How to Move to Spain from the United States…

There can be a lot of hand-wringing and worrying about how and what to figure out and put in place before you move to a new country. But the reality is that there is a lot of business, logistics, and settling in that just can´t be done until you arrive in your new home. There are also a lot of benefits and advantages to waiting until you arrive to get things settled and sorted.

However, leaving home without knowing what is on the other side can feel unsettling and intimidating. It will require trusting and living with some unknowns, which is hard but also a valuable part of the journey and experience when you travel abroad.

Child Boarding Plane Leaving for a new country…
 
                      

I thought if I could show our kids that we can liquidate everything we have, leave home with so many unknowns, and successfully move to the other side of the world, that all things are possible.I wanted them to see and experience that having the ability to problem solve on the fly, coupled with their sense of self and belief in their life skills could carry them through any of life’s challenges and adventures. If we worked hard, stayed flexible, and kept our senses of humor we could navigate any journey…and have an incredible adventure while we were at it!Of course, we started putting some essential logistics into place as soon as we knew we were moving. The following is a list of what we considered important to have somewhat determined before we moved.

 

A Look at 3 Keys to a Successful Move to Spain from the United States…

How to Move To Spain from the United States.

Top Considerations…

  1. Choosing a Location
  2. Picking a School for kids
  3. Finding Housing. (at least temporarily)

 

1. Location

Moving to Spain from the United States….Key Considerations

When deciding to move abroad, most people have a sense of where they would like to live, either because they previously visited or based on what they have gathered about a country and its culture and landscape.

I think ideally one should visit a place they intend to live, even briefly, at least once. I have had the experience of arriving somewhere I thought looked incredible and an ideal place to live, only to realize it was not a good fit at all. Resonating with a location is a bit like finding chemistry with someone you are dating! They might look like a perfect fit on paper, but when you meet them in person there is no chemistry and it is just not a great match.

Curiously and remarkably enough, despite espousing this idea, we ended up moving to a place we had never been! Luckily for us, it has worked out so far. While it was not our intention to move somewhere we had never seen, and we had attempted to visit before we made it official, it ultimately played out in a way we could not have planned for.

Having traveled the world, we were familiar with a lot of different locations, cultures, and communities and had an idea of where we wanted to live with the kids. Our criteria for a location consisted of the following:

  • Scenic location with a climate allowing for adventure and outside activities year round

  • Primary language was Spanish (or at least not English)

  • Unfamiliar cultural, historical and architectural enviornment

  • A position that allowed for easy travel access to the rest of the world

This list had us considering Spain and several countries in South America. Chile was a strong contender, as we had visited years before and loved it. It is an incredible country that met a lot of the specifications we were looking for. However, it felt too out of the way in terms of being able to jump on a plane or train and be in a different part of the world in a few hours.

Ultimately, we determined that Spain met all the requirements we were looking for and where we wanted to be. The Hemingway books we had read in college likely influenced our decision, highlighting and romanticizing the exceptional culture and lifestyle.

Once we settled on Spain, we jumped right in to researching the country, including its various locations and microclimates. There is no shortage of information on the many cultures and cities that make up Spain. You can read unlimited opinions and gather information in books, online forums, and blogs on every aspect of Spanish life. You can also reference the State Department website for things like travel advisories and health conditions, which is very important when traveling with kids.

I think when deciding on where you want to move, it is important to understand:

  • Your family and their various interests and inclinations

  • How you spend most of your time

  • What your preferences are in terms of climate, neighborhood, culture, etc.

We knew that as a family, we preferred smaller communities with considerable options for outdoor exploration such as hiking, surfing, skiing, and swimming. We knew that big cities were not our scene, but we wanted to be close enough to amenities, history, and culture to dip in for some experiences that more remote locations did not provide or allow access to.

We researched and explored several mid-size cities in Spain and their surrounding areas, including Bilboa, Valencia, Alicante, and Seville. Through a process of elimination and cross-referencing our research on schools, distance to surf spots, skiing, housing, and weather, we narrowed our search down to three locations along the coast of Spain.

After this short list revealed itself, we planned a ten-day visit in the spring. We intended to drive the coast while viewing the three areas we were focused on, as well as visiting several potential homes and schools. I set up nine school visits and six house visits in three different cities.

Regrettably, we ended up flying to Spain during an unprecedented week of rainfall! It was grey and stormy and dark. We rented a car and took several train rides attempting to accomplish our mission of looking at schools and houses in the cities we were interested in. It was really challenging to get an accurate picture, or sense of the community, due to the cloudy weather and continual downpour. Although the rain was lovely and something Spain very much needed due to the drought, it was hard to get a very upbeat, cheerful, or even accurate impression.

Walking With Travel Bags | International Family Life Arriving in Barcelona…
 
We knew that the psychology and optics for the kids on this reconnaissance mission were very important, and although they were being good sports, we did not want to leave Spain with a bad impression about their soon-to-be new home. So, four days in and with a ten-day weather forecast of relentless rain, we decided to completely abort the mission and fly to sunny Paris last minute and salvage our trip to Europe!
 

Flowers In Bloom Paris | International Family Life Last minute decision to fly to Paris…

We would not get clarity on where we wanted to live, necessarily, but this last-minute decision to fly somewhere else is exactly why we wanted to move to Europe. Paris was magnificent with beautiful spring weather; the kids loved it, and we had an amazing trip walking the streets, eating incredible food, and sitting on park benches next to blooming daffodils. It ended up being a fantastic spontaneous decision!

The trip to Spain was a bit of a bust and although we did not come to a decision about our new town, we did rule some places out. After visiting some cities we thought would really work for us, it became clear by being in them that they were not a good match after all. We all had unanimous feelings about these cities and that allowed the trip to be valuable, by helping us eliminate what we thought would be communities well-suited for us. This is why seeing a place in person can be so beneficial!

We were back on the plane to California, having had a great time in Paris, but no idea where we were going to be moving in three months!

I remember settling into our seats and both my husband and I began once again to actively look at a handful of new locations in Spain we had not previously considered. I recall sending pictures and information back and forth to each other of Mallorca, a place we had not even thought about previously, on that long flight back to California. We both loved everything we were learning about the location, culture, and community, and before we landed back in the States it seemed like we had decided that this was going to be where we lived, sight unseen.

We had never really considered living on an island, but after exploring it a bit and learning that it had a lot of options for schools, housing, and unparalleled natural and picturesque beauty, we seemed to just know that this was going to be our new home. Although the rain during our trip was not ideal, I think it pointed us in the direction of Mallorca, which was not even on our original list of possibilities. Fortunately for us, it has worked out, and we are happy to now call it home, but it was a huge risk. As I mentioned, this experience requires being very nimble and open-minded!

Beautiful Coastal Area Mediterranean | International Family Life Our new home in Mallorca

2. School

Moving to Spain from the United States….Key Considerations

Originally, we were contemplating online education to allow for a lot of mobility and flexibility with travel. But due to Spain’s requirements around children under sixteen being enrolled in school, we realized that we would need to explore a brick-and-mortar alternative.

A disclaimer before I get into how we researched and ultimately decided on a school: The opinions I have on finding a school for kids have been formed by being a therapist for over twenty-five years and observing families stressfully debate and argue about where to send their children to school. I am also a mom to three kids and someone who respects education, as both myself and my husband have advanced degrees.

That being said, I believe parents put way too much emphasis on thinking they can pick the perfect or ideal school for their kids. I think this is an attempt to imagine they can mitigate stress or hardship, or perhaps make up for things they did not have growing up. However, this over-analysis and emphasis on picking the right school has a detrimental effect. It ends up being much too stressful for families and models for the kids that there is a wrong choice or that the decision matters far more than it should. School should be a part of life, but family, experiences, and a child’s total environment are much more influential and important than any one school.

Every school has its pros and cons. There is a spectrum of good and bad teachers, administrations, friends, and curriculum. But, take it in stride and learn from the trials and tribulations. Use an imperfect school experience to learn about life. Don’t take it too seriously or impart to kids that it matters more than it should and that any one school experience determines their value or path.

In our own family, we have been to our public school that was within walking distance from our home, the progressive private schools, the conservative religious schools, the totally average online school, the underwhelming community charter school, and the most rigorous and prestigious academic schools.

Notice what fits for your child and learn from what doesn’t in each setting. Stick out the hard times to learn valuable lessons and pivot if you need to. Keep perspective, have some levity, and take the good with the bad. And most importantly, don’t give any institution the rights to you or your child’s wellbeing.

Spain has a lot of choices when it comes to schools. You can go to the public schools and get a full immersion experience with students from your surrounding community or there are also a wide variety of private schools. There are schools that follow the British model, French model, International Baccalaureate, as well as forest schools and Montessori, all with a spectrum of costs associated with each one.

We had a few broad specifications that we were looking for in a school. We wanted some language immersion, but not a completely Spanish curriculum, a variety of extracurricular clubs and teams, a reasonable size to allow for variety in friendships and connections, and no more than a fifteen-minute commute to school.

We reached out to over twenty schools in and around the areas we were looking that somewhat matched these criteria. We would cross reference the areas we were focusing on and see how many schools were in that location that were appealing and might be a good fit, and then we would reach out. We visited several schools during our rainy trip to Spain. Several of the schools were a hard no based on the kids’ impressions, while two of the schools were much more appealing and seemed like they could work.

Once we pivoted on location, we had to reach out to schools in Mallorca and ultimately decide and move forward with enrollment without being able to visit. I reached out to half a dozen schools, researched web pages, found reviews, and searched parent forums and discussion boards. We had virtual tours and meetings with each school. Three schools seemed to be equal in matching our criteria and in the end, we just picked one and moved forward. The kids are currently at the school, and you can read in future posts about how it is going!

Read here about schooling options when moving abroad.

3. Housing

Moving to Spain from the United States….Key Considerations

There are a lot of theories and choices international families can make concerning housing and relocating. I can tell you what we have done…for better or worse.

We knew that we were going to be looking for a long-term rental relatively close to the kid’s new school. So that narrowed our search down to an area roughly fifteen minutes’ drive from where the school was located. 

Rentals fall into two categories in most of Spain: either rent short-term for under a month or sign a lease for a year. We thought renting for a year sight unseen was just too big of a risk for us. We could end up with loud neighbors, construction, or a dangerous street. So, we started looking about two months before we left for a month-long rental. We thought this would give us enough time to land, get our bearings and start looking for more permanent housing in person.

Finding short-term housing was not a cakewalk for a few reasons. First, there is not a lot of inventory in Mallorca during the peak summer months of June and secondly, prices go through the roof in the summer…as in like double and triple the “off-season” rental rates! Also, we are not exactly an easy family to find housing for. There are five of us humans and a big dog, which means we wanted some space and a yard.

Finding A Home | International Family Life I will never forget the first morning in our new home

After weeks of my husband and I sending hundreds of different listings back and forth to each other across ten different housing sites, reaching out to a dozen realtors, and exploring dead ends, we finally found a house that seemed like a great fit. The house allowed pets, had a pool, a room for everyone, was a three-minute walk to the beach, and was in an area where we thought we might permanently live. We connected with the realtor of the rental who was helpful and guided us on a video tour of the house which really helped in getting an accurate view of the layout and if it would work for our family. We moved forward and wired the money.

When we arrived, we were thrilled because the house was wonderful! We used it as our home base for the next month to acclimate, play, and learn about our new home and community. It will forever be a lovely and cherished memory of our first landing spot on our life-changing adventure!

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And That’s All We Knew

Moving to Spain from the United States….Key Considerations

Apart from those three things, everything else was unknown and undetermined.

We had a tremendous amount to figure out and are still very much figuring it all out, but we had some major variables in place to allow us a springboard to explore and discover while creating our new life.

Follow along our many other blog posts on how to successfully move to Spain from the United States.

It is a move you will not regret!

 

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