Moving From the UK to the Basque Country

The beachline in San Sebastian, Basque Country
San Sebastian, Basque Country

Capital City: Vitoria-Gasteiz
Population: 2,188,017 people (2019)
Official languages: Spanish and Basque
Commonly spoken languages: Basque, Spanish, French
Currency: Euro
Exchange rate to pound: 0.91

The Basque Country is one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions and the one with the highest living standards in Spain.

It is undoubtedly among the most attractive and preferable places expats choose to live. Surrounded by beautiful landscapes, vast mountains, coves and plains, it makes expatriates feel in paradise. The population is cosmopolitan, and the whole region is known for its highest per-capita income in Spain. Rich in cultural history and cuisine, the Basque Country is among the world’s best places anyone can live.  

Where to live in the Basque Country

Wherever expats decide to live in the Basque Country, they will benefit from the same life standards – hospitable local people, one of the finest gastronomy in the world, cultural diversity and plenty of fiestas throughout the whole year. 

However, among the best places to live are Bilbao and Donostia-San Sebastián. 

Bilbao is an industrial port city famous for its mix of architecture, and in comparison to other cultural and business centres, life there is affordable. For example, renting a one-bedroom flat in the city centre is around €700. The 0.500 Cerveza (beer) costs  €3 on average, and a 3-course meal – is €10.

Bilbao is a city that welcomes the old and the new. It’s famous for the curvy, titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum (designed by the Canadian-born American architect Frank Gehry), which rejuvenated Bilbao when it opened in 1997.

The other best place to live is Donostia-San Sebastián: a city located on the Cantabrian sea, surrounded by the Igeldo, Urgull and Ulía mountains. Donostia is the administrative capital of the region Gipuzkoa, 30 km away from the French border (and around 5 hours and a half from Paris by train). 

In comparison to Bilbao, Donostia is an example of innovation and sustainability.

The city’s symbol is the beaches of Ondarreta and La Concha, the Island of Santa Clara located in the middle of the bay. 

For surfing fans, La Zurriola beach, located close to the Kursaal Congress Centre (designed by Rafael Moneo) welcomes surfers from all around the globe every year.

The high tourism season begins around June and continues until the end of September. Locals and tourists can enjoy the International Film Festival (Nazioarteko Zinemaldia), in September, the Jazz Festival (Jazzaldia) and the Musical Fortnight (Musika Hamabostaldia), in summer, and the Horror and Fantasy Film Festival, in autumn.

For a reason, Donostia was shortlisted as the European Capital of Culture in 2016. 

How to become a Basque resident

European citizens

The Basque Country is part of Spain and a European Economic Area which means that all EU regulations apply to citizens coming from other EU countries. These regulations allow all EU citizens to start employment in the Basque Country as employed or self-employed.

The only requirement is to have a valid ID card or passport for identity verification. Regardless of the employment status, employed, self-employed and students can live in the Basque Country without being residents. 

A residence card, however, is much preferable as it’s useful for all kinds of administrative purposes (opening a bank account, rental contracts and so on).

What’s more, every European citizen has to obtain an NIE (Número de Identidad Extranjero or Foreign Identification Number). 

Non-EU citizens

Compared to EU citizens, the regulations for non-EU citizens are the opposite. All non-European nationals must apply for a visa to be able to live in the Basque Country.

On the other hand, non-EU professionals such as researchers, engineers, and scientists who have been contracted by the government, universities, and private organisations, have to apply for residence and a work permit before they start executing their contractual obligations with the relevant institution in the country.

Useful links and information for foreigners

European Union:

Spanish Ministry of the Interior: 

Working in the Basque Country

What if we tell you that you will work fewer hours and earn more in Basque Country?

It’s true!

The Basque Country has the highest gross salaries and shortest working hours compared to the rest of Spain.

It is one of the richest regions, with 25% of its GDP based on its machine and advanced tool manufacturing, aeronautics, automotive and engineering. In 2018 the average net income per household reached 61% and exceeded the GDP in the rest of the countries in the eurozone.

Moreover, the economic pillars, construction and agriculture are also traded. 

Tourism also plays an important role in the region’s success and makes it even more attractive to expats. 

Statistics showed that in 2018 there were 144,357 active companies in the Basque Country the majority (78.81%) of which were in the services sector, followed by 13.28% in construction and 7.22% in industry.

As to unemployment, in 2019, in comparison to the 14.2% unemployment rate on a national level, the same was only 9.58% in the Basque country.

The most distinguishing companies in the region are Aernnova, Mercedes, BBVA, Michelin, CIE Automotive, Euskaltel, Gamesa, Grupo Arteche and Iberdrola. Most of them employ highly qualified professionals, and a good level of Spanish is recommended. 

Nevertheless, post-doctoral researchers are in the highest demand in universities, laboratories and scientific centres.

However, another way of finding a job in the Basque Country is to search for local portals, forums, job sites on the Internet or classified ads in local newspapers.

Labour-related information for foreigners

Spanish Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs: Office of the Secretary of State for Immigration and Emigration 

Transportation in the Basque Country

Travelling in the Basque Country is safe and comfortable. There are plenty of intercity bus routes and railways at affordable prices. 


Commuters mainly rely on public transport. There are two urban buses, running every 6 or 30 minutes, depending on which part of the city or outside the city you wish to get to.

What’s more, the bus lines offer transport cards as well, and tickets cost nearly half the price of standard tickets. The city buses (Dbus) cards are called Mugi and you can find them at newsagents or at the city tourists information centres. 


There are two railways:

The RENFE is the only long-distance railway company in Spain in general. It offers transportation to the major Spanish cities and Paris, whereas the Euskotren is the regional railway that links nearby cities in the Basque country. 


There are several airports in the Basque Country – the San Sebastián airport in Hondarribia, Loiu (in Bilbao), Biarritz, Noaim (Pamplona) and Vitoria. They offer domestic flights and connections to some of the biggest European cities.


Cycling in the biggest cities in the Basque Country such as Vitoria, Bilbao and Donostia-San Sebastián, is an example of the environmental preservation the local government has considered. 

However, the best cycling infrastructure (lanes) is in Donostia. 

Apart from that, the city offers the so-called DBizi, free access to bikes at pick-up and drop-off around the city.

Driving your own car in the Basque Country

To be able to drive your UK-registered car in the Basque Country, you must have the Registration Log Book, MOT Certificate, Insurance Documentation, + Valid Road Tax. Your Insurance company must issue you a “Green card” as well.

Apart from the aforementioned documents and certificates, you must also have Jack, Warning Triangles, Spare Tyre, Fluorescent Jacket and Spare Glasses. This is a legal requirement.

When is it time to register your car?

Usually, there is a limited number of days during which you can drive around the country with UK plates. However, after 183 days, you must register your UK car with Spanish plates.

As the whole process is time-consuming, we highly recommend you use local professional services or Gestor.

Once you initiate the process, keep in mind the following expenses:

  • 0% tax for vehicles with emissions of less than 120 grams of CO2 per kilometre
  • 4.75% tax for vehicles with emissions from 120 to 160 grams of CO2 per kilometre
  • 9.75% tax for vehicles with emissions from 160 to 200 grams of CO2 per kilometre
  • 14.75% tax for vehicles with emissions of more than 200 grams of CO2 per kilometre
  • 14.75% tax for vehicles that are not rated for CO2 emissions

Your vehicle would need to be inspected as per the country’s standards – ITV (Inspección técnica de Vehículos). Such inspections may obligate you to change your headlights and rear fog lights to meet European standards. 

The whole procedure is extremely expensive, and considering exchanging your UK vehicle for an already locally registered one is way more preferable and much cheaper. 

For parking spots, San Sebastián, for example, has the so-called park-and-ride schemes, namely, park for free and use public transport. This is a very convenient way for people who live outside the city but work or study there. For example, here is a list of such parking spots in Donostia.

There is, however, a regulated parking system as well. From Monday to Saturday there are parking spots in the city – underground car parkings as well as on the streets. They are not pricey but are for a limited number of hours. They go under the name O.T.A and tickets can be bought from automats located on the streets. 

You can find some useful information and guidelines about how to validate and/or exchange your UK driving license here:

Education in the Basque Country

Schools in the Basque Country are either public, state-funded or private, and there are several levels of the education system:

  • Infant education (Age 0 to 6)
    Not mandatory. The government coordinates the places in the public schools, however, there are private nursery schools and kindergartens.
  • Basic education (Age 6 to 16)
    Free and mandatory
  • Post-compulsory secondary education (Age 16+)
    2 years duration, not mandatory, divided into Baccalaureate and Vocational Training. For more information, visit this website.
  • Post-secondary education (Age 18+)
    4+ years duration, encompasses an adaptable and comprehensive degree system which goal is to expand European students’ potential on the labour market.
  • Special training courses
    For those who are willing to explore the depths of Languages, Music and Dance, Art and Design, Sports or Higher Art Education.

Apart from that, there are 3 different language models:

    All the subjects are taught in Spanish and Basque is only a subject in the curriculum.
    Some subjects are taught in Spanish (Maths, Reading and Writing) and whereas others are in Basque.
    All the subjects are taught in Basque and Spanish is only a subject in the curriculum.

The curious fact is that pupils start learning English at an early age – 4.

Being a student in the Basque Country

European citizens do not need a student visa to study in the Basque Country, whereas non-Europeans do. 

To enrol in any of the universities in the Basque Country, first, you need to validate your studies – non-university and university degrees and diplomas fall under the same conditions. 

The best universities in the Basque Country are:

Most postgraduate students can afford to work part-time jobs, whereas full-time undergraduates can either apply for student loans or rely on an insufficient scholarship.

You can find more information about university scholarships and loans by visiting this website.

Healthcare in the Basque Country

The public healthcare system in the Basque Country is among the best in the world. Citizens put health as part of the quality of life hence it’s a high priority. The Basque government manages all the healthcare institutions through the Basque public health service Osakidetza – Servicio Vasco de Salud. It comprises 51 hospitals, 442 centres and more than twenty-four thousand healthcare professionals.

Apart from the army of professionals and health infrastructure, Osakidetza regularly invests in the latest technological advancements to be able to provide the availability to all, integrity, and support that guarantee the healthcare system’s quality. 

If you are not employed in the Basque Country, you will not be able to apply for an Osakidetza card. 

Europeans, for example, should obtain their European Health Card before leaving their country, whereas non-Europeans – students or visitors must have medical insurance valid for the length of their stay.


So, if you’re a fan of sunny beaches and warm weather, the Basque Country may be what you’re looking for. Moving there from the UK is a significant change, so if you’re up for the challenge, Fantastic Removals can make the international relocation process easier for you.

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