If you’re reading this, you’ve probably received your regional placement as a Language Assistant in Spain… congrats! If you’re like most first-time auxiliares, this will be your first time living overseas for more than a just study abroad stint, and let’s just say… it’s different. Different in lots of good ways, and a few stressful ways, but absolutely different.
The truth is, there’s quite a bit that you won’t be able to do until you arrive – finding a piso (apartment) you love, setting up a bank account, securing a Spanish SIM card, etc. There are, however, a few things you can do now to make the transition a whole helluvalot easier when you arrive, and here are my top 3: consulates, cash & communication.
The Bureaucratic BS: Getting a head start on your visa
Moving to a new country means a lot of red tape. Moving to Spain means the joys of Spanish bureaucracy – red tape, red staples, and sticky red hot glue. Your visa process starts at home and goes on (and on. And on.) once you get to Spain. Do what you can now to make the process as smooth as can be from the start.
- Make sure you have a current passport, valid for at least 6 months after the program ends.
- Find out which Spanish consulate you’re assigned to and make an appointment at the appropriate office ASAP. Even if the next available is in September, take that so you have something on the books and later you can try to change it, move it forward, etc. Most consulates require you to apply for your Visa in person, but some may let you to mail your documents in. Out of the goodness of my heart, links to all the US and Canadian consulates can be found at the end of this post.
- Start getting your documents together using the checklist provided by your local consulate, paying special attention to the requirements for the Certification of Good Health and criminal background check which take longer, need to be translated and notarized and must be dated within 3 months of your Visa appointment.
- Your official Carta de Nombramiento (contract) comes from Spain via snail mail. They usually start sending these out about mid-June.
2. Count Your Pennies: Saving up for the big move
Auxiliar wages are livable, and Spain is super affordable compared to a lot of places, but the first month in TOUGH. You’re starting from scratch, and that takes some cash. I showed up in Madrid my first year with what I had thought was a decent chuck of change, but what I failed to take into account was that the first paycheck doesn’t come until the end of October… light years in the life of an Auxiliar. That means that from the time you put down your deposit and first months’ rent, you won’t be seeing a dime until a whole month or two later, when your next month of rent is due, along with electricity, gas, internet, and on and on. Let’s just say I spent the last week of October enjoying a diet rich in pasta and beans as opposed to tapas and tinto de veranos.
Within the first month, plan on shelling out for:
- Accommodation while you’re apartment hunting. I recommend booking 7 – 10 days of accommodation before you arrive (more if you’re in Madrid, less if you’re elsewhere). If you’re lucky, you won’t need that much, but if you’re not, you’ll be glad you have it. Where you live will play a huge role in how much you enjoy your time here, and I highly recommend being picky with pisos and not unpacking your bags in the first place you see (and especially not booking an apartment online that you’ve never seen/smelt/been inside!).
- A transportation pass. A 10-pass for the center of Madrid will cost you €18.30, while a 10-pass in many other cities and town will be closer to 10 bucks. Once you sort out a piso and figure out your commute, you’ll need to pick up your official abono transporte which can run anywhere from €20- €80ish per month depending your age and which city and zone you work in.
- The Big One: first and last months’ rent at your new place. Obviously this is the painful one. Apartment hunting sucks wherever you are, and Spain is no exception. Most auxiliares rent rooms in shared flats, which you can probably find for around €400 in the center of Madrid and Barcelona and around €200 – €300 in other regions. Double that (and in some cases, triple that) and that’s how much you can expect to pay for your first month.
- The Day to day– groceries, tapas & cerveza. After all the big expenses, ya still gotta eat. And you still need the essentials – shampoo, sheets and all the other stuff you don’t usually think about. And not just that – a big part of your first month abroad with revolve around meeting people and creating a social circle. While most fellow auxies will be more or less in a constant state of pobre, you’ll want to have some cash left over for a social life.
Financial Disclaimer: putting yourself in credit card debt is DUMB, and I don’t recommend it. That being said, it can be a good idea to have some backup plastic cash in case of emergencies. The first month will put your savings account to work, and it’s better to have a plan B than to take the chances of being stranded without a centimo in España. Since Capital One doesn’t charge any international fees, I snagged a card before moving overseas and use it for big purchases when necessary – intercontinental flights, music festivals and the occasional weekend getaway – but always keep it paid off and never slide into debt. It’s also definitely worth setting up a TransferWise account to easily receive low rate money transfers from your home country.
Reach Out: Get in touch with your school and their former auxiliares
The Spanish take their summer holidays very seriously… If you wait until school’s out to get in touch, chances are you won’t hear anything back until September. Shoot them an email introducing yourself (where you’re from, what you studied, etc) and ask any questions you may have. Find out about:
- Transportation and the abono transporte: Depending on where you’re placed, your transport options could include buses, trains, carpooling, teleportation or a combination of all of the above. Google maps doesn’t always show the best/fastest/cheapest route, so find out what your school suggests. Most auxiliares in the pueblos choose to live within the nearest city and commute, so get some feedback before making any decisions.
- Where to live: In Madrid, for example, there are transportation hubs to the ‘burbs in each of the four compass directions. In more rural areas, there might only be one bus to get you where you’re going. Ultimately, you should choose a neighborhood that makes you happy, but your commute should definitely factor into the equation.
- Schedule: Public secondary schools tend to finish classes at around 2pm, while many primary schools go until 5pm with a 2 hour lunch break. Private and concertado (charter) schools tend to have longer days that end at around 5pm. Find out what the typical schedule is like so you know what to expect.
- Dress Code: In general, Spanish schools tend to be much more casual that US schools in terms of what teachers wear. Basically, if you steer clear of flip flops, shorts and revealing tops you’ll be fine, but it’s always best to ask so you know what to expect. In my experience, public schools tend to be more about that jeans and casual blouse life while private schools up the ante a bit. It’s worth keeping in mind that Spaniards tend to be much more fashion forward than the average American and that although jeans are probably ok, there is a big difference between casual cute and sloppy.
- Previous Language Assistants: Find out if they’ve had Language Assistants previously, and ask for their contact details. Then ask them all the same questions, because there’s nothing like getting some feedback from someone who’s actually been in your shoes. Most former auxiliares remember the stress of starting off and will be more than happy to give you some advice and gossip about what it’s like to work there. If you don’t get their info from your school, you can more than likely find them through good old fashion Facebook stalking.
Above all, don’t stress. Yes, there is a lot to do. No, it’s not always easy. Yes, it is all worth it! It’s only as overwhelming as you let it be, and in the long run the Visa nonsense will seem like a distant memory when you’re sipping a café con leche in La Plaza Mayor.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be loading up this blog with everything auxiliar related that I wish I had known when I touched down in 2011. What burning questions to you have? What’s stressing you out the most? And to the veteran Language Assistants – what advice would you add? Have I left anything out? Comment below and don’t forget to follow come back soon! 👇👇👇
Hasta ahora, Erica 😘
PS: As promised above, consulate links!
- Boston Consulate: residents of ME, MA, NH, RI and VT
- Chicago Consulate: residents of IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, MI, MN, MO, NE, ND, OH, SD and WI
- Houston Consulate: residents of AL, AR, LA, MS, NM, OK, TN and TX
- Los Angeles Consulate: residents of Southern CA, AZ, CO and UT
- Miami Consulate: FL, GA and SC
- New York Consulate: residients of CT, DE, NJ, NY and PA
- San Francisco Consulate: residents of AK, HI, ID, MT, NV, OR, WA, WY and northern CA counties
- Washington DC Consulate: DC, MD, NC, VA, WV
- Ottawa Consulate: Residents of Ottawa and Gatineau
- Toronto Consulate: Residents of AB, BC, MB, NU, ON, SK, YT and NT
- If you’re from AB, BC, SK, YT or NT, check website for Vancouver option.
- Montreal Consulate: QC (except Gatineau), NB, NL, NS and PE
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