I’d never moved kids to Spain before. Or any other country. I thought I’d researched everything. Much went wrong. Here’s our 10 biggest mistakes we made moving our family to Spain, and what we’d do differently next time.
Mistake number 1: We didn’t come straight to Seville, the setting for our year in Spain.
Everyone I’d ever spoken to who knew Seville always said the same thing. “Amazing city. Hot as hell in summertime.” My husband and sons hate the heat, so I flew us into Barcelona to spend August traveling up north. Well intended, but backfired. None of them had been to Seville before. Their anxiousness to see their new city made it hard for them to just enjoy the vacation time. And though we’d packed light, there was plenty we could have stored if we’d stopped in Seville first.
Next time we relocate kids to a place they’ve never been, we’re going straight there, no matter what the season. Find housing, store bags, then travel.
Mistake number 2: We delayed finalizing our immigration paperwork (all thanks to mistake number 1).
I knew we had 30 days from our date of arrival in Spain to present ourselves at the local foreigner’s office. Yet not fully understanding the process, this weighed on me. (Much as much as not having seen Seville weighed on the boys.) It also meant waiting longer to get our foreigner’s identity card. Having that card leaves you with an unbelievably satisfying feeling after nearly a year of immigration mayhem.
Next time I move to Spain, or any other foreign country, I’m finalizing immigration matters as soon as I land.
Mistake number 3: I didn’t sufficiently research the local rental market. Then we fell short on short term housing.
Let’s call this two mistakes all rolled into one. Suffice to say, the perfect apartment did not just fall into our laps. (And no, I wasn’t being too picky.) Apparently, furnished two bedroom apartments were plentifully available. Furnished three bedrooms, not so much. I then discovered tourist season picks up promptly in mid-September. The vacation rental we were staying in was already booked per our originally scheduled departure. Now we needed new short term and long term housing. The pressure did not go unnoticed.
Next time, I’ll talk more to local realtors to get a sense of the local housing market. I’d also try to get a handle on short term housing constraints. If I were put in contact with a reputable relocation assistant or realtor, I might even consider committing to a long term lease before arriving. Kids and not knowing where you’re going to live don’t mix well.
Mistake number 4: I only contacted housing listings by email instead of by phone.
Yes, I’ll admit it. I was too scared to speak over the phone in Spanish! But I learned the hard way that the locals here in Seville are more inclined to call back then email back. No doubt, my phone fear exacerbated our house hunting woes.
Next time I move to Spain, I’ll still use the form on the housing websites to contact advertisers. But then, I’m going to call. Right away. Multiple times. Until I get a human on the line. And if my language skills aren’t good enough, I now know it would be worth hiring a Spanish speaker to make calls for me.
Mistake number 5: I didn’t set up a bank account right away. I further thought we had to have our residence card in hand to open one.
Initially, I hadn’t expected to need a Spanish bank account, and per mistake number two, I still didn’t have our identity card. Turns out you only need your NIE number, not the card, to open banking and utility accounts in Spain.
I had assumed we could charge our mobile phone and internet service to a credit card, as we do in the States. I also thought a landlord would keep utility service accounts in their name and have us reimburse with the rent. Our current landlord is fine with this arrangement, our first one wouldn’t hear of it. That’s when we learned that all onoing service accounts in Spain — mobile phone, internet, health insurance, electric — are debited from your “cuenta corriente.” My lack of knowledge about this put us in a huge crunch to get the bank account open in time to set up the services we needed upon move in.
Next time I move to a foreign country, I’ll know to ask about their banking and bill payment models in advance, and get whatever accounts I need going right away.
Mistake number 6: I relied on international health insurance. I should have bought a policy from a Spanish health insurance provider.
The coverage on the international plan was fine. In fact, if we’d been spending a lot of time outside Spain, or hadn’t had so many unexpected illnesses and accidents that first year, I might never have noticed the inconveniences of my international plan compared to policies from Spanish health insurance providers. What I learned? Spanish health insurance ROCKS! Go to a network provider. Give receptionist your card when you walk in. Pick it up when you walk out. And that’s that. No forms to fill out. No claims to file. No waiting for reimbursements. And get this… many of the Spanish health insurance plans include a housecall service. Yes! A doctor comes to you. When you’re sick. At no extra cost.
Next time I move to Spain, I’m getting Spanish health insurance from the start.
Mistake number 7: I hadn’t fully educated myself on the many useful tech tools that make expat life just that much easier.
From translation and money transfer apps to VOIP tools that let you call any mobile or landline phone, these services save time, money and lots of frustration.
Next time I move abroad, my phone, laptop and cloud drive will be primed and ready to support our expat escapades before I leave home.
Mistake number 8: I failed to educate myself on some critical Spanish vocabulary.
Case in point: the Spanish word for the @ symbol. Might sound silly, but it’s kind of an essential term with no real work around when you need to provide your email address. Especially when you’re talking to a person, you guessed it… over the phone! Brushing up on the Spanish alphabet so I could easily spell my strange, American name wouldn’t have hurt either. I’ve yet to meet a Spanish person get the correct spelling of Jackie on the first guess.
Next time I move to a foreign country, there’s some basic, critical vocabulary I’ll commit to memory before I get here.
Mistake number 9: Despite what felt like exhaustive research, there were many questions I didn’t think to ask the school I’d selected for my children here in Spain.
Pleading ignorance on this one. I’d never lived outside my home country and certainly hadn’t parented in one. Now I know there are a lot of nuances to consider when educating your child abroad. I never would have understood this before living here.
Next time I move to a foreign country, I’ll have a much better understanding of the challenges we face as expat parents and the kinds of questions to ask prospective schools. Read more about that here in my free guide to Your Child’s Expat Education.
Last, but definitely not least, mistake number 10: I didn’t do enough to develop my kids Spanish before we arrived in Spain.
Our younger son had been in a dual language immersion program in the States. Not so the older one. We’d forced some time on online learning sites as well as some Spanish camps during those travels in northern Spain, but it wasn’t enough. The stress of the language barrier on his teenage brain affected him both educationally and socially.
Next time I move kids to a foreign speaking country, I’ll go out of my way to figure out some immersive language experience before arriving and starting school. Especially an older kid.
Live, Learn and Expat On
It’s funny looking back on what was all so new a mere few years ago. Some of these errors seem so easily avoidable now, but we didn’t know that then. How about you? Any fiascoes, tips or “wish I could do that over” stories? Share them with me here.