That said, the more information you have before you move to Gran Canaria the easier things are. Here's everything we can think of that you need to know about relocating to Gran Canaria.
Getting Residencia in Gran Canaria
The first stage of relocating to Gran Canaria is to make sure that you're allowed to.
You don't get automatic Spanish residencia these days just for being an EU citizen. In 2012, Spain decided that it can't afford to provide healthcare and other services to people who don't pay tax. In order to get residency in Gran canaria, the Canary Islands and everywhere else in Spain you have to show that you are financially independent.
British citizens may wonder at this point why the UK didn't do something similar rather than flounce out of a continent.
Anyway, you currently need one of these things to get residency in Gran Canaria as an EU, EEA or EFTA citizen. If you're from the rest of the world, please check the exact residency requirements with your local Spanish Consulate.
A JOB: You qualify for residency in Gran Canaria if you have a work contract that runs for more than three months or is for at least twenty hours of paid work per week. Any shorter and you may just get a NIE number (allowing you to pay tax but not reside in Spain).
AN INCOME: If you have an income (pension, trust fund, golden goose, etc) and a healthy bank balance, you get residencia in Gran Canaria.
The minimum annual income is about €6000 euros per year but the immigration office will take into account (in fact, is legally obliged to take into account) your expenses. For example, if you have an income of 600 euros a year but a rental contract for 500 euros, they will ask you how you plan to live off 100 euros per month.
The consensus in the Canary Islands and across Spain seems to be that a disposable income of €500 per month per person and some savings (€5000 in the bank per person) is the minimum. It may sound silly, but smart clothes (closed shoes, collar) help if you are borderline as the policeman behind the desk makes the call.
If you are borderline or retired, the immigration office may also ask you to take out a private health insurance policy that gives you equivalent cover to the Spanish Health Service.
Here's more info on getting health insurance in Gran Canaria.
A RESIDENT HUSBAND /WIFE: Marry a resident and you get residency. Simples. Provided that everyone is an EU, EEA or EFTA citizen.
Don't qualify for Gran Canaria residency?
There is nothing stopping you coming to Gran Canaria as a tourist and looking for work; your European Health Card gives you 90 days of emergency healthcare.
All you need to get to stay beyond 90 days is a work contract. This can be tricky, especially for bar and PR work, as most companies prefer hiring people that already have their paperwork in place.
If you don't find anything after 90 days you are supposed to go home (but can return to Spain straight away for another holiday).
Of course, plenty of people still live and work in Gran Canaria without being officially resident. Working under the table is most common in the resort areas where bar and PR work is most common.
If you stay beyond the 90 days you won't be deported, but you aren't covered by the local health service, don't pay tax and don't have any employment rights. It's fine for 22-year-olds working a season in the sunshine, but not exactly a long-term life plan.
Residency for NON-EU / EEA / EFTA citizens
Buy property worth a minimum of €500,000 (one big one or a portfolio of smaller ones) and you get a golden visa which also covers your spouse and children. After 10 years of holding a golden visa, you can apply for Spanish citizenship.
Alternatively, invest lots of money in the island by buying/ opening a business, or open a ZEC company and employ five residents.
For good local advice on opening a ZEC company, talk to ZEC Advisors.
The process of getting residencia in Gran Canaria
*This article covers the details about getting your actual NIE number and residencia in Gran Canaria (they are different).
If you move to Gran Canaria to do a full-time job such as teachng, your employer will take care of all the paperwork for you and your family. If you have to do it yourself, it's best to go to the police station with a Spanish speaker to help.
Things to bring to Gran Canaria & things to leave behind
There's an Ikea and Leroy Merlin in Gran Canaria plus plenty of other shops so there really isn't much you need to bring other than personal stuff and a huge bag of Monster Munch crisps (for us).
If you're relocating and want to bring everything, then shipping companies are great at getting your possessions to Gran Canaria. However, be prepared for a wait at the port as the Canary Islands aren't in the EU Customs Union and the port authorities don't speak urgent. They also have an almost miraculous a way of adding an extra charge to everything that comes to the island on a ship.
Be aware that you are allowed to import your possessions tax-free to the island during your first six months on the island. After that, you have to pay import duty.
Bringing a car to Gran Canaria (from outside Spain) is a faff and we'd say that it's only worthwhile if you have a car worth above around €7000. or a vintage motor you can't leave behind. Import duty, taxes, getting it legal in Spain, etc will cost well over €1000 although you have six months to get it all done.
Most people would be better off selling their car at home and buying a new one here.
*More on importing a car into Gran Canaria and buying a Gran Canaria car.
Learning the language in Gran Canaria
The simple truth is that you learn as much Spanish in Gran Canaria as you need to get by. Live and work with the locals and you'll pick up the language. Work in an English environment and hang around in expat bars on the weekends and you won't learn much at all.
*For more info, read our comprehensive guide to learning Spanish in Gran Canaria
Choosing where to live in Gran Canaria
This is a big decision as each area of the island has its own feel and weather (yes, we have weather). Here's our guide to the advantages and disadvantages of the main areas of Gran Canaria
Living in Las Palmas: Gran Canaria's capital city
The capital is a busy Spanish city (one of the ten biggest in Spain) with a world-beating beach and a lovely old town. It is cloudier than the south of the island but still gets a decent amount of sunshine.
Most foreign residents want to be close to the beach although if you're not a sand in your pants kind of person, the old town and Triana are great too. See this guide to the main Las Palmas property areas.
If you love city life and the bustle of Spain, Las Palmas is a great option. There's plenty of English teaching work (get a TEFL or CELTA qualification), and some other jobs if you speak Spanish.
Living in South Gran Canaria and the resorts
Gran Canaria's resort areas are full of foreign residents and if you want to live somewhere where you feel like you're on holiday all-year-round, they are the place for you. However, if you want to immerse yourself in local life, you'd be better off almost anywhere else.
The resorts have spectacular weather (over 300 days of blue skies per year), tons of restaurants and bars and a population that changes completely every two weeks. You really can get by without a word of Spanish in Puerto Rico and Playa del Inglés and plenty of expats do. That said, residential satellite towns like San Fernando and Tablero, and southern villages like Fataga and Pueblo de Mogan, are much more local.
To generalise, San Agustín is popular with Swedes, Playa del Inglés with Brits and Germans, Maspalomas with Germans, Arguineguín with Norwegians, Puerto Rico with Brits and Scandinavians, and Puerto de Mogán with everyone (although finding a place to live there is tough as everything is rented out).
Gran Canaria's resorts are the easiest place for non-Spanish speakers to find work (bars, PR work, reps, timeshare, etc), but don't expect high pay (most locals doing bar and restaurant work earn less than €1000 per month).
If you want your retirement to be a non-stop tiki dream, you've found heaven.
Living in north Gran Canaria
This is the greenest area of Gran Canaria and has plenty of towns and villages with local shops as well as large supermarkets. Most places are within 30 minutes drive of the capital city and 45 minutes from the beaches in the south. Workwise, you can teach English or pick bananas. Large towns like Arucas, Galdar and Teror have some teaching jobs available every year but most other work is for Spanish-speakers only.
Living in east Gran Canaria
Telde and Vecindario are now large towns or even small cities and have a local feel along with a healthy South American influence. Property prices here are cheaper than in the resorts and the capital but you still have most shops and services close by. Big downsides of east Gran Canaria are the scorching inland temperatures and windy beaches during summer.
There's teaching work in east Gran Canaria and jobs in the local economy although you'll need decent Spanish.
Living in rural Gran Canaria
From the stunning Agaete Valley to the green pastures of Moya, rural Gran Canaria is a dream come true if you want peace and quiet (except on Thursdays and Sundays during hunting season). You can live in anything from a stone cottage to a vast townhouse and lots of properties have orchards and a pigpen.
Work is thin on the ground so be prepared to work from home or commute to Las Palmas or the resorts.
Living in west Gran Canaria
Don't be ridiculous: There isn't anything in west Gran Canaria except for La Aldea town and there is little work there other than tomato picking. It's a beautiful part of the island, but not an easy place to live and work.
Finding a place to live in Gran Canaria
Many people who move to Gran Canaria choose to rent for the first year. This is a good idea because it allows you to make sure you've picked the right place and enjoy the lifestyle enough to stick around.
Buying a Gran Canaria property
Property prices in Gran Canarias are an average of around €1300 per square metre, but the location has a huge impact on cost. Beachfront properties in Las Palmas and the main resorts can cost €6000+ per square metre while property in smaller towns is often below €1000 per metre.
Property rights in Gran Canaria are well organised and every property has an up-to-date file in the property registry. That said, there are plenty of little things to look out for during the purchase process. We advise all buyers to use a good local estate agent. Their fees are paid by the seller so their services are free to buyers.
If you're after a resort area property, we always advise foreign buyers to contact Cárdenas Real Estate as they are an efficient and reliable agency with over 30 years of experience helping foreign buyers in south Gran Canaria.
In Las Palmas and the north of Gran Canaria, you won't go far wrong talking to Laura from Las Palmas Property.
Please note that you must get professional advice before buying a resort property in south Gran Canaria as a residence. It is technically illegal to live in some resort areas in south Gran Canaria and you need the facts before you buy. Again, just talk to Cárdenas as soon as you decide to buy.
Getting a mortgage in Gran Canaria
Spanish banks are conservative and foreign residents almost always need to have a work contract and to have lived on the island for a year before the banks will give them a mortgage. You'll need a 10-30% deposit and another 10% in cash for taxes and assorted fees to get a mortgage and buy a property.
*See our guide to getting a Gran Canaria mortgage.
Renting a property in Gran Canaria
Finding a rental property close to the beach in Las Palmas, and in resort areas (where you aren't supposed to live) can be tricky due to high demand. Other areas are easier.
If you are moving to Gran Canaria, a good tip is to rent a cheap Airbnb for a few weeks in the area you plan to live in. This gives you time to visit rental properties and find a decent place to live.
Look for rental property in Gran Canaria on websites like Vibbo, Fotocasa, and Idealista. Be aware that most properties on these sites are listed by agencies that charge a month's rent in commission. When you sign a rental contract, you need to pay the first month's rent, a month's rent in deposit, and the agency fee; three month's rent.
You can skip agency commission by seeking out private rentals on the websites, and also by wandering around looking for private signs (windows, small local shops and bars).
Most owners insist on a year's contract although the law states that you can leave after six months provided you give proper notice. More on Gran Canaria rental laws here.
Never underestimate the benefits of renting a flat with a parking space in Las Palmas, town centres, and the resorts.
Tenants don't have to pay council tax and community charges in Gran Canaria unless it is specified in the rental contract (read your contract thoroughly). Some contracts include bills and others don't. Bills and taxes/community payments are negotiable although owners in high-demand areas often don't need to haggle as they have a queue of people waiting to move in.
Finding a job in Gran Canaria
Many foreign residents and expats come to Gran Canaria with a job lined up: Teachers, oil and port workers, tourism reps, etc. They are the lucky ones because getting a job in Gran Canaria as a foreign resident is difficult. Without decent Spanish, work outside the resorts is hard to find. Even in the resorts, most hotels require a tourism degree even for entry-level positions.
There are niches such as teaching English (get a TEFL or CELTA qualification for better opportunities and pay), bar and PR work in the resorts (don't expect to earn more than €1000 per month), timeshare sales (yep, people still buy it; a good rep can earn €1000 per week), etc, where there is always work. But, since Gran Canaria is a small place there aren't that many large companies here with large numbers of staff. The island also has a high level of unemployment so you are competing with lots of locals for jobs.
There is limited demand for English-speaking plumbers, handymen, plasterers, chiropodists, mechanics, etc. However, go-getters with a unique skill will be able to make a living.
Be aware that it costs more than €250 per month to be self-employed in Spain (you get a discount for the first year). Ridiculous, but unavoidable!
Schools and education in Gran Canaria
Gran Canaria has a full range of schools from local state schools to fee-paying international schools. Most of the fee-paying schools are in the north of the island in and around the capital Las Palmas. A couple even have junior feeder schools in the south. The top private schools charge around 600 euros per month.
The Spanish state education system is still slightly behind the times with a focus on learning facts and figures rather than on creativity. This is changing slowly but every school is different so you need to do your research. There is also a halfway house between state schools and fee-paying schools called the colegio concertado. These are run by foundations (many by the Catholic Church), get some state funding, and rely on support for parents for any shortfall.
Pupils in the state system in Spain have to provide all their own equipment like paper, pens, and rulers and you also have to shell out several hundred euros per year for schoolbooks (one of Spain's great historic ripoffs) and uniforms.
Also bear in mind that the state system has defined application periods and that if you miss them, it's much harder to get your kids into the school of your choice.
The cost of living in Gran Canaria
Given that Gran Canaria is 2000 kilometres from Mainland Spain the cost of living is surprisingly cheap. You can thank the EU for this as it subsidises the cost of many goods that need to be imported. And the local VAT regime which is just 7% IGIC rather than 21% IVA in the rest of Spain.
Petrol is currently under a euro per litre, a decent bottle of wine starts at six euros ( drinkable ones at 3.50) and you can get a pint for a couple of euros. Cigarettes are disgracefully cheap (€3.40 for a pack of premium brand sticks).
As for household bills, expect to pay 30-40 euros per month for water and a euro per day for bottled drinking water, at least 70 euros per month for electricity (more if you run AC) and up to 100 per month for a package of fixed-line telephone, internet, and TV.
Food is slightly more expensive than in Mainland Spain and bringing things in from abroad costs more in postage. Absurd import fees charged by local delivery firms have now been abolished so online shopping has become cheaper: In theory, goods with a value of under €150 are exempt from tax, but make sure the sender puts their contact detais, your contact details and a copy of the bill on the outside of the package to avoid sneaky 'inspection' fees
One advantage of being a Gran Canaria resident is that you get a 50% discount on travel to Spain and a 75% discount of ferry and air travel to the other Canary Islands. Flying to Europe from Gran Canaria is easy and pretty cheap due to the number of planes flying in tourists every day.
Healthcare in Gran Canaria
The local healthcare system is pretty good if are in an accident or get sick. In fact, the Spanish state healthcare system is often named amongst the world's best.
You need to be resident and register with the local health system, called the Seguridad Social, to use its free services. You get a number and card and can book appointments on the phone (call 012) and online.
However, the Gran Canaria health service isn't as efficient when it comes to chronic or non-urgent health issues. The waiting list for tests can be months long and many locals skip the queue by paying for tests and appointments with specialists. You see the same doctor in the same room, but you skip the queues.
The alternative, of course, is to pay for private healthcare and not worry about queues at all.
Paying tax in Gran Canaria
If you have a proper job in Gran Canaria, your employer will handle your annual tax filings and you don't really have to worry about things. However, if you are self-employed or run a business, you have to do a tax declaration every three months (Spanish tax authorities and local IGIC).
This is an absolute pain and unless you are fluent in Spanish, it's best to pay an accountant to do the actual filing with the tax authorities. All you have to do is keep track of your earnings and expenditure and send them on to your beancounter. Every year you do an annual tax declaration. The total cost of his is a few hundred euros per year and the alternative is spending several days of useful time filling in forms and sitting in queues.
Making friends in Gran Canaria
The best way to make friends in Gran Canaria, both local and other foreign residents, is to get out there and do stuff. Go to social meets, join a walking club, find a fun bar, etc. Language exchanges are an excellent way to meet the locals (see the bit below about contributing).
One good option is to join the outdoor activities and casual outings that La Casita de Laura organises for its students and anyone who is interested in Spanish/Canarian culture and gastronomy. Most are free and they are a great way to meet a mix of locals and residents.
For more info about relocaing to Gran Canaria, read this book: Gran Canaria Living: How to move to a paradise island, make friends and live happily ever after.