Planning Our Spanish Adventure

us-government-shutdown-october-2013The U.S. government is in its 15th day of shutdown and I wouldn’t blame you if you thought this blog has been as well.  That doesn’t mean things have been idle here at Bucking-the-Trend, however.  As I mentioned in a previous post, our family has made the decision to spend 2014-2015 living in Spain.  We’re committed to at least one year and hoping that we love it enough to spend two.  I’ve been working many of my nights scouring expat forums, reaching out to other bloggers that live in Spain, and doing general online research to try and piece this whole thing together.

Because there appeared to be genuine interest in the comments of my guest posting, I thought I’d give an update on our planning.  I’m also an organizer and need to brain dump.  Getting some of these thoughts and lists formalized will help me feel more organized.

The Goal

When all boiled down, there are three (3) main goals that we’d like to get out of this adventure.

1.  Stretch our comfort zone – While we are super-blessed, life has gotten into a convenient, predictable routine lately and we look to leave our comfort zone in the name of growth and new experiences.

2.  The gift of Spanish fluency – Our twin boys are in their third year of language immersion at the local school here in our hometown so they’ll arrive in Spain with a solid foundation of the language.  Today, they are able to understand a bunch and are able to speak in very basic terms.  I imagine being immersed in Spanish full-time, without the crutch of English, for an entire school year should cement their fluency.

3.  Culture and Travel – We’re looking forward taking in la cultura española and to being able to see other countries and potentially other continents.  Shoot, I recently learned that Morocco is about a half-marathon away from the southern tip of Spain and takes about 30 minutes to cross by ferry.  Being located in Europe may facilitate visiting my in-laws in India as well – a place where they spend their winters.

I’m excited because I think it will turn out to be a semi-retirement for us.   A test run of sorts.  It should be a real learning experience to live on savings without a reliable income.  I suspect that for whatever period of time we’re away will delay our ultimate ‘retirement’ by that same amount of time.

Decisions Made

  • Desired Location – We’ve narrowed down our choice of location to the region of Andalucía at the southern end of Spain.  The reason is twofold:  1) it is where they speak and teach in Castellano – “typical” Spanish and 2) it gets over 300 days of sunshine per year.  We’ve been living in the Upper Midwest for the last 20 or so years where cold and snowy winters rule and look forward to experiencing a different climate.

The only bit I’ll initially be worried about from a language perspective is the local dialect.  Spaniards in this region tend to not pronounce the final consonants of most words (leaving off a plural ‘S’ for example) along with other oddities.  This may take a month (or six) to get accustomed to.

  • Schooling – The biggest outstanding questions I have are related to our boys’ schooling.  We’ve ruled out sending them to a private international school because they can be very costly and teach largely in English which would defeat the main reason for doing this.  I’m leaning toward public state schooling but need to better understand quality and placement considerations.

Our boys are ready with their Ronaldo and Messi jerseys.
Our boys are ready with their Ronaldo and Messi jerseys.

Another interesting tidbit of information I’ve gained is that Spanish schools place by birth year.  None of this mid-year birthday cut-off stuff.  Our boys were born in September 2005.  In the U.S. this means they are some of the oldest kids in their 2nd grade class (that also includes kids born in 2006).  In Spain, however, they’ll be placed with all other kids born in 2005 (regardless of month) and will ultimately be placed directly into 4th grade.  Who needs 3rd grade anyway?

  • Long-Term Visas – We plan on obtaining ‘non-lucrative’ resident visas.  This is a one-year visa typically granted to retirees who have ample savings (or passive income) to support themselves.  This visa does not allow you to work in Spain.  We’re currently building up our cash reserves so that we can essentially “buy” our way in.

Mrs. Buck is working in Chicago this week and will be paying the Spanish consulate a visit tomorrow, so I’m hoping to have the visa process better understood here soon.

  • House & Stuff – We really like our hometown here in Madison, Wisconsin.  It has good schools, family isn’t too far away, and we have a great circle of friends.  We’ve decided that we’ll be renting out our house while we’re gone, selling a bunch of our stuff including one car, and storing away the rest.  My parents have volunteered to take our second car (a minivan that we want to keep) and to store some of our more sensitive belongings like artwork and electronics.

Next Steps

  • Declutter – With this impending move on the horizon, we’ve been sensitive to how much stuff (junk) is in our house.  I’ve started craiglisting the more valuable items and giving away the remaining.
  • Passports – We need to re-up our passports and apply for new ones for the boys.
  • Reconnaissance Mission – I plan on making a solo trip to Spain early in 2014.  I’m hoping to have a couple of places targeted so I can check out the towns, meet with school administration, and get a general vibe of the place to see if it feels like somewhere we ultimately want to end up.
  • Apply for Visa – Get all the required paperwork together and submitted next spring so it is cleared by summer.
  • Sell one car – I found a potential buyer for my car that conveniently isn’t prepared to buy until next spring.
  • Find Renters – We’ll need to continue prepping the house.  We have a couple leads on some potential renters.  They are friends that we know and trust and would appreciate having them in our house while we’re away (as opposed to total strangers).

I know I have a handful of readers from Spain.  If you or anyone else out there have any other advice or considerations about our adventure and would be willing to share, please do leave a comment or contact me.  Also let me know if you currently live in Andalucía and want to do a house swap with us in the U.S. – ha!

(Edit:  To hear about the next episode in our planning, click here).

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22 thoughts on “Planning Our Spanish Adventure”

  1. Hey, I’m Daniel from Madrid. I was looking for blogs about financial independence as I’m about to write one in spanish and I found yours and this post.

    First, thank you for your posts, I have just read a few but they are very interesting.

    Second, I use to go a lot to Andalucía because of having family there and if you are looking for typical spanish you won’t find it there. People speak “andaluz” that is kind of strange and very difficult to understand for not spanish people. Look for differences between “andaluz” and typical spanish to know more about it. (talking very fast, missing letters, etc.)

    Third, about schooling. In Spain there are 3 types of schools; public, “concertados” (they are between public and private, usually religious) and private which are very few. I would go for a “concertado”, very affordable and less problems than in a public one.

    And that’s all, let me know if you have any doubt or anything else.

    1. Hi Daniel. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I’m glad you find some of the posts interesting. Madrid is such a great city, and if all else fails, we may end up there. I spent the better part of a year living in Madrid about 20 years ago and look back at those memories fondly.

      I understand the potential language barrier in “Andaloo” and it does make me a little nervous. I’m optimistic, however, that we’ll eventually be able to crack that code if we are there for a while. My wife and I have visited a couple of times and while I definitely hear the difference, I’m not sure they speak any faster than those in Madrid 🙂 The more moderate and sunny climate in the south is also looming large in our minds.

      Schooling – yes, I’m aware of concertados (semi-private) and public state schools. I’m finding many concertados have websites but am struggling finding any additional information online about the different state schools. Would you have any suggestions for narrowing those down? I also understand the placement of students to schools isn’t by just location of your residence and is dependent on different point systems and such. I was going to start writing some concertados directly, explain our situation, and see if they could help given our circumstances.

      Good luck with your own blog. Do reach out with a link when it is ready.

  2. That sounds absolutely awesome! I can’t wait to read more updates on this and see how things turn out as we too are considering doing a similar move (I initially considered Portugal the best choice but lately Spain became the obvious country to choose, especially since I have some minimal knowledge of the language). Don’t you want to go there sooner? I can’t wait :))

    1. “Don’t you want to go there sooner?”

      Umm, no. You’ve seen the size of our to-do list! I think June 2014 will come soon enough with what we need to do between now and then. Thanks for stopping by, C. I look forward to reading about your adventure.

  3. I’m so happy for you and your family! It sounds like an awesome adventure awaits you, and that everyone will be appreciating it to the fullest extent. I was hoping our vacation next year would take us to Spain for atleast 2 weeks, but it didn’t pan out financially, so perhaps the following year (I wish I could go somewhere for a full month to really take in everything!) we might swing it. I live in Milwaukee and the 300+ days of sunshine seems almost impossible to believe. Does that actually happen? It definitely sounds healthier, that’s for sure.

    Good luck, and I can’t wait to read more!

    1. Hi Jamie. I think you should consider going for a longer period of time if you could swing it. I’m not sure it would cost all that more since you could then get a long-term rental apartment. Usually one of the biggest expenses on trips abroad to Europe are the flights and that should be pretty much the same whether you go for 2 weeks or an entire month. Consider it a goal and make it happen! Thanks for your well wishes.

  4. Great update, Buck! Your post on my site is still my all-time most commented-on post! I’m jealous that your time is coming up so quickly. I literally cannot wait to read about the day you guys get on the plane to head there for your year!

    1. “I literally cannot wait to read about the day you guys get on the plane to head there for your year!”

      Haha – you and me both! Thanks for the opportunity for that guest post – I enjoyed all the interaction in the comments.

  5. I commend you on all the research and planning you’ve done for this adventure. I noticed you mentioned above in the comments that the cost of flights to Europe is one of the most expensive parts of the trip. This is so true. Earlier this year i jumped at the chance to go to London with a friend who was going on business. I was shocked on how expensive the flights were. Fortunately, I used some miles to book the flights. I look forward to reading more about your adventure.

    1. Funny you say that. My wife and I just received our new mileage-based credit cards that came with decent bonuses at sign-up. I’m learning more about the credit card game and have a goal to fully fund our entire family’s flights over to Europe using nothing but reward miles. We’ll see how successful we are at that. Thanks for stopping by, Practical Cents.

  6. Very interesting update. I’m excited for you and jealous of you at the same time. Before our first son was born in 2009, my wife and I toured that region of Spain (Rhonda, Malaga, Granada and Seville). I will be very interested to hear about cost of living in that area and any other details you care to share. Good luck getting the “to do” list completed. It sounds daunting.

    1. Hi Prob8. I have no qualms being transparent when it comes to costs. Being in my position, I know those details would be useful so I plan on sharing those as I learn more. I feel like the US Dollar is pretty weak against the Euro right now so while Spain doesn’t feel like it should be very expensive, it does when I start translating those costs into my native currency.

      I’ve got a good lead on our final destination and it is one of the towns that you listed. Of those, could you have envisioned yourself spending any significant time?

  7. Hmmm, that’s a tough one because we were in “vacation” mode where you try to pack in everything you can in a short amount of time. It’s also tough because we visited in December – we wanted to fit a last trip in before kids swallowed us whole – and that time of year was pretty chilly in most of the locations. Finally, since we had no kids at the time we did not look at the destinations in terms of what would our kids do here.

    Given its size, Seville probably has the most to offer in terms of culture and things to see and do for the whole family. Lots going on but I imagine costs are going to be higher. If the budget worked, I would probably pick this one for an extended stay.

    We did not particularly like Malaga – although that offers the best chance to get away from the winter weather. Having said that, we did not visit the beach areas so maybe there are some redeeming qualities there. Given its size and location there are bound to be things to see and do which we did not have time for.

    Rhonda was a small town with wonderful views. Although worth a visit, I imagine it would get pretty boring.

    Granada would be a decent choice but it was damn cold in December. Based on that, I would probably put it in the “nice to visit” category.

    More than you bargained for in that response . . . but there you go.

    1. Never more than I bargained for! People’s comments are the stuff I look forward to most.

      I agree with your assessments of the various places although I have to think December has got to be one of the worst months to visit Spain unless you are there over Christmas and/or New Years. I think Dec and Jan are pretty much the coolest months across the entire country.

      I’ll write about our final destination once I feel it is more finalized. Stay tuned.

      1. For it it is worth, we were in Valencia the first week of January and the weather was perfect. But then I like it on the cool side and maybe we just got lucky.

        Certainly it was better than the cold rain of Paris the week before.

        Very cool to see your new adventure closing in….

        1. Wow. I’m sitting here over the lunch hour checking comments on the blog and I’m fielding comments from none other than JL Collins, Go Curry Cracker, and the Mad Fientist himself. It’s the triumvirate of financially independent world travelers that I hold in such high regard.

          I’ve spent a winter in Madrid and that wasn’t my cup of tea. Above freezing, yes. But not by that much and it was damp. At that point I’d prefer below freezing temps with snow.

          I am excited about experiencing a mild winter in southern Spain.

Your Thoughts?