Be Prepared to Compromise and Negotiate
Few things will prepare you for finding suitable accommodation in Spain at an affordable price when all the Language Assistants descend upon Madrid and are looking for the same thing as you are.
Madrid is a major city, has its fair share of gentrification, and the rent reflects that reality. Be prepared to compromise and negotiate, it may be awkward if you have limited Spanish but it is doable (with a lot of patience).
The first step in finding a place is to know where your school is located and what public transport options are available. It is important to check the bus schedule as well. If your school is on a metro route, then this is important as metros are frequent and the journeys tend to be shorter though peak hours may be a less than ideal time to commute. That said, decide how long you’re willing to commute daily.
Finding Accommodation in Spain: First Steps
I am not fond of long commutes so I chose to look for places close to school. The school is about an hour’s bus ride from the centre of Madrid and I wasn’t willing to commute for two hours every day (depending on traffic and weather conditions). In addition, the buses are infrequent in the school’s area so waiting times are long (there is a bus every hour after nine o’clock).
I don’t like long commutes so I decided to live close to the schoolMy daily commute to my closest bus stop is short. There is a bus every 20 minutes between seven o’clock and nine o’clock and it takes 15 minutes to get to school which includes the walk from the bus stop where I get off to the school.
Unfortunately, walking is not an option because there are no pavements and walkways between my village and the next, so it isn’t safe. Another consideration for me was that I am above the age where you pay €20 for a monthly travel pass. This means that my travel pass would be €90 per month if I lived more central, and that is a high fixed percentage of my stipend that I wasn’t willing to part with.
Know what you’re willing to pay, and what non-negotiables you have when looking. This includes the number of housemates, kitchen and living spaces, which utilities are included, etc., These, are all important. Also, ask what the rules are about visitors, sleepovers, quiet time, and how the place is cleaned and maintained.
I had an upper budget limit set before I started looking. But I also researched a lot of places in the area and was realistic about my budget range. My criteria were very specific: two housemates (one or both had to be Spanish-speaking), a garden, fully furnished and utilities included in the rent. I’ve rented before so I knew what I was comfortable compromising on, and what were non-negotiables.
My Spanish Piso
I ended up with a Spanish-speaking housemate (who speaks English fairly well). She rents two rooms in her house, but the other one is unoccupied (mostly due to the remote location).
In short, I have a furnished bedroom that overlooks the mountain and the grazing field, my own bathroom, front and back gardens, and a living area that has a fireplace. All utilities are included and I have access to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and really great WiFi.
The cleaning detergents are included in the rent, and in terms of cleaning I am only responsible for my room, bathroom, and cleaning up after myself in the kitchen (obviously). There are a washing machine and a space where only I hang my laundry to dry. My bedroom came with bedding, towels, curtains, hangers, an iron, and a space heater.
These may seem silly but when you’re starting out, the little things add up and this made my life so much easier. I could literally unpack my suitcases and start school.
I was also fortunate enough to have my housemate pick me up from my AirBnB, and drive me to my new home. My suitcases got stuck in transit and it arrived at my AirBnB two days after I left. Thankfully, my AirBnB host was amazing and dropped them off at my new place. It was a nice, warm welcome into the village and things haven’t changed much since.
- Make sure you have enough time to view a lot of places and the financial means to not take the first thing that is available. You want to give yourself space to look around and not feel pressured into decisions. You always want to get a sense of what is available and what “normal” looks like. That said, give yourself a time limit. You need an address to finalise legal requirements so don’t be overly pedantic and scared to make a decision. Be decisive. You are renting a place for nine months, not committing to a lifelong relationship.
- Be sure that you understand the terms of your contract. The deposit (and under what conditions it will be returned to you), when rent is due, and when you have to give notice and the time period for notice to be given to you.
- Sign a contract and get a copy (with both your and your landlord’s signature). Make sure you have copies of their identity documents as these may be needed when applying for legal residence.
- Whenever you make a payment, get a receipt. This is important if you want to go for residency in the long run or for legal purposes… and it is just a good life practice.
- Make copies of everything. Everything. Scan it and keep it online.
If something bothers you, speak about it and don’t let it fester. The Spanish are mostly direct and you can save yourself a lot of overthinking if you just address the issue.
Actually Living in a Spanish Piso (and in Spain in General…)
- Expect lots of talking and noise: The Spanish are loud and talkative. All the time. Any time of the day. Any day of the week. Anywhere they are.
- Altitude: I come from a sea city. I am close to the mountains in Madrid and I had a month of acclimatising to the altitude and thin air.
- Siestas are a lie and the truth… Few people actually nap at siesta time (except in summer and in the South). But, shops and other small businesses do close. The bigger shops remain open but generally, it is the time people go home to eat and spend time with their families before heading back to work around 4pm or 5pm and stay there until 8pm or 9pm. Check out here what is life like in Spain.
- Touching and looking: Greeting works differently in different countries. In Spain, kissing people on both cheeks is normal, and expected (To a large degree. Do not do this at school, professional etiquette is different from social etiquette). People making eye contact or looking at you for an extended period of time is normal.
- Cigarette smoke: This is possibly the hardest thing for me. My home country has strict laws on smoking, especially in public spaces. Possibly because I live in a smaller village, rules are more relaxed than in other parts of the city or country for that matter. But be prepared for cigarette smoke at bus stops, and in the seating area outside restaurants and cafés.
- Banks: All banks aren’t open on the weekend and most banks close at 2pm during the week. Some have extended banking hours for certain months of the year; it is best to check with your bank.
By Noélle K., 2019-2020