Moving to Madrid, Spain should implicate that there will be challenges along the road, right? It’s not always sunshine and churros con chocolate, especially when you go from a country like the U.S where things tend to get done pretty quick in comparison to Spain where they have sayings like “mañana lo hago” (I’ll do it tomorrow) which is a common mentality embedded into the fabric of the culture and tendencies in Spain. Nothing wrong with it, it’s just different, and it’s the price we pay as expats that decide that take that leap of change 😀
So learn from my little hurdles and unexpected surprises that I found while I moved to Madrid, and read on to see a couple of the things that I wish I knew before moving to Madrid, Spain.
One of the things I wish I knew before moving to Madrid? 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, 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 😭
The bureaucratic system
Oh dear, this one deserves it’s 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, its 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 days of the week, and either opens 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.
The challenges of opening up a foreign bank account
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 you NIE number and passport are not enough to open an account 🙄 when it has worked for the rest of your friends. Go figure. If they say this, just move onto 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! 😃
The hassle free health care system
Here’s a 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 on 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 open and getting my empadronamiento settled, I got my tarjeta sanitaria (health card) quickly with my address and empadronamiento (document stating my residency). Immediately after receiving it, I had instant access to healthcare, and wow, what a feeling to have this right so easily. *Ahem* definitelynotusedtothis *ahem*
How to look for a SIM card
This was definitely something I wish I knew 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 I 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, which would have been so handy for me back then, but alas, check it out here. It’s a post on 5 of my best ways to navigate any foreign city, and here I included getting yourself a SIM card. The freebie offered at the end of that post is a SIM card 101 cheat sheet 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!
Transportation abono = everything
What is this magical abono i’m talking about? Well, it’s something that I wish I knew before I had moved 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 Alacala de Henares, Aranjuez, and even places like Toledo, you can literally go see so many places on this card for 20 euros a month.
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 on 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 because 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 Prinicpe Pio in the city center or online here 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 beginners guide the getting around Madrid on public transportation. I go more in depth as far as ticket prices, one ways, and the different forms of public transport offered in Madrid. Everyone from locals to tourists use it to get around because it’s amazing.
Friend culture with locals
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 I. 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 families homes.
If you’re interested more on this topic of making friends with locals in Madrid, then make sure to check out this post I did a while back where I talked about how I made friends with locals in Madrid, and how you can too.
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 😊