Madrid is a very large and very nice city, with a population of around 3 million people and plenty of things to do there for tourists and residents. But can an English speaker go and live there long term without needing to speak Spanish? Can you get by living in Madrid if you only speak English?
In general, if you are self employed, retired or working for an international company, then it is technically possible to live in Madrid and get by without speaking any Spanish. However, it is still recommended to learn at least some basic Spanish to make longer term residence there easier, and especially for dealing with banking and other bureaucratic aspects of the Spanish system.
In other words, speaking Spanish is not always strictly necessary or required in Madrid, but is still recommended and helpful to make long term living easier there, since it’s not as Anglo-centric in terms of language as some other parts of Spain. Also, in some cases, such as working for a local company, you will need to know Spanish to live and work there.
Therefore, it all depends on what you plan to do when you move there, but the general answer regardless tends to lean towards yes, but learn some Spanish anyway to make long term life more easy there.
Let’s look at the issue in more detail, giving some recommendations for different scenarios.
The Level Of Spoken English in Madrid
Just going to Madrid as a tourist short term, you can definitely get by fine only speaking English, and without any Spanish. It’s quite a popular destination for Americans especially, but also some Brits, with a few million English speakers a year going there, so the central places do expect and know how to deal with English speakers.
Here’s a brief run down of what to expect:
- All restaurants and bars in the central areas will have someone who can speak English. Menus will also be in English in the these central/tourist areas.
- English is also spoken in larger hotels and department stores.
- Some signs are in English in the center, but not nearly all of them.
- Staff in the tourist offices/centers always speak English and can help with directions etc.
- Younger people especially will also tend to have a good grasp of English.
- In general, most people in the central areas of Madrid come into contact with enough tourists to be able to converse in basic English and help you out.
- If you move outside the center, or ask older people, then English proficiency will be less
Short Term vs Long Term Stays in Madrid And Speaking Spanish
Some tourists do report getting by fine there for short stays knowing little or no Spanish. However, if you were to live there longer term, you would likely run into problems sooner or later if you spoke absolutely zero Spanish.
In fact, here’s a good quote from a Reddit post on this issue – having no Spanish is fine short term, but not really long term:
“It’s not an issue for visiting, people understand basics and they can speak at least rough English in hotels and every touristy place. And even people who don’t speak it try to be helpful and you manage.
But when I moved here, during the first months I always asked in Spanish whether I could speak English (in shops, administration, to make contracts for the flat and utilities, to book stuff…). I’ve only had a person answer yes once.”
Anecdotal account of expat in Madrid
It is important to be aware that most Spanish people overall don’t speak English, with only around 27% of the population having some English proficiency. However, this an overall number, and the level of English spoken does vary from region to region, city to city.
Madrid is actually one of the better cities for having at least some English speakers,but nowhere near the level of cities like Barcelona, and certainly not as English-friendly as Marbella and other places on the Costa del Sol that are full of British expats.
Madrid has more of an international feel, meaning there are plenty of tourists (8-10 million per year in some years) and lots of foreign people, but not exclusively English speakers like in parts of Southern Spain. It’s more of a mix in Madrid, which means English speakers are catered for in the central/tourist areas, but elsewhere you will struggle a little bit.
This is something you should take into account for long term stays in Madrid. Sooner or later, you have to sort out daily “stuff” and deal with the famously bureaucratic, corrupt and slow moving Spanish state/legal system. Things like this:
- Opening up bank accounts
- Possibly getting loans, mortgages, credit cards (contracts likely only in Spanish)
- Setting up mobile phone/internet contracts (only in Spanish)
- Setting up utilities contracts (gas/electric/water).
- Getting your car fixed if you drive
- Getting broken AC fixed (especially in summer)
- Dealing with residence visas/permits if applicable
- Buying property
- Signing long term rental agreements
- Opening up businesses
For all these things, plus other daily “stuff” dealing with the system in Spain, it will be much easier if you do know some Spanish, both to help conversing with staff/government officials, and also understanding any contracts you are signing.
Sooner or later, you’re going to run into people who don’t speak English, yet who you need to help you sort a problem out. By only speaking English and not any Spanish, you are severely limiting yourself in terms of being able to get things done long term, and also make new connections and embrace the Spanish culture.
Can You Work In Madrid Without Speaking Spanish?
Again the answer to this question leans towards no, but there are some exceptions:
In general, it may be possible to work in Madrid for an international company without needing to speak Spanish. For pretty much any other job, such as retail/tourism or working for a Spanish company, you will need to be able to speak Spanish.
If you already have a job lined up in Madrid with a multi-national company that conducts business mainly in English, then you might be fine, and you can slowly learn Spanish in your own time while you’re there.
Amazon, Accenture, PwC, IBM, Santander, Deloitte, KPMG and Oracle are some large international companies based in Madrid if you want to check out their vacancies.
Anything else, you’ll need to speak Spanish right from the start, and it will often be required in job descriptions anyway.
Should You Learn Spanish Anyway If You Are Living In Madrid?
I guess readers can already see the direction we are leaning in here, even if it could be technically possible to live in some parts of Madrid without speaking any Spanish. Regardless of what your plans are, it’s better to learn Spanish if you want to live there.
Despite it being technically possible to live in Madrid in certain cases, and not learn Spanish, it is still recommended to learn Spanish regardless, if you plan to live there. It will make daily life, especially dealing with the banks and the government/bureaucracy, much easier, as well as open up more work and social opportunities.
Check out the video below for a good overview of the benefits of learning Spanish for expats living in Spain. And it’s even more relevant than normal, because this particular vlogger (Spain Speaks) actually lives in Madrid, so the information he provides is very relevant and applicable if you also want to live there.
Should you learn Spanish for longer term stays in Spain?
Key Points From Video:
- Whether you learn Spanish living in Spain depends in general on how much you want to integrate fully into Spanish life and culture (getting into politics, media, working at a Spanish company, making Spanish friends etc. For all these things, you will need to learn a good level of Spanish).
- If you do decide to learn Spanish, one positive is that it is largely a phonetic language – meaning that words are often pronounced as they read, unlike English. This makes it easier to learn.
- Learning Spanish verbs is a little more complex, but it still completely possible.
- If on the other hand you decide to settle in expat communities, like Almeria, Alicante, Marbella etc, you will not need to learn Spanish to get by. Radio, TV and Supermarkets are all available catered to English speakers in these areas. You can get by with English in these areas.
- However, regardless of where you settle in Spain, it is still considered courtesy to make some effort to learn the local language, even if just for basic greetings and formalities. Locals will always appreciate this as in any country.
- Overall, learning Spanish if you live in Spain longer term is perfectly achievable, and recommended regardless of where you settle. See the last section below for some resources on learning Spanish.
Learning Some Basic Spanish Phrases
If you decide to broaden your opportunities and make daily life easier in Madrid by learning some Spanish, or you have to because of your work there, there’s loads of options to do this. You can do it digitally with CD, apps or audio courses, or even take classes in person in the city (there are plenty to choose from, both free and paid)
See the table and video below for a very basic starter sample of everyday phrases that can come in handy when you first go there, although getting truly fluent in Spanish isn’t easy and will take a bit of time.
|See you later||Nos vemos||Nos vemos|
|Good morning||Buenos dias||Bwenos dee-ass|
|Good afternoon||Buenos tardes||Bwenos tar-dez|
|Good night||Buenos noches||Bwenos notch-ez|
|See you tomorrow||Hasta mañana||Asta man-yana|
|What is your name?||Cuál es tu nombre?||Kwall es too nombrey?|
|My name is.....||Mi nombre es||Me nombrey es........|
|How are you?||¿Cómo estás?||Co-mo estas?|
|Nice to meet you||Encantado de conocerle||Encan-tardo deh cono-therley
|Please||Por favor||Poor favoor|
|You're welcome||De nada||deh naa da|
|Sorry||Lo siento||Loh see en-toh|
|Sorry? (didn't hear something)||Perdon?||Per-dohn?|
|Excuse me, do you speak English?||Perdon, yo sólo hablo Inglés?||Per-dohn, yo solo hab-low in-glaze?|
|Menu of the day||Menu del dia||Menu del dee-a|
|How much is it?||Cuánto es?||Kwanto es?|
|Where is the bathroom?||¿dónde está el baño?||Don-day estah el banyo|
|I don't understand||No lo comprendo||Noh loh comprendo|
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Useful Resources For People Living in Madrid
Here are links to some other resources to help with common daily life issues living as an expat/worker in Madrid or Spain in general:
- Vlog channels – Specifically for living in Madrid the Spain Speaks vlog is the number 1 YouTube Channel to go to, because he actually lives on the outskirts of Madrid, and can therefore give you a great view of daily life in the city. His recommendation would be to learn Spanish if you want to live there. The Spainiacs YouTube channel is also a decent channel on life in Spain for English speakers, though it isn’t specifically focused on Madrid.
- Schools/Kids – See here for an excellent directory of international schools in Madrid if you’ll be bringing kids with you. The fees are generally hefty, but there is good choice there.
- Banking – If you’re using a foreign bank card to draw out euros at an ATM in Spain, you’re likely to get stung with high fees. See our guide on some good multi-currency card options to spend in euros for free, and also withdraw money from ATMs cheaply in Euro-using countries.
- Phones/SIM Cards – Many phones are locked and won’t accept foreign SIM cards. For getting a working local SIM card and number in Spain without spending loads of money, see this article.