Expat 101: Our Best Life Hacks for Easy Living in Spain

You've made the leap and are living the expat life in Spain. Yes! Here are some tried and tested life hacks to make your experience even better. Photo by Massimo Frasson.

You’ve made the leap and are living the expat life in Spain. Yes! Here are some tried and tested life hacks to make your experience even better. Photo by Massimo Frasson.

By Chris Ciolli

Even when you’re moving to a country famous for wine, sunshine, tapas, and the occasional afternoon nap, picking up and moving home and country is difficult. While an adjustment period is pretty much in the cards for everyone, there’s no reason to make it any harder than it has to be.

Read on for some of our favorite hacks to make your life in Spain as easy as possible.

How do you know which vendor to go to? Ask your neighbors and look for long lines. Photo by Librarygroover.

How do you know which vendor to go to? Ask your neighbors and look for long lines. Photo by Librarygroover.

On Home Life and Food

  • Get Groceries and Household Supplies delivered. Depending on where you’re originally from, this may feel a little silly, but in most bigger Spanish cities you can get groceries, household supplies, and pet supplies delivered. Sometimes it’s free with a minimum purchase, sometimes it’s an extra 5-10 euros, but it’s almost always worth it if it means skipping long lines at the supermarket. Not to mention the fact that delivery means you don’t have to cart heavy bags of cat litter or bottled water around town, and all the way back up to your apartment. This particular hack is especially ideal for folks who live on top of steep hills, or in walk-up apartments.
    Use local expertise when it comes to food.
  • Find a great fruit and vegetable vendor, butcher, and fishmonger in your neighborhood. How? Ask your neighbors or look for places that are consistently busy and then learn to trust their expertise. What do we mean? We mean these are folks who know their way around their product and can advise you on what’s in season, how to cook it, and in most places, will help you by cleaning and cutting it so you don’t have to (this step comes after produce is weighed).
  • Want stuff from home? Bring your own or get it online. Sure, most bigger cities have import stores, some of them specialized to expats. That said, most of them will give you sticker shock. If you simply must have it, bring it back after a trip home or get it from the interwebs. And if you want to bring home a suitcase full of stuff, but aren’t up for paying excess baggage, check out Eurosender, one suitcase of up to 40kgs shippable between Spain and the UK for 50 euros. They also offer moving services at competitive prices. (Scoop Readers! Mention this post and get 10% off with Eurosender.)

Bonus tip: Not everywhere that claims to be a supermarket is one. If it’s pretty teensy, and open before 9am or after 9pm, it’s probably more of a convenient store setup. Expect higher prices, and expiration dates on the brink or past due.

A man in Madrid brings his groceries home in a rolling shopping bag. Photo by Olga Berrios.

A man in Madrid brings his groceries home in a rolling shopping trolly. Photo by Olga Berrios.

Smart Buys

  • A wheeled shopping trolley. For those times when you actually want to shop around town, you’ll want one of these. Sure, they look a little silly, but locals of all ages use them for a reason—when you’re doing shopping on foot and in public transportation, it makes life way simpler.
  • Power strips. There’s nothing more frustrating then not having enough places to plug everything in, and in older Spanish homes (and sometimes even newer builds) it’s pretty common. Power strips are a life saver in Spain, and now you can even get some on that come with a timer, if you want things to be off at certain times of day.
  • A water filter. One way to make your Spanish existence less stressful (and more earth-friendly) is to skip buying bottle after bottle of water, and instead grabbing a filter for your faucet, or a filtering pitcher, like Brita. For the best deals on replacement filters, buy a lot, and get them online. And if you have sensitive skin or trouble with your hair after arrival, go for a small water softener for the shower too—in bigger cities the water is really hard. You can grab a “filtro de ducha” at a local home store, or for about half as much delivered.
Get from point A to point B on Barcelona's excellent transportation system. Photo by Bert Kaufmann.

Get from point A to point B on Barcelona‘s excellent transportation system. Photo by Bert Kaufmann.

Transit and Getting Around

  • Bring or buy good shoes. Living in Spain usually means walking quite a bit. So wear comfortable shoes. When your feet are your main vehicle for getting around attractive but supportive footwear is a worthwhile investment. Just remember sneakers are still mostly for the gym.
  • Use public transportation. Whenever you can, you’re probably better off hopping a bus, train, or subway. Public transportation in and between Spanish cities is reliable and cheap, and using it means not having to worry about parking, GPS sending you down roads that no longer exist, or sometimes aggressive Spanish drivers (Andalusia, we’re looking at you). Another bonus? Taking transit means you can drink wine with lunch worry-free.
  • When it comes to transit, go for the multi-pass. This is a general rule but it rings true almost everywhere in Spain: One-passes are a rip-off unless you actually plan to make only one trip ever. They’re usually double as expensive as the cheapest multi-pass option. Take Barcelona’s 10-pass, for example. At about 1 euro per ride, this multi-person pass is a steal compared to the simple ticket, which costs over 2 euros at the time of writing.

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