Finding home in Madrid: a useful guide for expat arrivals

By : Nick Marr

Moving to Madrid? We have some useful tips on local culture and lifestyle to help expats adapt and integrate. We also look at job prospects and explore how expats can stay healthy when in Madrid.

Finding home

Even if you’ve visited Madrid for work or pleasure, as an expat you’ll be living la vida loca, which means looking at the city through a different lens when it comes to finding the right home in the right district.

The first step is to map and then find your way around the various barrios (neighbourhoods) that make up the city and suburbs. It won’t take long to come up with a shortlist that meets your needs and circumstances: some expats with families favour accommodation just outside the city centre in Chamartin or the more affordable Moncloa, some prefer quieter, more spacious, suburbs. Areas such as La Latina and Malasana offer the vibrant bustle and hum of city-centre living; as you’d expect, accommodation is more expensive per square metre here and tends to be in older properties, but it’s a price worth paying if you’re planning on plunging into the heart of Madrid.

As Spain emerges from a ten-year downturn, the signs are that the property market in Madrid is warming up, with both domestic and expat buyers shopping for homes to live in or to let, but still compares very favourably with other European capitals.

Finding your way around

Driving in any capital city can be a noisy, fraught business for the uninitiated, and Madrid is no exception. Parking, needless to say, is a nightmare. Many expats simply leave the car at home and make use of Madrid’s public transport.

Thirteen lines make up the city’s metro, an affordable, efficient system that runs from early morning to around 1.30am. It won’t take long before the lines are as familiar to you as the London underground, but the app makes short work of planning a journey.

Buses are a good option too, with a network that reaches the parts of Madrid and suburbs that the metro doesn’t. Slower, yes, but it’s a very handy orientation tool; hop on and get a feel for the city as the bus shoulders its way through the city’s streets, or flag down a taxi. A protracted and often bitter dispute between Uber and the city’s taxi drivers resulted in the launch of UberX, and its licensed, professional drivers are now operating in Madrid.

Finding work

Madrid is a major financial centre as well as employing many people in the transportation and tourism sectors. While high-quality jobs are more plentiful and better remunerated than elsewhere in Spain, salary is one of the few areas that expats find least satisfactory, though most acknowledge that this is offset by a substantially lower cost of living and a better quality of life.

If you’re not relocating to Spain as an employee and need to find work, there are options. Fluency in Spanish and a CV packed with experience in finance and service sector should stand you in good stead with the city’s major employers, such as Telefónica and Santander, and a TEFL qualification will be useful for anyone hoping to teach English. Digital nomads and the self-employed can plug right in, but do make sure that you cover all the legal and tax bases, and be prepared for a deep dive into Spanish paperwork.

One of the best ways to find out where the jobs are and how to make the most of any opportunities is to make the most of your network. If you’re new to the city, you’ll want one of those in any case. The good news? Expats reckon this is one of the easiest things to do in Madrid.

Finding friends and fitting in

People moving to Spain report finding a warmer welcome from locals than in many other expat destinations, and most have no difficulty settling in. What’s true for the country as a whole is also true for Madrid, where close to four fifths of expats feel right at home; quite an achievement for a capital city of some 6.5 million people.

Sociable, gregarious and (it has to be said) noisy, this is a face-to-face culture that likes to take its time over the good things in life, preferably outdoors, which means it doesn’t take long to find out where everyone is.

If you don’t have a ready-made network of work colleagues or want to extend your social circle beyond the office, you can ease the process along. Plug into the expat networks on social media and organisations such as InterNations; virtual meetings quickly turn into meet-ups and gatherings. Try to shed any northern European reserve that survived your journey, and degrees of separation between you, other expats and the Madrileños soon dwindle to nothing.

Living the good life

According to a 2018 study, Spain is predicted to top the table for life expectancy by 2040. If the forecast is sound, you’ve just joined a community of the longest-lived people in the world.

Living in a capital city like Madrid isn’t going to yield quite the same health benefits as those harvested by mountain-dwellers breathing the pure air of the sierras, but for all that a healthier lifestyle is well within your grasp. Walkers and cyclists will no doubt be heartened by the recent introduction of Madrid Central, a virtually traffic-free zone in the heart of the city.

Cheap, fresh fruit and veg is set out on the market stalls of Spain every week, including Madrid; tapas helps even the most compulsive snacker tuck away some of those five a day; olive oil and wine comes from the hills and vineyards that encircle the city and roll all the way to the coast. Try to shop locally whenever you can.

Few seriously question the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, but we don’t simply eat our way to health. With the country’s impressive healthcare system and facilities, expats moving to Madrid can keep both their physical and mental health in check. Wellbeing, on the other hand, depends on being part of a community, making friends, staying in touch, creating new memories, and living new experiences – not so very different from being an expat in Madrid.