(Editor’s note: Stephanie is moving to Madrid from Los Angeles in one week. EuroCheapo will be checking in with her before and after she makes the big move.)
You have a travel visa and you’ve booked your flight. It’s official: You’re moving to Madrid. If you’re like me, you want to have everything figured out before you land at the Barajas airport. Thanks to the Internet, you just might.
With enough research and preparation beforehand, moving to Madrid will be less stressful and overwhelming. So whether your move is temporary (like mine) or for good, here are eight things to keep in mind so your transition into Spanish life is a smooth one.
1. How’s your Spanish?
Brush up on your high school-level Spanish. Having a basic grasp of the language will make it much easier to contact potential employers and find an apartment. Some easy ways to do this include watching Spanish news and opting for Spanish subtitles when watching a movie. (And if you have never sat down to watch a Spanish soap opera, now might be the time to see what you’ve been missing!)
2. Find shelter
While finding a place to live before you arrive is ideal, it’s much easier to search for housing once you’re there and able to meet landlords and owners in person. Check housing websites like Idealista, which allows you to narrow your search by price, region and property size. Other good websites to check out include En Alquiler, Pisos, and Piso Compartido.
When trying to contact the lister, it is always best to call instead of email. Since not all Spaniards have 24/7 access to the Internet, there’s a good chance your email will go unread for days. Also, if you like the place and the price is within your budget, jump on it. If you decide to sleep on it, the chances are someone else will take it before you do.
Unlike in Los Angeles, I won’t need a car to get around in Madrid, in Spain, or even in most of Europe. Spain’s subway system is one of the most efficient in the world and very affordable (tickets are as cheap as 1€). Check Metro Madrid for stops and schedules.
If you’re taking any American electrical appliances with you (laptop, cameras, hair dryer, etc.) you’ll need an adaptor plug and maybe a converter. Not only are the power outlets different in Spain (and the rest of Europe), but the power supply is between 220 and 240V, while American appliances take 110V. If your appliance says it can take between 100 and 240V, it should work in Spain.
As you pack, keep in mind that Spain has a temperate climate with cool winters and hot summers. On average, Madrid receives 19 inches of rainfall a year and even some snow. (In January, the city was blanketed with two inches of snow.) Check out weather.com to see the weather in Madrid right now.
6. Numero de Identificacion de Extranjero (NIE)
An NIE is like a Social Security number which will allow you to buy property, file taxes and open a bank account. You can get your NIE at the local police station but you need to make an appointment by calling (+34) 902 565 701. To apply, you must fill out the Ex-15 form and have the following documents: original and copy of passport, original and copy of student Visa, three color passport photos, a Spanish address and a letter explaining why you need an NIE, which you can get from your employer or school.
Tip: It’s always best to have extra copies of everything. I learned this the hard way at the Spanish Consulate in Los Angeles.
You’re going to need Internet access in order to find an apartment, job or to book a flight. There are plenty of free wifi spots in Madrid, as seen on this map of Madrid’s hot-spots.
8. Book a hostel (or hotel)
Since you will probably be on the housing hunt for several days, book a hostel or hotel ahead of time. Some good websites to look for hostels are HostelWorld, Backpacker Spain, Hostel Bookers, and EuropeanHostels. If you’re taking valuables, pick a hostel that has lockers available. (For a list of affordable hotels in Madrid, you should naturally check out EuroCheapo’s Madrid hotel guide!)
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and remember that politeness and patience (see: Spanish bureaucracy) go a long way. When all else fails, look around. You’re in España now!