Spain is one of the European countries with the highest number of international students. Its warm weather, beaches, nightlife and beautiful culture make it a destination that college and university students want to explore. In 2019, the year before the pandemic, Spain had almost 200.000 higher education students from all around the world. Even though due to the Covid-19 things slowed down, Spain remains a very attractive country for young students.
If you are thinking about moving or you have already moved to a Spanish city you will certainly have many questions about living and studying in Spain. In this article, you will find all the information you need about your first steps and legal obligations when you arrive in Spain.
Spain, like all other European countries, has different residence norms for European students and international students. University students that are coming from countries of the European Union don’t need to get a Student Visa in order to stay in Spain.
On the other hand, students from the US, the UK and all the other countries that don’t belong to the European Union need to apply for a student visa in the Spanish embassy or consulate of their home country, otherwise, they will not be accepted to start a course in the Spanish University.
During the application process of your Student Visa, you will also need to have an International Student Health Insurance Plan that will cover your medical emergencies in case of illness or accident during your stay in Spain.
When you arrive in Spain you have 30 days to apply for authorization to stay for studies (Autorización de Estancia por Estudios). This permit will demonstrate that you are a legal resident of Spain and you can renew it for as long as your studies last.
Housing and living costs
The cost of living in Spain mostly depends on the city you are studying. Big metropolitan cities like Madrid and Barcelona have a quite high cost of living mainly because of the expensive rents. Smaller cities like Valencia, Seville and Granada have lower rents and more affordable prices in cafeterias, bars and restaurants.
Most students in Spain choose to rent a room in a shared flat instead of renting their own apartment. That way they don’t spend any money on real estate agencies, there is no need to buy new furniture just for a few years and they can also share all house expenses like internet and water with their flatmates. The most popular platforms to find rooms in shared apartments are Badi and Idealista but a lot of people also post their spare room in Facebook groups.
In Spain, you can also find many options of student accommodations, otherwise known as residences (residencias de estudiantes). There are some universities that also have accommodations available for their international students but you can find many different options of private student flats.
In this category of housing, you can see different types of apartments. You can choose between little studio apartments that have their own kitchen and bathroom or you can have your own bedroom with a private bathroom but shared kitchen and common spaces.
The last housing option for international students that want to avoid paying rent is to work as an Au Pair. Au pairs are usually foreign university students that make an agreement with a local family. They spend some hours of the day taking care of the children in exchange for free housing. US and UK students are usually selected for au pair jobs since many parents are looking for a native English speaker to spend time with their children so that they can get familiar with the language.
Spanish Student lifestyle
Once you have finished with the boring bureaucratic work and the apartment hunting all students have to deal with at the beginning, it is time to start experiencing and enjoying the Spanish way of living.
Learn the language
Living in Spain is such an enriching experience for international students, however, in order to socialize with local people and truly understand the culture, you have to know at least a little bit of Spanish. Metropolitan cities like Madrid and Barcelona have big expat communities, many people who work in international companies never learn to speak Spanish because in their everyday life they don’t really use it. Nevertheless, in smaller towns like Toledo or Bilbao speaking the language can be very useful.
Don’t panic if you don’t know Spanish, nobody expects foreign students to speak fluently. Even if you take a few classes and you learn the basics your local friends will definitely appreciate your effort and they will help you every time you have trouble expressing yourself.
Life at the University
Since you are coming to Spain to study, the University is the place where you will spend most of your time. You will quickly realize that student and professors relationships are probably less formal than where are you coming from. Students will rarely refer to a professor by calling him sir, both students and professors often call each other by their short names.
Lectures are very interesting since most of the students participate, debate with each other and have constructive arguments. All opinions are being heard and respected and in most classes, you are encouraged to work in groups.
Group assignments are the perfect opportunity to work with your classmates, blend in and get to know them. International students are sometimes shy especially if they are not feeling comfortable with the language but once you take the risk you will realize that your contribution and your different point of view is very appreciated.
Don’t miss the opportunity to take part in the activities of the student’s campus. Head to the reception of your department and get informed about the different clubs and events that are organized for the students during the year. Most universities in Spain have a theater club or a sports team that you could participate in for free and get to know people from different classes and courses.
Vibrant Student Culture
Spain is such a popular destination because studying there is a memorable once in a lifetime experience. Spain is a country that is very open to international students. Going out with friends at the end of the day is a habit and even between classes people often get together for a coffee or afternoon vermouth with olives and chips.
As soon as you get to the city you have chosen for your studies you will quickly realize the crazy local nightlife. If you are planning to go for a night out maybe you should take an afternoon nap since Spanish Clubs, known as discotecas, open around midnight. In big cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia you have endless options, all the way from blues bars, to techno clubs or authentic flamenco shows.
You will soon feel comfortable in the city and start enjoying your new habits as sipping on a café con leche on a sunny morning or tasting a flavourful paella on Sundays. Spanish people are very open and if you approach them they will be excited to show you their culture, traditions but also the small everyday things that make Spanish lifestyle unique.
New friends and experiences through Student Networks
Starting your life in a new country can be tough at times especially because you are leaving your friends and family behind. Don’t forget that in Spain there are many more students from all over the world that came to this amazing country alone and are looking forward to meeting new people just like you.
In Spain, there are various student associations and organizations that have as their only aim to connect students and organize activities and experiences where everybody can participate. The most famous associations are ESN (Erasmus Student Network) and ISN (International Student Network).
Throughout the websites of these associations, you can also find offers and discounts for trips, excursions and sights. Studying in a foreign country gives you the time to explore and discover different parts that otherwise you wouldn’t have the opportunity to go to.
Enjoy the Spanish student experience to the fullest
Studying away from home gives you a broader education not only because you enter in a completely new environment and culture but also because you have the opportunity to meet other international students from all over the world, get introduced to a different educational system and an alternative way of thinking. So take this chance and make the most out of your student years in Spain!
Not all students have the opportunity to study in a different country and while this experience can be challenging at times you have the chance to live memorable moments, learn important lessons and make relationships that can last a lifetime.