All the information you'll ever need about living in Madrid as an expat. From how to buy a train ticket to the best places to watch the football.
Top Tips for Living in Spain
Spain is a popular destination for expats from all over the world. According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, there are almost 4.5 million foreigners living in the country, around 10% of the population.
As you read this, you may well be thinking of joining us in the near future as you consider a move to study or work here. I’ve lived in Spain now for around five years now and can honestly say it’s a really great place to be.
To help you settle once you arrive, I’ve come up with a list that you may want to consider when it comes to integrating as quickly as possible.
1 – Learn the language
Understanding the language is the best way to feel integrated. Sign up for Spanish classes and don’t be scared to make mistakes. The locals will love you for making the effort and you will feel a great sense of satisfaction the more progress you make.
2 – Adjust to Spanish timing
There are very few things in Spain that start at the time they say they will. Football matches and trains leaving the station are the only things I can think of. Really, believe me about the trains. They are like Swiss clocks. Other than that, take any estimation of when things will happen with a pinch of salt. That way if it happens on time you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and if not you won’t be disappointed. Just go with the flow.
3 – Enjoy the food
Outside of Spain most people have generally only heard of paella. Spaniards are incredibly proud of their food and rightly so. It’s all about simple cooking but using the very best quality and freshness. Every region in Spain has their own delicacies and dishes so get out to as many restaurants, bars and cafes around the country as you can and get tasting. From the delicious tapas in the south of Spain to the chuletas (huge slabs of meat) and chorizo in the north, you’ll find something you’ll love.
4 - Travel
Spain is a big country – around three times bigger than the UK, where I’m from – so there is plenty of contrast. From the idyllic sandy beaches in the Andalucia to the rugged mountains in the north and the hustle and bustle of the capital, Madrid. Not only that, there’s a variety of customs, music, architecture and outlook of the people depending on where you go. Head out and explore this wonderful country. You’ll love it.
5 – Enjoy the climate and get outside
The climate is one of Spain’s biggest attractions for so many visitors. Sunshine and warm weather is guaranteed most of the year. One of the first things I noticed when I moved here was that Spaniards are outside ALL THE TIME. I think it’s a combination of living in small apartments, loving the chance to gossip with mates, and enjoy the climate. You’ll see the very young to the very old all outside, going for a walk, having a drink on a terrace, playing sport, sitting on a bench talking to friends. Go out and join them!
6 – Go to the fiestas
Pamplona’s ‘Running of the Bulls’ festival is without a doubt the most famous in Spain thanks to Ernest Hemingway. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to the Navarran city to join in the week-long festivities, which include plenty of drinking and dancing in the streets before being chased by a herd of angry bulls at 8am every morning.
Every village, town and city in Spain has their own fiestas though (not all with bulls). It’s at these fiestas that you will get to know the customs, cultures, music and traditions that exist in each region in the country.
7 – Learn the social norms
When I first came to Spain I thought Spanish people could be quite abrupt, sometimes bordering on the rude. In the UK, social norms say we should be polite and say please and thank you all the time. Queuing is a national sport in the UK and woe betide anyone who jumps it. The long-winded politeness of the English language sometimes just doesn’t translate so Spaniards are automatically more direct. Don’t worry, they aren’t being rude. Also, queuing doesn’t really exist. Elbows out and go for it – like on the London Underground I guess. As soon as you realise the different social norms you won’t feel frustrated in many situations!
8 – Dealing with bureaucracy
In any country dealing with bureaucracy is a pain and Spain is no different. The main thing to be prepared for is the law of ‘Falta Uno’: it doesn’t matter how well prepared you are and how many photocopies you have; you will still be missing something. And just like in other places, civil servants aren’t the most welcoming or friendly when dealing with your case. I’ve been yelled at plenty of times for not waiting in the right place, having the wrong ticket number, not knowing what form to fill in. Be patient and if possible, take a local friend who can help out with language issues and can help explain the process.
9 – Watch out on the roads
Sorry to my Spanish friends reading this but you are terrible drivers. They can’t merge properly, the use of indicators is apparently optional, many don’t respect pedestrian crossings and some can be pretty aggressive. Get ready for a liberal use of the horn. In all seriousness, do take care if you drive around the country. Both the transport ministry and the Dia Association of traffic victims admit more can be done to reduce the number of fatalities on the roads around the country and steps are in place, but be alert at all times.
10 – Go to a football game
Barcelona and Real Madrid are obviously the two big guns in Spain but wherever you end up living, go to a football game. Spaniards are passionate about the game and attending a live match is very different to in the UK. It’s a chance to catch up on gossip from the week with mates, eat a bocadillo de jamon or munch on pipas, and of course, learn some colourful new vocab aimed at the opposition or referee.
Most of all, throw yourself in the deep end, explore and enjoy your time in this great country!