How was your flight? I hope you had lots of short, relaxing layovers with no delays. Was your flight comfortable at all? I personally get a glass of wine or two while I play a few rounds of Solitaire so I can catch a nice cat nap before I start my movie binge to make the 10 hours fly by. The Metro Line 8 from Barajas is currently closed in Madrid, so you may have had to get a taxi or take the train. I recommend getting a nice car service to take you and your numerous bags to your downtown apartment, but that’s just my personal preference and how I choose to spend 20 euros. Don’t quote me on that price, by the way; I knew a guy who knew a guy.
So now that you’re here and you’ve gotten through customs with the nice gentlemen and ladies working the desks, it’s time to get settled into our querido Madriz. Go over this following list with a pen in one hand and a glass of wine on the table. Actually, make it a bottle. This is the easier stuff, now that you’re here, so you might as well enjoy the process.
By the way, you will need your passport and your NIE on your visa for all of the following steps, so have it with you wherever you go, no exceptions.
- If you haven’t already, get an apartment. Refer to my previous post for tips and tricks.
- Take a stroll around your neighborhood. I know what you’re thinking: “Jonathan, that’s dumb. Why would I just start walking around some barrio I’m not familiar with? What if I get lost?” Well, first of all, you’re in Europe, and going for a stroll just for the sake of it is quite common. Also, you need to take some time to get to know your new zone: Where’s the chino (corner store)? Where’s your fruit shop? The pharmacy? The supermarket? You’re going to be spending a lot of time here, so you need to learn it like the back of your hand. While you’re at it, do some sightseeing. Madrid’s pretty.
- Find your school before you start your practicum. In the context of taking strolls and sightseeing, once you get your placement in September, go find out the best way to get to your school and visit it before you get started. You don’t want to be late on your first day and should have your route figured out before school starts. I, for instance, showed up to my school a good half hour before classes on my first day and spent said half hour reading a book and waiting to be greeted. It’s awkward and don’t do it. Show up right on time, and plan out your routes with a watch.
- Get a phone. I made the decision to get an unlocked iPhone 5 off EBay before moving to Madrid so I didn’t have to go through the process of buying a new one, and y’all already know I wasn’t about to have a flip phone. I recommend unlocking your smart phone, if you’re able, and getting a go phone plan (plan prepago) that you can use on the same device. Let’s be real, you’re going to need Google Maps on those walks around your neighborhood. The big phone companies are Vodafone (my personal favorite), Movistar (ugh), and Orange, but there are more than you can explore. I have had wonderful experiences with Vodafone but had to switch to Movistar due to a series of unfortunate events. Just go to the store with your passport and tell them you need a plan prepago and they’ll set you up. I have Orange for Wi-Fi and I love it, which brings me to my next point…
5. Get Wi-Fi in your house if need be. You can get it through the same phone companies. If you’re moving into a piso with roommates or Wi-Fi already set up you can skip this step. However if you’re a lone wolf like me who decided to live alone, start shopping around. You’ll need a bank account and your passport to get started.
- Get a bank account. This may prove to be the most difficult, but it’s doable. Take all of your documentation with you and start asking around at the banks to open an account. I know people who have EVO, BBVA, La Caixa, and Banco Santander. I knew a girl (it happens to me a lot) that worked at La Caixa and she set me up with an account really quickly with just my passport. Ask around, and if they turn you down because of whatever reason, just kindly ask what documentation you need and go back.
Subpoint: Advise your bank back home that you’ll be abroad for some time so that you can access your funds before you get your new Spanish debit card with your new Spanish paycheck.
- Get your metro card. This is called an abono, and it’s a little red card with your picture on it that you charge up based on zones to use the metro, train, and bus systems. You can order it online HERE or you can go to a cigarette shop and expedite the card in person. There’s one in Legazpi by the metro stop and El Matadero, and then there’s a great one on Calle Murica that’ll do it for you in just a few minutes. Go with your passport and cash. They will not charge the card for you in person. You have to do it at the machines in the metro stations or at the cigarette shops. You will be charged a monthly flat rate based on your age and what zones you need to commute to. For instance, if you’re 25 or under you pay 20 euros a month for unlimited zoning. If you’re over 25 and need to go to, say, B3 where your brand new university is, you may have to pay up to 83 euros a month. Work your abono payments into your new monthly budget, and make sure you use the card as much as possible (like I do) to make sure you get your money’s worth. I’m now a metro expert and refuse to walk as a result.
A little ways down the road you’ll have to apply for your TIE (tarjeta de identificación de extranjero) and your empadronamiento (city residency), but the school is going to help you with both, so don’t worry. That could be a post in and of itself, but it’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be. You’ll get them done.
Finally, with your new start, be patient with yourself and your surroundings. You both have to get used to each other. Don’t spiral off thinking you made a mistake and start crying to go home. You’re going to be great and you’re going to grow so much. Enjoy this, and be present for your new life in Madrid.