More than a quarter of Americans who permanently reside in Spain live in its capital – nearly 11,000 of them according to the last INE statistics. Moving to Madrid might be one of the best decisions you could ever make, but you should know all its pros and cons before moving across the world.
Spain is said to be one of the friendliest countries in the world. People are outgoing, open-minded, and very chatty. In fact, you’ll be surprised by how many strangers will engage in a friendly conversation with you almost out of the blue. Meeting new people and making friends here is a piece of cake. The climate is great – it is mostly warm and sunny throughout the year, and the beaches, vibrant culture, and rich history just add to the overall living experience.
A Brief Newcomer’s Guide to Moving to Madrid, Spain
While it may seem like a great idea and you think you are ready to start packing your bags, go through a quick Spanish language course, and hit the road, you should be aware that there are many hoops to jump through before booking international moving services. One of them is the tedious bureaucracy, which is nothing like you are used to in the US. If you are relocating from New York to Spain, the wheels of this bus will have you go round and round. You have to apply for a visa, a residence permit, work permit, NIE, etc. Besides that, you should also open a bank account, get a SIM card for which you may need to decode your phone, file a police report for NIE, etc. Let’s take a quick walk through the essential documents needed to travel to this amazing country in Southern Europe.
What Are Your Visa Options and What Is an NIE?
As a US citizen moving to Spain permanently, get ready to gather quite a few papers. Unless you are also a citizen of a European Union member state, there a couple of visa options at your disposal, depending on your particular situation:
- Family reunification visa (visado de reagrupación familiar) – You are eligible to apply for one if you are married or related to a Spanish citizen.
- Work visa (visado de residencia y trabajo por cuenta ajena) – In case you’re relocating for a job, you’ll need to show your employment contract to relevant authorities. For that purpose, contact your employer before applying.
- Student visa (visado de estudiantes) – If your plan is to study in the Spanish capital, you need to secure a place at some of the Spanish schools or universities, or be a part of the student exchange program.
On the other hand, NIE (Número de identidad de extranjero) is a foreigner’s identity card or a number, and you need to apply for one within 30 days of your arrival. You can get it at the local police station or the local foreigner’s office.
You will need an NIE to open a bank account, pay taxes, get a salary, apply for social services, buy property, get a driver’s license. The added benefit of being registered, besides not having problems with the authorities, of course, is that you get access to free healthcare and education for your children. Not all the healthcare services and procedures are free, however, and you may want to check if you need some extra health insurance.
The Cost and Standard of Living
The country went through a major economic crisis in recent years, and the consequences of which can still be felt today. While it has an above-average work-life balance index, the income, education, and living environment rank poorly on the scale.
The average Spanish monthly net salary after deducted tax is $1,763. The differences in prices and purchasing power are considerable. For example, New Yorkers have a 35% higher purchasing power than the citizens of Madrid, while the rent is 210% lower in Madrid.
The average consumer price basket here is around $2,390, and a third of that will go for groceries. Usually, all the staple foods, such as bread, eggs, and milk cost around a dollar, and you can get a really good value for your money. You can also find many quality products such as wine and cheeses at a ridiculously low price. Many items that are considered a luxury or good quality are produced here and thus are a lot cheaper than in the US. For example, olive oil, wine, baby artichokes, and cherimoya are all produced locally. When it comes to protein, as the country is very well positioned and surrounded by the water with a lot of farmland, you can buy quality lamb meat for about $10 a pound, and shellfish and fish in coastal regions and throughout most of the country for as low as $2 per pound.
Utility bills are somewhat higher, especially gas and electricity prices, but because of the favorable climate, you wouldn’t spend much on heating anyway. The average bill for the basic utilities is around $135.
If you are moving with kids and you register for the legal residence permit, you have the right to send your kids to local schools for free, except for paying for textbooks and a symbolic donation. The same goes for state-funded nurseries, except when it comes to the State Nursery, which is $250 per month with meals for children aged three to five. Of course, classes are in Spanish, but you do have the option to enroll your kids in international bilingual schools, and the yearly tuition for an international primary school is $8,200.
Is It Hard to Find an Apartment in Madrid?
Bluntly said – it is. While the cost of rent is very affordable, you may find it hard to tick all the boxes when it comes to searching for a perfect apartment. Some of the factors that could be very important are location, price, space, timing, and flexibility.
It is never a bad idea to search for an apartment a few months in advance on the internet, but be careful not to pay anything in advance, or at least not until you are absolutely sure that you are dealing with a legitimate owner or agency. Being flexible will help you a lot. For example, if you’ve found a perfect apartment, but it is not in your ideal location (say, it’s far away from your future workplace), research about the commute options in that part of the city. Would it really be that inconvenient to live there?
Rent prices for a one-bedroom apartment go from $780 outside the city center up to $1,040 in the city center. For a three-bedroom apartment, you’ll have to pay anywhere from $1,250 outside the city center and up to $1,830 in the city center. If you are moving abroad alone, you may want to play smart and split rent with roommates to save money and have more options.
Public Transport Is Great
The metro is the way to go. It is very well connected and reliable. The same goes for the other public transportation options, but the metro is by far the most convenient solution to get around. You can get a monthly pass for public transportation for $60. Keep in mind that with such a great public network, you get a much wider range of options when choosing an apartment.
What’s the Biggest Difference in Lifestyle?
Different doesn’t have to be bad by default. This great Mediterranean nation boasts a perfect climate, friendly people, great food and drinks, many places to go and visit, and many historical and cultural spots to see. What may not be easy to adjust to at first is the fact that Spain has its own rhythm.
Everything is a few hours later than most people in the US are used to. The sun sets at around 10 PM in the summer. It can be mind-blowing for many, and not everyone can adjust, but it can also feel like you have a few extra hours of the day. Dinner is in the late hours since many people have a two-hour lunch break at 2 PM. That can sound great, but they often stay at work until 8-9 PM. So, late nights, late dinners and staying at work late may just be someone’s cup of tea, but it could also be very inconvenient for others.
Cancel All Plans at 2 PM – It’s Siesta Time in Spain
You probably heard about the famous siesta, and yes, it is a real thing. While it does not really happen in bigger cities, most banks close at 2 PM, and many grocery shops, markets, bars, and restaurants do take a midday break. Spaniards work to live, but they don’t live to work, and they do have a much more relaxed working environment.
You May Not Like the Weather as Much as You Thought You Would
If you thought that warm weather is common all year round throughout Spain, you were mistaken. While it is mostly like that in coastal cities, the rest of the nation has all four seasons. Winters are not severe, but there is snow. Madrid is almost right in the middle of the country, and from October to June, it will get cold, rainy, and windy. More often than not, it will be the combination of the three. But when it’s hot, it’s really hot, and there is no beach to go for a quick swim to cool down. The good news is that you can adapt to this climate since it’s not extreme in any way. It is never too hot nor too cold.
How to Overcome and Adjust?
When you move abroad and leave your previous life in the US, you expect everything to be fun and games all day every day. While it will surely be interesting and exciting, you will have to learn how to navigate everyday life, which will be stress added on top of the whole relocation turmoil. There will be periods when you’ll be baffled by how different stuff is in your new place; then there will be times when you miss your friends, family, and home, but there will also be times when you’ll be so in love with the new culture and surroundings that it‘ll all be worth it. The tricky part is overcoming hard times that are bound to happen.
Remember that you are building your life from the ground up and take one step at a time. Adjusting to a new country can be easier if to get to know your new place and fall in love with the things in it, whether it be a nice park where you like to walk or sit down and read a book, a bar where you feel cozy, a restaurant you can’t live without, etc. This city won’t let you down; there are so many things to do and see here that you are bound to fall in love with at least a few of them.
Check out Local Restaurants
Tapas and paella are not the staples of Spanish cuisine; there is so much more to it. Spaniards were trading with faraway lands centuries ago for exotic spices. Over time, spices did become a cornerstone of their colorful and aromatic cuisine. Although they do love spicy food, it is not as hot as Asian. It burns your taste buds ever so slightly. Another great thing is that restaurants and food vendors can deliver top quality food for reasonable and even low prices. This is quite the refreshment when you consider the prices in NYC or Los Angeles restaurants.
Get to Know the Local Culture and Heritage
There are a few things you won’t lack here: nightlife, great food, and, of course, many historical sites to visit. This is a very old, proud, and culturally rich country. While Spain was a colonial force once upon a time, and many influences from the whole world came back with the sailors returning home, they preserved their architecture and distinct identity. Make sure you pay a visit to these places soon after you settled in:
- Museo del Prado
- Parque de El Retiro
- Puerta del Sol
- Plaza Mayor
- La Rosaleda de Madrid
You might be interested to learn that many museums and art galleries have free hours. Check online for when they are, and enjoy your cultural tour for free.
Things to Know About Living in Madrid No One Tells You
All in all, this is a beautiful place to live in. However, here are a few things that you might want to know before you move there:
- You have to put in effort into learning the language if you want to live comfortably there, and we don’t mean your textbook Spanish. Mind that they speak very fast, and you might need some time to adjust to that.
- Finding a job can be tricky. Many people with higher education have problems finding a job that will suit all their needs. Make sure you find a job before relocation.
- Strikes happen very often, and they can be on any day of the week and at any time of the day. This can present an obstacle on your way to work.
- Being a vegan can be quite a challenge; they have a poor choice of vegan substitutes and restaurants.
- The unemployment rate is high, and so is the competition for a job position.
- In August, the whole town shuts down. It is vacation time, and people go away to sunny beaches to relax and enjoy summer.
Don’t Leave Your Belongings Unattended
One of the big problems in both Barcelona and Madrid is pickpocketing. Many tourists get their belongings stolen if they left them unattended even for a second. The pickpockets here are very good at what they do, so make sure you look after your stuff.