I decided to collaborate with expats living here and find out the things that they wish they knew before they moved to Spain.
Here are some of the things they said:
One of the things mentioned was the need to have a good grasp of Spanish
“I wished I would have known more Spanish before I moved to Madrid. In Spain it is not so common that people speak fluent English, it would have been much easier if I could speak Spanish. Also in Spain the sense of time is different. For instance, many people are late for appointments. It is almost a rule to arrive to parties 30 min late.” – Rie, Japan
Another common topic was the concept of time
“I wish I had known the timetable of the Spanish lifestyle – late lunch, later dinner, and nightlife after 01:00. It took me quite some time to adapt to everybody’s schedule – I once tried to organize a birthday party at 20:00 and nobody turned up, as they thought it was way too early! – Sarah, Hong Kong
“Unless you switch to a Spanish schedule you’re going to miss a lot of what’s going on and you’ll get annoyed. Be it turning up too early for lunch and having to wait longer whilst they get the kitchen warmed up or the cool bars and clubs aren’t open or are empty.
A restaurant may say it opens for lunch at 13:00 but realistically you’re not going to get much before at least 13:30. The vibe and use of venues change throughout the day. Cafe by day, cocktail bar after 10 pm.
Get to know some Spanish people. Unless you’re lucky enough to start working in an international or Spanish company with Spanish colleagues who you can socialize with it might be tricky at first to meet some locals.
Language exchanges/intercambios de Idiomas, facebook groups and meetup groups are your keys to meeting the Spanish who want to meet a mix of international people. These people will show you the real Madrid nightlife and how to enjoy it, introduce you to great Spanish food, understanding customs and how things work.
Moving around in an international/expat bubble you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg of what Madrid has to offer.
Language exchanges/intercambios de Idiomas, facebook groups and meetup groups are your keys to meeting the Spanish who want to meet a mix of international people. These people will show you the real Madrid nightlife and how to enjoy it, introduce you to great Spanish food, understanding customs and how things work.” – Gareth, Wales
The fantastic sunny weather
I was born and raised in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. But I knew Spain due to some great holidays. So Iwas totally aware of the sunny weather in this country – actually, who doesn’t? Nevertheless, I wasn’t expecting that this kind of weather would make such an impact on me. Once you are used to it, it will be difficult to go back – to ́the more depressing climates ́. If I had known this, I might have moved earlier.
So you are warned! – Chris, The Netherlands
The surprising cold in winter!
Things I wish I knew before moving to Spain/Madrid- How cold the winter could be! Since Madrid is at high altitude it gets VERY cold in winter. I came at the start of February but only brought a thin winter jacket and spent until spring absolutely frozen every time I went outside! – Lynette, UK
“I spent quite a lot of time thinking about this question before finally being able to put something down in writing. One of the easier things I can mention is that it’s not all heat and sun in Spain! Unfortunately I spent my first year in Soria, Castilla y León, which is the coldest province in Spain – more snow than in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada! So be prepared for some cold.
Secondly, all things to do with administration, government, filing of forms, banking.. are an absolute nightmare and disaster. If you come from a somewhat organized country, you’ll be baffled by the Spanish way of handling bureaucracy. Banks only open until around 2PM, so expect to have to ask for time off work if you desperately need to do something in person, (which is most times). And regarding things like residency cards, don’t stress out or get frustrated because you’ll be waiting and running around to different places when you first arrive. But don’t worry, every single expat has gone through this torture.
Now, enough with the negatives! To end on a good note, living in Spain is an absolutely fantastic experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The history, culture, activities, happy-go-lucky style of life which is heavily focused on enjoying yourself (think tapas and wine while sitting on a lovely terrace), pretty much compensates for all those hair-pulling frustrations.” – Stefanie, Canada
More about the administrative nightmare
“I really wish I had known more about immigration policies in Spain before I moved here. If you don’t have an EU passport, make sure to properly inform yourself about applying for visa renewals and work or residence permits. It’s not an easy system to navigate and if you don’t speak Spanish it will make it far more difficult. It helps to take a friend with you who can act as a translator because generally you will not be able to communicate with civil servants in English. You’ll need a lot of patience and a lot of paperwork which has to be translated into Spanish by a sworn translator. Ask for more information at your local Spanish embassy and find information online by searching for relevant groups or pages on Facebook like the pages set up by city for Auxiliares, Au Pairs, Expats etc. You’ll find plenty of people who are willing to answer some questions and many groups and pages have pinned posts and info dealing with immigration questions.” –Louize, South Africa
Another mentioned the effects of pollution
One thing I wish I knew before I moved to Madrid was the side effects of living in a big, polluted city. One of my expat friends who used to live here told me about how she blew her nose every morning after she woke up because she was so congested. However, feeling congested is the mild side of the effects. Maybe it’s my own immune system but I’ve had to be more concerned about my nose and sinuses here in Madrid than in any other Spanish city. Surprisingly enough, I’ve even gotten a sinus infection or two after moving to a different part of the city! My best advice would be to pay attention to your sinuses and don’t be afraid to cover up either your nose or mouth when walking around the city or going in and out of metro stations. You never know what the wind might toss your way!” – Sarah, United States
So what are your thoughts? What did you wish you knew before coming to Spain?