I moved to Spain 10 years ago and never looked back. Well, sorta. At 22, and fresh out of college, I was initially shocked by what seemed to be a third-world country of loud-mouth, Mediterranean smokers. While that might have been true, my feeling of shock was quickly replaced by envy and later appreciation of Spaniards’ “no pasa nada” attitude and laid-back lifestyle (not to mention, addictive night-life). Yes, I felt like (and still feel like) “a fly in a bowl of milk” almost everywhere I go. But I eventually brushed that off my shoulder after the 1000th person asked to touch my twisted afro that I used to wear (I think that was probably on day 5).
If you had the pleasure of knowing me 10 years ago, and for some odd reason decided to ask me where the ideal place to raise a family would have been, I probably would have turned the other way and asked the bartender (because obviously you would have asked me that question at a bar no doubt) for two more gin-tonics (containing highly adulterated and questionable alcohol colloquially known as “garafón”). I then would have promptly turned back around, handed you one of those tasty beverages and then replied, “Does this answer your question?”
My how times have changed! Well, sorta. I’m now 32 and still not even close to feeling old, but like a lot of my American compatriots stateside, I’m married with children, a house and a job. Yes, I’ve got a daily grind, and that aforementioned daily grind often makes me feel like I’m beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men (thanks Samuel L. ). Despite the normal stress of everyday occurrences, my saving grace is my family, and Spain couldn’t be a better place to raise one! From the amazing weather to great family activities, this list serves to prove that while my daily grind is indeed just as shitty as yours, I don’t mind it because raising a family in Spain rocks!
Moms and dads relax. First, if you use the public system, having a baby won’t cost you a thing! We had a doctor and a midwife assigned to us. Free Universal healthcare covers live birth and unlimited care should any complications arise in the delivery room. When baby is born mom gets 16 weeks paid maternity leave with the possibility to take up to 1 hour off of each work day which can be divided into two half hours for the baby’s first 9 months for nursing. If mamá wants, she can add those nursing hours up and take full days off. Dad gets 13 days of paid paternity leave and mom can always give dad any maternity leave that she doesn’t use (that never happens though).
Recommendation: Consider all your options, Healthcare systems are regional and you’ll have to use the regional system that you are a resident of. In general public hospitals are excellent and deliver great service and care.
At least 22 days of paid Vacation
What says family more than a long vacation where you forget the days of the week and completely disconnect from the world. Spain gives all working people a month of paid vacation. Sad when you realize that the average American only gets 12 days (unpaid) vacation and most Americans don’t use all of it! In Spain, you can relax, slow down, and enjoy your family!
Recommendation: USE ALL of your vacation, your boss won’t think less of you!
Whether it’s fun at the beach, in the mountains, or the pueblo, the weather in Spain almost always delivers! Spain has almost 300 days of sun and the clear summer nights and bright sunny days make Spain a great place to do any activity involving sun! Take a stroll in the park, walk down Gran Via, dar un paseo in Plaza Mayor, or head to one of my kid’s favorite playgrounds, the weather allows you to do it all and not worry too much about getting rained on.
Recommendation: Retiro Park in Madrid is a treasure chest for a family day out!
Going to bars with your kids
Your bar hopping days don’t have to end when you have kids here. Take your kids out with you! It’s common for parents to take their kids out with them to bars and restaurants to drink cañas and vino with their friends. In Spain, drinking normally goes hand in hand with food, friends or family. So yes, kids are allowed at the bar…Take that APPLEBEE’s!
Recommendation: Mercado San Fernando, kids everywhere and great drinks!
Cost of Living
Spain offers very affordable living. While it’s true that unemployment rates remain relatively high, it is generally a cheap place to live and it’s easy to live within limited means. You may not make a lot but Spain is an easy place to live if you’re on a budget.
Recommendation: Lavapies area of Madrid offers great location, affordable housing, cheap dining, and lots of cultural activities, all within a short walk to Madrid’s bustling downtown area.
The Spanish word roughly equates to “village” in English, but carries with it, so much more meaning! Being able to go to my wife’s family’s pueblos guarantees me at least one cold botellín (small 20ml bottle of beer) every day before lunch and another one before dinner. It’s common to see kids bike with no helmets, run with no shoes and for added imagery points throw in some random dogs, cats, goats and sometimes cows... The pueblo defines Spanish culture and is centered around one thing: FAMILY. The close-knitness of pueblos can be daunting and downright scary at first. I used to be put off by the all the looks and stares that people would give me (see: “fly in a bowl of milk” comment above), but once the pueblo-ites realized my little one was also running around barefoot, their curious stares turned into warm smiles. Yes, I do get annoyed that they call my son names like “café con leche” or “moreno” but pueblo life is worth the lack of political correctness.
Recommendation: Close your eyes and pick a place on a map, Spain is one giant pueblo!
It never fails, we go to the states (I’m from Atlanta) and chow down on unhealthy (yet delicious) fast food and restaurant food and come back to Spain 10 pounds heavier than when we left. We love coming back to Spain and getting back to our Mediterranean eating habits. Fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins consumed using minimal sauces (except mayonnaise, they put mayo on everything). Supermarkets have great quality items and fruits and vegetables are extremely low-priced. A kilo of Tomatoes at our local fruteria costs about 1€ whereas in the states I’m accustomed to paying double that for produce that is genetically modified and tasteless. Even when you do have the ocasional craving for junk food and soft drinks, the use of high-fructose corn syrup is extremely restricted in Europe, so you can even feel a little bit better about yourself when drinking Coke and Fanta (okay… not much better, but still)! In the end, you can’t do better than to raise a family on a good and healthy diet!
Recommendation: Mercadona is a Valencian supermarket chain here in Spain that started expanding a few years ago and is now everywhere. We LOVE Mercadona!
A lot of people don’t realize how mountainous Spain is! Mountains are close no matter where you live. In Madrid, we spend a lot of time in the mountains to get away and enjoy nature. Whether it’s collecting honey from our bee-hive, hiking with cows and mules or taking a dip in the river, we love family trips to the mountains. In Madrid, you can get mountain air in less than an hour by car. In most places in Spain you’re never more than a couple hours away from one of the many ranges around the country.
Recommendation: Check out la Sierra de Madrid/Guadalajara. There are some beautiful mountain towns in this area with great hiking and nature. Some places like Montejo de la Sierra are even accessible by bus if your family doesn’t have a car.
White sand, clear blue coves and white-washed towns on cliffs. The Mediterranean has everything a family could want from water-skiing to beers and seafood at a “chiringuito” (Beach shack that typically serves food and drink). Our son Yago is an absolute beach bum and loves running around naked on the beach (yeah that’s normal here for kids under 5). Luckily for everybody else’s sake, I wear a bathing suit, but the nearly 5,000km of coastline give families plenty of beach destinations to choose from.
Recommendation: Stay away from municipal beaches in big towns like Valencia, Barcelona and Castellon. Beaches in smaller towns and pueblos are always nicer!
Overall Quality of life
Where else can you raise a family and take advantage of cheap food, affordable housing, amazing wine, cold beer, beautiful mountains, gorgeous beaches and beautiful pueblos. Spain affords families a quality of life that is unparalleled. Education is affordable, healthcare is universal and there is great access to high-speed rail, public transport, and international airports. All of the above in a place that gets near 300 days of sunshine a year? Need I say more?
Recommendation: Raise your family here!
Ryan is a 30-something, justice-seeking, political and social activist living in Madrid, Spain. Currently, he's an International Relations Professor by day, and caped crusader by night. A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Ryan moved to Madrid in 2006 from Italy and never looked back. Aside from politics and social justice,his passions include swinging his two year old son around gleefully/wrecklessly (whom he ALMOST never drops), food, beer, watches, foreign languages, music and of course his lovely mujer. Little Known Fact: Ryan had a 1-month craving for Higaditos de Pollo (Chicken Livers) his first year in Spain.