Without a doubt, the process of getting “settled in” to my little town was the most stressful portion of my entire experience teaching abroad. Relocating to another country when you don’t speak the language is already a formidable task, but when you’re basically living off the grid without a reliable mode of transportation, simple things like being at a police station at a specific time takes a little more effort. This is a quick recount of how I got myself established (bank account, apartment, etc.) during my first few days of moving abroad to teach in a small mountain town in Spain.
What Needs to Be Done When Moving Abroad to Teach?
I’m participating in the North American Language and Culture Assistant program organized by the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports in the Valencian Community. Anyone who searches “teaching in Valencia” will read about their issue of paying language assistants, auxiliares, on time. The best advice former auxiliares give is to submit all your paperwork to your school as soon as possible. In order to complete my paperwork, I needed to set up a bank account, purchase a Spanish SIM card, find a place to live and begin the process of getting my tarjeta de identidad de extranjero (TIE) card. This would allow me to leave and re-enter the country once my temporary visa expired.
I was fortunate enough to have either my dad (who speaks Spanish) or my landlord, Isabel, with me for the majority of this experience. Others might not be so lucky. In the program I’m participating in, when you first learn of the institution you’ll be working at, you are given contact information for the school and its Director. Touch base with your school immediately with any questions or concerns. Someone there will speak English and should be able to help you complete each task. When moving to a small pueblo in Spain, you, or the person helping you, will need to be able to communicate in Spanish. This isn’t a big city, like Valencia or Madrid, where every employee speaks at least some English.
A Catch 22 When Moving Abroad to Teach
The toughest part about acquiring all the necessities for living abroad is that you need each item in order to get the other! For example, in order to open a bank account, we were asked to provide a phone number and home address. However, it’s difficult to purchase a phone plan and SIM without being able to provide a bank account number. And most people won’t rent you a flat unless you can prove you’ll be able to pay and they have a way of contacting you (via phone).
After being rejected by Santander, I was able to open up a Spanish bank account with BBVA. The man who helped me said to make sure I came back once everything else was taken care of. This way, I could finish inputting the rest of the information later on. That was a huge victory at the time! [TIP: Upon opening your account, make sure to ask for a copy of your Bank Certificate. Your school will need one to process your paperwork].
Wi-Fi, Phone, and Data Plans
With my bank account temporarily taken care of, we went to buy a SIM card I could use in Spain. When teaching abroad, you will need to purchase a phone and data plan. Everyone I’ve met in Spain uses WhatsApp to communicate. This means having a ton of minutes hasn’t been that important for me. However, unless you’re asking for WiFi passwords every time you enter a shop, you might eat through some data.
After consulting with the two electronics stores in my town, I decided to go with Simyo, a Spanish provider. I get 2.5GB and 20 minutes for 8 euros/month and no contract. You can set your account up online and just pre-pay through the computer. This way, you don’t have to keep going to the store to pay each month as I did at first. I eventually bought an Internet plan for my piso from the same store for 18.15 euros a month.
How to Find a Home Abroad
Finding somewhere to live in another country when it’s difficult to communicate with the other person is a fun time! My dad and I were, fortunately, able to find a place to put our luggage while we house-hunted. Any town that’s big enough for a school, no matter how remote it might be, will have at least one hotel you can use for a temporary base of operations. Idealista.com and Airbnb provided a few options for renting, but I wanted to see the places in person before making any commitments.
Aside from walking around looking for “se alquila” signs in windows, the best place to find an apartment, piso, in a small town is by asking the people! Everyone knows each other! My dad and I picked out the cafetería that looked the busiest, and he started chatting around. I just stood there next to him smiling and nodding my head a lot. We eventually left with a few names and numbers.
Living Comfortably and Affordably
It only took two attempts to find something that checked off enough boxes, was affordable and felt right. Although my piso looks like it hasn’t been remodeled since the Spanish Civil War, it’s spacious, clean, close in proximity to everything important, and all the utilities work. Since I don’t have a car in Spain, living only a 2-minute walk away from my school is very important. It gives me more flexibility during the 2.5-hour siesta break we have every day.
Your money definitely goes a lot further when living in a small town. An auxiliar in central Valencia is paid the same amount of euros as an auxiliar in Bocairent is. However, my total expenses for rent, utilities, phone, and the Internet is less than 400 euros per month in a four-bedroom flat. You won’t find that anywhere in the cities.
Once I had a place to call “home,” I needed to take all my information to the ajuntament (town hall) and get my empadronamiento form that showed proof of residency in my town. This was the final piece necessary before I could obtain my TIE card.
One More Hurdle and I Can Finally Settle Down
Submitting my paperwork for the TIE was the toughest part of getting my ducks in a row in Spain. The paperwork had to be submitted at a national police station. In my little region, the closest one was 10 km away in Ontinyent, the next town over. The station did not take appointments by phone. The only way to be seen was to show up before the doors opened at 8 am in hopes of receiving a number and timeslot to come back for the actual appointment.
Isabel, my landlord, decided to pick me up in the morning. By 6:00 am we were standing outside the station shivering in a line of a dozen people. An English-speaking couple behind me said they’d come earlier in the week to try to get a number. Unfortunately, they had been turned away because the line was too long. At 8:00 am, an officer opened the door and started addressing the line. At the same time, a wife and five kids hopped out of a car and stepped in line with the dad in front of me. Luckily, only two of the kids were allowed to stay in line. I ended up receiving one of the last numbers of the day!
I Didn’t Speak Spanish Yet
Luckily I had my landlord with me. Nobody in the police station spoke English and I didn’t speak Spanish yet. The entire appointment lasted an hour and consisted of the worker talking to Isabel in Valencian, Isabel turning to me and repeating his words in Spanish, me turning around to look for the person she must’ve been talking to, and then turning back to shake my head, smile, and say, “No entiendo.”
Last Piece of the Puzzle
Eventually, we figured it all out. I needed my US passport, an extra passport photo, the NIE number on my temporary visa, the empadronamiento, and my carta de nombramiento that shows how long I’m working in the country and how much I’m getting paid. This is sent in an email when you first learn of your school assignment. The last step was to pay the 15.76 euros transaction fee at a nearby bank, and then run back to the station where they gave you a temporary TIE certificate. I had to return to the station a month later to pick up the physical TIE card.
Moving Abroad to Teach Got Better
I hope that sharing my experience of moving abroad to teach and settling into a small town in another country can help ease the concerns of others thinking about taking the plunge. I finished all these tasks in only three days in total. So although those three days were one long headache, at least it was over quick. The rest of my teaching abroad experience has been a breeze!
by Ryan Gomez