Málaga, Spain: Is It REALLY the Best City for Expats? The Pros & Cons

According to an Internations survey of 12,000 expats living in 172 countries, Málaga, Spain was crowned the world’s #1 city for foreign residents. But is it all it’s cracked up to be?

The results of this annual survey were announced just a few days before we were scheduled to arrive in Málaga, so it was good timing for us.

This popular city was on our exploratory trip list for several reasons which is why we wanted to check it out to see if it might be a good place to live.

Here’s the good, the not-so-good, and whether we could picture ourselves living the Málaga life.

Watch Our Video About Málaga Spain

The Pros of Málaga Spain

Safety 

Spain is considered a safe country and we heard that Málaga is also a safe place to visit or live. We walked around all times of day and night and never felt uncomfortable. Even late at night, we saw families with small children and groups of women walking together – you know, the things that make you feel relaxed in a new place.

Mild Winters

Malaga Spain Alcazaba La MalaguetaIf you’re a sun worshipper, Málaga might be your paradise. Winters here are short and mild—think comfy jeans and light jacket weather. We visited in December, and it was a welcome change from the cold we were used to in Colorado. We understand why people from northern European countries flock here to escape the gloom.

Sunny & Dry

Málaga boasts over 300 days of sunshine yearly—seriously!  It’s not too humid and sticky because the weather is Mediterranean meaning it is hot and dry in the summer. The dry air felt great and it was nice not to worry about the chance of rain.

Nice Train Station & International Airport

Málaga is incredibly well-connected, which is a bonus whether traveling around Spain or venturing further into Europe. The train station is modern and efficient, and we quickly hopped on a train for a day trip. The airport offers direct flights to tons of European cities and even some in North America, which is a game-changer if you plan to visit family back home.

Potable Tap Water

This might seem small, but trust us, being able to drink water straight from the tap is enormous! Especially coming from places where that’s a no-go, it makes life so much easier (and cheaper) not buying bottled water constantly.

Pedestrian and Bike-friendly

Málaga is made for walking. Wide sidewalks, flat terrain, and plenty of crosswalks meant we didn’t have to worry too much about dodging traffic. We loved the dedicated bike lanes and saw people of all ages scooting around on electric scooters – it looked like a blast! One of our favorite afternoons was taking an Uber to El Palo and then strolling back along the beach promenade to La Malagueta.

Good Public Transportation

Even with such a walkable city, sometimes your feet need a break. Málaga’s public transportation system is solid. The metro is easy to understand, buses run frequently, and you can even grab an Uber or taxi when needed. We found fares pretty reasonable, so it’s a viable option for getting around, although slightly higher than Ecuador.

History & Things To Do

Malaga Spain Teatro RomanoMálaga is a city where history buffs and culture lovers will be in their element. As Picasso’s birthplace, his influence is present throughout the city. The Picasso Museum is a must as are the the stunning Moorish fortresses.

Alcazaba, overlooking the town, was incredible. We spent hours wandering its courtyards, admiring the intricate tilework, and soaking up the panoramic views. And don’t even get us started on the Castillo de Gibralfaro – that uphill trek was worth it for the breathtaking vistas and a glimpse into a captivating past.

Low Cost of Living

If you’re budget-conscious, Málaga is a gem. Compared to other major cities in Spain, we were pleasantly surprised by how affordable things were. Groceries, a glass of wine, and a delicious dinner out felt like a good value.

Housing is where you’ll find the variety in size and price. There’s something for everyone, from modern beachside high-rises to cozy apartments in quaint neighborhoods, ranging from $900 – $2,000 per month – a wide range in price, we know! However, it all depends on where you live, what you want, furnished vs. unfurnished, etc.

Lots of Restaurants & Bars

Málaga is a foodie haven. There’s a wide variety of restaurants, from casual tapas bars to white-tablecloth establishments. We loved the abundance of outdoor seating while enjoying a delicious meal and excellent views. One thing to note—some bars only serve drinks and frutos secos (nuts and olives). We ended up doing more home-cooked meals than anticipated, but there were plenty of dining options.

Nice Mercados, Grocery Stores & Fruterías

Malaga Spain El Palo FruteriaMálaga takes its food seriously! The Mercado Atarazanas was a sight to behold – a beautiful, restored building filled with colorful stalls overflowing with fresh produce, seafood, and every imaginable spice you could think of. Wandering through, the sights and smells were intoxicating!

Plenty of supermarkets and local fruterias (fruit shops) lined the neighborhoods for everyday groceries, making it easy to find everything we needed. We even stumbled upon some organic and specialty shops, which is a nice bonus.

Great Shopping

The pedestrian shopping area in the city center is fantastic! It’s a great place to browse and shop, full of local stores and familiar international chains. The streets were clean and well-maintained, and it was interesting to see even delivery drivers using bikes with mini-trucks – a testament to the city’s walkable nature.

Wide Variety of Neighborhoods

Málaga isn’t a one-size-fits-all place. We explored several neighborhoods and got a real sense of their distinct personalities.

Here are a few that stood out:

Malaga SpainCentro Histórico: The old town, bustling with tourists and brimming with history. It is excellent for sightseeing, but it can sometimes feel crowded.

Soho: The artsy district with trendy cafes, galleries, and a relaxed vibe.

La Malagueta: The beach area offers stunning beachfront views and a laid-back atmosphere.

El Palo: This neighborhood stole our hearts. A bit removed from the city center, it felt more local and authentic, with a beachy vibe and a strong sense of community. It reminded us of our favorite park back home—Wash Park in Denver.

The Downsides of Málaga Spain

Before you pack your bags and book your flight, there are a few things to be aware of:

HOT Summers

Those beautiful sunny days come at a price: Málaga summers can get scorching hot – think over 100°F (38°C). You’ll need air conditioning to be comfortable during the peak summer months.

Those Pesky Smells

We have to be honest – there’s a sewer smell issue in Málaga. We noticed it in some areas, even in the more affluent parts of town. It wasn’t a deal-breaker for us, but it’s something to be aware of, especially if you have a sensitive nose.

Crowds

The Historic Center can get incredibly crowded, especially during peak season. It can feel overwhelming trying to navigate narrow streets packed with tourists. If crowds are something other than your thing, consider exploring during the shoulder seasons or early mornings/evenings.

Could We Live in Málaga?

Absolutely! While the main tourist areas felt too crowded and hectic for our taste, Málaga had much to offer. The walkability, easy access to transportation, friendly locals, and abundance of things to see and do were significant pluses.

After exploring a few neighborhoods, we realized El Palo was our speed. It had everything we wanted: a slower pace, proximity to the beach, and an intense neighborhood atmosphere.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a place that offers a balance of vibrant city life and Mediterranean charm, Málaga is worth serious consideration. While it’s not perfect (no place is!), it lives up to the hype of being an incredible city for expats. The ease of transition, sunny weather, welcoming culture, and beautiful setting create a winning combination. Just make sure you explore the different neighborhoods to find the one that best aligns with your ideal expat lifestyle.

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JP Stonestreet
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Hola todos! Welcome to my author bio page! Let's see. Where to begin... I grew up in the country on a lake outside a small Kansas farm town. As soon as I could, I got the hell outta there! Since then, I've lived and/or worked in Kansas City, Washington D.C., Denver, San Francisco, and Ecuador. I started and sold a dotcom, wrote a book about it, started a YouTube channel, and now I write a lot. Amelia and I have embraced the Unconventional Life and we want to help you do it, too!

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