Madrid, Spain Report of what it's like to live there - 03/15/17
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?
I have lived in Naples, Italy before.
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?
It depends. But either Los Angeles, or Baltimore.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We live in the city - only a 10-minute walk from the US embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very comparable. Milk is currently 1.80 euros for 1.5 liters. Meat costs about the same, but the quality, I think, is much higher.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None. If you can't find it locally, you can get it shipped from Amazon easily. The only things we get shipped are some cleaning supplies that we really like, and some really particular things (like natural peanut butter). Also, there is a small exchange in the embassy - so things like common medicines are easy to get there. But really, you can get almost everything locally.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Good question. We like to eat locally. But there is a variety of international options here - especially Asian (sushi), some Thai, Indian, and Italian. But most places open around 8:30 - so we cook at home, or go out for lunch. But it is easy to get food delivered if you don't mind eating a bit late.
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?
10-15 euros per hour is standard. Many people have a housekeeper - at least part time. But not many of those employees live in the house.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a variety. We belong to a fairly expensive one, but they have a "morning" or "evening" option which makes it more affordable - but it is a SUPER nice gym - one of the nicest we have been members of - with top quality employees, fantastic classes, a pool, spa, etc.
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?
Credit cards are no problem. More limited with AmEx, but we still use it a lot. ATMs every block in the city - very safe, and easy to find one attached to your local bank.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
The more you know, the easier your life. There is not a lot of English being spoken, but you can get along - it's an international city, there are a lot of tourists, but if you want to really get to know the culture, of course, you need to know the language. There are many schools and classes available - even US companies like Berlitz.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Sure - it's a big city - just like DC or NYC, but, for example, almost all of the stores have elevators, there is handicapped parking everywhere, definitely a city that takes accessibility seriously.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Easy, safe, plentiful. A ride on public transportation costs about 1.50 euros. Taxis are great - we are discouraged from using Uber so no reference point there.
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?
Mid- to small-size car in the city. You can drive/park a van easier in the suburbs. The traffic isn't so terrible, but the streets are narrow and parking is a pain. We have a 2014 Honda CR-V which is about the limit of what is doable for city driving. You will see Range Rovers and bigger cars, but I don't know where the heck they park them. And don't bring anything you love because you'll probably get scraped up.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yep. It was one of the first things we ordered and it came within a week. It's not as "fast" as in the US, but it is generally very adequate for our needs. Apple TV is slow to download, but streaming other stuff is generally no problem.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local. Vodafone - you can charge it from ATMs or local shops - easy and cheap. I think we pay like 20 euros a month for more than enough calls/text/data.
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?
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?
A variety. There is a bilateral work agreement, and English-speakers are in high demand.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Many. You can inquire with the CLO, the public diplomacy section, or many Facebook pages for information about your specific interests.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
It depends. Jeans are accepted in certain situations, and shorts are worn in public, but locals dress to impress, and there are dress codes. Jewelry is particularly showy and artistic. Shoes are important.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not too much. Maybe pickpocketing in high tourist areas. But generally speaking, no concerns.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Some air pollution - normal for a city this size. Otherwise medical care is stellar and even supersedes that in the US.
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?
Varies with the weather. Sometimes there are traffic restrictions based on pollution levels. Also, it is very, very, dry here. Many use humidifiers in the house.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
It's easy to address these issues here.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Dry, dry, dry.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is an American School, several private English-speaking or bi-lingual schools, and lots of others - French, German, Italian, of course, Spanish. Standards for education here are high.
2. 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?
Lots and lots of different options for ages 0+. Definitely affordable, especially compared to DC. Like maybe 1/3 of the cost? Nannies are more expensive.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Again, lots and lots of different activities - from dance and swimming to horseback riding, gymnastics, sports.
1. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
All of the above. There is literally something for everyone here. And especially for families - playgrounds everywhere.
2. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. Very open, very liberal community.
3. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Probably. I can't think of a place where these issues don't exist.
4. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
So many. What are your interests? Google that & Madrid...
5. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Literally something for everyone - specialty markets, specialty stores, boutiques, outlets, high fashion - you name it.
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Food. Quality of life. Warmth of the people.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Definitely, definitely, definitely.
2. But don't forget your:
Coffee Break Spanish podcasts. And your knowledge of how to use "vosotros."
3. Do you have any other comments?
Please don't tell anyone how great it is to live here.