How our family of five settled in and created a new life after moving abroad…

Moving a family of five to a completely new country and continent where you don’t speak the language requires managing many moving parts, emotions and navigating new situations.  A big misconception people have when you share that you are moving abroad is that you are going on a permanent vacation with not a care in the world.

And while we are certainly going to have exciting experiences and some time off from our day-to-day life, in many ways, there is considerably more work on the other side of an international move with kids than there was before leaving. Setting up a life with three kids in a foreign country, especially where you don’t speak the official language, can be a daunting, frustrating, and lonely experience.

We needed to set up a life for a big family with dozens of logistics and administrative details. It was a full-time job that both my husband and I had to divide and conquer. To say that it is an adventure is an understatement!

Here’s how we broke it down and got settled in our new life after moving abroad…

Family in the Meditteranean
Taking in the view in our new home

Choosing a Community…

Upon arriving in our new home of Mallorca, Spain, we had a month-long house rental to use as our base while we looked for more permanent housing. We gave ourselves a few days once we arrived to decompress and catch our breath. However, fairly immediately, we jumped into house-hunting mode as we knew we would need all the time we could get to find permanent housing. 

We knew that we would be using the kids’ new school as the reference point for where we wanted to find long-term housing.  While so many families around the world commute long distances to school, we knew that would not be our ideal scenario and we hoped to find a home just a short distance from the new school.

So, we drew a fifteen-minute radius from the school to try and stay within when looking for our new house. Being able to drive around and see, in-person, the locations we were considering made a big difference. Based on pictures and listings, we found several areas that were appealing. However, upon visiting these spots we immediately ruled them out because of factors we could only determine by seeing them with our own eyes.

We were looking for a location that wasn’t too crowded or touristy. We also wanted quieter neighborhoods that had more open space for exploring and playing. We wanted to have a community market and a few stores and cafes that we could walk to as well. After driving and walking several areas throughout Mallorca, we quickly narrowed down our ideal neighborhoods based on this criteria.

Finding a House…

Now that we were focused on a few specific areas, we started looking at houses. Finding a rental house in Mallorca required a lot of research, computer time, and communication with realtors. The house rental market is tremendously impacted in the high season (June through September), leaving very little inventory available. Furthermore, many owners and realtors take time off during the summer making it hard to connect. My husband and I would look for hours each day, scouring dozens of listings.

Our need for a house in a particular location that would allow for three kids and a dog narrowed the search considerably.  We wanted a yard, room to spread out and work, and a few other specifications. Additionally, we arrived during a record heat wave in Europe, which made it clear that we needed air conditioning and a swimming pool if possible.  The heat in Mallorca when we arrived was not an insignificant factor or mild annoyance; it was something to be taken seriously and impacted how we lived and what we needed in a house. 

Mo at our new house…he loved the pool because he could jump in and cool off on those hot summer days.

We started looking at ten different sights including Think Spain, Idealista, and several much smaller real estate agencies that had listings.  We reached out to at least fifty realtors and listings.  Unlike California, real estate agents in Spain would not always respond right away…and in some cases, not at all.  In Spain, everyone is far less rushed and they would frequently respond by offering to show us a house in a week or two. While the slower pace in Spain is often wonderful, it was bumping up against our urgent housing needs. The days we had our temporary rental were ticking by quickly.    

The kids took an active interest in the house hunting and would also study listings and form opinions. On several occasions, we asked for the address and drove by initially to look at the location and see the houses from the outside. This proved an efficient use of time because at least a dozen houses were in very undesirable locations, on busy streets, or with loud construction going on next door. There is a tremendous amount of building happening in Mallorca, so you might see a lovely house on-line, only to pull up and find a huge crane next door and jackhammering happening all day.

Eventually, we narrowed our shortlist to ten properties, and then the five of us went and viewed them in person. We finally found one that seemed like a great fit. It was in our price range, had rooms for everyone, a pool, a great yard for our dog, and a few of the rooms even had air conditioning. We went and checked it out two more times and then decided to make an offer! 

We negotiated a bit on terms and cost but quickly came to an agreement. You will often hear horror stories from expats about leases going awry, and getting ripped off while negotiating in foreign countries, however we had a very straightforward experience. We read all the fine print, asked questions, and did our due dilegence. The agency proved to be very professional and experienced. We executed the contract, moved the funds, and picked up the keys. The kids were so excited to move in!

The house was far from perfect, but like most things when moving abroad you have to be flexible and nimble. Most of the appliances have broken at some point, the air conditioning has a mind of its own, and we lose power a few times a week, but the house has largely been a great place to land while we sort out our new life!

Transportation…

Buying a Car…

Buying a car in Spain was an adventure, too! When we arrived in Mallorca, we rented a car for the first month. We intended to buy something sooner, but as so many things go in Spain, it took longer than anticipated and we kept having to extend the rental car agreement. Fortunately, there is a company on the island that rents cars for low weekly rates. 

Because our needs with a car were specific, coupled with navigating the used car scene, buying a car proved to be more of an adventure than expected. We wanted a used car—nothing fancy becasue we are hard on vehicles. They tend to fill up quickly with beach sand, backpacks, and snacks.

We also knew that we wanted to live a one-car lifestyle now that we were in Europe . In California, our living situation and lifestyle required two vehicles, but we were hopeful that this could be different in Europe due to the ability to walk everywhere. Most of the cars available for purchase on the island were too small and had manual transmissions (stick shift), unlike American cars which are big and automatic. We wanted to find one that had some utility and could fit bicycles and surfboards, as well as seven seats for visitors, grandma, and of course, our big dog, Mo.  This narrowed our search and the inventory down considerably. 

We started looking on Facebook Marketplace, as well as used car lots. Driving all over the island to used car lots was a learning experience and we saw many locations and settings that we otherwise would have likely not explored. The used lots are not the perfectly manicured ones we were used to in the United States with polished cars, but rather open garages or fields with an entire spectrum of cars for purchase…some with engines and some without! 😉

With our specifications, there were only a few cars (literally) on the island that worked. We connected with a private owner, met for a test drive, looked at his very organized records on the car, and made an offer. He accepted, we paid cash, and drove off in our new set of wheels!  

We have since bought surf and bike racks and have our island adventure vehicle outfitted. It has worked out well and we have already put it to great use.   

Our new scooter was great for island life!

Buying a Scooter…

Being a family of five people with only one car was going to be tricky, so we decided to get a scooter as well. Motorcycles and scooters are extremely common here and the weather allows them to be used year-round. Our 16 year-old daughter is also allowed to drive the scooter, unlike the car, which requires a driver of at least 18 years old. The scooter gave us extra transportation as well as an option for her and her sister to go explore the island on their own. 

We decided since the kids would be using the scooter that we wanted to purchase one that was new and as safe as possible. We went to a scooter store (there are dozens) and bought the sleek black one recommended for safety and stability. The scooter has been great! It is fun to ride around the island and it gives a great option for the kids to have some freedom and provides another set of wheels when needed.

Taking Care of Business…

There are so many other small details and business matters to take care of when relocating such as setting up utilities, mail service, banking, visas, residency cards, etc. I will detail some of the more important topics below.

Visas…

Every country is different when it comes to what is required to stay an extended period of time. In Europe, you must acquire some type of a visa if you intend to stay more than 90 days. There are a variety of different options in Spain, but our particular visa required certain steps for us to reside here. 

Within thirty days of arriving in Spain, we had to begin the process of getting our TIE cards. We tried unsuccessfully to navigate the system to set this process in motion. After dealing with the frustrations, and because the appointments were time sensitive, we reached out to a company that helps facilitate this process. They were wonderful to work with, responsive, and handled things for us seamlessly. This is one step where I am glad we reached out for help because this step requires dealing with a lot of red tape that is much better managed by an agency that has experience. It was money well-spent.

Banking…

Getting a bank account in Spain is critical and required a few steps. You need a national bank account for visa and school purposes, as well as utilities such as cable and electricity.  Unfortunately, it was a little more complicated and crazy-making than we had anticipated. We needed to set up a bank; but we could not do it without a padron number which is provided by each Spanish town. However, we could not get our padron number without a long-term lease! Navigating this chain of events was confusing and frustrating at times.  

By attempting to solve one problem, we would find out we had another obstacle to conquer first.  There were so many times we arrived at a place thinking we were going to accomplish something, only to be told that we must do this other time-consuming step first.    

Finally, we managed to sort out the required steps and opened our bank account! It took another two weeks to get our debit cards to work…but that is a story for another time.

There are countless other particulars that one has to manage to set up a life in a new country. Things you take for granted like getting your mail, paying a parking ticket, and acquiring insurance can be confusing to say the least.

Paying a parking ticket and setting up a mailbox required three separate trips each! Again, you have to keep your sense of humor, not be in a hurry, and appreciate how different things are run in other countries.  Little by little, things get crossed off the list. It’s all part of the learning curve and helps you understand the new culture and community where you live. 

The logistics aren’t a walk in the park, but let me tell you that it’s worth every struggle to be able to have the incredibly meaningful experience of living internationally and immersing our children in a totally different culture.

Wishing you the best in your adventures!

 

Beautiful bougainvillea in our new home…

 

 

 

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