Spain: a short guide for foreigners versión en Español

If you are planning a stay in Spain for this summer, here is a short guide to the country that will doubtless dispel many of the clich&eacut e;s that have haunted Spaniards for decades around the world. This guide will also give you an insight into several basic aspects of Spain, including its society, culture, language and economy.

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Geography – Population Data – Communications – Climate – Government – Society – Food and Drink – Economy and Cost of Living – Language and Culture – Learning Spanish – Where to Stay


Geography


Spain makes up, together with Portugal, a large peninsula located on the southernmost tip of Europe, separated from the rest of the continent by a long mountain range – the Pyrenees. Except for this 450-kilometre-long stretch of land bordering on Europe, the peninsula is entirely surrounded by water, with the Cantabrian Sea (also known as the Bay of Biscay) to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west and southwest, and the Mediterranean to the east and southeast. In addition to the mainland, the Spanish territory includes two large archipelagos, the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic, of which the latter is located very close to the northern tropic.


In all, Spain has 7,880 kilometres of coastline, which gives an idea of the importance of the sea in this country. Indeed, according to data provided by the Environment Ministry for 2007, 44% of the Spanish population lives in a coastal town, although these only account for 7% of the country’s total surface area. Barcelona, Vigo, A Coruña, Valencia, Alicante, Bilbao, Santander, Malaga, Cadiz, Palma de Mallorca or Las Palmas are some of the major Spanish cities generously bathed by the sea. And on top of this there is the massive influx of tourists. In 2007, 80% of the nearly 60 million tourists who visited Spain selected a destination on the thin fringe of land at the edge of the sea. This clearly highlights the fact that sun and sea tourism continues to represent an extremely important source of foreign currency for Spain, which is among the world’s top three tourist destinations.


As one might expect, such a marked geographic and demographic feature strongly influences the planning of summer academic activities. Every year, many universities throughout Spain select (and continue to do so on a regular basis) coastal locations as the venue for their summer courses. Universidad Internacional del Mar, held on several locations within the Murcia Autonomous Region; the European Courses held by Universidad del País Vasco in the beautiful city of San Sebastian; the Courses offered by Universidad de Valencia in Gandía; the Centro Mediterráneo programme, in several seaside towns in the province of Granada; and the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo' summer programme in Santander, Valencia, Barcelona and A Coruña are major examples of the vast range of summer educational activities taking place every summer along the entire Spanish coast.


But ‘Hispania’ -the ‘country of rabbits’, as it was known by the Romans- is not by any means restricted to the borders of Neptune’s kingdom. One must not forget that around 470,000 out of the country’s total surface area of 504,600 square kilometres are taken up by non-coastal areas. In them we also find major cities, among which Madrid stands out for its large population (over 6 million inhabitants) and its economic muscle (Madrid accounts for 18% of the country’s GDP). This Castilian metropolis accounts for a substantial share not only of Spain’s productive output but also, to a large extent, of its academic activity. Thus, when we specifically consider the sphere of higher education, Madrid ranks as the country’s most important pole of attraction.


Madrid also offers a wide choice of summer programmes, although the main trait of such programmes is their widespread availability throughout the entire country. For instance, a number of cities in one of Madrid’s neighbouring Autonomous Communities, also inland, are major reference points as regards summer academic activities. Among them it is worth highlighting, first and foremost, Salamanca and Valladolid, followed at some distance by Toledo, Avila, Burgos and Segovia. Together, these cities attract every summer the highest foreign student population in Spain.


Population Data


Spain is home to 45,116,894 people, according to the latest census published by the Government in early 2007. Andalucía (8,059,431 inhabitants according to the 2007 census), is the most highly populated region in Spain, followed by Cataluña (7,210,000), Madrid (6,081,689) and the Comunidad Valenciana (4,885,029).


Out of the total population, Spanish nationals account for 40.63 million, while the remaining 4.48 million are foreign residents. The latter figure includes 1.7 million citizens from the 26 other EU member states, notably Romanian (576,344), British (314,000), German (164,000) and Italian (135,000).


As regards non-EU foreign residents, the largest population group is made up by Moroccans (576,344), followed by Ecuadorians (more than 421,000) and Colombians (almost 259,000). Other nationalities with a substantial representation in this latest census include Bolivians, at around 200,000, and Argentines, 140.000 of which are currently registered as Spanish residents.


It should be noted in this respect that the makeup of Spain’s foreign resident population was distinctly affected by the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU on 1 January, 2006, after which date the immigrants from these two countries became more numerous than the Latin American communities.


This has led to a drop in the proportional size of foreign population groups from non-EU member countries, especially from Morocco, Ecuador, Colombia and Argentina. Bolivians are the only Latin American population group that continues to grow, in both absolute and relative terms.


Cataluña is the Autonomous Community with the largest foreign population group, which accounts for 22% of the total, followed by Madrid (19.3%),  Comunidad Valenciana (16.1%),  Andalucía (11.8%), the Canary Islands (5.6%), Murcia (4,6%), the Balearic Islands (4%),  Castilla-La Mancha (3.2%),  Castilla y León (2.6%), Aragón (2.5%), and the Basque Country (2,1%). The Autonomous Communities hosting the least foreigners are Galicia (1.8%), Navarra (1.3%), La Rioja (0.8%), Asturias (0.7%), Extremadura (0.7%), Cantabria (0.6%), and Ceuta y Melilla (0.1%).


It would seem that not even the current economic crisis and rising unemployment have been enough to deter many foreigners from  seeking to settle down in Spain. According to data published by the Labour Ministry on 31 March this year, in the 12-month period prior to that date almost one million foreign citizens (956,092 people) were issued with a resident ID card, up by 29,5% from the same period last year. Indeed, only in the first quarter of 2007, when the deterioration of the economic situation was already making itself felt, the number of new registrations totalled 213,821, representing a further 5.3% year-on-year increase. The overall number of foreign citizens holding a valid resident ID card has now reached 4,192,835 million.


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