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What You Didn’t Expect As An Expat…

November 1, 2020 5 min read 2 Comments

Expats, Travelers, and Dreamers alike! This is going to be a very real blog post. This is based on my own experiences living overseas, this is not to deter you! One thing I want to make sure I emphasize is that I LOVE living overseas. However, there are struggles that you would and wouldn’t expect when living overseas. So, here are a few things to expect as an expat.

I am like and unlike many Expacts living around the world. How non-specific…I know. I have had the pleasure of being moved to Spain for my husband’s work with the military. This means that we have slightly more American amenities available to us because we are attached to the military. However, the military base in Spain is unlike any other overseas base in the world. This is because the U.S. shares the base with the Spanish Military whereas the rest of the world the base is solely U.S. soil.

What You Didn't Expect As An Expat...
Adventures in Morocco!

This makes this confusing and pretty backward from what one might expect or common sense would dictate. An example of this:

What To Expect to Purchase A Vehicle

Before we moved to Spain we had decided that we were going to sell our vehicles instead of having our medium to large (my husband owned a pickup truck, imagine driving or trying to park that around the narrow streets of Europe) vehicles and we were going to purchased used cars once we got out here. That part made sense to us. The paperwork, however, is completely different from what you’d expect!

When you arrive in Spain, you have to apply for an N.I.E.number.

N.I.E. is an abbreviation for Número de Identidad de Extranjero, which translates as Identification Number for Foreigners, or Foreigners’ Identification Number if you prefer. The NIE is your all-purpose identification and tax number in Spain.

This means that basically any large purchase you have to have on hand (not a photo of or a copy). A large purchase includes, a new TV, tablet, computer, cell phone, and yes a car. I’ve even heard of furniture too but I haven’t experienced that.

What You Didn't Expect As An Expat...
Family adventures!

You wouldn’t think that this was a big deal – except that it can take up to six weeks to receive your NIE number after you’d applied for it. This means – APPLY FOR IT either before you arrive or THE DAY AFTER you arrive. We were lucky and got that ball rolling fast after landing.

That is just the first piece of paperwork. Since we are here under my husband’s orders I had to bring a copy of those (if you aren’t in the military – you bring a copy of your visa, job contract, etc), a Power of Attorney (because my husband wasn’t home when I was doing all the paperwork for our vehicles) which I had gotten in the United States, I needed a WHOLE new one for Spain. Insurance (that was simple to get) and a copy of the vehicle’s inspection paperwork, also known as ITV and finally a copy of your drivers license, US and EU, and your passport. Whew! I think that covered it all…Yeah see what I mean.

Getting a House

For this part, you’d think that this would be a major undertaking. For some of our friends it was, however for us, I had done a TON of research. We visited our now home three days after landing in Spain and had our “pre” lease contract signed before we had been in country for a week. As I said at the beginning of this, basing this off of my personal experience, if you are or have been an Expat and this was not your experience…you have my condolences.

What You Didn't Expect As An Expat...
Photos around Normandy France

Bank Account

Living in Spain as an Expat with the military, you are given a lot of graces when it comes to money….believe it or not. My landlord didn’t see a dime of our deposit or first month’s rent until nearly three weeks after we had the keys to the house. The Spanish are very relaxed when it comes to getting the rent and getting it on time. In the U.S. if you were 5 or 10 days late in paying your rent your landlord could tack on late fees and give you a legal warning to pay or they kick you out.

In Spain (when you have a Spaniard living in your rental home) you CANNOT kick them out if they stop paying rent. Not even kidding! And they can continue living in your home until the government finally kicks them out, which can take 6 months to a year! The reason why the Spanish are more relaxed with us is that they know if they don’t get paid they can report you to the base and your command and they will get their money no matter what.

Training my mini me early with a camera

For most things in my daily life, I use my U.S. banks. However, if you want internet, cable, cell phone plans, all of those require you to have a Spanish bank account connected to the plan or membership. Setting up your bank account isn’t AS much paperwork as purchasing a vehicle, but close.

Everything Else…

When I talk about living overseas, I can’t help but smile. What an opportunity for my family! My daughter (nearly 4) and I travel around Europe (yes, even with the current world status, we are more cautious and safe about it). We live next to the beach without having to sell an organ to do so. The cost of living is SO much less than it was living at nearly any of the six addresses we’ve had in the last 10 years (Idaho was the only one that comes close and still falls far short).

But real talk…it is still a struggle.

Living so far away from family or anything familiar is hard. Scheduling video wine calls with friends and remembering that there is an eight hour time difference between you and them. Oh but wait! Spain had their Fall Equinox a week before the US so now it is a seven hour time difference.

That’s just the beginning…it was one thing when I was in the military. I knew I was going to be missing birthday, Christmas, anniversaries. When you are a military spouse – it is the same thing. But when you are surrounded by fellow community members you create a subfamily, that is generally how it works.

What You Didn't Expect As An Expat...
Missing my best friend

Honestly, moving out here has been one of the more lonely moves I’ve made with the military. I’ve struggled with meeting good and true friends. I don’t know what it is about this location but I’ve seen how much more “cut throat” people are. Rather than build each other up and create a community – they tear people down. The last few weeks I’ve felt really lost and with my husband being away and now that Spain is implementing a “lock down” again – the walls start to feel as if they are closing in.

I know, heavy stuff – I warned you…

There are things that you expect as an expat…and then there are things that you don’t.

Is it worth it? Yes. To have our life overseas is an opportunity that I never would have dreamed would have happened.


The things I love the most...Wine, traveling, and photography! Join me on my adventures as I travel the world and share my experiences as I travel with my daughter, top places to visit and how to travel on a budget!

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  • Expat Panda November 2, 2020 at 10:08 am

    Any move or transition starts of as a challenge! Thanks for sharing the reality of expat life. Settling in and getting the paperwork done is always the awful part of moving abroad… well that and culture shock!

    • Phylicia Stitzel November 2, 2020 at 9:10 am

      You’re welcome!! I think that preparation is absolutely key but sometimes you won’t know something till you’re in it. And then you should share what you’ve learned to help someone else. I didn’t have a whole lot of culture shock thankfully, lol still getting used to the Spanish hours and holidays though 😅

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    Travel lover and WSET 2 Wine Professional, my daughter and I travel the world together! We seek adventures off the beaten path, family-friendly and full of wine!! Read More

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