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Spain’s modern history is marred by the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco which followed.
Since 1975, Spain has been a democracy and, since 1986, a member of the EU.
Although the country is split into 17 distinct regions – known as autonomous communities – , the Spanish constitution cherishes a united Spain while respecting diversity.
The global financial crisis walloped Spain’s dynamic economy. Its housing bubble burst dramatically, leaving Span in dire economic circumstances. Tourism took a hit but quickly recovered, while the property market saw years of devaluing and then stagnation.
Things are now getting much better.
It is apparent that foreigners are still moving to Spain. Despite its economic woes, Spain is a country filled with diverse culture, friendly people and a pleasant climate – three things that will always attract expats.
As we have said, Spain is a country made up of 17 partly autonomous regions (autonomous communities or comunidades autónomas). As a result, the law and practice (as well as culture and day-to-day life) differ somewhat from place to place.
We publish separate sets of guides reflecting the differing situations in some of the main regions plus a “general” set covering Spain as a whole. Guides to further regions will be added in due course.
The Country: Spain ( España)
Adjective: Spanish ( Español)
The Nationality: Spanish ( Español)
The People: Spaniards (Españoles)
Languages: (2005) Spanish (89%), Catalan/Valencian (9%), Galician (5%) Basque (0.9%). Furthermore, 27% of the population speak English, 12% speak French and 2% speak German (including expats).
Time Zone: UTC+0
Currency Code: EUR
ISO International Country Code: ESP
Internet Domain: .es
Telephone Dialling Code: +34
Capital City: Madrid: population 3,165,235 (2016)
Terrain: Flat plateaus and rugged hills. Mountainous in the North. Miles and miles of beaches. Highest point: Mount Teidem a volcano on Tenerife reaching 3,718 metres.
Climate: As it’s so large, Spain has five different climate zones. Generally, one can expact a Mediterranean climate – hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. However, the huge plateau (Meseta) experiences colder winters, while the Basque Country has cooler summers but mild, dry winters. See our guide to the climate in Spain for more information.
Median age: 42.7 years. This is an ageing population. Spain has a low birth rate and increasing life expectancy, leading to concern of strain on the health system as the elderly population continues its speedy growth.
Foreign born population: 9.6% of total population (UN).
Religion: 67.4% Catholic, 18.4% non-believer, 9.1% atheist, 2.5% other religions (CIA World Factbook, 2016).
UN Human Development Index: 27 of 187 countries. This index attempts to measure a country’s achievements in education, healthcare, wealth generation and a number of other areas. In effect, it looks at the extent to which the people in a country enjoy a long and healthy life, a good education and a decent standard of living. It is a very useful indicator of what a country will be like as a place to live.
UN Inequality Adjusted Human Development Index: 27 of 144 countries. This index is a list measuring the lost development potential arising from all types of inequality in a country. With perfect equality this index and the HDI would show the same result.
Population Below Absolute Poverty Line ($5.50 per day, adjusted for purchasing power parity): 3%.
The medical system
The Spanish healthcare system is regularly rated as amongst the best in the world, though it falls short of neighbouring France.
Spain is a parliamentary monarchy. This means that the monarch is the head of state and the prime minister is the head of government. Political power regularly changes hands as a result of credible elections.
All citizens aged over 18 may vote.
The Peace Index
Spain is ranked 23 out of 163 countries included in the 2018 edition of the Vision of Humanity “Peace Index”. This is just ahead of Croatia and just behind Slovakia. Iceland comes first. Syria comes last.
The methodology may be open to some debate but this is a good snapshot of criminality, conflict, political attitudes and military expenditure.
The Global Terrorism Index
This is another interesting snapshot, from the same people.
The Legal System
The legal system in Spain is a civil law system, based on the French law which is, in turn, based on principles of Roman law.
Although Spain is a country, it is made up of regions that are in some ways autonomous. Some areas of the law vary from one region to another. These include aspects of family law and inheritance, some tax laws and some facets of tourist development. Thus, when you’re dealing with Spain, it is important to take advice from someone familiar with the specific laws in the part of Spain with which you are dealing.
Spain is ranked 23 out of 113 countries included in the 2017 edition of the World Justice Project’s “Rule of Law Index”. This is above Greece and Italy but some way below France and the United Kingdom. Spain scored particularly well in the ‘fundamental rights’ category.
Spain also scores fairly well on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Spain is ranked 37 out of 168 countries included in the 2015 edition of the index. This is behind neighbouring Portugal (28) but ahead of Malta (34). Denmark is top. Somalia and North Korea are bottom.
See our Guide to the Legal System for more details.
Spain’s economy functions largely on agriculture. Crops of grains, fruits, vegetables and cork are exported all over the world. It is the world’s largest producer of olive oil and is well known for its wine – particularly that from the Rioja region.
On an industrial level, Spain produces a range of products including textiles, metal, medical equipment and electronics. The automotive industry is one of the largest employers in the country.
Spain’s economy has, in recent years, relied less on its traditional import/export partners in the EU, and started branching out into the rest of the world: Latin America, Asia and Africa are among its biggest trade partners.
Of course, Spain is also home to one of the biggest tourism industries in the world. In 2013, it was the most visited country in the world.
The Spanish economy took a huge hit after the global financial crisis. In 2009 Spain saw a -3.7% growth rate – and the economy didn’t stop contracting until near the end of 2013.
Continued government reforms and a resilient export sector have pushed Spain into recovery, although public debt had reached the startling level of 97% of GDP by 2014 – that compared to around 60% in 2010.
Spain still suffers an abysmal employment rate, especially for young people. In the European Union, only Greece has it worse.
Spain enjoys a laid-back, typically Mediterranean culture.
See our other guides for details.
Spanish business culture is based firmly on trust, friendship and time spent getting to know one another face-to-face. Personal meetings are by far and away the most effective method of making useful business contacts. Initial meetings are likely to be focused on getting to know one another, rather than diving straight into business issues. Make a good impression and you’ll have a much easier time going forward.
The pace of business life is also noticeably slower than in, say, New York, London or Berlin. That isn’t always bad thing! It’s best to organise meetings well in advance and clear the afternoon. Punctuality is not the norm and meetings will almost certainly deviate from the agenda on a regular basis.
Our guides about Spain contain a mass of information about living, working, doing business, retiring & investing in Spain. Check them out here.
When preparing this factsheet we made extensive use of:
- Spain Office for National Statistics
- UN Statistics division
- UN Development Programme
- CIA World Fact Book
- The World Bank
In addition we would like to thank our colleagues, contributors and readers for their invaluable input.
Useful other sources of further information
CIA World Factbook: Spain