Life as a Teaching Assistant in Murcia, Spain: Part 2

Authored by:
Leslie C.

Money in Murcia

I have been in Spain for two and a half months, and I’ve been working as a Language Assistant in Murcia for just about two months. I have, for the most part, settled into my new life here. I’ve found my favorite local bakery and, consequently, my favorite Spanish pastry (for reference, it’s an empanadilla de pollo). I have mastered my morning commute to work, figuring out the exact minute I can leave my apartment and arrive at school before class each day. I have even determined my weekly budget for groceries, which I occasionally follow. I’ve accomplished these small feats that culminate into a routine in a little more than two months of working in Cartagena, but I’ve had to do so on my own dime – specifically, on my American debit card alone.

The first order of business that Language Assistants are instructed to complete when they arrive in Murcia, according to the education department of the Murcian government, is signing up for a Spanish bank account. I remember receiving multiple emails this past summer, before arriving in Spain, regarding the importance of securing a bank account upon arrival. The urgency was palpable – in order to be paid after my first month of work, I must inform the government of my bank account number as soon as possible. I followed these instructions and signed up for a bank account four days after arriving in Cartagena with the bank that the government suggested: Sabadell.

The woman who helped my friend and me set up our accounts was friendly enough. She spoke slowly and listened to my questions. She even helped us past 14:00, which is when the bank and every other business in Cartagena close – other businesses for a few hours for siesta, the bank for the rest of the day. Forty-five minutes after initially sitting down, our accounts were open. Only then did the woman inform me that we would not receive debit cards connected to these accounts until our first paycheck was deposited.

As a Language Assistant, I work in Spain with a student visa and therefore am paid via a monthly stipend. As I mentioned above, I didn’t expect to be paid for at least a month. Furthermore, my wallet (which included all of my cards, debit and credit) was stolen a few days before setting up my bank account. The news that I wouldn’t receive a bankcard until I deposited a paycheck devastated me at the time. What’s more, other auxiliaries – some of whom also signed up with Sabadell – received their debit cards immediately. They needed only to wait for the card to arrive in the mail. I felt cheated by the bank, and by Spain itself.

Given the fact that I am still in Spain, it’s evident that I eventually figured out what to do. And by that I mean my mom figured out what to do – she was able to send my new debit card to me, which I have been living off of for two months. I have only just been sent my debit card, which I had to ask for in-person at the same bank where I signed all of my paperwork and then wait a week for it to arrive at my apartment. Things worked out eventually, but the process was tiresome, uninspiring, and upsetting.

What I’ve learned from my financial experiences in Spain thus far is that I always need a backup plan, be that an extra credit card or a stash of cash stored somewhere safe. It is not sufficient to trust everything to easily fall into place. Even a bank account can take months to activate completely. That being said, it is crucial to set up a bank account as soon as possible upon arrival in Murcia. At the end of October, all auxiliaries received an email from the education department of the Murcian government stating that even one person lacking a bank account could delay everyone’s first paychecks. Given that we were still paid almost two weeks after completing our first month on the job, I would not have wanted to risk further delay of payment for my entire cohort of auxiliaries because I had not yet opened a Spanish bank account.

Finances in Spain have proven more difficult than I expected, though not for any reasons I could have predicted. Cartagena is not overly expensive. I can live on my monthly stipend with some room for fun – with the help of a cushion provided by private tutoring sessions. The initial start-up costs of living here, however, made a sizeable dent in my savings account. I ended up paying hundreds more up front in order to afford my apartment and its furnishings (the listing depicted the place as “furnished” but it somehow lacked all kitchen necessities). Living in a hotel while apartment hunting was expensive as well, specifically because of the inability to cook – eating out adds up quickly. So while I am comfortable with my finances now, my first month in Cartagena was ridden with pecuniary stress. I did not expect so many obstacles keeping me from my money, but they appeared in what seemed like hoards. I currently enjoy a nearly stress-free life in Murcia – my schedule allows for plenty of wine, pastries, cervezas, siestas, gym outings, and even the occasional trip to new cities. But there were plenty more steps I had to take before I was allowed to enjoy such luxuries.

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