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.
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.
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.
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.