Spain Preparation – The Commitment

Alhambra in WinterThis will be our view in about a year (Source:  @alhambraonline)

I thought it’s as good a time as any for another update.  As most of you know, our family will be moving to Granada, Spain this summer.

If you’d like more background, you can see the evolution of our decision in these previous posts:

Part 1 – The Motivation  (guest post at

Part 2 – The Considerations

Part 3 – The Decision


  • Long-Term Visas – We have an appointment with the Spanish Consulate in Chicago next week to apply for our long-term visa.   I’ve been gathering (and translating) documents like a mad man the last several weeks.  I really hope the hard work and reams of paper will prove enough to grant us permission to spend the 2014 school year in Spain.

After successfully submitting, I’ll dedicate a future post to the application process.  Online it says processing of non-lucrative residence visas “may take up to 4 months”.  It’s going to be a long spring waiting for those results.

The local school
The local school
  • Schooling – I’ve been in contact with the administration of the local primary school and know that I need to reserve a place for our boys (in the 4th grade) in March.  This appears to be a straight-forward process of completing some lengthy forms.

Then, in the first week of June, I need to complete some additional paperwork to actually enroll our boys.  This timing should work out fine since I expect to hear back on our visa application by this time.

Future home - Rooftop terrace view of Alhambra from inside the loft.
Future home – Rooftop terrace view of Alhambra from inside the loft.
  • Housing – The lease has been signed and I’ve wired €2000 to the landlord.  €1000 for a deposit and €1000 ($1350) for the first month’s rent.  While this may seem a little steep for Granada, it is a single family house in a prime area with a view of the Alhambra not all that unlike the photo at the top of this post.  It also helps that it is fully furnished.

If we were more budget conscious, we could have easily found other, nice 3 bedroom apartments for €700-800/month.

I’ve found this site particularly useful for getting a feel for rents in different cities around Spain.

  • Flights – We’ve purchased one-way tickets to arrive in Madrid on July 1.  I thought this was a bit bold considering all the hoops we still need to jump through, but the wife found a decent “deal” and says we’ll go for the summer regardless.  (Dang!  Flights to Europe are ridiculous in the summer – see details below.)

We considered using our sign-up bonus miles (thanks Chase Sapphire Preferred) but thought we’d keep those in our back pocket in case of an emergency return flight.

Next Steps

  • Visa Application (next week)
  • School Reservation and Enrollment (March and June)
  • Reconnaissance MissionOriginally I was planning a solo trip to Spain this spring so I could scope things out in person.  I don’t feel this is needed any longer as I’ve made enough contacts in Granada that are able to help me.  I’m astonished with how far I’ve been able to get by sitting in my living room and reaching out to other blogs, expat forums, etc.  I figure we’ll save a couple thousand dollars by staying home.
  • Prep our current house for rental (to start July 1)
  • Sell car (early June)
  • Spanish language self-guided crash course (month of June)

Biggest Fears

Here are the top 3 things at the top of my mind right now (in priority order).

  • Declined Visa.  Having our long-term residency visa be declined would be the worst case scenario.  Because we already have flights and a place to stay starting in July, we’ve decided that if this happens, we’ll still go but would limit our adventure to only the summer.
  • Milk.  Twenty years ago, I lived in Spain as part of an exchange.  I remember being thirsty all of the time.  Not only is it a warmer climate than I’m accustomed to, but their servings for liquids are tiny.  Waters, Cokes, juices – all of them come in these little containers.  I found this to be the case across most of Europe.

Another drink that is hard to come by in Europe is fresh skim milk.  When I’m thirsty, my refreshment of choice is a nice, tall glass of ice-cold milk.  I live in ‘America’s Dairyland’ and I’m the grandson of a dairy owner for crying out loud!  Our family goes through 5-6 gallons of milk per week.  I’m not joking when I say milk is near the top of my list of concerns.

  • Utility Costs.  We’re on the hook for paying all utilities associated with the house.  They are limited to electricity, water, TV cable, and Internet access.  I have averages for all of these costs but the one that stands out is electricity.  The current tenants in the house are reporting bills up to €300 ($400) per month for electricity in the winter.  It’s a double-whammy because not only are electricity rates in Spain really high, it is also the primary energy source to heat these centuries old houses in the area that lack proper insulation.

The other option to heat the house includes a little wood-burning stove on the main floor.  Apparently we can get wood delivered to our door for around €100 per bundle (not sure the size).

While it is southern Spain, Granada is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains and does drop down around freezing in December and January.


Preparation Costs

Here is the running total of the expenses incurred to-date associated with our family’s move.  We will be paying significant visa application fees next week (~$600) that are not yet included in these numbers.

  • State Background Checks and Hague Apostille:  $44.00 (Background checks = $12/adult, Apostille = $10/background check)
  • Rental House (security deposit and first month’s rent):  $2,811.60 (includes $45 of wire transfer fees)
  • One-way flights (MSP -> MAD):  $2,542.54 (2 adult and 2 kid tickets)
  • Carryover from last post (passport photos and renewals for the entire family)$479.87

Running Total:  $5,878.01

(Edit:  To read about our visa application process, click here).

18 thoughts on “Spain Preparation – The Commitment”

    1. Yes, things are coming along nicely. Despite my best efforts, I’m sure there will be some surprises once we get there but that’s all part of the journey isn’t it?

      “What spanish language crash course are you taking?”

      I haven’t a clue yet 🙂 I suspect it will primarily online stuff like, etc. I’m also chatting with the wife about taking lessons once we’re in the country. Having some background in Spanish helps with the reading and writing. It is the verbal understanding, dialect, and general speed of the speech that I think is going to be the most difficult for us at the start. Thanks for stopping by, Raquel.

      1. In Ecuador a couple of years ago an expat friend introduced me to the book:

        Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish by Margarita Madrigal.

        Far and away the best of it’s kind I’ve found. It was originally written in 1951 so it has also stood the test of time! 🙂

  1. So exciting to see it all come together – and do you have a spare bedroom for that pedazo de casa?! Sadly, the energy bills don’t surprise me. My house is 42 square meters and we’re only home together on the weekends, and our electricity bill alone is close to 70 euros a month. Then you add the cost of the Internet bundle, the building upkeep charge and even subtract water…and it’s still steep for two people in a small, relatively new flat. At least you can get free snacks with your drink!

    1. Hi Cat. Yes, we went out of our way for a little larger space which includes a third bedroom for visitors. If half the people that promise to visit actually do, it’ll be quite busy. Now to convince them that they need to help pay for utilities…ha!

      I’m doing the math right now on the break-even point on the number of beers I’ll need to order that come with free tapas that will offset our inevitable high energy bills in the winter.

        1. Well if you or anyone else reading this finds themselves in Granada, give me a heads up to ensure we’ll also be around (and not gallivanting around Morocco, Portugal, or other areas of Spain) and the first round of cañas are on me!

  2. Fingers crossed that you will get the visas. I’m pretty sure that you will. It’s nice to see it all come together isn’t it? And you got an awesome deal on the plane tickets l think, for July travel. Your view looks awesome. I bet the kids can’t wait. I have an app for translation on my phone which helps a little.

    1. Thanks for the well wishes, Kemkem. The boys are nervous and excited all at the same time. When eating foods these days, regardless of what it is, my one son says things like “I bet we’ll eat something like this in Spain, only it will have jamón (ham)!”

  3. Woohoo! You’re well on your way. It sounded from my research like getting a six month visa was a piece of cake and renewing it once was also a slam-dunk. I think they want your money, so I doubt that’ll be an issue.
    Granada is a great choice. We only spent one night there and wished we’d planned more time there. The Al Hambra is bucket-list amazing. I still am blown away by how incredible that spot is.
    That’s so funny about the milk. I can’t imagine drinking a glass of milk for any reason. Doing it in the blazing heat almost turns my stomach! (:
    Can’t wait to hear about the visa!

    1. Yeah, I hope this application turns out to be a piece of cake. There is a lot of chicken-egg stuff going on that can be frustrating. For example, you need to provide an address in Spain where you will be residing for the visa application. Well if you don’t want to sign a lease sight unseen (like I did), how would you go about this? I plan on documenting some of this process in a future post.

  4. Very cool, Buck. I can feel the excitement building.

    Now for a silly question…

    Once your car sells, how will you deal with not having one for the days until you depart? Renting seems expensive….

    1. Good question. I should have been more clear. We’re a 2-car family right now. I’ll sell the smaller, older car and we’ll be lending our minivan to my parents. My dad will then pamper it for 1-2 years and return it in better shape than when we give it to him. Once back in the States, I’d like to try being a 1-car family to see how that goes. It may be pretty easy at that point since in Spain we’ll be a 0-car family and will rent or train when we need to leave town.

  5. Looks good! I guess buying the plane tickets and sending the rent deposit makes it very real, huh? You have crossed the Rubicon.

    And if lack of access to milk is your biggest problem, I think you’ll be okay! 😉 Seriously, 5-6 gallons? Our family of 5 can’t hardly drink 1 gallon before it spoils. Unless we have lots of chocolate chip cookies, brownies, or oreos. Then I wouldn’t fare well in Granada.

    1. Yes, we have indeed crossed the Rubicon. We’re definitely starting something on June 30th. It will either be a couple month summer visit or a 1+ year immersion. I hope its the latter.

      Yeah, I realize we’re a little weird with the milk thing. The wife has maybe one glass a day. I’ve seemed to have passed on this milk-drinking trait to my boys. Maybe we should start weaning ourselves off as the launch date approaches (bad pun).

  6. That is a really cool project! If you have trouble with the visa, prepaying the rent for a few more months may help. Mostly they just want to make sure you have enough cash to support yourselves while you are there, so with no rent it can make things easier.
    I love the view from the house, you were right to splurge. And you will be able to walk everywhere, so save on taxis and car.

    1. Hi Pauline – interesting thought about offering to pay more months of rent. I just hope if our visa application is denied, they provide a reason and allow us to fix and re-apply. Per the Spanish consulate’s website, the cost for a non-lucrative visa for our family is about $65K. We submitted paperwork showing $180K in savings. If we’re not accepted, I suspect it won’t be because of money. I wrote more about the process here.

      It sounds like you’ve spent some time in Spain as well – where abouts were you? Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

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