Tapas Forever

Helping make the dream of moving to Spain a reality

Tag: Travel

An Ode To Europe

I’ve been living in Spain, and consequently Europe now, for about ten months. While I’ve always enjoyed the time I’ve spent in ‘the old world’, I’ve really come to appreciate it much more now than I’m an actual resident here in Spain. So I thought I’d make a post about some of the aspects of living in Europe I really enjoy.

Freedom of Travel

Previously as a Canadian resident I was allowed up to a 90 day visit in a rolling 180 day window in any of the Schengen countries. That may sound like a lot, but there are 26 countries in the region and those 90 days can go by pretty quick if you are bouncing between them. In many countries when your visa expires you can simply leave for a few hours and then come back (popularly called a ‘visa run’ amongst digital nomads), but that’s not possible in the Schengen region due the rolling 180 day window – basically if you are here for 90 days, you have to leave for 90 days in order to be able to come back.

Now I don’t have completely unrestricted travel in Europe compared to an actual EU citizen: while I can stay in Spain indefinitely, the 90 day clock starts ticking when I leave Spain and visit other countries in the Schengen region. But when that time expires I can simply come back to Spain and regroup, since I am a bonafide resident here whereas before I’d have to leave the Schengen region completely. Even still it’s a huge advantage being able to reside where I want in Europe and do various trips from here.

Affordability of Travel

While Valencia does have a pretty decent airport, it certainly isn’t as large a hub as Madrid or Barcelona. That said, I can pretty much get anywhere in Europe from Valencia for less than the cost of a one way ticket to Calgary back in Canada. Back in December I flew to Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands for approximately 27 Euros ($40 CAD) – that’s a three hour flight. So other than the odd road trip to Seattle back in Canada, the options for doing a weekend adventure back home are pretty limited. Whereas here in Valencia I can easily visit other parts of Europe whenever I want.

Of course, many people here in Europe think the low-cost carriers are evil. Some of them probably are. But it’s pretty hard to resist the temptation to visit another part of Europe for €20-€30 Euros, and I’ve taken advantage of it a few times, often with just a carry-on bag.

Prevalence of Trains

For whatever reason train travel isn’t very popular in North America. In fact, other than a few distinct routes along the rocky mountains and to and from Seattle, I don’t know of many passenger routes in Canada – I’m sure they exist, but they certainly aren’t popular. Here in Europe train travel is extremely prevalent, and in many cases the preferred means of travel.

Madrid is about 360km away from Valencia, but thanks to the high speed Ave train that travels at up to 300km/hr, is only takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes. It’s not a super cheap route (about $50 CAD each way), but there’s something to be said for just walking on and off the train without a whole pile of security, and also being able to watch the world casually float by from a window seat.

Whenever I have the chance to visit someone by train here in Spain, I usually jump at it. Usually there is a bar car at the back of the train with drinks and food, Wi-Fi available, and often a table in front of my chair that I can set my laptop on. So I can easily get in a full work day while chatting it up with various other passengers along the way. It’s a very enjoyable experience that I wish we had more of back in Canada.

Ease of Banking

One thing Europeans have figured out is their banking system. After using the banking applications here and also moving money to and from Canada for the last ten months, I can say with certainly just how behind we are on most things in the banking world. While we applaud ourselves in Canada for being able to send a $3,000 transfer using an email address (Interact e-Transfer), I can send money to anyone in the European union, usually instantaneously, using their IBAN number. Sure, it’s a 16-20 digit number which is a bit of a pain to type in, but thanks to internal error checking within the algorithm it’s essentially impossible to make a mistake when typing it. That means once it’s typed in, and accepted, you can be sure it’s valid since there are various check-digits along the way.

For example, to pay the €5,000 Euro deposit on the flat I am going to buy, I simply punched in the seller’s IBAN number into my BBVA (Spanish Bank) application, clicked “Send”, typed in €5,000 for the amount, and boom, it was there pretty much instantaneously. And of course you get detailed receipts of any transaction you do, so you can easily prove receipt of funds for legal purposes and more.

Quality of Life

This isn’t a European benefit per se, but the quality of life I enjoy in Spain is pretty fantastic. First, there are roughly 300 days of sunshine every year in my area (not to be confused with Vancouver’s “300+ days of sunshine per year”, where they count each time the sun peaks out from a cloud for 30 seconds a day to get counted). A day of sunshine here is basically a full day of sunshine, so imagine 300 or more days without any clouds or rain.

In fact when I first arrived it seemed strange to me to go for so long without seeing any rain. It’s amazing how much better your mood and well-being is when the weather is almost always nice.

I also had to make use of the medical system here in Spain a few months ago, and it was a great experience. Of course I have private insurance, and many locals just have public insurance, so my experience likely isn’t the norm. But I was able to get diagnosed by a specialist, complete an MRI on my knee, and have the results back, all within about two weeks. In Canada that would take 3 – 6 months at the minimum, and you’d likely have to fight your doctor along the way just to get you in front of a specialist. I can actually book an appointment myself directly with a specialist here as well – no need to waste my general practitioner’s time if I know exactly who the best person is to deal with the issue is.

In Short

So as I sit here in the Valencia airport getting ready to board a flight to Germany (which is essentially a domestic flight since I’m traveling to and from the EU), I can’t help but feel a bit privileged to have spent most of the last ten months living and enjoying Europe. As my cottage back home is rented until at least January at this point, I’ll likely continue staying here for the foreseeable future, and likely will be spending the next few months renovating a flat in Valencia.

But without a doubt I’ve definitely enjoyed my time here, and encourage other people looking to try living in Spain or Europe to jump at the chance.

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 🙂

How To Move To Spain From Canada

If you’ve found this page, chances are you’re a Canadian, looking out the window at the snow or the endless months of winter dreariness and wishing you were somewhere else. I know, because that’s exactly what I was doing approximately a year ago when I came up with the idea of moving to Spain from Canada. And here I am now, a year later, living in the beautiful coastal city of Valencia and eating paella with new my Spanish friends. You can read about some of my reasons for moving to Spain here.

So what does it take to move to Spain? Well, since Canada isn’t a part of the European Union, it’s a bit tricky. Normally Canadians are only allowed to visit Spain (technically the Schengen Zone) for three months in every six month period. While some people thinks this resets the moment you leave, in actuality it’s a rolling six month window – if you’ve been in Spain for three months in the previously six months, then you aren’t allowed to stay longer. That’s a bit of a pain if you want to stay longer than three months.

But if you’re here, chances are you are looking for something more permanent. So I’ll give you a few of the options.

The first way to get into Spain is to have a job offer, at which point the company can sponsor a work permit for you and you can get in that way. The problem with that is most Spanish companies have to first prove that there isn’t a local who can do the job they want you for. Unless you have a unique skillset or are in demand, it might be difficult for the company to do that.

The second way is to become a student and obtain a student visa. The only problem with that is you have to go to school as a full time student. So if you want to spend most of your time in school, then that’s certainly an option. But for people who want to spend their time bouncing around Spain, or staying longer once school is over, that may or may not work for you.

Another way a person can enter into Spain is to register as a self-employed worker, or autonomo. I don’t have any experience with that personally, but you can read about how to become an autonomo on the Toronto consulate’s website. The one downside is that you immediately have to start paying into the Spanish social security system, and the taxes for an autonomo I believe are on the order of €264 per month. So if you aren’t sure you’ll have any income for a while once you become an autonomo, you should save up as you’re going to have to pay that fee each month.

The way I entered into Spain is via something called a ‘Non-Lucrative Visa’. The non-lucrative visa is a special type of visa for Spain that means a person can live here, but they cannot work. The latter part is a bit of a grey area in that it’s debatable whether or not a person can work remotely (for a company outside of Spain), but I do know some people who did get the visa while working remotely and declaring that with the Spanish consulate.

You can read the entire requirements for the Spanish non-lucrative visa here, but in short, you need to be in good health, to not have a criminal record, and to also provide proof that you can live for a year without working in Spain. While some people have successfully approved by showing income made by working for remote companies, I have heard about more people who have been rejected for that. So it’s best to be able to provide proof that you can live on your savings alone, which as of 2018 is €2151.36 per month for all 12 months (so a bank account with €25,816.32) in it.

I applied through the Toronto consulate in Canada, and surprisingly, it went rather smoothly. But in general you have to apply for a Spanish visa in your country of residence (and not within Spain). I started the process of obtaining documents for my non-lucrative visa in May of 2018, submitted the application at the start of July, and was in Spain at the end of August.

So if you are motivated and fulfil the requirements of the non-lucrative visa, you can pull it off rather quickly. If you can imagine yourself living in nearly perfect weather year-round and spending your off-time sipping cervezas or vino tinto, then perhaps moving to Spain is a great option for you – it was for me.

If you’re interested in learning about how to obtain the non-lucrative visa to live in Spain, make sure you purchase up a copy of our 65-page Guide to Obtaining the Non-lucrative Visa by clicking the button below:

How To Apply For The Non-Lucrative Visa – $40 CAD

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