Finding A Place to Live as an Auxiliar de Conversación in Spain
By Abby van Vianen
Congratulations! After months of waiting, you’ve received your placement letter to the lucky school in Spain and your visa is finally prepared. The hard part is over - now it’s time to start your adventure! With your passport in your carry-on and Rick Steves’ ‘Madrid’ bookmarked on your laptop, you are ready to begin your journey into the unknown. First thing’s first - where will you live?
No worries; finding a place to live in Spain isn’t as hard as the horror stories you’ve heard on Facebook… IF you house-hunt wisely. Here’s a list of ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ to consider when searching for housing during your adventure in Spain.
Do consider the things you need to feel comfortable in your living space.
Maybe you’re a “private-bathroom-only” type of person. Maybe you’re a night owl who needs blackout curtains or a windowless room to sleep. Maybe you’re a pet-parent who needs to find a place near a park. Think about the lifestyle you lead and take notes of all the features you should look for in a new home that will allow you to live the way you want to.
DON’T expect to find an ~American Apartment~.
If you’ve never been to Europe, you probably have never noticed what amazing (but sometimes questionable) things these guys were able to do with so little space. Yes, moving to Spain may mean that you’re living in a cosmopolitan paradise connected by the world’s finest public transportation system ever created, but don’t expect a bathtub or dryer! Most apartments in Spain come equipped with appliances that may show up in unexpected places (washing machine in the kitchen, anyone?), or not at all (leave your bath bombs at home). Some apartments come with heating and A/C, some with one but not the other, some with neither. Some rooms have windows and balconies, some don’t. Some buildings have elevators to take you to your 5th floor apartment, some offer a dimly-lit staircase instead. Some people even find themselves waking up every day in slanted-ceiling attics! While smaller kitchens and bedrooms may be an adjustment at first, keep in mind that your stay in Spain offers you a valuable insight on what life outside of the USA is like. Try to have an open mind and embrace your new home. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find that huge penthouse apartment you have back home is overrated!
DO consult an apartment-finding app to help you get ideas of potential places and learn about the area.
Idealista is a popular choice, along with Facebook and Easypiso (now roomgo.es). If you’re more interested in paying someone to find something for you, which you can do from the USA, RedPiso, MundialRooms, and Moving2Madrid are all highly recommended.
DON’T get discouraged if you can’t immediately find what you’re looking for.
Give yourself time to browse and research a bit from the USA before you leave so you don’t feel rushed and pressured to find something as soon as you arrive. I’d recommend starting to check things out and narrow down your search about a week or two before your big move.
Waiting for the perfect place like…
DO plan ahead a little.
In the week or so before you arrive, arrange interviews with potential roommates (I’ll explain later), research market values and potential landlords, and once again consider your wants/needs. I would suggest planning to fly out 2-3 weeks prior to October 1st to avoid feeling rushed and to have a chance to settle into your new place a little before your year starts. While you’re looking, stay at someone’s flat for a bit or check out a hostel or AirBnB near your desired neighborhood. For extra value, Facebook also can connect you to a lot of other Auxiliares who are looking to rent their apartment out cheaply before they return for the school year!
DON’T plan *too* far ahead.
Learn from my mistake - pisos (apartments) disappear real quick come September. Research what’s still available a few days prior to when you arrive, not weeks/months before.
DO research your daily commute and how easy it is to access the city center.
In order to understand how to find a piso with easy-access to your school, use apps like Citymapper or Moovit to help you figure out your commute schedule/routes. Google Maps may be a go-to in the states, but sometimes it doesn’t show all of the transport options available in Spain, and can add hours onto your commute. If your city has a metro, you can find the map and schedule online. While the average Spanish commute is longer than it might’ve been in the USA, especially if you’re in a larger comunidad, no pasa nada. I think you’ll find that the time passes quickly. I actually love my hour-long morning bus rides now - it’s the perfect time to have some coffee and Skype the fam! Also, keep in mind that your ideal piso location would also allow you to access other aspects of your city that interest you, like tourist areas, parks, gyms, etc. Do some research on the different barrios (neighborhoods) near where you want to be. Each barrio has its own vibe - some are quieter and more laid back, others are filled with tourists and music and life until the sun rises each day. Look for a piso in the one that best fits what you want your experience in Spain to look like.
Learn to love the metro!
DON’T let one person’s bad experience taint an entire neighborhood.
As you research barrios, keep in mind that, just like in the USA, there are reputations that certain areas get assigned that they are never able to shake off, even if they’ve totally transformed. If you can, give them a chance and check them out in person before you dismiss them. Take my barrio, for example. I live in Tetuán, an area in the northern part of the Madrid city center. Being comprised mostly of other immigrants like myself, the neighborhood earned a reputation of being “dangerous” and “seedy” long ago. However, after having lived in Madrid myself, I feel like my neighborhood is one of the quietest and safest around. I never would’ve found it if I hadn’t come to Madrid with an open mind.
DO see potential apartments and meet potential roommates in person before committing to anything.
I know the house-hunt is stressful. I know you’re worried you aren’t going to find something. I know that one place you saw online is beautiful and affordable and right where you want to be, as long as you “beat the other offers and send your deposit right now”. Bad idea, amigo. Unfortunately for us, there are a lot of dishonest people out there who would be happy to take advantage of your excitement and desperation to find a place. They guarantee to hold your place in an apartment for a small fee, and miraculously disappear when you arrive. To avoid scams like this, always arrange to visit/tour potential apartments before committing. That way, you can get an idea of what the piso is like and also scope out your potential roommates. They will typically want to scope you out before they offer you a room, too. You’ll be there for at least a year, so find somewhere where you’ll be comfortable!
DON’T commit to something if you’re not sure. Trust your gut.
If this is your initial reaction, it’s a no-go
A double bed AND a balcony but the landlord creeps you out? Get out of there. There are plenty of places in Madrid for you to live where you won’t be constantly uncomfortable or unsettled by the people living there or the conditions. Keep looking until you find it. If you can, consider taking over another Auxiliar’s lease when they leave. That way, you can verify that the piso is a good fit for you before you commit.
DO have enough money ready to pay for potentially two months’ rent/deposit.
Putting down two months’ rent (first and last, typically, in cash), as a deposit is a common practice in Spain. If you’re interested in a place, I would suggest preparing that money beforehand so it’s easily accessible if the room is offered to you.
DON’T send your money until you verify with a contract or legally-binding document.
Yes, it’s true that in Spain some people can get away with subletting and conducting all their rental contract stuff under the table. However, keep in mind that you will eventually be required to declare your address as part of obtaining your residency status in Spain. So… I would just keep things legal. Get a written contract, get a copy, and read it through before signing anything. Yes it’s common to sublet, but why risk it?
Más Consejos (More Advice):
Check out the “Auxies” Auxiliar Facebook group for the Piso/Landlord Blacklist. It provides a list of apartments and landlords that people have had bad experiences with. Avoid at all costs!
Try to find a place with heat (you’ll need it in the winter), and A/C or lots of windows. Otherwise, you might regret it come May!
To save money, consider Au Pairing or offering to speak/support English language learning in a household in exchange for free housing.
Try living with Spaniards! There’s no better way to be immersed in the language and culture, and Spaniards are a lot of fun. Plus, you will appreciate their help getting you acclimated to life abroad!
Have a pet you’ll be missing at home? Try finding a place where one of your roommates has an animal. It might not be enough to quell your homesickness entirely, but it’s possible… Or should I say, ‘paws’-ible?
It might seem overwhelming now, but you can do this! Just stay organized, use your best judgement, and be prepared. Spain is a beautiful place filled with so many wonderful people, places, and opportunities. You’re going to love it here!