I know at this point you are probably eager to get your flight to Spain and start living your new life, but there are some last minute things you need to do while still in the U.S. Again, this is nowhere near as difficult as the paperwork you completed for your visa. You made it through the hardest part.
These are all small errands you can get done in an afternoon, but they are incredibly important things to do to make your transition to Spain easier. I will breakdown each item in the following list and offer a small guide. The basic necessities you need to complete before flying abroad are all included.
- Unlock Your Cell Phone
- Contact Your School
- Browse/Don’t Buy Apartment Listings
- Organize Important Documents
- Plan Your Finances
- What to Pack
- Join an Auxiliar de Conversación Group
Unlock Your Cell Phone
Make sure your phone is unlocked before you go to Spain. If you aren’t sure, call your provider and ask!
While living in Spain, it will be necessary to have a Spanish phone number. A good way to get one is through changing your American SIM card for a Spanish SIM card. This is a quick and easy process if your phone is unlocked beforehand. It is much more difficult to unlock your phone while in Spain. Do it in America!
- Cell-phone unlock: T-Mobile
T-Mobile gives instructions on how to unlock your cell-phone based on your cell-phone’s manufacturer.
- Cell-phone unlock: Verizon
In their official policy, Verizon states that their phones automatically unlock 60 days after purchase. Check with your provider to confirm it is unlocked.
- Cell-phone unlock: AT&T
AT&T lists the requirements to have your phone unlocked. At the bottom of the page they offer the option to unlock your device and check its unlocked status.
Make sure you are able to remove the SIM card from your phone. Check if you need to purchase a special tool. For my android phone, I am able to open the SIM card slot with a bent paperclip. Other phones might not be so simple.
Finally, make sure you have downloaded and are familiar with WhatsApp. WhatsApp is a messaging/calling/social media platform that everyone in Spain uses. It is the main form of communication in most of Europe, and it is very convenient for people travelling abroad because it avoids international call charges. The app uses data connection to send messages and make calls.
Contact Your School
It is in your best interest to establish a good rapport with your school prior to your arrival in Spain. Once you receive your Carta de Nombramiento, you will have the school’s contact information. Go ahead and send an email introducing yourself, your background, and state how you are excited to start as an auxiliary teacher. It is a great way to initiate contact.
One thing to be aware of is that you might not receive a response if you send an email in August. The schools will be closed during this month, and Spanish people respect time off. It is unlikely that they will be checking emails during vacation. That is why I prefer sending a message September 1st or before August. Regardless, it is never a bad thing to get in contact with your school as soon as you receive your Carta. It is a personal decision if you want to send your message in English or Spanish. If you are confident in your Spanish, feel free, but they will understand you perfectly fine if you send a message in English.
Browse/Don’t Buy Apartment Listings
Do not buy/sign/reserve any type of apartment before seeing it first in person. Housing scams exist. Do not make yourself an easy target.
Instead, it’s a good idea to browse and familiarize yourself with key websites that will help you find an open listing. It can give you an idea of the average rates in your region. It’s also good to see what type of apartments you can expect. Make sure to plan your apartment around your commute. Check public transit options that get you to and from your assigned school.
https://www.idealista.com/en/ – Highly recommended link. It is the most common method of finding a place in Spain. Browse apartments and check out the posted pictures and conditions.
https://www.fotocasa.es/en/ – This is another commonly used website for renting apartments in Spain. Just like Idealista, you can browse apartments and check out the posted pictures and conditions.
You should also prepare a short, 50 word introduction (in Spanish) for when you apply for an open listing. Mention who you are, the program you are in, and how long you will need the lease. You can give some information about your interests and background. Talk yourself up. In my experience, landlords are more eager to rent to people they like. You can copy and paste this message to emails, WhatsApp numbers, and open postings.
If you are placed in a small town without these resources, you can ask for help through your school. More than likely a teacher or family member of a teacher or student will have a room available.
Since you are not leasing an apartment before flying to Spain, you need to plan your temporary stay while looking for a place.
https://www.airbnb.com/ – Great option for temporary stay upon arrival (3-7 days would be a good short term stay while you look for an apartment. You can also discuss possible extensions if you have difficulty finding an apartment.)
https://www.couchsurfing.com/ – This is another cheap option for temporary stay upon arrival. I personally prefer airbnb, but couchsurfing can let you dive head first into meeting the locals.
Join specific Facebook groups for housing and roommates in your region. Auxiliar de Conversación groups will also have posts looking for roommates around the time of entry.
Organize Important Documents
You will continue to need the documents you prepared for your visa. They will be useful for many other bureaucratic steps upon arrival. Save them nicely! For each and every document involved so far, I highly recommend having a physical copy, a scanned copy in a flash drive, and a scanned copy in Google Drive. Organize everything nicely too. Create folders that are labelled properly. Name every file with specific labels and dates. Future you will be thankful.
When you first arrive in Spain, you can pay for printing service at any number of copy shops or papelerías.
The NALCAP webinar specifically mentioned you should bring the following documents along with 3-4 photocopies:
- Passport with information and visa page
- Medical certificate used for visa application
- Background check used for visa application
- Carta de Nombramiento
- Vaccination card
Plan Your Finances
Even though you start your position October 1st, you will not receive your first pay until the first week of November. This along with the fact that you will pay for temporary accommodation upon arrival, pay your security deposit + first month’s rent + agency fee (if the landlord uses an agent), pay for your flight to Spain, and buy the basic necessities for your stay means that your expenses will quickly add up.
It’s important to save up before you leave for Spain. Each individual will have their own average costs, so I can’t give a personalized budget, but I can share the average extra expenses you will have when starting.
Most people save between $2,500 and $3,000 (not including the flight cost) to cover the initial costs + emergency expenses. Your monthly stipend will be just enough to cover basic expenses for most people, but you will need extra money for the first few months. I will share my monthly budget as someone who has lived in Spain for a few years now. The expenses shown are for living in Madrid, Spain. Expenses in Madrid are higher than other regions in Spain, but the pay through NALCAP is also higher to compensate.
I save a lot of money on transportation costs by having the youth transport card abono. It costs 20 euros a month for unlimited public transit in the region (not just the city) of Madrid. This card is available for anyone under the age of 26. Just sign up for the card and pay 20 euros each month. You can take buses, subways, and even trains around the region.
I also balance my budget by making 150 euros a month with private English lessons. I offer 3 hours of private lessons a week with a family from Madrid.
The student visa from the NALCAP program does not typically provide the right to work in Spain without first getting authorization from the Oficina de Extranjería through a company request. It was difficult for many auxiliaries to get work permission this way, and even then, you were only allowed to work 20 hours a week. For that reason, many auxiliaries provided and continue to provide under the table private lessons.
There are a few changes for 2022-2023 participants due to a newly announced law during the 2022 NALCAP Webinar. The work authorization will be expanded to 30 hours a week, and in the future it will become easier to convert to a work visa. Additionally, many individuals are automatically receiving the work permission with the student visa TIE.
How to Get Work Permission on a Student Visa in Spain – Guide (if you don’t already have permission)
This is a separate blog that does a great job of explaining the steps in getting your work permission.
“A lot of people have been asking also about supplemental income. I have breaking news today. When you go on a student visa, you’re not allowed to have any other kind of job because you’re a student. As of today, there is a new regulation in Spain that will be in effect, I was told at the end of August, where you will be able to do something up until 30 hours (a week), so you might be able to find some private classes. I’m sure at the school where you go they will be able to help you out with that kind of stuff, so that will help you a little bit because the grant is the grant. It is what it is.
The government of Spain makes a huge effort to provide language assistants for the school system, and it adds up, so it is hard to increase that grant. Now it is perfectly legal to look for private classes to supplement your income while in Spain.”
Source: 2022 NALCAP Webinar
From what I’ve read of the law, it appears that the main change for auxiliary teachers with student visas is the work hour permissions. It also includes sections that help facilitate the change from a student visa to a work visa in the future along with small changes that help improve the work authorization process for many foreigners.
What this means to you, though, is that employers, such as English academies, will be more likely to provide work authorization for people on a student visa due to the greater flexibility in work hours. Remember, your position will be taxed unlike the stipend provided through the auxiliary program.
Private, Under-the-Table Lessons
Those that are unable to find an employer willing to provide work authorization typically provide private tutoring lessons. It is common and well known by the schools involved in the program. In fact, both schools I’ve worked with have offered me private lesson opportunities.
Individuals working and providing private English lessons without work authorization always work under the table only using cash. They are unable to pay Spanish taxes on their income because they legally don’t have the right to work outside of the program.
They are able to find private lessons by using the following common advice:
- Get in contact with the teachers in your school. Usually they will have connections and can help you out.
- Get in contact with other auxiliaries. Many auxiliaries are in contact with English academies, and there is always a lack of English teachers to go around. When auxiliaries offer lessons, they often get asked by the academy and the students they work with if they know any native teachers that are available to teach. Most are unable to meet demand.
- Contact local English academies. Especially now with the changes to work permissions as an auxiliary, it is a great opportunity to directly get in touch with local English academies to set up lessons. Many academies provide under the table private lessons too, even if they are unwilling to go through the work permission process.
- Join a regional auxiliary Facebook page. Throughout the year, people post private lesson opportunities online.
(I do not *officially* recommend anyone pursue private, under the table English lessons.)
What to Pack
The most common mistake I see people make is that they overpack. They bring way too much with them, and they make the all-too-common mistake of shopping for things they will need in Spain while still in America.
Spain is a modern, western country, and you will be able to buy 99.99% of what you need while in Spain. Additionally, the exact same products you will buy are much cheaper in Spain than they are in America. It makes no sense to purchase basic things like school clothes and toiletries while in America just to ship them to Spain. I will go over some items you should bring with you, though.
Medicine: When you first arrive in Spain, you will be busy with starting your teaching position, getting an apartment, settling in, and finishing up your bureaucracy. You won’t have time to figure out getting your prescription medicine. Bring your medicine with you. Give yourself a month or two supply so that you can have time to settle in and figure out getting whatever medicine you need in Spain.
When you finally go to buy the medicine, you need to ask if your insurance coverage provided through the program will cover the cost of your prescription. Regardless, buying medicine in Spain without insurance is often cheaper than buying medicine in America with insurance.
It’s also a good idea to bring over the counter medicine you personally take. When I came to Spain, I brought Benadryl with me. Sometimes I have moderate allergic reactions, and I know that Benadryl works for me. It doesn’t take up too much baggage space, and it will help you out greatly.
Electronics: For the unaware, Europe has a different electric grid voltage than American electricity. This can be problematic for some American devices. If you are bringing electronic devices to Europe and don’t want to buy a new one there, you might need to get a voltage converter. Whenever I asked for a voltage converter at an electronics store, they would offer me a plug adapter. This will not work. It will destroy your electronic device and/or trip a breaker.*
A good way to tell the difference between the two is that a voltage converter is bulky and a bit heavy. It needs to change the voltage of an incoming electric current. A plug adapter is light and small. It only needs to have holes that fit an American plug and a European plug. I have purchased a voltage converter for $15 at Wal-Mart, and I have purchased a plug adapter for $10 at Best Buy. It is a minimal difference in cost.
*Many modern devices have sophisticated capacitors that can regulate the incoming voltage. Things like your laptop charger and phone charger have a built-in block that regulates the voltage. You can charge these devices with the wrong voltage. It just charges slower in my experience. Considering the minimal cost difference between a voltage converter and plug adapter, it is worth it to use the voltage converter.
Souvenir: The first day at school is usually a type of introduction and show & tell. Bring something with you that is culturally American and that has a personal story behind it. I brought a Michigan State University hat that my father won instead of a cash prize for a halftime competition.
Make sure that you are vaccinated with a booster against COVID-19 before travelling to Spain, and bring your vaccination card with you. It will make travel much easier, and you’ll need to present your vaccination card to your assigned school upon arrival.
Additionally, prior to September 20, 2022, when you flew from the U.S. to Spain, you needed to complete a travel health card online to receive a QR code that would allow you to enter Spain. This was done through an official app through the Spanish government.
“As of Tuesday, 20 September 2022, the Spain Travel Health (SpTH) portal, both the website and the mobile applications (APPs), will no longer be operational. It will no longer be necessary to complete the health control form to travel to Spain nor to show the SpTH QR code at the airport of arrival.“
This was a way for the Spanish government to track COVID cases, but it is no longer needed. Just make sure to be vaccinated and bring your vaccination card with you.
Join an Auxiliar de Conversación Group
It´s also a great idea to get connected with other auxiliary teachers. Having other friends in the same situation as you will help immensely. Don´t underestimate the power of community. With the help of friends, I was able to get a TIE appointment when no availabilities were open. I was helped with getting private lessons, and in turn, I was able to offer extra lessons to other friends once my schedule was filled.
Many Facebook groups are useful for finding roommates when filling apartments too, so it´s a great idea to join before you leave. I am linking just 2 groups. I recommend finding a group specific to your region.
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