By Cat Gaa
They say we enter this world naked, cold, and alone.
I came to Spain over-packed, burning hot, and alone. Stepping off the train in Seville, an overwhelming dread filled me – I didn’t know anyone, speak much Spanish or even know where to begin setting up a life in my new city.
Armed with the determination to make things work in my new home abroad, a Spanish phrase book and loads of research, I turned eight months in Spain into five years with little thought of returning back to Chicago. Taking the plunge to move to the land of tapas and ‘toros’ isn’t easy, but I’ve compiled a few tips to help you get over your sea legs (until you get to the beach, of course).
Finding a Place to Live
Once you’ve chosen a region to settle in, your first order of business should be finding a place to live. Depending on where you’re setting up, different types of housing will be available. Most expats choose to rent, though new legislation states that buying property in Spain will guarantee the right to residency if you spend over a certain amount.
Renting in Spain is a bit different from renting in other countries. As many flats are passed down through generations, many places are old and full of heavy, dusty furniture. Upon finding your ‘hogar dulce hogar’ in Spain requires a great deal of patience and often times discretion. Many expats choose to use online webpages or realtors, but simply walking around the city in the neighborhood you’d like to live in will yield plenty of rent signs, noted as ‘se aquila’. Apartments can be rented out as a whole, or simply by the room.
Your landlord, called a ‘dueño’ or ‘casero’ will expect the rent to be paid within the first five days of each month, and security deposits are often an additional month’s rent, returned at the end of a contract (this may be much more in other cities in Spain, such as Barcelona). Rent prices, of course, will vary by city and location. The general rule of thumb is that the closer to the city center, the more expensive it will be. You’ll also have to pay utilities, called ‘gastos’. These can include water, electricity, Internet and building upkeep.
Other things to consider is that your flat may not have heat or air conditioning, and also may use a butane tank for hot water. In addition, ovens and tumble dryers aren’t commonplace.
Money Matters and Banking
If you’re planning on working or renting in Spain, having a bank account will be important to take care of money matters. In general, Spanish banks are open only on weekdays from 8.30am – 230pm and sometimes open on one weeknight a year. They’re closed on national and local holidays and, in the southernmost region, have reduced hours during the hot summer months. Many expats have a local bank account in Spain and an international bank account in their home country.
To open a bank account, you’ll need to do research with the bank that offers you the best benefits and lowest cost for maintenance fees. Keep in mind the availability of ATMs and transfers to your home country. Major credit cards are also accepted in Spain. If you’re making your living in another currency look into international money transfers.
Banks offer accounts for checking (‘corriente’), savings (‘ahorro’) and direct deposit (‘nómina’). If you’re a resident, you can simply take in your resident ID card and a photocopy, and the bank will instruct you on how to finish the task. If you’re not, you can open a temporary account called a ‘cuenta para no residente’ with a passport, though this account will usually be closed after six months.
Finding a Job
It’s no secret that Spain’s economy has suffered from the global crash and that unemployment – particularly amongst young people – is rampant. The age-old need for ‘enchufe’, or connections, mean that finding work can be a challenge.
One of the most common jobs for expatriates is teaching English. Language academies operate in the evenings and offer a flexible way to make money. European and UK workers have the right to work anywhere in Spain, whereas other nationalities will have to be sponsored and granted a work visa to be allowed to work.
Once you’ve secured a job contract – full-time is considered 35 hours and the average salary falling between 18,000 and 25,000 annually – you’ll have to apply for a foreign residence card and enroll in the social security system. Taxes are due on June 30th each year and local unions and regional documentation lay out benefits and rights. Be clear and firm with your employer, and demand to know the rights you have as an employee.
Meeting People Abroad
Spain’s population has a substantial expatriate population, particularly concentrated in big cities, along the coasts and in the islands. Thanks to the Internet, finding them is easy. For starters, use Internations or Expat Café to ask your burning questions before moving, and then look for local groups. Metropolises like Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville have special interest groups and social communities, such as Costa Women in Malaga/Costa del Sol and The American Women’s Club in Seville. These groups are a fantastic way to meet others and start integrating into life in Spain, while still retaining contacts in your native language.
By nature, most Spaniards are friendly and welcoming. English-speaking expats have a definite advantage when it comes to making friends, too. Larger cities often have ‘intercambios’, which are language exchanges held at local bars or other public places.
Getting a Driver’s License
Spain’s public transportation – particularly train travel – is extensive and well-connected, as well as affordable. Still, having a car grants freedom and is an even easier way to move around, but note that automatic cars are not the norm.
Citizens of the UK and other European countries are able to drive with their European license, but Americans and Canadians cannot. If you’re only in Spain a short time, consider getting an International Driver’s License to avoid a fine of up to 500 if stopped by the police.
In order to apply for a driver’s license, you’ll have to sign up for driving school and do both a theory exam and practicum classes. They’re often costly, which is why many North American expats risk not getting one. The license will be good for five years, upon which you must renew.
Moving to Spain can be challenging and frustrating, yet rewarding and enriching – just don’t forget to pack your sense of humor!
Upon receiving an offer to work at a radio news broadcast center in Chicago, Cat Gaa turned it down and turned up at the Consulate of Spain. Five years and daily cravings for Cruzcampo later, she writes at Sunshine and Siestas (http://sunshineandsiestas.com/) about life in Sevilla and how to make it happen. Follow her on instagram and twitter at @sunshinesiestas