If you have come to this post, I have a feeling you are in one of a few categories:
- You’ve been working your “normal” job in the States since graduation and are ready for a break and move abroad, and curious about how others have done it.
- You just finished your first year as a language assistant or study abroad, and realized that SPAIN ES LA LECHE, and it is your life calling to stay. (hiiiii this was me in 2009).
3. You’ve been struggling as an American living illegally over here and are curious as to how the heck I’ve been here for nearly nine years.
Whoever you are, you have come to the right place. YOU people, the questioners, the seekers, the scrape-by-month-to-month-on-private-classes, all of you are the reason I started this blog, so I am SO happy to share this post, as it is full of all of the information I am most frequently asked. So here you have it–“how have you been here this long?” and every other FAQ.
A small caveat before I begin–I want to say that all of my opinions, experiences, and advice is based on my status as an American citizen in Spain. I do not claim to comprehend the struggles of others coming from other countries outside of the EU.
Um…how much time do you have? I’ll try to make this the short version.
In 2009 I studied abroad in Sevilla. I learned a lot, I danced a lot, I ate a lot. Exhibit A:
But, I also realized that I hadn’t learned all I wanted to and that my Spanish speaking skills were not what I wanted them to be. I had also fallen madly, ridiculously, head over heels in love with this country and couldn’t imagine leaving it all behind after just 4 months. (And no, there was no Spanish dude at that point, and there didn’t need to be. Spain is a vixen all on its own.) So, I went back home, I graduated, and that October, I began my first year as an “auxiliar” or language assistant.
My first year I was placed in middle of nowhere, Almería, and though I had an amazing year and I was ready to do it again, I wanted to be somewhere a little more central. Cue: second year in Cádiz. This is the year I met Pepelu and when the year was over I wasn’t quite sure what to do, because doing the language assistant program for a third year wasn’t exactly where I saw myself, partially because I knew I wasn’t going to be in the center of Cádiz anymore, and partially because my mom was not letting me forget that I still had student loans to pay. But, I ended up doing the program for one final year, and I am forever glad that I did. That year is when Pepelu and I became pareja de hecho, (if you’re asking yourself WTF IS THAT, don’t worry, it’s detailed below), and moved to Barcelona where he began his doctorate and I began teaching as a REAL teacher (I mostly mean I was full time and with a full time teacher’s salary. Being a language assistant is a real job too!), in an international school, and later a state subsidized school (or concertado), where I still work today. In July we’ll be moving back to the south for Pepelu’s job, and I’m hoping to find work there. If not, expect a lot more TLC on the blog.
Look at that, with just a couple of paragraphs, you’re up to speed!
I’ve learned in my short thirty years on this planet, that projecting too far into the future is, as my dad would say, “like pissing in the wind”. If someone had told me even 5 years ago what my life would have looked like today, I would have sprayed my tinto all over them laughing. Thinking too far into the future is dizzying and pointless, but I can say that for at least the next five years I see myself here. Part of this is due to the fact that my parents and sister are able to visit frequently enough, and as a teacher I’m able to go home for summer and Christmas, making it a doable distance at the moment. Fortunately my family is healthy and happy, and I don’t have any nieces or nephews on that side of the Atlantic, so although I miss them like crazy, we manage. My boyfriend’s family, (who have also become mine), on the other hand, doesn’t have the same ease to fly and visit whenever they’d like, and we have a niece on the way, so in that sense it makes more sense to stay closer to them. Family aside–I just cannot give up the life I have here. When you put in front of me a steady job with a decent salary and a house in the suburbs versus a great job with a shitty salary and a small apartment, but with the ability to meander from tapas bar to tapas bar while strolling down 600 year old streets, it isn’t even a contest. And if that doesn’t make sense to you, its because you haven’t come to Spain yet 🙂
You’d be surprised how patriotic you become when someone starts telling you that all Americans eat terribly and voted for Donald Trump.
Jokes aside, when you live abroad, you’ll probably go through a few phases. The first being that all you want to do is fit in, the second being that you just want to stand out, and the third, toeing that middle line depending on the holiday or conversation at hand. I find that when I introduce myself I love saying where I’m from but by the time the conversation turns to, “so…what’s up with your president…?” I deny all responsibility.
I do. And I don’t wanna brag, but honestly, it is the one semi-cool thing I have about myself. I don’t play an instrument, my voice is average at best, I never made it to the varsity tennis team, but yes, after a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish linguistics and literature and eight years in Spain, my Spanish is ON. POINT.
I would love to say that its just because I really wanted it and I worked hard for it and got a company to sponsor my visa and it was a piece of cake. But if you’re reading this, you know that being from outside the EU means nothing is a piece of cake when it comes to residency. In three words the main reason I am able to stay are:
More on that in a minute.
I know exactly 1 American who got a work visa through the international school that we worked at. I know she had lived in Spain for three years prior to that, though, so I am not sure if that had something to do with it. I do know that it cost the school uh-lot of money, as it does any company who wants to hire an American, (unless that company is of American origin).
I also know many people who have attempted to get their employer to sponsor their work visa and it has not gone well. From what I understand, at least as a teacher, the primary difficulty is that a company or school has to defend why you, as an American, are more capable of doing the job over any Spanish person or over any person in the European Union. Brexit might work in our favor in the next few years, but at this point, an American can teach English just as well as a British person–(if we are focusing purely on pronunciation….because many times native speakers are not as good at actually teaching our language as we may think), and Brits have no hoops to jump through. If you are an English teacher banking on a work visa as an American to be your easy ticket into Spain, think again.
Yes. There are plenty of people, but my best example is a good friend of mine. She lived here for seven years before she had a job that paid her a salary and for which she paid taxes. She ended up getting married to a man from Barcelona, and the following year they moved back to Minnesota.
The US government was not happy that she had not being reporting her earnings with them for the years she was abroad, and had not been paying taxes to any country for six of the seven years she lived here. (She was doing private classes and teacher trainings). So when she came back to the States and got a job and had to pay taxes, she was fined pretty heavily for her “bad behavior”. Because of her story, I have been filing with the US every year. As teacher with a modest salary at best, I’ll never owe taxes with the US, but it just helps Uncle Sam keep tabs on me at all times. If you are worried about your taxes while you’re in Spain look here.
That being said, I asked her all the time if she was asked for an identity card (NIE–card you need when you are a foreigner in Spain), when she traveled and she said it was never a problem. In seven years she was asked for it once, and was able to make up an excuse for why she didn’t have it. (Just an FYI–if you’re traveling to the UK, this will not fly. They are major sticklers.) She also wasn’t a huge traveller except to the States, so it is something to keep in mind. In my case, I have also never been asked for my NIE in an airport, except when travelling to the UK.
I’m glad you asked. First of all, yes, yes, a million times yes, I am glad that I did Auxiliares. Does that mean it is the best program for you? Maybe not. Does that mean it was the easiest program to do? I doubt it. Would I still recommend it? Absolutely. There are a few other very similar programs worth looking into and weighing your options. Have a look here to see the basics of each program. Also, if you have more specific questions about the auxiliares program, check this out.
You’ve got options!
- Do a master’s degree in Spain. This would give you legal status with a student visa. Also, master’s degrees here are SO MUCH CHEAPER than the States. Like, tens of thousands of dollars cheaper. You might even get lucky and be able to do one in English. If being a language assistant isn’t your thing but you do want to be a teacher, look into the Learn and Teach program in the Instituto Franklin in Madrid. You basically get your master’s for free, and get to stay in Spain. Win. Win.
- Get a European girlfriend or boyfriend who doesn’t mind a little paperwork. And noooo, you don’t have to get married. Only kind of. This is essentially the option that I found was best for me. I did actually apply for a master’s degree but ultimately decided that I wasn’t sure and it didn’t make sense to spend the money, even if it was a fraction of US costs, if I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study. In addition to this fact, by this time I had met Pepelu, and after doing as much research as I could, we both figured that becoming pareja de hecho was the smartest, and easiest move for us. It is basically like a domestic partnership and gives certain rights to the couple, without being as legally binding as a marriage. Examples of rights you have:
- You have a right to their life insurance and/or pension in event of their death.
- You have a right to ask for days off of work in the event that they are in the hospital.
- You have the right to live and work anywhere in the EU for five years, and after five years, apply for “permanent residency” that lasts for ten and renews itself automatically.
Andy Dwyer and I’s shared reaction to number 3:
You can understand why number 3 made this option high on my list. As of right now, I do not have a post on the exact steps for becoming pareja de hecho, for two reasons.
1) Because the process can differ slightly depending on different variables like your nationality, your partner’s, which autonomous community–(even which region within that AC–I did mine in Cádiz and the requirements were different in Sevilla)– you decide to do it in, and the mood of the funcionario (civil servant), who attends you. Yes, really.
2) Because I fear the PTSD that could arise from remembering those harrowing months of my life. But since I know this is a major concern for a lot of people, here is a basic list of documents you will probably need:
I also found a brave soul who detailed the whole process, (and managed to be hilarious doing so), here. Also her blog name is Andalusian Bitch so really, what’s not to love?
Also, if you are freakin out about where to get these documents translated, here is a list of all of the officially registered translators in Spain, according to region. The first few pages are translators for other countries, but if you scroll you’ll find a list of people for each region.
3. Get a company to sponsor your work visa.
I have zero experience in this so if you manage to get this option to work for you, get at me.
4. Be a guiri sin papeles.
This might sound ridiculous but it is an option. It has been proven that you can work for bars, restaurants, English academies, and private classes under the table and likely never worry about being “caught”. However, this may affect you negatively on your return to the States years down the road, and could potentially be tricky to get things like a bank account and internet.
This is probably the toughest part about the lifestyle I’ve chosen for the past eight years– that not very many people have chosen it with me. Most people are language assistants for a year or two at best, but it almost always means changing schools and cities every year, even if they do repeat the program.
Here’s what I can tell you. Every single year I’ve been here I have met someone who I consider a best friend. (And I am a pretty proud introvert with a mean RBF so don’t think that making best friends is something I do easily.) And every single year, either she or I have left. And it is horrible. It is a gut wrenching pain that isn’t just acute, it is chronic and comes back every once in awhile when you’re really down and reminds you that you’re “always saying goodbye” and that “everybody leaves”. But no matter how painful or chronic, I promise you it is worth it. It’s worth it because being long distance friends isn’t what it used to be. You have Whatsapp groups and Facetime and low cost airlines. Everything is possible and no one is ever really that far away. It’s worth it because no matter where you travel, you’ll probably always have someone there to welcome you. It’s worth it because when one friend leaves, you open yourself up to the possibility of new ones. It’s worth it because even after eight years, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Have any other burning questions for me that I didn’t cover here? Feel free to comment below, I’d be happy to answer!