Madrid, Spain Report of what it's like to live there - 08/02/10

Personal Experiences from Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain 08/02/10

Background:

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

Also lived in Reykjavik and Prague.

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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?

New York. 8 hours from JFK direct.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year with one more to go.

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

Spouse of U.S. State Dept. employee.

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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 is great! We have 5 bedrooms and a pool. Most of the housing for families is about 30 minutes from the embassy (if there is no traffic) and near the American School of Madrid. Families with kids are spread around that general area and have either a stand-alone house or a town house. The ones I have seen either have a private pool or share one with a few neighbors. Singles or couples with no children usually have a big apartment downtown either within walking distance or a quick metro ride. If you leave before 8AM the commute can be about 30 minutes, but if you wait too long it can take an hour. Traffic is very bad in downtown Madrid. There are 3 circle routes around Madrid, and all on/off ramps are clogged for most of the morning and evening commutes.

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

Packaged food is a bit more than in the US, but produce and bread are reasonable. We have yet to find any good beef products here and stick mostly with chicken and pork.

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

I am happy with what I can get here. If I am desperate, I just buy it online and ship it over.

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

McDonald's, BK, and KFC at about the same prices as US. Also Tony Romas, TGIF, and Hard Rock Cafe that all serve smaller portions than in the US and charge more money. You can eat tapas (and get full) fairly economically. The embassy has a well-stocked commissary, and the military base at Rota is six hours away if you want to go and get a big load of things. We cannot find any good Chinese or Mexican food.

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

Ants and cockroaches. When the lizards come out in the warm weather, the bugs seem to disappear.

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Daily Life:

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

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?

We don't have any. Unemployment is high (20% in 2010) and there are a lot of immigrant workers here, so they are available. But my guess is that they are not cheap.

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

Yes, all over.

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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 problems, but smaller places like cash.

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

Everything.

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

Not sure about newspapers, as I read everything on line. TV has about 10 english channels, including FOX news and CNN Int'l, BBC, TCM, and some Spanish stations that you can get in English. Cost is on par with US.

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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 need to know Spanish. The younger generation is learning English, but other than that you are expected to communicate in Spanish. Downtown restaurants will usually provide an English menu.

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

They have handicapped access and parking here. Also very good sidewalks and public transport. All in all, I think it is on par with the US.

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Transportation:

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

All are available, and all are clean and safe. I can commute downtown with 2 connections, and it costs 2 Euros. That replaces the 30-minute drive I would normally have.

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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?

Anything will work. If you are in the city, then think smaller. Parking is big hassle. Highways are in very good shape.

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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. 10mB for 150 Euros/ month.

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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?

There are many phone companies here and many types of phones that are cheap to buy. We all use pay-as-you-go phones.

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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?

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

No personal experience, but they seem to love animals here.

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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?

It is not easy. There are EFM jobs at the embassy from time to time and some in the commissary. Outside it is competitive, you need to speak Spanish and they do not pay well.

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

Dressy. Even in the heat of summer the men wear suit and tie. The women dress simply but elegantly. Style is a must, and brand names are a BIG deal here.

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Health & Safety:

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

Pickpockets are a problem in the tourist areas.

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

I had minor surgery in a Madrid hospital and was amazed at the great care. They are not in a hurry to get you out the door, and the private rooms are set up for a guest to stay with you and help you. That is with private insurance, and it cannot be beat. At other times I went for tests and had X-rays, blood work, and an EKG in 3 separate locations in the hospital, and it was all done in 30 minutes. Wow! I cannot say enough about the care. I also needed a doctor who could speak english, as it can be difficult to communicate about medical problems unless you are really good in Spanish. I found one and he was fantastic.

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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 is a desert, so it can be a bit dusty. There was a lot of rain this past Spring, so the pollen count was extremely high. I never noticed there to be any air pollution.

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

Winter months are fairly wet, mostly rain but with a few snow storms this past year of 4-6 inches. The snow melts off in a day or two. Jan and Feb. require a winter jacket and gloves to keep warm. Spring seems to be quite wet and summer is really hot. I like the heat, so I am not a good judge of too hot or not, but it is about 90 to 100 or more from the end of June to the end of August. September to November are just beautiful. Summer and Fall offer clear brilliant blue skies with a lemon-ball sun. I never think about rain, only if it will be just hot or REALLY hot.

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Schools & Children:

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

The American School of Madrid. Not thrilled. I would rate it like a good american public school, but we expected much more from an international private education. It falls far short of the standard set by the last international school my children attended. We have had all 4 of our kids through the overseas schools, so we have a very good feel for them. There seems to be little school spirit or excitement here, and for the most part the teachers do not add much. Of the ten-or-so teachers my kids had this year, they thought only 1 or 2 were really good. The entry administration is one of its strengths, and the lack of a very good sports program is one of its weaknesses.

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

We know of one example where the ASM was not meeting the needs of one of its students and the family was very unhappy. The school recommended them to another school nearby and that student flourished. Now they are all very happy with the progress being made. So I think that special-needs kids can be well taken care of.

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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?

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

Mostly Futbol. They have it at the school and also in private clubs if you speak Spanish and have some talent. In the school they do futbol and volleyball.

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Expat Life:

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

Very large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Great.

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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?

Spaniards are late-night people and are very social.

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

Everyone.

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

They are pretty liberal in Spain.

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

None that I have noticed. Pretty much "live and let live."

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

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

Historic towns like Segovia and Toledo are within a 1-hour drive. Great museums, parks and restaurants in Madrid. Because of the heat it is a late-night society where they don't eat dinner until 10PM or later. In two years here I am only hoping to see most of Spain. There is a lot to see and do, and we have hardly touched the Med. sea coast.

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

Lots of local knick-knacks. Travel in Spain. And quick, cheap connections to nearby countries.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Friendly people, fantastic weather, good food and great travel opportunities.

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11. Can you save money?

Not really. The exchange rate is not so great, and there is a lot to do.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I don't ever want to leave.

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

Uptight attitude.

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3. But don't forget your:

Bathing suit, suntan lotion and skis (yes, skiing is available 1 hour from Madrid).

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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. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Anything after Spain will be downhill.

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