I'd start by saying the best thing you could do (or could
have done) would be to study in Seville first. It allows
you to make contacts and decide where you want to live.
Seville may not be the right place for you and a few weeks
or a month is not enough to know that you really want to
live in the city. Studying also gets you here - legally
- for more than 3 months with a student visa. If you've
already studied in Seville I'd say you're more prepared
than the rest, but keep in mind there are likely 10,000
or so students from the U.S. here every year, and
you're not the only one who fell in love with the place.
(If you haven't studied you can of course make the move,
too). What I have to say below is meant to scare
you about trying to live here. The best information I got
was the type that made me say, "Oh, man, what they
hell am I thinking". This type of information helped
me understand what I was up against, as well as the challenges
I'll continue to have. It's not over yet.
I planned for everything: bringing my computer with me, what
type of digital camera would be best for this site, clothes,
kitchen stuff, credit cards, bills, mortgage payments, checks,
drivers license, passport...the list is endless. I will say
that Microsoft's Outlook was my good friend. I made lists
and then sublists for departure, packing, banking, legal issues
as well as what to do upon arrival in Seville. I added due
dates for each item so I could take care of things little
by little over 6 months. I am a obsessive planner as you can
probably see. Deciding what was essential and what wasn't
took weeks if not months. Questions came up daily which I
jotted down and then added to my task list. I helped myself
with the realization that I could always go back to the U.S.
to take care of some issues, to get more "stuff".
I also realized that mailing some of the non-essentials was
Aside from packing, selling and storing my various things
I also had to eliminate all debt. In my case that was about
a year or more. There were plenty of other items to take care
of, some big and others small, so in no particular order here's
what I dealt with:
Power of Attorney
I needed someone back home to take care of banking, bills,
mortgage payments and medical insurance. Luckily I have a
wonderful mom (Hi mom!) who was willing to take care of some
of these things for me. You need someone you can trust as
a point person back home, and while they may not need power
of attorney, I highly recommend it. A great site which will
give you the forms for a do-it-yourself power of attorney
is Legal Zoom.
You can also create a will if you're so inclined, but I try
not to think about things like that while here. As they say
often in Spain - it can wait until mañana. I
also found a good property management company to take care
of a house, collecting rent and paying the mortgage until
it's time to sell.
I wanted something more than traveler's insurance so I considered
many options, taking note of those who would cover me while
here. Most will cover you outside of the the states if you
list the U.S. as your primary residence. So you can take advantage
of their coverage as long as when you get hurt you let them
know you are "traveling". There are other, local
options in Seville and I am working on putting a list together.
Many policies only cover you for catastrophic type medical
care if outside the U.S.
A warning about coverage in the U.S. as it may be tempting
to cancel your coverage when you leave. After all if you rent
a car you can purchase insurance with the rental agreement
or you may never need to drive in Spain. However, if you cancel
and go uninsured (even if you don't drive) and then find yourself
back in the U.S. your old company and many other companies
may refuse to insure you. Or they may insure you but at a
much higher premium. I won't even try to understand the logic
to this - there is none in my book. What you can often do
for very little money is be added to someone's policy: a parent
or sibling works best.
Aside from paying them off I checked all my expiration dates
for credit cards. A few that were due to expire I called the
company and asked for a new one, stating I would be traveling
for a few months during which the card would expire. I also
tried, in some cases successfully, to raise my credit limits.
The more credit I have the bigger the safety net. I have yet
to use any of them except for making big purchases when I
needed the "purchase protection" some of them offer.
I also made sure I signed up for online account access for
every card. Finally, I made the mistake of bringing an American
Express Blue card. Just a warning that if you plan to cash
a personal check at the American Express office you can only
do so with the green and white card. Luckily I can withdraw
money from most any ATM. I also informed them of my assigned
power of attorney and sent a copy of it to have on file.
I already had online access to my accounts, and quite frankly
you need to have this if you want to withdraw from an ATM.
Aside from Deutsche Bank, which allows you to take money out
from your savings account, you should almost always plan to
use ATM's to withdraw from your checking account. I set up
a money market account with a higher interest rate (not that
much higher with the current rates) and now transfer money
to my checking account as needed. I also upped my daily cash
limit with my bank so I could withdraw more money and save
on the ATM fees. In most cases you can simply ask your bank
to up the limit and they will oblige. This also helps when
the rent is due - I don't have to go to the ATM 3 days in
a row to get enough to pay it.
I bought a one-way ticket as I didn't know when I'd be coming
back. The last thing I wanted to do was reserve a flight back
that might conflict with something happening here. I had no
idea what I might be doing - working, traveling, sleeping
- so I thought it wise to buy only what I could plan for:
getting to Spain. A few other observations on the myths and
usefulness of buying a one-way ticket:
- Contrary to the after-9/11 myth, buying a one-way ticket
is not going to create hassles for you with customs or
immigration upon arrival in Spain. My travel agent told
me she arranges purchases for one-way tickets to places
around the world every day and the people using them never
run into problems. Ok, so this has changed a little since
I first wrote this. Now some people have reported having
a problem when entering Spain with a one way ticket. You
may consider buying a useless return leg at the cheapest
price and simply throwing it away.
- The price for a one-way ticket is generally not more than a round-trip.
I got my ticket for about $550. There were other round
trip tickets which would have cost $700, but not if I
wanted to return 3 months later.
- Buying a one-way ticket allowed me to purchase a round-trip
ticket while here. What that did, of course, was get me
to the U.S. and then back to Spain. I didn't have to purchase
another ticket in the U.S. during my 2 week stay there,
which would have severely limited the options and prices.
When you plan on the money you need do bring more than you
think is enough. Realize with the Euro (€), as opposed
to the peseta, and the current
exchange rate (in December 2004) that it is much more
expensive to live here now. The rate may change for the
better, but some prices went up and they're not coming down.
A beer which used to cost 100ptas (maybe $0.75) now costs
1€ ($1.40). Now do the same calculation for food,
especially when dining out. Rather than directly convert
their prices from pesetas to Euros many bars and restaurants
took advantage of the curency change to charge more. With
their math (100ptas = 1€) you just lost 65 cents.
Of course when they list both pesetas and Euros on the menu now, as is common in many places, the conversion
is correct. So take the recent price changes with the currency
switch into account and then compound that with the exchange
rate that the current U.S. president has blessed many of
us with and it just ain't cheap anymore to live in Spain..
It would be impossible for me to tell you how much money
is enough. It depends on the length of stay, your lifestyle
and how much you want to go out versus how much you want
to extend your time in Seville. If you're the quiet type
who doesn't like nightlife you may be better off. If you
like to go out for drinks and tapas then you may run into
problems: it's hard to resist la marcha and the
tapas in Seville. I think I read somewhere that
the average Spaniard spends somewhere around 10 times more
than the average American on dining and nightlife (as a
% of income, that is). I can't tell you these numbers are
exactly correct, but I'm sure most Spaniards you talk to
wouldn't challenge it. If you plan to live alone then you're
looking at not only more money, but the issue of signing
a lease when you don't have residency. It's doable but you
will have to jump through a few more hoops than normal.
When planning the amount of money to bring add a cushion
to everything. This will also account for the "oh crap"
factor, as in "oh crap, I shouldn't have changed my
money here", or "oh crap, I should have brought
this with me, but I didn't, and I need to buy it now",
or finally "oh crap, I just got ripped off in this
place". Give yourself a fiscal margin of error for
all these things. Learning the ropes here will cost you money. So some easy examples are things like rent,
food and entertainment expenses:
||amount first budgeted
||amount I'll count on
The added bonus is that you'll feel great every time you
come under your budget, and if you planned on the higher
amount you're saving more money to stay longer. The worst
feeling is heading home early. The best feeling is staying
in Seville longer than you thought you could, and the longer
you're here the more likely you'll find something permanent.
For more information see my section on the cost
of living in Seville.
Learn about culture shock and be prepared to deal with it.
Everyone at some point goes through this, whether they're
here for a few weeks or a few years. Everyone will also go
through it a little differently. One thing I will absolutely
guarantee is that you will miss home at one point
or another, and don't expect it to go away for good after
you've been here for a while. There are various signs or symptoms
of culture shock, one big one that stands out is questioning
the way they do everything in Seville or Spain. Note that
questioning the way they do everything is also a symptom of
the syndrome I like to refer to as "asshole tourist",
a person who will never get over how they don't do anything
right in another country. Some symptoms of culture
shock according to ProjectHarmony.com are listed here. Note that it may be normal to feel these
things to a degree, but beware once they become a pattern
or more frequent:
- Too much sleep or too little sleep
- Eating too much or having no appetite at all
- Frequent minor illnesses
Below are a few links with more information on culture shock
and reverse culture shock (re-entering your home country)
- Loneliness or boredom
- Homesickness; idealizing home
- Feeling helpless, overly dependent
- Irritability or even hostility
- Social withdrawal
- Unreasonable concern for health and security
- Rebellion against rules
- Stereotyping host country's people
Solid Overview of Culture Shock
Symptoms and Helpful Solutions
the Shock out of Culture Shock
when you go home
I learned the meaning of social capital from my sister,
and this is the first and most important thing you can establish.
A lot of social capital is all about who you know when you're
looking for a job, a place to live or exploring your options.
The person with the most friends (as opposed to the most
toys) usually wins. The more friends you have the better
off you'll be, not just socially, but likely economically.
So try to remember all your old friends in Seville from
your study experience, or think of the people you know who've
been there before. Track down every one of them and let
them know what you're going to do and that anything advice
they can offer is more than welcome. Have no shame!
The first thing to know - and I'm sure you've read it elsewhere
- is it's much harder to get a job here than in the U.S..
That said it's also more difficult to get a job in Seville
than in Madrid, Barcelona, or anywhere on the Mediterranean
coast. If you need work you must be very, very persistent
to find something. Maximize any and every contact you may
already have in pursuit of a job. Many of the jobs people
get are from referrals - acquaintances, friends, or family
members. The wider you cast your social net the more likely
you are to find something. You meet one person, chat a while
and tell them your desperate for a job as, let's say an
expert piano tuner. Maybe this person knows someone who
knows someone who has a piano tuning business. Or maybe
it's just a piano moving business and they're looking for
anyone with "piano experience". You could be on
your way to a new job. But seriously, handing out resumes
and knocking on doors may get you a job in 5 or 6 months.
Knowing someone who "knows someone" may get you
one in a matter of weeks (though finding a job that quick
is highly unlikely).
Other ways to increase your social capital:
- live with Spaniards - you'll increase your chance of
meeting more people through your roommates.
- take a class in anything - painting, German, computer
programming, photography, gardening, dance...
- join a gym or an athletic club
- join a club - birdwatching, knitting, expats...
- attend a conference - many of them require a minimal
fee or are free.
- become an intercambio - see if any of the schools
or universities are looking for English speakers with
whom their students can practice their language skills.
- volunteer - there is always a need here at a local charity.
- marry a Spaniard! The best way to not only meet new
people, including a whole new family, but you get EU citizenship
and permission to live here, too! I kid, here, but if
you find the right someone it will make it so, so much
I can tell you a few things you should be prepared to do in
order to stay here, and a few types of visas you can almost
give up on without a lot of prior planning. That said, some
of these types of work and visas may become an option for
you after a few years or if you have more economic resources.
Ok, so I reccomend you don't come planning to do any of these
as your first options:
Forming a company
It's not as easy as the U.S. where you can simply incorporate
for maybe $300. In Spain you will likely need to pay between 500-800€
to get all of the licenses, and you or someone you know will
need to be a resident. You may need a lawyer to help you with
the papers or if you're going into a partnership. If so, plan
on another 1,000-2,000€. Now the fun part - you'll need
someone to cover the social security payments of anywhere
between 120 - 210€ per month, even if you're just starting
and not making a dime. Think about those costs when you begin.
If it takes you 4-5 months to generate enough income to break
even, consider the 200€ per month times 5 months and
you've already got a 1,000€ debt. Then consider that
of all the money you'll make you need to take out 20 - 25% for
taxes. That's right, you not only have
to pay maybe 200€ per month in Social Security just
for having the company, you'll also need to take it out of
the wages you earn. The government isn't doing you any favors
in getting your business off the ground. Recent trends are
showing some improvement in the amount of fees and red tape,
but they still have a long way to go. If you need assistance
in forming a company and want to pay for service try
the people at Spainexpat.com
Opening a store, bar, restaurant or cyber cafe
I won't even go into the number of ex-students who thought
how cool it would be to open a bar in Seville. I'll just say
this - it's a bad idea with a very high rate of failure so
give that up right now. Same goes for a restaurant. There
are also plenty of cyber cafes in Seville, and many have long
since closed their doors due to the competition and slim margins.
As for a store: this may be your best bet if you're hell-bent
on doing one of the above options I don't recommend. Some
people do succeed at opening these businesses, but they generally
do so with prior experience.
Ever heard of reciprocity? Well, we treat Spaniards (and many
others) like crap when they try to get a green-card in the
U.S., so the Spanish say "¡toma!". I.e.:
we get the same treatment from them when applying for a work
permit. If you're from somewhere in Latin America where they
treat the Spaniards better it actually may be easier to get
a visa in Spain this way. But from what I've heard from both
people in my situation and from a lawyer is that the likelihood
of you getting this type of visa is about .01%. Well, it may
be better than this, but the best way to go about becoming
self-employed is to get residency, and then everything is
Working as an autonomo (or self-employment visa)
That said, be prepared to do one or many of the following:
Work here illegally
That was the advice I got and I followed it for a while. Not
only do they take a ton of money out of your check for social
security and other taxes, but by the time you finish the paperwork
and get approval from the Spanish consulate to live in Spain
it may likely be this time next year. As for the old Schengen
Agreement - to hell with it if you are American or Canadian.
They hardly ever stop anyone from either country when coming
and going, I was told, and many folks have been here illegally
forever. So you may be able to take your chances and sweat
it out every time you come and go. Be prepared to be stopped
- maybe you can make a phone call to a lawyer ahead of time
and do nothing else than ask for permission to call them if
you run into trouble. They may or may not be able to help
you with immigration issues once you've been stopped, but
you'll have more luck with a lawyer than without one. That
said, be prepared to pay the lawyer as well.
Be prepared to teach clases particulares (private
classes) to children or business professionals. This may require
you to place a classified ad or simply hang flyers around
the city or at the University. If you're lucky you may be
able to get a job at an Academia. Both of these options come
under the "Work here illegally" section.
Work in a bar, hotel, car rental agency or other possible
Again, these options are likely to be illegal work but there
is often a need for English in these places, especially the
latter two. As one person reminded me, the thrill of just
getting the job will wear of quickly. If you're working illegally
your pay is not likely to go up, and how long can you get
by on that 600€ a month. Some places will treat you
well, but many will abuse you a bit when it comes to working
hours and pay. After all, you're here illegally and they're
doing you a favor.
Live off your savings
This one is a very likely option, and unless you are very
wealthy there'll be a limited time for this option. I say
be prepared to do it as it may take a while for you to find
a job, and then a while longer for you to find a job which
will actually cover all of your costs. At least with a modest
income your savings can take you a lot further.
Live off a specialized skill
Maybe you make jewelry, design web pages, wood carve, cook,
draw, paint, play a musical instrument. I'm not saying everyone
can make a living off of this, but if you are talented, persistent
and make contacts you may be able to freelance and keep some
money coming in.
Study the Schengen Agreement, as you can only be in Spain
for 3 months at a time with a tourist visa and will have
to travel outside the 15 or so countries who are part of
the Agreement to renew your visa. The Schengen Agreement
it much more difficult to live here "semi-legally"
- you are not allowed to spend more than 6 months (180 days)
of a year here as a tourist, and no more than 90 days in
a 180 day period. It can be a little confusing. Basically
the old days of hopping over the border to Portugal or Gibraltar
to renew your visa are over, and in the new climate of "war
on terrorism" immigration and customs in Spain tends
to look at your passport a little more thoroughly than before.
A site which helped me get a grasp on all the
regulations and red tape is Spain
Expat, which was put together by a lawyer in Seville
who studied law in both Spain and the U.S.. The page covers
just about everything you need to know and points you in
the right direction for paperwork and forms you'll need
to fill out.
On March of 2001 five more countries signed the Schengen
Agreement, limiting your options even more. Expect more
countries to sign it as more members are accepted into the
European Union (EU). The countries who have signed the Schengen
Agreement as of January 2004:
While the UK and Ireland are members of the EU, they have
not signed, and are not included in the agreement. I recently
had a fun time applying for my visa and as I write this
things are still not over. Below is some information if
you will be visiting the Spanish Consulate nearest you!
A trip to Washington DC to visit the Spanish consulate
gave us a taste of Spain in the U.S. I was there to get
my visa and finally become a legal resident in Spain. I
learned quickly that the possibility of a “fatal”
error in the visa process can send you back to where you
came from in a hurry. I say fatal in the sense of those
people who must drive from long distances to apply for their
visa in person who forget a critical piece of information
and then must go back home and come back another day. This
is a small problem if you live in the D.C. area, but a much
larger one if you are coming from North Carolina or another
destination hours away. A few pointers for those of you
planning to get your visa in the Washington consulate, many
of which apply to other locations as well.
applications - Under no circumstances
are partial applications accepted. If you lack something
plan to come back, unless it is a photocopy or something
you can get done in an hour and then return with the complete
set of information.
- Verify before your trip - Call ahead of time, several times if needed. Make sure
you understand everything you need and follow the instructions
word by word and letter by letter. If someone on the phone
is unsure of what you need then politely ask if they can
verify it while you wait on the phone. Do not rely on
the website as the exact list of what you need, rather
make use of it as a guide before you call to verify the
- Office hours - to the public for
the purpose of a visa are from 9am-12pm Monday through
- Applications accepted - Only 15 numbers are given out before the office opens
at the reception area. They only take 15 visa applications
per day, so get there well before 9am. We arrived at 8:45
and received number 13. Another 15 minutes and we would
have had to return for another 5 hour trip on another
- Type of visa - Some visas may not require taking a number, such as reagrupación familiar, which you request
if you have recently married a Spaniard, are trying to
get a visa for immediate family or naturalize a child.
- Processing time -
Different processing times exist for different visas.
If you are studying at a public university then your application
will take about 3 weeks (plan for more). If you are studying
at a private university or program then it will take 45
days (plan for a little more). So be careful about buying
your plane ticket and then showing up to get the visa,
- Speeding the up process? - There is no mercy and no way to speed up the process
no matter how much you complain or no matter how dire
your case may be. I saw so many applicants who pleaded
and all got the same answer – “This is the
process and that is how long it takes to get the visa”.
No more, no less. They also are very particular about
the papers you must hand in, and one little error means
you may be coming back another day.
- Receiving your visa - For return envelope
so you get your passport with the visa you must provide
US Priority or Express mail pre-paid envelope. They will
not return your info via Fedex or UPS or any other carrier
for that matter.
- Paying for your visa -
Bring cash and a little extra, as some costs depend on
the visa. Posted in the consulate itself was: “Residency
Visa: cost depends on type”. Don’t expect
them to make change, so try to have the exact amount if
- Applying by mail - You can petition the consulate to apply by mail, but
I do not know any of the particulars. If you are a student
in many situations your parents can submit the paperwork
Seems like I am being a little too specific, but consider
these situations we witnessed:
- One person left all the photo copies at home thinking
they needed only the originals at the consulate. However
the need only to see the originals and then keep copies
after verifying the originals. All except the passport,
which they will keep until finished with your visa.
- One person of another nationality booked an electronic
ticket and had no paper ticket. They were unable to process
the visa without a physical ticket.
- One person leaving in 25 days tried to get their student
visa to study at a private school. They were informed
they would likely have to change their ticket to a later
date because it takes 45 days for the student visa when
at a private school.
- One person brought a fedex envelope and had to go to
the post office for an Express one.
- Someone mailed their paperwork in after getting the
ok from the folks at the consulate. They then received
a call that they had to present themselves at the consulate
the finish the process. They showed up only to find that
the paperwork they had mailed was sent back to them in
the mail the day before.
Depending on which visa you apply for you may be waiting
a little or a lot. Even though I was promised to get mine
in 10-14 days (the shorter end of visa timetables) I am
still waiting after 15 and they have no idea in the office
what the status of mine is. They just know it hasn't been
If you're planning on moving a large amount of your belongings
to Spain you will likely want to hire a company to take
care of the transportation and hopefully help you move things
through customs. A good list can be found on this
page of Escapeartist.com. Once you get to Sevilla it
may take some time to find your ideal place. Your first
apartment may be furnished or semi-furnished while you look
to buy or rent something a little more permanent. No worries
as self-storage, or guardamuebles, service exists
in Sevilla. Most moving companies also handle storage facilities
and can be found under mudanzas y guardamuebles in the local yellow pages. A few of the larger operations
which handle national and international (as well as indivdual
and corporate clients) have web sites:
Pabloehijos.com (they have an English version after the intro loads)
Rocio (they have an option for English which does
Some helpful information on clearing customs and hiring
movers from a first hand experience can be found on Spainexpat.com in their moving section.