What you need to know as an expat in Madrid

What you need to know as an expat in Madrid

What you need to know as an expat in Madrid


Spain is probably one of the pick-pocket capitals of the world (Barcelona especially, I think) but crime in general (especially violent crime) is around the lowest in Europe. Just use common sense as thieves are opportunistic.

Leave your passport in your room and I suggest always having your hand on your bag when moving about. Thieves spot tourists easily, and work in twos or threes: One person distracts you by asking directions, the bag at your side is lifted by another when you are facing the wrong way.

Unfortunately they are so crafty, that you probably will have something taken at some stage – or at least have a few friends who get stung.



The metro in Madrid is amazing.

Compared to the small, delay-prone and expensive London Underground trains, Madrid metro trains are fast, run on time and have loads more space than you might be accustomed to in London.

A 10-Trip Metro/Bus ticket cost only about 12€. It is the fastest way to get to the airport, although there is a surcharge to/from the airport of 3€. The Metro closes at 2am (some lines earlier, from around 1:30am) and starts up again at 6am. Metro maps are available at all stations, just pick them up.



The RENFE is the Spanish rail network. They have a website but it’s not the best and sometimes doesn’t work properly, typical.

Most trains from the south all leave from Atocha Station which is in the heart of the city, which is super convenient. Trains to the north tend to leave from Charmartin Station, which is a little further away but easily accessible by metro.

Catch the AVE (the AVE is pronounced like the latin “Ave” in Ave Maria) Speed Train as an alternative to flying within Spain. It’s awesome – super quiet, smooth and rapid.

It takes just 2 hours 30min from Madrid to Seville, when a normal train or bus would take 5+ hours. Book in advance to get the best prices, or find some friends and go in a group of 4 people to book a table and pay even less.



Taxis are everywhere. You just flag one down like in London, but you don’t have to talk to the driver first through the window, just jump in the back. Cab drivers often don’t speak English, so it’s a good idea to carry the address on a piece of paper so you can show the cabbie where you are going, incase your Spanish isn´t understood!



Withdrawing money is a breeze. I am sure there are more ATM hole-in-the-wall machines per square mile in Madrid than any other place on the planet.

Opening a bank account in Spain is very easy too – despite what you may have heard.
If you do not have a NIE then you will need to use your passport and open a non-resident account. This has higher fees than a residents account. When you have your NIE you can open a residents account and so long as you meet the minimum requirements of your bank (ie. Deposit at least 600€ per month) then the account fees are fairly low.

I am with Deutcshe Bank and have had no problems with them. The branch near Callao were super helpful and the tellers speak English.

I have also heard good things about La Caixa and Evo Banco.



Finding a flat is rarely an easy process – no matter where you are in the world.

The best place to look in Madrid is on Idealista, which is the main website for house listings in Spain. Other places to look are the numerous Flatmate Wanted Facebook Groups, like Habitaciones en Madrid. 

Also always be sure physically go and look at the flat before you move in, and make sure it comes with everything you want. For more detail on finding a flat in Madrid, click here.



Everyone in Spain uses WhatsApp to message eachother rather than txting or imessage. Make sure you have this app.

You can buy a cheap smart phone from as low as about 60€ from official phone stores, and pay from 15€ per month pre-pay to keep it topped up. Alternatively you can also look for a secondhand smart phone in Facebook groups, including ‘For Sale in Madrid’ and Second Hand Madrid/Segunda Mano.

I recommend avoiding contracts and sticking to prepay, as I have heard some contracts are near impossible to break. I use a prepay phone with the Orange Network and have had no problems with them.

Also if you have a fancy Iphone or Samsung (or whatever) make sure you have those ‘Find My Phone’ security apps, so when your phone gets stolen (yes, WHEN this happens) you can trace it. The police can’t do anything (other than a police report), but if you have 2 big friends, well…



If you are using any landline phone in Spain, do not put 0 in front of any numbers unless you are dialling internationally. You just dial the whole number including the area code.

For example, you might be in a phone booth in Madrid and are calling a local Madrid number like a hotel. You still put the 91 area code in the number so you dial 91xxxxxxxx. If you put the 0 before the 91, you are calling the National Police, 091.

Free-to-call numbers in Spain start with 900.



The main meal of the day in Spain is the lunch meal. Almost every restaurant will have a “Menu Del Dia” (menu of the day) that you can buy during the lunch hours (from 2pm to about 4.30pm) they normally costs about 8 – 12€. They consist of a primero, segundo y postre o café (starter, main and dessert or coffee), making them excellent value!

If you want to see the full menu, ask for “la carta”. Don’t ask for the “menu”, as this is the menu del dia.



Madrid has the same voltage as the United Kingdom and New Zealand, so you only need a plug adaptor if you are taking anything electrical. It is different from the US and Canada, so you will need a voltage converter for products from those countries, not just a standard plug adaptor.

Hmmm, can’t think of anything else at the moment – but any questions about living in Madrid, let me know!


  1. Im still confused by the banks though. I couldn’t open one without a NI card (so i have to get this this week), but i deffo wont be earning 600€ a month and they havent mentioned anything about this??

    • Depends what kind of account you want to open – the ‘no fees’ ones usually require the minimum deposit each month. You can get one without this, but there will probably be fees on all sorts of random things, so check it out carefully.
      To open without a NIE Card, you will have to open a non-resident account, that requires your passport (these also have fees) – try the bank branches around Sol/Callao as they seem to deal with the most foreigners.

  2. Hi Liz!

    Great post! just a couple of suggestions…

    Free to call numbers are 900, numbers beginning in 902 are premium (charged extra, not usable with your free minutes). 901 numbers are priced like local calls but still can’t be reached with phone-plan minutes. Unfortunately, many customer service call centers in Spain are 902 numbers. You might be able to google an equivalent local contact number (there are dedicated websites for this).

    and the metro starts closing at 1:30am (last departures from each end of the line), so depending on the station, the last train might still come between 1:30 and about 2am… Depending on your destination and airport terminal, the Cercanías train might be a more convenient/cheaper option to get to the airport.

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