First steps of moving to Barcleona
As I lay in bed scrolling my emails hitting delete, delete, delete – I stopped at the subject line: “A fan in need of advice.” My head literally tilted to the side and I thought, “A fan, huh? Oh, this should be good… CLICK.
It was good! This sweet email was from a mom of two in New Jersey with dreams of moving to Barcelona. She has been reading my blog since we moved to Costa Rica. She complimented me on all our adventures and even the launch of Twist Travel Magazine. (Clearly winning me over with flattery already!) She was looking for some advice and guidance on moving to Barcelona with kids, and politely asked me a few questions. She kept it short and was not too intrusive, which I liked. I waited until morning to write her back. I sent her off a short email with an enthusiastic DO IT along with a few important first questions.
The first one being, what will you do with the boys, put them in school!? Because seriously, that is the FIRST question any parent should be answering when moving their family abroad. Homeschooling, road-schooling, non-schooling are of course perfectly fine other options. I don’t want to impose my opinions and I do not know anyone’s financial situation. But it is the first thing you should think of because this determines when you will actually start your process to move. If you are enrolling them in school, you need to apply at least 9 months in advance.
Then I immediately thought – gosh, I do not write enough about being an expat. About being a mom living abroad and what it takes to get here, what it’s like living outside the US and how we handle all the crap/red tape of living this international lifestyle. Not only does it take some preparation and organization to get to where you’re going, but then there is figuring out life in your new home country, which can be just as overwhelming. I should probably share more of the nitty gritty of it all, but sometimes I wonder who the hell wants to know. Is some of that stuff even interesting?
But if a mom in New Jersey wants to know the details of moving to Spain, there is probably someone in Ohio, Nebraska and Seattle that might want to know too. Not to mention, some of the information that is out there is so not helpful. It can be very vague or it’s on a website from 1999 and a robot wrote it.
Here are the four main things I shared with her about moving to Barcelona with kids.
1. International Schools in Barcelona
There are two International American Schools, the American School of Barcelona (ASB) or Benjamin Franklin (BFIS). We looked at both, liked both and applied to both. Benjamin Franklin is a little smaller and we were actually put on the waiting list. We were accepted to ASB and so that made our decision for us. Benjamin Franklin is a little closer into the city, so we liked that location better. ASB is in a beautiful location just on the outskirts of Barcelona. This is also the neighborhood where the German School of Barcelona is located. There is also the British School of Barcelona, but that is a bit further down the coast in Castefells and St. George School (which is a British based school, but not IB) and St. Peters School. I am sure there are more, you can google.
Why do we not put them in a local school? Well, first of all a local school will be in Catalan not Spanish. We want our kids to learn Spanish. It is more useful around the world then Catalan. No one speaks Catalan outside of Catalonia. They can take Catalan as an elective if they want, but we’re happy they focus on Spanish for now. Our kids are 10 and 12 and so throwing them into a local school is not an option for us. We want them to learn and not struggle with the language and have social anxiety. If your kids are very young and just starting school, then maybe go for it – but it was not for us.
If you are moving to Spain for just a year, then I’d say go with an International school, as it will be easier on everyone. Now, just because we go to the “American” school of Barcelona does not mean it’s all Americans. It is a melting pot of nationalities. Families from Brazil, Argentina, Sweden, Norway, France, Italy, Germany, China and more. This is also what we love about International schools. We get to meet so many different people from all over the world, and our kids do too!
WhatsApp is literally the Holy Grail for expat life and international living. This is how we all communicate, it’s like a secret society in WhatsApp. What is talked about, mentioned, recommended and discussed in WhatsApp, stays in WhatsApp. Just kidding, it’s the opposite actually – all the helpful information that is passed in WhatsApp should be shared with other parents and expats in your city!
Our school set us up with Neighborhood WhatsApp groups, and we also have specific class WhatsApp groups so all the parents can chat. Kids birthday party invites come through WhatsApp, ladies lunches, dads bar hopping groups, running groups, and other random social outings. On some days my WhatsApp is pretty quiet. Other times, it’s on steroids. WhatsApp is really just texting, but the beauty is you can use it with any international phone number and you can create these private group chats.
This is the place where everyone asks for recommendations for English speaking doctors, dentists, house cleaning, pet sitters, therapists, you name it. Everything from medical emergencies, concert tickets for sale and getting some pants hemmed is brought up in these groups. If you need help with anything, someone in the WhatsApp group will be able to help. Sometimes these chats and messages can take a hilarious turn too. This is why moving abroad is easer than ever before. Technology is your friend, people. Yes, there are expat Facebook groups, but these people are very specific to where you live and nothing is as good as having a community of local expats at your fingertips.
3. Barcelona Neighborhoods
We live in E’ixample (in the center of the city) and we love it. However, our kids do take a 45 minute bus ride to and from school. The school is only 8 miles away, but with the stops and morning traffic it takes that long. ASB has many buses that run through the city picking up kids from all the neighborhoods, so it’s not an issue. (We pay for this service of course). However, many families live close to the school in Esplugues and Sant Just, so many of these kids walk to school. There is also Sant Gervasi, La Bonanova and Sarr�a which are a little bit closer to school. I hear Sarr�a is gorgeous and has some beautiful homes. Then there is the Turo Park area, aka expat central and a really hip area called Grac�a.
There are even families that live at the beach in beautiful Castelldefels and Sitges and commute in which takes about 30/45 minutes as well. Some families live out in San Cugat and there is even a bus for them too. So which neighborhood you choose to live in is really about your lifestyle, budget, and if you want to have a car. Also, if you are working, keep in mind where you’ll be working in the city. Apartments can range from a small, semi-furnished 3-bedroom, 2 bath for 1,200 Euros to a fully furnished apartment with underground parking to 6,500 Euros.
4. VISA Process
This will be a brief overview because this is an entire post on it’s own (which I have started….). This is just the basic primer of how we are here. This is not the only way to be here, nor is it how everyone does it and I am not a lawyer. First, you need to look for the closest Spanish Consulate to you. This website has a listing of all the Spanish Consulates in the USA. From there you will want to click and read up on their “Visa Information”, because believe it or not, things can vary from each consulate.
My husband and I own companies in the States, therefore we are here on a “non-lucrative visa,” which means we do not work or take in any income here in Spain. A.k.a., we have enough money to live here without needing a job or to work in Spain. Meaning, we do not take jobs away from Spanish citizens. We had to show that we had enough money in the bank to live here without working.
For this type of visa you must show at the time of applying for your visa, the sum of 26,500 Euros for the primary person and 6,500 Euros for each dependent. For a family of four it works out to 26,500 + 6,500 + 6,500 + 6,500 = 46,000 Euros. If you just gasped, and I killed your dream of moving to Barcleona because you are about $10k short of that amount, borrow it from Uncle Steve. Where that money goes after you are approved is your business. But if you are not working and you don’t have enough money to live for the year… no visa will help you. There is also a “self-employed visa”, which is actually different then a non-lucrative visa, so you will need to find the right one for you.
I didn’t realize how much work actually went into applying for visas, just so that you can live in another country. It’s probably like this for everyone who is thinking about immigrating somewhere else, especially America. They put a lot of rules and regulations in place now that you must follow to stand any chance of receiving a visa. I’ve heard that you can still move to the States, even if you know you won’t be able to support yourself financially. All it takes is for you to get a sponsor, in the form of a family member or friend for example who is already a resident in the country. They will then need to sign form i-864 (the Affidavit of Support) to prove that they will be able to financially support you until you can do so yourself. That doesn’t too bad. On saying that though, if our experience for applying for a Spanish visa is in any way similar to what American immigrants have to go through, then it may not be as easy as first thought.
Dream still alive!?
Next comes a bunch of paperwork that includes a full background check with fingerprints for the whole family; bank statements; newly issued birth certificates of your children; and a newly issued marriage license. Everything will all need to be translated into Spanish and Apostilled. Which is sort of like an international notary. They will affix a big gold sticker and/or stamp on your documents. These newly issued documents must also be gathered no more than 90 before you apply for your visa. Visa applications can take 2 weeks to 60 days. But wait! Because if you are approved, then you have 90 days to enter Spain. Yup. So you have to work backwards from when you want to start our life in Spain.
Say you want to arrive in Spain on August 1st, then back up 90 days to May 1st. That is the absolute earliest you want to get approved. So you should apply about mid April. Which means you should start collecting all your documents and getting things in order in March. Oh, and for all those papers, you will need about two copies of everything for everyone. We even had to have copies of our bank statements for the children’s applications. We also had to have an enrollment letter from the school, as well as stating and signing a document that we would not be working in Spain. Of course, you’ll need to make an appointment for your Spanish Consulate, so book that in advance.
We did have some help. We hired an immigration lawyer here in Spain that was recommended to us by our school. She helped to make sure we had everything we needed and were not missing anything. She helped us the most when we actually arrived in Spain, because the visa you are issued is only temporary. Upon arrival, you have about five more things to do (and prove) to actually get your real NIE card. (NIE is short for N�mero de Identificaci�n de Extranjero/Foreigner Identification Number.)
Still up for the dream of moving abroad!?
If you are concerned about where your kids will go to school, where you will live, how will you meet people and navigate the city, and what the main steps are to getting a VISA, I hoped this has helped. It may sound a bit overwhelming at first, but we’ve proved that this can be done. Plenty of people have come before us and you, and we’ve all made mistakes and have stories to tell. The key is that you are not alone. If the paperwork and visa process doesn’t scare you off or kill you, you’ll make it here just fine. Come join us!
Disclosure: I am not a lawyer or an expert on immigration. What is stated here is our own personal story and experience, which is accurate to the best of my memory and understanding. You should seek additional help and expertise from a lawyer, professional immigration service or moving abroad company if you need more information or advice. And I say this again, each consulate is different with their dates, forms, copies etc…. So please do not attempt this without reading your specific Spanish Consulates page and instructions first.