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Updated December 2022
Are you gearing up for a possible move abroad? Is Madrid in the cards for you?
Let’s dive into some of the 7 specific things to know before moving to Madrid Spain to help you see if the Spanish capital may be your new home!
As someone who lived in Madrid, Spain for one year as an English teacher, lived with a host family a little outside the city center but frequented the city, and all of the things to do in Madrid, I feel that I can add some insight especially if you’re looking to make a similar move.
I love Madrid, and I would live there in a heartbeat, I think there are so many pros to living in a city like this, however, I do also want to highlight the challenges that may come up, specific to relocating to Madrid.
So learn from my little hurdles and unexpected surprises that I found when I moved to Madrid from the US, and read on to see a couple of the things that I wish I knew before moving to Madrid, Spain.
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Is moving to Madrid a good idea?
If you want to live in a walkable city, with an incredibly well-connected transportation system, a buzzing terrace, and coffee culture any day of the week, a city with beautiful culture, a long list of weekly and weekend activities all over the city, and a city with cosmopolitan vibes and quaint and trendy neighborhoods – then relocating to Madrid should be your next move.
I know I just listed a lot of things in one (possibly run-on) sentence but there it is, those are just some of the reasons why I think that anyone who resonates with wanting to experience living in a city with all those offerings, should get going on making living in Madrid a reality.
Madrid is a city that never bores. There’s always something to do, and somewhere to go.
From a concert to a museum to cultural activities like the Sunday Rastro Vintage Market to checking out the new terrace and tapeando with friends – there’s always something to do.
Now, I don’t know where you may be on your moving to Madrid game plan, you might be browsing and playing with the idea of moving abroad or you might have already set your mind to moving to Madrid from the US – wherever you may be, I hope that my experience of living in Madrid for a year as an English teacher can help you make your final decision.
I’ve already talked about different ways that you can move abroad after college, which is a great list to check out if you’re trying to find ways to learn how to move to Madrid, whether you just recently graduated, or it’s been a few years and you’re just trying to find ways to move and work abroad.
So, wherever you may be, if you’re looking for a change in scenery, in a city that truly does have it all – welcome home to Madrid!
What are some of the do’s and don’ts in Madrid Spain?
Based on my own experience, here are some of my quick do’s and don’t’s that you may or may not have heard of when it comes to things to know before moving to Madrid Spain. They are pretty light, but maybe you’ll learn something new in one of these:
- Do expect multiple courses of food when eating at a Spanish friend’s house.
- Do expect to be surprised by how straightforward Spanish people are, especially if you come from a Latin American country.
- Do try to know some facts about your country, like population, etc. to make conversation with locals, especially over dinner because this is a topic that comes up for some reason – Yes it may sometimes make you feel like you’re an ambassador from your country.
- Do know about the incredible shopping available in Madrid – you’ll want to buy everything there because it’s just so different from the U.S. – in a good way.
- Do expect the food to be very flavorful, although not spicy at all.
- Don’t expect to have dinner before 8 pm when meeting up with locals.
- Don’t expect to go out before 10 pm – the parties really get going after midnight.
- Don’t expect that you’ll make friends right away with locals. They take their time getting to know you before becoming friends with you.
- Don’t expect Madrileños to take a siesta in the middle of the day – it’s not true for all of Spain.
- Don’t expect everyone to know English – so it’s up to you to learn at least some basic Spanish to understand what’s going on.
7 Specific Things To Know Before Moving to Madrid, Spain
1. Allergies in Madrid are no joke
One of the things I wish I knew before moving to Madrid? Allergies.
Come springtime, the city and its outskirts flourish with beautiful flowers, including the famous Almond Trees (pictured on the right). Although beautiful, the allergies that come from it may affect those vulnerable to seasonal allergies.
If you’re someone who also *slightly* suffers from a lil bit of allergies during this beautiful time of the year, I want you to know that it intensifies in Madrid.
Since living in Illinois for me, my allergies have been at bay, and all I really have are a couple of sneezes here and there in the morning, but wow, Madrid takes it to a whole other level. I was dying.
Sneezing all the time, watery eyes, and I even lost my voice, and before anyone says, Maritza, that sounds like an extreme cold or something else – no, it’s not. It’s how bad allergies can actually get in Madrid.
Pollen is high, grass pollen, and the little white cotton-looking things are flying through the air everywhere. It’s all over Madrid.
The saying, Spring is in the air is quite literal here in Madrid because you can see it and you can feel it. As beautiful as this time is nature-wise, it did quite a number on my allergies.
2. The Spanish bureaucratic system can be a bit of a headache
Oh dear, this one deserves its own post. I mean realistically, any legal process in any country is already a complete drag (don’t nobody have time to wait hours in line to be told you’re missing a document, amiright??).
However, in Madrid, it intensified.
I’m talking to the point where you will be rejected and required to come back in line to get your TIE card if you use the wrong colored ink on your application or if you have the wrong-sized photos.
That’s not all.
The hours in which the government offices are open….for instance, places like the ayuntamiento (town hall) where you have to go get your empadronamiento (the document stating your place of residence) is closed a random day of the week, and either open late or closes early on the days they are open.
Without your empadronamiento, you can’t get your tarjeta sanitaria (health card). More on that later.
Without getting too ranty or making this post all about the bureaucratic system, I’ll just say that it’s safe to say that this counts as one of the things I wish I knew before moving to Madrid. Not like I could avoid it, but at least just mentally prepare my naive thoughts beforehand.
3. Opening up a foreign bank account in Madrid requires some patience
When it comes to things like opening a bank account, sometimes some banks don’t want to be helpful and they will tell you that your Spanish visa with your NIE number and passport is not enough to open an account when it has worked for the rest of your friends. Go figure.
If they say this, just move on to another bank because you can open up a bank account with this information along with the letter of employment from the school/place of employment stating the amount you will be earning.
Alas, this also falls under the list of things that I wish I knew before moving to Madrid.
If I could go back, I think I would do my research just a little bit more to familiarize myself with the different kinds of banks available, and of course, opening up a bank account as a foreigner. If you’d like a post on that, let me know!?
4. The healthcare system in Madrid is actually amazing
Here’s a VERY GOOD change.
I wish I knew beforehand how easy this was going to be because coming from a country where healthcare seems to be more of a privilege than a right, I was a little nervous about how it would work in Madrid.
Honestly, one of the easiest processes that I experienced in my whole getting settled process.
After finding the ayuntamiento (town hall) open and getting my empadronamiento (document stating my residency) settled, I got my tarjeta sanitaria (health card) quickly with my address and empadronamiento.
Immediately after receiving it, I had instant access to healthcare, and wow, what a feeling to have this right so easily. *Ahem*
definitely not used to this *ahem*
5. Using your U.S. phone in Madrid is a very easy process
This was definitely something I wish I had known before moving to Madrid, and let me tell you why.
Though I wasn’t paying an obscene amount of money monthly for my phone service, I could have definitely been more aware of other phone companies and their services.
I realized a few months in from talking to other expats about how amazing their data and phone service was, that they were paying WAY lower than I was ?!!
I just wish that I had known the different things to look for when searching for a SIM card depending on my needs and preference. If you seem to be on a similar boat or are curious, I actually wrote a blog post on this earlier, how to navigate any foreign city, which would have been so handy for me back then, but alas, check it out here.
Another handy thing in that post, is the SIM card 101 cheat sheet freebie, with all that you need to know/what you should look for in purchasing a SIM card for your needs. Make sure to check it out by leaving me your name and email down below!
6. The Madrid public transportation abono (card) is literally your access key to the city, and beyond
What is this magical abono I’m talking about?
Well, it’s something that I wish I knew before moving to Madrid because it’s basically the best all-access transportation card that you need in your life.
The abono transporte is a transportation card that if you happen to be under the age of 25, you will pay 20 euros each month to use this card on every and any kind of public transportation offered in Madrid, unlimited.
Don’t worry, if you’re over that age, you can still get an abono card, but the monthly price does jump from 20 to up to 131 euros (depending on what zones you want to travel to).
This means the metro, the buses, and the trains are included in this abono joven.
Madrid, being a city that is so well connected within and throughout the suburbs, including UNESCO world heritage sites like Alcala de Henares, Aranjuez, and even places like Toledo, you can literally go see so many places on this card for 20 euros a month. Such a DEAL.
It’s such a deal, even for someone who doesn’t live within the city center and may not use the metro that often, it’s still worth it because those bus tickets to the city and around will add up.
Depending on the ticket you’re purchasing alone, per month I kept count of how much I spent living in the suburbs (may I add) and I ended up spending around 50 euros per month. 20 euros is a STEAL for this card.
The main reason why I wish I had known about this card beforehand is that I made the mistake of thinking if I lived in the suburbs of Madrid, why would I even bother paying monthly for a transportation card??
UM, yeah. Don’t be like me and wait a couple of months to get yours. Instead, if you’re moving to Madrid, go to any big metro station like Principe Pio in the city center or you can go to the Transportes Madrid website to find the nearest place you can purchase your card. You can also apply for it online too!
If you’re interested, here’s a post I did where I created a beginner’s guide the getting around Madrid on public transportation.
I go more in-depth as far as ticket prices, and the different forms of public transport offered in Madrid. Everyone from locals to tourists use it to get around because it’s amazing.
7. Making friends in Spain is not the same as in the U.S.
By this, I mean what to expect when trying to make friends in Madrid.
I guess going in, I wasn’t really aware of anything having to do with making friends with locals in Madrid.
I, in a naive way, thought that it was similar to how we make friends in the states, or that at least, it wouldn’t be that different. However, upon starting to work at the school I was at with my native co-workers, I noticed this divide between them and me.
I realized that making friends in the States was really different from the way it was done in Madrid, as in, people there were much more intentional and made sure to first observe you for a bit to determine if they want to invest time in creating a friendship with you.
Especially since many locals already had their friendships formed with others whom they went to school with, were neighbors with, their own cousins and their friends, etc. it’s not like they were looking to gather more friends like us Americans in the States when we meet new people.
The locals were friendly, don’t get me wrong, but they just weren’t my friends until maybe closer to the end of the school year when we had already a couple of months working together.
Some of my co-workers that I spoke to regularly started to invite me out to coffee and even to weekend trips to their cities and their family’s homes.
If you’re interested more in this topic of making friends with locals in Madrid, then make sure to check out a post I did a while back where I talked about how I made friends with locals in Madrid, and how you can too.
Quick moving to Madrid Q&A:
Can you live in Madrid without speaking Spanish?
If you live in Madrid, I think you can get away with not knowing how to speak Spanish, however, I also think it might be challenging in some ways not knowing at least a few phrases, or understanding it at least
If you want to make friends with locals, it can be a bit challenging to spark up a conversation, as many may not speak English. Some may, but not all.
If you are looking to ask a local for directions, it’s a gamble on whether or not the person may know how to help you in English.
However, I know that Madrid has a lot of expats, and a lot of locals are learning English whether it’s at school, or it’s on their own with private tutoring because of more job opportunities. Signs are posted in English as well around the city, so it’s not like you’ll be completely stuck if you can’t speak Spanish, but if you venture outside of the city, that may change.
If you go into a cafe, you can order a coffee in English for instance, order food in some restaurants, or if you go inside a museum or clothing store, people there may be able to help you in English.
But my suggestion is if you can learn at least some basic words, that would be very helpful! Spanish people will also feel that you’re making an effort, therefore they’ll want to help you even more.
Also, if you’re planning on learning some basic Spanish phrases, make sure you’re learning Spanish from Spain (Castellano) and not Spanish from another Latin American Country. Spanish sayings and slangs are different depending on which country you’re visiting, so make sure you’re learning the right one!
>> Read More: Helpful Common Spanish Words and Slang Used in Spain That You Should Know About Before Traveling to Spain
To dive into Spain Spanish words and slang terms (and even a few curse words, because why not throw that in there!) even more, check out a book that concentrates on those words more, as well as offers examples in real-world dialogue to help you prepare your awareness of Castellano.
How to explore and get to know the local culture in Madrid, Spain?
When you first move to Madrid, make sure to connect with other expats so you can start getting acquainted with others, learning from their experience if they have lived in Madrid for a longer amount of time, or just asking questions like what grocery stores to find certain ingredients or best banks to open up a bank account as a U.S. national in Madrid.
Facebook groups may be old school, but they are still so helpful when it comes to connecting with expats already living in Madrid and diving deep into a goldmine of resources, and common Q&A’s, especially when you first move to Madrid, Spain.
A quick search on Facebook with the keywords: Madrid expats will help you get started. You’ll find everything from female-only Madrid groups, general expat groups in Madrid, hiking groups in Madrid, what to do in Madrid this weekend groups, study abroad in Madrid groups, etc.
Exploring the city aimlessly has been one of my favorite ways to get to know the local culture and sites all around. What do I mean by aimlessly? I mean getting on the metro or bus, or train for the sake of exploring, without having anywhere to be precise
See a name on the metro map for a neighborhood that catches your eye? Stop there and explore.
Want to explore the best dairy-free cafes in Madrid? Make a Google map with all the places recommended on Google. Want to explore some free activities to do in Madrid? Make it a plan and head to the streets on a Saturday or Sunday.
>> Read More: The Top Free Things To Do in Madrid
Exploring the city this way is a great way to also practice your use of the amazing public transport in Madrid, which is not difficult at all to understand.
Other ways fun ways to explore the city when you relocate to Madrid
- Madrid City Center Scavenger Game: Why not get to know Madrid in a fun way? Download a fun scavenger game to receive a list of gems to find scattered around Madrid, designed to help you discover the city in a unique way. Take note of small details that make Madrid magical, that sometimes not even the locals notice on their commutes around the city, and have fun while you’re at it!
- Madrid Tapas Night Walking Tour: Gear up for an evening of fun, food, and drinks, learning about the city’s best local hot spots for the best tapas and overall vibes! Combining a pub crawl and food tour of sorts in a fun evening activity is this Madrid Tapas Night Walking Tour where other than flowing drinks, yummy tapas, and entertainment, it’s also a great way to learn local insight.
- Museums: With more than 40 different museums, visit the dozens of museums in Madrid, ranging from anthropology and archaeology, art, Madrid history, history of the Americas, and specifically the main 3 in Madrid: Museo del Prado, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Museo Reina Sofía.
- A free walking tour: If anything, a free walking tour never fails to help you get acquainted with the local lay of the land, and get to know streets, and shortcuts, while spotting out some places you want to go back to on your own time that you didn’t see before.
- A bike tour of Madrid: Amp up the speed as you wind and pedal through the beautiful, trendy, and quaint neighborhoods of Madrid on a fun bike tour of the city. Explore the sights of the city from the beautiful views from the Templo de Debod, passing through Retiro Park, the Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, and much more!
What are the downsides of living in Madrid?
Like many other cities of the world, there will always be downsides to it, so here are some of the downsides I experienced when moving to Madrid for a year.
Stores closing early – some grocery stores and other shops run at different times in Spain, then in the U.S. for instance. For an American living in Madrid, this can be a bit of a culture shock.
In the U.S. we may be accustomed to 24-hour, big box stores, or a U.S. standard 7 am – 10 pm shopping hours for grocery stores.
However, in Spain, it’s a different story.
Many stores may close early around 6 pm, or not even open at all, especially on Sundays. So plan ahead of time or else this can get a bit frustrating!
Some Spaniards can be a bit ignorant – The keyword here is some, and it may not be a specific issue to deal with when living in Madrid, but sometimes you can bump into ignorant people in Madrid too.
Especially if you’re a person of color, many Spaniards who haven’t traveled outside of the country or who are not from a big city like Madrid, have interesting ideas about the conquest of the Americas and Columbus (tends to be more common with older people), or for many, it may be the first time they encounter someone who looks like you so, some questions they have are, well, questionable.
As a Mexican American woman who speaks Spanish and who moved to Madrid, I lived with a host family for a year and worked alongside Spanish people at school, so naturally, I was surrounded by local conversations all the time, whether I was involved in the conversation, or I was overhearing.
Though I never experienced racism personally, or ever felt threatened or anything negative, I do remember one person being surprised that I had family members with names in Spanish like Miguel…I don’t know if they thought I would have family members with indigenous names like Cuauhtémoc, but that was surprising.
>> Read More: 5 Interesting Culture Shocks I Didn’t Expect When Moving To Madrid, Spain As A Mexican American Woman
Paperwork and sorting out legal processes – the same way we love the casual attitude that Spaniards have towards life, is sometimes the same thing that will get in the way between trying to submit paperwork for your legal stay in Spain or trying to open up a bank account and catching them when they’re working.
This is not to say that Spanish people are lazy, it’s just that it’s a different way of working. In the U.S. we have a pretty toxic habit of constantly working without remembering to put the brakes on to enjoy life every day, therefore living to work.
Not the Spanish, they very much work to live, meaning that they treat their job as their job, and not as anything more. They tend to have longer lunches, some may start later, and there are way more bank holidays than in the U.S. where places shut down, etc.
It’s not a bad thing, but if you don’t organize yourself as best as you can, this can also be frustrating.
Concluding thoughts on the 7 specific things to know before moving to Madrid, Spain
The main takeaway I think is that although these are things that I wish I would have known before moving to Madrid, finding out about these little things when I did is what made my experience and growth even more interesting and fun.
Well, except maybe for the allergies part.
If you have any tips to share and if you can relate to this post because you have lived in Madrid as well, make sure to leave your tips in the comments below! I look forward to reading them.