5 Top Tips: A Young Expat’s Guide to Surviving Spain

Hi, my name is Josiah, and I was about to enter my final year of university when I made a mistake. A big mistake. Everything had been going so well, I was on course for a first in my Journalism degree (the best grade you can get) and only had one more year to go. But then, just a week before I completely finished the term and went back home to see my family, it happened.

My friend had a spare plane ticket to visit Barcelona for a few days and asked if I wanted to go. Of course I did. We went and enjoyed a very pleasant few days relaxing. Most of our time was spent on the beach enjoying the sun, working on our tans, and drinking a ridiculous amount of Fanta Lemon. We only dedicated a single day to do something else, which was hiking up the Montjuïc mountain, something that completely wore me out but was well worth it due to the incredible views it had to offer.

Afterward, we went home and I thought everything would return to normal. But it didn’t. And that’s when I realized I had made a mistake, I had fallen in love with not just traveling, but Spain itself. Every moment of the following few weeks afterward was almost torture. I couldn’t stop thinking about going back. I would become captivated for hours just dreaming about living there, Googling the different places to visit and where I could potentially stay. It got to the point where I could think of nothing else and that’s when I decided enough was enough, I was going to move to Spain.

I found a job as an Au Pair working 20 hours a week for a family, teaching two of their children English, and off I went. I didn’t really have a plan. I didn’t speak Spanish. I had no clue what I was doing, but I knew it was something I had to do.

Two years down the line and I have loved every second, but I have still made loads of mistakes that, if I had known what I know now, could have been avoided. That’s why I’m writing this, to help people avoid the big errors I made and make the most out of their time living abroad.

  • Research – Learn about the Spanish culture and customs

Now this one probably seems obvious but for some reason, it just never occurred to me. I don’t mean doing a quick Google search for ‘best places to visit in Spain’, but do some proper in-depth research. Talk to people. Locals always know the best places to go and travel routes. Find out everything you can about an area before you go there, some small almost irrelevant cultural things can have a big impact on your trip. I personally got caught short when I first arrived, as I wasn’t aware that many places would close for an afternoon “siesta.” You might laugh, but I was in a rush and desperately needed some items before I went to work but all the shops I knew of were closed. While I probably shouldn’t have left it to the last minute to go, a little bit of research could have saved me a lot of hassle.

  • Get a part-time job in Spain

If you know much about the Spanish economy, you’ll know that job opportunities aren’t exactly bountiful. I got lucky. In the summer season, as tourists start to enter the country, bar jobs are easier to come by and I got recommended for a job but a recently acquired friend from my football team. While my Au Pair job provided me with food and a place to stay, the pay (what they call pocket money) wasn’t great. I wanted to see other parts of the country in my spare time and for that I needed money. Bar work was hard and long hours. But it was flexible. It meant I could work all the hours I needed in just a few days giving me lots of time to travel and sightsee.

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Bar work definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you don’t mind talking to people and you can cope with pressure, you’ll be fine. It’s also a really good way of making friends which is one of my next tips later on the in the article. There is nothing like bar work to pull people together. The majority of people who do part-time work in hospitality are often young and working long stressful hours together is definitely a great way of bonding. The majority of my closest friends in Spain were met working in a bar somewhere.

  • Spanish Expat Insurance

I look back now and laugh at how stupid I was when it came to this area. Like I said, I had no idea what I was doing and I think that really shined through in my attitude towards insurance. If you’ve just read the title and felt like skipping this section, chances are this is the bit you should pay the most attention to.

If you are planning to go to Spain, there are some really useful sites out there that will help get you the right international insurance policy, but even if you get it slightly wrong you’re off to a better start than me.

I didn’t know what an expat was. Let alone that I should probably look into getting an insurance policy that covered my health and possessions as an expatriate rather than a tourist.

This one cost me lots of time and money. I can’t remember what I did when I first got a policy, but I know I found it in all of 5 minutes. It only covered me for basic essentials that a tourist might need and when I needed to make a claim it was almost impossible. I won’t go into details, but I spent long periods of time racking up bills on my phone, being passed from person to person. I almost went mad. Don’t be like me. Buy an insurance policy that will cover you for the whole duration of your trip. It’s worth it.

  • Budget your Spanish Currency

This is pretty important. If you plan out your trips and what you want to do, looking at your monthly income and how you can stretch it week to week, you’ll enjoy your time traveling a lot more. Always make sure though that you have a decent amount of money in savings. I split mine into euros and pound sterling 50/50. Kind of like a rainy day fund of around £500 total. It was my backup plan in case anything unexpected happened and oh man did it save my bacon a few times.

Knowing what you’re going to spend day-to-day puts you at a huge advantage, especially if you do it well because you can actually see the money you save going towards exploring the country more.

  • Make friends with the local Spaniards

If everything goes wrong you probably won’t have any close friends or family around to help you out. They’ll be miles away. That’s why you need to make friends from the moment you land in Spain. No pressure.

The Spanish people tend to be pretty friendly and fortunately many of them speak some degree of English, so it’s not that hard meeting people.Consumer Resource Guide

Having Spanish friends was brilliant. I learned the language faster, I picked up lots of cool tricks and tips that only locals knew about, like where to eat and what to avoid. They showed me the best ways to travel and basically how to immerse myself in the culture properly.

While I made most of my friends doing part-time jobs as mentioned previously, there are tons of different ways to meet people. Joining a local football team was probably the best way for me. Go and find a club or group that has similar interests to you, whether that is sports, work, nightlife or maybe even faith. Spain has so much to offer, and if you aren’t afraid to talk to new people, you’ll be just fine.

Maybe one day I will return to live in England and finish my degree, but I don’t think it will be anytime soon.

Author Bio:

Josiah Harris is a writer that has been traveling in Spain for the last year. It doesn’t matter how weird, wonderful, or dangerous a country is, you can rest assured Josiah plans to go at some point. Very much a people person, he enjoys making new friends and exploring the unknown with them.

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