Moving to Spain
If you’re at all interested in moving to Spain, here is everything you need to know. Moving to Spain is an amazing experience that I highly suggest everyone try at least once. It does come with its complications, though. Fortunately, with my experience, you can go about moving to Spain with your best foot forward.
Moving to Spain to live involves a lot of thought. What are you going to do: study, work abroad, volunteer, couch surf…there’s almost endless opportunities for anybody thinking about moving to Spain to live. With all these opportunities come decisions, whether you’re planning on living in Spain for 6 months or living in Spain for a year.
So, let’s get started with the basics!
How to move to Spain with no money
Assuming you don’t have any money…well, honestly, good luck even getting to Spain if you can’t afford a plane ticket! But in all seriousness, outside of actually getting abroad, all you have to do is get a little bit creative, and you can survive in Spain with very little actual income.
What is the cost of living in Spain?
Fortunately, for all you broke readers who may or may not be struggling under a mountain of student debt, the cost of living in Spain is minimal, especially compared to living in America. The Spanish economy is weak at the moment, with an unfortunately very high unemployment rate, which means you don’t need much to get by.
For example, as long as you make some smart decisions (no renting out pisos in the center of the city!), you can rent a place for just a few hundred euros a month. This price sinks even lower if you couchsurf, though couchsurfing does come with a serious lack of stability. Trust me when I say that not having a stable home causes an insane amount of day-to-day stress.
In my experience, groceries are no more than 20-30 euros a week; this can be less if you stay in Andalusia and get a bunch of free tapas for the price of one drink. If you’re like any other traveler and still want to sample all of Spain’s culinary culture, find some friends and head to a tapas restaurant, where you order a bunch of food and split the price.
Spain transportation is well-known for its efficiency and cleanliness – it can also be cheap, too! If you’re under the age of 26, you can get a metro card with unlimited trips anywhere in Madrid for 10 euros; if you’re over 26, the price goes up significantly (think 50-70 euros, depending on your place of work), but you still get unlimited trips. Which, if you’re traveling a lot around Madrid, is still a great deal. Other cities around Spain also share this deal, though the under-26 deal is specific to Madrid.
Inter-city travel is also reasonably priced, easy to find, and clean. Finding a bus on GoEuro is convenient, and although whatever trip you decided to embark on might involve an 8 hour bus trip, budget prices are easy. If you do have a more flexible budget, you can also use the high speed train, which is also nice and clean. With both these options, you can get almost anywhere you’d want to go within Spain.
Jobs in Spain for English speakers
No matter how empty your wallet is when you get there, moving to Spain is obscenely easy if you speak English; you don’t even necessarily need to be a native speaker, though it helps. Jobs in Spain for English speakers are incredibly easy to find.
There’s two major markets: adults who want to learn English for more job opportunities (because Spain’s unemployment is so high), and parents who want their kids to learn English so they can have more opportunities when they’re adults. Or, of course, you can always teach in a school.
TEFL jobs in Spain
If you are able to get some sort of certificate that states you can teach English abroad, working through a program to work with a Spanish school is probably the easiest, most stable option you can choose. If you’re hired (as long as you apply on time and satisfy all the requirements of that specific program, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be), your program will work with you to get all the politics of work visas, housing, payment, etc. settled.
If you do want to go this route, do keep in mind that while the Spanish government does not require any sort of TEFL/TESOL certifications to hire you, they do require a bachelor’s degree of some kind. That being said, if you don’t have a degree, there are other ways of finding an income if you’re still interested in moving to Spain, you just don’t have this option available to you. These programs are not the only jobs in Spain for English speakers.
Other English teaching jobs in Spain
If you’re hitting roadblocks while looking for jobs in Spain for English speakers through the actual Spanish government, you could consider teaching English privately. Like I said, there’s more than enough opportunity for English jobs in Spain; just speaking the language is all you need, at least to get started.
The more certifications and experience you have, the more you can charge, obviously. If you don’t have certifications or experience, but you still need money coming in, I would suggest looking for students in city centers – people who live and work in expensive areas have more money to offer. If you can’t get high-paying teaching jobs in Spain with a good resume, you can get it with more affluent clients. (Lifehack: rent a room in a cheaper area and take the bus to a bigger city to save money!)
If you don’t have experience, I would also suggest starting with adults who are just looking for speaking practice. You’re looking for college students or working professionals who need conversation practice with a native English speaker but aren’t in the market for a language exchange. This is a low-stress way of getting yourself into the field and getting a feel of questions that Spanish speakers tend to have about English.
With hard work and good luck, English teaching jobs in Spain are plentiful. I suggest you start with these Facebook groups:
Other jobs in Spain for Americans
If teaching English isn’t your jam, I get it. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of options for you, too. Depending on your interests, you can do a variety of things – again, just get creative! A popular option is being an au pair, which is also great for moving to Spain with no money.
Au pairs are basically live-in babysitters. There’s a market of parents who want their children to learn English, but might not have the income for it. To solve their problem, they provide housing, meals, and a little extra allowance for a native English speaker to live in their home as family. If you love kids, this is a great, budget-friendly option for you. It’s stable, and you also have the flexibility of discussing with your family how long you want to stay with them.
If babysitting also isn’t your jam, Americans can find jobs pretty much anywhere, especially in bigger cities with lots of expats. Again, speaking English well is a really highly-valued skill in Spain, so if you can walk into a business with lots of English customers and communicate decently, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll beat out any Spaniard who can’t speak English well. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, and unfortunately for them, you have the skills that many Spaniards can’t compete with.
Living in Spain as an American
Once you have your job and housing figured out, then you get to figure out living in Spain as an American. Now, your experience depends completely on where it is that you live. Living in Madrid, for example, is fairly easy, since there are so many other English speakers to help ease your way in. On the other hand, living in a smaller town is going to give you a slap in the face with culture shock (though there’s no better way to learn the language and culture).
Expats in Spain
Expats in Spain: there’s a lot of them. Lots and lots and lots, especially in bigger cities like Madrid and Barcelona. To find them, all you need to do is go into the cities and keep an ear open for words that aren’t in Spanish. There are plenty of Americans and Europeans staying in Spain, for their own reasons.
There are two easy, efficient ways to find other expats living in Spain: language exchanges and in online groups. If you’ve come to Spain through a teaching program, they’ll have resources for you to find other expats in Spain, as well as other programs that offer language exchanges.
You can also visit a Spanish language school. They’ll either offer language exchanges themselves, or partner with another program, as this is the best way to learn the language, and they want to promote it. Expats from all over the world gather at these events to practice their language and meet other internationals. More often than not, they’ll speak English to some degree. Just don’t get stuck only speaking English!
The other way to find expats in Spain is by Facebook groups. These can be a great way to find expats to meet up with – try posting that you’re looking for a meetup, or even just a language exchange. I would suggest starting with these groups:
Living in Spain: pros and cons
What’s it actually like to live in Spain? Some of it is all sunshine and roses, but not everything. Adjusting to living in Spain can be tricky, despite some aspects of the culture being a breeze compared to American life. So living in Spain: the pros and cons.
Living in Spain pros and cons: food
The way Spain handles food is different from the US. At home, most of the food we eat has been outsourced, even if we can grow it locally. As a Floridian, it’s really sad for me knowing that a lot of the oranges we eat are actually from California, a state on the other side of the country, when we have oranges growing all over our state.
In Spain, they eat much more of the actual food they grow, and you can tell. You can taste the freshness in the food, and you can honestly feel it going through your body easier. Call me crazy, and call my American expat friends who agree with me crazy, but you can actually feel Spanish ingredients being fresher with less preservatives.
Like I said before, the price of food in Spain is also significantly cheaper. I’m not completely sure on the politics of food prices, so don’t quote me on this, but it makes sense with the combination food not being outsourced and the cheaper economy.
After a while, I got sick of tapas, and Spanish food in general. For all my American friends and I, Spanish food was great at first: it’s cheap and easy to sample when you’re with a bunch of other non-Spanish friends.
Problem is, we Americans are used to variety in our food, since we’re blessed with an international population, including restaurants with authentic foods from different cultures. In Spain though, you have Spanish food. That’s it. You can try international food, but it probably won’t be any good.
And it’s not like there’s a whole bunch of different kinds of Spanish food. I mean, yes, there’s some variety, but the Spanish love to fry food, so get used to fried everything. If you’re moving to Spain, as opposed to just visiting, going out to eat gets old. Great, more fried potatoes? Cool…
Living in Spain pros and cons: speed of life
One of Spain’s defining characteristics is how slow they are. They siesta for hours, have inefficient business practices…they even walk slow. As an American, this is both a good and a bad thing. It teaches us good lessons, but good lord, I just wish the Spanish could go from point a to point b!
American culture is always GO GO GO, and it’s a known problem. We’re too busy, and often forget to stop and smell the flowers. Fortunately, moving to Spain teaches you to relax. Nobody in Spain is ever in a hurry, and everybody expects you to be late. As a culture, we’re really stressed out, and living in Spain is a great way to learn how to calm down, that nothing is nearly as important as we think.
Slowing down is nice for a lot of really great reasons, but Americans are also fast for a lot of great reasons, too. In America, everybody respects that there’s stuff that needs to get done; in Spain, if you have to rush, you will have to push past every Spaniard you walk into, because they don’t understand why you could possibly be in a hurry.
Honestly, it takes forever to get most things done, and that is infuriating to me. I want to get things done ASAP so I can enjoy life and not worry about it. Spaniards, they enjoy life while they get things done. I don’t like it. I want to check things off my to-do list, and in Spain, that never really seems to ever happen.
Living in Spain pros and cons: bureaucracy
If you’re moving to Spain, you will be dealing with Spanish bureaucracy a lot. I mean a LOT. A lot more than you’d expect, certainly more than you probably ever will in America. Spain’s got a whole lot of red tape in places where I don’t necessarily feel like it’s necessary, but what do I know?
I’m going to work real hard to find the pro in this: you really learn to trust in the system. You learn to trust that everything will get done, or if it doesn’t get done, you don’t actually need it. Or, at least, you can do without it, I suppose?
Spanish red tape is the actual devil. It is awful. Horrible. Everybody knows it. The simplest things require vast degrees of complicated details. Need to install internet at home? Well you need a bank account for that, which means you need to go to a bank (no not that one, that one doesn’t open accounts, you have to go down the street for that even though you just sat in line for 45 minutes waiting to be seen while all the employees just seemed to be socializing), wait in a long line, probably get interrupted because the bank is closing for some god awful reason, try again tomorrow (but oh wait it’s a bank holiday!) and then, eventually, somehow get a bank account.
Except now you also need another document from the bank and you have to do that all over again. I’m telling you, it’s inconsistent and awful and terrible but you gotta do what you gotta do.
Living in Spain pros and cons: safety
Personal safety is an aspect of traveling that’s important to everyone, especially females who are traveling alone. Being a different culture, Spain comes with its own “rules” when it comes to keeping yourself safe.
Walking down the street by myself as a woman, I have never felt as safe as I have in Spain. Catcalling is rare, which is an incredible improvement compared to back home, where I don’t like to go places alone for fear of the attention. In Spain, they really seem to mind their own business, and it’s wonderful!
Nobody’s perfect, right? While I feel much safer in Spain than I do in America, Spain is in Europe, which means pickpockets are professionals. Fortunately, this isn’t hard to prevent as long as you don’t let your belongings out of your sight, including keeping your things out of your back pockets and off the back of your chair.
But the minute you slip up, you’ll regret it. I’ve had literally everything stolen from me at once: my clothes, toiletries, computer, etc. And did anybody care? Nope. Because who’s supposed to do something about it? You should’ve known better than to leave your expensive belongings where somebody could steal them (at least that’s what they’re all thinking)!
Living in Spain pros and cons: international population
Like I said, there are so many internationals living in Spain, it’s easy as pie to find English-speaking expats to hang out with and learn the culture with. It’s also easy to find language exchanges with most any language you could think of. While this is great, it probably isn’t all what you’re looking for.
With all these other non-Spaniards around, you never really have to feel alone. It’s not difficult to find others who might be going through what you’re going through, especially if you found work through some sort of program. Yeah, you’ll have the culture shock of moving to Spain, but you don’t have to deal with it all alone, and you can easily surround yourself with comfortable, familiar things just by finding people who come from your country.
Being able to find your people is great, but not when it makes it difficult to immerse yourself in the culture, learn the language, or get to know actual Spanish people. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to force yourself out of your little American bubble and into the country around you. Because there are so many internationals, it can be that much harder to have a truly Spanish experience.
7 biggest mistakes when moving to Spain
Now, a lot of first-time Spanish residents make a lot of the same mistakes. The 7 biggest mistakes when moving to Spain are all easily-avoided if you know to avoid them in the first place. Take it from me: don’t do any of these. It’ll make your transition much easier.
1. Trying to get anything done in August, including the beach
Spain is generally known around the world for being a tropical, summer paradise. I mean, it is, but you have to keep the Spanish lifestyle in mind. Not only do Spaniards like to take long, luxurious siestas every day if they can, but the entire country shuts down for the entire month of August. It’s just too hot. So instead of spending the month baking alive, they just quit.
So if you have to do anything official, including anything to do with a bank, registration, or any meetings, get it done before August, or do without. Spain will not help you. They’re out of business at the moment.
And, by the way, they’re not at the beach. The entire world is at the beach in August, because they love the tropical weather. If you don’t mind being overrun by tourists and huge crowds, feel free, but it won’t be a nice, relaxing experience. It’ll be too hot and too busy. You may as well go somewhere else, really.
Instead of the beach, go into the middle of the country to Madrid, the capital. There’s tons of free tours in Madrid, where you can learn all about the country’s history, like the Spanish Inquisition and how it removed almost all traces of the Moors.
2. Not being prepared
In Spain, they have their own version of Murphy’s Law: the Law of Falta Uno, or the idea that if you’re dealing with Spanish bureaucracy (as awful as it is by itself), you’ll always be missing something. No matter how many different copies you have of whatever kinds of documents you need for whatever you’re attempting to get done, you’ll be missing one. I promise.
This means always being doubly prepared. If you have a list of documents to bring, don’t miss one. Bring more than one; if you’re asked for 2 copies, bring 3. Bring original documents and photocopies. Make sure all your dates, names, numbers, and other fine details are correct and consistent throughout them all. For some god awful reason, this is the only time that the Spanish aren’t easy-going.
If there’s something missing or incorrect, you will have to go and get it fixed, which very well might include setting a new appointment. I’ll never forget going to the Spanish consulate to get my visa in Miami, and meeting a girl from Georgia who had had to fly down to Florida just to get her visa; she was missing an important document, and ended up having to fly all the way back home, wait for that one piece of paper, and go through it all again.
3. Being shy
Not only are the Spanish social, but they’re also aggressive. This means you’ll need to be aggressive, too. If you’re in a line and people keep cutting in front of you, that means you’ll need to fight for your place and demand an employee’s attention, too. If you’re at a restaurant and you need a refill, don’t plan on getting what you want unless you literally yell for a server.
This doesn’t mean politely holding a finger up and trying to make eye contact with somebody. This means yelling “¡Oye!”, demanding your place. It’s not rude, I promise. Nobody will pay attention to you unless you make them. That’s just how it is!
4. Referring to Spain’s other languages as dialects
While Spanish is the country’s most common language, it’s not the only language used by the locals. Depending on the region you’re in, you might here Catalan, Valenciano, or Gallego, and they might sound like dialects of Spanish, but they’re not. They are their own languages, and even if you’re fluent in Spanish, you won’t be able to understand them.
This is a great way to piss off a Spaniard. Just understand that these are also languages in their own right with their own history, and you’ll be just fine. If you’re staying in a region where they’re spoken, make an effort to learn them, as well. The locals will be excited to share their language with you!
5. Letting children piss you off
Back in the US, children are to be seen and not heard. They are to be polite and wait their turn for attention, because adult matters are more important. If kids scream in public, their parents are usually judged hard for not being able to “control” them. A “good” child is cute, obedient, and quiet.
In Spain, it’s the opposite. Children are spoiled, and stay up as late as their parents. Spanish children demand attention whenever they want it, and they get what they want. They’re constantly picked up, cooed over, and allowed to run around and scream as much as they want, no matter the atmosphere.
The quicker you get over this, the better. It’s just the attitude the Spanish have towards children. You might think they’re obnoxious and out of control, but don’t try to ask Spanish kids or their parents for a little tranquility unless you want a stank face. Children are blessings and will be treated as such!
6. Dressing poorly in any situation
The Spanish dress impeccably in any and every situation. Us Americans are used to just slapping on a t shirt and jeans to go out, but the Spanish dress up even to go to the gym. To fit in and dress like a Spaniard (please don’t stand out as a tourist!), don’t ever dress down, not even when traveling to a place where you’re supposed to dress down.
Going to the beach? You can bring your bathing suit and flip flops with you, but you need to dress up for the bus ride there. Put on something classy to go to the gym, and keep your gym clothes in a bag. You will never ever see a Spaniard dressed like they’re going to any of these places unless they’re already there. Be classy!
7. Packing heavy
If you’re moving to Spain, I know you want to be prepared for any and all situations. Don’t be. I promise if you pack heavy, you’ll only use about ⅓ of the things you bring. The general rule of packing is pack everything you think you’ll need, take out half, and then take out half again. I can’t even explain to you how much you’ll regret bringing too much.
Not only is it inconvenient and bulky, but it’s also expensive to pay the baggage fees, you’ll probably break your luggage, and you might actually hurt yourself by lugging around so much crap. If you feel like you might need something, remember you can also buy whatever you need in Spain. Don’t sweat it!
Getting your Spain visa
Depending on your route of choice for moving to Spain, you might have someone holding your hand for all the legal stuff, or you might not. If you have some sort of teach abroad program that you’re working through, they should provide you with guidance. If not – if you’re pretty much just going to show up and play it by ear – let’s get your legal stuff started.
Your Spain visa requirements will depend on the kind of visa you need, but you can generally expect to need a passport valid for 3-6 months after your trip, a government-issued ID, proof of residence, proof of work, background check, a doctor’s write-off that you’re physically able to travel, plus copies and translated into Spanish.
Visit the official website for Schengen visas to make sure you have up-to-date information on what you’ll need to get your Spain visa.
Moving to Spain: get started!
Now that I’ve addressed all the basic need-to-knows about moving to Spain, it’s time to get started on your own Spanish adventure. There’s plenty of opportunity to find a way to get abroad, what are you waiting for?