American expatriate Gabriella teaches English and runs a business with her husband near Barcelona, Spain


Gabriella Opaz

September 07 2006

-Where were you born?
Chicago, Illinois, USA

-In which country and city are you living now?
Barcelona, Spain

-Are you living alone or with your family?
With my husband

How long have you been living in Spain?
Two weeks in Barcelona, although we were in Madrid for 18 months

-What is your age?

terrassa-When did you come up with the idea of living in Spain?
We had been talking about moving out of the country well before we even got married. Both of us have always been discouraged by the US and have also had an intense curiosity as to how other cultures choose to live their lives. Therefore, rather than making excuses that we needed more money, a job, etc. etc., we made a deal with ourselves and bought a ticket for three months into the future.

Why Spain? Because Spain tends to be very forgiving to foreigners, allowing some leeway and support as we find our foundation. Many other cultures tend to cut you off and send you home if all of your ducks aren't in a row, whereas Spain tends to look the other direction. In all honesty, as hard as it has been to create a new life here, we are very happy with our decision.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Honestly, at the time we didn't have a work permit. We didn't have a job, a visa, money or a place to stay. To make matters more complicated, we didn't know the language either. What we did have was a lot of courage, commitment to one another, commitment to a dream and our resourcefulness. Not two months after we booked our ticket did we find an American woman who had a room available in her apartment with three Spaniards. From that point on, our fortune continued in the exact same vein. Fortunately, we now have residency and plan on staying here in Europe indefinitely.

-Was it hard for you to get medical insurance before you went to Spain or when you first arrived there?
Before we came to Spain, we actually bought International Insurance for six months. This particular plan required us to be in any First World country in order to receive aid for any major medical needs, including pregnancy and transportation out of the country if necessary. However, once the plan ran out, I applied for social security in Madrid after I broke my leg in a mountain biking accident. I received my Social Security number from the government without a problem, but did come across major problems when I went to my local clinic requesting a medical number. As long as I am in the act of searching for a job, I am allowed free medical aid.

Unfortunately, I was told on several occasions that because I was an American, I was rich and had to pay. This statement drove me insane! Because of American media, there is a misnomer that all Americans have money coming out of their ears. We had very little money at the time and couldn't afford to pay for my medical services. Additionally, because I had a social security number, they are required to give me a medical number and service without charge. It took three visits and the accompaniment of my roommate whose mother was a nurse in Galicia before I received aid for my broken foot.

The moral being, that although I finally did receive free social service, it took a lot of racial barriers to get there. I doubt I will come across the same stress in Barcelona being that it is an international city, but the memory of the ordeal getting service in Madrid will not be forgotten.

-How do you make your living in Spain? Do you have any income generated?
I am an English teacher who worked for English Academies in the beginning, as well as taught private classes at night with families. Now, I have been hired by a private Catholic school as an English teacher, while my husband Ryan continues to run a business we formed, called Catavino, which has yet to earn us a consistent income - although we anticipate this to change in the coming months.

My job was incredibly easy to find, but for my husband, it has been like finding a needle in a haystack. We have found that in the wine industry, you really must know someone well. Additionally, it is a question of being in the right place at the right time. This obviously is what led us to creating our own business. We used everything we could get our hands on: websites, newspapers, language exchange programs, academies, friends, neighbors, etc.

-Do you speak Spanish and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I absolutely think it is important for people to speak the language. Can you get by without it? Yes, but I feel as if you're adding insult to injury. We have found that language is the number one key to open the door, next to resilience and courage. Spaniards tend to be very warm and welcoming, but to actually acquire a job beyond English teaching, I feel it is absolutely necessary!

Additionally, finding friends, understanding customs and the various other doors that open upon language fluency becomes so much easier. Finally, for me, it's a matter of respect.

As for observing local customs, absolutely it's important to be aware of them. However, it is something completely different to choose to follow them. We observe the custom of throwing your olive pits on the ground as some cafés, but I rarely feel comfortable doing so because I consider it littering. The act of awareness, again, is respect, but following the custom is a matter of personal choice.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Of course we miss home. I would be in shock to find someone who didn't miss parts of their own country. To have great customer service in a restaurant, the ability to enjoy a conversation without wondering if the verb agrees with the noun, or to sit in a café without having hoards of people surrounding you is a pleasure. However, we have adapted, and have thoroughly enjoyed Tapas bars, easy public transportation, paddle tennis and strolling through the open air markets. One reason why we chose Europe was for the idea of community, and I don't think we would change it for the world!

-Do you have other plans for the future?
Our number one plan is to create a viable business that lets us survive beyond hand to mouth paychecks. We feel that we are not far off, but to create any business, no matter how great the idea may be, takes time and patience. As for travel, we seem to constantly be on the move from one region to the next; therefore, I would assume many more trips will be had in the near future both in and out of Spain.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
While living in Madrid, we were paying 325 Euros per month for a tiny one bedroom in a 3-bedroom rental apartment. We shared the apartment with 4 other people and paid a total of 1200 for the apartment itself. Telephone, gas and water came to about 60 a month per person.

Now, we are renting an apartment for 650 Euros a month for a 2-bedroom, 2-bath with an enormous terrace just outside of Barcelona.

-What is the cost of living in Spain?
The cost of living isn't horrible unless you want to buy a house/apartment, which is exorbitant right now. And like everywhere else in the world, cities tend to be more expensive than rural areas. The greatest problem being that as inflation occurs, wages have remained the same. Therefore, if you are not a two-income family, living tends to be very stressed.

-What do you think about the Spaniards?
I find the locals to be fabulous. Spain is segregated into distinct regions and each region embodies its own culture. Consequently, as foreigners we may be treated slightly different depending on the region, but never have we been treated with complete disrespect. Generally, I would say that Spaniards tend to be very open, loving and understanding.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Spain?
Negatives: Difficult to find work other than teaching English, lack of customer service, infiltration of the American consumer virus, and bureaucracy.

Positives: Loyalty, community, family before business, food and wine culture and a sense of humanity where individuality takes precedence over politics.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Spain?
If there was one tip I would put out there beyond all others is for someone to communicate regardless of their language abilities. Spaniards get things accomplished by communicating, sometimes about the most mundane topics, but it is communication that gets things done. Efficiency is not part of the culture or language; therefore, by forming a relationship with those around you, they will guide you to the person who will fill your given need. I feel the phrase "it is not what you do but who you know" must have been created in Spain!

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Spain?
Catavino = a fantastic resource to learn about Portuguese and Spanish wines
Notes from Spain = a great site to learn about Spanish food, culture and the language
At Spain = a wonderful website that offers authentic and unique gifts from Spain

Would like to ask you more about moving to spain

ernietecno's picture

Hello, my name is Ernesto Cavazos I am originally from Mexico in 1973 my mother and 4 sisters we moved to the states, now I feel is time for me to move and continue my life somewhere else . I am 57 years old and I would like to ask of you and your husband if there is any tips you can provide me regarding how much finances is necessary to move and continue a life since I still have lots of energy in me and I wont like to quit not just yet!
So, would you two be so kind as to share with me some of the things you recommend for me to consider before moving etc.