How And Why I Moved Abroad

Living Abroad

Barcelona has been my “spiritual home” ever since I first ventured to the Catalan capital with a couple of people with whom I had engaged in precarious friendships with during my second year of university.

It was the first place I had felt truly relaxed and simultaneously, alive. I lived in Barcelona for eleven years, from 2007 to August 2018. It was an experience I will never forget, and as a result, I would recommend everyone, if they have the opportunity to, should living abroad at least once in their lives.

Pizza joy at the CCCB in Raval, Barcelona.

Pizza joy at the CCCB in Raval, Barcelona.

Why I moved

Living abroad gets you out of your comfort zone by introducing you to different people and customs. It may also sound like a cliche, but with the sun on my skin in Spain, all decisions made felt intuitive and life affirming.

During the long, hot summers, life problems just did not seem so bad and it was almost sport among the folk I met to be young, broke and to find the most creative ways to live and be content. That is something that will always stay with me, even though my desires and designs for life have changed.  

I had a Swedish friend, let's call him “F”, who lived in a “flat” for two years without grid electricity and used the money he earned through working odd jobs around Barcelona, to put himself through graduate school back in Sweden. He is now a shoe designer in Stockholm.

I endured the short, mild winters in layers normally worn in Autumn or Spring, and I will miss being able to wear sunglasses all year round. Barcelona certainly was a great place to spend my twenties.

I worked hard, but with around 13 public holidays a year, plus “puentes” (“Bridge” days that are taken off from work if they stand between a public holiday and the weekend), compared to the U.K´s 8 bank holidays, there was always time for fun. The city reinforced the idea that life is for living.

There were always copious amounts of free street parties and community concerts to attend to celebrate the change of the seasons. I grew with the city. I took the time to learn two foreign languages, made lifelong friends and found the opportunity to work in literature, something  I have always wanted to do.

Doing My Research

It took exactly one year to research my move and save money. Before I left London, I worked as a Library Assistant, so a library was a great place for “research”.

I packed up my room in a shared house in Muswell Hill, North London, and left Britain with one large suitcase and my laptop. I donated lots of clothes, CDs and furniture to friends and charity shops, and stowed everything else I owned in my brother´s spare loft bedroom and cellar.  I was ready.

Moving to another country back in 2007 was surprisingly simple: I booked myself into a hostel for the first weekend, giving myself two or three days to find a room in a shared apartment.

The research I did for the move paid off as I had a pretty good idea of where to look for apartments, what the going rates were, the neighbourhoods I want to live in, and all the latest scams and how to avoid them. Back then, sites like Airbnb with user reviews and ratings just wasn't a thing.

Instead, there were mainly classified sites like Gumtree and Craigslist, which though were not really regulated, made it easy to find affordable accommodation. Many of these websites, have long since been shut down amidst media conglomerate acquisitions and sex trafficking allegations…

Finding a base

During my initial two days, I found a sunny room in a large two bedroom apartment in the centre of Barcelona.

I lived in an area called the Eixample, sharing with the owner, a Spanish lady named Laia, then in her early 30s, and her two cats, Domingo and Tecla (Sunday and Key). We exchanged a couple of emails: her listing was one of the few written in near native-speaker English.

I felt comfortable arranging a viewing and being able to understand and be understood. We arranged a viewing, at which she seemed welcoming and spoke perfect English and did not ask for a deposit, so I had more money to sort myself out longer term.

I paid around 430 euros pcm for the room. It had a single bed, and I had been sleeping in doubles since I was about 10 years old, but it was bright and airy and made for a great first base on my Spanish adventure.

There were much cheaper rooms available but Laia spoke English well and helped me with my Spanish and Catalan, and was knowledgeable about the city, so I guess I was also paying for her native expertise and introductions!

Carrer Muntaner. Typical Modernism apartment block in Eixample.

Carrer Muntaner. Typical Modernism apartment block in Eixample.

Legal Documentation

Once accommodation had been sought,  I needed a social security number and NIE, (Numero de Identidad de extranjero). This is your identity number that enables you to buy a phone, get a lease on an apartment, basically breathe in Spain.  

I was advised by several expatriate friends who had settled before me, to get up at 6am to get to the main city police station to stand in line with all the other bleary-eyed Euro-revellers, who too had decided to stay in the sun-drenched Catalan capital, for the immigration office to open at 9am.  

I was pleasantly surprised, however, that when I got there at 8am, there were just a couple of people in front of me and that the whole process just involved a flash of my passport, and an official stamp confirming my civil rights to work in the country.

That was eleven years ago now and I still have that piece of paper, filed amongst my other Spanish documents. It is no longer shiny, metaphorically speaking. It no longer holds promise to familiar yet different bureaucratic processes.

My NIE is coffee-stained and has been folded and refolded countless times and has accompanied me on many mundane errands. It has been an important document that represented a civil right to live, work and experience a culture different to my own; an invaluable experience that may not be as easy for future generations.

Written by Natalie Jane Joyce.

Looking to move abroad? The City Girl Network Facebook Group may provide that help and advice that you need to find your new home.

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