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MOVING TO SPAIN

The pros and cons of living in Spain’s Marbella

Known not only as a glitzy holiday destination but also a great place to relocate, more and more foreigners are booking one-way tickets and settling in Marbella. Here are the pros and cons to living in this famous small city on the Costa del Sol.

moving to marbella pros and cons
Marbella more than triples its population during the summer month due to the rise in tourism numbers, but what's it like to live there all year round? Photo: Simon Hermans/Unsplash

Marbella may be famous with footballers and social media stars, but is the glitzy jewel in the crown of the Costa del Sol all it’s cracked up to be?

The high-end coastal resort town is well known across Northern Europe as a summer getaway destination where you can enjoy luxury bars, restaurants and hotels right next to the beach, but what’s it like to live there?

The Local has broken down some pros and cons of moving to Marbella.

PROS

Nature

Despite being famous for its luxury restaurants and resorts and its 27 km of coastline, you might not have known that Marbella is also home to some stunning scenery, and the city is surrounded by rolling hills.

There are also two national parks nearby: Doñana National Park, great for birdwatching, and the famous Sierra Nevada, which offers amazing skiing and breathtaking views just a two-and-a-half hours’ drive away.

There aren’t many places that you could go swimming in the sea in the morning, and ski that very same afternoon – Marbella is one of them.

Price

Price is quite a subjective thing. Obviously, it depends on where you’re from, your income and spending habits. In fact, in a place like Marbella price could be even be considered both a pro and a con, depending on your point of view. 

Although it is true that much of Marbella’s appeal is aimed at foreigners with a higher purchasing power, living in Marbella, (though on the whole slightly more expensive than nearby cities, which we’ll touch on later) is still likely to be cheaper if you’re relocating from another country in northern Europe or other developed nations.

Living in Marbella is 43 percent cheaper than living in London, for example, 39 percent cheaper than Paris, and 23 percent more affordable than Berlin. 

Simply put, Marbella is a place where you can enjoy a glitzy lifestyle for a bit cheaper than back home. If you’re relocating from elsewhere in Spain, or southern Europe more broadly, you might need to read our cons section below.

Climate

But the weather is good everywhere in Spain, you might say? Although it is true that Spanish weather is generally much better than most northern European countries, it’s certainly not blue skies and sun all year around across the whole of Spain.

Even within Spain, Marbella boasts one of the best climates in the country. With an average temperature of 16°C during the winter months, 320 days of sun a year, and the coastal breeze to keep you refreshed, locals say Marbella has the best weather in Spain. They might be right!

marbella old town

Marbella Old Town has a lot of charm. Photo: Lynn Vdbr/Unsplash

The old town

When many picture Marbella, they think of the rows of hotels and luxury restaurants. But not all of Marbella is like the flashy Puerto Banús, where foreigners tend to congregate for short stays. Marbella’s old town is much more Spanish, and replete with white washed houses and flowers, narrow, cobbled side streets lined with orange trees and filled with history.

Accessibility

Marbella is extremely well connected both domestically and internationally, with flights to most major cities across the UK and Europe, and you can drive or travel by public transport to nearby Málaga in around an hour, to Seville (3.5 hours), Cádiz (3.5), and Granada (2.45).

CONS

Overcrowding

Like many coastal resort cities, Marbella gets extremely overcrowded in the summer months. Marbella’s official population is around 148,000 but local authorities estimate that that number jumps to as many as 500,000 during the summer months.

Equally, and this could be a positive or a negative, during the winter months Marbella is much quieter.

Many clubs and restaurants don’t even open during the winter season, and if they do, it’ll just be on the weekends.

marbella pros and cons

Marbella is a different place in summer to what it’s like during winter. (Photo by Jorge Guerrero / AFP)


Authenticity

Though its old town is lovely and quaint, Marbella on the whole perhaps isn’t the most authentic Spanish or Andalusian experience you can find in the region.

Far from it, in fact; in the tourist hotspots during the summer season you could hear as much English, German, Dutch or Swedish as you do Spanish.

Marbella officially has around 148,000 residents, of which 39,000 are foreigners, plus the hundreds of thousands that visit every year that bump up the number of unofficial residents.

Traffic

Despite the swathes of tourists that flock to Marbella every summer, it is worth remembering that it is not a big city and the roads can become completely gridlocked with cars and taxis during the seasonal months.

With Marbella’s summertime population multiplying two or three-fold over the summer, the city’s street system often can’t cope, and good luck finding a parking space!

Marbella’s economy is highly dependant on tourism and hospitality. Photo:Astrid Schmid/Pixabay

Price 

But how can price be both a pro and a con? Well, it can be true that Marbella is both cheaper than most places in Europe, but also that its prices have been pushed up by the influx of rich tourists trying to take advantage of that.

It’s worth remembering prices in Marbella have been driven up compared to most other places in the province and broader Andalusia region.

Málaga province, where Marbella is located, was the second province with the highest rise in property price rises in all of Spain between 2015 and 2020, according to figures published by Spain’s Urban Agenda Ministry in 2022.

According to Spanish property search engine Fotocasa, in the upmarket Puerto Banús area homes are going for €5,305/sqm (the average home price is over €800,000), whereas in Marbella Old Town it’s more reasonable but still fairly pricy at €3,318/sqm (€486,710 for a home on average).

Rents are also on the up in 2022, rising by 19 percent in Marbella and Málaga province over the last year, according to Idealista.

Andalusia, and southern Spain in general, is full of towns and cities that are generally more cost-effective and authentically Spanish.

Seasonal economy

As Marbella fills up during the summer months and empties out in the winter, its economy is very heavily reliant on leisure and tourism.

That means that job opportunities can be harder to come by during the winter months.

Nor can you expect salaries to be much better than anywhere else in Spain, despite the generally higher cost of living. 

Unless you’ve got a pension, or savings, or a regular income from abroad, finding a job may be more difficult during that time of the year because much of the tourism sector cuts back if not shuts down entirely.

The international nature of Marbella does mean that the real estate industry stays strong year round, though.

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SPAIN AND THE US

Spain and the US to exchange more language assistants in bilingualism push    

The governments of Spain and the United States have agreed to recruit more English and Spanish-language assistants from each other’s countries as a means of bolstering bilingual education in the two nations.

Spain and the US to exchange more language assistants in bilingualism push    

Spain’s Education Minister Pilar Alegría and US ambassador to Spain Julissa Reynoso met on Wednesday to sign a memorandum of understanding which will reinforce educational cooperation between the two countries. 

The agreement had been previously signed by Miguel Cardona, the United States Secretary of Education, who tweeted: “This week, alongside [Spanish] Ambassador [Santiago] Cabañas, I signed a memorandum supporting the study of Spanish language & culture in the US, and the study of English in Spain”.

It is in fact a renewal of a memorandum between the United States and Spain which has facilitated mobility of both conversation assistants and students between the two countries in recent years.

The aim of this newest memorandum of understanding is to further strengthen student and teacher exchange programmes and promote bilingual and multicultural teaching in both educational systems.

No exact details have yet been given about how many extra language assistants will be given grants to join the programme. 

Several teacher recruitment sources suggest the current number of North American language assistants (including Canadians) heading to Spain every year is between 2,000 and 2,500. 

The Spanish government has stated that in 2023, this figure will be around 4,500, which represents a considerable increase in the number of US and Canadian citizens who can apply through the NALCAP programme, which stands for North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain. 

According to Spain’s Foreign Ministry, the following requirements must be met by US candidates in order to participate in the programme:

  • Be a U.S. citizen and have a valid passport
  • Have earned a bachelor’s degree or be currently enrolled as a sophomore, junior or a senior in a bachelor’s programme. Applicants may also have an associate degree or be a community college student in their last semester.
  • Have a native-like level of English
  • Be in good physical and mental health
  • Have a clean background check
  • Be aged 18 – 60.
  • Have at least basic knowledge of Spanish (recommended)

NALCAP recipients receive a monthly stipend of €700 to €1,000 as well as Spanish medical insurance.

Application dates for 2023 are usually announced in late November. See more information on the NALPAC programme for US nationals here

According to The Fulbright Program, one of several US cultural exchange programmes that organises the recruitment of US nationals for Spain: “English Teaching Assistants assist teaching staff at the early childhood, elementary, middle school, high school, vocational and/or university level for up to 16 hours per week, with an additional two hours for planning & coordination meetings. Responsibilities include assistant-teaching, in English, subjects such as social studies, science and technology, art, physical education, and English language.”

READ MORE: The pros and cons of being an English language assistant in Spain

There are also currently more than 1,000 Spanish teachers working as visiting teachers in the United States, Spain’s Moncloa government has said, without adding yet how many more will be recruited in 2023.

Additionally, more than 1,000 North American students now take part in the Spanish Language and Culture Groups managed by the Spanish Education Ministry’s Overseas Education Action (or Acción Educativa Exterior, AEE).  

Canadian applicants can find out more about working as language assistants in Spain by visiting the NALCAP Canada website.

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