• Among top ten study abroad destinations in world
  • Fascinating southern European culture and society
  • Spanish is a world language, and learning it gives access to Latin America
  • Beautiful geographical contrasts – white beaches and snow-covered mountains
  • Increasing emphasis on interdisciplinary studies


Spain, with a total area of 504,750 square kilometres, occupies 85% of the Iberian Peninsula in the southwest of Europe, bordering the Mediterranean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean. The Pyrenees Mountains (north) border France and Andorra; Portugal lies to the west and (British) Gibraltar is a small peninsula in the South. The capital city is Madrid.


Mainland Spain is the second highest country in Europe and experiences three climatic types: continental (temperate clear, hot summers; cold winters), maritime (more moderate cloudy summers; cool partly cloudy winters along the coast) and Mediterranean (hot, dry summers; cool, wet winters). Droughts can be an issue for Spain.


Spain, originally inhabited by Celts, Iberians, and Basques, eventually became part of the Roman Empire. It incurred several invasions until the 16th century, when it amassed tremendous wealth and power and a vast colonial empire with its conquest of Mexico and Peru. But in 1588, Spain lost its naval supremacy due to a defeat by England, and it rapidly declined into a second-rate power. The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) led to Spain’s loss of Belgium, Luxembourg, Milan, Sardinia, and Naples. Its colonial empire (Americas and Philippines) vanished in wars and revolutions in 18th and 19th centuries.

In both World Wars, Spain was neutral. In the 1920s through to the 1940s, Spain experienced much civil unrest. After the Spanish Civil War, the dictatorship of General Franco lasted from 1939 to 1975. Since Franco’s death, democratic elections have been restored. The Catalonia and Basque separatists’ conflict has continued for decades, even after home rule in 1979. Foreign terrorists attacked Madrid in 2004.

The population of Spain is around 41 million with a median age of 41 years. Population density is lower than that of most European countries with 77% of the population residing in urban areas. The official language is Castilian Spanish (74%) with three official regional languages: Catalan (17%), (Galician 7%), and Basque (2%).


The Spanish are a composite of Mediterranean and Nordic ancestry. Both Catholicism and socialism are strong influences. The family and extended family network play an important role in Spanish society.

Spain historically has strong cultural and religious traditions including festivals, flamenco music, and dance, and public architecture with Moorish features. In each region of Spain, towns, cities, communities and even professions have their own patron saints, whose feasts are important religious and social events. Spain has a leisurely outdoor lifestyle, sunshine, lively towns and cities, and friendly people. Informal social gatherings in bars, cafés, restaurants, and at work are a big part of Spanish life.


Since joining the European Union (EU) in 1986, Spain has opened its economy to investment and trade, modernised its industrial base, improved infrastructure, and revised economic legislation to conform to EU guidelines. Main trading partners include France, Germany, Italy, and Great Britain. Spain’s principal exports are machinery, motor vehicles, wine, fruit and other food products, and pharmaceuticals; its tourism industry is among the largest in the world. The currency is the Euro.


Spain is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliamentary form of government. The king is the head of state. The government consists of Executive (president), Legislature (Congress of Deputies), and Senate. There are 47 peninsula provinces; two autonomous cities in North Africa (Ceuta and Melilla) and 17 autonomous communities including the Balearic and Canary Islands, and three small Spanish possessions off the coast of Morocco: Islas Chafarinas, Penon de Alhucemas, and Penon de Velez de la Gomera.


The cost of living in Spain varies greatly by area, with the cost being much higher in the urban centres (e.g., Madrid, Valencia, and Barcelona) than in the rural Spanish villages and towns. Living costs for a student could range from €850–€1,300 per month for food, accommodation, and other general living expenses. Of course, living costs also vary depending on individual students’ lifestyle choices, the type of accommodation, and area in which they live. These costs do not include tuition fees. To obtain costs of tuition, students must contact the actual institution they are planning to attend.


Spain has an essentially two-tier education system for schooling: compulsory (primary and secondary to 16 years) and post-compulsory (secondary and middle grade vocational). Tertiary and higher education consists of upper-grade vocational training and university.

Both public and private institutions provide higher education. Universities are divided into departamentos, facultades universitarias, escuelas tecnicas superiores, escuelas universitarias, institutos universitarios, and other centres, notably the colegios universitarios. The state-operated universities, private universities, and technical schools are entitled to grant professional university degrees.

The Spanish education system was founded in the Middle Ages. The oldest university, Salamanca, was established in 1218. The Spanish university system offers degree and post-graduate programmes in all fields, including law, sciences, humanities, and medicine. The superior technical schools offer programmes in engineering and architecture.


International students who are not from EU countries or from countries with bilateral agreements with Spain regarding university access (e.g., China) will need pass a series of aptitude tests – “Pruebas de Aptitud para el Acceso a la Universidad (PAU)” to be able to study at a Spanish university in Spain.

In terms of the application process, international students do not apply directly to a specific Spanish university; rather, they apply to a central applications office called the Spanish National University for Distance Education (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, or UNED). This office sends students to the university and studies that best suit the particular student and the system. The decision to send the student to one place or another depends on the average mark between the secondary studies and the PAU exam, and the availability of places at the different public universities.

EU nationals do not require a visa to study in Spain. All other nationalities should apply approximately 90 days prior to date of arrival. Some important visa requirements include evidence of financial capacity, acceptance at an approved institution, and affidavit of parental permission if under 18.

Visas are granted for the duration of study. Student visas are renewable. Once in Spain, students must apply for authorisation to stay for the specified time at the Foreign Office or central Police Station (comisaría) where they will be studying. Work may be allowed if it doesn’t interfere with study. For full information on student visa requirements, prospective students should contact the embassy or consulates in their home country.

EU nationals are covered by state health insurance while studying in Spain. Other international students must have private health insurance.

MORE INFORMATION – Si Spain ( Si Espana ): Information on extensive range of topics about Spain – Site for expatriates in Spain: links to government departments (Ministeros ) – Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – the European Union (EU) – EU Business site: information on Spanish economy – International Monetary Fund: IMF reports on Spanish economy – Economy Watch: Information on Spanish economy – Ministry of Education ( Ministero de Educación ) – European Commission for Education and Training – List of universities in Spain with links to institutions – Go Study Spain: Information on student visas, accommodation – Commercial site offering legal services, information on visa requirements – Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce ( Ministero de Industria, Turismo y Comercio ) – Official site and portal of the Ministero de Turismo de España