Families relocate to Madrid for either business or pleasure. It is an amazingly enriching experience, an opportunity for the entire family to share something special (the highs and the lows), immerse themselves in a new language and embrace a new culture. What is not to love!
Relocating to Madrid with family is a learning experience that involves a lot of planning, usually a couple of years to work out all of the details. Some families do the research themselves (online searches, local blogs, forums, groups etc.) and others choose instead to work with a local experts, who will do the field work for them, not only saving hours of your time but also offering a grand seal of reassurance.
When children are involved in the relocation, the stakes are high to get it right first time round. So who better to share insiders tips than those families who have already relocated to Madrid and can honestly say what worked and what didn’t.
Choosing the right school is crucial when relocating with children to Madrid. Getting an overview of the multiple educational options is the obvious first step. The Madrid Education guide is a good one to start with as it gives information on all the school options and includes detailed information on the different application processes, requirements and timings.
There are three types of schools in Madrid; public (state), concertado (semi-private) and private schools (including international) and depending on your family’s goals, one will suit more than another:
- Bilingual (Spanish /English) public and concertado schools.
- Non bilingual public and concertado schools.
- Spanish or bilingual private schools offering Spanish Baccalaureate or Spanish IBDP (International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme) or English IBDP.
- English-speaking international schools offering IB, A levels or US High School diploma.
- Non-English speaking private schools representing foreign countries.
- Bilingual education (Spanish/English)
Bilingual education in Madrid is extremely popular and is offered at nursery stage, primary and secondary. About half of all public and concertado schools are bilingual, in fact it can be a struggle to find a 100% Spanish public/concertado school close to your home. Some families mistakenly believe that there is a difference between the two schools’ bilingual programmes when in fact they are identical, both offer 30% of the curriculum in English. Do not expect native teachers, most English classes will be with a native Spanish teacher (English teachers in Madrid and Navarra must have a C1 in English and B2 in all other regions). If your goal is for your child (and family) to fully immerse in Spanish language and culture, then a public/concertado school is a good option. It is also a great way to connect with the local community as these are local schools and a great way to make friends.
- Concertado schools
Concertado schools can be a little confusing for many international families, they exist in between public and private and families must pay a monthly fee which ranges from 100€ – 350€. Almost all are Catholic but students can usually choose between religion or civic studies. It is important to note that even in secular schools, religion is offered as a subject option and sometimes these schools even organize the first communion ceremony at the request of families.
The application process is identical for both public and concertado schools, but the process does differ depending on the region (comunidad autónoma).
- International education
If you prefer an international education, you are spoiled for choice.We have French (world’s largest French international school), German, Swiss, Scandinavian etc. It is important to remember that most international schools are predominantly Spanish (there are a couple of exceptions) and whilst English may be the teaching language, Spanish is the language of the playground.
Sometimes the wide variety of choice and a family’s own personal requirements can make it difficult to decide which is the best fit. Another layer of complexity is that many families conduct their school search from overseas and do not have the opportunity to visit the school in person. Many decide to work with a local educational consultant, somebody who truly understands their family’s needs and is by their side throughout the search, selection and enrolment process. They will do the ground work, visiting schools on their behalf thus ensuring that the school selected is the perfect match for their family’s needs. Facebooks groups such as Madrid Education are other good, general sources of information.
Yip, it really is as bad as they say. A small consolation might be it’s a shared experience, a type of rite of passage for all foreigners. Occasionally you do meet a helpful funcionari@ (civil servant) but sadly they are outnumbered by people who wish to do nothing above and beyond the bare minimum. Unfortunately, there are multiple bureaucratic tasks that you must do upon arrival in Spain:
You must apply for a NIE (Número de Identificación Española) which is the identification number for all foreign residents and non-residents living or conducting tax-related business in Spain. It is needed for almost everything, from opening a Spanish bank account to getting a driving license.
- NIE – EU nationals will be issued a “NIE card” which is a green card with their number and other details, but no picture. NIE can be assigned ahead of your move to Spain at your local Spanish Consulate or Embassy. A big watchout here is timings, some consulates take a very long time processing visa applications and it can mess up travel plans. Be realistic with your timeline rather than hoping for the best. And another point is that each consulate is a world of its own and tends to do things their own way.
- TIE – Needed by non-EU nationals residing in Spain past their tourist visa of 90 days. Before applying for a TIE, you must have already been assigned a NIE number by the Spanish authorities.
Obtaining a NIE is not difficult but it does suck up your time. Since Covid it is extremely difficult to get a necessary appointment (cita previa) within a reasonable timeframe which has lead to a lucrative side business where you actually pay for an appointment (bonkers!).
Families often choose to work with a professional who understands the process, speaks the language and manages it for them. This same person can also manage other necessary task such as; opening a bank account, registering your property at town hall (empadronamiento), social security (la seguridad social) and health card (la tarjeta sanitaria).
Whilst this is very useful, the application process is nightmarish (own personal experience). But it is does save time in the long run as it allows you to communicate with any government office without having to be there in person (hallelujah!). This step by step video tutorial installation guide is helpful. Whilst not mandatory for everybody, it is worthwhile to have for tasks such as:
- Get your social security number.
- Register home help with social security.
- Register as a self-employed person.
- File personal taxes.
- Receive notices from the tax office.
- Settle taxes and fees.
- Apply for almost any immigration process.
- Get your padrón (to declare where you reside).
- File appeals and claims before the tax office.
- Consultation of traffic fines.
- Consultation and registration in the town hall.
- Electronic signature of documents and official forms.
The rental market is fierce and even more so in the bigger cities. Idealista is the most popular website in Madrid for housing and is especially useful as a starting point to help you understand prices based on size and location of the apartment/house. It can also be challenging to find the right neighbourhood, this Madrid specific article shares some of the best family friendly neighbourhoods in the city.
Most people live in apartments although some do live in houses (chalés). Apartments can either be in big buildings (common in city centre) or what is known as an ‘urbanización’ which offer communal playareas and swimming pool (common in suburbia).
Families looking for accommodation in Madrid can choose to either look for housing via Idealista, choose to work a personal property shopper assisting and supporting them from the very beginning, handpicking properties best suited to their needs, accompanying on visits, assisting with terms of contract and setting up utilities. Or families may work directly with a reliable and trustworthy agent (yes, they do exist! I know a couple).
Only Spanish nationals, self-employed or employed resident can access public healthcare. That is why many immigration procedures require expats who will start living in the country to contract private health insurance. Note that tourist or travel insurance won’t work for residency application, it must be private and can be equated to the offerings of the Spanish public healthcare system.
The snag here is if any of the family has a pre-existing condition. (eg. diabetes), some insurance companies are not willing to cover that family member. Regardless that it may be a long-term stabilised condition, they will not take the risk. Speak to several insurance agents and get in writing what exactly is covered.
Another watchout is cancelling the policy, do this whilst in Spain as doing it from overseas is more complicated, believe me. Set a reminder if needed as if you don’t, you might continue to be charged. This happened to one of my clients who had tried to cancel policy whilst in Madrid but a very unhelpful agent refused point blank to help (!) and when they eventually managed to cancel policy from US, they were charged 200€ per person with Adeslas.
Spanish, as you know, is not the only official language in Spain. According to the Spanish Constitution, Spanish is the official language of the State, but in some communities, there is another co-official language, that is, as official as Spanish. These languages are Basque , Galician, Catalan and Valenciano. Catalan and Galician are the main languages used by the respective regional governments and local administrations. A number of citizens in these areas consider their regional language as their primary language and Spanish as secondary.
That is not to say that international families cannot live happily in one of the above regions without knowing the co-official langue, they can and they do. But in terms of schooling it is important to know that even in international schools, your child will have to study the co-official language. Some families are keen to learn additional languages but others are more reticent so it is an important consideration.
Families who move to cities like Madrid, Málaga do not have this worry but will have other challenges, that being not everybody in Spain speaks English. Although Spanish kids begin to learn English at three years of age (some even earlier at nursery), the overall level of English is not as high as you’d expect although to be fair it is improving. The better your Spanish, the easier it will be to settle in. Sign up all of the family up to Spanish lessons well ahead of the move. There is a great Spanish academy here in Madrid LAE which families rave about and they also offer online classes. Another great idea is to enrol your kids in a Spanish speaking summer camp in June/July to give them a little exposure to all Spanish speaking environment, there are several across the city, LAE being a very popular one.
It seems obvious but sometimes we are blindsided by life dreams or desires to return to an idyllic destination from a past life (Erasmus, gap year etc. ) which although amazing then, might look very different with children in tow. If you want a beach lifestyle and mild all year round temperatures, Madrid is most definitely not for you. Neither will Madrid be the right place if you are looking for a slow paced, tranquil way of life. 😉
Spaniards in general are friendly, sociable, enjoy chatting and meeting new people. Big cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia all have a good mix of locals and expats living together amicably. Of course local languages can be a type of barrier if your goal is to hang with the locals (not in Madrid though, ha!).
Another nice aspect about Madrid is that most Madrileños’ parents / grandparents come from another part of Spain and moved to the capital many years ago to find jobs. This means that Madrileños are a great mix and usually outnumber ‘Madrileño gatos’ (somebody whose parents and grandparents were born in Madrid).
There are many in person meet ups across the city. INC Madrid is a very active group, regularly meet up and organize interesting activities. Facebook is another great place to ‘meet’ others, groups such as Moms and Dads in Madrid, New and Expecting Moms, Raising your Intercultural Family and Madrid Tweens Teens are excellent resources for families.
There are other thriving facebook groups like IWBB (International Women Building Businesses), a wonderful, supportive, international group of women entrepreneurs who organize regular inperson meet ups.
If you move to Madrid with a family, occasionally you will need a babysitter (date night is a must), how to find somebody trustworthy and kind? The local playground can be a good starting place. Chat to some of the parents and the nannies, check out availability.
Or perhaps you need help unpacking and making your house a home? Professional home organizers are very popular.
Tutors, drivers, home help are all common requests for newly arrived families. Facebook groups are again useful especially as most are recommendations from other families (these are the very best). Agencies do exist to help you and usually charge one month of employees salary. From past experience, there really is nothing like word of mouth.
Spain in general is a safe country. Bad things do happen but on a much smaller scale and generally make the news and are dissected for weeks afterwards. However, do be aware of pick pockets, they are rife in the big cities like Madrid especially in tourist areas and even on the metro to and from the airport. They are professionals and whilst almost never are violent (you usually don’t even notice), they tend to strike in a moment of distraction; walking with kids, pushing buggies, getting on / off bus / metro etc. Just be aware of your belongings and you will be fine. If you are robbed, go to police station immediately to make a report (poner una denuncia).
By following these tips and advice, it’s possible for families to relocate to Madrid without experiencing stress or feeling overwhelmed. In addition to finding the best schools for your children, it’s also possible to integrate with the local community, meet new people, and enjoy the Madrid experience. To learn more information, contact Steps into Spain today.
Sinéad Galvin is an educational consultant and founded Steps into Spain (a boutique educational and relocation consultancy located in Madrid) to help families find the right school for their child in Madrid. She uses her professional and personal experience of Spanish schools, the Spanish education system and the Spanish way of life to ensure that parents are knowledgeable and informed about what to expect and can secure the best school for their child. A happy child is a happy parent!
Steps into Spain will take stock of your children’s educational needs and overall family requirements (housing, paperwork and general settling in). Steps into Spain will take stock of your children’s educational needs and overall family requirements (housing, paperwork and general settling in). A happy child is a happy parent, which is the central ethos of Steps into Spain, and one less challenge.