Spain sin Espanol

There are many ways to learn Spanish once you get to Spain.

The biggest reason I have heard for not moving to Spain has been “I don’t speak Spanish!” At first, I thought that was an acceptable reason to avoid the country, given how difficult language barriers can make communication in the most ordinary of interactions. However, I have come around to the point of view that, if you are a person with a chance to move to Madrid, it doesn’t matter all that much whether you know Spanish initially and here’s why!

  1. You’ll start learning as soon as you get here: if you have to start work before taking any Spanish classes, you will still start to pick things up instantly. That said, Madrid is home to a lot of high quality Spanish academies, so the opportunity to learn is right here waiting for you! Our favorite is AIL Madrid, since you’ll also start to build an immediate sense of community and a friend group as a newcomer to the city. I spent years in the United States learning “donde está la biblioteca?” type phrases, but the Spanish you learn here will be more applicable and instantly fire-tested because you will be really trying to buy groceries or tell the taxi driver where you are going, not just practicing with a classroom partner.
  2. You are probably prized for your English speaking skills: whether you are here as an English teacher or as a business person in another field, knowing English will be a helpful if not essential element of your job, and there’s a good chance that (as long as you let them know ahead of time) Spanish won’t be. Every day there are more people who speak English in this country, and even those who don’t speak it really well often can understand you. If you’d like to take advantage of this, try getting your TEFL certification with TTMadrid and they will link you in to the network of English teachers here in Madrid.
  3. Living in a country where you don’t know the language does something special to you: Everyday life is more of an adventure when you are constantly trying to understand and express yourself in a non-native language. You will learn unforgettable lessons, laugh at yourself, and be frustrated, but you will not cruise through your days without any memorable experiences. I know this is true because, even though I came to Spain with a reasonable level of Spanish for someone who had never been immersed in the language, I myself have experienced it. I feel more alive here because every conversation has to be a little more intentional and, in the middle of a conversation, I get to ask what a word means and learn something totally new.

Don’t let the reason why you don’t come to Spain be lack of knowledge of Spanish; while it won’t be an easy life at first, the benefits definitely outweigh the drawbacks!

In search of snow

So close, yet so far...

Though it may not feel like it this week, believe it or not it isn’t summer in Madrid. Down here in the city it’s sunny and warm and it seems like spring has come a bit earlier than expected. However, a glance north to the sierra shows that it is indeed still winter! I’ve always traveled to Chicago at Christmastime, so a winter without snow is very strange to me. A few weekends ago I decided to hop on the Madrid Cercanías train to see some of the white stuff in the mountains.

The C-8 train from Madrid leaves from Atocha or Nuevos Ministerios and makes it up to Cercedilla in just over an hour. I took this time as an opportunity to drool over Madrid’s skyline and desertlike surrounding areas while the folks around me rode along anxiously in their snow gear. Upon arrival in Cercedilla, I approached the ticket counter to ask about continuing train tickets to Navacerrada on the C-9 line to Cotos, a small mountain town on the border of the Comunidad de Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha. The Cotos station is currently closed due to some construction work, so Navacerrada was about as far as I could hope to get.

Ticket Counter Guy informed me and the 25 or so people in line behind me that tickets for the C-9 train could be purchased on the train that would be leaving in two hours. I took those two hours and walked up into Cercedilla to enjoy the sun and have a quick lunch. From town I enjoyed beautiful mountain views and quaint small-town charm, complete with ridiculously cheap cañas and abundant aperitivos. After two hours passed, I returned to the train station to find an enormous crowd of snow-seekers decked out in their finest cold-weather attire waiting to board the C-9 and purchase their tickets. A different train employee walked to the front of the crowd and announced that only those passengers holding return tickets for line C-9 would be allowed to board the train, and that there were no available tickets to be purchased. A few people boarded the C-9; the majority boarded the C-8 back to Madrid. The moral of this story: I should have bought my ticket in advance!

So, how do you do that? Well, the C-9 has different rules from the 4th of December to the 24th of April this year. This means it will be 100% mandatory that travelers purchase their return tickets in advance at Cercanías stations before leaving. The C-9 tickets are different from C-8 tickets, as they’re in a different transport zone. There are a few ways for you to purchase your ticket up to the snow:

  • If you have an Abono Transporte, you can ask for an ampliación at ticket windows that will allow you to pay the difference between your Abono’s zone and zone C2.
  • If you do not have an Abono Transporte, I recommend that you purchase an Abono Turístico, or a Tourist Pass. A return ticket from Madrid to zone C2 costs 12 euros, but a single day Tourist Pass in “Zone T” also costs 12 euros, and this will allow you to take as many forms of public transport as you like, all over Madrid, for one day.
  • If you have an Abono Transporte for zone C2, you must still reserve a space at the ticket window. In the winter, this route is extremely popular but there are very few trains running on the weekend. Be sure to get your seat!!

Now that I know this information, I suppose I’ll have to try again very soon… if the recent weather patterns mean anything for the snow on the mountaintops, we don’t have much more time to see snow!

Pareja de hecho: making residency easier one couple at a time

For many non-EU foreigners, living in Spain legally is debacle numero uno. No easy solution exists, whether it’s finding a company to sponsor you, or a significant other willing to fully commit to ma-ma-ma-marriage. Locating a street in Madrid without obras would be easier.


But recently, something very unexpected changed. As rare as the Spanish waiter that happily and eagerly takes your dinner order, a process here just got easier and tremendously more helpful. I’ll let you digest that for a moment, because I know it’s hard to believe.


Have you recovered? OK, good. Back to business.


The process I’m referring to is that of pareja de hecho. Roughly translated as domestic partnership, acquiring the status originally just meant you got a piece of paper saying “these folks are officially an item” (not terribly unlike that note you wrote your classmate in junior high school). Now, becoming pareja de hecho can actually grant foreigners residency. Crazy, right? And it’s not too good to be true!


Here’s a brief rundown of the requirements and steps:


  • Civil status certificate stating you’re single (must be validated for non-EU foreigners)
  • Empadronado(a) with your Spanish significant other for at least one year
  • Two witnesses
  • Three photos (for Comisaría when applying for card)
  • Copy of entire passport


  • Empadronamiento with significant other at the Ayuntamiento
  • Obtain civil status certificate (foreigners go to their embassy/small fee required)
  • Non-EU residents must validate civil status certificate at the Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores
  • Become pareja de hecho at the Registro de Comunidad Autónoma de Madrid
  • Pick up certificado de pareja de hecho at the Registro de CAM
  • Apply for residency card at the Comisaría
  • Pick up card at the Comisaría (small fee required)


As with most things in Spain, there’s a good chance that funcionario 1 will say something entirely different than funcionario 2, so expect rules and processes to vary.

Now that pigs are flying, maybe the obras will stop and more waiters will become friendly. One can dream.


Armishaw’s Top 10 Tips and Facts About Moving To Spain

Armishaws are a leading removals companies in the UK who regularly move worldwide to most locations, including Spain, so have given their top ten tips and facts about moving to Madrid:

1) British families who move to Spain with school-age or pre-school children should register at their town hall, who will advise about schools.

2) Spanish families place high priority on giving their children a good education; consequently places at private schools are filled well in advance, and there are waiting lists.

3) Upon successfully completion of four years of secondary education they are awarded their ESO (certificate of secondary education, Educación Secundaria Obligatoria). This may take more than four years since failure to make satisfactory progress can mean repeating the year.

4) Some fiestas are location-specific, based on a local legend or a real historical event. A good example of this is San Sebastian, in the Basque country, which holds a festival each January to celebrate their liberation from French rule by Lord Wellington in 1812.

5) Many aspects of the Spanish lifestyle are extremely easy to get used to: the sunshine, the wine and the sangria, the paella, the tortilla and the tapas, and the uplifting rhythms of the bossa nova and the flamenco as the sun goes down and nightlife begins.

6) Spectacular fireworks are a popular feature at fiestas, and probably the most spectacular of all are the ones that light up the skies at the Summer Solstice, when bonfires are lit to celebrate the longest day. This tradition is especially strong in the south of Spain

7) The Spanish healthcare system works well, and it is often even possible to find English speaking medical staff. However, before moving to Spain you need to be sure that the costs of future medical treatment will be covered.

8) Spanish healthcare is not free, but individuals who are covered by the State system pay only a small contribution towards the cost, depending on their personal circumstances.

9) For those looking to embrace a traditional Spanish lifestyle, inland Spain has plenty of attractive villages where life is not seasonal, property prices are lower, and you will be able to join in local community life.

10) A common pattern is for people to move from the UK initially to their Spanish holiday home, and to relocate to a different part of Spain a few years later after exploring the country in greater depth. There is probably a richer variation in regional cultures in Spain than in any other European country. Each region has its own history and its own traditions, and regions such as Galicia, the Basque country and Catalunya still retain their own languages alongside Spanish.

Andén Cero – a metro museum

Madrid’s metro system is one of the largest and best metropolitan rail systems in the world. Built in 1919, the Madrid metro was born out of the necessity to connect its citizens in a rapidly-growing urban environment. The construction of new lines and expanding platforms caused the Chamberí station to close in the 1960s, leaving it mostly abandoned until 2008, when the station was reopened as a museum called Andén Cero, or Platform Zero.

Situated in the Chamberí neighborhood, the museum at Andén Cero offers a short video that outlines the history of Madrid’s underground railway system. After watching the video, visitors can then see the fully-restored lobby and platforms, designed by architect Antonio Palacios, who also designed some of Madrid’s most beautiful attractions, such as the Palacio de Comunicaciones and the Círculo de Bellas Artes.

A quick trip to Chamberí is a journey back in time. With advertisements and metro system maps restored back to their original states, walking through the station feels like a trip to the 1940s. Palacios’ designs are still intact, down to every last detail, with bright tilework adorning every inch of the space. A large plexiglass barrier separates visitors from the train tracks, so you can safely stand on the platform and watch the occasional line 1 train go by.

Andén Cero is free to visit every Tuesday to Friday from 11am to 7pm, and on weekends from 11am to 3pm. Be sure to take metro line 1 from Bilbao to Iglesia so you can see Chamberí station from the train, and then walk down C/ Santa Engracia until you reach the museum entrance in the Plaza de Chamberí.

Shana came to Madrid in 2009 for a brief summer study program and couldn’t stay away for long. Immediately after finishing university, she came back in September 2010 and has since been spending her time navigating the English language with primary school children and constantly rediscovering all of the charms that captured her for the first time.