Expat Living in Madrid: What the Guidebooks Don’t Tell You

You’ve taken the big plunge and committed to a year in Spain—congratulations! Enhorabuena! Once the initial glee of excitement at your upcoming trip wears off, you might be left with quite a few questions. I know I was. Let’s take a look at basing yourself in the heart of the country, Madrid.

How Can I Make the Most of My Time in Madrid?

Madrid is an incredible base for travel, so take advantage of its location and travel around the country as well as the continent. The airport is easily reachable by a 24-hour bus or the metro, whose last run is at 1:30 a.m. There are two main bus stations that cover all of Europe (Avenida de America and Mendez Alvaro). When you’re booking bus tickets, check which station you will leave from, as they’re nearly an hour apart by car and you could easily miss your bus!

RyanAir

What Are Some Customs I Should Be Aware Of?

Don’t forget about siesta! Most stores will close during the hours of 2-5 p.m. (though some will go at late at 6 p.m.). If you’re in dire need, head to Puerta del Sol, where the El Corte Ingles has everything you need—though at premium prices.

Wearing gloves when selecting produce is really important to the Spanish. In every supermarket, you’ll find plastic glove dispensers. Do use them, or you run the risk of being clucked at by at least one person.
Life happens late; Madrid does not dine until 10 p.m.! When trying to fit into the groove of Spain’s eating schedules, make sure you don’t skip the all-important meal of Merienda, which is traditionally between 6 and 7 p.m. This is a time to have a glass of wine or a beer and eat a snack. Children typically walk the streets with drinkable yogurt and Nutella sandwiches, whereas adults are often caught with a ham sandwich or a cheeky tapa or two.

 

male flamenco dancer

Hugo Sanchez, Flamenco Performer

How Much Money Will I Need to Live?

Madrid is an exceptionally good value in terms of European bases—especially given that it’s a capital city. However, rent isn’t cheap, and apartments can be tricky to come by. Start your search early, and check that you have an idea of general prices before you begin so that you won’t get ripped off.

Locals tend to shop at chain stores like Mercadona, Dia, or Carrefour, but in each neighborhood, there’s often a farmer’s market that offers wonderful produce and opportunities to get to know your neighbors. For the health conscious, note which health stores, herbolarios, are in your neighborhood, and price compare at them all before purchasing—prices vary wildly by neighborhood and store.

Most Importantly, Have Fun!

Madrid is a lively city that’s very easy to live in, but it definitely takes some adjustment to get used to the pace. If you find yourself feeling a bit lost, use these tips to find your way along what’s sure to be one of the most memorable years of your life. After all, Madrid’s the city that never sleeps.

pimientos de padron con croquetas veganas

Pimientos de Padron, unos pican otras no!
Meaning: some are spicy and some are not, a pepper lottery.


Brandy Bell loves adventuring around the world. She’s been a solo female traveler since 2006 and has visited over 25 countries, made countless international friends, and now writes to inspire you to travel in a sustainable and responsible way.


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