Candy Lee LaBalle
Since moving to Madrid in 2003, Candy Lee LaBalle has picked olives in Andalucía, stomped grapes in La Rioja, danced in the streets during Carnaval in Cádiz, white-water rafted in the Pyrenees, and eaten pulpo (boiled octopus) in Galicia. Along the way, she found her creative spirit. She has contributed articles about Spain to several publications, and is also the author of Moon Living Abroad in Spain and Moon Spain. We wanted to know more about living in Spain and she was happy to share some insider tips.
Living Abroad in Spain with Candy Lee LaBalle
1. Are there any local customs a newcomer to Spain should be aware of?
One of the biggest shocks to Americans fresh to Spain is dining times. Lunch runs from 2pm to 4pm, give or take half an hour. If you want to have la comida earlier, you’ll have to look for a sandwich shop or fast-food place. Dinner is also late—9 or 10pm is about average. Of course, you dine earlier in your home, but if you have la cena in a restaurant at 6pm, you’ll likely be dining all alone—that is if you can even find a restaurant open for dinner that early.
2. Making local friends is a great way to assimilate to living in a new country. What’s the best way to meet people in Spain?
Intercambios!! Meet Spaniards who want to exchange their Spanish for your English. Find intercambio ads in the local English press, or pin up an ad around your new neighborhood. Many Irish bars hold intercambio nights. It is a great way to practice your castellano while meeting locals. I even know of two Spanish-American couples who married after meeting through intercambios.
3. What do you consider essential items to pack before moving to Spain? Are there any things you just can’t find?
There is really very little you can’t get in Spain, however even after six years of living in Madrid, there are still some goods I stock up on when I am back home--favorite facial products, jeans, running gear--all vastly cheaper stateside. I also always buy my laptops in the US, both for cheaper prices and US English keyboards.
4. Should someone moving to Spain find housing before they leave or look around upon arrival? Are there any great housing resources to be aware of?
Arrange your short-term housing—a hotel, hostel, or even couch surfing—before you leave home, but wait until you arrive in Spain for long-term housing. You’ll want to visit the neighborhoods, see the apartment, and meet the landlord, seller, or roommate before forking over your Euros. To get a grip on prices and neighborhoods, Spanish mega housing site, idealista.com, is a must.
5. What’s the best way to manage your money in Spain? Any tips on opening a bank account?
It depends on the source of your money. If you are getting paid in dollars from an employer in the US, you’ll probably want to keep a US account and withdraw money regularly from an ATM or via international transfer. Both options entail fees, so check with your bank back home first. If you are earning Euros in Spain, a local bank account is a must. If you open a non-resident account, you’ll only need your passport; if you have legal residency in Spain, your ID card. Keep in mind that a basic checking account (cuenta corriente) doesn’t actually come with checks; Spaniards use debit cards and bank transfers to pay for practically everything.
6. When moving to Spain, what are the initial costs? How much money should you set aside in order to make the move?
It depends on your intentions and needs. If you are young and single and looking to share an apartment, $2000 should be enough to get you started for a couple of months. If you want your own place or are coming with family, you’ll need considerably more. And of course, where you move in Spain will have a big impact, Madrid or Barcelona are much more expensive than Costa del Sol or Northern Spain.
7. In which fields is it easy for a foreigner to secure a job? Any tips on getting hired?
The English-teaching market is still very hot and it is very easy to find work as an English teacher, legally or illegally, with experience or not. Find work by visiting academias in your neighborhood, putting up flyers, and checking the classifieds of both the English-language press and the local Spanish press. If your working papers are in order and your Spanish is up to par, look for jobs requiring inglés. Infojobs.net is a good place to start.