20 November 2017

Danielle Owens - Expat in Spain

Danielle Owens - Expat in Spain

We’ve had the chance to talk to Danielle Owens, 32, an American expat who has moved to Spain with her husband. Mrs Owens, who has been living there for about six months, now works as a volunteer. Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I’m originally from the U.S., I grew up and lived all up and down the west coast.


Q: What made you move out of the US?

A: My partner’s job. We both wanted to live abroad, and an opportunity with his company presented itself, so we went for it.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: We’re currently living in Madrid, Spain. We didn’t have much choice because our move stemmed from a job-related opportunity, though we are very happy to be living in Europe!


Q: How long have you been living in Spain?

A: We’ve been here permanently for about six months, though we did spend some time in Madrid over the summer when we weren’t sure if my spouse’s work contract was going to be permanent or not. It looks like we’ll stay between two and four years.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I live with my husband, and I think he’s adjusting just fine, ha! Since I don’t have a work visa, our challenges are different. There are absolutely cultural differences in the business world, but in some ways, working makes for an easier adjustment—you already have a routine each day and place to meet people.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I absolutely miss home sometimes! It’s not something I experience too often, however. Once I became accustomed to living outside of the U.S. and developed a routine of keeping in touch with/visiting family and friends, it’s basically just life as usual. The hard moments are the big events—holidays, birthdays, health scares. Moments that you can’t plan and when you can’t necessarily hop on a plane to be there.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: The Madrileños I’ve met are very fun, curious and outgoing. As soon as the weather is decent, you’ll see people everywhere—on terraces, in the parks, walking or riding bikes. I will say that the Spanish are a proud bunch, which is both a good and bad thing.


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: I’m still building my social circle, but I will say that it is very easy to make friends here. There’s a huge expat community that is very active. On sites like meetup.com you’ll find things going on every night (not to mention all the awesome bars and cultural events that are always happening). The people I hang out with are mostly expats—I’ve found Spanish people very friendly, but it can be hard to develop friendships because the culture is very family oriented. People spend much of their free time with their families.


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

A: Before moving abroad we lived in San Diego, California which is a pretty expensive city in the U.S. Comparatively speaking, we found Madrid a very affordable place to live, especially when it comes to going out. Upscale restaurants and wine are much cheaper. Tipping is less than U.S. standards as well, which is also a plus for us. On the other hand, there are lots of pricey neighborhoods, and it can be difficult to find a reasonably priced apartment—they go fast!

Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: It varies. An espresso at the corner shop will be less than 1€. A tall latte at Starbucks is probably 3.50€.

Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: It depends, again, on what you consider inexpensive. And a meal, ha! You can buy a caña (small beer) for 2€ and get a tapa with each round. It’s absolutely possible to fill up this way! A takeaway kebab or-or empanada will be around 3-5€. If you want to sit down, you can find a spot with a menu of the day for 8-13€.

Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: A nice sit-down meal on average will be under 100€ for two—this is including wine and multiple courses. There are mountains of incredible restaurants in this city (including lots of Michelin stars), and you can easily spend four times that if you wanted.

Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: In the grocery store a bottle of wine is 3-8€, an average restaurant bottle is 13-25€. They’re delicious too. As for cigarettes, I’m not sure. I don’t smoke, but lots of people do here in Madrid! You’ll find some kind of tobacco shop or stand on every corner.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Spain?

A: You will need a Número de Identidad de Extranjero (NIE) or Foreigners’ Identity Number in order to open a bank account. There’s no way around it. It’s a tedious process but not difficult once you have all the necessary documents.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: I’ve heard lots of frustrating stories about bureaucracy, lost paperwork and people getting different answers from different people in the same offices. We didn’t have any of those issues, however, we did have assistance from my partner’s corporation. When we did handle things on our own, the instructions we found online were clear, and our appointments went as expected. It’s just a really, really slow process. Also, some proficiency in Spanish is a must for any government office visits or appointments for visas etc.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Spain is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: I haven’t had any experience here, yet.


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: We’ve had the same international insurance coverage since living abroad, through a company called GeoBlue. Although because I haven’t used my coverage much, I can’t give an opinion regarding the essentials expats need to look out for.


Q: What was most memorable about the packing and moving process to Spain? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: Things in Spain seemed to move much more slowly than I was expecting. We had lived in Bogotá, Colombia for two years and I was expecting things to move at the same pace or more quickly than in our experience there. Negotiating our apartment seemed to take forever. Arranging rental furniture took forever. It was about four weeks until our shipment arrived, which seemed quick to me. This process was through a company called Hasenkamp, and we were very happy with our service.

One thing that caught me off guard about apartment hunting is that the majority of owners use agents to show available apartments. They are paid a fee by the renter (that’s you!) equivalent to about one month’s rent, even if they show you only one apartment for only 20 minutes. That definitely caught us off guard.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: The shift in identity! Going from being a worker and financial contributor in my family to a dependent was a giant change. Add that to assimilating to a new culture and city, and it’s a recipe for identity crisis. This was our second move so I knew what to expect and it didn’t take me quite so long to find my feet.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Spain?

A: There are lots of positives! Madrid is in the center of the country, so you are just a few hours by train or car from tons of fabulous Spanish cities (not to mention the ease of travel within the EU). I love the long daylight hours in the late spring and summer. There is always something to do. Madrid has lots of parks and outdoor spaces. The food scene is incredible as well.

Because we’re from the U.S., the time change between Madrid and most of our family is a big drawback. Also, the monetary and time cost for friends/family to come visit is high as well.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: My biggest recommendation is to get out and walk. Madrid is huge and made up of very distinct neighborhoods, each with their own “flavor.” They’re best seen by foot, so you can wander and get lost and find neat shops and restaurants. This, of course, is in addition to visiting the major museums and Retiro Park.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: As of right now we have no plans to return to our native country. We love life abroad and are looking forward to seeing where it takes us next!


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: My biggest tip is do not compare Spain to your native country. You’re not going to teach people to learn to form a line or be on time or whatever cultural quirk irritates you. Be open-minded and do your best to adapt to the way of life in your new home. Also, learn Spanish! Lots of people in Madrid speak English (and a host of other languages, too!) but lots don’t. It will help you tons in everyday life and open up doors to meet new people as well.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Spain?

A: idealista.com for apartment hunting; meetup.com to find activities in any language every day of the week; Madrid Expats and English Speaking People in Madrid are two FaceBook groups that are very handy for any questions you may have. I also want to give a little mention to my own blog, nolongernative.com, where I talk all about my experience as a trailing spouse.