Madrid, Spain Report of what it's like to live there - 02/02/09

Personal Experiences from Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain 02/02/09

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Yes.

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2. How long have you lived here?

18 months currently. 3 year post beginning in 2007.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Government.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

About 8 hours to the U.S. East coast.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing varies greatly. Apartments in the city - small and often old. Single family or attached homes in the suburbs. Some have large yards but most embassy assigned homes have small to tiny yards. Radiator heating, a/c units in bedrooms. Housing can be beautiful or can really be a shoddy looking place. It's a surprise.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Availability is good, cost is reasonable.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Kids toys, books, and shoes.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Fast food - McD, Burger King, and Pizza Hut. Cost is more than in the states. Restaurants, with the exception of fast food, close between 4 and 8 pm. Lunch is served between 1:30 and 4pm.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Few insect problems.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We have access to an APO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Readily available but expensive. At least 10 Euros per hour.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes. Learn some Spanish first.

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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?

No American Express. We got a Spanish bank account and use the bank card for purchases.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, Catholic, Baptist, Anglican and non-denominational. No English language churces in our immediate living area so we find it hard to make it to services on a regular basis.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

We have AFN. Some Englsih language newspapers but not easily found outside the city.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You really needa good working knowledge of Spanish to enjoy your time here. We didn't have this upon arrival and it was miserable and very difficult to do your basic shopping or make a doctor's appointment for example. You must show an effort or the locals will not speak English with you even though they often speak great Englsih.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Many difficulties. Uneven or nonexistent sidewalks. Often there are no elevators in metro stations and very few ramps into public buildings.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Safe and affordable.

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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?

Any car is fine but be aware that the Spanish do not blink an eye at hitting your car when parking. No pasa nada. Your vehicle will leave Spain with a variety of dings and scrapes. Also, parking is difficult at best. The smaller, the better.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, not entirely reliable and not cheap.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

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Pets:

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?

Not sure. We did not bring pets.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Yes.

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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?

Not too many unless you speak excellent Spanish.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

More dressy than in the states. Embassy dress is usually business attire. The stay-at-mom crowd dresses to be seen. Some look like they were just peeled from a J Crew catalog.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate to unhealthy.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Not sure. Nothing out of the ordinary comes to mind except for Hep A.

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3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Not really.

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Air quality is not the best. Our son has had asthma problems. Doctor and nurse at the embassy health unit are great. Health care on the market varies and hygiene practices (i.e. hand washing, use of alcohol wipes for IVs) is not up to par with US standards. Our son had surgery here. Basically it was fine but we were appalled when the nurses did not wear gloves, nor wash their hands, nor did they use an alcohol wipe when changing his IV connections. Never again.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot and extremely dry in summer. Cold, damp winters with little to no snow. Pleasant spring and fall seasons. Air is often uncomfortably dry.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Most expats use the American School of Madrid (ASM). Basically a good school and most families are pretty happy. Like with almost any school, your experience will be influenced by the teachers your children have. Some are wonderful, experienced teachers. Others are not and this can make a huge difference in your opinion of the school. We have had only one experience with a not-so-great teacher in the preschool. The adminstration tends to be unresponsive to parent requests and complaints as well. Additionally, the bus monitors do not speak any English and will yell at your kids in Spanish. We have had a great experience with the school providing advanced math for our son in 2nd and 3rd grade.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Not sure. There is a separate school - very small - for special needs children.

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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?

Preschool options are limited in our experience. The CLO will give you a list and people will tell you there are great options. Great options if you want your 3 or 4 year old sitting at a table for over an hour writing and filling out worksheets most of the day. We tried a Spanish preschool first. Our son hated every minute of it. The kids drank from 2 shared cups for water. He was sick constantly. Pins (the kind you use to pin up art work or paper) were within reach of the children. Yes, your child will learn Spanish at a Spanish preschool but your child will also be yelled at, made to sit and write when developmentally inappropriate, and will be taught that zebras must be colored black and white. Creativity is non-existent. We found the preschool program at ASM to be better - mainly because it is in English but still lacking in creativity and age appropriate teaching techniques. Kindergarten at ASM has been a much more American style educational experience for our youngest.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

ASM offers a good variety.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Pretty large but very spread out.

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2. Morale among expats:

Varies. Often people are counting down the months to get out of here. Few really love it here. It's one of those places you can have a love-hate relationship with.

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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?

About what you'd expect in a large city.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Singles and couples in the city seem to be happier in Madrid. Mixed reactions from families in the suburbs. It depends on how involved you get in activities, clubs, and whether or not you are able to work.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Probably so.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Mild problems, yes. Spaniards tend to be a tad prejudiced against anyone who is different. South Americans and Africans tend to be treated like 2nd class citizens. Remember the Spanish Olympic basketball team photo making the offensive faces? The Spanish thought this was perfectly acceptable.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Travel outside of Spain is rewarding. Madrid itself has plenty to do depending on your taste. There is one English language movie house. Bowling is availabe but often smokey. Travel outside of Madrid can be wonderful - Segovia, Toledo, etc.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Pottery, swords from Toledo, olive wood items. Travel.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, if you try to.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Nope, don't think so. We're making the best of our time here - traveling, studying Spanish and we've made a few good friends in the expat community, but it has been a long 18 months so far.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Desire to go out for dinner between 5 and 8 pm, large SUV, expectations for any real customer service.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, travel books, and a good dose of patience.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

There are many worse places in the world, but if you want a close knit expat community, good customer service, or if you don't speak Spanish, consider a tour in Madrid carefully.

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