Moving to Spain
Moving abroad is certainly challenging, and may seem overwhelming. To help manage the stress and confusion of moving to Spain, I created a guide to break down each step of the process in an easy and comprehensible way.
What to Bring
The first challenge after getting accepted into a language assistant program and successfully processing your student visa is simply knowing what to pack for your move abroad. You’ll of course need to bring clothes, medications, and personal items such as laptops. If you’re taking any medication that will need to be refilled in Spain, ask your doctor to give you a prescription stating the name of the drug and its components so that it will be easy for a local doctor to find and prescribe you a Spanish equivalent. You will also need enough money to cover you in September since most teach abroad programs do not begin paying until October. That means you’ll explicitly need sufficient funds to see you comfortably through the first couple of weeks.
Beyond the absolute essentials, what else should you bring? My recommendation is as little as possible. Spanish stores are not drastically different from American ones, and you can find almost anything you need right here in Spain. Of course, not everything is the same, so my advice is to pack only the things that you can’t live without before moving to Spain.
For information on how to process your student visa, see my previous article.
Undeniably, one of the best resources for language assistants are Facebook groups. These groups provide important information, general advice, and housing opportunities. There are groups for each individual teach abroad program, as well as a general group for Madrid, Auxiliares de Conversación en Madrid. Apart from these, there are a plethora of groups for expats, students, and more. Join as many as you like and start making friends before you arrive in Spain.
Right after moving to Spain, one of your top priorities should be opening a bank account. Signing up for a bank account in Spain is a fairly simple process. In theory, you should only need your passport and some money to do this. However, many banks refuse to give foreigners an account without a physical identity card. Be prepared to be turned away by the first bank you walk into. By all means, ask fellow language assistants who they bank with and start there. It is important to open a bank account as soon as possible because you will need one to rent an apartment or room.
After you have opened a bank account, your foremost concern is probably where you’re going to live. One of the best ways to secure a room is by being a part of the language assistant groups on Facebook, where many available rooms and apartments are posted. If you prefer to complete this process on your own, two of the best websites to use are Idealista and Fotocasa. You can also seek out a local rental agency and ask about the apartments they have for rent. Keep in mind that many agencies and landlords do not speak English, so you may need to ask someone to help you contact them.
Empadronamiento: Registering Your Residence
Registering your residence is absolutely essential for most government services. As soon as you have an apartment, visit your local ayuntamiento (town hall) to register. To complete this process, you’ll need proof of your identity (your passport), proof that you live at your address (signed contract or bill in your name), and a signed and completed copy of the registration form.
Due to the pandemic, most ayuntamientos now require an appointment to process the empadronamiento, so check your ayuntamiento’s website or call beforehand. You can look for appointments in Madrid on the City Council website.
Cell Phone and Internet
Depending on your living situation, you may need to set up your phone and Internet service. To do this, you’ll need proof of your identity (your passport), a bank account, and sometimes proof of residency (an empadronamiento from the step above). With these three things, you should be able to sign up for a cellphone and/or Internet plan with ease. Unfortunately, as with the banks, some companies refuse their services to foreigners without a physical identity card. As before, I recommend asking fellow language assistants about their experiences before choosing.
Public Health Card
Although most language assistant programs provide private health insurance, it is important to obtain public health insurance, as well. Some of the benefits of public health care include lower prescription costs and temporary paid leave from work for a medical reason, such as surgery or serious illness.
Getting your public health card is overall quite simple. Call a local health center and ask them which particular center you should go to. Centers are assigned by zones, so your official health center may not be the one closest to your apartment. Then, drop by your assigned center with your passport or identity card (NIE/TIE), an empadronamiento issued in the last three months, and proof that you are eligible for public health care. To prove you’re eligible, complete the Health Application and print it.
Processing Your Visa
Finally, you’ll need to finish processing your visa. You will be granted 90 days from the start of your program to process your physical card. In order to do this, you will need to complete the EX-17 form, pay the modelo 790 código 012 tax, provide a 2X2 inch photo (these can be done at a photobooth, found at many metro stops). Bring copies of all your important documents to the government office your appointment is located at, including the photo and visa pages of your passport, empadronamiento, and the EX-17 form you filled out.
Before you go, you will need an appointment. You can book one here on the Spanish government website.
Just One More Step…
After submitting your documents, you’ll be asked for your fingerprints and given a paper called a resguardo stating that you are approved for a physical NIE/TIE and can come to pick it up after 30-45 days. Do not lose this paper. Make copies of it as soon as you can, because you need it to pick up your physical card.
After the 30-45 days pass, make another appointment using the website above in the same government center where you did your fingerprints. Bring the paper given to you at the previous appointment along with your passport. After standing in line for somewhere between five minutes and three hours, you’ll submit the paper and receive your physical identity card! With that, you’re done, and you are an official resident of Spain for the rest of the academic year.
The above steps and processes needed to live comfortably and legally in Spain may seem daunting, so my advice is to take care of them one at a time. Complete just one or two tasks each day rather than attempt to tackle all of them at once. If it becomes overwhelming, remember that moving to Spain is not unlike moving to another city in your own country. Mentally framing the obstacles as familiar ones can help manage stress.
Most important of all, remember that you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or help from other language assistants, friends, or the administration of whichever language program you are part of.
Use this checklist to help organize yourself. Good luck.
Moving to Spain To-Do List
- Join groups on Facebook
- Find housing
- Bank Account
- Money to open account with
- Empadronamiento (Registry of residency)
- A bill in your name at your address or a signed rental contract
- The completed form
- Cell Phone and Internet Service
- Bank account information
- Empadronamiento (sometimes requested)
- Public Health Card
- Passport, NIE or TIE
- Proof that you are eligible for public health care
- An empadronamiento issued in the last 3 months
- Step 1: Fingerprints
- 2 copies EX-17 form
- Tax 790 012 paid
- Passport and copy
- Empadronamiento and copy
- 2X2 in photo
- Step 2: Picking up the visa: