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🇪🇸 Moving to Madrid: a Newbie's Guide

Madrid at a glance

Moving to Madrid?

A city for art lovers, foodies, and pretty much anyone who just can’t stop enjoying life, Madrid won’t let you down. Spain’s culture- and sun-soaked capital is an expat’s dream and you’re about to live it.

To make it easier for you to get settled in your new home, here are some tips from real expats on the ground.

Step 1

The weather

Madrid is nestled fairly high up between some majestic mountain ranges. This means cool winters with occasional snowfall. In winter, temperatures can dip below freezing but averages are milder than that, hitting 5.5°C (42°F) in January. The city’s elevation—it’s Europe’s highest capital!—also means that temperatures can fluctuate quite a lot between night and day, so be prepared for a bit of everything.

Summers in Madrid are very dry and hot, easily reaching 35/36°C (95/97°F) and peaking around 40°C (104°F). If you’re not used to heat, take extra care to stay hydrated. And of course, wear sunscreen—clocking in at 2,769 hours of sunlight a year, Madrid is one of Europe’s sunniest cities.

Further good news if you’re not a rain lover: Madrid shares the title of Europe’s driest capital with Athens, so rain will be low on your list of problems. And in general, Spain has a very low chance of natural disasters. But like pretty much anywhere else, you might experience occasional storms.

Arguably, Madrid is at its best in May/June and September/October, which is when you’ll experience the mildest, most pleasant temperatures.

Step 2

Arrival

So you’ve landed in Madrid. Now what?

You’re moving here, so we’re going to assume you have quite a bit of luggage. A taxi from the airport is the quickest and most convenient way to get to the city and will set you back 30€. The Metro service is pretty good too, but you’ll likely have to transfer a couple of times to get to your final destination. Which you might not enjoy doing with lots of bags.

Step 3

Getting connected

One of the first things you’ll need is obviously a SIM card.

Walk into one of the major providers (like Orange, Vodafone, or Yoigo) in a touristy area like Sol, where people are most likely to speak English. You’ll need your passport and to top up a minimum amount.

Step 4

Getting around

You probably won’t need a car to get around Madrid. Public transport is smooth and affordable, the Metro in particular. You can get a monthly travel card for around €60, depending on the area you need to cover.

On top of that, a lot of the city is very walkable and a car wouldn’t even be particularly practical in some parts of Madrid. Most people don't drive, so you’ll fit right in.

  • Uber and FREE NOW are your best bets for ridesharing.
  • Carsharing apps are there when you need them.
Step 5

Choosing a neighborhood

Assuming you have temporary accommodation lined up, you’ll now be looking for a place to stay long-term.

It really goes without saying that where you should live depends on your priorities. Each neighborhood has its own character and tradeoffs. And as you may have noticed already, Madrid is huge (the third-largest city in the EU!), so the sheer number of neighborhoods can be pretty intimidating.

But to get you on the right track, here are some names that keep cropping up:

  • Chueca is trendy and diverse, known for its nightlife, and home to Madrid’s Pride festival.
  • LavapiĂ©s is another diverse area with an authentic vibe where you should be able to live more cheaply than elsewhere in the center.
  • ChamartĂ­n is business-y and good for those who prefer more quiet nights and easy access to the airport while still living fairly close to the center.
  • Many giant companies have moved their HQ to Las Tablas. Like ChamartĂ­n, this is a good place to live if you also work here. Good for families.
  • Salamanca is on the fancy side, for those looking for an upscale Madrid-living experience. Some seriously posh shopping over here, if you’re into that.
  • Retiro borders the city’s favorite park and so caters to seekers of peace, quiet, and greenery—but still very close to everything else.
  • Arganzuela is a bit off the beaten track, but still close enough to the center.

Further from the center, neighborhoods are cheaper and quieter but you’ll probably have more of a commute to take into account.

Step 6

Finding an apartment

The main difficulty when renting an apartment in Madrid isn't being an expat. It’s renting in general. Supply is low and demand is high. Apartments fly off the shelves and landlords hold all the cards.

The trick to securing an apartment is to move fast and be persistent. Be prepared to prove you have the finances to afford rent, particularly if you’re not working.

On average, you might have to pay two months’ rent as a deposit, but it could also be more. Try to avoid agent fees. Some landlords ask for several months upfront, so you might have to search pretty hard and act fast for a good deal.

Good places to start your apartment search:

If you prefer to share an apartment, either to cut costs or just for the company, Badi is a great place to find roommates.

Step 7

Paperwork and banking

No need to sugarcoat it: Probably the most tedious part of getting settled in Madrid is the paperwork. But don’t be disheartened—countless people have managed this before you, and you will too.

All the paperwork has to be filed in Spanish and you have to go to at least three different offices to set up your life in Madrid:

Generally, service at these places is quite good, but expect them to be strict on the documents you have to submit. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, most people will be happy to give you guidance when you’re lost in a sea of red tape.

Once you have your NIE, you’ll be able to get a resident bank account. Sabadell and La Caixa are great banking options for expats, but Revolut and N26 are both available in Spain if you’re a fan of challenger banks.

Step 8

Healthcare

First things first: In a medical emergency, call 112.

You’re not guaranteed to come across English-speaking emergency services staff, so find a friendly local to help you if you can.

If you have an employment contract in Spain, you will get access to the public health system, which is very high quality. Without a contract, you’ll need private insurance.

Step 9

Cost of living

Madrid is noticeably more affordable than London or Paris and even a tad cheaper than Barcelona.

And while you won’t find it quite as inexpensive as Eastern Europe, Madrid is definitely easier on the wallet than Central Europe or the Nordics. A happy medium, then, if you will.

Reference points:

  • The average rent in Madrid is €892, but prices have been fluctuating for a while (mostly rising).
  • The average annual gross salary is €28,000.
Step 10

Spending your free time

Madrid is a major European capital. You’re not going to have to worry about getting bored.

  • If lifting heavy things is your lifestyle, gym prices range from 20 to very expensive.
  • Go see a Real Madrid game at the legendary Santiago BernabĂ©u Stadium. Prices start from €40, slightly lower for members.
  • Go explore the nearby mountains. Remember, they’re all around the city and they’re gorgeous.
  • Madrid has plenty of parks and green spaces for you to relax and/or work out in, chief among them of course the iconic El Retiro. Lots of cool activities going on there, like this free running club.
  • Check out public pools for those crazy hot days in the city (don’t forget, there are many of those days).
  • The Prado museum is one of the world’s finest and a great place to spend several days lost in exploration.
  • For vibrant nightlife, start by checking out the Chueca, La Latina, and LavapiĂ©s neighborhoods.
  • Locals love hanging out in bars with friends, so that’s a useful hobby to pick up if you want to blend in.
Step 11

Food

Spanish cuisine is one of the world’s favorites for a reason. Tortilla de patatas? Probably one of the finest food-related inventions in human history. The whole tapas thing? We literally can’t imagine a better way to eat a meal.

There are a million places to eat in the centre of Madrid and the quality in general is extremely high. Our official recommendation is just to try different lunchtime menus and restaurants every day.

Over the past 10-15 years, some of Madrid’s oldest markets have become bustling gastro-markets where you can sample the best of what the city has to offer while immersing yourself in a people-watching environment unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Fun fact: You may have heard that Madrid is home to the world’s oldest continuously operating restaurant. That should tell you a lot about how serious this city is about food.

  • You can certainly find vegetarian and vegan food in Madrid. But beware that by default, Spain is very much a meat-eating country.
  • Tipping at restaurants isn't a hard requirement but a small tip is welcome.
  • You need to book a table for very popular restaurants only.
  • Spaniards are night owls and dinner is usually eaten fairly late.
Step 12

Traveling around

Madrid is pretty much bang in the middle of Spain, which places you in the ideal spot to start exploring the country and its surroundings. Many gorgeous cities are a quick drive or train ride away for a day trip or weekend getaway. We’d start with:

  • Alicante on the Costa Blanca is perfect for a city break. Think golden sands, castles, and nightlife.
  • Toledo is only about an hour's drive away. This city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and with good reason. In a word, Toledo is stunning.
  • Nearby El Escorial is home to a (gigantic) historical residence of the King of Spain, as well as the controversial Valle de los CaĂ­dos national monument.
  • Segovia is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Go check out the Roman aqueduct.
  • Barcelona is Barcelona. Enough said, probably.
  • San Sebastian in Basque Country is another good one for lovers of golden sands, this time on the Atlantic coast.
  • Seville, the capital of Andalusia, has amazing history and architecture.

For those rare moments when you feel like you need a break from Spain, France is within easy reach. Check out the seaside glam of Biarritz, for example. Portugal is right next door too.

Madrid-Barajas airport is Europe’s second-largest and sixth-busiest. As such it’s—obviously—very well connected to the outside world and you can fly to a bunch of destinations on a budget.

Step 13

The language

Speaking Spanish in Madrid isn’t an absolute must, but it will certainly come in very handy. English isn’t quite as widely spoken here as it is in Barcelona, and definitely not as common as in Northern Europe, for example. So you’ll probably want to learn eventually anyway.

The best way to pick up the language is simply to talk to people shamelessly (it doesn’t hurt that Spaniards tend to be pretty outgoing). And take solace in the idea that Spanish is often considered one of the easiest languages to learn!

If you love language apps, take a look at Chatterbug.

Step 14

Tips and tricks

Assorted tips and observations

  • To start feeling like a local as quickly as possible, talk to people. Have a siesta. (Although apparently 60% of Spaniards never do it. But science says it’s good for you, so why not embrace the tradition?)
  • Apart from pickpockets, Madrid is generally quite safe. Take extra care in crowded places.
  • CafĂ© culture is not huge in Madrid. Quiet bars are more common.
  • Arguably one of the best things about living in Madrid are the people, so don’t miss out on them. Meetups are a great way to make local friends.
  • Madrid is extremely LGBT+ friendly. It hosted WorldPride in 2017.
  • The go-to sources for groceries and basic supplies are Mercadona and Lidl. El Corte InglĂ©s if you’re feeling a little fancier.
  • Spanish people are self-confessed loud talkers.
  • In informal situations, the standard greeting is two cheek kisses (one on each!).

Basic survival apps

  • Glovo for deliveries
  • Uber
  • FREE NOW (previously mytaxi) is another alternative for rides

Links

Before you go…

The information and advice in the guide has been compiled (and is constantly updated) based on the experiences of real-life expats in Madrid. We can’t guarantee that your experience will be identical or that you’ll like everything we recommended in these pages.

We’ve barely scratched the surface. But that’s what this guide is meant to do—give you a place to start.

Now go out there and make the most of your new home!

PS Discovered something about Madrid that belongs in this guide? Let us know by writing to [email protected]!

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