Move to Madrid: Expat Stories from People Who Moved to Madrid

If you are thinking about making the big move to Madrid, capital city of Spain then enjoy the experiences of people who have already followed the path you are about to take.

If you have already moved to Madrid then please give back, help others, contact us here and share your story with all its pros and cons so people benefit from your knowledge.


 

My Move to Madrid by Peter Lavelle

I’ve been in Spain just 4 and a half months at the time of writing, having relocated to Madrid with my girlfriend (herself a Spaniard, who came to the UK to two years ago to learn English.)

For me, a 25-year old without a family or obligations, the thing I find most appealing about Spain is not the hot weather or comparatively cheap standard of living (though these are great things.)

Instead, it’s the sense of undertaking an adventure, and doing something that’s genuinely worthwhile with my time.

I am after all learning a second language (something you can scarcely avoid while you’re here, although I genuinely enjoy it) which is a skill I’ll be able to take with me throughout my life.

In addition I’m seeing things and going places you can scarce imagine, doing a 9-5 office job in the UK.

The tri-partite heritage of Toledo for instance, or the absolutely mind-boggling landscapes you can cross driving through Castilla-Leon, are just not experiences available in Britain, even in a teeming metropolis like London.

I think in Britain we tend to think the world begins and ends at our shores a little bit. Living in Spain I no longer think (or feel) that.

Of course, that doesn’t make living in Spain on a day-to-day basis simple. I’m pretty aware that, when I go out onto the street, I’m a foreigner with pretty limited language skills.

Sure, I just about managed opening a bank account here, and haven’t had a problem in a shop or restaurant, but you always feel like you’re at a disadvantage: like the other person can say something you don’t understand, and then suddenly you’re lost at sea.

In such a situation, your only choice is to relax and try to enjoy yourself, because getting stressed or upset accomplishes absolutely nothing.

In fact, I find that so long as you’re friendly and make an effort, people are 99.0% willing to accommodate you and help you out. I guess that’s something else you can carry through life.

For other expats in a similar situation to me, I would offer the following tips:

1. Don’t come here without a job. It’s no secret that Spanish unemployment is (at 25.0%) the highest in the European Union right now, and tens of thousands of Spaniards are fleeing the country to find work elsewhere.

Unless you speak perfect Spanish, you won’t stand a chance (I am lucky in that my UK employer was flexible enough to support my relocation.)

2. If you’re interested in learning Spanish ( and you should be) spend as much time with the language as possible.

For me, this has meant doing intercambios and making friends with Spaniards, rather than spending time in expat bars.

Meeting Spaniards has also provided a richer cultural experience.

In addition, I would recommend reading in Spanish (I’m just attempting the first Harry Power) and talking in Spanish as much as possible.

3. See the rest of Spain. One thing that has surprised (and delighted) me is how heterogeneous Spain is.

In the UK, if we think of Spain at all, we tend to think of it in turns of hot weather and siestas.

In fact though, Spain has one of the richest cultural heritages in Europe, as well as a huge amount of variety among its cities.

In Britain, the overwhelming presence of high street brands means our cities have lost much of their individuality.

In Spain that is not the case, and visiting Madrid, Valencia or Sevilla provides totally different experiences.

For me, it’s been a real eye opener.

4. Relax. Dealing with Spanish bureaucracy has been a pain (even with a Spanish girlfriend in tow) and there are times when, instead of having to fumble with the language, you just want to say what it is you want without difficulty.

In these cases, I think it’s important to remember you’re doing something most people will never do, and to relax, and find whatever pleasure in the situation you can.

What for instance does the incredibly rude and anal character of staff at the Hacienda tell us about Spain?

Why is it different to the UK? For me at least, these are interesting questions, and help me get through whatever annoying bureaucratic niggle it is I must currently deal with.

That aside though, if you’re the least bit interested in doing something different with your life, and coming away with a bagful of frankly awesome memories, I can heartily recommend Spain to you.

It’s a wonderful country with friendly people, a community-oriented lifestyle even in the heart of a city like Madrid, great food and lots of sun.

It is above all a pleasure to be here.


Moving to Madrid as a Gay Person

For me Spain is living in Madrid. I am a single, gay man and will be retiring there. The greatest accomplishment of my life has been attaining complete fluency in the Spanish Language, written, spoken and comprehension. Native speakers assume I am a native speaker as well.

I lived in Israel for 8 years, where many of the complaints lodged here applied there as well. But you learn to roll with the punches and “When in Rome”.

You have the learn their language, show that you accept their customs, take part in society, do volunteer work, and show genuine interest in them. The Spaniards did not wait for you to come and say “Hi here we are, speak to me in English and treat me according to my English or American ways.” If you need that, just stay home. There are places in the US to stay warm. By the way I live in S. Florida, but one of the biggest parts of my decision to retire in Madrid is that I will never have to retire again. Try doing that in 99% of the States. Good luck.

I was in Madrid the end of January (one of several trips), went to see the musical CABARET, and was so enthusiastic about it that I found an email in the program and sent them quite a letter of praise. Two days later I got an email back from one of the PRODUCERS, who told me that the cast and crew were thrilled about my letter, in top notch Spanish by the way. He also asked my permission to share it in their website. It also appeared in their Facebook page. I have already been invited to meet the producer for a coffee.

It is what you make of it. Not everyone speaks the language as well as I do and not everyone is as gregarious as I am and not everyone accepts less than American or British customer service like I do, but….
There is nothing like the warmth I get back from the Spanish people. So people if you can’t make several pilot trips, if you don’t speak the language and can’t bare to adjust to a different culture, then stay in Stratford on Avon, Birmingham, Chicago or Cleveland. I suggest you stay in an AirBnB, shop in the local grocery stores (alimentaciones) patronize the local businesses, walk, walk, walk and get used to the public transportation.

All expats I have talked to envy me and tell me that the Spaniards will LOVE me because I am a foreigner who speaks their language fluently and they for the most part will be easy to get to know and be helpful and that my friends, works both ways. Offer to help them with their English, maybe watch their kids for an evening, invite them over for a “typical American” home cooked meal. You reach out–as it says in the Bible, “as he sow, so shall ye reap”.

By Mark Schwartz


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