Living in Spain as an American… OMG, I have so many stories! And so much advice to give about living your best life here in Spain…
When I first arrived, fresh off the boat from California, I did not really know all of the ins and outs of living in Spain as an American.
So maybe now you are about to relocate to Spain to enjoy our beautiful sunshine, vibrant cities, and amazing wine (and cheese!). Great. Then check out some of the tips I’ve collected along the way.
1. Learn Spanish
Sure, there may be parts of Spain where everyone speaks English. Certain coastal communities have more expats than native Spanish speakers. But the fact is, Spain is not an English speaking country. To get anything accomplished here, you will need to at least have a basic grasp of the Spanish language.
I’m not saying you need to be fluent, but at least make an effort and keep learning. There are many Spanish language schools as well as teachers who are willing to give private lessons. My recommendation is to find a teacher or a class that you sync with, even if it means shopping around a bit.
As an American living in Spain, I believe it is also a matter of respect. This is my home now, and to simply expect everyone to speak English does not seem right. Plus, life is a million times easier here now that my Spanish has improved so much.
Are you applying for Spanish residency? Take an interpreter with you if you don’t speak Spanish
Madrid is beautiful! I still can’t believe I am actually living here!
2. The daily rhythm of life is unlike that in the US
In the US we operate on a different time schedule as they do here in Spain. Generally speaking, everything runs a little later in the day, but certain offices like banks and post offices are sometimes only open half days.
But perhaps the biggest difference is our mealtimes. One of the biggest things I had to get used to, living in Spain as an American, is the 10 pm (or later!) dinners.
I will never forget when my Spanish (ex) boyfriend invited me to dinner to meet his friends for the first time. I expected the meal to start by 9:30 or 10 pm, but I was instead told to meet at the tapas bar at 11:30 pm. It is not a lie that Spaniards eat late.
Lunch is later than ours too, at around 2 pm. And don’t skip “merienda”, the late afternoon snack, or else you won’t make it until dinner.
The best part: you can just sit and chill in a terrace cafe, having a drink, unbothered, all afternoon. One of the number one perks that Americans living in Spain say about their new home is how much slower the pace of life is here.
3. Customer service is different than what we are accustomed to
This is a big one and one that I hear grumblings from many Americans living in Spain. Spain is notorious for its customer service.
I will not say it’s “bad.” I personally love not being constantly disturbed by the waiter while I have a meal with my friends. So what if sometimes it takes a huge effort just to pay the bill? They’re not working for tips here like in the US.
But then there is the flipside to that. Trying to deal with getting anything resolved or serviced can be frustrating. The other day I was locked out of my bank’s app, and by the time I finished talking to their customer service, I was ready to pull all my hair out.
Wait times can be much longer and it can easily take several calls or visits to an office to get anything resolved. But it is what it is.
The customer service here is something I definitely had to grow acclimated to as an American living in Spain. But now I love the “service” at restaurants and bars.
Spain is so chill and beautiful. I love life here.
4. Make Spanish friends
Having a social life here makes all the difference in the world. And one of the coolest things about living in Spain as an American is having Spanish friends.
Go eat tapas at 11:30 pm with all of your friends, packed in, and standing up, at a loud Spanish bar.
Shut down Madrid with them at 3 am.
Go back to their pueblo (village) with them on a “puente” (long weekend) and meet their families.
Become part of their lives and make them part of yours.
Having Spanish friends is great. Sure, they help you with some of the intricacies of living in Spain. But by having Spanish friends, you really do become a part of Spain. And if you don’t hang out with many Spaniards, I’d hate to say it, but you are missing out!
By making Spanish friends, I guarantee you will soon have a “pueblo” and a Spanish mother to call your own. Humble brag: I have a few.
Murcia, one of my “pueblos”
5. Living in Spain as an American and dealing with the Spanish system
You cannot even explain Spanish red tape to your friends back home, because there are very few parallels between how it works here and how it works there.
The one thing I can say is that it doesn’t work. Laws change all the time with zero notification, and everything in Spain varies region by region.
True story. I once literally had a near panic attack on a Madrid sidewalk after visiting the same office for the third time because of ever-changing protocols.
That is where David Ruiz comes in.
He helps me navigate the system.
Moving to Spain, a country that is always changing its protocols, having David on my side is invaluable.
His speciality is helping Americans like me manage all of the paperwork and red tape here.
He can help you with this too if you contact him!
Credit image: Patrick Tomasso
Karen is a travel consultant specializing in Spain, from California. She has 20 years of travel industry experience with travel companies like Airbnb and STA Travel. Karen now lives in Spain and through her, Spain Less Traveled site, she helps clients who want to experience Spain more authentically with personalized itineraries and individual travel consulting. Additionally, she founded and administers fast-growing Travel Spain! Facebook Community.
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