Whilst your year abroad may be the time of your life, the process leading up to it is pretty stressful and, even for the most seasoned traveller, moving abroad can be a scary prospect. But although Spain isn’t that far away, there’s a lot to consider before you make the leap. So, I’ve decided to compile some advice that would have come in handy for me when getting ready to make the move to Madrid.
Housing: Idealista or Spotahome?
There are lots of ways to find housing in Madrid, although I’ve found most people choose one of two methods. One way, which you could say is the smarter, more prepared option, is to organise your housing through an agency specialised for those about to go on their year abroad, like Spotahome. They check out all of the apartments beforehand (meaning the standard is usually pretty good) and you’re guaranteed to be with other Erasmus/Year Abroad students like yourself. However, you will often be charged a fee for this kind of service (sometimes as much as the equivalent of 1 month’s rent) and the rooms tend to be more expensive. But organising your housing like this is an almost stress-free way of doing it.
However, if, like I did, you have it in your head that you want to be more integrated with the Spanish community, you’re better off using sites like Idealista, where most locals will advertise rooms for rent. Eventually, I actually ended up a flat with 11 other Erasmus students (for which, funnily enough, I am so grateful and happy for). But it turns out that if you’re only going to be living somewhere for 4 months it’s pretty difficult to find a house with people who want someone who’s looking for a more permanent home. Nonetheless, I did find it useful to come out a week or so early, not only to have a look at these places myself, but also to familiarise myself with the surrounding areas.
Getting to know your barrios is something I would really recommend doing before choosing your place (whether you’re there in person or not). Each one is very different, in atmosphere, price and demographic, which is why it’s all the more important to know what you’re signing up to when you’re signing your contract and putting down a deposit.
The worries of whether or not to open a bank is always a cause of stress before heading on your year abroad. If you’re working and know you’ll be earning money, you’ll usually have to open a bank account. Although I didn’t do this myself, it’s easy enough and can be done in an afternoon.
But if, like me, you simply needed the easiest, cheapest way of spending your Erasmus grant, we’re lucky enough to have online banking cards like Monzo and Revolut that tick every box. It’s all done through an app, you simply load it up (either by loading it yourself from another card or getting your grant paid directly into it) and you can use it in Euros (and more or less any currency) without being charged, and the exchange rates are usually fair. What’s more, they’re better than any other online banking app: you get instant updates as you spend your money, you can set budgets, and even save using the ‘money pot’. Whilst the waiting list for one of these cards is fairly long, if you know anyone with one already they can send you a ‘golden ticket’ which allows you to skip the queue and get one within a couple of weeks. Happy spending.
Transport: Carné Joven Abono
I was delighted to discover that until you’re 26 years old (yes, that’s right, you’re consider a youth until you’re 26 in Spain) you can get a travel card that costs a mere €20 a month to top up and allows you to travel freely throughout Madrid and ‘greater’ Madrid. This was an amazing benefit of living in Madrid- and another reason why it’s such an amazing city for young people. It’s also great for day trips outside of Madrid, like Toledo, so perfect for those of us looking to explore the surrounding areas of the city. Just make sure to book an appointment with the travel office early as during busy times when lots of new students are moving to the city (like September and January) appointments can fill up weeks in advance, and ordering a card over the internet can take even longer.
The Metro system in Madrid is easy to grasp and, in my experience, very reliable, but why stop there? There’s a number of great ways of getting around. They have their very own Boris Bikes, you’ll need to get a card which you can get at one of the 123 charging stations, where there’s a plentiful 1560 bikes for you to ride. They even have Lima, which is similar to the biking system but with lime green electric scooters instead.
For plenty of other insider advice and pearls of wisdom, take a look at more articles about Madrid, Bogotá and the year abroad experience on Flora’s column, Flora Going Fuera.