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Updated: May 2024

8 Essential Tips for Hassle Free Living in Sitges

Living in Sitges

Living in Sitges

Most people who come from other countries to live in Sitges, Sant Pere de Ribes and the surrounding areas are rightly excited by the many benefits the area has to offer. We have the best climate in Europe (and amongst the nicest anywhere) which is wonderful for a healthy, outdoor lifestyle. We have a friendly, inclusive community that is all about ‘be who you want to be and let others do the same’. Plus, the local culture is fantastic: it welcomes and celebrates kids; has an exquisite cuisine; and offers a year round calendar of amazing events, both traditional and modern.

But, as anyone who has ever moved abroad knows, moving to another country has its challenges, no matter how lovely the destination. Renting or buying a place to live; learning the language; finding reliable service providers; understanding the school system; grappling with taxes; and making sure you have all the right documentation, to name only some of the difficulties you might face.

Quite often, when looking back, we wish we had known a few things sooner, that would have saved us time or money, or avoided unnecessary stress. And occasionally, we still discover things we wish we’d known earlier, even after being here for years!  So, in the hope that we can save you unnecessary aggravation, or even a few euros, we present 8 essential tips for living in Sitges. We hope you find them useful! 

Get Official Documents for Living in Sitges

1. Get a Certificado Digital to Save Time and Money

Ahh, the memories of getting official paperwork in Spain in the olden days. You waited for hours for your appointment in some grim government office, only to be told by a charmless functionary that you were missing an essential document. You protested that said item wasn’t on the list they had given you days earlier..and you got a dismissive shrug and: ‘¿qué quieres que te diga?’ (there’s a hilarious and slightly traumatising depiction of this in the video below). 

Gracias a Dios, those days are mostly over. If you get a digital certificate, you can drop instantly into most government departments via their online portals (health, traffic, town hall, social security, labour, etc); see and rectify all the information they have about you; request documents; communicate issues; and more.

Until recently, you had to go into an office one last time in order to get the Certificado Digital, but now this too can be done online. Check out our guide for more details on how to get it.

And for thrillseekers, masochists, or those who are simply nostalgic, don’t worry; you can still have the old style official experience. Some of the first steps you have to take in Spain (NIE/TIE/Certificado de Registro) must still be done in person (by you or a lawyer acting on your behalf)! Again, there is more on this in our guide.

2. Get a Familia Numerosa Card if you Can!

If you have 3 or more young people up to & including 21yrs old living with you (or 25 if they’re students and living with you), even if they’re your partner’s and not yours, you can apply for this card. It doesn’t just help get discounts on trains, or at Carrefour (use it to get their special card) or on your tax declaration. If you’re buying a property, for example, it can save you many thousands of euros by reducing the ITP from 10% of the property price to 5%! Check out our guide on how to get the certificado de familia numerosa here.

Familia Numerosa Card
Familia Numerosa Card (Now Digital)

And if you want more on this subject:

The above are just two of the items covered in our guide to getting official documents.

If you need a bank account;  your health card (‘Tarjeta Sanitaria’); your Empadronamiento (the certificate you get when you register with the town hall which shows you live here); a NIE, TIE, Certificado de Registro (‘Green NIE’) or other documents, or if you just need to understand what these are; and which ones you will definitely need in order to become a resident in the area;  check out our guide to getting official documents.

And about healthcare…..

If you want to know where the nearest public and private healthcare facilties are, how to get your social security number and public health card (‘Cat Salut’) ; which private health insurance providers have been recommended by our members; or which pharmacies are on emergency duty today, check out our hospital and emergency guide

Living in Sitges: Renting or Buying a Place

3. Get the Right Rental Contract and Know your Rights

As with renting or buying in any new country, this can be a bit of a minefield. Sitges is not an untrustworthy, lawless place by any means. However, just as in many other towns, newcomers may be extra vulnerable to the unscrupulous behaviour of a few bad apples. Informing yourself a little before parting with your cash is the best way to avoid this. When you have time, we recommend reading our guide to buying or renting property in the Sitges area. In the meantime, here are a few top tips to start you off on a good footing:

sitges street
Understand your rights before renting

Rental Contracts

There are several types of contract. If you’re looking for a long term place, you should be given a contrato de arrendamiento de vivienda. By law, this is subject to a raft of legislation designed to protect tenants. The law can change relatively frequently, but at the time of writing includes:

  • No agency fee. This must be paid by the landlord.
  • The right to remain up to 5 years in the property, so long as there are no extenuating circumstances affecting the landlord (eg they need it for their own child or after a divorce). 
  • Strict controls on rent increases.
  • Your deposit must be placed by the landlord with INCASOL, the Catalan authority set up to help reduce instances of landlords keeping deposits for no reason. 
  • Also, a rental price index is due to be established in February 2024. Owners will need to consult this and ensure the rent they are asking for does not exceed the established limits, taking into account the characteristics of the property.

 

On the subject of deposits, be aware there are still occasional cases where unscrupulous property owners try to keep deposits unjustifiably.  But there are also cases where unscrupulous tenants do not treat a place with respect and don’t want to accept responsibility. The more each of these types of people prevails, the more adversarial and difficult the rental market in Sitges becomes for everyone.  So our advice is for both parties to demonstrate cordiality, transparency and firm but fair rules/boundaries, right from the beginning! For tenants, we advise you to:

  1. Take photos of everything that doesn’t seem to be in perfect condition in the first week of your tenancy and email them to the owner (and the estate agent if you used one). Ask for an acknowledgement of the email. Either ask for them to be fixed or make clear you don’t need this but want to avoid any misunderstandings when you move out. If you get no acknowledgement, pay a lawyer €50-€100 to send the same message for you via burofax. It could well save you a lot of money in future.
  2. Fix or replace anything you break and let the owner know you have done this, to help build a relationship of trust. 
  3. If at the end of your tenancy the owner shows signs of retaining unjustifiable amounts then send a burofax asking for a written breakdown of what needs doing. You may wish to pay a lawyer somewhere between €50-€100 to do this. This, on its own, may encourage any bad apples to behave correctly. Remember you shouldn’t be liable for normal wear and tear. Remember also the owner may need to ask for proof that the utilities have been covered right up til your last day before returning the deposit. You can always look at your average consumption over your tenancy, pro rata it, and suggest the owner keeps only this amount back until you have paid the bills.
  4. If you have experienced an unscrupulous owner (or tenant for that matter) feel free to use our private Facebook forum to share your experience (no libel allowed though, so you had better be able to prove what you are saying!) 

 

You may be thinking ‘why not simply refuse to pay the final months of rent, so the landlord has to use the deposit for that instead?’ Whilst we understand why some people might consider that option, especially if they haven’t taken some of the steps above or if they’re dealing with an awful owner, it isn’t ideal to plan this right from the beginning. Withholding rent means contravening the contract you have signed. It can also make good owners less trusting, more suspicious and less generous with their next tenants, who may even be your friends in a small place like this! Naturally though, you will know what relationship you have had with your landlord; we just hope some of our words will be useful for you.

Other rental costs in the contract: You should be aware that certain items are not always included in the contract as payable by the tenant, including comunidad/community charges (if applicable) and charges for municipal waste disposal. These are negotiable, so if you like the rest of the deal, you can accept paying for them. Just don’t let anyone tell you it’s always the case, because it depends on the contract (in our experience, the former is often paid by the owner and the latter by the tenant) .

Other types of rental contract: Another popular contract in use around town is the contrato de temporada/ de uso distinto a vivienda. Be aware that by accepting this type of contract, at the time of writing, you are voluntarily waiving many of the protections of a contrato de arrendamiento de vivienda. In this type of contract, you will not have the right to stay for up to 5 years, for example, and you may be required to pay an agency fee. This contract cannot be used unless it can be justified in the contract why it is only short term. In practice, the contract must state that you are a temporary worker; a student; or there is some other reason why you only need the place for a specified time. Note also that if you rent an Airbnb for more than 31 days, legally you and the landlord need to sign a contract, because it will cease being an alquiler vacacional and become an alquiler de temporada. If you accept one of these contracts, hopefully there is an incentive in there for you. For example, a contract running only for 9 months in winter should hopefully offer a monthly rent below the rental for a long term contract.

4. Buying Property in Sitges: Understand the Costs and Process

Understand the Costs

If you are thinking of buying property in the area, check out our guide to the costs involved. One of the biggest costs, other than the price of the property itself, is the ITP (a tax on purchase of all non-new properties). This is around 10% of the property price in Catalonia, or 11% on properties of €1m or more. So, it’s good to know that you can get this reduced to only 5% if you have 3 children up to & including the age of 21 (or 25 if they are students living with you), and you have obtained your familia numerosa card. This is true even if they are living with you and your partner but only belong to one of you! On a property of, say, €500k, your third child could save you €25k, so here’s three cheers for third children everywhere!

Find a property

Every part of Sitges, Sant Pere and the surrounding areas has its pros and cons. So finding your perfect place will really depend on your personal preferences. You can see properties available on our site (new ones being added all the time) and on other popular platforms such as idealistaRemember, that in Sitges agents generally work for the seller. Not many agents will also work as a buyer’s agent, and still fewer for people who are looking from abroad. But we can help you there! You can find out more about this here

Buy Property Sitges
For sale in Terramar; a recent addition to our site

Understand the Process

The process once you have found a property you like can involve sending an amount to reserve the property, signing a contrato de arras, and then finally signing the deeds. But did you know that reserving the property isn’t exactly binding on the owner? Or that there are different types of arras contracts? Or what the penalty can be for walking away after signing the arras, depending on the circumstances? Check out our guide here and above all:

Get a good lawyer

This is always a good idea. A proficient lawyer should check that the property has all the correct paperwork and is free of debts that you might otherwise inherit if you purchased it! You can see some lawyers that have been recommended by our community members (not specifically by this site) here, but it is always a good idea to ask around yourself before choosing one.

Living in Sitges
Search for Lawyers on our Site

Transferring money

Once you have decided on your dream property,  check out services such as Revolut or Wise before you accept the sometimes terrible rates offered by many traditional banks for receiving your own money (especially if it is coming from any currency outside the euro). wxwx 

(If you are looking to buy or sell your property via a trusted realtor/agent in Sitges, you may want to consider our site’s founder. More info here)

Living in Sitges: Getting Educated

5. Choose the Right Kind of School!

Learn about the great and varied schooling options in the area and read an overview of the enrolment process by looking at our schools overview. In essence, you have the following options:

English Speaking:

There are several kindergartens that use English either on its own or with Catalan. You can find these in our business directory. There are also three international primary schools that teach in English in the area, and two that go up to 16. From 16-18, many international school kids take the 20 minute journey to one of the schools in nearby Castelldefels, either by their own transport or in the buses laid on by the schools. 

Olive Tree School Sitges
The Olive Tree is one of the British Schools

French Speaking:

There’s a French Lycée which is officially in Sant Pere de Ribes, although it’s actually more or less equidistant by car for families living in the centre of either Sitges or Sant Pere.

Catalan Speaking:

Public schools teach in Catalan and are assigned based firstly on whether you live in Sant Pere de Ribes or Sitges (some locations, like areas of Valpineda, may appear to be in Sitges but are actually in Sant Pere). Then, places are allocated on a points system, including, for example, the proximity of your place of residence to the school. 

The Escola Concertada in Sitges is Escola Pia. An Escola Concertada is a subsidised school theoretically managed by a religious order, though religion is neither required nor overt at Escola Pia. A small fee is payable each month at this school, which is located in the centre of Sitges and runs from 3-18.

There are various escolas lliures or ‘free schools’ in the area. Most offer a waldorf or forest school type of environment; usually quite child centred and encouraging heavy involvement of parents. The fees are usually quite modest compared to international schools.

What about Spanish?

There are currently no compulsory age schools that teach primarily in Spanish in Catalonia. However, most parents will attest that children who enter the Catalan speaking system at a reasonably young age, come out the other side speaking Spanish and Catalan, probably because the language of the playground is often Spanish. 

So which is right for your family?

It’s a difficult question because there are so many variables to consider, based on your personal situation. And if you ask parents, you may find a tendency to praise their own choice of school which isn’t 100% objective. So, other than visiting the schools, our advice is to ask (whether face to face or in groups like ours) for the specific positive aspects of  schools you have identified, then weigh up what chimes with your personal needs.

Getting Around

6. Save Money on Trains and Car Travel

If you look at our guide to transport in Sitges you’ll find everything from car hire and taxis to train and bus timetables.

You’ll also find advice on these handy tips that you may not have known about:

Train discounts: you can currently travel more or less free on local trains. You have to give a deposit of €10 which is returned to you so long as you take at least 16 trips over the four month period in effect at the time. 

You can get significant discounts on the tunnel between Sitges and Castelldefels if you use a programme like bip & drive, which gives you a device for your car which opens the barriers automatically (making a ‘beep’ sound which is ‘bip’ over here!) and then sends you a bill at the end of the month. On working days, you can go through the tunnels from 1-4 times on the same day (eg go to work, come home for lunch, go back to work then come home at night) and only be charged 50% of the usual price. OK, so it’s still extortionate in our view, but every little helps!

Bip & Drive
Device for Saving on the Tunnels

If you don’t have your own car, and trains or buses are not an option for you, then according to some of our users, you might want to check out BlaBlaCar. This is a ride sharing app where members of the public offer seats in their car on specific routes. It can be a cheapish way to get around and you can see what reviews drivers have obtained before opting to go with them. 

This site receives no compensation from any of the companies mentioned, nor does it have affiliation with any of them. Advice given in good faith and correct to the best of our knowledge, but no responsibility assumed for your use of any of these services.

Get Your Financial Affairs in Order

7. Don’t give unnecessary gifts to the taxman

Did you know that the Spanish tax office can declare you as resident in Spain even if you spend fewer than 183 days in a tax year in the country, for example if you are married and your partner lives here, your children go to school here, etc. (‘centre of vital interests’) or if you earn more money here than anywhere else (‘centre of economic interests’)? 

Did you also know that if you spend more than 183 days in a year here,  you are deemed to have spent the whole year here? So if you arrive half way through the year, but end up spending 184 days here, all your earnings from wherever you came from, made in the first part of the year, may be subject to Spanish tax?

Did you know that, unless you have made a will expressly stating otherwise, then after your death, your Catalan assets will pass to your children and not your spouse?

Did you know that if you only have a will from outside Spain or no will at all, you will be lining up a lot of additional administrative tasks for the ones you leave behind, at a time when they really won’t appreciate them? 

Will Spain
Where there's a will.....

Did you know that if you have a joint bank account and your partner dies, all or some of the account may be frozen until certain death duties and inheritance taxes are paid?

Do you know how inheritance tax works in Spain?

This may all seem a bit morbid, but actually, the opposite is true: we want you and your loved ones to live longer, by reducing unnecessary stress! So our advice is the following:

Pay a lawyer to get your Spanish will done. It is worth it. You can see a list of local lawyers that have been recommended by our members here, but obviously make your own enquiries too. 

Set up your banking arrangements carefully, so that whoever is left behind can still access cash whilst your joint account (if you have one) is temporarily frozen, in case that happens. 

Consult a good gestor about your personal arrangements, including overseas income, inheritance tax liabilities, etc. This link will take you to some who have been recommended by our members. 

Enjoy Sitges and Stay Informed

8. Let the Hive Mind Help You

One of the best ways to stay informed about what’s going on, where to go and who to use for what, is to check on our site. Our mission is to help people like you to feel included in Sitges and to participate more in the life of our wonderful town.  We take the best and most up to date information from our bustling online community, and much more besides. On our continuously updated and curated pages, you’ll find:

Events, which you can filter by ‘English Spoken’ or ‘Child Friendly’

Businesses: you can find exactly what you are looking for just by typing a key word in the search bar, or by filtering by category, or by using our special filters like ‘English Spoken’ or ‘Recommended by our users’.

Restaurants, where along with the usual categories, you can see which have been recommended repeatedly by members of our community of over 7,000 people who live here and use them regularly. There are a whole lot of other useful filters too, such as where to go for a great menu del dia, for gluten free options, or for wheelchair access. There are links, too, to the polls we run in our community, where (if you are a member) you can see exactly how many votes each restaurant got from our members.

News and Features. Stay up to date with our regular news updates for Sitges, Catalonia and Spain, or enjoy our featured articles on topics relevant to people from all over the world who live in this area. 

To get carefully selected updates on Sitges news and events,you can also  like our public Facebook page or subscribe for email updates.

Finally, if you want to add your voice to the community, you are welcome to join our private Facebook group – we look forward to seeing you there!