If you’re a current English teacher in Spain, you’ve surely been asked these questions by friends who want to do the same thing. If you’re thinking of being an English teacher in Madrid, you probably have these questions. The lazy part of me decided to draw from my personal experience and write this so I won’t have to answer the same questions over and over.
My fellow English teachers: if you’re that lazy person (like me) tired of answering the same questions, send this along to your friends. To those of you on-the-fence about teaching in Madrid, take a look (Note: best to read this with a cup of sangria).
But in the end, these answers will not make your decision for you. You’re going to have to take a leap of faith, buy the plane ticket, and the rest will eventually work itself out. Relax and try not to stress. Take it from someone who did. The headache (and those two premature gray hairs I discovered) are not worth it.
If you finish reading and still have some doubts/ unanswered questions, leave a comment in the comment box below. I’m happy to answer more questions!
How much money should I save up before leaving for Spain?
You will need to save up a decent amount of money before coming to Spain. Plan for about 2000-2500 EUROS. Look up the exchange rate to euros from your currency. Unfortunately for Americans, the rate is not so friendly at the moment. For example: 1,000 US dollars = 750 euros right now.
I suggest you make a budget, especially for those of you who (like me) are the impulsive, let’s-celebrate-payday-and-worry-about-rent-tomorrow type. Some things to think about:
Round trip plane ticket to Spain.
Round trip tickets are much cheaper to buy than a one-way ticket. Sometimes one-way tickets are just as expensive as a round trip anyway. I was flying out from California, so my ticket set me back about 1000 dollars (and a sore butt from trying to comfortably sleep during a 14 hour plane journey). I found a good deal on the Student Universe website for travelers under 26. You can buy a round trip to return back at Christmas or for the end of July.
First month’s rent and security deposit (usually same amount as monthly rent)
You will need to pay these to your landlord up front to secure your apartment. The average rent that people pay in Madrid is about 350-450 euros.
My US student visa cost $160, but there were also small fees I had to pay for the documents the visa required, such as fingerprinting (about $15), police/ FBI clearance, co-pay for physical to prove that I’m in good physical and mental health, etc. Note that these costs will vary depending on where you get your visa, changing visa requirements, and your own personal situation.
Monthly metro pass
Rates will depend on where you will be living and working. The school I work at is luckily in Zone A, the cheapest zone to travel in. If your school is a bit farther out from the city center, you might need to buy the Zone B, B1, etc. Consult the zone prices here, and the zone map areas here.
General living expenses such as groceries, eating out, drinking, enjoying Madrid’s nightlife, etc.
Prepare to support yourself for at least two before you get paid/ start finding work.
TtMadrid has a very handy booklet that also goes in depth about Financial Planning, check it out here.
Is it safe traveling and walking around at night, do you ever feel unsafe?
Madrid is a very safe city compared to other large cities across the world. I grew up in Los Angeles county. One turn down the wrong street can land you in a dicey area. I don’t feel this way in Madrid. Many of my private English lessons end around 9pm and I have never felt unsafe walking around at this time to the metro. I live in the very center of Madrid, so it’s an easy 10 minute walk home after a night out. You can always catch a taxi back to your place as well, and walk home with a friend. With that said, Madrid is a big city with a lot of people out and about at a given time. You should always be aware of your surroundings no matter what city you are in, and use your common sense!
Is pickpocketing common in Madrid?
Yes. No way to sugar coat that. Madrid attracts many tourists who are unfortunately an easy target (although I have also met locals who have been pickpocketed) and the people who pickpocket are good at it. They’re sly, and can pickpocket you when you least expect it. The metro is a common place to have someone slip their hands into your bag if it’s easy to access and you aren’t paying attention. You are also a big target if you leave electronics out on the table while you have a drink or a bite to eat. These people are professionals, one minute you’re stuff is there and the next it’s gone.
No need to excessively worry, just be smart and use your common sense. My tips are:
- be more mindful of your things and the areas you are in. Crowded and/or touristy areas are where pickpocketing occurs the most.
Where are the touristy areas? When you see the confused-looking people waving their big maps around, you have arrived. I know because I was once one of these people.
- When you are carrying a large sum of cash, separate it into different places (inside clothes pockets, different purse compartments, bras are always a handy option)
- Steer clear of people approaching you with papers at restaurants. Some are harmless and just want you to fill out a survey. Others can make your phone magically disappear.
- Don’t flash your expensive phone around crowded places.
- Purses: buy a purse with a secure flap opening and zippers help, wear it across your body, always keep a hand on it, don’t set it down at a club, and don’t put it on the floor or hang it on the back of your chair when you are sitting down.
- Guys, keep your things in your front pockets and keep your hands on your things when you are in a crowded area. Don’t put your bag on the floor at restaurants.
- Try not to bring anything valuables out with you unless you absolutely need it (such as debit/ credit cards, passport, Spanish residence card, etc.).
A pickpocketer can’t steal something if there is nothing to steal. “Have fun with my half-finished pack of gum, sucker!”
It’s all common- sense stuff. At first I wasn’t used to doing these things because I had never lived in a big city before Madrid. After a while it just becomes natural, like how I instinctively clutch my phone like a protective mother with her child whenever I am near a toilet. In the end, I can’t guarantee you won’t get pickpocketed. It may happen, and life will go on. It’s almost like a rite of passage of living in Spain.
Packing: how many suitcases did you bring with you? Any tips on packing?
Stock up on some items you will miss from the states (like makeup if you’re attached to a certain brand), but don’t bring the entire Target store with you. You’ll be able to find most everything you need here in Spain.
Now let’s move on to clothing. Living in California my entire life did NOT prepare me for things like seasons and weather. I had never seen snow falling before coming to Madrid. The first time it “snowed” here, I was plastered to the window snapping photos of the puny flakes that melted once they hit the ground. I was so excited, and so were my students. My 8 year old students.
So if you’re like me, you’ll want to bring a lot of things to layer (tights for under your jeans are a lifesaver). You’ll be more prepared, like my boy Ned Stark.
With limited suitcase space, it’s a good idea to bring things that you can easily mix and match and layer in different ways. You can always save space by buying your winter coat when in Spain. The shopping is great, and often your style changes when you get here anyway. You’ll get some great style ideas from the Madrileñas walking down the street.
A neck pillow for traveling is really handy. Or if you’re really strapped on luggage space…
Have you ever had an issue with the language?
Although I had taken (and enjoyed) Spanish classes for three years in high school, I was in for a bit of a rude awakening when I came to Madrid. My conversation practice with the native Spanish speaking cooks at my restaurant jobs helped, but I developed a great vocabulary for sandwich ingredients rather than strong conversation skills. Madrid is not known for its fluency in English. After all, that’s why we can find jobs here teaching English amidst an economic crisis.
I only had 3 months to prepare to come to Spain. Between researching and preparing for my visa appointment, working two jobs to save money, (and binge watching all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad), I didn’t have a ton of free time or money to take Spanish classes. So if you’d like to prepare yourself before you get here, LAE Madrid is a fun Spanish Language Academy in Madrid. On their site you can find Spanish apps and podcasts to download on your smartphone and work with before you arrive!
Once in Madrid, you can live with native Spanish speakers, go to intercambios de idiomas (language exchanges), and practice whenever you can. I found that the times when I most needed to speak English were the times that nobody spoke English. For example, when I was getting my metro pass, buying a Spanish phone, going to appointments for my residence card, I had to speak in my broken Spanish in order to communicate. But in the clubs, EVERYBODY wants to practice their English. On the bright side, when I was forced to speak Spanish outside of my comfort zone, I improved quicker. If you have never learned Spanish, use the free resources LAE Madrid suggests, or enroll in a Spanish classes while in Spain. LAE Madrid offers special prices and classes for language assistants as well!
No matter how great at Spanish you think you are, you will still probably make a few mistakes, but it’s easiest just to laugh them off.
My school is far outside of the city center. Will it be a hassle to live in the city and make the commute to school every day?
Every English teacher I know that has a long commute (45-90min) still lives in the lively center of Madrid. This is because Madrid has a great transport system. There is always a bus, metro, or train that can get you to your assigned school. The city is so well-connected that there is no need to live outside of the center, where you will probably want to spend most of your free time enjoying the city anyway.
How do you transfer money from your US bank account to your Spanish account?
I use Paypal. They charge some fees, but if you fill up your Paypal account with money first and then transfer to your other account, there are no charges. If you don’t have any money in your actual Paypal account transfers can take longer, so plan ahead if you need money by a certain time. I’d allow a week to be safe. It’s best if you just keep some money in the Paypal account. Less fees and quicker transfers.
To make the transfers, set up a Paypal account for your US bank (if you don’t already have one) and a separate one for your Spanish bank. You’ll need to set up your two accounts with two separate email addresses. To send money from your US account to your Spanish, sign into your US account and click on “send money” and type in the email of your Spanish Paypal account. You’ll need to fill out other details such as amount of money, pretty self-explanatory. Then sign into your Spanish Paypal where you should have a message saying you’ve received money. Accept it and at the top toolbar choose the “withdraw” and “transfer to bank account” option.
Like I mentioned, if you have any additional questions, leave a comment in the comment box. I am more than happy to answer them! -Katy Zukas