How to find an apartment in any city in Spain

Main room in my Ciudad Real apartment. 2011

First of all, congratulations on even thinking that you’d like to give living abroad a try! I think everyone should consider expanding their wings every once in a while. This world is so vast that staying in just one tiny place on the map would be a waste. There’s just so much to see out there…

Moving abroad may sound overwhelming and even more challenging when you don’t speak the language of the prospective country. But if I did it, so can anyone. Granted, I already had some advantages going for me: I speak Spanish and I had been to Spain.

Speaking the language helps—or more like, it’s necessary—because contracts and policies are written in Spanish. Also, the people renting the pisos tend to be retired older Spaniards, for the most part, who never learned English. You might get lucky, but that’d be very rare if the landlord spoke English. And having visited the country before moving helps because you can familiarize with the culture, the people and the way they do business.

The very first thing you need to do is figure out how long you’ll be staying in Spain. (There is a visa process if you’re staying longer than three months.) Both times I’ve lived in Spain I had a student visa, which I think is the easiest visa to get. The consulates of Spain each have their own individual website in accordance with the US state where they are, but you can look up Spain embassies and consulates here and types of visas here.

You can of course still live in Spain for a period of three months or less without a visa. The problem with this renting option is that people hardly rent under short-term contracts, especially to foreigners, and without an identification number (passport won’t work everywhere) a person can’t legally work or open a bank account in order to meet financial criteria. You’d have to find a landlord who agrees to rent without you having a bank account or documents, other than your passport, that prove your identity and that you’ll be able to pay rent.

Luckily, a lot of students and young professionals sublet. That is probably your best bet. I, for instance, found a room in the heart of Madrid for a month and I didn’t sign a single paper. Yes, verbal agreements apparently still work in Spain. Well, the tenants were Americans, but it still worked. So it’s really a matter of luck and connections sometimes. You’d be surprise at the amount of posts on social media from students who are subletting their rooms or apartments. Just do a thorough search.

Renting in Spain longer than three months?

For this you’ll need a visa first — if you want to follow the “legal” route :-)— and a bank account, and sometimes even an employment contract. In my case, I went to Spain with a job contract as an Auxiliar de Conversación (teaching assistant), but at the same time my job fell under the category of studies because this is a grant from the Department of Education of Spain. With this job contract, I was able to get an identification card (NIE), and with my NIE I was able to get a bank account. So, once I had all my paperwork in order, I was able to rent a long-term apartment.

Now, this is how I found a vivienda (home) in Spain

There are always pisos (apartments) and houses en alquiler (for rent) in Spain. Months before I moved to Ciudad Real, Spain, I spent a good amount of time searching for the best deals. There are a bunch of websites where you can get started with your search and here are the ones I recommend:

En Alquiler – this is probably the broadest site and it’s where I found my long-term furnished apartment in Ciudad Real, Castilla La-Mancha. Pisos are for rent by owners and realtors.

Idealista – this site is very popular among students because it’s very straightforward and there are a lot single rooms and homes for rent by other students and by the owners.

Fotocasa – this is another wide-ranging website with lots of options

Segundamano – at first, the name of this site scared me away—“Segunda mano” means secondhand. But I was wrong to judge. It’s a good site with not just homes for rent, but a whole lot of everything!

Ya encontré – also a big site with good leads

And though I didn’t use them, these are some Craigslist-types of sites with possible good leads: Loquo, Mundoanuncio, and the very Spain Craigslist.

A few things to consider when conducting your apartment search by location, price, type of housing, whether you want it furnished or not, and whether you’re looking for properties by the owner or by inmobiliarias (real state). If I may suggest, renting straight from the owner is generally cheaper and there’s less paperwork! Most websites I mentioned above give you the option to narrow down your search by categories.

Don’t ever, ever agree to rent a piso or to pay any money without first seeing it. After my contract was up in Ciudad Real, I was looking for a room in Madrid and I came across some creepy ads. On a teaching assistants Facebook page, students and locals advertised apartments and rooms for rent all the time. I saw one I liked a lot. I mean, this room looked clean and perfect in the picture and it was located in La Latina, a major area of Madrid, and for a very low price. So I contacted the renter and, when I went to see the room in person, it was a complete catastrophe! Actually, this is quite an understatement; it was really the most disgusting thing I had ever seen for a home!

I don’t know what the owner was thinking —was that picture even of the real place? Who knows! But the ad definitely, almost deliberately, was misleading. So watch out for weirdos and rip-offs!

The other room I found on that same page looked like it had a good-sized bed, but in person it was very small. I took this last room, but let me remind you that things aren’t always what they look like online!

Second Room I Saw, and rented, in Madrid. 2012

One last thing, don’t even bother clicking the “contact person or realtor” link when searching for housing in Spain; unless you don’t pick up that phone, you will most likely not hear back from anyone.

Hope this helps and good luck on your hunt, everyone!


Five Nice Hotels in Ciudad Real


Ciudad Real Capital was my home for eight and a half months. It is a city-turned small town. Ciudad Real isn’t exactly aesthetically appealing and there’s not a lot to do, but it allows for cheap relaxing living and vacation. It is also in the heart of Spain, in the region of Castile La-Mancha, which means you can easily travel to different major cities by bus or train. The Renfe high-speed trains are about five minutes from the center city and the transportation system is extremely efficient. If planned well in advance, it’s possible to visit different cities by train in one day.

Where to stay in Ciudad Real?

The city has a small range of hostels and hotels. It can be hard finding people who speak English in Ciudad Real. Though, if visiting a country where the native language is different from yours, I’d suggest learning at least the basics before the trip! Anyway, people in Spanish little towns like Ciudad Real tend to be friendly, especially once you exchange a few words with them.

These are some of the top five hotels in Ciudad Real. They’re all located within walking distance from the center, where the “fun” is. (The city’s outskirts are desolate and quiet—or quieter). I never stayed at any of them, but I did visit the restaurant and bar at Hotel Alfonso X, the lobby at Hotel Santa Cecilia, and I used to walk (and ride) by the rest of these almost every day. As far as I could see, they looked really nice!

1. Hotel Silken Alfonso X

Probably the most centrally located hotel in Ciudad Real, it’s at Carlos Vázquez 8, Ciudad Real 13001, Spain. “The beautiful nineteenth century building that houses the Hotel Alfonso X has kept its original façade, integrating it completely into the historic center city, next to the Plaza Mayor and the City Hall.”

The hotel interior has been refurbished with contemporary furniture. It offers free Wi-Fi, a private parking lot, smoking floor, handicap-accessible rooms, and exclusive junior suites with terrace.

The restaurant is on the second floor of the hotel and it offers a daily and a traditional menu with typical dishes of La-Mancha. (I can confirm that the food and service are really good.)

Popular and fine Spanish shopping stores are within steps from the hotel.

2. Hotel Doña Carlota

Located at Ronda de Toledo 21, Ciudad Real 13003, Spain

It is practically next to the University of Castile La-Mancha, Ciudad Real Campus, and close to the train station. The Plaza Mayor, restaurants and bars, and shopping stores are within a 15-minute walking distance.

Hotel Doña Carlota is a luxury hotel in the inside.  It’s one of the largest in Ciudad Real: 161 rooms, of which 16 are fully furnished apartments with all the essential amenities included.

It is also easily accessible by bus, taxi, or by foot and it’s close to the shopping stores.

3. Hotel Santa Cecilia

Located at Calle del Tinte 3, 13001 Ciudad Real, Spain, next to Plaza del Pilar. The Hotel was renovated in May 2011. It has 70 elegant and modern rooms.

The hotel has a restaurant, “Guijas de la Mancha,” which offers La Mancha’s typical cuisine. The hotel also features several halls for conventions and conferences, banquets, weddings, a typical Manchego patio with natural light, an outdoor swimming pool and private parking.

4. NH Ciudad Real

Located at Avenida Alarcos 25, Ciudad Real 13001, Spain

From the well-known chain NH Hotels, the NH Ciudad Real is near all main attractions in center city. It is within a few steps from the big park Parque de Gasset and about 500 meters from the beautiful, almost-too-modern-for-this-small-town public library of Ciudad Real.

NH Ciudad Real is a big and basic modern hotel, with just the right amenities for a comfortable stay. It’s perfect for business stays.

5. Hotel Cumbria

Located on Carretera de Toledo, 26 13005 Ciudad Real, Spain

Cumbria is very new and it’s not just a hotel, but it also hosts businesses and recreational activities for the community. It’s a “unique contemporary building” in Ciudad Real. It is about 20-minute walk to the center (five minute-drive), but it’s located in one of the main access roads to the center of Ciudad Real which makes it easily accessible. This hotel offers all amenities necessary for a comfortable stay.

There is a big pool, a tennis court, a gym and full spa. The pool and gym aren’t completely private; residents of Ciudad Real who hold a membership can swim and exercise here.

On the outside, the building looks huge and round. (I thought it was a mini-stadium at first.) It features large rooms fitted to host any kind of event and a playroom with a playground for any kids in the house.

In terms of location, even though two or three hotels are more centrally located than others, anywhere you choose to stay in Ciudad Real (capital) is relatively near to everything.


I thought I was saved this Winter!

So this is probably the coldest it’s been in Ciudad Real, Spain, since I came here last September. My co-workers said to me today, “Bundle up tomorrow; it’s going to be cold!” It’s really not that bad in comparison with many states in the US, but for Ciudad Real, I think it is. Where I work, Bolaños, it’s always a few degrees colder, so there might be a chance of snow any day this month. And I thought I could scape any possibility of snow this season…

Luckily, it’s (supposed to start) warming up a little by mid-February. Woo hoo! Can’t wait. 🙂


Renewal of Auxiliares Grant for 2012-2013

The renewal process for the Auxiliares de Conversación in Spain 2012-2013 is now open, and I have a dilemma.

No doubt I want to stay! I would LOVE it if I could go to a different (major) city like Valencia, Barcelona or Sevilla. I like Madrid, as well, but I have been to Madrid way too many times and I want to experience something new, preferably by the coasts.

I’ve been enjoying my life here and my job as a language-assistant-turned teacher here in Ciudad Real. Even though I expected my role to be different (I thought I’d be assisting, not fully teaching), it turned out to be a great experience for me and it has helped me look at Education from a different perspective, among many other things.

I’ve met all of those children—whom I can already tell you I will miss when this ends—and the rest of the staff. Everybody has been so incredibly nice…I really don’t want to leave this.

However, Spain’s bureaucracy is making my head spin. Everything is so difficult in their eyes. Nothing gets done in a timely manner. Example #120: the other day I had to pay a bill and so I walked over the office, since it is within walking distance. Before that, I had tried paying it online because, that’s how I handle my EVERYTHING back home in the US. I do everything electronically and have never had a problem with that. Well, my card was not accepted online, they don’t take payments over the phone, and that’s why I decided to personally go to the office.

Once there, the agent tells me that her system doesn’t accept Mastercard. I then handed her my Visa card from my US bank. She said international cards don’t work either. My last resource was to go to Correos (post office) and make the payment in cash there. Correos is right on the way home, so I thought it was no big deal.

It was 2 o’clock now, Siesta time, we all know what happens: town shuts down. So I went home, had lunch and got a few things done while Spain slept. Around 5:30pm I headed back out again. I walked to Correos and there must have been over 50 customers at the payments section…all to be assisted by just one employee. You can imagine how long I waited just to make a payment.

These are the little things that frustrate me about this country. I don’t care if I have no dishwasher here, or a dryer, or that the refrigerator and  the microwave suck. That’s not a big deal, I can work it. I grew up washing dishes manually anyway (for instance). But the way administrations work? I just don’t know how they do it, honestly. Good for them, I guess, if they’re happy that way, but I just can’t.

I also have more personal reasons for potentially not staying, such as missing my family, especially my nieces and nephews, my mom’s food and a lot of the Latino / American customs that are non-existent over here. If given the opportunity, I could work on the personal part; visit my family in the summer, come back here and stay. But, the bureaucracy will still stay the same and that’s what’s driving me a little bit over the edge.

Sometimes I think that maybe being in smaller city — like I am now — doesn’t help much. The other Auxiliares in Madrid don’t seem to have as many complaints (keyword: as many. They still complain) because things are a little bit easier there since it is such a big diverse city and they’re used to seeing things smaller towns don’t. So, I don’t know! I would love to try Valencia or Sevilla and compare my experience here now and then. But, again, what if I face the same issues again? It is quite a dilemma I have here, I tell ya…

What I’ve been up to lately

Vodafone Geschäft bei Mainz

Image via Wikipedia

On Friday, I visited some night clubs (and a few bars) with my brother around Ciudad Real. It is no different from restaurants—if you want a good feel of the place; a good crowd and ambiance, do not show up at the club before 2:00AM! Of course that’s probably going to take some getting-used-to-it. But I really think my boyfriend and I will be just fine with that. 🙂

I’ve been walking…everywhere. I think I might have even dropped some LB’s from all the walking. I cook my own meals and rarely eat out, only because I don’t want to sit at a restaurant all by myself (though that’s going to change soon!). The microwave we have at the house looks as if it was made of plastic, so I don’t trust it. I just unplugged it and pretend that it is not there.

About classes—I’ve been doing really good. I guess I now understand a lot of the techniques my teachers  used on the students, such as group projects and encouraged participation (as opposed to voluntarily raising our hands). I was not too bad of a student, but I used to hate being picked from the crowd against my will. Oh well. I think it helps the learning process.

So that sums up October thus far. Oh, did I mention that I went to Vodafone and got a cell phone today? (which number I don’t yet know because the girl forgot to give it to me or something). All she wrote down for me was the PIN for my SIM. I have to stop back by the store and ask what’s up. Also, the Internet should FINALLY be installed tomorrow! Very happy about that.

Next week will be an exciting one because my dear Chris is finally coming to Spain! We’ll have an itinerary ready soon so that we both are more effective with our time, my days off and our travels. I can’t wait. Sooo yeah…

¡Hasta la próxima!

I have NIE!

It is a beautiful day today in Ciudad Real, about 80°F. It’s my day off and I was sure to make good use of my free time. I went to the bank, the Internet company, the cell phone company, and I went grocery shopping! Well, I really just went to Mercadona (the local supermarket) for water and toilet paper. 🙂 All by foot. There’s a lot of walking involved and I totally love it.

What else have I been up to…

Oh, last Friday (another day off), I woke up early to go to my appointment for my

The front of a Spanish national identity card

This is a DNI. The NIE looks slightly different. Image via Wikipedia

N.I.E. (Número de Identificación de Extranjeros / Foreign Identification Number). I got there early and there was not a long wait. I presented my passport, payment receipt of the 15€ fee , two passport-sized photos and the letter the school had mailed to me when I was in the States — the lady had actually asked for my “empadronamiento” (a document stating the length of stay in Spanish territory) which many people register for when they get here although some say it is not necessary, and I didn’t register for that. Anyhow, I handed her the letter from my school, which states everything they need to know, and she was fine with that. She processed my information and told me to go back within 35 days to pick up my ID.

Well, I needed that document to open a bank account in order to be able to apply for Internet (weird), in order to be able to get a cell phone contract and, most importantly, in order to get paid! So, when she said I had to wait 35 days, I almost fainted. But then she gave me a slip that contained all the information, including my NIE number. Phew! She said I should be OK applying for a bank account with that receipt, as long as I also showed my passport. By the time I left the facility, it was a little late to go to the bank; I decided to wait until Monday.

So I was very excited this morning that I would be able to get all this done. However, while I did get to open an account and order a cell phone (because apparently that also is a slow process), the Internet is going to have to wait a little because I need to speak to my landlord first (unless I want to pay a much higher installation fee). That was a bummer, but  at least I now know what I need to do. C’est la vie.

¡Eso es todo, amigos!





Madrid and Ciudad Real

Can’t believe I’m almost three weeks in already! (Only one week in the program though.) So far I haven’t taken too many pictures because I had to spend the first two weeks searching for apartments and settling in. But now things are returning to normal, and I shall start — or resume — traveling. Can’t wait to try the restaurants!

Anyway, here are just a few pictures I have taken on my way to places.

Spanish style orientation meeting

Ciudad Real 1

Image via Wikipedia

October 3, 2011

I finally had my orientation meeting today. There are a lot of us, Auxiliares de Conversación (language assistants), in the region of Ciudad Real. Not everyone is going to work at the same school though. In fact, I think I am the only assistant assigned for my school.

One thing I noticed is that most assistants seem to have a good level of Spanish, as opposed to when I came to study in Spain a while back and the group I came with spoke broken Spanish, or English all the time.

Anyway, in a very long (and boring) meeting this morning, they gave us the history of Castilla La-Mancha and told us everything else we need to know (e.g. what our tasks are, what is expected from us, where we can get our temporary resident card, etc.) The professors are very helpful.

My coordinator has even offered me a daily ride to my school (about 18 miles from center Ciudad Real). I thought that was really nice, especially since I won’t have to pay for transportation. 😉

So I officially start “work” tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. Yeah, the morning part is a bummer — I am not a morning person at all! Also, the sample schedule they showed us at the meeting didn’t look too attractive to me; some people have to teach first thing in the morning and then go back in the afternoon. I hope I don’t anything like that.

The good news is that we’ll have a day off during the week and we’re just going to have so much free time to travel. There seems to be a día de fiesta (holiday) about four times a month in Spain! Might be more. I think it’s going to be fun.

I also went to the police station in Ciudad Real today to set up an appointment for my N.I.E. After being yelled at by one of the employees (for no reason other than asking a question), they gave me a cita for this Friday (finally!). Ahh, Spaniards…I don’t know how they do it.

Once I have that piece of document in my hand — the only one thing standing between home Internet and me — I will be all settled and more relaxed. Almost there.

Meeting Ciudad Real

Ciudad Real, La Venta de las Estrellas, Valdep...

Image by Toprural via Flickr

I got to see Ciudad Real on the 22nd, but this is when I can finally post this!

Ciudad Real

September 22, 2011

I woke up (or I should say was woken up) at 10:15AM after an exhausting long day. The plan was to be up by 8am, but with the difficulty I had falling asleep last night and then falling asleep only after I ate some chocolate my friend Jima had given me, I slept in.

Today was apartment hunting day. We started the day by going to the Comisaría (police station) in Parla, Madrid, to get my Numero de Identificación de Extranjero (N.I.E), otherwise known as the alien card for foreigners in Spain. There I was given a website where they instructed me to go and set up an appointment. The place was evidently busy and one of the guards who assisted me, or pretended to, anyway, handed me a piece of paper with a web address written on it. (Spaniards seem to love giving you the runaround. They can either be very helpful or very dismissive. It’s weird.) So, we left the place without accomplishing anything.

My brother’s friend, Issa, then drove me to Ciudad Real to check out some pisos (apartments). It was better than what I expected (thank god) to be honest because, so many people had been saying that it was a very country small town and very boring. But when we got there, my first impression was relief. It’s actually a small cute small city — with emphasis on small. It is livable. There are various restaurants and bars that I’ll be sure to surf before I leave.

Once in Ciudad Real, we looked around for pisos. There were several “en alquiler” (for rent) so I wrote down some numbers and called people. From the ones I called, two offered to show me the apartment right away. I didn’t hesitate either and agreed.

One of the apartments I saw was too old for words. There was no way I could have picked that one. The oven, for instance, was very old school and that was a major problem because there was definitely going to be some cooking going on (by Chris, that is).

The second apartment I saw was just perfect. The price was good, great location, and incredibly spacious. The only problem: I had already seen almost the same apartments online for half the money they were asking. So I kept searching. I had an idea now of what I could or couldn’t have in Ciudad Real. Rent is relatively cheap there and I was sure that whatever I picked was going to be a better option than anything back home.

I didn’t find anything that same day. I like to take my time when I’m “shopping” and one day was not enough. We left, but I have to go back before the week ends.

Tomorrow is definitely cell phone time. I can’t take it anymore. Being disconnected from everything and everyone is a pain. For someone like me who used to sleep with her cell phone by her side in order not to miss a single email or text message—as ridiculous as it sounds—it has been tough. We are very spoiled in the US and we may not realize it until we travel 40,000 miles. But, yeah…I’m seriously going to lose it if I don’t get this cell phone by tomorrow. So fingers crossed!

Hasta pronto!

To Spain I go!

Bandera de Castilla-La Mancha (España)

Image via Wikipedia

It only took me like two years to complete the process, but I am finally moving to Spain! So how did I score this opportunity? Well, I’ll explain how it all began first.

When I was a junior student in college, I received a letter in the mail congratulating me for being eligible to participate in a study abroad program. I was ecstatic. That was a big deal for me because, except for the United States and The Dominican Republic, I had never been abroad—and I mean abroad. Besides, I knew the experience was going to take me places, which it has.

For the program abroad I picked Spain. Aside from being the least expensive program offered, it had been a wish of mine to visit one day. It would be my first time away from my family (I was homesick for most of the five-months journey). But the experience was exceptional. I learned so much from it and, once I got back home (and somewhat forgot about how much more difficult Bureaucracies can be in Spain), I promised that I had to go back to Spain one day. I needed to go back and take it all in and enjoy what my nostalgia didn’t allow back then.

So I always looked forward to job opportunities abroad (specifically in Spain) after that. Since I was almost done with school, I did not really want to go back through a study-abroad program again. I contemplated so many opportunities and, in the process, I came across a Mass email message from the director of my Spanish department at Rowan University. It was about a program called Auxiliares de Conversación (language assistant) in Spain. That was back in 2008. I had been trying to do this program since.

I researched it. It sounded great. I wasted no time and applied right away.

They got my application for the 2009 school year, but I didn’t follow up due to personal reasons. Then I re-applied in 2010, for the 2011 school year, and this time I did follow through. I waited a while for a response. (It is a lengthy process.) But I got accepted!

Other demands of the program

I was a little surprised about the age requirement for the program. Apparently, in Spain, it is OK to deny employment based on age—you gotta be under the age of 35 to have a fair chance. Anyway! I meet the age requirement and I’m just glad that I’ll be able to do it.

I got placed at a school after a month or so of being accepted. They informed me that I’m going to be assisting at a language school in Bolaños de Calatraba, in the Ciudad Real region. I’m looking forward to that.

Once I got my letter of acceptance in the mail, it was time to apply for the visa (another tedious process, which I explain on the next post).