*COVID-19 impacts added. Last Update June 2020
Jeff had a great idea. Recap, succinctly, all the things we learned(so far) in our move to, and settling into, Spain. Not that I don’t want someone to read my entire blog, but if they really wanted to suss out the pertinent info it might be a rather time consuming undertaking. Lets face it, some of it is just plain nonsense, too.
Disclaimer: This is just an account of what we did. We’re not recommending anyone do what we did or use the providers we used. Everyone’s circumstances are their own and require other considerations – so please don’t consider the content of this blog an endorsement. But if we add a link it’s because we felt the service we received or the advice we got was helpful.
So here goes.
Making the decision:
Everyone is different, but I’m going to assume that if you’re thinking about moving to Spain (or another foreign country) that you’ve spent a decent amount of time there and know what you’re getting yourself into. OK, whew! That’s out of the way.
Now that you’re seriously considering pulling up roots and heading into the unknown (whether for your retirement or just a year or two abroad), here are a few things to think about.
- How well do you tolerate change? And by this, I mean a wholesale change in lifestyle, culture, language, priorities. Everything and anything you can think of will be different. Down to the quality of the toilet paper and the shape of a toilet seat (if there is one). It might seem quaint on a vacation, but when you move, it will be just how you live. Being open and honest with yourself about how well you tolerate inconvenience doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means that you’ll know yourself ahead of time and will understand what you’re feeling when you’re ready to pop a gasket.
- How will you support yourself, long term? This is a big one. I’ve heard so many stories about people who have a short term plan and hope that they can ‘find a job’ in Spain when they get here. First off, generally – unless you have a visa that will allow you to work – you can’t work while living in Spain. The unemployment rate is very high for college graduates in their 20’s and early 30’s. Spain is generally a service based economy now, so it’s hard for young people to find skilled work. They won’t take non-Spanish workers before they take a qualified Spanish candidate, so plan on NOT working. This means having considerable savings to live off of. But don’t freak out. The cost of living here is very favorable and if you are of retirement age, with a pension or Social Security, or trust income, you’ll do just fine.
- What the HELL are you thinking? Spain is a foreign country and you know no one. It’s a crazy idea and you should shut your laptop or turn off your tablet immediately and stop reading. Especially after reading the above two paragraphs. NOT!! You are reading this because you dream of moving to Spain, just like we did. And we all know, as my grandma used to say, ‘Where there’s a will, There’s a Way’. You just need to keep your feet on the ground, and under you, while you’re doing it. Easy Peasy.
- Back to Money – hope you have a pile. This process isn’t cheap. Every overnight envelope from Spain. To and from the FBI facilitator. To and From our Translator, multiple rounds. To and from the various Secretary’s of State to Apostille your documents and the US State Department – and the fees involved. Flying to Spain. Flying to LA for our consulate appointment. Flying back to pick up our visas. That doesn’t include leasing apartments, buying insurance, renting cars and hotels, and then parking euros in your new Spanish bank account ‘just in case’. It all costs and it’s expensive. And don’t get me started if you want to move goods and/or vehicle to Europe. Not just the shipping cost, but the duty and customs charges. When your husband cries over his motorcycle, stop him right there. It adds up.
Preparing for your visa appointment in the US:
Well, this is the most daunting part of the whole deal. Going into the Spanish Consulate website is scary. They make it sound like it will take piles of documents, and your first born, to EVER get approved for a visa. But here’s the thing, that’s not true. But there is a lot of work involved and they’re serious about you getting it right. But the appointment isn’t that scary and when it comes down to it, it’s pretty simple after you sift through all the words and read what it NOT written there. Email the Consulate 100 times and parse their responses for hidden meaning – because their requirements change without notice, and depending upon who you get at the consulate. But again,, they’re nice people. Here are the main things you need to know to be ready.
- Get everything stamped. This sounds stupid because we stamp nothing in the US, except maybe a notary when you buy a house or something. But other than that, stamps went away with the British departure after the revolution in 1776. We had a Tea Party in Boston over a stamp, so we did away with them and never looked back. But in Europe – and in Spain, for sure – they’re still all the rage and they want stamps. This means you’ll have to get your bank to stamp your bank statements. Your bank manager will respond with ‘Huh?’ and you’ll say ‘Yeah, I know’ and then you’ll explain that you don’t really care that all he has is an address stamp with the bank’s name on it. You just need him to take that stamp and use it on the summary page of your bank statements. You only need the summary page – not to detailed portion of the statement.
- Get new versions of any certificates – birth, marriage or otherwise. The dates on the back where we certify documents in your country can’t be very old. 3-6 months. So if you got married 20 years ago and you have an original? That will be too old. They’ll worry you got divorced in the meantime. Doesn’t make sense? Doesn’t matter, just get a newer certified copy.
- If your state – like Arizona – doesn’t do background checks, start early. We couldn’t go to the local or state police because Arizona doesn’t provide that service, so we had to go the FBI route. The FBI route takes more than 4 months. That’s too long. So pay for the outside vendor overnight fingerprint service, and pay for the service that sends your back ground through in less than a week. It will cost you but it’s worth it for less stress.
- Pay for extra ORIGINAL copies of translations. This is important because, while the consulate website tells you that you only need certain things when applying for your spouse, in the end they’ll require all the same things you got for your individual visa. And you’ll want those extra certified copies, cause they’ll ask for them, at the last minute, while in the middle of the interview where you didn’t know you needed them.
- Make copies of everything, but in Black and White ONLY. The consulate had a hard time telling what was the original and what was the copy. The original would be in color, because it’s an original. The copy would be in black and white because its a copy. That is exactly what they expect. It will confuse them if you don’t do this.
- Watch this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wtbQUaC9mE -This actually happened to us in our interview. They wanted to know why our translations weren’t stapled. They had me reach out to our translator to ask her why. She freaked out because official translations are never stapled. I offered to staple them myself. They said that only she could affix the staple (the same staple in every stapler in the world), if she said a staple was required, but she said it wasn’t. It was like it was the first time the consulate had ever taken in paperwork from one of their own official translators, yet it wasn’t. CRAZY!
To Move or Not to Move your stuff from the US (including a vehicle)
We got rid of nearly all of our stuff, except 325 cubic feet of boxes and my couch. I simply couldn’t part that stuff. But here’s the thing, I’ve been in Spain living without it for 4 months. And in that time, I’ve had to purchase some of what is right now on a boat heading my way, because well, I needed to eat on something, cook food, wear clothes and sit on a couch. SO, I bought so many things that I could have left 90% of what we paid to ship over here. Here’s my advice”
- Get rid of everything. Everything you think you need – you probably don’t. But here, lets test what you really need. Box it up and store that stuff for 4 months in a storage place before you get on a plane to move to Spain. Then, after 4 months, if you really really still need it, pay to ship it. But I will bet you will hardly remember what was in those boxes because you had to go buy a lot of it to survive. And you’ll find you’ll ship less than half of what you originally planned on shipping. This will save you thousands of $$ and headaches. Believe me. I found out the hard way because I have a couch on the way that will (crossing my fingers) fit into the 7th floor apartment window via crane when it gets here the first week in June.
- Shipping a Vehicle and Getting a Spanish Driving License. Are you planning on doing this? We did, and we found an English language driving school – and that is required to get a license. Think very hard about it before you ship a vehicle. It better be the one motorized thing you own that you want to be buried with – or it can be replaced.
Preparing for your move (finding an apartment/home)
Hiring a moving specialist in the country is key. There are people who do this kind of work for a living. We hired Linda and Janus at Yes Valencia. They are pros and really made the situation full service. Its sort of ala carte in that you can have them do all the leg work, soup-to-nuts, from helping you get a bank account, health insurance (for your visa), find an apartment – and on and on. Or just use them for one or two things. We will have them assist us with our visa renewal too. Services like this are the best investment you’ll make and it will save time and headaches. But on top of that, here is what I would recommend.
- Spend the money and fly to whatever Spanish city you’re considering and rent a flat in advance. It will help with your peace of mind when it comes time for you to cut the cord and actually move. I did this several months before our move and it made us feel 100% more secure knowing we had an address to call our own. It also made registering with the town hall super easy and our immigration documents were taken care of the first day we got to Valencia.
- Open a Bank Account right away. Having a bank in Europe is easier and you can transfer money into it using TransferWise.com. Its an online currency service that charges market rates for currency exchange and nominal fees to transfer money from your US account. You’ll become adept at the currency market if you sign up for their alerts. When the dollar gets strong against the Euro – where ever you are, including the dentist’s office – pull the trigger. They have an app for that.
- Get Health insurance lined up on that trip. Getting insurance in Spain can be daunting and doing it face to face with a real person who can answer questions (even via Google translate) is the best way to go. Your Spanish bank will also sell medical insurance.
- Find a good lawyer in the city. Most lawyers require a fee to have an initial consult in Spain. Mine was only 100 euros and I left feeling like I had all my bases covered with him representing me. He reviewed our lease contract and even arranged the payment to our landlord from the bank. We use https://abogadium.com/abogado/98/eduardo-alcoy-blat
Things to Consider Back in the US
**Updated June 2020
Here are a few things we didn’t really think about but are important.
- Voting. We are residents of the State of Washington, and King County allows email voting for those in the military stationed overseas, and has an official classification for ‘Overseas voters’ who live in another country. This means they send us an email and we set up an account to vote. We get our ballot via a secure website and we download and print the ballot. Once we follow the instructions, fill in the ballot and sign it, we send it back to them and we can check a few days later that it’s been accurately recorded. Paper absentee ballots take forever to get in Spain- ours arrived well past election day. So, if your state/country allows for Overseas Voting you’ll want to sign up for it.
- US Car insurance. We don’t have a car in the US anymore, but we do go back to the US to visit a few times a year and we rent cars. This can be very expensive if you don’t have car insurance and purchase it via the rental car agency. For awhile we did purchase car insurance that covered our rental cars and it was about $40 a month. But then I discovered, as a person permanently residing in a foreign country, we can get ‘Touring insurance.’ But you have to explicitly ask for this product. They won’t tell you about it until you threaten to cancel your policy because you live overseas. It costs $2 a month and has the same coverage as our old car insurance. And if we are only driving in the US for less than 30 days at a time we are good to go. A big savings. And we can go back to the US as many times a year as we like – as long as it’s not greater than 30 days.
- Cell Phones. We have a US cell phone and a Spanish one. We need a US cellphone for banking purposes. But we will be switching to the lowest data and text coverage, since wifi is available everywhere in Spain – even public spaces. So if you have an Apple device that allows text on wifi – you should be good to go with the reduced service only when you need it.
Arrival and registering with the Town Hall and Immigration
If I had to do it again, I would have had a bunch of passport sized photos taken in the US and brought them with me. It seems I need one every time I turn around. The first was for registering at the town hall and immigration. And then for our metro passes, and then and then and then. Just have a bunch of them. You can also take some at any train or metro station. I’m not sure why there are photo booths at every train station to take passport photos, but there are. Sometimes, shhhh, don’t tell anyone, but I’ll just go in and take more. I know I’ll need them and now I have a tan from the beach. No one ever said I wasn’t a little vain.
Find a Dr. right when you get here. Schedule a physical and get set up in their system. That way, when you discover you have kidney stones, you’re not scrambling when you’re ill. Seems like common sense, but you’ll have a lot on your plate and other stuff to think about so it might fall through the cracks. Put it on the list of things to do in your first month or so. Learn from my mistakes here. It was a hard lesson – not a joke about the kidney stones.
Remember, if you ever have tests ordered by a Dr. in Spain, print the results when they send them to you (or go get them at the lab) and take them to our follow up appointment. They won’t tell you this because they’ll just expect you to know. The Dr. will not be sent the results and will rely on you to bring them to be reviewed on the day. You’ll just waste the appointment if you don’t. This is for privacy purposes. You will keep ALL your medical test results in a file in your home and take it to all future Dr’s appointments.
Dental work is a whole other deal. Here, ‘cleanings’ are quick and painful. I wouldn’t have my teeth cleaned here again. I’d wait until we’re back visiting in the US and pay to have it done there. We haven’t had actual dental work done yet so we’ll keep you posted on that.
Paying for Good Advice
I am on many, many online forums for Expats. I hear complaining and questions, and more complaining. A lot of issues regarding Spanish laws and how the navigate the bureaucracy – trying to avoid the fees or the tax. Here’s the thing – Pay for good advice from a gestor, abogado, relocation specialist, insurance agent, etc. Being Penny Wise and Pound Foolish is just dumb.
I’ve seen this with my parents as they have gotten older. In a spate of righteous indignation or getting ‘mad at the tax man’ they’ve decided to not pay, or cancel insurance – just because they ‘don’t like Obama’. And here’s the thing – it came back to bite them financially (not Obama). And now they don’t have something they really need because they were trying to save money they didn’t need to try to save. They just got mad, and maybe a little greedy.
I’ve asked the question before on those forums – ‘Why don’t you go see a lawyer rather than asking for random advice on FB or other places? That seems like it would save you some heartache.’ And the answer is always ‘That’s too expensive,’ But then they’re shortly posting about the fine they were levied (that they don’t think is fair) or the bill or denunciation they received in the mail. Paying for advice on how to do it right the first time, when you have no real clue how it ought to be done, is smart. And will save you months of sleepless nights – when the outcome could be so much more predictable and certain with a pro. Asking other expats for referrals is smart. But asking for their advice on Spanish tax law is not.
Paying your Spanish Income Tax
You can read my post here on paying income tax in 2020 for 2019. Below are some other things I learned about paying taxes in Spain. Please know that this is not advice. You’ll want to hire a Spanish tax professional for that.
Even though you won’t reside in the US, and will be a resident of Spain, you must pay US income tax before you pay your Spanish taxes, And you must pay Spanish income tax on any income – include wages, dividends, interest, stock/real estate sales – world wide. The first thing you must do is file a Spanish Asset Declaration form outlining assets on an annual basis. The deadline for this is March 30th of every year for the prior year.
Next, you’l need to file income tax returns in Spain by June 30th. Generally, this involves you providing your Gestoria with all the US tax documents you’ve already filed by April 15th in the US or the filing extension forms you filed. This is so your Spanish gestoria can determine the tax you’ve already paid back in the US and get credit for this on your Spanish tax forms. Next, they’ll determine your Spanish tax liability and determine the balance you may owe.
Fun Fact: You have to option of designating a portion of your taxes go to the Catholic Church. Spain is a secular country but we were asked by our Gestor if we wanted to do this. A hold over from days gone by.
The Good News: Due to a tax treaty between the US and Spain, you will not pay double taxes. You must file in the US first – according to the US law. And will pay the difference between this number and what the Spanish Tributeria determines you owe in Spain. For us, the difference was not terrible. We expected much worse and were pleasantly surprised.
As always – Pay for Good Advice. In Spain, we use www.escura.com.
Getting a Spanish Driving License – Americans only
*Updated June 2020
Impacts of COVID-19
Please be aware that nearly everything below was prior to 14 March 2020. With the State of Alarm in Spain, the DGT ceased operations. This means all offices were shuttered and testing for the theoretical and practical exams were halted. The situation is changing and now theoretical exams are being restarted at 50% capacity but with a 42,000 person back log. According to authorities – the system is collapsing. So if you need to get your driving license in Spain, you will probably have to wait until next year to complete everything required.
I have learned a lot about this process for American’s moving to Spain. First, know that if you gain residence in Spain, your US license, in combination with an International driving permit, is not valid after 6 months from the date you enter the country. I learned from a policeman recently that its the same as driving without a license if you’re stopped and show your US license and NIE card (they can take you to jail and confiscate your vehicle). And worse, if you have car insurance in Spain and don’t have a driving license – after 6 months, the insurance company (neither yours nor the person who hit you) is not obligated to pay any claims. Because, technically, you don’t have a license to drive in the country. Even if it’s your own car or motorcycle.
The irony is that you can’t apply for a driving theory test until you’ve lived here for 6 months. So invariably, it means you’ll go a period of time without driving legally, if you choose to do so. As far as the process to get a driving license goes, here is what I know.
- You can study for your written exam online. There are plenty of online services that offer practice tests and other Spanish driving knowledge. A very kind person who reads this blog sent me her English driving manual of Spain so I had a hard copy too. But the following link for the online study in imgles is what I used: http://www.praticatest.com
Documents Americans need to take to sign up for the theory test (EU and countries with a license agreement with Spain will require different things):
- Two passport photos
- Your NIE card (if your address has changed you’ll need a fresh Padron from the town hall since it will be past the 3 months when you got your first one)
- Your passport
- copies of all of the above documents
- Medical/psychological certificate you can acquire at your local certified center for just that purpose
Make an appointment online https://sede.dgt.gob.es/es/tramites-y-multas/permiso-de-conduccion/obtencion-permiso-licencia-conduccion/ and bring these to your local Jefatura de Trafico. They will help you fill out the rest of the forms you’ll need, and make the appointment for your theory test at a different location. Remember to ask specifically that you take this in English.
Pro tip: Don’t bother going to the Jefatura (DMV) early. Their system will only allow you to take a ticket 30 minutes prior to your appointment.
The place where you take both the theory test and, potentially, practical test, is far – a 20 euro cab ride far, (and that’s hard to do in Valencia) outside of town in the middle of a rice field. Or you can catch the #25 EMT bus from any stop traveling east bound on Avinguda de Jacinto Benavente. The bus will cost you 1 euro 50 each way.
The office where you’ll take the theory test doesn’t look like any official building and has bars on the windows like something from an old Hollywood spaghetti western. It looked dodgy enough that when the cab driver said ‘Aqui’ I was a little hesitant about getting out of the car. The building is surrounded on two sides by bars where you can go – if you get there too early, like me – and continue to study the book , drinking copious amounts of coffee while your caffeinated-self vacillates between total confidence and jittery panic.
Then, about 15 minutes before your test – you meander across the parking lot and enter a room lined with benches and closed doors. There is no one to greet you, and no number to reassuringly grab to give you that false sense that someone knows you’re there, and this isn’t some sort of psychological test from a Stephen King novel. It sort of made me miss the militant security guard at the Jefatura in downtown Valencia. Almost.
At about 5 minutes before your appointed testing time, a door will open. And they’ll start calling out names to line up and have your ID’s checked. Only then, you are assigned a seat with a computer. You’ll enter your NIE number and the test will begin. But not before a man will stand up and give you explicit instructions in either Valenciano or Spanish. I was pretty sure he was giving out all the answers and I understood none of it.
The technology they’re using is Windows XP, or some similar vintage. It and I were not friends by the end of my repeated pecking at a screen that did not register when I had made a selection until I did it 10 times for each question. I went over my answers to the 30 question three times. And then I clicked the finalized button.
I thought it would score my exam right away – like the Practicatest.com service I had been using. But it did not. I asked the woman running the show and she said I could find out my results online in the afternoon. I’m pretty sure this is the smartest way to do it. No one going postal because they failed. You can do that in the privacy of your own home here: https://sede.dgt.gob.es/es/permisos-de-conducir/notas-de-examen/index.shtml
Remember to print out your positive results when you get them the next day. They are only on there for 15 days and if you don’t print them out you can’t take the paper you’ll need showing you passed your written exam to the Autoescuela where you’ll take your lessons.
After I passed my teoreco comun, I was allowed to sign up for lessons at an Autoescuela of my choice. I found the VERY RARE (like a Unicorn-rare) one in Valencia that has lessons in English, but my exam was in Spanish . The practical driving test must be taken in a car with dual controls. So it pretty much guarantees that you have to pay an Autoescuela for at least a couple of lessons (I had 10), let them schedule the practical driving test, pass or no pass.
Autoescuelas – Driving in Spain
I passed and am now a licensed driver! I used http://www.autoescuelaselcid.com in Rusafa. I thought I knew how to drive but I didn’t know the actual rules of the road. And driving here is much, much more difficult than in the US. If you don’t think so, then you’re naive. On two lane roads there is no reassuring yellow line. So every street looks like it’s a one way road when it’s probably two way.
The lessons are imperative – even for those who speak fluent Spanish and have lived here for years. And Valencian Roundabouts (Las Glorietas) are something unto themselves. Apparently, according to my instructor, Valencian Roundabouts are legendary in Spain. People who move here from other parts of Spain engage him to teach them how to navigate Roundabouts here, because they’re a nightmare.
They have no painted lines and have lights inside them. My instructor, Tino, said that even the city knows they’re a disaster but will do nothing about how crazy they are. But to drive successfully here, you must learn them or you will fail. I had one hour and a half lesson just on roundabouts. Don’t believe you can do this all on your own. You’re right, you can’t. Pay the Autoescuela and let them help you. You need it more than you might think.
To sign up with their only English speaking instructor – Tip: They don’t advertise that they have someone who does – you’ll need to go there, and using your sad Spanish – or by translating it in advance on paper – hand it to the lovely woman who works the desk. You’ll ask them if you can take your lessons in English with Tino. And you’ll need every lesson to pass your practical test. Tino will evaluate you and tell you how many you’ll need. I think the examiner looks at the paper showing all the lessons you’ve completed with your signature and uses that to determine whether you will pass or fail.
The results for the practical test are posted the next day. You’ll go back to the Autoescuela in a week or 10 days and they’ll print you out your Provisional licencia de conducir and give you this:
You’ll affix this to your vehicle of choice for a period of 12 months and you’ll be good to go! Happy Driving!
From start to finish, it took about a month of study/practice tests before my theory test. It took 3 weeks of lessons before I could schedule a practical driving test. It wasn’t too painful and now I’m road ready.
Update February 2020 El Jefe passed his practical driving test today. He’s now a licensed driver. But it took dragging him to the Jefatura. Then to the exam. Then to the autoescuela for his lessons. To make matters worse, his results didn’t show online like they were supposed to and we had to go back to the Jefatura in person (after making an appointment that wasn’t’ available for 2 weeks) to get the results. Jeff was ready to give up at that point, but I wouldn’t let him. But wait! There is a glitch in the Matrix. Jeff hasn’t been able to get his temporary permit because the autoescuela says that ‘Madrid is messed up’. So we are still waiting for him to have permission to drive, even though he’s passed all the tests. UGH!
With COVID-19 it took 4 months to get the actual driving license. But he’s good to go now!
Getting a replacement driving license in Spain
If you have lost your wallet, had it stolen or your card is damaged – you don’t need to get to the Jefatura or DGT office to order a replacement. You can do this online here and they’ll mail it to you.
Changing your address
For your vehicle – you can start here for all the forms and procedures.
For the driving license – you can go here.
Purchasing a car in Spain
Well, since I have my Spanish driving license – even though Jeff is still waiting for the piece of paper that says he can legally drive – we bought a car. Think back – remember when you bought your last car in the US? Or your last 10 cars? You did some research in advance. You saw your favorite car driving down the highway. And then you woke up on a Saturday or Sunday morning and went to your chosen car dealership and asked to test drive the car. Then you sat down and negotiated the price, perhaps financing, and signed a bunch of papers and you took the car home that same day. Here? Not so fast!
But it was time to buy a car. We visited the dealership – after walking by it on the way home from the beach one Sunday. The guy greeted us on a Monday morning and was no-pressure. ‘Look around and tell me if you need me.’ That was nice. So we did and we found our car. We were very lucky. He wasn’t busy and immediately took us for a test drive (usually you MUST make an appointment for a test drive days later). We came back after loving the car and we were schooled on how car purchasing works in Spain:
- Put down 300-500 euros to ‘reserve the car’ – This is so no one takes the car while you work through all the stuff you’ll need to do. Now you’re thinking to yourself ‘It should only take a couple of hours’. But in Spain it will take a couple of days or weeks – depending on the route you choose.
- Transfer/wire money to the dealerships bank – This is for either the down payment or the full amount of the car. So this means that it will be 1-3 days before they receive it. You can’t get insurance until they do.
- If you’re going the financing route you’ll need a Spanish work contract or you will NOT get financing. Doesn’t matter if you can show you have a million dollars in your US bank. The answer to your ‘I’m just trying to establish credit in Spain’ will be NO!
- So you’ve transferred the money and now the dealership gives you a paper with what you’ll need to secure insurance. You CAN NOT drive the car home until you get the policy. We tried to go through our regular insurance broker but it took a week of back and forth in email and we wanted our car. So I went down to our local MAPFRE office on the corner and got a policy. We paid a little more but it took 30 minutes – no kidding. Instead of 7 days!
- Then we picked up our car. We bought it at Palma oCARsion and the salesman couldn’t have been nicer. He spoke ingles and took care of everything. They had it wrapped like a present when we picked it up! And it was perfect. I can’t recommend Juanma Marti at Palma enough. If you’re looking for a car you can check them out here: https://automovilespalma.es/ But go see Juanma at this location: Carrer de Joan Verdeguer, 23, 46024 València, Valencia, Spain
We got a temporary title that is good for 30 days. But it takes 60-90 days to get the formal title. So we will have to go back and see Juanma every 30 days until the final title comes. Sounds strange? Doesn’t matter – that’s just how it goes.
Of significant note: Americans know that when we purchase a car in the US there will be a FULL gas tank. You’ll leave the lot with confidence. In Valencia? Oh no. There will be drops of fuel in the tank. The lights on the dash will be flashing and the voice will be warning you that you should immediately find a station. Even for a brand new car. We nearly ran out of fuel driving it home. Plan accordingly.
Also, only one person in the family can own the car and get the insurance. All other people in the family can drive the car but only one person can be on the title. Since I have the license for over a year, I am the owner of the car. If Jeff ever tires of me and kicks me out I can sleep in MY car!
Keeping in touch with family and friends
Social media is great – sometimes. I’m not a fan of Facebook with all their selling my info for nefarious purposes. Luckily, there are a host of other ways to stay in touch with our friends and family – back home, and around the world. These days, a lot of people have personal websites, twitter, their own blogs and so on. So staying in touch is easy and real time.
I use WhatsApp in Spain to communicate with everyone I know here and back in the US, and also to talk to my family via voip. Its easy, and on wifi it costs me nothing. Our friends can follow along on my blog to keep up to date as much, or as little, as they like. I divorced FB/Instagram right when I got here for personal reasons, and have not looked back.
Finding new friends in Spain
Meeting people has not been a problem. Valencia is a small town and we have met people through the ‘MeetUPs’ app listing local events. I’ve met other expats at popular restaurants. And there is always ‘InterNations’. It’s an organization that links people with similar interests who are expats and live near each other. This is a great group but I have gotten hit on by a lot of guys – none who are Spanish so it’s more Americans and Scandinavians for whatever reason. Disconcerting and kind of creepy so be careful out there.
I’ve also participated in a lot of the tours put on by local organizations. I’ve made new friends and we connect for lunch or local events like wine tastings and the like. It’s been great.
I also joined a local gym, women’s futbol team and a yoga studio. This has helped expand my friends who are locals to Valencia and helped my Spanish.
Finding your Comfort Zone
There are a lot of things that are different. But there are ways to find what’s comfortable. In Valencia, there are many grocery stores but the one with the most familiar layout – if you’re from the West Coast of the US, will be Consum or Carrefour. They also carry the most US brands and their staff are really nice. Moving to Spain is not a contest to see how much you can escue all the comforts you’re familiar with. Sometimes, you need Heinz ketchup and that’s OK.
But remember that most grocery stores – and stores in general – are closed every Sunday. Keeping your finger on Spanish and local holidays is important too. All of a sudden you can find yourself with an empty fridge and nothing – and I mean nothing – is open. So stay on top of it.
Also, be aware that large big box stores (El Corte Ingles, Bauhaus, etc.) are only allowed to be open in the Valencia region for 40 Sundays or holidays every year. It’s a new thing. This usually means they’ll be closed on Sundays each year until at least June – with a few exceptions. Plan accordingly.
Learn to Relax
OK, this is one of the most important things and one of the hardest to learn. It’s the whole reason you moved to Spain. Chill the HELL out!! It’s not the US! Nothing is a big deal. You’ll figure it out. The sky is not falling and if all else fails – use a translation app on your phone!
Open another bottle of wonderful (crazy cheap) Spanish wine (It’s not France) – I like a good red from Rioja – and just look at the sky. The clouds are drifting by. It’s probably sunny. Your neighbors, out the window of your flat, are at one of a million cafes down there, drinking something good. Chatting with friends. They’re not worried, so you shouldn’t be either.
Life is good in Spain – come join us!
Year 2 –
**Last updated May 2019
Our first year in Valencia is in the rear view mirror and now it’s time to renew our visa. We can start this 60 days prior to expiration, and up to 90 days after it expires. The good news it that once approved it will be valid for 2 years. So we won’t have to go through another renewal until 2021. But renewing is not the same as applying for the initial visa so there are things to consider as we go through this process.
First off, don’t freak out. Relax and get professional advice. The list of requirements you went by to get your initial one year visa at your local Spanish consulate in your home country are not the same as they will be for your renewal. I have heard any number of things from other Americans here. None of these things we heard were what we did for our renewal, based on the advice we were given by our gestor.
Submitting your paperwork
Some things to consider – Spanish bureaucracy hates anything more than one page for any document. If you hope to be successful in your application, ensure that you only submit one page for each of your financial records. This may be difficult and not even attainable – but you have to try it, have a good reason you can’t do it, or they won’t like it at the office and will reject it.
Every office in Spain that takes in your paperwork, and then transmits it electronically to another location where they’ll make the ultimate decision, will interpret the requirements differently. This may mean they’ll ask for totally different things than another office in another part of the country. These requirements may include putting up a substantial sum of money into an account and proving you are leaving it there year after year – as a guarantee that you’re solvent financially.
Or even having to get your US bank statements apostiled. No government agency in the US will do this so you’ll have to go through an official apostile service that will affix the seal if you have them notarized in the US. But they can also require more documents if you’re married. If you use US bank statements that are held seperately, and you’re married, you’ll have to get another original copy of your marriage certificate and have it apostiled by the Secretary of State for your home state. Then submit it with your apostiled US bank statements. We didn’t use US bank statements so we avoided this.
We just submitted our renewal paperwork at the Valencia office of Subdelegación del Gobierno en Valencia – Oficina de Información y Registro – located here: Carrer de Joaquim Ballester, 39, 46009 Valencia
We’ve even heard of people who used the open credit on their credit cards to meet the requirements. Demonstrating that you have enough open on a line of credit can work too. To each his own.
We didn’t do any of the things we were told by other Americans. As we’ve learned, rumor and conjecture are dangerous. You have no idea if the person you’re talking to is a roll-the-dice risk taker or a fear monger. I’ve met people who moved here with their kids without a residence visa and figured they’d ‘just figure it out’. And I’ve met others who were so stressed out about ‘getting it all perfect’ that Spanish bureacracy was going to give them a heart attack. So we paid for advice and were told very precisely how to structure our ‘financial story’ and we followed that. There is no appointment required to submit the paperwork at the Tesoreria General de la Securidad Social. You’ll need;
- The town hall certificate dated no older than 3 months from the day you submit. You can get a new one at several offices in Valencia including:
OFICINA DEL PADRÓN MUNICIPAL – C/ Periodista Azzati, 2
- Or by going online to https://www.valencia.es/ayuntamiento2/nddoccer.nsf/fCertPadronWeb?ReadForm&lang=1&nivel=3%5f1&bdOrigen=ayuntamiento/solicituddocumentos.nsf&idApoyo=AEB9091C1F3C2BB4C125784600447F82
- Separate application for each person
- Passport(s) and a copy of every page (don’t miss a page or stamp or they’ll reject it. They actually count the number of days to ensure you’re residing in Spain for 180 day per year)
- Old/Expired NIE cards with copies of front and back
- Tax forms showing they’ve been paid in advance with the receipt from the bank for each person – form 790 tasa 052
- One set of financial records for the family – however you feel is best to represent your situation
- If you have a minor child there should be a letter submitted certifying the child is enrolled in school
- Letter stating medical coverage from insurance provider
We had been told it usually takes about 4-5 weeks to get the approval or to receive a request for more information, so bake that into your timeline or travel plans. Legally, you can’t travel outside Spain while your visa is in process. If you must do so, you need to obtain a Permiso de Regresso (a document that will allow you to reenter Spain after completing travel during this period). It’s best not to travel once you have applied for the renewal and until you receive your new NIE cards. However, like most things here, we have heard of plenty of others who traveled during their renewal process with no Regresso and didn’t have any trouble getting back into the country. So you roll the dice based on what you’re comfortable with.
Waiting for the Approval
You can check on the status of your renewal here
Here’s where you don’t freak out after it’s been 4 weeks and you still see ‘No Data’ on your results. Because they don’t give you a status on your application until about 7 days prior to a decision. You’ll log in each day of those 4 weeks (I recommend waiting at least 3 before you start checking). They’ll say ‘No Data‘. You’ll wonder if they ever got your documents transmitted, because when you submitted them the ‘system was down’ at the office you went to. Then one day there will be a status change, your stuff will show ‘en proceso‘ and it will stay that way for a week. The first day you see that ‘en proceso‘ status you’ll want to go to the link below and make an appointment for your card, because it can take weeks to get one. If you make it a couple of weeks out it will give you enough time to submit any additional documents they might require and to get a positive result. If it takes longer you can always update your appointment time.
Appointment for New NIE Card
Or if you want to wait, once you get the approval ‘favorable‘, either by seeing it online and downloading the approval letter, or waiting until the letter arrives via mail, you can make your appointment with the local immigration police (Oficina de Extrajeria) to get your fingerprints taken and to have your new cards made up. You can make your appointment in Valencia here –
The Valencia office is located here –
On the day of your appointment you’ll need to bring with you the following:
- Approval letter(s)
- New passport sized photos – this is important – photos can’t be the same as the old ones on your old NIE card or they’ll send you away to take new ones. We saw this with several people this time.
- Old/Expired NIE cards
- Another set of tax forms paid in advance at the bank with the receipts attached
- And most importantly – your printed out appointment confirmation showing the time.
Keep in mind, if your NIE card has expired and you haven’t received your new ones yet (even if approved), things can get a little iffy for small things. We just encountered this when trying to change mobile phone providers. The one provider wouldn’t release us while our NIE card was past the date. Does it make any sense? No, but that’s not the point. You’re at their mercy.
Once the cards are approved (it takes 10 days to 4 weeks), you’ll return to the same immigration office to pick them up – no appointment required. It’s just a different shorter line to the left.
You can do all of the above yourself or you can hire a gestor and they’ll do all this for you!
Even with multiple steps – over multiple weeks – it’s a pretty painless process and wasn’t as intensive as our original visa. Again, professional advice is the best investment. Next time we will probably do it ourselves but we’ll see how it goes.