For all the new teachers and adventurers coming over this fall, I wanted to share a few questions that I wish I'd asked myself in retrospect. Not only will you face cultural differences outside the home, but in your new flat as well! Here I touch on subjects such as roommates, utilities and furnished versus un-furnished apartments. Do yourself a favor and start early so that you don't have to rush such a big and important decision.
Do I want to have roommates?
The million-dollar question! Do I feel up to meeting and learning to live with x amount of people? Are you a natural mama bear like me and cringe at dishes in the sink, your roommate entertaining rando’s in the common areas and other poor life choices? I’d recommend making a friend before you arrive, getting to know them a bit and searching for a flat together. Being the last one to arrive to a house that already has an established rollo is intimidating. I wish I could tell you that I had positive experiences with roommates here in the past, but that would be a lie. I do like my current flat-mate, hey fiancé!
I’ve lived with smokers, Erasmus students, loners, sisters, other Americans, fellow teachers, Spanish women and a couple men. Out of all my roommates I can say that I left with 1 friend and at least 4 Facebook friends! See, glass is half-full! Just choose wisely, and if you know that your idea of a crazy night involves Scandal, frozen pizza and (2) bottles of wine, don’t force it! Be aware of the dynamic of the flat and the neighborhood. You don’t have to live with other people. There are reasonably priced studios or just find someone on the same wavelength as you are.
Do they offer a contract?
Contracts are ideal because your rights are protected. Most landlords will not offer them because they don’t always have the best interests of the renter at heart. If for example, a landlord refuses to return your deposit, tries to change the price of rent, or kick you out before the agreed upon date, having an official renter’s contract will come in handy.
Are the utilities included?
Oh utilities, how do you always sneak up on me? I took dorm living for granted in University. Wait, someone pays for those extra long showers and to charge my Mac for 5 hours? What the what? Most utilities in Spain are reasonably priced EXCEPT ELECTRICITY. I highly, highly recommend an apartment with central heating because winter in Madrid can get chilly and that electric bill... if you’re not careful can and will skyrocket.
Friends, I confess, I’m so cheap, I hobbled around my house like Dobby for 5 months in sweatpants, 3 pairs of socks, a bathrobe, and holding a candle. There’s nothing like peeing a little from the shock of receiving a 400-euro electric bill… twice in one winter. Learn from my mistakes, readers. Central heating for the win! Even better, find a place where all of your bills are included and avoid the surprise fluctuations that are bound to occur with the change of seasons.
How far is the apartment from work? School? Gym? Market?
This is a pretty obvious question but I only ask you to keep in mind the time it takes you to travel. Technically, we teach 16 hours a week. With that being said, is it worth it to spend 4 hours a day on a train to teach for 4 hours just because Malasaña is just so cool? So much life wasted. On the bright side, imagine all the books you can check off your list!
What is a bajo and do I want to live there?
A bajo is the first floor and the first floor is the second floor for us in America. Do you want to live there? One pro is that there are no stairs! Hello, groceries! The cons, in my opinion: you’re at street level so there’s noise, less privacy (if it’s exterior), less natural light and worst of all—bugs. I lived in a bajo where my window lined directly with the sidewalk. Naturally, I got to creep on all the shoes I wanted, but in the end, the cockroaches, the ants, the smells of the street and the rain always found their way in. It became easier to just keep the window closed. Le sigh.
Do I feel safe walking through the neighborhood during the day, at night and on the weekends?
I recommend visiting an apartment 3 times: during the day (during the workweek), at night during the week and again on the weekends. Why? The scene may change drastically between Tuesday at 9am and Friday at 23h. The same man rushing to work on a Wednesday may feel the need to cut loose Saturday night and blast “Dancing Queen” until 6am. Different strokes, friends. Also, if you see a neighbor or a future roommate, ask questions! You’re going to be spending quite a bit of time and money here, so investigate your investment.
Can I afford this apartment with wiggle room to still travel... and maybe buy food?
The auxiliar program in Madrid pays 1000 euros per month. You should never have more than 50% of your income going towards accommodation because if there were ever an emergency, it’s simply not safe to be that tight-squeezed with your budget. If you can comfortably afford a 400 euro flat (all-included) then try to find one for 350 euros; the extra 50 euros you save a month can go towards a big Semana Santa trip, or groceries, or a concert budget. The possibilities are endless!
Is there enough natural light?
There’s a reason we don’t all sleep in coffins at night, people, hello! My first flat was interior, and had one, tiny window. I slept much more, missed much more of the day and I never knew what time it was. There was no natural light and that played a huge part in my mood. You deserve to see the sunrise and set, and if you too live for sunny days, ask yourself this question while apartment hunting.
Does it come furnished?
A cheap apartment is fantastic but having to furnish it really does become an added expense. Although you can find most things like toasters, televisions and even beds second-hand; you probably should opt for a completely furnished place especially if you’re only here for 9 months. Quality beds can cost upwards 350 euros, plus bed sheets and blankets. $$$$$$
Bonus: If I were to have guests, friends or family, would they be welcome?
When I first moved to Madrid, I lived in a residencia or a dorm, of sorts. To be honest, it was nothing like a dorm. There were 8 bedrooms, a cleaning lady, and 4 bathrooms. It was for all girls and there was a contract. What I failed to realize is that our landlord could charge us for guests! 10 euros per night, per guest, and this was without a double bed!
Danni, Community Director at Las Morenas de España, is a twenty-something, Chicago native currently residing in Madrid. Lover of language, words, and travel, she's managed to combine all of her passions through her work. In her free time, you can find her exploring the winding streets of Madrid, hunting down good flight deals, planning her next adventure and writing & researching for LMDES. Danni loves spicy food, natural hair, music and of course, her wonderful life partner. If you need to find her, she’s the girl with huge hair and her face buried in her Kindle.