19 Things to Know Before Moving to Gibraltar
If you’re planning on moving to Gibraltar, congratulations! You’re set for a wonderful new life.
This territory on Spain’s southern coast is a beautiful, fascinating place where you can enjoy sunny weather and beaches among familiar British comforts.
5,741 people in Gibraltar moved there from the UK (United Nations, 2020), so you’ll have a ready-made community of expats in this lovely territory. But there are still some things you should be aware of before you arrive – and we’ve got you covered.
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The stunning Rock of Gibraltar dominates the territory's landscape
1. It’s small, but packed
Gibraltar is 6.8 km² – which is 231 times smaller than London.
It’s roughly the size of the borough of Hackney, or Rawmarsh in Rotherham, which is classed as a large village.
You can walk from the southern tip of the territory to its northernmost point in an hour and 15 minutes, and you should – it’s a lovely walk.
However, despite being the fourth-smallest territory on Earth, Gibraltar has a relatively large population of 34,000.
And according to the United Nations, Gibraltar has the fifth-highest population density in the world, so you won’t need to worry about meeting people or making friends.
This is how small Gibraltar – represented by the red triangle – is, compared to London
2. This is a British Overseas Territory
It’s important to remember that Gibraltar isn’t a country or nation – it’s a peninsula attached to Spain that’s classed as a British Overseas Territory.
This means it’s one of the last remnants of the British Empire, and the Queen is the constitutional head of state.
The government of Gibraltar has full control over the territory’s internal matters – including areas like its economy, education, and healthcare – but the UK controls its defence and external affairs.
This is why, for instance, all post-Brexit negotiations about Gibraltar have been conducted by the UK and Spain.
3. Gibraltar wants to be British – and Britain wants that too
Gibraltar’s residents have twice voted in referendums asking whether the UK, Spain, or a combination of the two should have sovereignty over the peninsula – and both times, they’ve voted to remain British.
In 1967, they were asked to choose between the current situation and returning Gibraltar to Spain, and 99.6% voted in favour of staying British.
In response to this vote and the territory’s subsequent new constitution, Spain closed the land border and didn’t fully open it again until 1985.
In 2002, British foreign secretary Jack Straw announced there could be a referendum in Gibraltar on shared sovereignty with Spain, once UK-Spain talks had concluded.
Gibraltar’s government, angered by this revelation, announced it would hold a referendum regardless of the talks’ results. In the vote, 99% rejected the proposal for shared sovereignty.
The UK government also wants to keep Gibraltar British, largely because it acts as an important strategic base from which the UK’s military can control the western entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.
British voters agree, with 58% saying Gibraltar should keep its current status, according to the latest YouGov poll, and just 19% saying its status should change.
4. The healthcare is excellent
Gibraltar’s healthcare offering is equivalent in quality to Spain and the UK’s – which makes sense, as most of the peninsula’s health professionals are trained in these two nations.
The territory’s health services are run by the Gibraltar Health Authority (GHA), which was created by law in 1987 and is extremely similar to the UK’s National Health Service.
That means residents of Gibraltar can use its healthcare system for free at point of access, while UK citizens can receive emergency care for free if they show their passport.
If you’ll be working in Gibraltar but not yet a resident there, you’ll gain access to healthcare by paying a social security contribution – 10% of your salary, with a maximum limit of £36.30 per week. Your employer will contribute twice this amount.
You can access primary, secondary, and mental health services in Gibraltar, usually through the sole civilian hospital, a 30,000 m² building called St Bernard’s Hospital in the north-west of the territory.
If your health needs can’t be met in the territory, you may be referred to specialist services in Spain or the UK.
We’ve partnered with Cigna for private medical insurance in Gibraltar. With four levels of annual cover to choose from and extra modules for more flexibility, Cigna will sort you out with a plan that suits your needs.
Get a free quote and start building a customised plan to protect your most important assets – you and your family.
5. English is widely spoken, but learn some Spanish anyway
English is Gibraltar’s official language, so you’ll be able to get by just fine.
However, learning some Spanish could endear you to the locals, as most people in the territory are bilingual – plus it’ll make travelling in Spain much easier.
You’ll also hear a dialect called Llanito, spoken by many Native Gibraltarians, or Llanitos, who make up around two-thirds of Gibraltar’s population.
The dialect is made up of Spanish and English, with influences from Genoese (a dialect from Genoa, Italy) and Hebrew, due to the presence of Sephardic Jews on the peninsula.
6. Here comes the sun
Gibraltar is blessed with 74% more sunshine than the UK, as you might expect from a place that’s literally connected to Spain.
The peninsula boasts six gorgeous beaches where you can relax and soak in the sun’s rays.
You can also expect to enjoy mild winters and warm summers, with average highs that stay above 28°C throughout July and August.
And with an average low that doesn’t dip below 11°C – even in the depths of December and January – you can wave goodbye to the harsh winters we’re all used to in the UK.
7. The food is a glorious combination of cultures
For such a tiny peninsula, Gibraltar has a wonderfully unique culinary culture – and you should eat up every morsel of it.
Influenced by Spanish, British, Genoese, Maltese, and Jewish cooking, Gibraltar has given the world delightful dishes like the calentita (which literally means ‘small hot’ in Spanish).
This oven-baked bread is made from chickpea flour and olive oil, and is delicious – season it with salt and pepper, and don’t worry if you finish a whole tray in one sitting.
You should also dig into a rosto, which probably gets its name from the English word ‘roast’ despite its Genoese origins.
The dish consists of pasta (usually penne) with tomato sauce, beef, garlic, mushrooms, carrots, onions, and white wine, topped with lots of grated Edam cheese.
If you’re not full yet, try rolitos – this means ‘small roll’ in Spanish, even though the dish originated in Malta.
To make it, a thin slice of beef is filled with breadcrumbs, chopped olives, boiled eggs, bacon, garlic, vegetables, and various herbs and spices, then baked, fried, or braised in wine. The result is delectable.
8. Gibraltar’s history is complicated
Gibraltar was split off from the Spanish mainland in 711, when Ṭāriq ibn Ziyād led his Moorish forces from North Africa to capture the peninsula from the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania.
The Rock of Gibraltar was called Jabal Ṭāriq (Mount Tarik) after the commander – a name which was eventually mangled into the name Gibraltar and applied to the whole territory.
After nearly a millennium of being captured and conquered by armies from modern-day Spain and North Africa, the 13-year-long War of the Spanish Succession saw Anglo-Dutch forces take over the territory.
The British Empire was handed Gibraltar in 1713 to ensure it withdrew from the war, though multiple Spanish monarchs tried unsuccessfully to regain the territory over the next century.
Gibraltar was a vital strategic base for Britain during the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, and the Second World War, when almost the entire civilian population of the territory was evacuated.
And through it all, Spain has disputed Britain’s control of the peninsula.
9. The national football team is remarkably good
Okay, so it’s not a good team, in the traditional sense – but it does pretty well for a tiny territory of 33,000 people.
Since being allowed into UEFA competitions in 2013 as its smallest member (against Spain’s wishes), the team has flown higher than it has any right to, beating Armenia, Malta, Liechtenstein, and San Marino.
Gibraltar even topped their Nations League group in 2020, meaning they were promoted to the third tier, to play against bigger teams including former European champions Greece.
And club side Lincoln Red Imps, who (like all the peninsula’s other teams) play in the shadow of the iconic Rock of Gibraltar, made history in 2016 when they beat Scottish champions Celtic 1-0 in a Champions League play-off.
They lost the second leg and went out of qualifying, but that historic achievement was topped in the 2021/22 season, when they qualified for the group stage of the European Conference League – though they did then lose all six of their games.
10. You’ll have no trouble making friends
17% of Gibraltar residents moved there from the UK, which means you’ll have something in common with one in every six people you meet.
The locals’ positive opinion of the UK will also help – but don’t worry, this isn’t just a bland British village on the edge of the Mediterranean. There are loads of opportunities to learn and explore.
The territory contains plenty of religious diversity – with a population that includes Catholics, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims – and a unique culture. Speaking of which…
11. Absorb all the history and culture you can
Gibraltar may be small, but it is overflowing with fascinating cultural and historical sites to see.
Your first port of call after you land should be the Tunnels of Gibraltar, which run for 34 miles.
Travel back in time by visiting these passages through the Rock of Gibraltar, which were constructed over the course of 200 years, mainly by the British military as a way of fortifying the territory against naval and air attacks.
After that, make sure you see the peninsula’s many art galleries, as well as the gorgeous mosque, Hindu temple, cathedrals, and four active synagogues.
Gibraltar's Barbary macaques are the the only wild ones in Europe
12. Go on natural adventures
The peninsula’s natural offerings are perhaps even more stunning than its man-made wonders.
The Gibraltar Nature Reserve, which makes up 40% of the territory’s land, is where you’ll find the only wild Barbary macaques in Europe.
While many populations of this social creature are declining in Africa due to deforestation, Gibraltar’s is rising – partly because of an old superstition that if the creatures leave, so will the British – and you’ll occasionally see them venture into town.
The Reserve also contains St Michael's Cave, which boasts a stunning collection of stalagmites and stalactites.
Go see the light installation (it happens every 20 minutes), but come back for a concert, ballet recital or play, as the dramatic backdrop is perfect for a show.
13. The nightlife is familiar and welcoming
You’ll find a mix of British pubs, Spanish bars, and creations that fall in between, with palm trees lining your sun-strewn table as you choose between a Guinness and a local cocktail.
Many people take advantage of the fact that you can walk home from wherever you are on the peninsula, but beware: the small community means making a fool of yourself has long-lasting consequences.
If you keep your cool though, you’ll make loads of friends while out drinking, and at the couple of nightclubs in the territory.
You should also check out the peninsula’s gin distillery, the excellently named Spirit of the Rock, which runs tours and produces its own Campion London Dry Gin and Plymouth Style Gin.
You can also buy some super-smooth Moon Lizard vodka here – the spirit is made with a yellow citrus fruit called etrog, which makes it popular with the local Jewish community during the festival of Sukkot, when etrogs are used in rituals.
14. Gibraltar’s working culture is similar – but different
The working culture in Gibraltar is very similar to the UK’s: English is the dominant language, most businesses run on a 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday schedule, and most employees are expected to wear suits or other smart clothes throughout the year.
However, knowing the differences is key to making your transition as smooth as possible.
Don’t necessarily address a colleague by their first name, especially if they’re from a different company – instead, watch to see what the locals do, and follow their lead.
And make sure you arrange a time for even the most casual meetings – your colleagues won’t appreciate being asked to one without warning, as it’s the custom to be extremely prepared for meetings.
15. There are more public holidays
Gibraltar observes the same public holidays as the UK – plus another three bonus days.
So as well as the standard days off, like Mayday and Christmas Day, you’ll also get to take work off to celebrate International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April, the Queen’s birthday on 13 June, and National Day on 10 September.
National Day marks the territory’s 1967 sovereignty referendum, which saw voters overwhelmingly choose to remain British.
Expect a great deal of red and white (the main colours of Gibraltar’s flag), the waving of some Union Jacks, and lots of music and dancing.
16. Gibraltar will be in the Schengen Area – even if the UK isn’t
Negotiations between the UK and Spain over the status of Gibraltar after Brexit are ongoing, but seem likely to end with the land border being destroyed – including a 1.2 km-long physical barrier.
That means people in Gibraltar will once again become part of the Schengen Area – the European Union’s passport-free travel zone – as they were before Brexit.
Spanish citizens will be able to work and live in Gibraltar without getting a visa or passing through lengthy, arduous border checks.
They’ll only need to pass through a border check if they arrive by sea or air – and just like British citizens, all they’ll need to present in these cases is a valid passport.
17. Don’t worry about exchanging your money
The territory uses the Gibraltar pound, which is worth the same as pound sterling.
The two are also fully exchangeable, which means you won’t have to worry about changing your money or learning about a whole new form of currency after you move.
And what’s even better is that Gibraltar has a slightly lower average cost of living than the UK – so the prices should come as a welcome relief, along with the currency they’re in.
18. Gibraltar sometimes feels like a tribute to Britain’s past
Red telephone boxes are a common sight in Gibraltar, the peninsula’s Main Street contains red post boxes with every British monarch’s insignia since Queen Victoria, and there’s even a statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson.
Throw in a few traditional pubs, a Morrisons, and the frankly ridiculous number of places that serve battered fish and chips, and you can occasionally forget you live next to the Mediterranean, rather than, say, the Irish Sea.
Any time you feel this way, just appreciate the sun shining down on you, gaze out at the sparkling sea, and immediately go to the beach or a Spanish restaurant.
19. You don’t need a car
Gibraltar is small and has a decent bus service, so if you’re not a massive fan of driving, we’d recommend sticking to public transport.
There are several bus routes that cover the territory, and they all cost £1.80 for a single ticket – an entirely reasonable price.
And if you ever want to reach the top of the Rock of Gibraltar, just use the cable car – a return ticket costs £17, and you can admire the glorious views without any distractions.
One extra point that’s worth mentioning: in Gibraltar, vehicles drive on the right.