A Language Assistant’s Guide to Moving to Spain

By Sarah Perkins Guebert

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

Joining Groups

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.

Bank Account

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.

Moving to Spain requires a Spanish Bank account to deposit your euros!


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.

Source: capl@washjeff.edu || Apartment for Rent Sign in Spanish
Source: capl@washjeff.edu

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. 

A photo of a wallet, which is where you should keep your important cards

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. 

Make sure to get your health card when moving to Spain

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.

Make copies of all your important documents when moving to Spain

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.

In Conclusion

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
    • Bring:
      • Passport 
      • Money to open account with
  • Empadronamiento (Registry of residency)
    • Bring:
      • Passport
      • A bill in your name at your address or a signed rental contract
      • The completed form
  • Cell Phone and Internet Service
    • Bring:
      • Passport 
      • Bank account information
      • Empadronamiento (sometimes requested)
  • Public Health Card
    • Bring:
      • Passport, NIE or TIE
      • Proof that you are eligible for public health care
      • An empadronamiento issued in the last 3 months
  • Visa
    • Step 1: Fingerprints
    • Bring:
      • 2 copies EX-17 form
      • Tax 790 012 paid
      • Passport and copy
      • Empadronamiento and copy
      • 2X2 in photo
    • Step 2: Picking up the visa:
      • Bring:
        • Resguardo
        • Passport

An aerial photo of the streets in Madrid.

How I Moved to Spain to Teach Abroad: Part One

Timisha DixonBy Timisha Dixon

Timisha Dixon is a trained journalist turned EFL instructor who moved to Spain. She has lived in Madrid for eight years. Timisha originally hails from Queens, New York, and had worked unhappily in corporate America until moving to Madrid in 2012. Her story is not similar to many who live abroad.  Most who begin teaching abroad start by going through a program of some sort. This is not Timisha’s story, and we are excited to share hers with you so you can see that there are more than one means of achieving your dreams while living abroad.

When you moved to Spain, why did you choose to teach?

“It was completely on a whim. I was at a point in my life where I felt extremely burnt out. The nieces of a close family friend of mine (a man who I refer to as my godfather) approached me with a suggestion. Both of his nieces, who are my age, have lived in Europe since the early 2000s. Things were not working out the way I wanted in NYC, so I took them up on their offer. I was literally overweight, depressed, and desperately in need of a way out of my misery. Don’t get me wrong, I have a loving and supportive family, always have, but let me fill in the gaps.”

A photo of a metro sign in Madrid during sunset. Hopefully Timisha gets to use the metro just as much since she moved to Spain!


The Pressure’s On

“I come from a single-parent household, so an incredible work ethic was instilled in me from an early age. When I graduated college during the economic crisis in 2008, my mom was putting pressure on me to earn money and/or go back to school. There were literally no jobs, and I wasn’t about to go back to school. Back then I felt that many of my friends didn’t experience the same pressures as I did because they had both parents. They were well-off enough to stay at home with their parents and figure out life. Meanwhile, I started working at Macy’s. I then got a temporary position working for a telecommunications company that became a permanent one. That slowly killed my spirit and led me into a depression. 

I worked from 2:30pm-11:00pm in a call center and had little to no social life. The odd hours of my shift were crushing. At the time, I was also still trying to follow my passion of becoming a journalist. Luckily, right out of college, a headhunter found me and gave me the opportunity to write for a website. It was for pennies, but I got exposure because my writing resonated with their readership. I developed relationships with lots of media professionals and began covering concerts, stage plays, and more. I was doing that after my full-time job on odd days off, and it began to take a toll. While I loved the fact that I was pursuing my dreams, I hated my full-time job. I often cried before I had to leave the house to head there.”

A photo of the pond at Buen Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain

Have you ever taught before you moved to Spain? 

“My late grandmother was an educator. I have two uncles who are also educators and administrators of education. I fought it for years, and to be honest, I was more concerned about being a writer/journalist. It was the environment that I grew up in, nothing more than that. Teaching seemed too safe, too boring for me to pursue. I’m a product of that environment and never had tried my luck at it until I came abroad. It began as a way of securing a guaranteed income on a regular monthly basis.”

What did you do before you moved to Spain?  

“I was working for an educational company called Kaplan. Many know them for test preparation and tutoring for higher-education learning. I also ran my own website and worked in the entertainment industry conducting interviews and getting exclusives. I attended many events and red-carpet affairs. Those were fun times, but doing both was exhausting.”

A photo of a woman with a book on her face.

What did you think teaching abroad would be like? 

“I honestly had no idea. Like no single idea. Looking back on the state I was in when I moved to Spain and how trusting I was (especially of one individual — I took her word for exactly what she said) it still amazes me. I literally had done no research and just went off of what my “play cousin” told me. My godfather’s two nieces had been encouraging me to make the move over for a long time. When I finally felt fed up with my life, I decided to go for it.”

Where have you been teaching? 

“I have been teaching for an educational business for the past eight years. I, fortunately, landed the job because I followed a lead I got on Lingobongo and I met my boss. It was the best job and the best employer I’ve had to date. The owners remodeled the facility, which looks like a little house, so that you can see through it, sort of like a greenhouse. It’s a magical place for learning. It has everything a kid could dream of: costumes, toys, art supplies — you name it, they have it. I’ve also worked for three additional academies. One of them was the International Institute, an American organization in Chamberí. Just recently, I accepted a position with a private school here in Madrid, which is pretty new and amazing! It’s called Colegio Madrid and I teach ages three through five in their preschool (infantil) division.”

A photo of the Palacio de Cristal in Madrid, one of the perks Timisha experienced after she moved to Spain.

What are you doing now? Will you be teaching this year? 

“Up until recently, I was unemployed and collecting unemployment benefits due to the pandemic. But my work ethic enabled me to bounce back. I’ve always had more than one job at a time as I have a lot of energy.”

What expectations did you have before you came here? Were you afraid to travel so far from home? 

“I was super excited with no expectations. A lot of people asked me if I ran away after I moved to Spain, but I never thought of it that way. I just wanted something new. I felt so discouraged at a dead-end job that it made me feel like there was no out from the situation.  My mantra was and still is, “show me something new.” I was so young and so nonchalant when I first got here. If you had seen me then, you would have noticed how completely laid back and open to any and all possibilities I was.”

What did you think of Madrid during your first year after you moved to Spain? 

“I wasn’t really actively analyzing or overthinking it. Back then, I was more active in my personal experiences. It had been a long time since I had been happy. I just wanted to just bask in the joyful part of the relocation. I found that people acted super kind, so I remember feeling very loved and supported.”

A photo of people walking into the sunset in Madrid, which Timisha saw after she moved to Spain.

What were some of the accomplishments of your first year?

“I can’t really pinpoint anything. As I had moved around a lot, I was still trying to find my footing. My work situation was pretty stable, I can say that. Meeting the boss I would have for eight years was really a blessing. I can also say that my jumping into Spanish classes was very helpful. I was not one of those girls who immediately found a boyfriend to translate for them.

A lot of women who share their stories of being abroad almost always have a love story behind it. I went into my lessons knowing that I didn’t want that to be my case. Sure, I have had some romantic encounters while living here, but I have never been dependent on a man in that capacity. So I did things on my own, and am glad for it. Having moved to Spain and carved my own path, I feel more confident than ever.”

What do you want to achieve this year?

“I want to work more for myself and continue pursuing my creative endeavors as far as my website and blogging goes. What I’d like to do is to facilitate and plan more events on the new web application I’ve been collaborating on. I’m also super excited about finally working in a school setting, as this is a first for me. Traditionally, people come here as auxiliares. I got lucky with employment and a visa sponsor. Nevertheless, I had to earn my position. I really didn’t have time to complain and sob over online message boards because I was gainfully employed and pounding the pavement.”

A photo of one of the streets of Madrid, where Timisha moved to Spain.

What advice would you give to other teachers who are living abroad about their first year? What are some of the things they must do and some things they must absolutely not do?

“I would say worry less about sharing your experiences with others on social media. Take your pictures, but don’t forget to look up and see where you are and be present in that moment. There’s always time to share that stuff. Keep some things just for you and your memoirs. Also, try to make friends with the locals… even if that means just going to the same place on a regular basis and interacting with the people there. People miss you when you’re gone. I have gone to have coffee at the same bar near my job for eight years. That kind of consistency will help you develop relationships with the people there. And as for the do-not-dos… just never completely close yourself off to new experiences.”

How do you feel about your integration into the Spanish culture? What are the steps you have taken to prepare yourself? How did you prepare before you arrived?

“I’m definitely not Spanish, but I do love the nature of the people that have found me cosmically here. While I don’t think that Spain is a perfect place, it has helped me grow into such an independent spirit. Just learn the damn language. Never fully rely on someone to do things for you which you can do for yourself. If you don’t know the language, you’ll feel isolated. It clips your wings.”

A photo of pre-school supplies

Throughout the course of this interview process, a private school in Madrid offered Timisha a position. It is truly an exciting time for her. Being inside of a school as the teaching staff has always been something that she has wanted to add to her list of accomplishments while living abroad. Please stay tuned as she shares her experiences as a preschool teacher in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.