As some people have been wondering, one of the main reasons that I decided to pursue my Spanish language objective and begin living in Spain, is, in part, down to the matter of start-up costs. Here in Extremadura the cost of living is one of the cheapest in all of Spain. What does that mean? Good times!
As mentioned in previous posts, I was staying in a hostel during my initial time here in Cáceres. Now, however, I’m finally glad to say that times have changed. I’m now in an apartment here in the city! Time to unpack, unfurl my belongings and settle in.
That’s right, my hostel dwelling days are over, no-more three bedroom suites for me, no more dirty key-obsessed receptionists either. Just a very comfortable four-bedroom, two bathroom, shared apartment, slap-bang in pleno centro of the city. The best bit? The rent. The actual rate? That can wait for the moment.
Cheaper Cost of Living
Now before I go on running my mouth about how cheap everything is living in Spain and so on, I need to get a few things straight.
Eating out, buying food and just about everything else is only fractionally cheaper here than it is back home. Public transport and rent, however, remain two things that are much, much, cheaper. Yet, for the sake of offending out-of-work Extremadurans and Spaniards around the country, it’s not something to be celebrated. Times are most certainly tight here in Spain, just as they are in the rest of the world.
I can only count myself fortunate.
The business of finding an apartment though is curious to say the least.
Flat Hunting Business
Now coming from London, I am, of course, no stranger to flat hunting and apartment sharing. But whereas before I would simply fire-up Gumtree, Craigslist or any other niche accommodation hunting site to find a spot in the British capital, living in Spain and finding a place is somewhat different. Especially here in Cáceres.
How it works is that people actually talk to each other. It’s actually all rather quite analogue. You wouldn’t even imagine that the Internet existed.
Cue big public noticeboards, tattered flyers, stub-offs and posters dotted on any free space in the city, any derelict building, sometimes even stray cats and dogs. Ok, so the last may not be true. Yet you get the point.
The fact is that doing business in this way was simply very strange for my digitally corrupted mind. The matter of having to get on a phone and actually call someone (possibly more intimidating given my basic language skill) to arrange hazy instructions was not something I was either expecting nor accustomed to.
What’s more is that I had to do all this in rather a rush. I didn’t want to keep shelling out money for a hostel room when I could get a month in an apartment for what I’d pay for a week. But I wasn’t entirely confident with picking up the phone and cold-calling native Spaniards either. This certainly proved something of a test.
I tackled the whole process in a slow manner, walking around the town, taking numbers from noticeboards and tearing off stub-offs. I then made my way to a park bench with the local vagrant (not looking too dissimilar myself) and hesitantly texted a few numbers a little too afraid to call.
After about fifteen texts I got only one back. Luckily it was the one I was most interested in that on the poster had quoted 125 Euros per month. I got an address and a viewing all in the same day.
I headed over to the place which was on a rather ominous street called Los Donantes De Sangre (the blood donors), not expecting much by my 125-Euro London standards which, as many will know, would barely buy you a coffin there. What greeted me was a pleasant surprise.
A clean, spacious apartment, good rooms, all the facilities you’d need, everything taken care of. All too easy. Naturally I was suspicious. I took a look, was impressed and left mumbling in broken Spanish that I had a few other places to look at. I didn’t.
The next day, however, I had another response. I went so see an old man’s apartment located near La Plaza Mayor, but it looked run-down as hell and was more than double the rental cost of the other. Not to mention only for one person. I wasn’t going to do that.
I text the other guy back ready to commit, a fast-speaking, Extremaduran country-bumpkin, called me back speaking at warp speed. I forgot that it was the same guy who showed me the first place a day before. I called David. It was my only option.
Three days later I was in. No contract, a months deposit and the whole apartment to myself over the weekend. 150 Euros per month (including bills) well spent. Job done.
How to Go About it
It might be viewed that this story, from the outside, appears relatively low-fuss. Yet for me, new to the city and with no support to speak of, I found it a bit tough to find a place that would serve me for the year.
Here’s what I’d say to anyone else who wants to begin living in Spain and needs help getting started:
- Do Your Apartment/Flat Hunting on the Ground
Like most things this is just how it works in Spain. Get an idea of where you want to live – lucky for me Cáceres is small and walkable enough to get just about anywhere. Do your homework on rent rates by looking at the notices around town first.
- Get a Native to Help if you Can
Due to the fast Spanish of my landlord I simply couldn’t keep up with everything he was saying or get my most important questions answered. Luckily I knew someone that could help me and got them to visit the place with me to help iron out the situation. If you can’t do this take a pen and paper, ask the person to speak slow and prepare a list of translated questions beforehand.
- Don’t Sign Up to Anything Straight Away
It pays to shop around even if time is of the essence. I only saw two places yet I knew time was encroaching rapidly on my back with a wave of students expected to arrive behind me. Once I saw my place I knew it would be fine for the rest of my experience here. Only say yes when you feel positively comfortable about doing so.
- Live With Spanish People
Crucial to settling in, learning the language and getting the most from the experience. This was probably the single most important thing for me and will also most likely prove to be the most frustrating in the first few months. After that? Hopefully plain sailing.
- Expect to Pay For the Whole of the First Month
I may have arrived in my flat half-way through September yet I had to pay the whole month in rent. That’s how the system works here so make sure you have enough in funds to cover you for those first few months before you find a steady income.
And that, my friends, comprises my top five pieces of advice for flat and apartment hunting here in Spain. Take a look at my video to check out my place and feel free to ask any questions you might have about the whole process below.
How did you find the process of arranging long-term accommodation abroad?