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Where in Spain do all the American expats live?

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Where in Spain do all the American expats live?
Photo: Depositphotos
23:03 CEST+02:00
According to the Spain’s national statistics agency, the INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadística), there are some 37,301 Americans officially residing in Spain. That's 20,203 American women, joined by 17,098 American men, spread across Spain’s 19 autonomous regions and cities.
While these figures are based on the padrón, or official administrative register, and thus exclude those expats who never register, they do enable us to get a pretty good idea of where in Spain most American expatriates live.
 
The interactive infographic below shows how many U.S. nationals are registered, or empadronado, in each autonomous region or city.
 
 
Madrid on top
 
The INE statistics show that the Community of Madrid is home to more Americans than any other autonomous region by a longshot. Some 10,612 Americans live there, which is more than a quarter of all United States citizens registered in Spain. 
 
That makes the capital one of the few places in Spain where there are more Americans than Brits, which is saying something when one considers that UK nationals outnumber US nationals in Spain by almost 7 to 1. 
 
In fact, Americans make up more than 40 percent of the English-speaking population in the capital. This is fairly impressive when compared to some other places with large populations of English-speaking expatriates, like Alicante and Almería, where Americans make up less than 2 percent.
 
The INE stats show a significant difference in between Americans and other English speakers, especially their cousins from across the pond, who tend to cluster around the coastlines or on the islands
 
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El Oso y el Madroño, Puerta del Sol, Madrid  Photo: Max Pixel
 
Why so many Americans in Madrid? We put the question to members of the group American Expats in Spain, and got a number of interesting answers. 
 
Given that Americans, unlike citizens of EU member states, need a visa to stay in Spain longer than three months, a lot of them wind up in Madrid because of the activity that allows them to have a visa.  That was the case for Susan Strongbow, who attributes the American presence in Madrid to “jobs - if an American is offered a job it is most likely in Madrid, at least I was.”
 
Similarly, many of the young Americans who are able to come to Spain are students, English teachers, or participants in the government’s Auxiliares de conversación English-language teaching assistant program, points out Andrea Summers. “I would say there are tons living in Madrid as auxiliares. And many, like me, who got a TEFL on a student visa.”  
 
Because they do not benefit from the European Union regulations that allow the Irish and British (at least for the time being) to come to Spain easily, they more frequently depend on teaching posts, which are more common in highly populated cities. Many wind up in Madrid, comments Laura Reilly: “As for auxiliares, Madrid is the biggest city in Spain - meaning the highest amount of auxiliares, who are mostly Americans as it’s one of the few ways to get residency in Spain as a non-EU citizen.”
 
Several respondents proposed a more surprising theory, based on the fact that the air base in Torrejón de Ardoz used to be American. Nathan Walter explains that “there were a lot of Americans stationed in this area say, 40 years ago. Those Americans either stayed locally, or returned home with Spanish spouses and Spanish ties. Now their children are coming back, or they themselves are coming back for retirement, and choosing a place they know where they have ties.”
 
There are also practical advantages, like the proximity to Barajas Airport, making trips to and from the U.S. easier, and  the fact that Madrid currently is the only autonomous region in Spain where the wealth tax (impuesto sobre el patrimonio) is discounted at 100 percent. “ You don’t pay the wealth tax in Madrid,” reasons Imelda Fagin. “Maybe not important to everyone but it is to me.” 
 
Plaza Mayor, Madrid   Photo: Sebastian Dubiel/Wikimedia Commons
 
Besides all of the more circumstantial explanations, many of the Americans living in Madrid simply seem to really enjoy living there, like Daniel Catalan. “A huge factor is that it is a laid back environment that is still stimulating and urban. I have been living here six years of the eight that I've been living abroad and I absolutely love it,” he says. “One can find whatever they are looking for here, bump into their friends on the street all the time because of the size, and walk home after a night out. It’s inspiring for creative types, and still relatively affordable, although that´s changing.”
 
Madrid’s status as home to the highest number of American nationals does not mean that folks from the U.S. avoid the coast. After Madrid, the next eight regions in terms of American population are all near the water. Even so, the trend towards residing in cities continues in these regions.
 
The Catalan capital, an international city
 
This is the case in Catalonia, the region with the second highest amount of U.S. nationals. Of the 8,468 Americans that live there, the great majority - 7,476 of them, or almost 90 percent - live in the province of Barcelona, which becomes apparent when population distribution is shown by province.
 
 
 
For many, this area’s combination of geographical assets and urbanity make it an ideal place to live. Eron Bloomgarden, who lives in Sitges, lists “good weather”, “a major international airport”, “a major cosmopolitan city”, and “easy access to sea and mountains” as advantages that led him and many other expats to choose Barcelona province.
 
However, several people said that they had experienced linguistic and cultural difficulties in Catalonia, like Susan Strongbow, who commented, “the magic wears off when you live there and you realize you aren't speaking Spanish, but Catalan. Your children must learn Catalan as the primary language, and Spanish is only a second language. And there aren't any Spanish only schools and you can only learn Catalan in school if you already know Spanish because there are no free language programs for children, only for students over the age of 16. Forget driving, all the road signs are in Catalan. Food at Mercadona is in Catalan. Beauty salons, gym memberships & signage are in Catalan. There is no escaping it so we left.” 
 
Parc Güell, Barcelona  Photo: Deposit Photos
 
To generalize, those who were more positive about Barcelona often cited its cosmopolitan or international environment, while those who were less positive focused on their impression that the area was very different from the rest of Spain.
 
The coast over the interior
 
After the provinces that are home to Spain’s twin economic capitals, the next most popular amongst Americans were those on the southern and eastern coasts, with Andalusia coming in third (6,279 Americans) and Valencia in fourth (3,311). Here, Americans are often drawn by the same natural advantages that attract their English-speaking cousins from across the pond. 
 
Photo: AFP
 
Deborah Johnson, who lives in Granada province in Andalusia, said, “I have been living on the Costa Tropical - La Herradura for the past 12 years - a beautiful part of Spain with its subtropical weather, fantastic beaches and ski resort only an hour’s drive away. What's not to like?”
 
For those who want to avoid their fellow Americans, the solution is a simple one: head to the Spain’s interior provinces (except Madrid) or it’s outposts in Africa. According to the INE, the North African coastal cities of Ceuta and Melilla are the autonomous entities that count the fewest Americans (5 and 18, respectively), followed by La Rioja (157) and Extremadura (211) on the mainland. A full list of autonomous regions and cities, in descending order by population, follows:
 
Autonomous region/city - Number of American nationals
 
1) Madrid - 10,612
2) Catalonia - 8,468
3) Andalusia - 6,279
4) Valencia - 3,311
5) Galicia - 1,315
6) Balearic Islands - 1,216
7) Canary Islands - 1,071
8) Basque Country - 1,048
9) Castilla y León - 753
10) Castilla-La Mancha - 564
11) Murcia - 539
12) Aragón - 522
13) Asturias - 496
14) Navarra - 405
15) Cantabria - 311
16) Extremadura - 211
17) La Rioja - 157
18) Melilla - 18
19) Ceuta - 5
 
Data from the INE valid on January 1st, 2019
 
By Edward O'Reilly
 

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