The 10 Commandments of Apartment Hunting in Spain

Gorgeous illustration of Madrid's barrios by Helena Ecija. See more of her work here.

Gorgeous illustration of Madrid’s barrios by Helena Ecija. Original photo and more of her work here.

I once spent a summer combing through apartment listing websites. Those were a simpler times, when a grainy photo of a terraza or the phrase “gastos incluidos” was enough to get my heart racing. My research quickly turned into an obsession. My friends nearly staged an intervention.

I’d been sending out general interest emails since June, which was completely fruitless. Rooms move so quickly here that I typically received responses to the effect of “Sorry, the room has been taken,” or “Move-in in October? We’re looking for someone for next week.” In fact, 80% of my emails went unanswered.

Compared with a few of my friends, who spent about two weeks in hotels and Airbnbs before they found rooms, my apartment hunt in Madrid was relatively painless. I owe about 70% of that to my trusty planning skills and 30% of that to luck. I arrived in Madrid on a Friday and had three apartment visits scheduled for that afternoon/evening. We had two more the next day, and one on Sunday.

I visited my current apartment on my first day in Spain. We returned the next day to meet the two housemates, and, after an hour-long chat with the girls, I called the landlady to rent the rooms. By Sunday I was settled in my new piso. I’ve spent 10 happy months in my apartment. We’ve had relatively few roommate issues (see number 6) and my neighborhood is perfect for me (see number 5). We have a huge terraza, a large living room, central heat, and two bathrooms. See, you can have it all!

This process can be really stressful, so I’ve put together some tips on finding an apartment. Without further ado, I give you the 10 Commandments of Apartment-Hunting in Spain.

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The Concise Spain Survival Guide

Guide to living in Spain, Spain Survival Guide
Spain Lesson 1:

Even though you purchased them, you cannot take glass water bottles with you.  Everyone will get mad.

That’s right, folks. Not only do you have to pay €2-3 for your bottle of water, but you have to give the bottle back. This is precisely why I always order wine.

Spain Lesson 2:

Cheap restaurants like 100 Montaditos, Lizarrán, and La Sureña are the poor man’s (or woman’s) friend. Want to drink a huge mug of tinto de verano for €1.50? (Or €1 on Wednesdays/Sundays?) 100 Montaditos is your place. Want to get 5 bottles of beer for €3? Go to La Sureña.

You can even get Chipotle-style burritos at Tierra Burrito Bar (pictured below; metros Alonso Martínez and Guzmán el Bueno) for a reasonable €6.

I like to eat, so I really like this about Madrid.

Spain Lesson 3:

All fruit you wish to purchase must be weighed by the Official Fruit-Weigher. They don’t always have scales at the cash registers, so the fruit-buying process looks like this:

  • Step 1: Put on the plastic gloves that are provided for you. (You’ll know to do this because there are 30 million “POR FAVOR, USAD LAS GUANTES” signs everywhere.)
  • Step 2: Pick out the fruit/vegetables you want and put them in separate bags.
  • Step 3: Bring all fruit/vegetables to the Official Fruit-Weigher. He’ll weigh them and put a barcode sticker on each bag.
  • Step 4: Walk away with your produce.
  • Step 5: Congratulate yourself because you know how to do yet another Spain thing.

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Getting to Know Madrid

Olivia Young in Spain

On a sunny street in Ronda, Spain.

“¡Chicas! ¡Perdona! ¡CHICAAAAAAS!”

We turned, ready to fend off yet another “Compro Oro” guy or an especially aggressive club promoter. I discovered instead a flustered, apron-clad barista hurtling down the street in our general direction, screaming as loudly as she could.

Once she caught up to us, she explained that we’d committed an unforgivable offense: We’d left the café with our half-full (glass) water bottles and carried them into the street. (“Es que esto no se puede hacer! Lo siento chicas!”)

I told her we’d give them back, but we wanted to drink the water first. (I also gave her a little culture lesson about how, in the U.S., when you order anything at a restaurant it’s basically yours to keep. Just so she knew where the confusion came from.) She was surprisingly nice and waited patiently for us to chug the water. After a few more lo sientos, we returned the bottles and went our separate ways.

I’ve been in Spain for two weeks now, and, like the Great Bottle Misunderstanding of 2013, it all feels a bit surreal. The time has gone both extremely fast and incredibly slow; most days I’m so busy that I can’t process the fact that this is my life now. I have to consciously run through the facts to really feel the gravity of the changes I’m going through: I live here. I have an apartment. I have a metro pass. I have a Spanish cell phone. I even have Spanish shampoo and conditioner. (Okay, it’s Garnier, but the label is in Spanish.)

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Notes on Moving to Spain from 19-Year-Old Olivia

Journal Photo Blog

Sorry for my long absence, everyone. I honestly haven’t had much to write about, and I’m not convinced the world needs another “10 Things I’m Excited to Do in Spain” list. Not that there’s anything wrong with them — rest assured I’ve read every single “goals for Spain” post I can find. Also, my list would have a lot to do with eating jamón and manchego for every meal, so it wouldn’t be anything new. (Joke.)

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve mostly been preparing for my move to Madrid. I’ve practiced packing, and I bought a new RyanAir-friendly backpack. I’ve also been cleaning my room. One of the many struggles of moving back home is trying to fit all your “grown-up life” stuff into your old space. I’m a neat person by nature, so I can’t live (at least, not happily) in a messy space for long. I’ve been trying to downsize by donating old clothes and cleaning out drawers, but it seems like a never-ending task I have to do every. single. time. I come home.

On the bright side, I sometimes stumble across really funny things from middle school and high school. A box of notes from old friends (remember when we used to pass notes?), a short story I wrote in 9th grade, awards and trophies that once meant something. It’s all there — fragments of my painfully awkward child- and teenage-hood, buried in the forgotten corners of my room.

It was on one of my cleaning sprees that I unearthed my Alicante journal. And I’m going to share it with you.

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