Moving to Seville

Sell or store everything you own, pack your bags and move to Seville! Sounds like a dream come true, right? In many ways it is, but getting here is one of the toughest things I've ever done - both mentally and physically. The physical will depend on how much junk you've acquired in your life before the move - in my case a lot. This is based on my experience and yours will certainly differ from mine. Hopefully some of this will help you identify what you need to do to get here.

I thought about moving to Seville off and on for 10 years, and finally made the big leap in February of 2003. I can tell you it takes a lot of planning, and if you're really going to give it a try, a good amount of money as well. You need all the extra time you can get to find a job. I did a lot of research on the web and through family/friends in Seville before leaving. There are a lot of pages out there dedicated to moving to Spain in general and they cover many points which apply to Seville. I will point out the worthwhile ones where you can pursue certain topics. One of the best sites out there - both because of the information and the fact they're not afraid to point to other sites - is Spain Expat. As much as I hate to say it this section is a work in progress and likely to be one for a long time. That doesn't mean there's not plenty of info here. I'm still figuring everything out myself and if they throw me out of the country I may have to revise a few things I've put down.


Topics in this section

I'd start by saying the best thing you could do (or could have done) would be to study in Seville first. It allows you to make contacts and decide where you want to live. Seville may not be the right place for you and a few weeks or a month is not enough to know that you really want to live in the city. Studying also gets you here - legally - for more than 3 months with a student visa. If you've already studied in Seville I'd say you're more prepared than the rest, but keep in mind there are likely 10,000 or so students from the U.S. here every year, and you're not the only one who fell in love with the place. (If you haven't studied you can of course make the move, too). What I have to say below is meant to scare you about trying to live here. The best information I got was the type that made me say, "Oh, man, what they hell am I thinking". This type of information helped me understand what I was up against, as well as the challenges I'll continue to have. It's not over yet.

I planned for everything: bringing my computer with me, what type of digital camera would be best for this site, clothes, kitchen stuff, credit cards, bills, mortgage payments, checks, drivers license, passport...the list is endless. I will say that Microsoft's Outlook was my good friend. I made lists and then sublists for departure, packing, banking, legal issues as well as what to do upon arrival in Seville. I added due dates for each item so I could take care of things little by little over 6 months. I am a obsessive planner as you can probably see. Deciding what was essential and what wasn't took weeks if not months. Questions came up daily which I jotted down and then added to my task list. I helped myself with the realization that I could always go back to the U.S. to take care of some issues, to get more "stuff". I also realized that mailing some of the non-essentials was another alternative.

Aside from packing, selling and storing my various things I also had to eliminate all debt. In my case that was about a year or more. There were plenty of other items to take care of, some big and others small, so in no particular order here's what I dealt with:

Power of Attorney

I needed someone back home to take care of banking, bills, mortgage payments and medical insurance. Luckily I have a wonderful mom (Hi mom!) who was willing to take care of some of these things for me. You need someone you can trust as a point person back home, and while they may not need power of attorney, I highly recommend it. A great site which will give you the forms for a do-it-yourself power of attorney is Legal Zoom. You can also create a will if you're so inclined, but I try not to think about things like that while here. As they say often in Spain - it can wait until mañana. I also found a good property management company to take care of a house, collecting rent and paying the mortgage until it's time to sell.

Health Insurance

I wanted something more than traveler's insurance so I considered many options, taking note of those who would cover me while here. Most will cover you outside of the the states if you list the U.S. as your primary residence. So you can take advantage of their coverage as long as when you get hurt you let them know you are "traveling". There are other, local options in Seville and I am working on putting a list together. Many policies only cover you for catastrophic type medical care if outside the U.S.

Auto Insurance

A warning about coverage in the U.S. as it may be tempting to cancel your coverage when you leave. After all if you rent a car you can purchase insurance with the rental agreement or you may never need to drive in Spain. However, if you cancel and go uninsured (even if you don't drive) and then find yourself back in the U.S. your old company and many other companies may refuse to insure you. Or they may insure you but at a much higher premium. I won't even try to understand the logic to this - there is none in my book. What you can often do for very little money is be added to someone's policy: a parent or sibling works best.

Credit Cards

Aside from paying them off I checked all my expiration dates for credit cards. A few that were due to expire I called the company and asked for a new one, stating I would be traveling for a few months during which the card would expire. I also tried, in some cases successfully, to raise my credit limits. The more credit I have the bigger the safety net. I have yet to use any of them except for making big purchases when I needed the "purchase protection" some of them offer. I also made sure I signed up for online account access for every card. Finally, I made the mistake of bringing an American Express Blue card. Just a warning that if you plan to cash a personal check at the American Express office you can only do so with the green and white card. Luckily I can withdraw money from most any ATM. I also informed them of my assigned power of attorney and sent a copy of it to have on file.


I already had online access to my accounts, and quite frankly you need to have this if you want to withdraw from an ATM. Aside from Deutsche Bank, which allows you to take money out from your savings account, you should almost always plan to use ATM's to withdraw from your checking account. I set up a money market account with a higher interest rate (not that much higher with the current rates) and now transfer money to my checking account as needed. I also upped my daily cash limit with my bank so I could withdraw more money and save on the ATM fees. In most cases you can simply ask your bank to up the limit and they will oblige. This also helps when the rent is due - I don't have to go to the ATM 3 days in a row to get enough to pay it.

Plane Tickets

I bought a one-way ticket as I didn't know when I'd be coming back. The last thing I wanted to do was reserve a flight back that might conflict with something happening here. I had no idea what I might be doing - working, traveling, sleeping - so I thought it wise to buy only what I could plan for: getting to Spain. A few other observations on the myths and usefulness of buying a one-way ticket:
  • Contrary to the after-9/11 myth, buying a one-way ticket is not going to create hassles for you with customs or immigration upon arrival in Spain. My travel agent told me she arranges purchases for one-way tickets to places around the world every day and the people using them never run into problems. Ok, so this has changed a little since I first wrote this. Now some people have reported having a problem when entering Spain with a one way ticket. You may consider buying a useless return leg at the cheapest price and simply throwing it away.
  • The price for a one-way ticket is generally not more than a round-trip. I got my ticket for about $550. There were other round trip tickets which would have cost $700, but not if I wanted to return 3 months later.
  • Buying a one-way ticket allowed me to purchase a round-trip ticket while here. What that did, of course, was get me to the U.S. and then back to Spain. I didn't have to purchase another ticket in the U.S. during my 2 week stay there, which would have severely limited the options and prices.

When you plan on the money you need do bring more than you think is enough. Realize with the Euro (€), as opposed to the peseta, and the current exchange rate (in December 2004) that it is much more expensive to live here now. The rate may change for the better, but some prices went up and they're not coming down. A beer which used to cost 100ptas (maybe $0.75) now costs 1€ ($1.40). Now do the same calculation for food, especially when dining out. Rather than directly convert their prices from pesetas to Euros many bars and restaurants took advantage of the curency change to charge more. With their math (100ptas = 1€) you just lost 65 cents. Of course when they list both pesetas and Euros on the menu now, as is common in many places, the conversion is correct. So take the recent price changes with the currency switch into account and then compound that with the exchange rate that the current U.S. president has blessed many of us with and it just ain't cheap anymore to live in Spain..

It would be impossible for me to tell you how much money is enough. It depends on the length of stay, your lifestyle and how much you want to go out versus how much you want to extend your time in Seville. If you're the quiet type who doesn't like nightlife you may be better off. If you like to go out for drinks and tapas then you may run into problems: it's hard to resist la marcha and the tapas in Seville. I think I read somewhere that the average Spaniard spends somewhere around 10 times more than the average American on dining and nightlife (as a % of income, that is). I can't tell you these numbers are exactly correct, but I'm sure most Spaniards you talk to wouldn't challenge it. If you plan to live alone then you're looking at not only more money, but the issue of signing a lease when you don't have residency. It's doable but you will have to jump through a few more hoops than normal.

When planning the amount of money to bring add a cushion to everything. This will also account for the "oh crap" factor, as in "oh crap, I shouldn't have changed my money here", or "oh crap, I should have brought this with me, but I didn't, and I need to buy it now", or finally "oh crap, I just got ripped off in this place". Give yourself a fiscal margin of error for all these things. Learning the ropes here will cost you money. So some easy examples are things like rent, food and entertainment expenses:

item amount first budgeted amount I'll count on
rent 200€ 300€
food 200€ 350€
entertainment 150€ 300€

The added bonus is that you'll feel great every time you come under your budget, and if you planned on the higher amount you're saving more money to stay longer. The worst feeling is heading home early. The best feeling is staying in Seville longer than you thought you could, and the longer you're here the more likely you'll find something permanent. For more information see my section on the cost of living in Seville.


Learn about culture shock and be prepared to deal with it. Everyone at some point goes through this, whether they're here for a few weeks or a few years. Everyone will also go through it a little differently. One thing I will absolutely guarantee is that you will miss home at one point or another, and don't expect it to go away for good after you've been here for a while. There are various signs or symptoms of culture shock, one big one that stands out is questioning the way they do everything in Seville or Spain. Note that questioning the way they do everything is also a symptom of the syndrome I like to refer to as "asshole tourist", a person who will never get over how they don't do anything right in another country. Some symptoms of culture shock according to ProjectHarmony.com are listed here. Note that it may be normal to feel these things to a degree, but beware once they become a pattern or more frequent:

Physical Symptoms

  • Too much sleep or too little sleep
  • Eating too much or having no appetite at all
  • Frequent minor illnesses
  • Headaches

Psychological Symptoms

  • Loneliness or boredom
  • Homesickness; idealizing home
  • Feeling helpless, overly dependent
  • Irritability or even hostility
  • Social withdrawal
  • Unreasonable concern for health and security
  • Rebellion against rules
  • Crying
  • Stereotyping host country's people
Below are a few links with more information on culture shock and reverse culture shock (re-entering your home country)

A Solid Overview of Culture Shock
General Symptoms and Helpful Solutions
Take the Shock out of Culture Shock
Reverse Culture Shock
Readjusting when you go home

I learned the meaning of social capital from my sister, and this is the first and most important thing you can establish. A lot of social capital is all about who you know when you're looking for a job, a place to live or exploring your options. The person with the most friends (as opposed to the most toys) usually wins. The more friends you have the better off you'll be, not just socially, but likely economically. So try to remember all your old friends in Seville from your study experience, or think of the people you know who've been there before. Track down every one of them and let them know what you're going to do and that anything advice they can offer is more than welcome. Have no shame!

The first thing to know - and I'm sure you've read it elsewhere - is it's much harder to get a job here than in the U.S.. That said it's also more difficult to get a job in Seville than in Madrid, Barcelona, or anywhere on the Mediterranean coast. If you need work you must be very, very persistent to find something. Maximize any and every contact you may already have in pursuit of a job. Many of the jobs people get are from referrals - acquaintances, friends, or family members. The wider you cast your social net the more likely you are to find something. You meet one person, chat a while and tell them your desperate for a job as, let's say an expert piano tuner. Maybe this person knows someone who knows someone who has a piano tuning business. Or maybe it's just a piano moving business and they're looking for anyone with "piano experience". You could be on your way to a new job. But seriously, handing out resumes and knocking on doors may get you a job in 5 or 6 months. Knowing someone who "knows someone" may get you one in a matter of weeks (though finding a job that quick is highly unlikely).

Other ways to increase your social capital:

  • live with Spaniards - you'll increase your chance of meeting more people through your roommates.
  • take a class in anything - painting, German, computer programming, photography, gardening, dance...
  • join a gym or an athletic club
  • join a club - birdwatching, knitting, expats...
  • attend a conference - many of them require a minimal fee or are free.
  • become an intercambio - see if any of the schools or universities are looking for English speakers with whom their students can practice their language skills.
  • volunteer - there is always a need here at a local charity.
  • marry a Spaniard! The best way to not only meet new people, including a whole new family, but you get EU citizenship and permission to live here, too! I kid, here, but if you find the right someone it will make it so, so much easier.


I can tell you a few things you should be prepared to do in order to stay here, and a few types of visas you can almost give up on without a lot of prior planning. That said, some of these types of work and visas may become an option for you after a few years or if you have more economic resources. Ok, so I reccomend you don't come planning to do any of these as your first options:

Forming a company

It's not as easy as the U.S. where you can simply incorporate for maybe $300. In Spain you will likely need to pay between 500-800€ to get all of the licenses, and you or someone you know will need to be a resident. You may need a lawyer to help you with the papers or if you're going into a partnership. If so, plan on another 1,000-2,000€. Now the fun part - you'll need someone to cover the social security payments of anywhere between 120 - 210€ per month, even if you're just starting and not making a dime. Think about those costs when you begin. If it takes you 4-5 months to generate enough income to break even, consider the 200€ per month times 5 months and you've already got a 1,000€ debt. Then consider that of all the money you'll make you need to take out 20 - 25% for taxes. That's right, you not only have to pay maybe 200€ per month in Social Security just for having the company, you'll also need to take it out of the wages you earn. The government isn't doing you any favors in getting your business off the ground. Recent trends are showing some improvement in the amount of fees and red tape, but they still have a long way to go. If you need assistance in forming a company and want to pay for service try the people at Spainexpat.com

Opening a store, bar, restaurant or cyber cafe

I won't even go into the number of ex-students who thought how cool it would be to open a bar in Seville. I'll just say this - it's a bad idea with a very high rate of failure so give that up right now. Same goes for a restaurant. There are also plenty of cyber cafes in Seville, and many have long since closed their doors due to the competition and slim margins. As for a store: this may be your best bet if you're hell-bent on doing one of the above options I don't recommend. Some people do succeed at opening these businesses, but they generally do so with prior experience.

Working as an autonomo (or self-employment visa)

Ever heard of reciprocity? Well, we treat Spaniards (and many others) like crap when they try to get a green-card in the U.S., so the Spanish say "¡toma!". I.e.: we get the same treatment from them when applying for a work permit. If you're from somewhere in Latin America where they treat the Spaniards better it actually may be easier to get a visa in Spain this way. But from what I've heard from both people in my situation and from a lawyer is that the likelihood of you getting this type of visa is about .01%. Well, it may be better than this, but the best way to go about becoming self-employed is to get residency, and then everything is very easy.

That said, be prepared to do one or many of the following:

Work here illegally

That was the advice I got and I followed it for a while. Not only do they take a ton of money out of your check for social security and other taxes, but by the time you finish the paperwork and get approval from the Spanish consulate to live in Spain it may likely be this time next year. As for the old Schengen Agreement - to hell with it if you are American or Canadian. They hardly ever stop anyone from either country when coming and going, I was told, and many folks have been here illegally forever. So you may be able to take your chances and sweat it out every time you come and go. Be prepared to be stopped - maybe you can make a phone call to a lawyer ahead of time and do nothing else than ask for permission to call them if you run into trouble. They may or may not be able to help you with immigration issues once you've been stopped, but you'll have more luck with a lawyer than without one. That said, be prepared to pay the lawyer as well.

Teach English

Be prepared to teach clases particulares (private classes) to children or business professionals. This may require you to place a classified ad or simply hang flyers around the city or at the University. If you're lucky you may be able to get a job at an Academia. Both of these options come under the "Work here illegally" section.

Work in a bar, hotel, car rental agency or other possible tourist-related industry

Again, these options are likely to be illegal work but there is often a need for English in these places, especially the latter two. As one person reminded me, the thrill of just getting the job will wear of quickly. If you're working illegally your pay is not likely to go up, and how long can you get by on that 600€ a month. Some places will treat you well, but many will abuse you a bit when it comes to working hours and pay. After all, you're here illegally and they're doing you a favor.

Live off your savings

This one is a very likely option, and unless you are very wealthy there'll be a limited time for this option. I say be prepared to do it as it may take a while for you to find a job, and then a while longer for you to find a job which will actually cover all of your costs. At least with a modest income your savings can take you a lot further.

Live off a specialized skill

Maybe you make jewelry, design web pages, wood carve, cook, draw, paint, play a musical instrument. I'm not saying everyone can make a living off of this, but if you are talented, persistent and make contacts you may be able to freelance and keep some money coming in.

Study the Schengen Agreement, as you can only be in Spain for 3 months at a time with a tourist visa and will have to travel outside the 15 or so countries who are part of the Agreement to renew your visa. The Schengen Agreement has made it much more difficult to live here "semi-legally" - you are not allowed to spend more than 6 months (180 days) of a year here as a tourist, and no more than 90 days in a 180 day period. It can be a little confusing. Basically the old days of hopping over the border to Portugal or Gibraltar to renew your visa are over, and in the new climate of "war on terrorism" immigration and customs in Spain tends to look at your passport a little more thoroughly than before. A site which helped me get a grasp on all the regulations and red tape is Spain Expat, which was put together by a lawyer in Seville who studied law in both Spain and the U.S.. The page covers just about everything you need to know and points you in the right direction for paperwork and forms you'll need to fill out.

On March of 2001 five more countries signed the Schengen Agreement, limiting your options even more. Expect more countries to sign it as more members are accepted into the European Union (EU). The countries who have signed the Schengen Agreement as of January 2004:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Iceland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Sweden

While the UK and Ireland are members of the EU, they have not signed, and are not included in the agreement. I recently had a fun time applying for my visa and as I write this things are still not over. Below is some information if you will be visiting the Spanish Consulate nearest you!

A trip to Washington DC to visit the Spanish consulate gave us a taste of Spain in the U.S. I was there to get my visa and finally become a legal resident in Spain. I learned quickly that the possibility of a “fatal” error in the visa process can send you back to where you came from in a hurry. I say fatal in the sense of those people who must drive from long distances to apply for their visa in person who forget a critical piece of information and then must go back home and come back another day. This is a small problem if you live in the D.C. area, but a much larger one if you are coming from North Carolina or another destination hours away. A few pointers for those of you planning to get your visa in the Washington consulate, many of which apply to other locations as well.

  • Partial applications - Under no circumstances are partial applications accepted. If you lack something plan to come back, unless it is a photocopy or something you can get done in an hour and then return with the complete set of information.
  • Verify before your trip - Call ahead of time, several times if needed. Make sure you understand everything you need and follow the instructions word by word and letter by letter. If someone on the phone is unsure of what you need then politely ask if they can verify it while you wait on the phone. Do not rely on the website as the exact list of what you need, rather make use of it as a guide before you call to verify the details.
  • Office hours - to the public for the purpose of a visa are from 9am-12pm Monday through Friday.
  • Applications accepted - Only 15 numbers are given out before the office opens at the reception area. They only take 15 visa applications per day, so get there well before 9am. We arrived at 8:45 and received number 13. Another 15 minutes and we would have had to return for another 5 hour trip on another day.
  • Type of visa - Some visas may not require taking a number, such as reagrupación familiar, which you request if you have recently married a Spaniard, are trying to get a visa for immediate family or naturalize a child.
  • Processing time - Different processing times exist for different visas. If you are studying at a public university then your application will take about 3 weeks (plan for more). If you are studying at a private university or program then it will take 45 days (plan for a little more). So be careful about buying your plane ticket and then showing up to get the visa, because…
  • Speeding the up process? - There is no mercy and no way to speed up the process no matter how much you complain or no matter how dire your case may be. I saw so many applicants who pleaded and all got the same answer – “This is the process and that is how long it takes to get the visa”. No more, no less. They also are very particular about the papers you must hand in, and one little error means you may be coming back another day.
  • Receiving your visa - For return envelope so you get your passport with the visa you must provide US Priority or Express mail pre-paid envelope. They will not return your info via Fedex or UPS or any other carrier for that matter.
  • Paying for your visa - Bring cash and a little extra, as some costs depend on the visa. Posted in the consulate itself was: “Residency Visa: cost depends on type”. Don’t expect them to make change, so try to have the exact amount if you can.
  • Applying by mail - You can petition the consulate to apply by mail, but I do not know any of the particulars. If you are a student in many situations your parents can submit the paperwork for you.

Seems like I am being a little too specific, but consider these situations we witnessed:

  • One person left all the photo copies at home thinking they needed only the originals at the consulate. However the need only to see the originals and then keep copies after verifying the originals. All except the passport, which they will keep until finished with your visa.
  • One person of another nationality booked an electronic ticket and had no paper ticket. They were unable to process the visa without a physical ticket.
  • One person leaving in 25 days tried to get their student visa to study at a private school. They were informed they would likely have to change their ticket to a later date because it takes 45 days for the student visa when at a private school.
  • One person brought a fedex envelope and had to go to the post office for an Express one.
  • Someone mailed their paperwork in after getting the ok from the folks at the consulate. They then received a call that they had to present themselves at the consulate the finish the process. They showed up only to find that the paperwork they had mailed was sent back to them in the mail the day before.

Depending on which visa you apply for you may be waiting a little or a lot. Even though I was promised to get mine in 10-14 days (the shorter end of visa timetables) I am still waiting after 15 and they have no idea in the office what the status of mine is. They just know it hasn't been mailed!

If you're planning on moving a large amount of your belongings to Spain you will likely want to hire a company to take care of the transportation and hopefully help you move things through customs. A good list can be found on this page of Escapeartist.com. Once you get to Sevilla it may take some time to find your ideal place. Your first apartment may be furnished or semi-furnished while you look to buy or rent something a little more permanent. No worries as self-storage, or guardamuebles, service exists in Sevilla. Most moving companies also handle storage facilities and can be found under mudanzas y guardamuebles in the local yellow pages. A few of the larger operations which handle national and international (as well as indivdual and corporate clients) have web sites:

Pabloehijos.com (they have an English version after the intro loads)
Mudanzas Rocio (they have an option for English which does not work!)

Some helpful information on clearing customs and hiring movers from a first hand experience can be found on Spainexpat.com in their moving section.

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