So you think you’re ready for Spain, do ya? Well good, I hope you are! Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind before you decide to hop the Atlantic and head overseas.
- Make sure you’ve saved enough money!
This program has a bit of notoriety regarding payment issues. Some regions have reported not getting paid until January in the past! It seems, however, that the program is getting it’s act together. Let’s hope this is not a problem in upcoming years. As they say though, hope for best, prepare for the worst. I would recommend coming with as much money saved up as you can muster, but at least a good $2,000 in the bank after you buy your plane ticket. If you can’t manage to save that much, you can always look into other ways of making money once you arrive. Get on top of private English classes! Make money online! It doesn’t matter how, just so long as your comfortable with your bank account and can prepare for the possibility of late payments – food, rent, and life all come with a cost (even if your paycheck is late)!
- Go to the bank & get some cash!
You’re going to want to have some euros (€) handy when you get to Europe. In bigger cities, you can probably get away with bringing a small amount, but for smaller cities, sometimes cash is all they’ll accept (and usually only exact change, so some coins are also a good idea). This is especially true of grocery stores and markets. It might take you a while to set up your Spanish bank account, so having some money on hand will be helpful. Plan on around 300-500€ or so for a nice cushion, maybe less if you’re in a large, touristy area (most places there will accept credit/debit cards). I got 1,000€ ($1,287) from my bank before I left. Make sure to do this a couple weeks or so before you leave for Spain, at your bank, as there are typically no (or very low) conversion fees if you give them enough notice. Note: I had to pay $12 (or a 1% fee) to have the money sent to me, but it only took 24 hours. If you exchange money in an airport or cash window, you’ll pay a lot more for the same amount of money… Not recommended.
- Call your credit card companies/bank!
Some people don’t think about this before they leave. I get it. You’re excited to move far away and worrying about your visa application and all the things you have to do before you leave. But trust me, make these calls sooner rather than later! The last thing you want when you get to Spain is for all your cards to become declined because your bank recognizes Spain transactions as “suspicious activity.” That being said, you’ll also want to make sure your cards are ready to use overseas. Did you know you can set up a PIN number for your credit cards? Well, you can! Online or over the phone! Call your credit card company and make sure your cards are ready to go and won’t expire anytime soon. Your cards should also have a chip in them. Tons of places in Europe won’t accept cards without the chip. If you want to read more on some great travel credit cards, check out my post about the Top Travel Credit Cards for 2016.
- Bring important documents (and copies)!
This one is a bit of a no-brainer, but a reminder doesn’t hurt. Don’t forget your passport/visa, keep it in a safe place! It’s also a good idea to bring a scanned copy of these documents, just in case anything happens to your original documents. I suggest scanning a copy of all of them and emailing it to yourself or storing it in a Dropbox folder or something in the cloud. Petty theft is a huge problem in Europe, especially large cities like Madrid or Barcelona. Having back up copies is just a good idea. Don’t forget to also bring a copy of your carta de nombramiento, medical certificate, and background check! Again, I recommend keeping a digital file of these documents as well. It also wouldn’t hurt to have digital copies of your debit/credit cards, just in case your bag or purse does get stolen.
- Try to bring an unlocked smart phone with you!
This one is a tad more optional. You can definitely find cheap little burner phones in Spain if you can’t bring your own phone. That being said, if you’re like 99% of millennials, you’ll want your smart phone with you. The good news for me was that Verizon doesn’t lock any of their new (4G LTE capable) smart phones, so my phone was already good to go before heading to Spain! I’ve heard some auxiliares are fans of T-Mobile because they have coverage in Spain and can keep their phone/plan when in Spain. I’m all for less hassle! Other companies like Sprint or AT&T will typically unlock your phone for you if you give them a call or visit them in person (they may or may not charge a fee for unlocking). I personally use Lowi for my phone service in Spain. I purchase 2GB of data (yay for 4G speeds!) and sometimes purchase the 120 minutes (not often as I typically use FaceTime or Skype to keep in touch with those in the States). This costs me 11-16€/month depending on if I add the minutes. A heck of a lot cheaper than my phone plan in the USA! That being said, everyone in Europe typically uses WhatsApp for messaging, since phone companies do NOT let their customers send text SMS messages for free… Those will typically cost you like 10¢ each, so you’re better off using a texting app like WhatsApp. You will need to get your friends and family to download that app before you head over to Spain, however, if you want to communicate with them via text! Otherwise, you can still use Facebook, Skype, or iMessage (if you use an iPhone anyway).
- Remember to pack lightly!
There’s no reason to pack your entire wardrobe with you. Less really is more… When you’re running through the airports to make your connections, you’re going to be glad you didn’t bring everything you owned! Yes, you’ll obviously want to check a bag, but trust me – you don’t need more than one checked bag and carry-on… Maybe a nice backpack. You’ll be living in Spain, remember. You’ll have access to washing machines. Plus, you know you’re going to want to go shopping in Europe! Unless you want to pay crazy overages on luggage weight or pay tons for shipping, you’ll want to have space in the stuff you bring over. Ladies, this is especially true for shoes. The cobblestone streets of Europe are not great for high heels! Don’t bring more than a few pairs of shoes or you’ll be kicking yourself later. (Personally, I packed a pair of boots, a pair of flats, a pair of wedges, a pair of flipflops, and wore tennis shoes). Remember to bring a few converters with you for some of your electronics. That being said, you’re better off buying new appliances (like blow dryers, hair straighteners, curling irons, etc) in Spain. The voltage conversion often blows out your American products, even when using a converter! I went on Amazon and purchased some European Wall to USB adapters for my phone (all the USB cords still work fine).
- Miscellaneous items that MAY be difficult to find!
This one is definitely optional and will certainly vary region by region. You’ll still want to pack as lightly as you can when you make your way to Spain, but keep in mind that there may be some difficulties finding products that you are used to in America (or wherever you’re coming from). So, I took to Facebook to ask other auxiliares what they missed and couldn’t find once arriving in Spain! Here were some of the things they mentioned:
Beauty Products: Skin care, hair products, many makeup brands, makeup removing wipes, STICK deodorant (they obviously have deodorant in Spain, but apparently good stick deodorant can be harder to come by), teeth whitening strips, travel sized contact solution.
Food Products: If you’re a big chef/baker, apparently you may have a tough time coming across items you’re used to back home. Here are some things I was told are hard to come by: peanut butter, food coloring, brown sugar, sour cream, hot sauce, hard shell tacos, “legit” bagels (commented by a New Yorker – haha), candy (big name brands like Reeses, Hersheys, etc), chili powder, chocolate chips, certain salad dressings, buttermilk – these are probably things you won’t need unless you’re super into baking, however. Note: Ovens are a commonly forgotten kitchen item in Spain. Not sure why, but many pisos don’t have ovens, so consider this before you bring all your baking goods! My piso only has a toaster oven. Gonna take some getting used to…
Electronics: Although you’ll need an adapter for your electronics, they’re much more expensive to buy in Europe than back home. Things like computers, tablets, smart phones, gaming consoles, etc. are typically hundreds of dollars more in Spain/Europe than they are in the states, so consider upgrading any products you’ll need before you head overseas.
Art Supplies: This may be a bigger deal if you are assigned to teach younger kids, but still a good idea if you want to do private lessons with younger students! Things like stickers that say “good job”, English phrases, or gold stars, etc. can be more difficult to come by and cost a tad much. They don’t take up much room in your suitcase, so it’s a good idea to bring some with you if possible. Consider also bringing over photos of yourself, your family, friends, and life in the states! They’ll be nice to have for the cultural presentations you’re bound to do at some point.
Books: If you’re a big reader, consider investing in an eReader before heading to Spain. Books in English can be difficult to come by and cost much more than they do back home. I use a Kindle Oasis for the long battery life, great for travel though the cost is pretty high. There are also cheaper options for Kindles as well as various eReaders if you just want a decently priced tablet solely for the purpose of reading books! Also, make sure to check out your public library before you head to Spain. You can download an app that allows you to read eBooks and listen to audiobooks totally free using your library card! My library uses the Overdrive app, but I’ve seen some libraries that use other apps.
If you’re stressing because you want a lot of the things on this list, don’t despair! Some people have reported finding some of these items in certain shops, so if you look hard enough, you might be in luck. And of course, online shopping does exist in Spain. You can order things from amazon.es. Some people report better luck with amazon.co.uk (just have to make sure they ship to Spain). Other auxiliares have said that you can check out the online sites for certain stores like Carrefour, Dia, Mercadona, Lidl, Ahora Mas, Supercor to see if they have what you want before you head over. When in doubt, ask other auxiliares or people at your school! Someone is sure to be able to help you.
All right, you’re packed and ready to go to Spain! Remember that you don’t need everything I listed in #7. That was just a general guide in case there are some things on that list that you absolutely need! Of course, don’t forget to fill any prescriptions and remember to bring those with you. Europe in general has more accessible health care, so many Rx drugs you have here are OTC in Europe. Still, it’s good to be prepared!
Hope this helps as a general guide for things to remember to do/bring before you head to Spain! Was there anything else you think I should add? Anything you wished you would have brought with you that you forgot? Let me know in the comments!