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Moving to Spain: How I did it legally - Solo World Wanderer

It is official.  I moved to Spain.  After six years of the 90 in, 90 out rules to comply with the Schengen laws, I applied for and obtained a visa.  Now I live here, can travel as extensively as I want.  As a result, I am so excited to watch my Spain travel consultation business grow beyond my wildest dreams.  Spain is my home now, and I am based right in the heart of it all: Madrid.

Here’s my story about how I made it happen.

(For a shortened version from the standpoint of securing my visa, please check out a guest blog I wrote for Torrevieja Translation‘s website)

During and after the 2016 US presidential election, if I had a dollar for every time I heard, “I am moving to (fill in name of any country ranging from Australia to Zimbabwe here), I’d be filthy rich. But even before the Trump era, how many times have you visited a country and said to yourself, “I need to move here!”? I know I’ve said this to myself at least 50 times, about 50 different countries. Then I traveled somewhere else or moved on to another country, and the idea of uprooting myself to the place I had wanted to move to only a few days ago was a fleeting thought.

But then I was reintroduced to Spain several years ago, and the desire to live there never left. Despite going back for longterm visits as much as the 90 day Schengen visa would allow, I could never get the desire of legally moving to Spain out of my head. Every time I visited the country, my love for it grew, and my inclination to move became even stronger. So I decided to make it happen. And it wasn’t easy. It still isn’t. But it’s what I wanted, so I went for it. In my case, being self-employed with location flexibility made it so that I could live in Spain and not take a job from a Spaniard. This was extremely important in my visa application as Spain is currently in an economic crisis, and Spaniards need jobs. Therefore, most residence visas explicitly do not allow foreigners to compete in the Spanish job market. The Spanish government is very strict on this, as they should be, and throughout the visa process, I was reminded that I could not legally work for a Spanish company in Spain. Fine by me as I never want to work for anyone but myself again anyway.

But even with that “in,” navigating the visa process was frustrating. So frustrating that I ended up hiring a Spanish attorney to help me through the loopholes. I do not want to dwell on the process, because this post shouldn’t be used as a reference to obtain Spanish residency. Jamie, a US Citizen now living in Valencia, has a detailed blog post about this, a must-read for anyone looking to move to Spain. So let’s just say from the time of making the initial appointment at the San Francisco consulate (you must go through the consulate that corresponds with where you are a resident. In my case, I wanted to go through Los Angeles, but I could not as I am a legal resident of San Francisco.) to the day I picked up the approved visa, there was legal translation, fingerprints, navigating the Spanish health insurance market, and so much intricate and detailed paperwork, I was really glad I shelled out the money for professional help. Especially since I was able to get it all right on the first try, which not everyone does.

About two weeks after picking up my visa, I was on a one-way flight to Madrid. And here I am, living in Spain. In most cases, Spain very much included, after you arrive in your legal new homeland, there are so many things to take care of, and so much red tape to cut through so that you can stay. While I absolutely love being here, I am running around like crazy and stressing, trying to get everything done. This leaves little or no time for enjoying Spain. All of my travel plans are on hold until I can get my foreigner residence card, which is a process in itself. And despite the fact that I can get by in Spanish if I did not have a core group of trusted friends here to help me navigate the system, everything from renting an apartment to registering myself here in Madrid, I’d be totally fucked.

Let me be clear. Living in a different country, even one that you are incredibly familiar with is a whole different ballgame than visiting as a traveler. No matter how many times you visited. There are ups and downs, and so much red tape. It is not easy, and you have to really want it to make it worth it. Uprooting oneself to a new country is not a decision to be made lightly. I am so glad I did not move to the 50+ other countries where I declared, “I want to live here!”

But I am not complaining. Not at all. I am loving my Spanish life so far. I love that I live in Spain, that Madrid is my new hometown (California will always be home), that I get to experience this country as a resident, something very few visitors get to do, for better and for worse. Living in Spain had been my dream for quite some time and making it happen for myself was a huge milestone in my life.

My advice for anyone wanting to move abroad is this. First of all, research all of the visa options to determine if you can find one that works for you. Most countries offer several options for want to be residents. Student visas, self-employed visas, visas based on ancestry, non-lucrative visas… depending on the country (and your nationality) some of these may be an option. Germany, for example, has a wide array of visa options for artists, and I know of yoga teachers who have moved there on that visa. Secondly, don’t make that decision lightly. You may be having a fabulous time in Paris drinking all that French wine, but living in France will be quite different from being in Paris as a visitor. Thirdly, find blogs and online groups of expats in the country you are wanting to move to. They can help answer some very country-specific questions and are a great resource for navigating the red tape. Aside from Jamie’s blog (linked above), the Spain Immigration and Residency Questions group on Facebook has been indispensable to me. Fourthly, if you are in a position to do so, I recommend enlisting legal help.  If you are moving to Spain, I can not recommend David Ruiz at Torrevieja Translation enough!  His professional guidance was what got me the visa on the first try in San Francisco and he continues to help me navigate the process here in Spain. If you’re moving elsewhere, ask for recommendations in expat groups.  And finally, allow yourself to feel all of the feelings.  No matter how much you have traveled or how long you have spent in a specific country, moving abroad is different. You may feel homesick when you have never before felt that on your travels.  The red tape and the process can be frustrating, and you may feel aggravated or overwhelmed.  That is very normal and is part of the process.  And of course, there is that pure joy of living where you dreamed of living.  That is the best feeling of them all, and the one I am feeling the most here in Spain, despite everything.

So here’s to my new home in Spain.  And by having Madrid as my homebase, I am in a better position than ever to help my clients plan their trips to Spain. Interested in traveling to this beautiful country?  I can help! Not only have I traveled all over Spain, off and on the beaten path, but now that I live here, I can provide even more insider information to enhance your Spanish itinerary.


My name is Karen & travel is not only my passion but also my profession.