1 September 2016

Rachel Graf - Expat in Madrid, Spain

Rachel Graf - Expat in Madrid, Spain

We’ve had the chance to talk to Rachel Graf, 24, an American expat who has moved to Madrid alone. Ms Graf, who has been living there for two years, now works as a teacher.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I’m from the USA. I was born in Nashville, Tennessee and lived there until I left for university and afterwards for Europe.


Q: What made you move out of USA?

A: I studied in Europe twice during university, and I loved living abroad both times. I knew when I graduated that I didn’t want to go straight into the typical nine-to-five routine. I also knew that I had to find a way to live in Europe. I love the constant exposure to different cultures and languages that living in Europe offers every single day. Since my first trip to Europe, I’ve felt so at home here, and I’ve found that European culture just feels like a better fit for me in many ways.


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

A: I’m currently living in Madrid. I spent a semester studying abroad here during university and fell completely in love with the city and the Spanish lifestyle. I moved back as soon as I graduated and I’ve been here since.


Q: How long have you been living in Spain?

A: Two years


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

A: I’m living in a shared flat with four other girls from Spain, Italy, Ireland, and the USA. We speak strictly Spanish at home, which is great for language practice, and the mix of different backgrounds and cultures in the flat has been a great experience as well.


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

A: I do miss home and family occasionally, especially on holidays as it’s too expensive for me to travel home. Overall, however, this hasn’t been a big issue for me. It’s so easy to stay connected through Whatsapp and Skype these days, and I know my family is never more than a phone call away. When I do go home for a long visit, I often find myself feeling homesick for the life I’ve established here in Europe.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: The locals in Madrid are great. It’s a huge city that often feels like a small town. Every neighborhood of Madrid has its own particular vibe and its funny how quickly you can get to know the locals you begin to see every day. For the most part, people in Madrid are very friendly and welcoming. The Madrilenos are fun, loud, and always up for a good time.


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: There are tons of opportunities for meeting new people abroad. I socialize with a good mix of expats and locals here in Madrid. I have lots of expat friends from all different countries, and I’ve noticed that expat friendships develop very quickly. As we’ve all moved to a new country and are going through similar struggles and experiences, it’s easy to connect to other people with the same ideals. I found my own social circle through work, meeting friends of friends, and through a TEFL course that I took here in Madrid last year.


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

A: Living in Spain is much cheaper than living in the United States. I live in the very center of Madrid and pay less than 400 euros a month for rent. I spend about 30 euros a week on food, which leaves more than half of my income for enjoying life in Madrid and traveling as much as possible.

  •  How much is a cup of coffee?

A: 1-2 euros

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: 8-12 euros

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: 15-25 euros

  • How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: You can get a good bottle of wine for as little as a euro and a pack of cigarettes for around 5 euros.


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

A: Some Spanish banks allow you to open an account using only your passport. It’s a great way to get started before you go through the process of getting the residency card which can take a couple of months. I opened an account with Sabadell right after I moved here and it has been a great bank for me. The process of opening the account was very simple. I just walked into a branch with my passport, spoke with an employee and I had my debit card within a week.


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

A: Spain can be a very frustrating country when it comes to government paperwork, visa applications, and work permits. While the visa process is always a bit complicated, it is definitely manageable. I first came to Spain as a language assistant in a public school with the government’s “auxiliary de conversacion” program, which gives student visas to Americans without requiring any actual studies. To apply for this visa, I had to gather tons of paperwork, have a background check, pay a visa fee of about $100, and drive to the Spanish consulate in Houston for an appointment to turn in all my papers. Then, I waited around five weeks for my passport to be mailed back to me with my visa attached. Once in Spain, I had to gather more paperwork along with my visa to apply for the residency card. It’s a long and very bureaucratic process, but if you do your research and know what needs to be done ahead of time, you should be able to complete the process without any problems.


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

A: I’ve found healthcare here to be very reliable. I rarely go to the doctor myself, but none of my expat friends has ever had any problem getting the treatment they need. If you don’t speak Spanish, it isn’t difficult at all to find English-speaking clinics here.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in your home or host country?  What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: The language assistant program I originally came to Spain with provided health insurance for me, but next year I will have to buy my own. A basic plan here is quite affordable and should be more than enough to cover whatever treatment you may need abroad.


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: I came to Spain with one suitcase, so I can’t give any advice in terms of movers, but the packing process was very exciting. I had to narrow it down to the absolute essentials, but in many ways, I think this is a great way to move abroad and begin a new life. It’s easy to find a furnished flat to rent in Spain, so I didn’t really need to bring much besides clothes. The most memorable part of the packing was when I finally finished narrowing down what to bring and saw my life fit inside one suitcase.


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

A: Everything can seem a little overwhelming at first when you move to a new country with no friends at first. The first few weeks in Madrid were the biggest challenge for me. It’s hard to adjust to a new home while figuring out how to apply for a residency card, open a bank account, or simply navigate new streets. Everything gets easier with time, though, and I soon found that it was easy to make friends abroad and settle into my new life.


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

A: The positives definitely outweigh the negatives of life in Spain. I love the weather, the laid-back culture, the food, and the diversity of every region of the country. On the negative side, dealing with Spanish bureaucracy can be a nightmare. I love how laidback everyone here is, but it can be quite frustrating when you have important tasks to get done.


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

A: Madrid is full of fun things to do! I love to spend the day relaxing or picnicking in Retiro with friends, going out for tapas, and going to the local markets. There’s always some kind of festival going on, and the nightlife here is unlike any city I’ve ever seen before. Also, there are tons of great options for day trips outside of the city. There’s Toledo, Segovia, and the nearby mountains if you want to go hiking or camping. There’s always something to do in or around Madrid. It’s the kind of city where it’s impossible to be bored.


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

A: I’m moving to Barcelona after the summer for a new experience. I would love to live in other countries in the future, but have no plans of moving home anytime soon. Ultimately, I’d like to make Europe my permanent home.


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

A: Be open-minded, flexible, and patient. It takes time to get used to life in a new country and culture, but it can be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have. I also can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be present in the moment. While it’s great that communication with everyone back home is so easy these days, you have to throw yourself into your new life to really be happy as an expat. You have to get off Skype and get out in the streets meeting new people, doing language exchanges, and exploring your new home as much as possible. Only then will it really start feeling like home.


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

A: Some of my favorite blogs about expat live in Spain are Barcelona Blonde, Adelante, and Christine in Spain (adelanteblog.com, and christineinspain.com)