3 May 2018

Catherine Gaa - Expat in Spain

Catherine Gaa - Expat in Spain

We’ve had the chance to talk to Catherine Gaa, an American expat who has moved to Spain alone and now lives there with her family. Mrs Gaa, who has been living there for ten years works as an admissions counselor at a US University. Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?
A: I am originally from Chicago, USA, but Spain has been my home for 10 years. I originally settled in Seville before moving to Madrid in 2016. As I have more experience in Seville, I will focus the rest of the questionnaire on my years living in the south of Spain.


Q: What made you move out of the US?
A: After studying abroad in college, I knew that I wanted to live abroad, and because I had studied in Spain and hoped to become fluent in the language, it was an easy choice to make. I chose to move to the south so that I could avoid wintery weather – and ended up in one of the hottest cities in continental Europe!


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?
A: Spain has had me for ten years, and after buying a house and marrying a local, I don’t see myself leaving.


Q: How long have you been living in Spain?
A: I celebrate my ten-year “Spanniversary” in September 2017. It feels like I got on a plane yesterday!


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?
A: Initially, I found a shared apartment with a Spaniard and a German. I met my husband, who is Spanish, shortly after arriving in Seville and we now live together with our infant.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?
A: All the time, particularly now that I have a young child. When I came to Spain, there were no smartphones, so we had to coordinate days and times to be home to speak via Skype. My parents are also retired, so they come for holidays in Spain often.


Q: What do you think about the locals?
A: I love Spaniards, particularly those from the south. They’re warm, amiable and quite funny. While it was originally difficult to find friends, meeting my husband helped me to understand the language and local slang, as well as the habits and character of sevillanos.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Spain? How did you manage to find a social circle there?
A: Yes and no. When I came to Spain, social media wasn’t what it is today, so no one networked before arriving. I had two contacts of two Americans when I arrived in Spain, and it was initially difficult to make friends.

That said, I have a wonderful group of other American girlfriends whom I rely on for both holiday celebrations, nights out and even giving me a hand with the baby. I wouldn’t be able to live comfortably in Spain without someone from my home country who understands the ins and outs of expat life and understands where I come from, too.

I do have Spanish friends, but not as many. Typically, Spaniards live in the same town and have the same friends they grew up with, so it’s been difficult to make lasting friendships, in my experience. My circle also includes other Europeans.


Q: How does the cost of living in Spain compare to your home?


Q: How much is a cup of coffee?
A: 1, 10€

Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?
A: 7-10€

Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?
A: up to 20€ - Seville is a great city for trying Spanish food!

Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?
A: 5-7€ for something decent; 5€ a pack


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Spain?
A: As with any host country, do your best to research a bit before you go, and remember that things will not be the same as your home country just because you’re in it. Should you find yourself missing people or things from home, reach out to other expats and ask to meet up with them. I find celebrating American holidays to be more fun abroad!


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?
A: Spanish bureaucracy is notorious for being slow and arduous. It seems like even the simplest process, such as registering your address with the city you live in, takes multiple appointments and countless photocopies. It truly takes grit to persevere sometimes, especially as an American who does not enjoy the same rights as other EU nations as far as work and residence permits.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Spain is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?
A: I enjoy public health care as a benefit of working in Spain, and I have yet to be disappointed. As always, there are wait times and lines, but doctors are well trained and professional. It’s also free because the employer pays.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in the US or Spain? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?
A: While I don’t use other health care, Americans must be sure that their coverage for visa purposes covers expatriation expenses.


Are you covered? Free Health Insurance Quotes

Get FREE quotes from leading global Insurers to compare and find a plan suits you.

Get free quotes


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Spain? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?
A: Even though ten years have passed, I remember that small victories seemed enormous, and low moments were overwhelming. I was determined to live in Spain for at least one year, and the first two were difficult. I didn’t really decide Spain was long-term until I bought a house seven years after moving here and married the following – my advice is to stay open to the challenges that you can face, be them big or small, and enjoy where it takes you.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?
A: The language and the bureaucracy! I had no clue how to apply for a residency card, open a bank account or apply for permits. I now co-own a consulting that helps non-EU expats do just that, COMO Consulting Spain.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Spain?
A: The positive is most certainly the quality of life! Though people aren’t squirreling away their savings, Spaniards definitely take time to enjoy their lives and be with others. And perhaps that’s a negative – it’s difficult to save here given the low salaries and the temptation to travel, eat out and have fun!


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?
A: Seville is a lovely city with loads to see, as it has existed for more than 2000 years. Of note are the cathedral and palaces – both UNESCO World Heritage Sites – and the tapas scene. If you’re heading out, the north has hiking trails and mountains, whereas the south will lead you to the beach. It’s also the capital of Andalusia, which means there is public transportation to nearby points of interest, like Portugal, Cádiz, Jerez, Málaga, Ronda and Granada. It’s also a quick, high-speed train ride from Madrid.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?
A: Nope! We will eventually move from Madrid back to Seville, where we have family and a home, but my husband’s job will have him in Spain for the near future.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Spain?
A: My personal blog, Sunshine and Siestas, is a virtual love letter to Seville. I also read Spanish Sabores, Scribble in Seville, Andalucia Diary, Barcelona Blonde…I’m in need of more!