It's been one week since I moved here to Madrid! Immediately after arriving, I became consumed like many others in the program, with the mission of finding an apartment. Luckily, CIEE is extremely flexible and everything is optional during orientation. My roommates and I were able to work with our orientation leader to view apartments throughout the week. We loved the second one we saw and secured it the next morning with a deposit. Overall, it worked out well for us and the other people we met in the program. We were all able to secure housing either the day of leaving the hotel or within a few days after orientation. Reflecting on the process of apartment hunting, I have a few things to share that I felt would've been helpful to understand before coming.
Overall, I'd say the process was doable but a few things made it significantly more stressful. I'll start with the basics.
1. If you have a budget, only see places you can afford.
We realized quickly that many places didn't include utilties, needed wifi, and other amenities. The first week is so stressful so do not view anywhere out of budget because it is not worth the energy. This leads to the next topic.
2. Only see places you imagine yourself living in for a year.
The first apartment we viewed didn't fit our style and needs. Even from photos, we were uncertain. We didn't like the layout because the bedrooms connected and required us to walk through each other's rooms to go outside or to the kitchen. We chose to see it anyways and immediately realized it was somewhere we wouldn't be happy for a year in.
3. Expect to compromise.
Very few apartments have multiple rooms that all have full-size beds, windows, and extra furniture. The apartment we chose has so much of what we wanted like a large living room, long hallways, a bigger kitchen, and balconies. However, it came without beds or furniture in 2 of the rooms. Ultimately we decided it was worth the price to order two beds from Ikea for the other amenities.
4. Prepare for the Language Barrier.
Of the apartments we saw, most of the people showing us places didn't speak any English. I would recommend typing out specific questions in Spanish to ask or having google translate handy unless you're fluent in Spanish. There are so many words that we couldn't remember once we were there like prorated rent.
5. Be prepared for extra initial fees.
Many places charge an agency fee which is equal to one month's rent. The majority of apartments on Idealista, Redpiso, and Technocasa seem to have agency fees but it is difficult to tell until you are viewing the apartment and can ask. In the first week, we paid for the first month's prorated rent, the security deposit and the agency fee.
6. The BIGGEST problem that we faced was trying to get so much money instantly from our US bank accounts.
We wanted to pay cash to avoid the agency's 21% service charge for debit cards. We unfortunately each had a card limit of $500 to withdraw from our American debit cards at ATMs. The first day, the agency accepted half of the deposit instead of the full price because we weren't able to access any more money that day.
However, there is a much faster and easier way to get your cash. WISE is a money transfer app that will save so much time and energy. You input your debit card information and transfer the money to your Spanish bank account instantly. If you don't have a Spanish bank account, get one as soon as possible. You will receive a Spanish debit card to access the money in your account.
Good luck! Most importantly, remember everyone is in the same boat and it will work out!
Enjoy the unrelated Tapas from our first night. If you're looking for somewhere easy, TAPA TAPA has multiple locations and we all enjoyed the food.