The city of Malaga in Andalucia is one of the most beautiful places in Spain to visit and live, being on the Costa del Sol region which has such great weather and food, plus beautiful scenery and coastline.
But could an expat or worker live in Malaga speaking only English? Is it possible to get by in Malaga long term if you don’t speak Spanish?
Whilst it could be technically possible to live in Malaga speaking only English, especially if working for an international company, it is still recommended to learn Spanish. Not many of the locals speak English, and it will be easier to navigate through daily life there long term if you speak at least some Spanish.
In other words, if you want to stay there long term, it’s makes sense to get at least a basic level of competency in Spanish, just to get things done and work within the (often slow moving) Spanish system more easily.
Let’s look at the issues of spoken English, Spanish and living in Malaga in more detail.
How Widely Spoken is English In Malaga?
English is not widely spoken in Malaga overall, with many of the locals not speaking or understanding much English, and even the ones that do often only speak broken or basic English.
In this sense, it’s much more in line with the rest of Spain in general, which doesn’t have high overall levels of English fluency.
That said, Malaga does receive a lot of English speaking tourists each year, so English is spoken in the areas tourists visit most often, such as tourist sites, hotels and restaurants. Many food places will have menus in English, and tourists who don’t speak a word of Spanish never report having any problems just for short holidays in Malaga.
The Costa del Sol area of Southern Spain in general, which includes Malaga, receives millions of English speaking to tourists each year, especially from the UK, and so is equipped to handle English speakers fine for short term trips.
Can You Live In Malaga Without Speaking Spanish?
Despite it not being a problem if you don’t speak Spanish for short stays in Malaga, living there long term is a different matter, and there are different things to take into account.
Whilst in neighboring Marbella, which is only about an hour away on the Costa de Sol, you CAN live there and speak English all day long without a problem, you can’t really get away with this to the same extent in Malaga. It has a different feel to other places like Marbella, and doesn’t have so many British expats there. You can’t count of English being spoken by everyone you deal with there on a daily basis.
Therefore while it would be possible to live in Malaga without speaking any Spanish, it wouldn’t be advisable, since most of the locals don’t speak any English and you’ll need to converse in Spanish to get certain things done.
Just for eating out, shopping, buses, visiting attractions, of course you’ll be fine not knowing Spanish just as you would be only holiday. But living there long term of course encompasses a lot more things you need to do, many of which will be much easier if you know some Spanish.
Here are some examples:
- 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 (famously slow moving and bureaucratic) 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 bump into someone who doesn’t speak English, that you (possibly urgently) need help from in fixing a problem or getting something sorted. For these moments they you’ll inevitably come across living there long term, it’s much easier if you can speak some Spanish.
Can You Work In Malaga Without Speaking Spanish?
Again, the answer to this question would mostly be no, especially working in any tourism or retail job, or for a Spanish company. You must be able to speak Spanish for these kinds of jobs, since English is not widely spoken outside the main tourist areas.
However, if you are working for an international company based in Malaga that conducts it’s business in English, then it could be possible to work there without speaking any Spanish to begin with. But as we’ve covered, it would still make life a lot easier to learn Spanish in your own time anyway.
Malaga doesn’t quite have the same international feel as Barcelona or Madrid, but there are still some larger international companies that are based there. Fujitsu, Oracle, Huawei, TDK Electronics are a couple of companies based in Malaga, if you want to check out opportunities.
Working for these types of global companies, you might be able to get away with just speaking English. For anything else in Malaga, you’ll need Spanish.
Should You Learn Spanish Anyway If You Are Living In Malaga?
This question covers really living in Spain in general long term, and the answer for most cities, including Malaga, is yes. It is advisable to learn at least basic Spanish to allow better immersion into the culture, make daily life easier and also open up more social and work opportunities.
Check out the video below for a good overview of the benefits of learning Spanish for expats living in Spain.
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 some expat communities on the Costa del Sol, 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. Malaga could sort of fit into that category, but it’s better to learn Spanish for long term living there. You can’t get away with speaking English everywhere so easily as Marbella for example.
- 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 Malaga 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)
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 Malaga
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 Malaga or the Costa de Sol, The Spainiacs YouTube channel is a good vlog, since he lives in that general area and produces some good useful content on daily life and issues in the area. The Spain Speaks channel is also a good vlog on the daily life and pro’s/cons of being an expat living long term in Spain.
- Learning Spanish – See here for a good guide on different language schools in Malaga
- Schools/Kids – See here for an excellent directory of international schools in Malaga if you’ll be bringing kids with you. The fees are generally hefty as you’d expect, but there’s good choice all along the Costa del Sol coastline.
- 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.