Tapas Forever

Helping make the dream of moving to Spain a reality

Tag: Residency

My First Six Months In Spain

Approximately two weeks ago I hit my six month milestone here in Spain, and as such, thought it would be a really great time to update everyone on my Spanish adventure.

Living In Valencia

In case you missed it, last year I applied for (and was granted) residency to live in Spain for a year. My original plan was to travel around Spain and potentially visit various different parts of the country over the course of my stay here. Unfortunately as soon as I arrived I quickly realized that one of the requirements of my residency required me to actual obtain a rental contract for at least three months. Unfortunately that basically meant my travel plans went out the window since I would need to rent an apartment somewhere. The city I eventually decided to stay in is the beautiful Mediterranean city of Valencia.

Valencia, Spain

I’m really happy with that decision for the following reasons. First, I really like being near the ocean. In terms of large Spanish cities, that limits you to Barcelona, Valencia, and Malaga mostly, as most of the other large cities are inland. While I don’t live right next to the ocean, it’s just a short metro ride or a bike ride away, which is great.

Second, in terms of Spanish culture, Valencia has a nice balance between local culture (such as the annual Fallas festival), and a fairly vibrant ex-pat community. Many locals that I talked to last year encouraged me not to choose Barcelona, mostly because it’s become overrun with tourists and is starting to lack in Spanish culture. Madrid and Seville were both on my list as well, but since they aren’t close to the water and have rather unique climates (Madrid gets quite cold in the winter, while Seville, known locally as ‘the frying pan of Spain’, can reach 50C in the summer).

And lastly, Valencia is really very affordable compared to many other larger Spanish cities. While rent isn’t as cheap as it used to be, in general the low cost of both food and alcohol more than make up for it. For example, a typical glass of wine at a local restaurant runs about 2€ ($3 CAD) normally, with tapas usually costing from between 5€-8€ each. In the supermarket you can buy a whole chicken for 4€, and a bottle of wine for 2-3€. Taken together, a normal meetup with friends in the evening, complete with lots of food and wine usually runs less than 20€, which would be about $30 CAD back home.

Meeting People

Meeting people can be difficult in any new environment, and I encountered a bit of that myself in Valencia. Spanish people tend to have tight social circles, with most adults essentially hanging out with people they grew up with. So as a foreigner it can be pretty difficult to get invited into one of those circles, even more so if people think you will just be leaving again soon. So I certainly haven’t met as many actual Spanish people as I had hoped.

But Valencia does have a very active ex-pat and remote worker community, and I’ve met and become friends with various members of the Valencia Coffee and Co-working Group. That group meets weekly for co-working and evening drinks, and it’s been great hanging out with most of them and getting to know some of their reasons for moving to Spain as well.

Learning Spanish

When I first arrived in Valencia, I took an intensive Spanish class to augment what I already knew. That was actually really quite useful, but unfortunately I found it really difficult to work while going to school as it was just *too* intense – four hours of class per day plus homework in the evenings. I found myself pretty exhausted each night.

Since most of my friends here are expats as well, I haven’t had too many opportunities to practice Spanish on a daily basis (other than ordering food and what-not, but that’s pretty routine). That said my comprehension has definitely gone up, and I can certainly communicate much better than when I arrived. But I do need to focus on it a bit more deliberately going forward if I really want to improve.

Traveling Around

I live 10 minutes from the main train station in Valencia, which means it’s quite easy to go on a weekend trip whenever I want. I went to Burgos one weekend to meet some friends walking the Camino de Santiago, and that took me about 10 hours by train. But getting to Barcelona is only about 3 hours by train, Madrid is only 2 hours (via high speed train), and Seville about 5 hours I believe. So while Madrid is probably the best spot to explore Spain from, Valencia is quite well connected as well.

Burgos Cathedral

I’m hoping when I renew my residency next year that I’ll be able to explore around Spain a bit more.

Quality of Life

One of the aspects that eventually made me choose Spain as the country I wanted to try living in was the work/life balance. Someone from North America would probably look at someone in Spain or Portugal, seemingly always out enjoying themselves, as lazy. But the truth is the Spanish people I know are all hard workers. What is different though is that they look at work as a way to enable them to do the things they want, and not as a way to accumulate a lot of expensive items like most people in North America do. So this translates more into a work-to-live philosophy as opposed to the live-to-work one you see in many other countries.

People out eating and drinking around midnight

Dinner in Spain doesn’t really start until 9pm or so, which often means if you are going out that you are going to be out until midnight or later. But once you get used to it, it’s actually really quite nice. The idea of eating dinner at 6pm now seems a bit strange to me, and I really enjoy the late evening dinners (which are often much smaller than we would eat back in North America – tapas and beers amongst friends, for example).

Customer service isn’t that great in Spain – if you order a drink, it’s more likely they will forget it here, or if you are ready to order, sometimes it’s hard to convince someone to take your order. But you get used to it after a while, and just adapt – for example, if you nobody is taking your order, you simply kill more time talking to your friends without getting too worked up for it. They have an expression here in Spain, “no pasa nada”, which basically means “don’t worry about it”. So whenever I hit something like that in Spain, I just smile and reminded myself “no pasa nada”.

What’s Next

In just a few weeks I’m heading back to Canada for my first visit since I arrived in Spain, which I’m looking forward to. Until then, I’m down in Javea near the ocean, which is one of my favourite spots near Valencia.

Beach House, Javea, Spain

Once I get back to Spain, likely at the end of May, I’ll likely do a bit travel around the country and start the process of renewing my non-lucrative visa. My first visa is only for one year, but once the renewal is complete, I’ll be able to live in Spain for another two years. I still have to figure out what my long term plan is, but in pure Spanish style, am not too concerned with it at this point and am quite content to just enjoy my moments 🙂

The Completed Non-Lucrative Visa Process

Yesterday I received my passport back from the Spanish consulate in Toronto – inside was my non-lucrative visa, which contains my NIE number that I’ll need in Spain. It’s possible to obtain a NIE without getting a visa (for example to buy a house), but they are issued automatically with your visa as well.

My completed non-lucrative visa

I started assembling my documents In May, and mailed my application at the end of June. It took roughly six weeks for them to process the application, and approximately one more week to send them my passport and for them to mail it back.

When I received the email saying my visa was approved and that they needed my passport, they also asked me to forward along my flight confirmation. I had a flight already in October, but decided to move it backwards and send the new flight information in. I’m glad I did since they used the date of my flight to set the start date of the visa. Had I not done that, my visa would have started in October, which meant I wouldn’t be able to fly to Spain early. So if you are doing this process, pay attention to when your flights are since your visa will likely be dated to that.

In just one week, I’ll be heading to Valencia. It would be nice to say this process is over, but there are still things I need to do in Spain upon arriving, and not all of them are easy. As you can see from the photo, the visa is only valid for a few months. What is supposed to happen is that I have to make an appointment within one month and apply for the TIE (Spanish Foreigner Card) which is what will ultimately let me stay in Spain for a year or longer. One of the requirements for the TIE though is that you have a permanent place to stay – that doesn’t really work for me since I plan to bounce around for a few months at first. I’ve been told you have to show at least a six month rental contract, which I won’t have. So this is still a problem I’m working to solve. I do know a few people in Spain, so I may see if one of them would be willing to state I’m living (i.e. couchsurfing) at their house for a while, just so I can complete the registration at the town hall.

Also, since I’m flying into London and will receive my entry stamp there, I’ve read I have to make sure I keep my boarding pass stubs for my flight to Spain to prove when I arrived there (since I won’t receive an entry stamp there). Without that they have no idea of when I actually showed up in Spain, and apparently that can cause a problem.

But I’m definitely excited to have the non-lucrative process behind me – it ended up being fairly straightforward, and despite some complaints I read online about the Toronto consulate, my experience with them was really quite good .

How To Open a Bank Account in Spain as a Non-Resident

So if you’re here, you’re likely thinking about moving to Spain at some point. I know this, because that’s my end goal as well. Maybe not forever, but likely for a year or more.

One of the first hurdles you may encounter is opening a bank account. Once you have a long-term stay visa or a temporary residence in Spain, you can open an account as a resident. But there are certain advantages to having one sooner. For example, I thought moving larger amounts of money from Canada to Spain would probably be much easier when I am actually physically present in Canada, so I thought opening a bank account before heading back should make things smoother.

Given that I was in Spain for a month recently, I decided to go down to the bank and try to open an account – you need to be physically present in Spain to open one as a non-resident. While I speak enough Spanish to usually get by, I wasn’t confident that I’d be able to navigate the wide world of banking with my limited vocabulary. At this point I could have found someone local to help me, or hopefully someone who speaks english at the bank.

In terms of choosing a bank, you have a lot of options. After asking around most people locally recommended BBVA or La Caixa to me, since they have really great online access as well as mobile phone access. Since that will likely be how I use most of these accounts, I decided to go with one of those. And since BBVA was right around the corner from where I was staying, a few days ago I walked in there.

Luckily for me, I found someone who speaks english, so it made the process much easier. When I asked her what documents I need, she told me she needs my passport, proof of income back in Canada, and something to show I’m still a resident back in Canada. I went back to where I was staying and printed out a few pages from my 2017 Canadian tax return, and also my latest cable bill with my Canada address on it. When I went back with these documents, she looked over them and said they were fine.

The process took about 30 minutes, and the lady who helped me was very thorough in making sure I understood everything. Unfortunately you have to sign a few documents, all of which are in Spanish, but most of them just seemed to be related to me understanding that I had a small (600 Eur) line of credit, and also what their privacy policy is.

At this point, she told me to go home and come back the next day, as apparently the bank account needs to be approved at their head office. When I came back the next day at roughly the same time, she checked and everything had been approved. At that point she helped me set up the BBVA app on my phone and make sure it was working for me before I left. I was actually amazed just how far ahead the Spanish were in terms of banking, possibly due to the ease of use of the IBAN number here compared to our complicated institution/branch/account format back in Canada. But you can simply scan a barcode to send a friend or a company money from the application, which makes paying bills trivial each month.

Tomorrow I’ll receive my Visa/Debit card (apparently you can use the same card for both – withdrawing money from your account, and also paying for items in stores and what-not – once a month the card will pay itself off from my bank account, which is fine by me), but for the most part after only 48 hours my bank account was ready to go.

Ok, so now what?

One of the first issues I wanted to solve was how to exactly fund the account from Canada. Canada banking is pretty archaic, and I assumed I would have to take my Spanish banking information into a branch in Canada and set up an international wire transfer. Those transfer are error-prone, and usually quite expensive ($20 fee to send, and often $20 to receive). So I was looking for something that was cheaper.

I found a few people talking in various online forums about using TransferWise, so I decided to give that a shot. Basically TransferWise is a company that facilitates transferring money between international accounts with what they claim to be really low fees.

I quickly added my Canadian bank account information into TransferWise, and also my Spanish bank information. Once that was done, I simply clicked ‘Send Money’ on the Spanish bank account and started the process.

Sending money with TransferWise

Once you start the process, you can select how much money you want to send and also see all the relevant fees. The cheapest option in my case is to directly fund the transaction from my Canadian bank account. But there are other options too, like starting a wire transfer, or even funding via a credit card.

The fees are a bit deceiving in that TransferWise boasts really great currency conversion fees – this seems to be true, but instead of those fees changing, the actual “Our Fee” field seems to be based on a percentage as well. So instead of a 3% currency spread at most banks, you’re looking at roughly a 1% total fee for the transaction with minimal explicit exchange fees. It’s still roughly a 1% fee, but I doubt I could do any better myself in person, not without using a Forex company to exchange a larger amount of money. And in that case, it would take me two or three individual transactions and a lot of stress to pull off.

I thought for some reason when I started this transaction that it would simply grab the CAD from the Canadian bank account I set up. But in terms of TransferWise’s terminology, those accounts only seem to be destinations, not sources. So once you initiate the transaction, you have to fund it yourself, either by doing an explicit transfer to TransferWise (they give you the information after you start), or by linking your bank account to the transaction (by clicking on your bank icon, like TD Bank in Canada, and authenticating). Once that was done, TransferWise started the transaction.

TransferWise Transfer in Progress

TransferWise is really great at letting you know what’s going on. For example, the moment my TransferWise transfer received money from my Canadian bank, TransferWise sent a push notification to the application on my phone, as well as an email. Both of these let me know they had money, and were now converting it between currencies (at the rates they advertised previously), into Euros. Later that evening the money physically (or virtually I guess) showed up in my account, and was listed on the BBVA application. All in all it took about 24 hours to move money from my Canadian bank account to my Spanish one, and cost me approximately 1% in the process (or about $4 on $400).

Completed Transfer

If you’re looking to move money between your accounts, I definitely recommend using TransferWise – the process was really straightforward, and the transaction completed in probably the same amount of time it would take if I was trying to send money to someone else in Canada. Plus, their exchange rates seemed to match what Google said the rates were at the time, even though they had an explicit fee that seems to be roughly 1% of the total. But as I mentioned, I doubt I could do much better myself by moving money between two currencies, and certainly not without a bunch of hassle and stress.

If you want to sign-up to TransferWise, you can do it by clicking here (affiliate link – if enough of you decide to use it, I may earn enough to buy a few beers 🙂 ). But regardless TransferWise is going to be my go-to tool for moving money from Canada to Spain while I am here.

Final Thoughts

All in all the process took about 2 hours of time spread out over roughly a week. The account was active after the first 48 hours, but took roughly a full week before I had the Visa/Debit card in my hand and money in my account. So if you are in Spain and want to get this done, make sure you have enough time in one location to see it through.

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