centres and cinemas to enjoy in Malaga and bigger towns.  For dining out in Costa del Sol restaurants and bars are everywhere! There are also so many towns, including the historic pueblos blancos or white villages, lakes, mountains and forests to explore, and will satisfy pretty much all tastes whether looking for something in the hustle bustle, to enjoy alone, authentically Spanish or with an international flavour.

Photo by Oleg Tsegelnyk on Unsplash

Schools in Costa del Sol

One of the reasons we chose to live in the Costa del sol was due to the large number of schools nearby. There are a variety of state, private (that are generally international) and “concertado” (between private and state, usually religious) schools. 

State schools cater for their catchment area and the local council will alot your child a school according to where you live.  The reputations of schools does vary considerably and some schools advertise as being bi-lingual, which is more likely to be the case in the more international areas, although many teachers are not native English speakers.  

Private schools are dotted across the Costa del Sol, but there are more from Malaga to the west and many of these are British, but other nationalities and curriculums like the IB,  are represented also.  From Fuengirola to the west, we found that many of those attending international schools were not Spanish, but the proportion of Spanish students increased the further east you travelled.

There are fewer concertado schools and they are generally quite competitive to get a place, but many have a good reputation.

It is obviously worth taking your time to visit schools and ask in Facebook groups, etc for feedback.  We found our school first and then chose to live here as a result, also knowing that there were a couple of other schools we would be happy to consider if the school did not work out for our children.

Healthcare

Many of those moving to this area of Spain have to get private healthcare, depending on whether their residency application requires it or not.  There are a large number of private and public healthcare facilities and specialists along the coast and we have had only good experiences with both to date.   It generally takes longer to get an appointment with a specialist we have found, but tend to get an appointment within a couple of days with a doctor in either the private or state system.

Property

As mentioned earlier, there are properties of all shapes and sizes here and costs vary significantly according to location and size and type of home.  There are a large number of different types of property whether an apartment, town house (casa adosada), detached house (independiente or chalet) or huge rural finca.  It really depends on the location and size of property, like anywhere really. 

The other consideration, for those looking to rent, is the time of year; Getting a long term rental in the summer months can often be very difficult as many landlords like to have their properties available for this time of year to maximise their rental income.  In Autumn/winter it is generally easier to find rental properties.  Rents are currently lower (February 2021), but it really does depend on where you are looking and the proximity to the coast or the more touristy areas (generally).

Buying property is obviously more complicated and it is often very difficult to compare properties as no two homes are  generally the same.   Doing your research and subscribing to all the various real estate websites makes sense – idealista, fotocasa, kyero, thinkspain, just to name a few.

Red Tape and Bureaucracy

Spain is renowned for its bureaucracy and complicated, often very difficult (on occasion impossible) to explain processes.  Whether for a residency application, buying a car  or changing your driving licence, etc it is worth speaking to a gestor (a middle man that deals with all the processes for a cost) to deal with it unless you are excellent in Spanish. It is always wise to allocate more time than you anticipate for any of these processes!  Over time, it gets easier to do these things on your own.  But for the bigger stuff, like buying a house, a lawyer is essential.

Transport in Costa del Sol

The Costa del Sol is generally well  served for public transport, depending on how remote you are obviously.  One of the reasons we chose the east of Malaga is the train service that runs between Fuengirola along the coast to the city and the north.  There is also talk of extending this service, but I’m not sure I would hold my breath! There are also pretty extensive bus routes which are reasonably priced, including a bus directly from Malaga airport to Belamadena. You can also get a high speed train from Malaga to Madrid in just over 3 hours!

Despite all this many expats are very car dependent, although most of our journeys are short with most things being very accessible.  The autopista runs along the coast and beyond into Gibraltar and Portugal, making journeys fast, but as with any motorway it can get very busy during rush hour.  

Malaga airport is the closest and it is easy to travel reasonably cheaply to much of Europe and beyond. There are also ferries to Morocco, which makes an exciting and different adventure possible.

Photo by Tom Brunberg on Unsplash

Is the Costa del Sol a good place to live?

Having lived here for nearly 1 ½ years, and through a pandemic, we are very pleased with our choice.  We would choose to live here all over again if we had to decide and plan to stay here for a long time to come – certainly until our children finish secondary school. 

It provides the perfect balance of great weather, culture, adventure with quality services including education and healthcare.  We feel like we are at home, but it is a home that we can either choose to dip into being more Spanish or more international.  We are aspiring to be fluent in Spanish and integrate as much as possible, hopefully this will be possible.  However, the community being so diverse lends itself to make it home for you wherever you are from.   Our children are also very happy at school and with life here, whether they choose to live here after school and beyond, we will have to see! We would certainly recommend anyone considering moving abroad and living in Costa del Sol to come and visit this part of Spain and see how you feel about the place.

If you are thinking of moving abroad, check out these related posts:

About the Author: Emma writes her blog over at Inner Expat about navigating the realities of living abroad, ups and downs and everything in between.  Whilst the practical side of moving overseas is important, the emotional side is often neglected, and is also vital to consider whether looking to move short term or forever.   Inner Expat can also be found on Facebook and Instagram and have other plans in the works!

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13 Comments

  • Daniella

    17 March 2021 at 6:49 am

    Isn’t it funny what a treat it feels like to find food items you enjoyed at home while traveling… 🙂
    This is a fantastic guide Steph and really covers every aspect of being an expat in this beautiful part of Spain.

    Reply
  • Bryan Carey

    17 March 2021 at 1:21 am

    Yes, when I think of Costa Del Sol, I think of tourists from the rest of Europe visiting throughout the year. You mention the cold days and lack of heat- is a space heater sufficient to stay warm?

    Reply
    • Steph

      18 March 2021 at 2:21 pm

      We thought the same but reading Emma’s post really made us change our minds about living in the Costa del Sol, we would love to live there in the future!

      Reply
    • Emma Lees

      18 March 2021 at 8:18 pm

      Yes, I was very resistant to moving here in fear of hordes of tourists, but it is genuinely fairly easy to find places away from the crowds (and the pandemic has certainly helped in that respect at least).

      Heating is an issue as the houses are generally built to keep cool, not warm. It really depends on the property you have and if it is south facing or not, an apartment with sun coming in during the day a space heater should be fine, but larger homes definitely need more heating albeit generally just for a few weeks of the year mainly during the evening. We have loved having open fires and occasionally put the reverse cycle air con on if we are particularly chilly.

      Reply
  • Nina Clapperton

    16 March 2021 at 9:46 pm

    I never considered living in Spain before but after this post I feel really prepared for it. I love that you included intricate details on cost of living. It’s super helpful!

    Reply

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