Madrid, Spain Report of what it's like to live there - 10/19/11
Personal Experiences from Madrid, Spain
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
First-time experience as diplomats, but we have lived in Costa Rica and Chile for a while.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
3. How long have you lived here?
2.5 years, we will be leaving by mid 2012.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My husband works with the US Embassy as a diplomat.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Nice and decent sized aparments if you live in the city. Big and pretty house if you live in the suburbs. However, if you want to experience the real Madrid and want to avoid long commute times, it will be better to live in the city.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very expensive but good quality.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Yes, we have McDonald's, Burger King, Starbucks, Tony Roma's, TGIF, and Hard Rock Cafe. A bit more expensive than USA.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
You will be in hard time as a vegetarian in Spain.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Ther is help available. You can expect to pay 10EUR per hour with a minimum of 4 hours per week commitment. You probably will need some spanish to communicate well with the maids.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, but a bit expensive. There is one close to the Embassy Reebok which is good but very expensive (http://www.reebokclub.com/FitnessActividadesMadrid.aspx) but you can take yoga classes some very innovative such as aerial yoga, wall yoga and pilates, etc. However, you will need to have at least a moderate level of spanish.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Forget American Express, is not used here. We use visa and we open a Bank account in Spain.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I think there are a couple services in english for anglicans.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
We have Digital+ is not great but we can at leats watch CNN and other programs in english. But to contract this service you need to speak spanish.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Englis is not widely spoken here, so you need to be able to get around in Spanish or you will get very frustrated. Spaniards will expect that you speak spanish fluent and they are not very patient with foreigners.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I have a close friend who is wheelchair and he says is not bad but not good either. Some buildings and metros don´t have elevators. I think they still have some improvements to make.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The metro, trains, buses, and taxis are very safe and clean. High-speed trains are very good but very expensive.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
We have a small SUV and we don´t have any problems. I would say just don´t bring a big car such Range Rover, for example.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, but it's not good and not cheap.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Don´t use the pay-as-you-go system, it gets very expensive. It´s better to get a one or two year contract with one of the big carriers such as Telefonica. However, the service is not very good.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There are good vets, but they don´t see animals the same way we do in US. Service is good but not outstanding and you will be better getting references from vets and kennels before taking your pets. Again, if you speak spanish you will cheaper and more options.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Well, it depends in the field you work. However, keep in mind te unemployment is around 20% and you have to be native or almost native spanish speaker in order to work in the local economy.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Well dresed, elegant and trendy. You can leave your snickers in your backpack.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Pickpockets on the metro,tourist areas, restaurants. But Madrid is safer than any big city in US.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
If you have allergies or respiratory problems, may be the air quality here could be an issue. Other than that the health system is great. Good doctors, hospitals and mediacl care.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Moderate to unhealthy.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Madrid has a Mediterranean climate. The summers are hot and dry and the winters mild cold. In general terms, it doesn´t snow here but since we arrived there have been a couple of days snowing. The first snow in many years was a couple of days after we arrived and the city collapsed because it wasn´t prepared. Now they seem to have things under control.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
American School of Madrid. Very good school with IB program being optional. Lots of after school activities, opportunities to learn french and mandarin. Expect your teenagers to spend at least two hours M-F with homework. Not very good at sports, there are more spaniards than americans and they don´t celebrate american holidays except for thanksgiving.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, with the school and if your kids are perfectly bilingual they can enroll in some local sports activities.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large but very spread out.
2. Morale among expats:
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
The same that you would expect in a big and vibrant city.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a good city for singles, families and couples.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
From what I heard, paradoxically, Madrid seems to have a thriving gay scene and accept it, but at the same time some real social issues seem to remain. Remember this a very catholic country and it was under a very hard dictator, Franco, until 40 years ago.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, there are a lot of prejudices against latinamericans, blacks, asians,jewish, gay, anybody who is different. Men are still very "macho"
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Having the opportunity to travel in Spain and other european countries.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
If you live in town you can walk to any number of cool and interesting neighborhoods. There are a lot of options for thearter, movies, art exhibitions, fitness, sports events (especially soccer), the parks, music events; travel around the countryside or other countries, you name it, you will never get bored here.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Wine, olive wood crafts, trips,clothing, pottery. You will plenty of options to spend your many :-)
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Very safe and clean city, overall good weather, a lot of cultural and entertaining events. Enjoying nice blue skies almost during 365 days.
11. Can you save money?
No. It is extremly expensive here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but I would do things different. I will live more like a tourist and not go deeper into their culure. They are brutally cruel with animals for example their celebration named Toro de la Vega, they are not responsible with their pets and I have seen the worst animal mistreatment here and for them is normal. Besides they are very racist, the spanish can be obnoxious, loud and close mind about any body who is different to them. They don´t like americans and will tell in your face how fat and stupid americans are among other things. The way they treat people from latinamerica and africa makes me sick.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
...romanticized notions of Spain. Say good-bye to good customer service, you hardly will see smiles or hear "please" and "thank you". Also leave behind your desire to have dinner early. Spain is not an entirely european country, so be realistic. Also leave you opinions behind. People are very loud, opinionated and not open to foreigners or minorities.
3. But don't forget your:
patience, sense of humor, humidifiers and english/spanish dictionary.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
The movies Pan's Labyrinth and Volver.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Don´t expect the typical European country. Expect racism and rude people althoug there are very open mind spaniards. For me at least people from Cataluña, Galicia and Vasc region are nicer.