5 Things To Remember When Searching for an Apartment in Madrid

De Madrid al cielo.

Whether it’s your first year living in Madrid as an auxiliar de conversacion (language assistant) or an intern or you simply outgrew your old place, you may have heard how daunting finding an apartment in the Spanish capital can be. It’s not easy but it’s also not impossible to find your home away from home for however long you may be here.

I’ve been in Spain for five years now but I just recently reached the three-year mark as a resident of Madrid. In these past three years, I’ve lived in six different neighborhoods, all located both in the North and South. I’ve never lived smack dab in the Center but I know plenty of people who have. Going from a shared room (yes, you are reading that right) to four different individual rooms to my own apartment with my husband (read how we got married in Gibraltar), I know my way around searching for an apartment in Madrid.

The city is big and crowded. The search? It’s nerve-wracking, stressful and there is a rent crisis going on all over the city which is causing prices to go up, up, up.

This article is full of personal tips that I’ve learned in the last three years and it will help calm your nerves about this big search you just embarked on. Plus, later on this month, I’ll be releasing a complete guide to the neighborhoods of Madrid in E-book format! Keep an eye out for it soon. 🙂

Never fear because with a good head on your shoulders, persistence, a clear idea of what you’re looking for and lots of helpful advice and warnings, you CAN find the room or apartment you’ve been searching for.

1. Location

Pick a line, any line. But just don’t change one of the most well-known metro station names!
(As pictured: Line 1 with Atocha before it got changed. Cue: lots of crying)

This goes without saying but location is by far the most important factor when you’re looking searching for an apartment in Madrid. As I stated above, the city is huge and although the public transportation systems are fantastic, you will want to focus on a location that will be as close to the nearest metro line or physical location where you’re going to work or study (ie: place of employment, public or private school or university) as possible.

Once you pinpoint the best location for you and your own unique situation, take into account what’s around it.

Make sure you’re not more than 10 minutes walking distance from the nearest metro station (or Cercanías station) and as a backup, try and make sure at least 2 or 3 bus lines run through the area.

You might think a slightly longer walk to a metro station or a bus isn’t that big of a deal. What’s a little more exercise?

Well, keep in mind that it gets to 40°C (or higher!) in the summer and then as low as -7°C in the winter. If you think walking to and from the metro when you’re tired is exhausting, imagine doing it in one of those extreme temperatures! (And in no shade or when it’s snowing.)

Yeah, didn’t think you’d want to…haha

On the other hand, where an apartment is located and what is around it (a football stadium, fancy hotel, the biggest square in the city, etc) will certainly increase its property value. And, a secondary factor, how many metro lines are nearby.

Want to live in or near Puerta del Sol? That’s going to cost quite the pretty penny!
(Pictured: Puerta del Sol just before NYE 2018)

If you are able to, try to live in the North of Madrid.

Why?

The apartment buildings and neighborhoods are newer (think 1950s and newer) and there is a bit more room for expansion. The Center is a great place to visit during the day but it’s not where you want to be if you want to get a decent night’s sleep.

Or have a decent sized room for that matter.

Apartments will still be a LOT smaller than those you’ll find in cities like New York, Chicago, L.A. or Miami but they will definitely be bigger than some tiny flat in London.

(Count your blessings if you’re moving from London to Madrid!)

However, the apartments I’ve lived in north of Nuevos Ministerios (which might be considered very north to some people), have been nicely sized. I may have lived in the smallest room of my life for almost two years (my last place) but I was officially a freelancer who worked from home so while my roommates were at their office jobs during the day, I had the common areas to myself.

Not my room but I wish it could’ve been.
(A gigantic room in an elegant apartment near metro Diego de Leon)

Now, if you absolutely must live farther South in the city, choose an apartment that’s not too far from your school, job or university. If there’s no reason for you to have a 1.5 hour commute to your job or school, then don’t give yourself one because you want to live in a specific neighborhood.

In general, choose a location that will have lots of shops and supermarkets nearby as well as access to your bank, the post office, at least one metro line and some bus lines. And if you can, live within a 15-20 minute commute to the nearest bus station (like Avenida de América or Plaza de Castilla) or train station (either Chamartín or Atocha) so you can travel outside of the city for work or for pleasure.

And don’t forget to walk around your new neighborhood and get familiar with street names and shops. You will be spending a lot of time there so you may as well get acquainted!

2. Amenities

Before I start into my list of what I personally prefer an apartment to have, I want you to answer a very important question:

How long are you going to stay in Madrid?

Are you here for a 4-month study abroad semester, a 6-month internship or a 9 month school year teaching English? (Or none of the above and staying longer?)

If you can answer one of those questions or have a general idea of how long you’ll stay here, you can better figure out what kinds of amenities to look for.

Have you always dreamed of living in the Center and leaning out your own picturesque balcony while watching the world go by?

The balcony view from an apartment sale I went to near Plaza Mayor June 2017

If you’re only going to be here for a short time (a few months to a year) and you’re from a colder climate or smaller town, you may find having a balcony in your living room or own room, justifiable.

If you’re going to be here for longer and want to pay less in rent, don’t go for the apartment with a balcony in the Center.

In my opinion and due to Madrid’s fickle weather in spring and autumn, you won’t have enough time in the year to enjoy it. You might have at best from late May to July or August (if you’re here) to enjoy sitting out on it drinking coffee or a cocktail or reading.

So, that’s about 3 months maximum with one of Madrid’s iconic balconies?

As beautiful and stunning as they are, I would cross that off the list of must-haves if you plan to stay here long-term.

Raise your hand if you too swoon over Madrid balconies!

After six moves in the big city, I have, as you can imagine, created my must-have list when it comes to searching for the ideal apartment. And these must-haves should be in the new place I’m viewing and considering spending the next year or so in. Or else I’m not interested.

Here it is:

  1. Central heating or at least a very good gas-powered radiator system (as in, not ancient). Read why central heating is preferred in my post about how to stay warm in Spain during the winter.
  2. A large to medium-sized working oven. You can’t be frying or boiling all your food because you know you will get bored and miss some of your home-baked favorites from back home. Even if it’s a small toaster oven, it’s better than nothing!
  3. A naturally well-lit room and apartment so you won’t have to stick your head out the window and look up to see how you’re going to have to dress for the day. (I lived like that for almost a year, true story.)
  4. A window in both the bathroom and kitchen. Madrid has a dry climate but bathrooms are damp by nature and you know you’re going to need ventilation in a kitchen, especially if you share a place with other people.
  5. A physical person to act as a doorman/maintenance man and offer extra protection for and help to you and your roommates. I had one for close to two years and actually became friends with the cheerful man who kept our building running in tip-top shape. And it’s a great way to use your Spanish! 🙂
Bonus points if you move into a neighborhood with a beautiful park
(that’s not Retiro)
Pictured: Parque de Berlin

3. Contractual Agreements

I will confess that when I lived in the North of Spain (Galicia) from 2014-2016, I never rented a room that came with a contract. Most of the time, I received a receipt after every month I paid the rent in cash but I was never given (or even looked for an apartment) with a contract.

Looking back on those two years in rainy Galicia and my three different living situations there (and only one roommate who became a true friend), I learned my lesson.

Thanks to living in the big city and getting shafted out of my 100 EUR deposit for one of the rooms I lived in (a temporary stay with an older, eccentric Colombian woman who lived closed to my assigned school), I have wised up and always prioritized searching for and accepting apartments that are legally bound by a contract.

After those living experiences, I was invited to live with a new friend of mine and replace one of her Master’s classmates who was returning to her country. She was able to negotiate with the landlord so well that I didn’t have to pay a deposit for that new room. Her old roommates were leaving early (short story: due to too much partying) and thus breaking their contract and losing their deposits so that made it easier for the new tenants (like me).

It wasn’t a very big room either but I had this humongous sized drawer to hold my out-of-control tea collection!

My biggest tips for you in this area are:

  1. Settle and agree upon a contract length/stay for one year minimum. If your visa or work permit could be an issue, explain to your potential landlord that you plan on renewing your visa. And also explain that if you don’t and if you’re an American citizen, you will be able to activate your 90-day tourist visa and plan to complete the one-year agreement and fulfill the length of the contract.
  2. Negotiate that the rent payment will be paid via bank transfer and ask to see proof that the rental income is being declared to the local Tax Collector. You always want to see proof of everything and have a record of your payments. These two factors will come in handy if you are required to file an annual tax return in Spain and can claim a percentage of your housing expenses on your refund.
  3. Review the language and clauses of your contract to better understand what is covered and what isn’t. If you have a lot of valuables or for peace of mind, apply for renter’s insurance. It’s not mandatory like in places in the U.S., but it would just serve as extra protection for you as a renter in a foreign country.

4. Seasonal Factors

What seasonal factors?

It’s mostly sunny (and relatively dry) here all year round!

But, seriously…

Consider the winter and summer in Madrid. Climate change is a highly likely culprit for the frigid past two winters and absolutely scorching month of July we had this year but it’s good to prepare for both of these seasons.

One of the main ways you can prepare for those two extreme seasons is to find an apartment that will help you survive and thrive in both. You may want an extremely sunny and bright room when it’s not a million degrees outside but think about how you will feel when it does get really hot.

And it will get very, very hot here.

Opt for a moderately sunny bedroom or apartment that gets enough natural light to brighten the place up but say no to something that might give you a sunburn just by being in the room. 😛 Also, invest in opaque or “blackout” curtains for both the summer and the winter. They will work well in either season, blocking heat from the sun or absorbing it hungrily respectively.

5. Furnished or Unfurnished?

This is by far the least amount of information I’ve ever written in a section…

It’s easy to answer this question after you’ve moved about a dozen times.

Basically, only rent an unfurnished apartment if you have recently bought the place thus making YOU the landlord. Then you can do whatever you want with the place…

However, if you haven’t settled into a full life abroad and won’t be here for like 5-10 years, buying your own furniture will only add to your worries and burdens here.

Sure, furnishing an apartment in a cool and exciting city like Madrid and making it feel like home sounds really appealing.

Until…you have to buy everything for the apartment right down to the end tables and forks and maybe the microwave if they didn’t throw that in.

Whatever you do, just don’t fill it with tons of easily collapsible and flimsy IKEA furniture. 😛

Have you ever rented an apartment in Madrid? What was your experience like?

Are there any other tips you would give to hopeful renters out there? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

How to Get Married in Gibraltar As An American

Photo credit: Aaron Jean

When I moved to Spain in late September 2014, I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be getting married on this very same peninsula 5 years later. And in the small yet very quirky country of Gibraltar to a British man at that!

Life doesn’t go as we plan, does it?

Thankfully there are some things in life that can be planned like a wedding ceremony and a reception. (Although planning for surprises and last-minute changes is almost a given when it comes to these big events.)

If you are in the exciting phase of life called engagement and you’re looking to get the paperwork out of the way relatively quickly, then this post is for you. I will do my best to answer all the questions you might have about this process but you can also ask me anything I may have forgotten in the comments.

So, let’s get started and tackle the most popular question we got as a couple:

Why Gibraltar?

Rock of Gibraltar as seen from La Linea de la Concepcion, Spain

According to Gibraltar law, any person who is free to marry (ie: single, divorced or widowed) can get married to their partner at the Gibraltar Registry Office or at one of their 12 approved outdoor locations around the small country. There are no residency or nationality requirements and a Gibraltar marriage is international. The certificate is recognized worldwide.

My now-husband Andrew and I live and work in Madrid, Spain (you may already know this if you’ve been following this blog for a while now). I already have work permission and legal residency in Spain for another year so we weren’t in a rush to get married in order to obtain residency for me. After much discussion-and ruling out the United States-, I decided to share my research findings about getting married in Gibraltar with him just before Christmas break 2018.

I presented him with the idea that we could save relatively more money (and time) by doing the legal portion of getting married if we did it in Gibraltar (which is also a U.K. Overseas Territory) with a few friends from Spain and then a blessing/traditional wedding ceremony with long-time friends and family in his church in Northern Ireland (something that was very near and dear to his heart).

So, Gibraltar checked off all the boxes. I didn’t need a visa to enter the country, we didn’t have to be residents and we also didn’t have to translate any of our documents from English into another language, since the official language is English. (Check the official website for a full country list for visas to Gibraltar if your nationality might require one.)

While more of my family and friends would have been able to attend a ceremony in my home country, getting legally married in the U.S. while Andrew would’ve technically been on a tourist visa could cause problems in the future. (It’s technically considered visa fraud if you and your non-American spouse one day plan to settle in the U.S. as residents.)

It was also just way more costly and as a friend of mine pointed out: our lives are in Europe. It made more sense to us as a couple to find a way for us to get married in a year or less here and start our lives together.

There was another option -that we also ruled out- and that was to get legally married in the Republic of Ireland. However, there were two major downsides to that: 1) Andrew doesn’t have any contacts in the country and 2) you would either have to be a resident or stay there for 90 days in order for them to read the marriage banns (which you can learn about here) but neither was feasible for us.

We chose Gibraltar over the mainland (such as his home country of Northern Ireland) because, in order to get legally married in any other part of the U.K, I would need a fiancĂ©e visa in order to marry Andrew. Since we didn’t have plans to settle there after marriage (have you heard about Brexit?) and knew that visa was far too expensive for our budget, we decided on Gibraltar.

While we had some difficulties communicating with the Registry Office, it was the perfect spot for us to get legally married in. The major benefit for American citizens is that you don’t need a visa to go into Gibraltar and the border control is quite lax. As long as you have your passport handy (and you don’t attempt to cross the border by driving), you can cross back and forth with ease. Plus, as an added bonus you can present your long-form birth certificate without the need for an apostille. That will save you a few bucks there!

Outside the Gibraltar Registry Office post-ceremony

Required Documents & Fees

  • Copy of your and your partner’s passports
  • Copy of your birth certificates (long-form [US] or certified for EU countries)
  • Proof of stay in a hotel in Gibraltar either the night before the marriage ceremony or the night of the ceremony
  • If you have been married before (or have been divorced or are a widow(er), you will have to provide additional documents.
  • Special License for Marriage fee (ÂŁ67.50, ~$87)
  • Ceremony fees (ÂŁ40, ~$51 if performed at the Registry Office, ÂŁ240, ~$309 for outside venues and ceremonies performed outside Registry Office hours, plus the cost of the venue itself)

**All documents must be in English or translated into English.**

For more in-depth information, download and read their Marriage and Civil Partnerships Guidance Notes. (They will reference it to you a lot so it’s best to read up!)

Our literal journey towards getting married – crossing the border between Spain and Gibraltar! Photo credit: Aaron Jean

You can visit the Registry Office starting 3 months before your ceremony date to fill out the extra paperwork (information that will go directly on the marriage certificate itself) or as late as 10:30 am the (last) working day before your scheduled ceremony. Arrange your flights (or ground transportation) and accommodations accordingly as you don’t want to mess this part up.
**Insider tip: The Registry Office is notoriously known for being short-staffed during the year so as long as you are in line before 10:30 am, you will be seen and will be able to fill out and process your paperwork. We were concerned about this but everything turned out just fine!**

Our Experience

We spent the first half of 2019 getting lots of details ironed out for our Irish wedding (and handling a few big personal events as well) as it was the bigger affair of the two ceremonies.

We knew we wanted to get married sometime during the first week of September 2019. So, in late May 2019 (about 3 months before said date) that I sent the first email to the Gibraltar Registry Office, which you can contact from their main government page.

If I had known how slow their office would be in responding to my emails, I would’ve contacted them about 3-4 months in advance (the earliest you can reserve your ceremony date) just to have been able to have gotten all my questions answered well beforehand if only to calm my very full and overstressed bride-to-be’s mind.

Anyway, after I initiated contact, I was then asked to provide copies of our documents (only the first two pages of both our passports and scans of our birth certificates) so that the Registry clerk could check them. Once they were checked and deemed “in order”, she gave us the green light to request and reserve our ceremony date.

In our case, and thanks to an average response time of 10 days via email, it took us until early July to get our ceremony date confirmed! This was due to initially wanting our ceremony to be performed on a weekend as we originally planned for more guests (but decided against this once we learned of the very high cost!) and trying to submit the correct form for payment to be taken.

If you’re on a tight budget and are only viewing this process as paperwork, I would strongly recommend you get married during office hours on a weekday at the Registry Office. It’s inexpensive, quick and practically stress-free! (But not completely so keep reading.)

Our marriage officiant with quite the sense of humor and the Queen!

It took a few weeks more of back and forth correspondence (and a couple of phone calls) before we were basically all set and ready to leave for Gibraltar by late August.

The most annoying thing about the whole process was the response time and how you could not discuss email conversations on the phone with a Registry clerk. I understand there are confidentiality rules but it was our own personal information and they were actually less helpful over the phone. (Which remember, you will incur an international calling fee if calling outside of Gibraltar. More info here.)

The most difficult form to submit was filling out and scanning the Page 1 and Page 2 Payment Forms. Ask for these forms to be sent to you since the forms inside the Gibraltar Marriage Guidance Notes PDF are not the current forms.

Anyway, without further ado, I set off for my journey towards marrying my British/Irish man on August 28th, 2019. I split the trip into two parts and went to MĂĄlaga that day, spent the night there and then went to the beach and also did some personal errands the following day. (Wedding related errands such as shopping and waxing.)

Part of crossing into Gibraltar means you also cross over an airfield on foot.

Andrew flew that same day from Belfast to Gibraltar via London as there are no direct flights from Northern Ireland to Gibraltar. Since in the end, we decided on Monday, September 2nd, 2019 for our ceremony date, the last possible business day we could go to the Registry Office to submit the original copies of our documents (and finally pay the fees for goodness sake!) in person was by 10:30 am on August 30th, 2019.

(The Guidance Notes indicate that payment must be made no later than 10 business days before the date of the ceremony. And though we tried relentlessly for the Registry Office to charge us-imagine that!-, you can actually pay the fees the same day you present your original documents. So don’t panic!)

My lovely friends who were the only two who could travel down and be our witnesses on a Monday afternoon (Labor Day in the US)

Our two witnesses, the lovely ladies pictured above, arrived on the morning of September 2nd after taking an overnight bus from Madrid. A bit last minute but we truly appreciated their sacrifice to be with us. (One was a teacher and wasn’t receiving steady summer pay and the other had an unexpected and costly move to deal with in August).

Your witnesses don’t have to be related to you or each another but they must be able to speak and understand the English language. If you’re planning to elope in Gibraltar, you can also meet and find your own witnesses during your visit. You can also pay for the Registry Office to provide witnesses at the ceremony but I have heard that that is quite expensive. Whatever your situation there, I do hope this part of the process isn’t too stressful to figure out!

The only other extra document we had to pay for was a notarized affidavit stating that we were free to marry each other. We filled this form out at the Registry Office the Friday before and took it to a lawyer’s office (though we were only given a clue about the color of the door, not the exact name) who notarized it for both of us for only ÂŁ20, ~$25.

Outside the Registry Office just minutes before we (legally) said “I do!”

The Ceremony

As I had mentioned above, our friends arrived early in the morning on September 2nd. Andrew and I had been staying in separate rooms in a hostel in La LĂ­nea de la Concepcion (Spain) from that Wednesday to the following Monday morning, the day of the ceremony.

Since we were going to have to spend extra days closer to Gibraltar, we chose to stay at the inexpensive Hostal Paris which was about 1.5 miles away from Gibraltar’s main square. (It’s quite the trek when you account for the walk back to the hostel). However, we chose the date for our required hotel stay in Gibraltar to be the night of September 2nd. Most places were booked up in early September (and were usually expensive year-round) but we managed to find a room at the Holiday Inn Express Gibraltar, an economical yet luxurious hotel.

The staff at the hotel kindly provided us with our proof of stay letter and we forwarded it to the Registry Office clerk the day we did paperwork. I would recommend doing what we did so you’re not scrambling around and asking for the letter at the last minute. When we made the booking, we put a note in the Special Requests section on the page that we were getting married and if they could kindly date and sign a letter confirming our stay at the hotel. As we saw in the office the day we went, a lot of brides-and-grooms-to -be stay at the Holiday Inn so the hotel staff is very familiar with this request.

Quite the view of the Rock of Gibraltar from our hotel room

We were informed on the day we did the paperwork that the ceremony would only last 10 minutes. Yup. You read that right: 10 minutes. So, it was a good thing we were only viewing this step in our marriage process as paperwork. It was simply a business transaction in a way.

Nevertheless, we still had fun getting ready for our first wedding. My friends came to my room and we all got ready together, doing our makeup and chatting about girly things. I also tried on my wedding dress for the Irish wedding for them since both girls wouldn’t be able to attend our traditional wedding. It was fun and we had a memorable time getting ready that day.

I didn’t make a fuss about my appearance for the most part. I did my own makeup, only put a hair mask on my hair the night before (then twisted it into a loose updo) and painted a glittery clear coat of polish on my nails. I didn’t even re-paint my toenails! While we would be taking professional photos that day, it wasn’t the official “big day”, even though we received tons of congratulations and well wishes from our family and friends. In addition to not making a fuss over my accessories and make-up, I had found a very simple dress that cost me €15, (~$16.50), and a pair of sparkly (yet not the exact matching color and brand) espadrilles, only €10 (~$11).

It turns out it was the perfect, casual look that I was going for and my smile, glowing summer skin and a genuine joyful attitude to get married were the only other accessories I truly needed.

Our ceremony time scheduled at 1 pm but we had made a game plan with the photographer, the very talented American and Madrid resident, Aaron Jean, a couple of days before to meet at the border around 11 am.

He beautifully photographed our journey on foot to the Registry Office and captured many beautiful, sweet and funny moments. The shots were natural and we felt very comfortable shooting with him – well, as comfortable as we could be in 80-degree weather, 89% humidity and in fancy clothes. (Poor Andrew was melting in his suit by the end of it.)

The most ironic thing about the entire day for me was that because we had arrived about 15-20 minutes before our scheduled time, we could be seen earlier. If you know me personally, I’m nearly always late for everything! But, on the day of my civil ceremony, not only was I early, but I got married BEFORE the scheduled time! (Suppose this will be my life now that I’m married to a British man
)

The ceremony itself was very straightforward yet entertaining at the same time. Our marriage officiant made several jokes and also asked genuine questions about us to help us feel more comfortable. He wondered how a Northern Irish man and an American woman (though he didn’t realize I was American in the beginning) met and now live in Madrid, Spain. He was also telling us he had lots of Instagram followers and follows back.

Taking a few moments to ourselves before going into the room for our ceremony. Photo Credit: Aaron Jean

As hilarious as the officiant was at times, the words and looks Andrew and I shared with each other were very touching and special. As much as I said that this portion of our journey to get married “didn’t count,” I couldn’t help but get a wee bit emotional as I said my legal vows to my husband and love of my life in the moment. We didn’t exchange rings -as we didn’t have any yet- but it didn’t matter. The important thing I learned in those few moments was the two of us and the love we share for each other.

And that was all we had to do!

We took some more photos afterwards, parted ways with the photographer to grab a pub lunch with our friends and wedding cupcakes for dessert and then checked into the hotel. We had a brief lie-down in the hotel (I took the liberty to iron my dress and repaint my toenails, haha) and then we went back out for one more photo session.

My wedding meal choice:
Shepherd’s Pie
at The Horseshoe.
We toasted the occasion with Bulmer’a and Somersby ciders. ¡Chin, chin!
And a red velvet cupcake as our wedding cake from Piece of Cake Bakery (Gibraltar).
We took a photo in B&W on the airfield just like John Lennon and Yoko Ono did when they got married in Gibraltar in 1969.
Photo Credit: Aaron Jean

Gibraltar was the perfect place for us to not only get our marriage paperwork checked off the list but it was also our perfect place.

It described our relationship and the way we complement each other perfectly.

We love weird, quirky places with funny literal translations, the beach, mixing Spanish and English in conversation (which interestingly enough is called llanito in Gib) and the opportunity to explore somewhere new.

That’s also the beautiful thing about getting married: you can decide however you want to do it and tailor it just for you and your partner. Whatever that looks like!

Do you have an interesting wedding story? If you’re in an intercultural couple, how did you and your partner meet? Tell me about it in the comments!

And if you have any questions or want advice on how to get married in Gibraltar, please don’t hesitate to ask. I will be adding to and updating this article as time goes on.

It wouldn’t look or feel like the UK if you didn’t see a red telephone booth, would it?
Photo Credit: Aaron Jean

Renewing Your AutonĂłmo (Cuenta Propia) Work Permit in Spain

This is the follow-up article to the widely read and very popular blog post, Student Visa Modification Timeline: How to become a freelancer in Spain. If you are looking to complete that first step towards gaining residency in Spain after teaching through the Auxiliar de ConversaciĂłn Program or through a Master’s Program, I recommend you check out that post first before diving into this one. Through sharing my story, I’ve helped dozens of people achieve their goals of obtaining residency in Spain and others have chimed in on the post in the comment section with helpful and insightful questions. It’s well worth a read and if you have gone through the process or have any tips I may have missed, please add them in the comment section of that article.

To recap, I completed the modificaciĂłn de la situaciĂłn de estancia por estudios a la situaciĂłn de la residencia por cuenta propia inicial back in July 2017 and was granted a temporary work permit to start my freelance translation, copywriting and ESL private class service based business in Madrid. The Foreigner’s Office (ExtranjerĂ­a) took a little over two months to respond to my application and in October 2017, I was granted a one-year work permit as a freelancer.

Over a year has flown by since that exciting yet very stressful time and now I’ve already gone through the first renewal (primera renovaciĂłn) when I renewed it back in January 2019.

If you’ve stumbled your way onto this page, I can almost bet that you’re wondering where the first year as a real Spanish resident went and how could it possibly be time to submit your renewal application this soon? Didn’t you just receive a letter saying you’re no longer a student or an auxiliar and can officially not just live but also work in sunny Spain?

Well, just as you had to learn how to renew your student TIE (tarjeta de identidad de extranjero) after your first year in Spain, you have to learn how to renew your cuenta propia work permit, which is slightly more important than your student card. After all, if you renew it this time and then another time after that, you can qualify for the long-term residency card (tarjeta de residencia de larga duraciĂłn).

If you’ve made it this far, I’m here to remind you that you definitely have what it takes to stay here for the long haul and for a variety of different reasons, if that is your end goal. However, you need to make sure that stays a reality by renewing your Spanish residency card correctly and in the legally allotted amount of time.

That’s where I come in with this step-by-step guided post on how to complete the primera renovaciĂłn de la autorizaciĂłn de residencia temporal y trabajo por cuenta propia. Since it is a permit authorizing you to work, you will need to renew it after the first year and then again in two years. After that you can apply for the long-term residency card (and apply the 1.5 years -for 3 student years-of residency that the ExtranjerĂ­a credited to you after doing the modification process.)

I’m sure you’re not thinking about your second renewal just yet so let’s get this first one out of the way.

Ready to get started?

Requirements for Renewing the AutĂłnomo Work Permit

If you remember from renewing your student card, these types of visas are for no comunitarios (members of non-EU countries) which allow people from countries outside the EU to apply for student stay or various residency and work permits.

Here’s what’s required for a freelancer who’s already running their business here in Spain:

  • You cannot be a citizen of the EU or a spouse (family member) of an EU citizen.
  • You cannot have any criminal charges pending or a criminal record in Spain.
  • You cannot be on the No Entry List to Spain (or banned from entry).
  • If you have children, you must show proof of accreditation in a school system (escolarizaciĂłn) if they are of legal age to attend.
  • You will be required to pay any and all fees associated with your application.
  • You must fulfill and show proof of one of three of the following obligations in regards to your working status:
    • Continuing the economic activities you signed up for
    • Having your partner (and certificate of marriage or stable relationship) show enough economic solvency to support you
    • Possessing a comprehensive insurance policy that covers you and your income (meaning you are out of work or physically unable to work but 100% covered)

Documents to Gather

  • A printed and signed copy of the Modelo EX–07 with your personal information, NIE and current address (where you will definitely be able to receive notifications of the application status in the mail)
  • Photocopies (or digital scans) of all stamped and blank pages of your passport. (This is to prove to ExtranjerĂ­a that you were in Spain at least a minimum of 6 of the 12 months you were granted to hold this residency permit.)
  • A copy of your annual tax return, la declaraciĂłn de la Renta (IRPF) or a copy of each of your quarterly tax statements for the time you’ve been a registered freelancer (Modelo 303 -for IVA- and/or Modelo 130).
  • If your spouse or partner (pareja de hecho) can vouch for you and support you financially, you will need to submit a marriage or parjea de hecho certificate along with official (or certified) copies of your partner’s bank statements proving they have the economic means to fully support both of you (monthly income amount is subject to 150% of the IPREM, and you can verify it for a specific year here.)
  • A copy of the insurance policy covering your regular salary in your cesaciĂłn del trabajo (essentially taking a leave for medical reasons)
  • Model 790 CĂłdigo 052, epĂ­grafe 2.1, which is a fee that covers the cost to process the renewal of your residency. Cost: 16,08€ (May 2019)
  • Modelo 790 CĂłdigo 062, epĂ­grafe 2.2, which is a fee that covers the cost of your work permit for the next two years. Cost: 79,93€ (May 2019). Think of it as about 40€/year. Not bad, right?

Total cost: 96,01€

Where and When to Submit Your Documents

If you remember the other time when you made an appointment and submitted the paperwork for your modificaciĂłn with bated breath, well, this time you can relax (a little).

To renew your autĂłnomo work permit (and all subsequent renewals), all you have to do is go to the nearest Registro Civil (this list is for Madrid but it includes links to all the other provinces around Spain) without an appointment (yay!) with all your paperwork and signed application form. You will take a number and wait to be seen by the next available funcionario (government worker) who will then create a digital file for you in their system and scan and save all your paperwork into it. The worker will then send it to the local ExtranjerĂ­a, print off a white sticker with your nĂșmero de expediente and officially handing you a place in line.

What is the timeline to turn in your application? The ExtranjerĂ­a only allows you to submit your paperwork 60 natural days before your residency card expires or up to 90 natural days after the expiration date.

IMPORTANT: Un dĂ­a natural means a regular day, not to be confused with dĂ­a hĂĄbil (business day), so it includes weekends and holidays.

Regardless, you cannot turn the application in a day too early or a day too late. Many people have been denied the chance to renew and have found this out the hard way. I’m just giving you a friendly reminder to keep track of the application deadlines that are specific to your card.

Pro-tip: If your card expires after the 31st of a month (ie: October 31st like mine did) and there are a couple of months within that 90-day time frame that have 31 days, your final day to submit your paperwork will not be January 31st. An extra day or two within that time period will result in you having to turn it in sooner rather than later. Double or triple check the last day you have to submit paperwork because you will be denied renewal if you submit it even just one day outside of the allotted time.

How Long is the Estimated Wait Time?


That is the question on everyone’s mind when it comes to dealing with Spanish bureaucracy, isn’t it?

This is probably the longest and most frustrating part of any type of initial residency application or renewal. And it’s also the most ambiguous. It could take just a few weeks or up to six months to hear an answer from the ExtranjerĂ­a.

The good (yet nerve-wracking) thing is that you can check your status online through this portal and track the status of your application and see when they look it. All you need to do is enter your NIE (nĂșmero de identificaciĂłn de extranjero), the date you submitted the paperwork and your birth year.

I wouldn’t suggest checking it every day but about once every 1-2 weeks would suffice.

How Long Did I Have to Wait?

So, in my case, I submitted my paperwork on January 28th to a registry office (GarcĂ­a Paredes) here in the North of Madrid where I currently live. I didn’t have to make an appointment but I did have to take a number and wait in not-so-crowded waiting room for a short time. My number was called shortly after I sat down and a funcionaria with a straightforward way of doing things. She had me state which type of application I was doing, sign the first page of the application, confirmed that I had all of the correct paperwork to submit and began scanning all of my documents into the system and forwarded my file on to the ExtranjerĂ­a.

It took about five minutes and then I was finished.

Another application behind me…

But then, the clock started and I was waiting to hear an answer for weeks.

Two months passed and around March 28th, I was entered into the system as “En TrĂĄmite” or “Processing.” I was told that the office enters a batch of applications all at once and the two-month mark is usually the time in which they do that.

About three weeks go by and I’m slowly inching closer towards 90 days without receiving an answer. On the renewal form itself, you will see towards the end of it stating that if the ExtranjerĂ­a does not respond to your application in 90 days or less, your renewal will be given a positive yes and it will be approved through something called silencio administrativo (administrative silence).

Well, I didn’t check the status at the end of April and Spain and the Comunidad de Madrid had a couple of federal and regional holidays coming up (May 1st-3rd) so I was going to put off checking it again until the following Monday.

Besides, what were the chances of someone looking at my application a day or two before a puente (long weekend) anyway ?

Well, I was quite wrong!

My application was reviewed and my file was closed on April 29th, 2019.

Resuelto Favorable! One of my favorite things to read in Spanish.

The verdict?

Approved!

However, it was not from having someone go over my application the normal way. It was approved by the aforementioned rule of administrative silence. I had read on Facebook groups that it was hard to be approved this way and I hadn’t met anyone who personally had. Turns out, they didn’t have enough time to look over my application so I was renewed by default!

You Receive Your Letter…What’s Next?

After visiting the Immigration Office a couple times this summer, I won’t have to go back until 2020!

I think you might know the drill when it comes to this step.

If you live in Madrid, you’ll have to visit the ever so dreaded and slightly scary Police Station (the Brigada Provincial de ExtranjerĂ­a y Fronteras-otherwise known as Aluche, based on the name of the nearest metro station). If you’re in a different part of Spain, schedule an appointment and go to the local immigration center on that day with the following documents:

  • Valid passport
  • Carta de resoluciĂłn
  • Signed copy of the Modelo Ex-17 (only print the first two pages)
  • Two ID sized photos for the card itself
  • Volante de empadronamiento (copy of your city registry needs to be less than 3 months old)
  • Copy of the Modelo 790 CĂłdigo 012 tasa (fee) paid in full (18,92€)
  • Select the line that states:
    TIE que documenta la renovaciĂłn de la autorizaciĂłn de residencia temporal o la prĂłrroga de la estancia o de la autorizaciĂłn para trabajadores transfronterizos.

Q&A Section

Please read this section as it contains insider information that I learned from various contacts here in Madrid over the years spanning 2018-2019. (Subject to periodic updates)

Do you have to earn the minimum monthly wage in order to be approved to renew?

Thankfully views like this are priceless.

One of the most talked about things on Facebook group discussions and articles in both Spanish and English is the illusive regulation that a self-employed person must earn the minimum annual salary or else they will not be renewed.

Though I was approved via administrative silence, a contact of mine confirmed for me that during her first year on the autĂłnomo work permit, she didn’t earn minimum wage each month but was renewed anyway…because she paid all of her quarterly taxes and never missed a month when it came to the Social Security contributions.

This is confirmed with this line stated in the law on the hoja informativa:

  • Continuar con la actividad que dio lugar a la autorizaciĂłn que se va a renovar, siempre que se hayan cumplido las obligaciones tributarias y de Seguridad Social.

Continuing with the economic activities they were granted in the first place and desiring to renew said permission, keeping in mind having fulfilled both tax and Social Security obligations.

Will you personally be renewing this permit for a second time?

As many of you may already know, I will be getting married this fall to a citizen of the European Union, which will legally make me a family member of an EU citizen. I’ll have to go a different route when it comes to renewing my residency in Spain (where we plan to stay for at least a couple more years) but until that happens, I will continue to publish helpful information on residency options on my website and offer advice. Like you could expect anything less from me!

Have you lived in Spain on this work permit before? Did you have any difficulty renewing it or have any tips that I missed for readers who might begin this process? Comment below and join the discussion!

6 Things No One Tells You About Getting Engaged Abroad

Whether you have waited months or years for this moment, getting engaged to the love of your life is one of the most surprising and exciting times in life. Even if you know the question might come up or are even expecting a proposal from your significant other, there’s nothing quite like the moment when it happens.

A good majority of people – both young and old – move abroad for love but just as many people move abroad for career and volunteering opportunities.

In my case, I moved to Spain to help better and improve my career opportunities for the future, as I aspired to use a spot in an English teaching program to help me achieve my long-time dream of becoming a professional translator.

Of course, like any young, adventurous single woman who was on her way to a new part of a country she was already smitten with, I had hoped to find love.

locks of love near Sacre Coeur

Maybe you’re like me and have wanted to fasten a lock to a bridge or a lampost with your and your love’s initials on it.
(Paris, December 2014)

And, even though I encountered many rejections and setbacks along the way, I believed with all my heart that I would. Even on my darkest and loneliest days abroad, I held on to the hope that God had a special someone in mind for me and my desire to be married would one day be fulfilled.

Now that I’ve been engaged to my fiancĂ© for just under 6 months and we’ve been making tangible wedding plans, I wanted to share some of the emotions and challenges I’ve encountered.

I haven’t seen many blog posts about being engaged abroad but I felt compelled to share my story and struggles with the hopes that someone who’s reading this might be reminded that they are not alone in this season of life.

Some days this experience has felt like a beautiful, whispy dream and other days, I have never been more stressed in my life. There are so many new and little items taking up space on my normal to-do lists now.

But, I’m pushing aside the to-do lists for a short while in order to expound on this season and share what I’ve learned so far.

1. Your family may not be able to be present for the big moment or you may not be able to show them your ring right away

One of our official engagement photos. It was taken 6 days after the fact but it was still an unforgettably wonderful moment in my life.

Living outside of your home country means you signed up for an adventure but getting engaged (and later married) abroad means you’re signing up for the adventure of a lifetime.

It is not for the faint of heart or for those people who are very closely connected to their families but finding love abroad means that you are extremely brave and fiercely adventurous.

And you truly have chosen the road less traveled.

Especially if your adopted country is completely different from home whether that’s underscored through language, customs, culture, religion or time zone.

In my experience, Spain is very different from the United States in many senses of the word. And it’s very far away from my hometown in Ohio, which hangs out on the edge of the Midwest. What’s even more different is comparing the somewhat sleepy, laid-back city of Dayton to the bustling, always raring to go, energetic city of Madrid, which is 10-15 times the population of my hometown.

snowstorm in Dayton in April

And unlike Madrid, it can snow (a lot)…even in April (2014).

The beautiful thing about my relationship, though the two of us come from similar cultures, is that we have a country in common.

And that country is the sometimes-difficult-but-breathtakingly-beautiful country of España.

Neither of us has experience living in each other’s countries (the U.S. for me and the UK for him), but we understand life as a foreigner (guiri) in Spain on a very intimate level. Even down to us having lived in the same regions (Me: AndalucĂ­a-Galicia-Madrid. Him: Galicia-AndalucĂ­a-Madrid) but in a different order and during distinct years throughout this past decade.

In my case, I truly believe that my life experiences have been preparing me for a permanent life outside of the U.S. but I didn’t fully understand or accept it until I ended up staying away from home for nearly 3 years straight.

By the time I got into this relationship towards the end of 2017, I realized that God might have been preparing me for this type of life all along. It wasn’t the first time I had spent more than 6 months abroad straight but it was the first time some very exciting changes in my life were occurring and that prayers I had been praying for years and years were finally starting to be answered.

I was finally figuring out my path in life and God so graciously placed someone alongside me to show me how I no longer had to face its challenges alone.

Tinto de verano at Punta Umbria

It all started with a weekend visit to a special Andalusian beach…

However, during this season of engagement, I’ve felt a bit lost.

The easy answer is that I’ve never planned a wedding before in my life but the deeper one is this: part of my getting engaged story meant that my family or even my oldest friends weren’t there to witness it.

In fact, because I haven’t been home since last July, no one in my family has been able to congratulate me or look at my ring in person.

I wouldn’t change my proposal story for the world because it was so tailor-made and incredibly sweet but I didn’t expect to encounter these more melancholic emotions.

Well, wait maybe I would change one thing: we didn’t get any pictures the night it happened but we did return to the same spot a few days later for an official photo shoot.

I’ll explain why in a later section.

***Personal advice: But first, I will warn you: if you would prefer to have your family present when your significant other will propose to you – remember you can only plan so much -, communicate that to him whenever you guys start talking about marriage and the future. If he’s already met or can get in contact with your family, he will certainly at least try to convince a couple of your family members to come over and become a part of the big event.

Ever since I became an adult, I’ve spent a long time not living near home so I think this helped me gradually accept the plans God had for my life.

However, I’m still human and the thing I’ve struggled with the most is my mind accepting that this is official. You can announce it all over your social networks, share your engagement story, show friends and even random strangers your ring but…I think for me, it’s not truly official until your family sees, hugs and congratulates you on this milestone. It adds an extra dimension of joy when you can share your happiness with those who have known you the longest.

2. You’ll most likely experience differences between your adopted culture’s customs and your home country’s culture

Anyone who’s ever attended a wedding in another country or from a different culture knows that this exciting event can be celebrated in so many different ways, shapes, forms, and colors.

It’s amazing to see photos of weddings and engagements around the world and how unique the bride and groom’s celebration is.

While I’ve been invited to a wedding that took place in another country, I’ve never been able to attend one but would love to someday. All of my experiences are at American weddings either as the guest or bridesmaid.

Never the bride…until now.

However, another contributing factor to me not feeling “officially” engaged is that where currently I live women wear the engagement ring (sortija) on their right hand (Spain, Portugal and many other European countries do this). In the U.S and the UK, an engaged woman wears it on her left hand.

I’ve been traveling to or visiting Spain for the past nine years and I’ve seen all types of ways to wear an engagement or wedding ring. I even had a professor in the South wear no rings but talked about his wife and newborn child all the time. Some women wear the engagement ring on one hand and then wear their wedding band on the other.

But what about people who never wear rings and then suddenly receive this gorgeous ring they must (and are proud to) wear?

Because I love studying other cultures, I did an experiment just a couple of weeks after I got engaged and swapped the ring from my left hand to the right for one afternoon.

holding hands during the engagement shoot

Whichever hand you wear it on, an engagement ring is classy and will always catch someone eye.

Well, first of all, since I never liked wearing rings, I had to adjust to wearing a ring period. (Once we were able to pick it up in the jewelry store back on December 1st, nearly a month post-proposal.) It felt awkward but I couldn’t stop admiring it or showing it to the people in my life here. Because I was so proud and pleased to wear it, it started to feel more natural to me.

However, I did always picture getting this big reaction from guys in public or just feeling like I suddenly had the power to block all unwanted attention from flirty (or sleazy) guys all around me.

That didn’t happen.

And to my disappointment, swapping hands and wearing the ring on the “wrong hand” for me, didn’t change the way society viewed me here. In fact, it just made me feel more awkward because I wasn’t used to wearing the ring on my right hand.

I have since decided that I may not have that “official” being engaged feeling until I head up to the UK a couple of weeks prior to our wedding and go out into public there with my fiancĂ©, Andrew.

I may update this section once I do so watch this space. 😛

3. Planning an international wedding means that you’re probably going to have to do a lot of the planning long-distance

Engaged? Get to planning!

Planning a wedding is one of the most daunting tasks I’ve ever taken upon my shoulders. I have help and thanks to improvements in technology more apps than I could ever imagine to ease my mind during this busy time…but I’m mostly handling this thing on my own.

Over 4,000 miles away from most of my family and long-time friends.

The added fun to this equation is that I’ve had to add a whole new list of vocabulary words to my brain. Then, remember what those words mean in English and relay them to the friends and family who are helping me plan.

It may seem just like any other time I’ve learned words in Spanish but trust me, the names for the different types of fabrics for wedding and bridesmaids’ dresses can get confusing.

And all those words start to sound the same after a while.

(Note: Andrew is helping me the best he can with certain decisions so it’s reassuring to know he’s being proactive during the planning. After all, it is his wedding, too.)

And then there are the social expectations for weddings and brides-to-be that I’m trying my best to not get to me. Yet most days, I’m failing at this and finding myself overwhelmed by the sheer social pressure of being an engaged woman in 2019.

Between sending out save the dates (and later invitations) to coordinating travel planning and juggling multiple conversations with family and friends, there is a lot to do. And as soon as I started sending out the save the dates during this past month, I realized I needed to have a wedding website up and running in order to help our guests RSVP more easily.

*Hides in her room and refuses to come out.*

Bicos de Xeado en Plaza Mayor

Ice cream has helped, too.

Honestly, these days I find reprieve and rest by taking a walk around Madrid or relaxing in the park just minutes from my apartment, Parque de BerlĂ­n.

Since I work from home most of the day, it’s never been more apparent to me how important it is for me to enjoy nature and take regular breaks outside (and hello, Spanish sun! I’ll need to get tan for the wedding, haha)

If I knew back in my single days that I would get married abroad, I would’ve pinned the heck of out my board with ideas and images to Pinterest. In the past 7 years since I’ve had my account, I think I only had less than 10 pins on my wedding board, for fear of getting caught up in planning my (not our) wedding especially when my future groom was nowhere in sight!

An international wedding consists of so many things: choosing a compatible date for each party’s side, deciding on whether or not to get married in one of each other’s countries or choose a neutral country, start and file the marriage license paperwork, say yes to the dress, deciding on how big of a wedding to have, setting a budget, organizing and planning all of the traditional wedding activities yet ALSO planning out your and your guests’ travel to/from the wedding.

The only thing I feel skilled at when it comes to all of this wedding planning is the travel tips and tricks we’re helping to provide my family and friends with, many of which have never been to Northern Ireland (the wedding location), so this is a crucial part.

And also trying not to cry over or get stressed over silly things. Let’s just say I’ve had my moments these past few months…

4. Other people might not understand your values or reasons for doing things

A huge conflict I’ve personally run into with Spanish culture is how the lifestyle of “anything goes” is strong here.

The majority of fellow Christians whom I’ve met in different parts of the country have recounted their culture shock stories to me and how there are so many temptations at every turn here.

It’s true. And the temptations are intense.

Drugs, prostitution, sex, gambling, excessive (and sometimes extreme) partying and drinking are easy traps to fall into here, if you’re susceptible to any one of these vices.

And due to the fact that many young Spanish people live with their parents much longer than their American counterparts, you can find couples expressing their affection in public A LOT (especially in parks on a nice sunny day or on not-so-hidden steps or a dark corner).

All of it can be quite a shock to someone who grew up in a more conservative environment like me and graduated from a Christian high school.

(That’s a completely different topic.)

I realized that when I got into my first (and last) long-term relationship with another devoted Christian that my singleness had naturally come to an end. It wasn’t that I was finished with my life’s purpose or had done everything that I possibly could as a single woman. I definitely could’ve done more acts of service, solo trips and had more girls’ nights out.

As our relationship gradually and naturally shifted from friendship to romantic love, God saw that both of us would be more useful for His kingdom as a couple rather than as single people. He had set us apart from the rest of the world as singles but our time as a single man and a single woman needed to come to an end.

There was a new purpose He had for us as a couple.

Slowly but surely I’ve learned what that purpose was exactly. I believe that God ended my and Andrew’s singleness so that we as a couple could be used to show the Spanish culture what a healthy, loving (and Christ-centered) relationship really looks like.

Has this been an easy and fun experience in the past year and a half?

Not exactly.

Ever since we got engaged, I quickly realized that a lot of Spanish young people don’t really think about getting married. In fact, some may never get married. But if they do ever reach that point, they tend to get married at 30 or (most likely) older.

This was more apparent when you compared the words people use to refer to their significant other: novio (boyfriend) vs. prometido (fiancé).

In the days and weeks following my engagement, I quickly learned that not a lot of people in regular society get engaged and married.

Fewer people used the word prometido and it actually sounded old-fashioned when I first started saying it. In American and British culture, going from having a boyfriend to a fiancé is a BIG deal.

As the Spanish say, “me da igual.” (I don’t care)

Or at least this is the impression I’ve gotten.

The important thing is that Andrew and I share the same values and we’re in agreement with many things Spain views as “out-of-date.”

Living together, getting into a domestic partnership or spending the night at each other’s places are the norm in the world’s eyes but these are things we believe aren’t right for us.

And because you’re going against the grain, the society you live in will naturally question your lifestyle and why you adhere to it.

Ever since I became a freelancer in Spain and got into a relationship around the same time, people have asked me all sorts of questions.

Will you get the domestic partnership with your boyfriend since he’s an EU citizen? Do you guys plan on moving in with each other?

To hear “bizarre” (read: old-fashioned) answers to these questions was puzzling to some people. And now that I’m engaged to be married, the questions still come in all shapes and sizes.

All that matters is that you and your fiancĂ© are on the same page with everything. Everyone else can mind their own business (and you’re under no obligation to answer any probing or too personal questions).

In a way, it feels like my every move is being watched and it’s like people in my social circles are waiting to see if we’ll mess up.

I’m by no means perfect but I’m so close (just under 5 months to go!) to entering into a long-term commitment and life that I’ve always dreamed about that I don’t want to compromise my values at all.

Even if it feels right at the moment, it’s not worth it to me to abandon the standards I’ve upheld for most of my life just because the waiting has gotten a bit more difficult.

5. You’ll experience a slightly intense version of homesickness while engaged

This goes without saying, if you’re living abroad and getting married in another country, you won’t be able to plan the majority of your wedding with your mom or female family members around.

I suppose in a way it’s good that while I dreamed about my future wedding off and on, I never had any fixed plans or a location in mind so that I could endure this particular challenge during the planning.

Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve loved to have gone dress shopping with my mom or my best friend back home. Or invite my cousins and grandparents over to go through bridal magazines and dream and plan.

But, I’ve never lived closed to my extended family. And the more time I spent living away from my immediate family and friends, I guess in a way a part of me slowly began to accept that I may not be physically able to plan a wedding with my family around me.

This is something anyone who establishes a life abroad must accept. You can’t always be with everyone you love at the same time. In the pursuit of my career and personal dreams, I’ve missed a number of birthdays, anniversaries, national holidays and even my own birthday that I used to always celebrate back home.

However, while my head accepts that I can’t be present for every special moment anymore, my heart wrestles with this fact more often than I’d like.

The month of March this year was a particularly rough month for me regarding this very same difficulty. It was also the month I looked back on the 10 year anniversary of a friend’s tragic car accident, remembered what would’ve been her 30th birthday, had some difficult life conversations, dealt with a couple of health scares in my family and purchased my wedding dress.

By the time the month was over, I was emotionally spent.

But despite all of the hardships I endured in just one month, I felt motivated to reach out to two of my newlywed friends who might have been able to advise me on the engagement season.

And advise me they did.

Each woman had a unique and beautiful love story but it came with some challenging circumstances and trials during their engagements. While they didn’t plan a wedding in another country like I am, distance, time, location and budgets were all a factor in their planning, too. I went from feeling lost on this journey and unable to find someone who could encourage or advise me in person but technology helped bridge the gap.

I’m extremely grateful for the technological advancements I can rely on today compared to women 20-30 years ago who were going through the same type of wedding planning I’m going through. And I reached the conclusion that I can handle this, in hindsight, very short season of planning, with God’s help to cross the finish line to marriage.

There will always be work to be done on my relationship with Andrew and bettering myself as an individual but if he and I do the hard work of planting the seeds for the future harvest in our relationship, marriage will be easier – and a lot more enjoyable.

So, while this planning season is rough and emotionally exhausting at times, I take heart that it’s temporary and will soon come to an end. And the light at the end of the tunnel is uniting as many of our loved ones together to celebrate our love and lasting commitment to one another.

6. Finding joy in the little moments during your engagement is more difficult but totally worth celebrating

As I talked about in the last point, this is a difficult season of life. And one of the pieces of advice I received from one of my married friends was this:

The engagement season is the hardest because you are SO ready to be married but there are so many details that stand in the way.

It’s so true!

There are a million little decisions to make, decisions like what color and style will the bridesmaids’ dresses be to will we fold the napkins on the reception tables like origami (and remembering how to spell that word) or in a regular, formal style.

And not to mention, requesting a couple of documents from our home countries, looking at paperwork forms I’ve never seen before -and refreshingly in English!-and maintaining my own service business abroad.

Plus, remembering to enjoy going out together as a couple, casually hang out at each other’s places, and have conversations that DON’T involve wedding planning at all. (I strongly believe this last one is very important for a couple’s own relationship and in order to maintain your own sanity.)

For now, the little moments were I felt so much joy and excitement to be engaged to my media naranja (soulmate/half orange in Spanish) are ones I cherish greatly when life gets busy.

Like when I called my best friend to cheerfully announce the news (not knowing she was driving in the middle of the afternoon and had to pull over to the side of the road once I told her what had happened cause was ecstatic.) I had never felt happier to have amazing, life-changing news to share with someone-even though we knew it was going to happen soon.

Or when Andrew went out of his way to see me the next day just before work and before we said goodbye, he said that it’s a thousand times better to be my fiancĂ© than my boyfriend. And he picked me up and swung me around right in the inside lobby of the metro station we had been to dozens of times before.

And then there was the special spa visit he planned for us that was so refreshing and wonderful to experience with him, not as my boyfriend but as my beloved. We needed a couple of hours of relaxation and closeness that that visit provided us with.

I can’t forget the hundreds of times I’ve glanced down at the delicate and sparkly symbol of the commitment and love that is to come, my engagement ring.

At times when I have felt like I’m on my own as a woman and a struggling business owner in a foreign country, the ring reminds me that I am dearly loved and cherished. I have an immense value that can’t be diminished over time or by any hardship I encounter.

If you are currently engaged abroad or will be in the future, take heart. This season is very important for the future of your relationship but it’s also temporary.

It has an expiration date.

You will get through it and so will I.

Have you ever planned an international wedding? Did you live somewhere different from the country where it would take place? Is there anything I missed but you would like to share? Share your stories and advice in the comments! 🙂

How to Apply for a Spanish Student Visa at the Chicago Consulate

So, you want to go teach English in Spain next year? You’re going to need a student visa for that!

You’ve filled out the application on Profex. You’ve gotten your regional placement (hopefully the one you really wanted!) and now you’ve gotten your city placement and school assignment.  You’re now at the stage where you will need to apply for your student visa to enter Spain and carry out the duties of your contract for the next 8-9 months.

Or maybe you’ve just begun the program application(s) and want to read up on the visa process.

Either way, you’ve come to the right place!

application for student visa form

Ready to begin your paperwork trail? The bureaucratic fun has only just begun!

 

**Disclaimer: I did apply for my student visa at the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago back in August 2014 some details regarding my experience may not be relevant to how the Consulate handles student visa applications today. While much of the process is still the same, I still want to warn you in advance to use this post as a guideline and always confirm the exact information on the Consulate’s website (linked below).  And to clarify, I only applied for the student visa once and then renewed my student stay card (Tarjeta de IdentificaciĂłn del Extranjero or TIE) every other year I was participating in the Auxiliares de Conversacion program. (Which I urge you to do if you want to one day be eligible for residency in Spain through a process called student visa modification)

 

What you’ll need:

  • National Visa application form
  • Original passport (and copy) and second ID (driver’s license, State ID, current student ID card or voter’s registration card (Note: make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after the program’s end date. If it’s not, get more information on how to renew your passport first.)
  • One recent passport sized photo (2″x2″)
  • Copy (and original) of the Acceptance Letter (Carta de Nombramiento)
  • Police Background Check from either
          • State Department of Justice
          • FBI Records
  • Medical Certificate
  • Self-addressed Express Mail envelope from USPS (if you don’t live in or near the Chicago metropolitan area)

For more detailed information direct from the Chicago Consulate, read their informational sheet.

 

Step 1: Filling out the National Visa Application form

If you, too, are wondering why the form says “application form is free,” I wish I could tell you why they printed that on the form.

This is just the beginning of the confusing world that is Spanish bureaucracy but I’m here to be your guide through it. 🙂 

 

applying for student visa at Chicago Consulate (lobby)

Before you can set one foot in the Spanish Consulate in Chicago, you’ve got some documents to gather and forms to fill out.

Anyway, first, you will need to save and print off from the Consulate’s website. Print two copies and fill them both out so that you will have a completed copy of your own just in case there are any problems or confusion with your form. The default language for the student visa form is in (British) English so just bear with the Consulate and their translation or use of different terminology.

Here are some tips on filling out certain boxes you might be unsure of: 

Box 12: Check Ordinary Passport since your passport most likely doesn’t match any of the other types listed.

Box 13: It’s a little bit unnecessary to ask this but for “number of travel documents,” put 1.
Box 17: List both your mailing address and email address. It’s a small space but try and write neatly. (Could they give you a little more space, though?!)

Box 18: Unless you have residency in another country other than the USA (for example, Canada or Mexico), list the ID number for it and when it expires. It’s highly likely that you won’t need to do this, but this is just extra information.

Box 19: For “current profession,” I would suggest listing student or recent graduate if you’ve just graduated from college. Remember: this is not to say that someone with a particular profession will get approved for the visa and another will not. The program accepts anyone who meets the requirements and has a Bachelor’s degree for any type of major. I personally wrote self-employed because that was the most accurate profession for me at the time. 

filling out the student visa form

Box 20: Principle Purpose of Journey – Select Studies, as the auxiliar de conversacion program is viewed by the Spanish government as a continuing education program.

Box 21: I was told by the Consulate in 2014 that I could enter Spain up to 2-4 weeks before my visa kicked in. If I did, I would have to go to the nearest police station and get a stamp the day I arrive (especially if I connected through another European country) to mark the start date of my stay. Try to put an estimated 7-10 days before the latest date you’d like to arrive in Spain before the program starts. (Ex: my visa began September 1st and expired in mid-December. Though I believe I had initially put September 15th as the start date). 

Box 22: Number of entries requested  –  Check more than two.  Your printed visa will show “MULTI” in the box listed Number of Entries. The main reason you will request this type of visa is because your TIE (Foreigner’s Identity Card) won’t be ready by the time your first round of vacations come up. You will be covered on each entry and exit from Spain while your student stay card is being made and your visa form is still valid. (Normally up to December or January of the following year).

apartment renting in Spain: always best to rent while you're there, not before!

Featured here: one of the smallest apartments I’ve ever lived in. (Santiago de Compostela)

Box 23: Postal Address of Applicant in Spain – A lot of first-time student visa applicants are super confused by this line on the application form. Keep in mind that never, under any circumstances, is it OK (or recommended) to say yes to, wire a deposit for or sign a contract for an apartment when you have never looked at it or visited that city before! The simpler way to fill out this box is to put the address of your school. The Consulate won’t be contacting them directly to see if you can actually live there so don’t worry. Another thing other applicants have done is put the address of the AirBnb where they’re staying temporarily. I put the address of my elementary school and I had no issues, so I recommend doing this.

Skip Boxes 24-27. You won’t be issued a Foreign National Identity Number (NIE) until you have been granted the visa, so don’t worry about this box. In my experience, the NIE (as it shall now be known for you) is listed on the visa the Consulate affixes to your passport. So, just file this information away for the future.

Box 28: Data (Contact info) of educational establishment – Put the name and address of your school. It should start with CEIP (Centro de EducaciĂłn Infantil y Primaria), IES (Instituto de EducaciĂłn Superior) or EOI (Escuela Oficial de Idiomas). I’ve listed the acronyms out just for your own information as I know these might look strange to you being a first-time applicant. For the Intended Start and Intended Finish dates, list the exact dates that are on your letter of appointment (carta de nombramiento). If you’re in Madrid and working for the Comunidad or Ministry, the start date should be the first Monday in October and the finish date, approximately June 30th. All other regions end on May 31st, unless otherwise specified on your letter. (Skip the remaining boxes that ask for more information if applying as a minor.)

Remember, this form is free, but you will have to print it out. 

Your paperwork stack is just going to get bigger after this…

**Personal note: For general reference, once you start filling out the National Visa form, go ahead and make your visa appointment at the Consulate about a month out. I started the student visa process in mid-July 2014 and secured an appointment in the morning in mid-August. I was placed in the region of Galicia so I received my placement in mid-May and my school placement in late May. If you are applying to work in Madrid your first year, I would recommend you schedule a visa appointment immediately after receiving your school placement (early-to-mid July) so that you can give yourself enough time to prepare the necessary documents for this visa.

Step 2: Make necessary copies of your passport, driver’s license or voter’s registration card and get your passport photos taken

making photocopies for your student visa application

Hopefully, your experience won’t be like this. (Side note, this is a stock photo, not me.)

This may have changed since I last did this process but I was able to make color copies of my passport and driver’s license in color. Over the past couple of years, I’ve done a couple of paperwork processes here in Spain and most copy shops aren’t allowing you to make color copies of your IDs. This may also be the case in the US but good news: black and white copies will save you a little extra money!

As I stated above in the initial list, you will need to take and submit two 2-inch by 2-inch passport sized photos for the Spanish student visa. These can be taken at any drug store or supermarket and it’s a pretty straightforward process.

I went just up the street from where I lived in Dayton, Ohio at the time to the nearest CVS Pharmacy and got my photos taken. I paid about $12 at the time but the price has since gone up to $14.99. Take a look at your options here on their website.

Cost: $14.99

Step 3: Apply for a State or Federal Background Check

applying for a background check for a student visa

This will be the document you’ll need to plan ahead for the most (besides the visa) so get started early!

A little bit of a back story on my situation: I am from Ohio but I moved to Florida to go to college and later to live there for a couple of years as a post-graduate. The Consulate webpage states that if you’ve lived in any other state in the last 5 years you must complete an FBI Background Check. In addition to this, if you’ve lived in another country besides the US (study abroad semesters don’t count – I checked), you will need to request a background check from the respective country. 

Since I haven’t done this process in quite a while, I retraced my steps in my Inbox (I save everything!) and found the email with the shipping information from my FBI Background check. Sometime between 2014 and now, the FBI Channeler I used changed their name but in this section, I will be providing an updated and accurate description of how to submit the application for an FBI Background check.

First of all, if you have a ton of time on your hands at this point, you can request it directly through the FBI website and pay considerably less for the report. In 2014, the estimated time to receive your criminal history report from the FBI was 12 weeks. In 2019, the website estimates it will take 14 to 16 weeks!

I would honestly skip doing the process through the FBI and use an FBI Channeler. 

missing information for student visas

The last thing you want is to have your report get lost in the mail, right?

I only had about a month before my visa appointment at the Consulate so I had to get this step checked off the list relatively fast. I chose to go with an FBI Channeler in California called My FBI Report (now known as National Background Information. They were very fast and efficient and I was able to download their forms and enter my debit card information on the form and send it off. 

I chose the 2 Day Priority Shipping option from the USPS and was notified by their customer service when my payment had been processed and then received a separate email with a tracking link for my package. I would’ve had a 100% stress-free experience with this Channeler had I not had a slight issue with the payment. The reason? I had closed my bank account in Florida (the branch wasn’t located in Ohio) but hadn’t switched over to a new bank yet so I put my pre-paid PayPal debit card on my form since I received my earnings via PayPal anyway. I didn’t double check to make sure I had enough money loaded onto the card in order to pay for the report processing fees and shipping. Nevertheless, they called me just after I sent it off in mid-July and we worked out the issue together.

All in all, the cost for this was as follows: 

FBI Criminal Report: $39.95

2-Day USPS Priority Shipping: $14.00

Cost: $43.95

If you’re really pressed for time, you can use FedEx overnight shipping for $40 and receive it the next day. 

I still had about 3 weeks before I had to go to my visa appointment at the Consulate so I didn’t need rush shipping. I will explain why I chose Priority shipping, however, in the next step.

Step 4: Request the Apostille of the Hague for your background check

Apostille of the Hague for student visa applications

Wouldn’t it be cool if official seals came back like this sweet Medieval style one?

Spoiler alert: This document was the main reason why I purchased Priority shipping for the FBI criminal record. I didn’t find the expediting services for apostilles affordable nor was I in THAT much of a rush so I opted for the regular shipping services for it. I only needed a specific number of days to complete, mail and receive the Apostille of the Hague in my hands before I traveled to Chicago for my appointment.

You may want to request an additional copy of your FBI Background check but keep in mind that the Chicago Consulate will most likely scan your original documents and hand them back to you. At least, this was my experience.

The Apostille of The Hague is a document which authenticates the signatures and seals on public documents (birth certificates, court orders, background checks, etc) and is recognized by the countries who are a part of the 1961 Hague Convention Treaty. 

It’s like a cover letter that’s fastened to the front of the public document you will submit. Once the apostille is attached to the document, you won’t be able to separate the two. So, make a photocopy of your background check (just in case) before you send it off.

usps location for mailing applications

You’ll want to get this document mailed off ASAP.

At the time I applied for this in late July 2014, there were hardly any step-by-step guides on the Internet on how to apply for the apostille.

So how did I get this done? 

I went to the U.S. Department of State website to get more information. I learned that FBI Background checks cannot be apostilled by a state government office but need to be sent to the Office of Authentications in Washington D.C.

The website has a couple of twists and turns but detailed information about requesting apostilles can be found under Apostille Requirements (click on U.S. Department of State Apostille Requirements) and then the exact steps, fees and mailing address for the authentication office can be found in this side tab.

It was a fairly straightforward process for me and I had just enough time to complete this before my trip to Chicago and visa appointment.

But, as the website states, it can take up to 12 business days to process your request so plan wisely!

All I needed was to do was fill out the application form, get a money order from the USPS closest to my house and pay $8 as well as purchase a USPS pre-paid Priority envelope, which together cost about $15.

I sent the completed application form, money order, pre-paid and self-addressed USPS (Print both your address and the Office of Authentication’s Physical Address very clearly) off to the address below:

Office of Authentications
U.S. Department of State
CA/PPT/S/TO/AUT
44132 Mercure Circle
P.O. Box 1206
Sterling, VA  20166-1206

And I received it just a couple of days before I left for Chicago, which was early August.

Cost: $15

Step 5: Visit your general physician or health clinic to receive a medical certificate

doctor's check-up for visa requirements

Of all the steps on this list, this one was the trickiest for me. Maybe you can relate…

If you’re like me, chances are you don’t have (good) health insurance in the US and may not have easy access to a family practitioner.

By a small miracle, I was able to find a shortcut (and free option) for this step. I’ve read on the Facebook groups that other English teachers from the US have gone to CVS Minute Clinics or something similar in order to fulfill this requirement.

It was nearing my last available week to do last minute things for my visa appointment at the beginning of August (immediately after I was going on vacation within the US) and I was having a difficult time trying to find a clinic or an inexpensive doctor’s office who would sign the required form from the Spanish Consulate’s website. 

Why was it so complicated?

It’s because the Spanish Consulate in Chicago requires its applicants to submit a clean medical certificate with the following wording: 

“The applicant, First and Last Name, has been examined and found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health
Regulation 2005.”

(Don’t bother clicking on the link to the PDF they have listed on the instructions sheet because the link is broken.)

Does anyone really enjoy going to the hospital?

Well, the main issue most doctors have with this statement is the part where it mentions free of contagious diseases. After calling a couple of health clinics where they charged upwards of $300 to test for all necessary contagious diseases, I didn’t let the fear of completing this step paralyze me and took to the Internet to search for alternatives.

I didn’t earn a very high full-time income as a freelancer that year so I thought I could perhaps use my low-income status to my advantage.

I searched for free medical clinics in the Dayton area and surrounding counties.

While I didn’t succeed in making an appointment in Greene County (the county where I resided at the time), I found available schedules and services at the clinic in the neighboring Montgomery County, Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County

Since this part of the process was so foreign and difficult for me, I ended up going to this clinic the afternoon before I left on a bus to Chicago! 

I don’t recommend doing this because the clinic could turn you away especially if they have a high volume of patients and a shortage of staff but I took the risk anyway.

My brother accompanied me to this appointment and we both got to experience the services of a free county clinic. I explained to them how I missed the only day the Greene County clinic was open (Tuesday) and that I needed a physical and general blood work for a visa appointment I was going to out-of-state. 

Overall, I didn’t have to wait too long to be seen and had a very positive experience with the doctor. He understood that I wasn’t going to a third world country to live and teach and that they have updated medical facilities and modern medicine to treat me with, on the off chance I did get severely sick during my stay (which thankfully I did not).

I was fully checked out, did a blood analysis and received the following signed medical certificate on the clinic’s letterhead:

 

Cost: $0

Step 6: Get all your documents organized for your appointment!

You’re almost finished – keeping moving along!

Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel for this process?

So, you’ve gathered all of your documents and you have them in hand, almost ready to take off for Chicago.

This is the shortest section of all the steps because it’s just a matter of double checking your stuff.

Make sure you have a copy of every document you will turn in. Don’t staple any of your documents and copies together but do get a reliable file folder to store all of them in. Some people have merely arranged in order of what needs to be turned in at the Consulate (as per their list) and others have added Post-it notes on the side to easily shuffle through the stack of papers.

Whatever you do, take extra odds and ends like:

  • Tape
  • Mini-stapler
  • Paperclips
  • A back-up folder in case yours rips or falls apart
  • Extra blue or black pens

Also, print out a sample itinerary of your travel plans (show you plan to purchase a round trip ticket, but it’s not necessary) but DO NOT buy a flight until you have your visa in hand.

There is one last thing you will need to purchase before you leave for Chicago. It’s especially crucial you do this beforehand so you’re not standing in a gigantic line at some USPS location inside the mega-metropolis. It’s your pre-paid self-addressed USPS Express Envelope. 

I got this on my last day in Ohio for a couple of weeks at the local post office and it only cost $19.95 in 2014.

Cost (for 2019): $25.50

Step 7: Travel to Chicago and be early for your appointment

Spanish consulate in Chicago, IL

Consulate General of Spain Chicago’s location. Your big day has arrived!

At the time I left to submit this visa application, I lived in Dayton, Ohio (after having moved back there temporarily from Jacksonville, Florida, my college town), which is about a 7-hour drive away from downtown Chicago.

I moved back home for about 6 months to save up the money I needed to move abroad to Spain for a school year (which ended up turning into a much longer stay) and to pay for this visa application.

The easiest and most inexpensive way for me to travel to Chicago the weekend before my visa appointment was to use Megabus. Since Dayton wasn’t a city Megabus left from (and there was no way I was trying Greyhound again), I had to travel down to near downtown Cincinnati. 

Again, my faithful brother drove me to Cincy and took advantage of visiting one of his friends who lives down there permanently, so it turned into a fun mini-road trip. Cincinnati is about an hour’s drive from our house in Dayton so it was easy enough to manage.

The price I paid for my one-way bus ticket (since I was going to a different state after my appointment) was only $5! (plus, a service charge to use my debit card to pay). 

(Today it normally costs about $25 to book a one-way ticket from Cincinnati-Chicago.) 

I found cheap accommodation for just a couple of nights, used my Ventra transportation card again, explored the city and treated myself to a nice meal after my appointment.

It’s almost time for your appointment!

After exploring the city for a couple of days, it was finally Monday morning and time to get ready for my visa appointment at the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago at 11 a.m CST.

I had one last thing to do that morning after I left my accommodation and that was to pay for the fee for the student visa!

I left this step towards the very end because I didn’t want to risk dropping or misplacing the last and expensive money order I had to submit. The student visa (visado de estudiante) fee was $160 in 2014 and surprisingly it’s stayed the same up until 2019. If you are seeing this much later after this post has been published, check the updated list of fees.

So, early Monday morning I went to make one extra copy of my ID at the Chicago Public Library and then went to the nearest USPS office to buy the money order.

I made it to my appointment about a half hour early and waited for my turn, after taking a number.

The appointment is referred to as an interview but it only consists of you turning in your documents to a consulate officer and verifying you have everything you ask.

While I was a bit nervous for my appointment and wanting to just get it over with, my experience overall was uneventful. Minus the fact that the consulate worker I submitted my paperwork to nearly forgot to ask me for my medical certificate! But, just maintain a clear head and don’t lose track of the order in which you’re submitting the documents.

At this Consulate, you can speak to the staff in either Spanish or English. I started in Spanish but the lady switched to English perhaps because she was used to using and hearing it in their office (this is not the case in Miami, I’ve heard!)

I also met and chatted with one other auxiliar-to-be and she was simply requesting a new student visa for the upcoming school year. At this point, I was reassured about my acceptance into the program because she stated, “anyone with a heartbeat can get into this program.”

After a short appointment and taking a couple of photos in the main hallway before I left, I was finished.

It’s over!

Step 8: You’re finished – do something to celebrate and wait for your visa to arrive!

cheers to the finished product!

Congratulations! You’re going to teach English in Spain next school year. 🙂

You’ve finished all of the steps and now all you have to do is wait for your passport to be sent back to you!

Do something to celebrate your accomplishment however you see fit. 

I went to a Spanish restaurant in downtown Chicago and ordered a really delicious paella and drink. I got a sign (in my mind) my visa would get approved because the total for my meal was $23.09, which was ironically my application number for the Auxiliar de Conversacion program. Go figure! haha

The wait time?

Though the consulate officer will tell you that it could take 4-6 weeks for your visa to arrive, the Chicago Consulate was on the ball that year in 2014 and they processed, approved and sent visas back in record time.

Date of visa appointment (and submission): August 11th, 2014.

Date of returned passport: August 28th, 2014.

It only took 17 days for my visa to be approved and sent back to me! I could’ve checked the tracking link attached to my Express mailing envelope but I basically forgot about it and was just pleasantly surprised that afternoon I went to check the mail. 🙂

Don’t bank on the fact that this Consulate tends to process things quickly so be sure to give yourself up to 6 weeks for them to return it and before you need to leave for Spain.

Summer is the busiest time for foreign consulates as tens of thousands of study or teaching abroad students are applying for the same types of visas you are. But, if you would like to check the status of your visa, you can go to this website and stay up-to-date on it.

Your year abroad (or more) in Spain awaits you!

All that’s left is to prepare for your year abroad teaching English in Spain! 

Did I miss anything in these steps? Do you have any extra questions or concerns? Let me know in the comments!

 

8 Stories of International Love & Dating From My Travels

I’ve been a long time reader of the solo female travel blog Adventurous Kate who always strives to give you her real and honest opinion about a place or bring up a controversial topic that’s been floating around the travel or political spheres and confront it head-on. She’s also quite brave and passionate and when I re-read her post on international love stories about a year ago, I knew I wanted to one day write a similar type of post.

But in my case, this post has a different purpose.

You see, I’m getting married soon.

The main reason I want to get this type of post out into the world is to metaphorically close the door firmly shut on my past experiences in love and dating. I will still remember these moments for the rest of my life but the effect they’ve had on my heart has faded. And will continue to fade with time until they’re but a distant memory.

For a while love took its sweet time to walk into my life but I still clung to the hope it would finally arrive.

However, about two years ago, at age 28, I was nearly at the brink of giving up on the idea I would ever find someone with whom I could share my love and affection. All sorts of crazy thoughts ran through my mind constantly in the early part of 2017 but I still clung to the hope that one day it would happen. One day, I would meet the man God had saved just for me.

And I did, though I had no clue where this particular man fit into my life at the time. I had my nose pressed far too close to the big picture back then. (I reflect on the things I never thought I’d do in my twenties in this short piece.)

It was a seemingly endless and winding road to get to where I am today: engaged to the love of my life.

But I made it.

Before I ever dated anyone, I learned how to enjoy meals alone, take myself out and savor great wine! (Featured: a glass of Bordeaux)

It certainly hasn’t been an easy journey and I spent most of it single, not reaching the point where I went on my first official date until the age of 26 but it’s all been worth it. And each experience served a greater purpose.

Because if any one of those experiences hadn’t taken place, not only would I not be the person I am today, but I have reason to believe that I would not be with the man who I’m with today.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff (and perhaps the real reason why you clicked on this post in the first place).

If you would like to play along and go on my travel scavenger hunt, here’s how it works. This type of logic is called Adriadne’s Thread. The idea is for you to give someone a list of about 10 places within one city you’ve lived or spent a lot of time in and a story for each. The catch is that you don’t tell the traveler which place matches each story, but simply let them figure it out. Since I’ve followed suit and decided to share short love or dating stories and they all didn’t happen in the same city, I’m going to expand the scavenger hunt to all over the world…sort of. 😛

(Spoiler alert: none of these began in North America or anywhere else but all took place in quite a few different parts of Europe).

We had only known each other for a month in person but had been in contact virtually for a few years before we saw each other again.

It was by accident that I had even met you because we had no friends in common. We came from different countries and backgrounds. We weren’t even doing a semester exchange at the same university or living in the same part of the city.

It was purely coincidental that you met the traveling ex-Italian army officer turned musician who had heard and met my friends and I playing music and singing on the lawn of your university one afternoon.

But I suppose that’s destiny: you can’t truly comprehend it.

And then after exchanging long messages, handwritten letters and photos all in Spanish – which wasn’t even our native language – I visited your hometown and we met up for dinner.

You were a gentleman in every aspect of the word, even down to paying the bill at the restaurant for both of us. I found it odd that earlier in the night, you didn’t want to help me find an ATM before we went into the Indian restaurant we chose to dine in.

I never did care for your native language nor found it intriguing until I heard you speak it flawlessly in front of me in the restaurant and placed our orders. I guess that changes when you know and care about someone who has spent their whole life speaking it.

The conversation flowed naturally and we reminisced about our study abroad home, your recent visit there and my upcoming visit in the spring. We thought back to the people we were then and who was sitting before us. A lot had changed since then but our common interests and friendship hadn’t.

I had told someone in my shared hostel dorm that my dinner with you was a date but we never spoke about what it was. I don’t consider it a date, even though you graciously waved away my polite plea to pay for my half of the meal.

We both were no longer students and you had a good job at last. I was really proud and happy for you.

It was so good to see you but as we gave each other the traditional “dos besos” we knew so well, something deep within told me that I wouldn’t see you again.

We would message and stay in touch sporadically for a couple more years until our communication gently faded into silence. I didn’t foresee this happening immediately after I left your city but a lingering thought as I made my way to my next destination was the confirmation I needed.

With the last postcard I would ever send to you in hand, something deep inside of me told me that it was okay to let you go. We weren’t meant to be anything more than friends even though I had dreamed of so many different scenarios, so many different endings to our story. Distance, language barriers, cultural differences and fear of the unknown were too much for us.

The funny thing about our story is that I had to meet a Galician guy who was studying in my hometown in order to have been able to meet you.

But since the amount of evangelical Christians in our region was small, I probably would’ve met you one way or another.

Or perhaps not at all because you were and still are a med student.

The type of person my roommate warned me never to get involved in.

If I ever developed feelings for someone who was a med student or even worse a doctor, I should rip them out of me and stomp on them.

Or something like that. (She was in love with and dated a med student turned doctor for nearly decade and let’s just say it didn’t work out.)

You were so kind to me and helped me get settled into my new city. I still remember when we met for the first time in my friend’s church in a smaller, overlooked town and you told me the two of you grew up together.

Of all the people I met that Sunday with my travel buddy of a friend, I can’t explain why you and I had a stronger connection than anyone else.

It was from that first meeting and over the summer that we stayed in touch by message or email and you asked me all sorts of questions about the English language and culture while you spent part of a summer immersed in what’s now known as Robin Hood’s old stomping grounds.

As much as I enjoyed meeting up with you, going to church with you the times you didn’t go home to your village and our cultural and linguistic discussions, there were obvious things that wouldn’t work out and kept us as friends.

The biggest thing was age. I was four years older and I was farther into my career and working years. You wouldn’t jump into the working world until much, much later.

I had bigger and passionate dreams to chase then. Now.

I couldn’t put my life on hold.

And I can’t simply brush off the fact that someone tells me they would never live in either North or South America. I want to fully explore the latter continent but the former is my home. It may not be somewhere I will live again but I don’t want someone to close the door permanently on that idea without having ever experienced life there.

You were handsome, funny and quirky – just like me, but I realized later that year that you needed to have your own life experiences and follow the path set before you. I couldn’t wait for you to mature, become more experienced or to change.

I still wish you the best and thank you for being a Christian friend who encouraged me in my walk. I especially needed that encouragement and those prayers when I started to lose faith and hope in my journey the following months and year later.

This isn’t going to be a very long story but it’s memorable nonetheless.

You’re now nothing but a stranger and someone I once had breakfast with in a major city. If I were to see you in a crowd or bump shoulders with you, I wouldn’t recognize you.

However, your act of kindness will stick with me for a while longer.

You were the first person I met from a popular online dating site.

You were a native of the city where I was visiting and passed through multiple times before…but this visit was different.

I had never just happened to be in a city I didn’t live in and decided to go on a date with someone.

It was just the beginning of the number I would find myself brave enough to do and ever so slowly crack my introverted shell wide open.

Our conversation flowed quite nicely and you complimented me on my choice of breakfast that morning: pan con tomate y aceite de oliva. As a passing, yet flirty comment, you said I might be more Spanish than American after a couple years of living here.

Though I had a lovely time and it added to the good experiences I had in your city that week, there were obvious things and beliefs that wouldn’t between us.

If I remember correctly, you identified as an atheist. (So that’s a deal breaker for a second date.) We had a few main things in common (travel, languages, cultural fascinations, etc) but not enough to form even a casual relationship.

But, it was the reason you gave for wanting to pay for my breakfast was what I’ll always remember. It could’ve very well have been a flirty response but I felt it was sincere.

“Eres unainvitada en mi ciudad y serĂ­a un placer invitarte.”
[English: You’re a guest in my city and it would be a pleasure to treat you for breakfast.]

Thank you for your kindness. (And for being old school and suggesting we call each other to chat when I returned back to my old city, though we never spoke again.)


I’ll be honest, I couldn’t stop staring at you the entire (and only) night we met and went out for drinks and tapas.

I know he’s not young-looking anymore but you looked like the Spanish Mel Gibson.

You spoke an interesting mix of languages: French, German and Spanish (and another regional one). You had lived in Switzerland and traveled all over. You most oftentimes traveled to a location to race and cycle professionally.

I even remember you showing and explaining to me what the cross-country cycling competition in the US was like and how you wanted to enter. And happily pay $3,000 to do so.

I didn’t quite understand that but I admired your passion for your sport. I also, for the life of me, could not understand just a few moments later why I had to express what I was vehemently explaining to you with such wide hand movements.

If I had realized that our table at the first bar was so small and my glass of Albariño was so close to me, I would’ve controlled myself.

But I didn’t.

And, to my horror, my hand bumped the wine glass and it toppled over the side of the table near the wall, splashing my purse and tarnishing my “I’ve never broken dishware while on a date before” reputation.

It was that night that I learned how to laugh off embarrassment while on a date and embrace the silly moments.

You taught me an expression that went something like, “eres tan bueno que ni has roto un plato (you’re such a goody two shoes that you’ve never broken a plate) and I’ll never forget that moment.

Though age, location and similar interests (plus, you showed me photos of your new kitten!) were correctly aligned, you didn’t share my faith nor were things ever perfectly natural between us. I forced things too much.

But even still, I hope you always remember me as that one American girl who broke her wine glass while on a date.

Of all my travel love stories, this one by far was my saddest. And it was the most definitive of them all. This one pseudo relationship taught me so much in such a short period of time that it still blows my mind to this day.

How much I could learn about myself and seeing the true colors of someone else in just a six month time period was astounding.

But this guy, you as he will only be referred to in this post, was probably my biggest mistake and lesson of them all.

How you dropped into my life and how I was ultimately plucked from yours, I’ll never be able to explain.

But, knowing what I know now, I should’ve dropped you the first day you became unresponsive to one of my messages and chickened out on meeting me in person, going on the trip we had planned nearly a month before.

You always said all the right things but your follow through on anything besides a Skype call here and there sucked.

What sucked more was how I let myself give you chance after chance when I should’ve said enough. This guy doesn’t care about me.

I had such little experience in dating then that I let myself be used and emotionally abused by you.

But being hurt by you just made me stronger.

Though my anger has faded greatly with time, I’ll never forget the blaring warning bell that went off in my head the first moment I saw you standing by a familiar statue in a large, central square.

In the city I was set to move to for you in a couple of months.

I looked around to see if anyone else heard it but I was the only one. The weekend didn’t get off to a good start to say the least.

And what was worse was the following day, in 35°C+ (97°F basically) weather, you left me stranded in the biggest park in the city. Because I was a few minutes late.

You clearly had better things to do.

But the heartbreak and eventual blocking on WhatsApp that followed hurt. And so was the realization of how stupid I was to open myself up to the idea of love with the wrong person.

My friends consoled me upon my return to a much more refreshing part of the country. “Being in love makes us do silly things,” they said. “He didn’t deserve you. You’re better off without him.”

And I was.

More so, I was extremely glad I didn’t buy a dress for a stupid guy in order to look the way he wanted me to look.

We had met a few months before but we just happened to be visiting the same city at the same time. How often does that happen?

My friend and I met you at a traditional restaurant I suggested we all try. It was near the harbor and the main square but it was dark so we couldn’t go out to see the surrounding area.

I don’t know what we enjoyed most that night: swapping observations about the city or the burning smoked sausage tapa we tried. And what I remembered ordering my first time in that restaurant a few years prior.

It wasn’t my first time experiencing that city but it was my first time being there and understanding the language. It was unforgettable.

The only thing I would change about that night was how much time we spent with you. Part of us arriving late was my fault – but then again, when isn’t it my fault? haha

The thing you don’t know is that I was messaging the guy I was interested in at the time in my third language and I couldn’t get over how cool that was.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have even wasted my breath or third language knowledge on that immature adolescent “man.” I should’ve spent more time chatting with you and getting to know you better.

My travel buddy -and friend today- tried to dangle you in front of me as someone I should be consider being with. But then again, I don’t know what her true motive was. Maybe she was just giving a friendly suggestion.

Who knows.

If I could go back in time and passed by us in the street, I would’ve yelled at the top of my lungs, “Hey, your friend is right! Don’t waste your time on that stupid, immature English guy you’ve been texting for months.”

I will say that my over feeling and level of comfort with you never changed from the moment I met you. You were cool and laid back and you loved to travel.

Why couldn’t that be enough for me to want to get to know you better?

Well, I would have to let time run its course and hope our paths would cross again one day.

You were also one of the coincidental meetings in my travels that I can’t explain.

And you were almost a mistake I would’ve severely regretted but…I’m getting ahead of myself.

I can’t ever forget an important tip I learned from having met you and visiting your hometown, several hundred miles away from where I live now.

It’s funny to think how if I had changed my location on my online dating profile right after I had moved to my new city, you probably wouldn’t have ever found me and messaged me.

I suppose everyone crosses your path for a reason.

There were things about your character that I admired and respected at the time. You also showed me that not every British guy is a jerk and most are gentlemanly, provided they have matured first.

I’ll always be grateful for the high amount of respect you showed me during my visit and your hospitality. You were very kind and sweet but something was missing in our interactions.

Something I couldn’t put my finger on at the time because I had nothing to compare a kiss to back then.

Passion. That’s what was missing.

Though kissing you for the very first time next to a lighthouse and the seashore was amazing at the time (and helped me get over my shyness towards physical affection) our kisses lacked passion. Feeling.

I remember chuckling after our lips parted and you said, “See? Kissing doesn’t have to lead to anything else.”

Your eyes communicated something different but I didn’t confront it at the time.

Later on in the weekend, I did come to the realization of just how different our standards for a relationship weren’t equal. You didn’t share the same values that I upheld myself to.

You were perfect on paper but you weren’t right for me. We weren’t right for each other.

And most importantly, nothing in my life connected me to where you lived.

But I just want to thank you for indirectly showing me how important the setting of a first kiss is. That truly made a difference in my first (and last) serious relationship and how beautifully it began.

And still continues today.

Think you can guess the cities these love stories took place?

The full list coming on March 1st. Stay tuned…

1,000 Days Away From Home: A Complete Guide to Surviving Life Abroad [E-book Announcement]

Hola!

I’m Sarah, the owner of this website and a young, travel-loving American expat who lives abroad in Spain. I aspire to have more stamps in my passport than years on this Earth. I’m multi-lingual, curious about the world and currently have made my home base Madrid, the capital city of Spain. My main desire when I travel is to show my audience how other people in the world live through my experiences And my main goal when I travel is to encourage other Christian women to explore the world, even going to countries the media threatens to convince us are dangerous. As long as you do plenty of research and use common sense when you travel, no place in the world should be off-limits. 

That’s my background and travel philosophy but let’s get to the real reason why you’re here. 

The E-book!

I’ve compiled and answered a list of questions you might have as you decide whether or not you would like to support this new endeavor of mine and purchase this book. Let’s take a look:

  •  What will the book be about? 

This comprehensive guide will elaborate on what it’s like to live abroad on your own from the very first days and weeks to staying away for months and then years without returning home.

September 21st, 2015: I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge that morning before my flight but had no idea I wouldn't return to any US city until 2018!
September 21st, 2015: I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge that morning before my flight but had no idea I wouldn’t return to any US city until 2018!

How the idea was born: 

I initially planned to be away from home for 1 year (after a previous stint of 9 months abroad straight) but due to travel and work opportunities as well as travel restrictions when my visa was in renewal, until June 30th, 2018 I hadn’t been home for a total of 2 years and 10 months. I saw a few friends during that time period but I wasn’t able to see my parents, brother, family friends or college friends at all. After a year and a half of living abroad in Spain, I started writing down my thoughts and tips on what it’s like to stay abroad for long-term and how to survive key moments in the passing months and years you’ll be in your new country. 

Now, I would like to compile all of the information and research I’ve gathered and put it into an easy-to-read guide for anyone else who finds themselves living abroad for months or years at a time. It can also be useful for anyone who is considering living abroad for a long period of time but isn’t sure if it is something they would be able to handle. It’s for both experienced and inexperienced travelers who have spent or plan to spend a long time abroad without returning home for months to years at a time. Additionally, this book would be a good resource for missionaries or missionary trainees who desire to volunteer overseas but are unsure if they could thrive during an extended period of time abroad.

Living abroad isn't always filled with grand adventures and spectacular views but it is an experience worth having. In my book, I'll keep it real by highlighting both the positive and negative aspects to living abroad long-term.
Living abroad isn’t always filled with grand adventures and spectacular views but it is an experience worth having. In my book, I’ll keep it real by highlighting both the positive and negative aspects to living abroad long-term.
  • How long will it be and what topics will it cover?

The desired word count goal is around 20,000 words in a digital E-book format. It will be written from a female, American perspective living in a developed country that has a significantly lower salary and lower cost of living than the US. It will cover living abroad long-term in narrative form and broken down into stages (1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, etc). 

It will cover initial culture shock and tips on how to overcome it by making conscious decisions to assimilate to the new culture in the first few weeks. It will also focus on routines and holidays traditions you should strive to maintain in order to remain connected to your home country. The content and tips can be applicable to people from multiple English speaking countries.

One of my home away from homes, plus, quite possibly my favorite place on Earth: the Plaza de España in Sevilla.
One of my home away from homes, plus, quite possibly my favorite place on Earth: the Plaza de España in Sevilla.
  • What needs to be done in order to complete it?

I need to organize my initial research, edit and condense existing blog posts on sarahlaviajera.com and take a short break from my regular freelance work in order to finish this project fully on its own. I would also like to take my time with it (3 month deadline) in order to go at my own pace by diligently and accurately compiling all of the research. 

  • How will I reinvest the profits I earn back into my website?

What I receive from this campaign will cover the cost of writing and publishing the Ebook (in terms of my time) as well as the time it will take to finish researching the topic, editing and organizing existing material that will be used in the final product. It will also enable me to dedicate my time in perfecting and tweaking this collection of life experiences and advice to help my existing audience and reach others I’ve yet to help.

Inspiration can strike even in the most ordinary of places... (Photo: Monte Pedroso in Santiago de Compostela, Spain)
Inspiration can strike even in the most ordinary of places… (Photo: Monte Pedroso in Santiago de Compostela, Spain)

A portion of the proceeds will also go towards maintenance of my website and the ability to invest in resources that will further help my audience of Christian travel loving women.

Here’s a short list of products and services I plan to invest in:

 1. High quality, digital microphone for recording and developing a future podcast series (featuring Christian women who are traveling or residing in another part of the world) ($100)

2. A paid theme for my website to add e-commerce features in order to sell the e-Book directly from my page ($45-$70)

3. E-book writing and editing software (Scrivener) ($40)

4. Sell book via Gumroad ($10/month for the subscription; $120 for the first year)

There's whole world waiting out there for you to explore...what's stopping you? (Casa Lis in Salamanca, Spain)
There’s whole world waiting out there for you to explore…what’s stopping you? (Casa Lis in Salamanca, Spain)
  • Why should you support and purchase this book?

In the past 10 years, a considerable amount of young adults (ages 18-35) have been choosing a life of travel or living abroad instead of financial stability. An estimated 9 million non-military American citizens live abroad and in a survey just over 2,000 respondents, half of “millennials” currently residing in the US would prefer to live overseas. (See source: http://fortune.com/2015/07/01/americans-move-abroad/)

In an era where travel is easier today than it ever has been before and globalization and bilingualism are the norms, it’s imperative to provide more digital resources and books for expats who choose to live abroad for long periods of time.

I feel that there is a lack of resources in this particular genre (assimilating to a new culture for a long time period) written from firsthand experience. Not only would the sales of this book provide monetary support for me and allow me to be paid to write it, it would provide immense value and insight for my readers, both present and future, who may want to stay abroad for longer but aren’t sure what awaits them on the other side of their decision.

With this first project, I would like to use it as a stepping stone to becoming a leader in making the transition to living abroad, coping with initial homesickness, culture shock, and then later reverse culture shock (when you finally do go home after being away) and offering advice to those who wish to create a permanent home away from home, wherever they choose. 

I'll make sure you get from Point A to Point B - just follow the map! [Photo: Carnival in LalĂ­n (Ourense), Spain]
I’ll make sure you get from Point A to Point B – just follow the map! [Photo: Carnival in LalĂ­n (Ourense), Spain]
  • What benefits will readers like you receive receive from this book?

Experienced travelers/expats will benefit from:

  • Seeing what it’s like to stay away from home for varying periods of time and see if their experience was similar (and/or better or worse)
  • Learning valuable advice and insight on how to overcome culture shock, homesickness and reverse culture shock at various stages (what 6 months abroad looks like compared to 1-2 years or more looks like)

Inexperienced travelers and expats will benefit from:

  • Reading a firsthand account from someone from a developed country who didn’t go home at all for over 2 and half years and see what staying away from their culture for so long was really like.
  • Getting a “try before you buy” deal by reading what it’s like to live abroad for a long period of time before actually doing it themselves.

These are just a handful of the many benefits you will receive from investing in the creation of this book. The experiences and rewards I am offering will also offer immense help and insight, Whether it’s needing mentoring, making a decision to move abroad or getting to know a Spanish city I’ve spent a considerable amount of time by having a personalized chat with me, there is something for everyone.

I sincerely thank you for your time in reading about my passion project and any financial support you are able to give. Each dollar you give will be an investment into my career and in turn, an investment in men and women across the globe who wish to make a life for themselves in a country that is not their own.

Muchas gracias / Thank you so much / Muito obrigado / Grazie mille! 

Whatever you do, rain or shine, don't stop traveling! The world awaits you... (Photo: London, England)
Whatever you do, rain or shine, don’t stop traveling! The world awaits you… (Photo: London, England, 2017)

Winter in Spain: 12 Survival Tips

It’s January in Madrid and that means extremely chilly nights, shorter days and freezing temperatures. The past 6 weeks have been full of brilliant sunshine (like every single day, I’m not kidding) but today has been the first official, bitterly cold day of the year. So, it’s official, real winter in Spain has arrived and I’m here to tell you that it’s only going to get colder as we head into February in a couple of weeks.

At the first mention of “Spain”, you are probably imagining sun-soaked streets, sizzling golden sand beaches and endless tinto de veranos or sangria drank by lightly clothed sun seekers on an outdoor terrace.

Well, that only describes one part of Spain and only in the summer.

Winter in Spain is real.

Real cold.

And it can get bitterly cold (Madrid) or wet (Galicia or Pais Vasco) or blustery (Castilla y LeĂłn).

If you live in or visit AndalucĂ­a, you’ll quickly realize that your apartment building may not be properly insulated for winter (read: it isn’t) and if you aren’t one of the lucky ones who has central heating, you may freeze. And the outside temperature will most likely be warmer than the iciness inside your own apartment.

You’re in luck, though. I’m on my sixth winter here in Spain (1 in AndalucĂ­a, 2 in Galicia and now my 3rd in Madrid) and I want to share with you all my tips and tricks to beating the cold.

So grab a blanket, warm up that cup of tea nearby that you forgot about and let’s talk about how you can stay warm(er) this winter in Spain.

1. Take a walk and soak up the sun!

Parque de Retiro (January 1, 2019)

Unless you live in the rainy North, most of Spain will be nice and sunny during the day. The only bad thing about it is that there are fewer hours of daylight. Only a little more than nine hours most days.

So, take advantage of the time you have, be it on a lunch break or before you go back to work or classes in the afternoon.

Get out there!

Go to the park. Go for a run. Lay on a park bench.  Do anything to force yourself outside to go absorb some of that liquid gold Spain is known for.

Not only will your body thank you but your mind will as well. Beat the winter blues and doldrums that might creep into your mind by giving yourself a necessary Vitamin D or endorphin boost.

The best hours of the day to be in the sun would be between 3-5 p.m here.

If it’s sunny right now while you’re reading this, bookmark this post and catch those rays.

2. Dress very warmly when you go outside.

Maybe you’re reading this and it’s your first time living in a European country. Or maybe it’s not. The main piece of advice I can give you here is to bundle up! I know there are tons of cute dresses and stylish coats or scarves on rebajas (winter sales) right now but don’t give in!

Save those for the summer.

Choose jeans or dress pants over a stylish dress or skirt with nylons. Wear boots instead of cute flats that show off your feet (save the skin showing for the summer!). Heed this warning: the less bundled up you are, the quicker you’ll get sick!

So, wrap up with the thickest scarf, a hat or cute headband (see photo) and wear your heaviest coat! And if you’re walking back from a fun night out, don’t let your hands go bare.

Wear gloves!

You’ll not only save them from further winter damage but you’ll stay toasty warm, too. 🙂

2. Add layers – especially underneath!

We women have the amazing ability to layer and color code an outfit with ease. So why would wearing an extra (usually thin) layer of leggings or tights be such a task?

Back to the choosing fashion over warmth dilemma: is the fashion worth it?

In the summer, I would argue yes…but in the winter?

No chance.

If you live somewhere quite flat like in Castilla y LeĂłn or near Alicante and Valencia, the cold will chap your face and hands and the wind will cut through you like that sword you should’ve bought down in Toledo.

In Madrid here, the presence of the mountains alone-especially in the northern part of the city- affects the weather drastically.

To the northwest in beautiful yet rainy Galicia, the damp cold will sink into your bones and stay there until…well, June if the winter’s nice and long. (Sadly, I’m not joking here but speaking from experience.)

If you live in la capital or have quite a long commute to work or school, the downside to this is that wearing an extra warm layer will most likely make you sweat or overheat a bit.

Unfortunately, it’s one of the small sacrifices you’ll have to make to stay warm once you go back out into the frigid cold.

And that’s when you’ll think back and thank me for this tip. 😛

3. Wear high-quality thermal leggings, socks or shirts.

As you just saw in the previous tip, layering in the winter in Spain is essential.

However, it’s important to note that the fabrics of the clothes you buy also play a huge role in keeping warm.

Though they’re not exactly breathable fabrics, thermal fabrics are the best things you can invest in.

Leggings, socks, spandex, breathable athletic shirts…

Whatever you like best, stock up on them and make sure you keep those at least until March (but please wash them, haha).

Thick wool socks are perfect to wear with boots or at night. If you mix and match between wearing thermal and wool items of clothing, you’ll definitely be able to stay a lot warmer this winter.

4. Layer up inside your home, too!

Whether you live in an apartment or an actual house, it’s always best to dress warmly inside, too.

You may be able to get away with walking out of the bathroom post-shower barefoot for a few seconds, but don’t risk spending any more time barefoot. Save that for the scorching hot summer which will be coming sooner than you can imagine.

Make sure you get a nice pair of thick, warm slippers, a nice wool sweater and a blanket or two just for afternoons you might spend on the sofa with Netflix or the odd variety of old movies on some of the Spanish channels.

I spend the majority of my time working for home so I want to not only feel warm but maintain a dress business casual look. (Not everyone is like me, I know, but I am totally against working in my pajamas *shudder*)

By wearing a wool blazer, I can accomplish both things and that makes me happy.

Wear whatever makes you happy inside but definitely pile on the layers, especially when it takes forever for the central heating system in your apartment building takes eons to turn on.

Pro-tip: Find an apartment in Spain with a central heating system and where the cost of heating is included in the price of your rent. **It took me 9 moves all around the country to find this so it’s not an easy feat – but totally worth it in the end!**

6. Drink copious amounts of warm beverages and cook lots of hot meals.

drinks of tea during winter in Spain

Cute kitty mugs sold separately.

For an American, I have a pretty ginormous tea collection. I have two reasons for this:

a) My dad’s grandparents were English

b) My Northern Irish fiancé practically spoon feeds me tea, haha

But, seriously.

I have a whole shelf worth’s of tea in a storage cabinet in my room. With nearly 60 different types of tea.

Yes, you read that right: 60!

So…needless to say, I drink a lot of tea pretty much year round but especially in the winter.

This is the time to drink all the coffee, hot chocolate or tea that you want. And cook up your mom’s traditional soup or chili recipes if you have any on hand.

Take advantage of the time you have to thoroughly enjoy these beverages and delicious meals while you can. Come summer all you’ll want to do is slurp down refreshingly cool gazpacho and lay on the floor to get cool.

That is you live or dare to spend the summer in Madrid….(more to come on that.)

7. Keep your blinds down at night or whenever you’re not at home.

The Spanish sun is a magical thing, as I mentioned earlier in this post. It has its pros and cons but one thing I think anyone who’s visited or lived here before can all agree on is that it’s strong.

However, Spanish homes and apartments are fully equipped to block it out when necessary. They do that through these thick, blackout blinds called persianas. This particular type of blind is located outside of the window (or between two sets of windows). And you roll it up or down via a wide strand of fabric attached to a pully system to block the sun’s harmful rays or trap the heat from your radiators or portable heater inside.

In the summer, these blinds are good for blocking out the sun and heating up the rooms in your home. In the winter, it can keep the blistering cold temperatures from getting inside.

What these blinds do all year round is can trick you into thinking it’s still dark outside but it’s not! Remember if you do pull these down overnight, don’t forget to set an alarm so you don’t sleep the morning (and your responsibilities) away!

8. Find an apartment with a double set of windows or good insulation

I definitely recommend you try to find an apartment that comes with double sets of windows to keep extreme temperatures out.

Only one apartment where I lived in Galicia (Santiago) and my current apartment in Madrid had these heat and cold blocking windows.

They’re perfect for keeping your home better insulated, especially in areas like Galicia, Madrid, and AndalucĂ­a (or even the flatter parts of Castilla y LeĂłn).

9. Use a hot water bottle during the day or before bed.

A few years ago, a friend of mine gifted me the hot water bottle she bought when she visited Dublin, Ireland. She didn’t have a use for it back in her home state and she knew I was staying in Spain at least for another year (funny how that works) and I’ve found them to be quite useful.

A rule of thumb – and common sense – is to not fill them with boiling water. The bottles are usually made of rubber with a plastic lid cover and boiling water would definitely melt the plastic part. You can fill one about halfway with room temperature or cold water and then heat it up in the microwave for a few minutes.

Use an insulated cover like the cute one I saw in a store (pictured above) to help the bottle maintain its warmth. I wouldn’t recommend applying it directly to your skin but at least under one layer of clothes is fine. Hug it to yourself or put it on your back to keep winter’s chill away.

10. Put up a dark-colored blackout curtain (also works for summer, too.)

Similar to the blackout blinds tip, a blackout curtain is also something you can use in both the winter and summer months.

The bottom line is the more heat you can trap inside and more cold you can block on the outside, the better off you and your roommates will be.

One of the most beautiful things about having opaque or blackout curtains during winter in Spain is that they absorb heat on both sides. I brought mine over from the US this past summer and with each season, I can notice a significant change in the temperature in my room.

So, if you’re currently living here or plan to move here in the next year and have one of these lying around – put it up! It doesn’t matter if it will go with the color of your walls – it probably won’t – but you will thank yourself later on.

The dark purple curtain you see above was actually purchased when I was a junior in college (nearly 10 years ago!) and I thought I’d never get any more use out of it…well, I was happily proven wrong. 🙂

11. Sleep underneath a mountain of blankets!

This one is pretty self-explanatory but it should be on this list regardless.

Don’t skimp on blankets especially if you’re spending the winter in Madrid or Castilla y LeĂłn. There are several small mountain regions nearby these areas making the temperatures more prone to drop suddenly during the winter. If you’re living in a coastal area, you’ll be pleased to know that the sea will act as a natural regulator and do its best to keep frigid temperatures away, thankfully.

Pile on the blankets! Make sure you sleep with a mix of fabrics (mostly cotton is recommended) so you can still be comfortable at night. On my bed, I’ve got cotton sheets, a light blanket a wool-like blanket, a comforter (duvet) and a slightly heavier blanket that I also use for picnics in the park.

12. Cuddle with someone special

This is a just-for-fun tip but it’s still highly effective if you happen to be in a relationship during a Spanish winter. Save some euros on your electric bill by cuddling up with said special someone or have a personal hand warmer for the walk back from your metro or bus stop.

But while wintertime is the perfect time to have someone special nearby to cuddle with, I wouldn’t pair yourself up with just anyone.

The best types of relationships are the ones that aren’t forced and where you can be yourself. If you don’t believe me, read my unedited thoughts about dating relationships.

And that’s a wrap! Hope these tips help you stay roasty, toasty warm this year. 🙂

Is there anything I missed in regards to surviving and staying warm during the winter in Spain? Comment below and join the discussion. I’d love to hear from you!

A Love Letter to My Twenties, 2008-2018

There are few decades in life that allow you the time freedom, the exploration, and dream chasing that the twenties allow each and every one of us…if we’re lucky enough to reach them.
 
The painful start to this decade and all the tears I shed at just age 20 and 3 months later turned out to be water for the seeds I would sow and the harvest I began to reap the following year. At the time, I just couldn’t see past the pain of losing a friend who would never get to experience the joys and the struggles of this decade. The journey ended for her with a screeching halt and the teens were the last epoch she ever experienced.
 
And then several years later on, I would discover that with those same tears that had spilled down my cheeks time and time again, I had created a flourishing flower bed of friendships. And its grounds would stretch across the world, breaking both physical and linguistic barriers, and uniting me with so many beautiful souls.
 
As I look back to the beginning of this decade, I rejoice in the fact that I didn’t let what could have turned into crippling grief mar what would be the most definitive and formative time of my life.
 
A decade that was mine.
 
Full of adventures, scars, dirty hands and feet, amazing food, deep conversations, last minute plans, long, sleepless nights, overnight flights and buses in countries I wasn’t all too familiar with and thousands upon thousands of hours of listening, speaking, reading and writing a language I’ve been in love with for a good portion of my life. (Español)
 
And then towards the end of it, when I least expected it and with someone I was almost too blind to see along the way, love was waiting for me.
 
I had always hoped (and prayed) that, against society’s and my family’s norms, that I would meet someone who was completely out of my social circles. Someone who didn’t go to the same high school or college as me. Someone who didn’t work in the same field and didn’t quite speak the same language as me.
 
I thought I wanted (and planned as much as humanly possible) to have found my mate and be married by 25, I thought I would be ready emotionally, physically and spiritually speaking by then.
 
You know what? I wasn’t even close.
 
I hadn’t even been on an official date at that age yet! How on earth was I supposed to be ready to marry someone if I had virtually no experience as to how to be a good mate let alone find one?
 
I’ll let you in on a little secret. A lesson I’ve learned in these past 10 years….
 
Everything and everyone comes into your life at just the appropriate time. And as painful as it is in the moment, they also leave it at the appropriate time.
 
If you were supposed to meet the person you will marry in a sandbox in kindergarten and spend the rest of your lives growing up alongside each other, you will.
 
That’s your destiny.
 
But if you’re supposed to meet them later on in life, after high school, college and first jobs, and even in another country and time zone, you will.
 
Even if a million other things could’ve gone wrong or you could’ve been delayed in running into them by just a minute or two, fate will pull some strings and still allow you two to meet.
 
The best lesson I’ve ever learned this decade was this: you can’t screw up the right thing.
 
And believe me, I almost did in the last year but thankfully I came to my senses and stopped denying what I was feeling in my heart.
 
Looking back on the last 9 years, over 12 moves and 5 opportunities to redefine myself, I can only feel a deep sense of gratitude for this decade that God preserved mostly for me. For my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual growth, for cultivating my passions and dreams and becoming who I am as a child of God. A beloved daughter whom He has spared, rescued and loved through times of utter despair and also in times of pure joy.
 
I had no clue that I would be looking back at this decade in another country, with a different relationship status and with the knowledge of 3 more languages in addition to my native one.
 
Not every year of this past decade has been the best, but if I squeeze all the good out of all those years combined, they would warm my entire house for all winter and then some. The worst moments of this decade will be buried deep below the sand and washed away like waves crashing against the shore.
 
The best moments will always be at the forefront of my mind and heart, reminding me to not quit on myself or the dreams that are still to be fulfilled.
 
And last, but not least, it will be time to say goodbye to the one thing that holds the majority of my stories, hopes, dreams, trials, challenges and moments of utter bliss: my passport. With it, I saw and experienced 14 new countries in past 10 years. If it could talk, it would share the nitty-gritty of all the places we’ve been to.
 
I will always miss the person I was and became to be during this decade but I will always be grateful to her for taking so many leaps of faith and trusting that things would work out for the best, no matter what.
 
And, as I cross into a new, undiscovered decade, I will need her company. Her passport, her lessons, her memories. My memories and all the support I’ve had during this time to help carry me forward into an undefined period of my life.
 
Where I will experience many more changes and hopefully share a life and create a family of my own with the amor de mi vida. Mi media naranja.
 
And you know what? My wish did come true one very magical night on November 4th, 2018…
 
 
He asked…and I said yes! 

Here’s to a new decade and a fresh start. Show me what you’ve got 30s!

Confessions of a Late 20 Something: Body Image and Self-Esteem

Welcome to a new yet short series I wanted to do as a way to close out my twenties and pass on some valuable advice. I’ll talk about dating, body image and self-esteem and the working world from a female perspective.

This will be a 3-part series lasting only until the end of 2018. Why you might ask? Well,  in just a few short weeks, I will cross over into a new decade: my 30s.

Working-that-body-image

If I can end my 20 something years with a few more hand-painted tile discoveries, I will be one happy girl!

It’s a little bit scary to type that out on paper so to speak but they are literally just around the corner for me. My twenties have personally been hands down my best decade and they have largely been full of things I’ve wanted to do or places I’ve wanted to go. It’s truly the decade where I not only found my voice but my home abroad, my purpose and passion in life.

But, before I embark on a new decade, I wanted to pass on some advice I’ve learned through my own life experiences to those who will still be going through the trenches and navigating these very formative years.

So, without further ado…these are my unedited thoughts on body image and self-esteem.

Basing self-esteem on how you feel vs. what you’ve had to do in order to get to where you are

A lot of people who interact with me have told me that I seem very comfortable in my own skin. I seem to be totally accepting of who I am (female), what I look like (skinny) and that I’m always encouraging and optimistic (indicating a high level of self-esteem).

I am very accepting of what I look like and I am very encouraging but…I’m also human. And we are our biggest critics, aren’t we?

I’ll let you in on a secret: though I’m mostly happy with my size…I haven’t (and still struggle with) always liked myself. I used to always get defensive after I received a compliment from someone or would swirl the comment around in my head wondering if I really was…cute, beautiful, intelligent, just to name a few.

You may be reading this and can relate to me.

Did you also have:

Acne?

Crooked or discolored teeth?

Unwanted facial or body hair?

Scars?

I’ve had (and still have) all of those.

Physically speaking, I’m far from perfect.

And I let that single thought stunt my emotional and personal growth for many years. During those ever so sensitive and fragile teenage years and up until my mid-twenties.

That was a big mistake I made but at the time my physical flaws and imperfections were hard to look past. After all, when you’re 15, looking the most fashionable or stylish may be one of your main concerns. Or getting straight A’s might be your only focus. I couldn’t control or compete with the first thing so I focused on the latter. If I couldn’t look like the most beautiful person in school or my city (though it was never my goal to be this), I could focus on having the most beautiful mind.

Whatever your talents or passions are…whatever it is you’re good at, do that. And don’t stop until you’re the best. Plain and simple.

From a physical standpoint here’s how all those things on that list above held me back:

Acne held me back from seeing my true beauty. It held me back from talking to a guy my age and dating in my teens or early 20-something years. (I wasn’t emotionally ready to date at those times in my life so I don’t regret letting some of those opportunities pass me by.) It made me self-conscious at interviews or when speaking in public or presenting a project for a class. It wasn’t until I started eating fresher foods and focused on truly nourishing my body that I started to see it disappear and my self-esteem go way up. (But as I write this at 29, I’m still struggling with it but in the form of hormonal imbalances.)

My less than straight and genetically discolored teeth have usually held me back from speaking up and letting my voice be heard. Which is why I began to love writing so much from my late teens until now. It let me use my voice without ever needing to open my mouth.  I still have never been able to afford braces or have consistent health insurance (until I moved to Spain) so I struggle with this one on a daily basis. But it’s not such a painful way as I did before. More on that later.

Unwanted facial (and body) hair has been something I’ve struggled with off and on for a number of years but it wasn’t until 2014 that I was able to find an almost permanent solution. It’s bad enough when women have hair in a place they don’t want but when your complexion is pale and your hair ranges from dark brown to jet black? Yeah…that’s a problem! This also held me back from realizing my true beauty and was the reason why I almost always refused to be seen in public in a bikini. Or go to a spa with my friends because that would require a lot of careful personal maintenance to even be able to go and enjoy it. To some, I have the perfect body and can wear or eat practically anything but that one minute (yet enormous) detail used to ruin the experience for me.

Behind a couple of physical scars are stories about two of the most painful times in my life. One was just physically painful but the other hurt me down to my soul. By having private health insurance and waiting until it was the right time, I had surgery to repair my torn earlobe and you can learn more about the procedure I underwent.

The lingering response I would always have for someone was (and still is at times)…if only you saw what I saw in the mirror.

But you know what? They don’t.

The majority of people that I know are real people. With acne scars, love handles, imperfect teeth or complexions…they’re a normal person.

However, their personality or sense of humor or passion for whatever it is they dedicate themselves to in life makes them the most perfect person in the world.

And the same goes for me.

The people who really love and care about me see the whole package: my personality, sense of humor, voice, passion, values, character and lastly, looks. 

If you focus only on looks you’re missing out big time. I wish I had learned this years ago but I’m glad the lesson finally stuck. And it will for you, too.

Think about the people closest to you and write down what it is you like or love about them.

Your whole perspective will change.

Hide only to heal your wounds, not to hide your beautiful self from others

I did this for a while and probably longer than I should have but I did it. 

I wouldn’t recommend it. 

But from the years 2013-2016 I stayed in on nights I should’ve gone out. Hid myself behind glasses, heavy fleeces, giving myself a curfew or blaming the public transportation or the weather as to why I couldn’t stay out later. 

Something you may not know about me is that I’ve never owned a car. And I’m from the biggest car dependent country in the world. 

Cause my country is ginormous. 

What’s more is that I decided to go study in the largest city by area in the country: Jacksonville, Florida. And I never owned a car during the 6 years I lived there.

But in early 2014, I moved out of there and made my way over to Spain once again. As much as I wanted to start over in a new region and ultimately meet someone special, I spent the first two years in Spain mostly hiding from the world.

Trying to heal from the damage having excess facial hair and the painful experiences I had with waxing it off.

But that was when I discovered laser hair removal and that made all the difference for me. The problems didn’t go away overnight but I was able to get back to feeling comfortable in my own skin. I describe this phase as like being in a cocoon and then when I finally left Galicia, I emerged as a butterfly, ready to spread her wings and fly once again.

Accepting your flaws and scars

This will probably be the shortest section of the entire post as there’s no rhyme or reason to it. You simply must accept the things you can’t change about yourself. And love who you are. Period.

I do love myself but there have been many times in my life -even still today- that I don’t care for myself. I treat myself really poorly and carelessly.

Nevertheless, there was a moment in my life a couple of years ago when I realized that I love who I am. And I didn’t feel that way because someone told me to reflect on all the things I love about myself or to try and treat myself better. It was the moment in which I really felt comfortable in my own skin. 

I was sitting alone in the Praza do Obradoiro 

Loving someone who has flaws and imperfections and healing yourself in the process

Love your body

Love heals all wounds. In whichever language you say it, it still rings true.