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What to expect when moving to Spain from the U.S.

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When moving to Spain from the United States, there are many cultural differences that we aren’t used to. These are a few basic cultural differences that are important to know before arriving. They are generalizations about the Spanish culture, as it varies from region to region just as it does in the U.S., but they will help you get the idea of what life in Spain is like and what to expect.

If you want to read more specifically about life in Madrid, read this blog!


In the U.S., we appreciate our personal space, and in Spain they treat personal space a bit differently than are used to. Something that may be shocking to you when you first arrive is how people greet one another. When meeting someone for the first time in the U.S., it is normal to shake hands or maybe hug in a social setting. If you are being introduced to a group of people, it is not uncommon to give a friendly wave to the whole group. In Spain, giving two kisses to every single person in a group is very typical. If you offer your hand to shake, it could be considered rude. Although it may be uncomfortable at first, it becomes natural with time.


The way that time is used in Spain is much more relaxed than in the US. Americans are known for moving at a very rapid pace and constantly being scheduled. Arriving on time is very important. In Spain it is not so problematic to arrive late, in fact, it is quite typical. Time spent with family and friends is highly valued, therefore social gatherings and meals tend to last longer then we are used to in the U.S.


While in the United States we are used to tipping for nearly every service we use, it is not nearly as common in Spain. Depending where you are, how much you are spending, and how big of a group you are with, the protocol for tipping varies. Know you are never expected to tip the typical 20% like in the US. Always use good judgment when making the decision to leave a tip so that you don’t get taken advantage of, and also so you do not offend someone that has helped you. If you do decide to tip, a few euros is adequate for servers, and some change for drivers and bellmen. Tipping is not expected the same way it is in the US, but if you feel that someone has done a particularly good job serving you, leaving a tip is polite.

Typical Food and Dining in Spain

The fact that the waiters and waitresses do not rely only on tips to make money, and because of the relaxed attitude towards time, service tends to be a little slower and meals naturally take longer. In the US, when the server notices that you are finished with your meal, they quickly clear the table and bring the check. In Spain, you must request the check or you will be waiting for quite some time.

Not only should you expect meals to take more time, you should also expect the timing of the meals to be different. If you show up for dinner around 6pm, the restaurants might not even be open, and if they are, they won’t be busy. For American’s, breakfast is typically anytime between 7-9am, lunch around noon, and dinner between 5-8pm, depending on your daily schedule. In Spain, breakfast happens around the same time but is much smaller, usually consisting of a café con leche and pan con tomate and some olive oil. Lunch is one of the biggest meals and can last several hours typically starting at 2 or 3. Dinner also starts much later, around 9:30. If you enjoy nightlife, expect the clubs to start getting busy around 1:30. If you arrive at 10pm, most people will still be having dinner.

The food in Spain is quite unique compared to the food we are used to in the US. Each region has their own specialty, but some frequent dishes include patatas bravas, Spanish tortilla, croquettes, paella, ham, olives, and olive oil. You will also notice that the size of the portions tends to be smaller then what we are used to in the U.S.

If you would like to read more about different foods in Europe, check out this blog!

Average Cost of Living

As you probably knew, Spain’s currency is Euros (€) like the rest of Europe, however the cost of living is quite low. According to, the cost of living is an average of 22.9% lower than in the United States and rent is an average of 49.16% lower than in the United States. At a typical restaurant, the price for a meal is around 12€, and for a three course meal the average price is 25€.

A typical trip to the grocery store including milk, eggs, cheese, fruit, chicken, vegetables, beer and wine, bread, toilet paper, and a few personal care products is around 45€. Not bad when you’re used to paying much more in the US!

These a just a few of the many cultural differences that you will notice when arriving in Spain. Although it takes time to adjust, they will become more natural with time and you might even find yourself continuing them when you return to the US!

If you want some more tips about studying abroad, check out this blog!