Help! I’m moving to Madrid and don’t speak Spanish

Madrid - Steps into Spain

Written bystepsint

10/12/2021

Don’t worry! Many families move to Madrid as non-Spanish speakers. The fact is that the language barrier is not unsurmountable. You will find that quite a few people speak English in the capital city, especially if they are working in shops, healthcare centres, tourist attractions or public services. Here are a few tips on how to navigate life in the city in English from day one.

Practical resources for parents

Although many local government and town council websites use machine translation software that renders some of the content unintelligible (click here for one embarrassing example of a text that proves difficult to decipher in its English – Google Translate – rendition), English speakers are usually at hand to deal with enquiries from non-Spanish speaking callers. If, heaven forbid, you require an emergency service, rest assured that if you dial 112 and indicate you need to communicate in English, your urgent call will be properly attended to. Likewise, there should always be an English-speaking civil servant upon request at most public services in the capital city, such as at the post office or at your local health centre.

This website lists all the citizen services and information sources about life in Madrid which are available in English – although you may need to email individual departments before gaining an English-language reply. The WebChat service is remarkably friendly to non-native Spanish speakers.

Finding accommodation

As mentioned in a previous post, Steps into Spain covers relocation through a network of trusted collaborators who take the strain out of searching for a new home. When considering relocating, families are advised to list their priorities and essential facilities (City centre or suburbs? Private or public schools? Cycle lanes? Leisure and entertainment? Gyms?) before contacting an estate agent.

Help with paperwork

There are many bilingual solicitors, relocation experts and professional guardian angels who support families as they settle into Madrid. Within our network there are lawyers who give favourable rates to our clients to help with practical matters such as obtaining appointments to register with the town council, obtain a health card and register for an identity card. Braver individuals with more time on their hands have found the superb City Life Madrid website a really good resource. This is where to look to find information such as how to register with the “padrón” or how to get a NIE/TIE card without engaging the services of a third-party professional.

Help with applying for a school

When it comes to finding the right school for your child, we at Steps into Spain are the most popular choice. Feel free to ask us for tailor-made recommendations for schools for your children – remember, we do not take commission and our advice is unbiased.

Help with travelling around Madrid

Madrid has a superb public transport system, with information readily available in English. The fully automated ticket machines can be accessed in English and several other popular languages. There are travel apps for the city which can be downloaded from Google Playstore or the App store. Check out these websites for up-to-date travel information for Madrid’s buses, cercanías and metro services in English.

Grocery shopping

Few of the largest supermarket chains have online stores in English, which can make grocery shopping a challenge to begin with. For advice on which online supermarket is the most user friendly, click here. Also check out this full list of grocery shopping options in Spain.

Finding your tribe

Our best piece of advice at this juncture is to spend some time on Facebook and join a few groups. For whatever reason, Facebook seems to be the social media platform par excellence for non-English speaking residents of Madrid. The groups are active, the advice is free flowing, and the fact is that everyone is made to feel welcome. Our top recommendations are:

  1. Madrid Education This is an active Facebook page where parents ask and answer school-related questions in a vibrant community of newcomers and long-term residents.
  2. IWBB (International Women Building Businesses) – An active and ever so useful group for women living in Spain who have a business or are thinking about setting one up. It is an incredibly supportive group full of help, advice and friendship.
  3. Raising an intercultural family: Parenting is a universal experience and we embrace all the experiences that being brought up in a different culture to the one our child(ren) is/are experiencing has given us. This Facebook page aims to channel the positives and overcome the (perceived) negatives con cariño… i.e., in a loving, constructive, and affirming environment.
  4. Moms and Dads in Madrid A very active group and a great way to connect with other families living in Madrid.
  5. New and Expecting Moms in Spain This is an excellent support group for new and expecting Moms in Madrid.
  6. Expats in Madrid: This is a huge group of over 30,000 English speaking expats who have settled in Madrid and share the latest news.
  7. Costa Women Madrid: Costa Women is a Spain-wide network of English-speaking expats from all nations who have settled down here and want to make friends with other likeminded individuals. Although the social network started on the coast (hence the name “Costa”), the splinter group in the capital city is a thriving social group of fun women who do not mind being so far away from the seaside. This is the group to join to guarantee a fun night out on a regular basis when you can leave your kids at home.

Words that will help you fall in love with Spain

Over the years, many foreign writers and journalists have made Spain their home, providing a wealth of literature, publications, and broadcasts for newcomers to enjoy.  For the most up-to-date opinions of writers currently living here, browse through some of these blogs. A personal favourite is Paul Burge’s When in Spain podcast which covers Spanish culture, travel, lifestyle, work and humour with a clever and endearing light touch. For news about Madrid in English, keep your eye on the Madrid Metropolitan, which is available in print (free of charge and widely distributed at international schools, churches, Irish pubs and other venues) as well as published online. El País (one of Spain’s national newspapers) also offers an English version.

¡Bienvenidos a Madrid!


Sinéad Galvin is an international 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.

When relocating to Madrid, Steps into Spain can take stock of your children’s educational needs as well as overall family requirements (housing, paperwork and general settling in). Likewise our trusted and expert service works for families who already live here and need  additional guidance and support to find schools that meet their specific requirements.

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