Random tidbits from an American “trapped” in Spain

As I was thinking about what to write for my next post, a lot of random thoughts came to my mind along with some things that I thought could be of interest/useful. At least some of these things are doubts that I had before contacting people, asking, googling, etc. If you’re interested enough to be reading this blog you might be interested to read these:

– Exchange rates: I am the first to admit that I am not a numbers person, and finances are not my forte. However, when you take out a large sum of loans for an MBA in one country and you’re not sure where you’re going to end up afterwards you learn that you have to do some sort of hedging. But don’t do what I did! During the middle of the program I had to take out a large chunk of loans with the exchange rate of 1EUR=1,50 USD. I ended up taking out a larger portion of my loans with the US government and Sallie Mae (anyone who’s American will know what I’m talking about) since I figured it would be easier to pay these off later and I could consolidate all my loans. I also took out loans in euros with BancSabadell, but less. Little did I know, a few years later the euro would fall to equal a dollar. Oops. Now when I went to pay back my loans in the US with euros earned here in Spain it was like a double whammy. Note to self: if you need to take out a large chunk of loans try to balance between the two countries. And don’t assume that because it’s the government that interest rates will be much better. Some of my Sallie Mae “government subsidized” loans had 8.5% interest rates!

– International transfers. For many years I was making necessary transfers to pay off loans in the US from my account here in Spain and doing this through my bank. Every time I made a transfer (generally every other month) I had to pay about 20€ or more. Then I discovered TransferWise. It’s a great, easy-to-use international transfer service and SO MUCH cheaper than going through a bank. And I’m not getting paid to promote this (I wish I were); I just want to share so other people can avoid giving banks more money that they don’t need or that goes to corrupted hands.

– Private health insurance. While it’s nice to have one of the big private health insurances like Sanitas and Adeslas, you don’t really have to have it. As long as you’re officially “empadronado” (registered) as residing in Spain you have access to the public health center. I actually didn’t use any of the public health services until after my son was born, but then I discovered that the system works pretty well. The big pro with the private services is the speed: if you want to see a specialist you can go directly to one without having to go to a general doctor, get sent to a specialist and wait a month for an appointment. On the other hand some of the best doctors are in the public system, and prescriptions are extremely inexpensive or even free.

– School system. Nine years ago when I moved to Spain the last thing on my mind was the school system. Now, with a 15-month-old son I’m realizing just how confusing it is . Back in the US you live in the neighborhood where you want your child to go to school. Period. Here in Spain everything goes by a “points” system. You get assigned “points” depending on a variety of factors like income, if you have other children that go to a school, location, etc. etc. With these points you’re then assigned to a school, but it might not be your first, second or third choice, or very close by to your house. To make it more confusing there are public, private and “concertados” (kind of like charter schools) that you can choose from. If you live in a good neighborhood and get the school of your choice a public or concertado school might just be fine. And did I mention that the schools are expensive here? From what I’m hearing, in a concertado you could easily pay around 500€ or more a month per child. It’s overwhelming me, and my son’s not even walking yet…

– In-house help. Back in the US I would refer to this as a luxury. Here in Spain it’s much more common to have someone come to your house to clean once a week or have someone help with the cleaning and take care of your children. After my son was born we hired someone to work at our house and had to figure out the whole legal paperwork (a lot of people don’t have legal contracts). Here’s some helpful info: basically you need two documents, an official contract (http://www.empleo.gob.es/es/portada/serviciohogar/modelos/Mod-PE-172.pdf) and the document for the person’s “alta” in the social security system (http://www.seg-social.es/prdi00/groups/public/documents/binario/160061.pdf). Both of these need to be presented in the Tesorería de la Seguridad Social. In Madrid it’s near the Chamartin metro stop.

I found this guide helpful to understand the details about having in-house help and the legal requirements: http://www.empleo.gob.es/es/portada/serviciohogar/masinformacion/ServicioHogar2015.pdf

– Post office. It’s not cheap to send things back to the US. And when you get packages sent to you here you’ll realize it’s not at all cheap the other way around either. Here’s a helpful tip if you don’t want your packages from home to stuck in customs, forcing you to go to a random customs office near the airport and pay more than the gift itself is worth in taxes for them to release it to you (obviously this is written from experience…): take all tags off of things being shipped and lower the declared value. The only thing you can guarantee by writing a high declared value is problems on the receiving end.

Random tidbits from an American in Spain TBC…

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