Madrid, Spain Report of what it's like to live there - 09/04/19
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?
This is out third overseas post, after Poland and the U.K.
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?
Washington, DC. It's an eight-hour direct flight. Travel into and out of Spain is easy.
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?
There are a mix of houses, townhomes and apartments. Places closer to the center tend to be apartments, which are usually plenty bit, sometimes charming and often have those quirky European floor plans. Commutes vary from a few minutes to a half hour. Biking is safe, walking a pleasure and public transport good.
Bigger places, sometimes with yards and swimming pools, tend to be near the American school in Pozuelo. Commutes are longer, I'd guess 20 to 40 minutes in a car and an hour by public transport.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
This is the land of plenty. Food is inexpensive and high quality.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Really, nothing. If you want to be picky: brown sugar, maple syrup, and white distilled vinegar.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
At least in the city, you could visit every restaurant in your neighborhood and barely make a dent. There's obviously tons of Spanish, lots of Italian, a little Mexican and Latin American, Chinese, Japanese, burgers, fast food chains, steak houses, etc. There is an abundance of takeout choices.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not that I'm aware of.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. Local post seems fine too.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Lots of expats employ a part-time housekeeper. Seems like nannies are available too.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are lots of gyms. Not sure about the prices.
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?
All readily available and as safe as anywhere (in other words, there's fraud, but not more than other places).
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It helps to speak Spanish. You could get by with a minimum. There are classes through the Embassy and at local schools.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Spain seems very welcoming to the disabled, especially the blind. It's an old European city, though, so not everything is wheelchair-accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, yes, and yes.
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?
Anything would work, but I wouldn't bring anything too big.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Can take days to weeks.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I have a local plan, my spouse kept her US plan. It's easy to sign up for pay as you go. Bring an unlocked phone with you.
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?
Spain is a great place for pets.
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?
There is a full range of employment possibilities for those who speak Spanish. I think most spouses work at the Embassy, some telework, some are employed locally.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
The American school is always looking for volunteers.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The Embassy seems typical US government. Spaniards tend to dress well but you can walk around in shorts and a t-shirt and not stick out too bad.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Typical tourist destination problems. Be aware of your surroundings.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Spaniards have much longer lifespans and lower infant mortality than Americans. They must be doing something right.
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?
It's sooooo dry.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very hot in the summer, cold in the winter, dry all the time.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The American school is OK. The academics are just so-so compared with our schools around Washington, D.C. There are plenty of other options, though I'm not sure about the quality.
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?
I'm aware that some families send young children to Spanish preschool. I think it's free but it can be difficult to get a spot.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes! You can do activities through the school (soccer, baseball, etc) or via local teams and clubs.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
I don't know the size--pretty big. It's hard not to be happy here.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Spaniards live their lives in restaurants, bars and cafes. Just go out.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's great for everyone. It's family friendly, has a vibrant night life, tons of stuff to do.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Madrid has massive a Pride Week celebration. Seems like a good place to be yourself.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Spaniards are friendly but tend to have their own close-knit social networks. It's easier to mix with expats. Prejudice here is similar to most of the rest of Western Europe.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. It's not worse than other places, but it should be better.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
There is so much to see. Highlights: San Sebastian, Bilbao, Valencia, Malaga, Cadiz, Sevilla, Cordoba, Avila, Salamanca, Toledo.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Get out of the tourist zones and walk the neighborhoods: Chueca, Malasana, Chamberi, Chamartin.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
You can shop till you drop: fashion, pottery, art, etc.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's a huge city without all the big-city problems: traffic is manageable, crime is low, parks are wonderful, public transport is good. Also, it has museums galore, Michelin-starred restaurants, neighborhood restaurants, bars, cafes, amazing nightlife, interesting architecture, friendly people.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had figured out a way to stay longer.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Make America Great Again hat.
4. But don't forget your:
Electronics. iPhones and gadgets are more expensive here, Chromebooks aren't available.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
I just read Ghosts of Spain and it was quite good. I'd recommend Homage to Catalonia to anyone moving anywhere.