In 2009, I signed up for an academic residency in Madrid with some classmates. Although I had traveled quite a bit for work in the past, I had never been to Spain. To make the most of our time in this new country, my friends and I also decided to take some time after the residency and visit Barcelona and Valencia. We were also traveling by train (instead of flying), which was something of a novelty since trains were new experience for me.
When we arrived in Valencia at Estación del Norte, I was immediately impressed at how different Valencia felt. Compared to Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia was relaxed and filled with beautiful architecture, cafés, and people. After only a few days here, I found myself thinking, “maybe I could live here.”
Normally, having those thoughts is followed by a shock of reality. After years of telling myself that my dream of living in another country was only that – a dream – I heard those inner voices again:
“You can never live overseas.” “This is fun for a vacation but impossible to live here.” “It would be too much work to become an expat.” “You’ll never be able to afford an expat life with your current income.” “You have too many possessions that you would have eliminate from your life.” “You’ll never make friends in a new country.” “You’ll miss your family and friends too much to be happy as an expat.”
Have you had similar thoughts? Do you have more doubts about becoming an expat than you do answers?
The longer I sat with those thoughts, though, the less real they became. I realized that maybe it was possible to figure out how to become an expat and live in Valencia, Spain. I had a dream and a goal, and spent three years changing my life to make my dream come true. I also had a lot to learn about myself and what it would take to become an expat.
What are some of the things I learned? Well, I researched how other expats succeeded or failed in their own planning. I learned what visas were available in Spain, and what documents I would have to arrange for my visa application. I discovered expat-friendly groups in the city. I investigated the best way to ship my belongings to Spain. I explored different ways to liquidate my “stuff,” my car, and my home. I started studying Spanish regularly.
What are some of the things I did? I sold or gave away most of my possessions. I made friends through online groups. I visited Valencia several times, and made sure to attend some group meetings while I was there. I sold my house and my car. I found a hotel where I could stay for a couple of weeks economically while I searched for a new apartment. I developed my visa application. I spoke with my friends, my doctors, and my work about my plans. I quit my job. I found another job that would let me work from a distance. I started a blog to help me communicate with friends and family. I opened my heart to a new adventure, and then I stepped onto the plane.
From my first visit to Valencia in 2010 to when I arrived in November 2013, I had learned and accomplished so much! My life was very different and much less complicated. I was living my dream experience in another country.
But when you arrive in another country, there is a whole new set of challenges! From finding an apartment to registering at city hall to getting official ID cards, I had to focus on getting settled at turbo speed.
I had to open a bank account, which required several official documents. Finding an apartment that suited my needs was not too difficult with a friend’s help. Getting the paperwork completed was much more of a challenge because had to learn which offices to visit in the correct order so I had my paperwork for each process. Making appointments was another challenge, and getting to the right place at the right time was not always easy.
I also had to figure out how to manage my medical needs in Spain. I was able to make a doctor’s appointment to get my prescriptions rewritten for Spanish pharmacies. I found a place where I could get my hair cut by someone who spoke English. I had to deal with new pains and aches that come from stress, a different level of activity, and the need to walk everywhere I needed to go.
Sure, I could have hired a lawyer to work on my behalf, but I was on a strict spending plan and needed to conserve every dollar. It was hard work to sort everything out, but I was so happy when I had everything sorted out and I could finally begin to enjoy my new lifestyle in a new environment.
I am so thankful for the friends that helped me! Several of them were expats, too, so they knew the right questions to ask and ways to get the answers.
After two years of living in Valencia, I moved back to the US for economic reasons. I was a contract worker, and when the contracts ended, I needed to secure more regular employment. I was lucky, though, because I was able to find a job in the US while I was still in Spain. With a heavy heart, I started unwinding my life in Spain to move back to Atlanta, Georgia.
When I arrived back in the states, I left my heart back in Spain. I settled back into a work routine that had me traveling all over the US. From 2015 until 2021, I worked with a global company in the education sector. My new goal was to move back to Spain at the first opportunity.
There were some other great life changes. I got married to someone who also wanted to move to Spain! I purchased a new home and a new car. Like I did in 2010, I started saving money and really focusing on my retirement.
When the pandemic occurred, we spent a lot of time planning how we would continue our dreams when travel was an option again. Like before, I looked at the updated visa requirements and started the planning process again.
Since I had already successfully completed the visa paperwork before, I knew some of the tricky points for submitting a visa application. While some of the requirements had changed since 2013, the process was basically the same, except I had to mail in my application instead of taking it there in person.
So I planned. I also started to methodically go through all of the things that I had acquired and started the process of moving overseas again. This time, though, we were a team of two. While I may have been accused of being too zealous in my disposal of household items, I also had a goal and a vision in mind. The less we had, the easier it would be to move to our new home in Spain.
In July 2021, we packed up a large box and shipped it off to Spain. Now that our house was empty, we packed our remaining goods in our remaining car (we sold the first one during the pandemic) and started a three-day trek to Minnesota. We decided to wait until our visa was approved before selling our home. We also wanted to spend some time with family members and visit friends around the country before we moved to Spain. So as our things were making their way to our new city, we were on a “farewell tour” of the US.
Our visas were approved while we were in Minnesota. We were able to sell our home shortly thereafter. Emotionally, this was a very weird time for both of us, because the lack of a “permanent” place was somewhat unsettling. We were flying off into the unknown expat experience together and we knew that there would be some difficult tasks ahead of us. However, we were both optimistic that this would be a better lifestyle for us.
We flew to Spain with our visas and our passports and our sense of adventure in October 2021. Adjusting to a new culture takes time, and we thought we were ready for our new life. I found out very quickly that I was not prepared. That’s another story for another time!
Now that I feel more settled and competent as both an expat and a resident in a Spanish city, I want to help others avoid some of the same pain that I felt when I moved back here in 2021.