So You Wanna Move to Europe with Your Family?
Have you dreamed of packing your belongings and experiencing different way of life in a foreign country? What has held you back? Are you nervous about the expenses, stepping away from your job, the challenges of the visa process, the language barriers? With goals in mind and a detailed checklist in hand, the process of relocating abroad with your family can be accomplished and even fun.
The Beginnings of Our Big Move
Both my partner and I have spent many years in Europe for our education and careers. He studied his first Master's degree in the UK and Spain, while I'd completed my Bachelor's in England and went on to work in Berlin for almost 7 years. We are both comfortable abroad and enjoy the challenges of living as foreigners, working daily on bettering our language and communication skills, and soaking up new cultures as well as reflecting on our own. In contemplating a move with our family, Germany, Denmark, England, and Switzerland were discussed as possible locations but we finally settled on Spain. Specifically, Barcelona. My partner had applied for a second Master's degree in the capital of Catalonia in the spring of 2013 but due to a change of circumstances, we moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was an important decision and one that we didn't think he could pass up, but we spent the next several years wondering how life would've looked if we had taken the opportunity to live in Barcelona.
Fast forward to 2019 and we were ready for a change. I had stepped away from my career in performing to raise and, gulp, home school our kids and my partner was burned out from his job and long hours of commuting on the weekdays. We felt trapped in a cycle of commuting-work-school-extracurricular activities-homework-work-commuting and felt a change was needed. Once again we revisited the dream of moving the family to Barcelona. This time around, we both applied for master's degree programs realizing it would be difficult to justify our visa applications with only one out of five family members having an invitation to be in the country and no income. We were accepted to our respected programs and began taking the steps for our move.
But living abroad as single twenty- and thirty-somethings was entirely different to the prospect of relocating with three small children in-tow. We couldn't just arrive in Spain and crash on someone's couch until we found decent lodgings. Schools needed to be found and places secured for sons. Insurance needed to be purchased, phone and internet contracts signed, and languages learned.
We were lucky that my partner was already fluent in Spanish and as soon as we decided to make the move, I began studying Barcelona's other official language, Catalan. There are not a lot of resources out there for English-speakers wanting to learn Catalan and I ended up taking a course at my university, but the Parla.cat site is a great way to introduce yourself to a language that is spoken by more than 10 million people throughout Europe.
So we had been accepted to our university programs and were committed to moving abroad. What next?
Checking All the Boxes
Our Check List to Moving Abroad:
Apply for Master's Degree Programs -or- Get a Job My partner applied to the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics and I applied to a rigorous course at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya. Both degree programs were in English with optional courses in Spanish and Catalan.
Begin the Visa Application Process This process was extremely difficult and trying and I have heard similar experiences from all who have gone through the consulate in San Francisco. (Your consulate is designated by the region in which you live in the States) Appointments must be made online and are hard to come by. I would suggest making the appointment as soon as you are sure you want to relocate as the availability can be as far out as three months. Once an appointment is made, there is little to no communication from the consulate. Make sure you have ALL the required documents as well as copies of *everything* before going to your appointment. It's arduous and frustrating but once you're at the consulate, the appointment itself is straight forward and the government representatives are kind and helpful. More information about the process for student and work visas can be found here.
Rent an Apartment As we were renting sight unseen, we opted to go through a reputable real estate agency. Engel Voelkers was our agency of choice and we have been very happy with them.
Buy Private Health Insurance Despite being students, we did not qualify for public healthcare. Still, our annual costs were extremely low and the care was excellent. A resource for healthcare on Spain is here.
Select Schools for Children Barcelona has many wonderful public schools but because we did not receive visas until about two weeks before our move, we were not eligible for the lottery system and instead needed to secure spots at a private Catalan school. Be aware that unless you specifically choose and English language school, the primary instruction will be given in Catalan and Spanish. A resource for education options in Barcelona can be found here.
Arrange Pet Transportation from Seattle to Barcelona The process of sending a pet abroad in the summer can be difficult and going through an agency is a good way to go. The costs go up a bit, but it makes the travel experience much easier and efficient. In our case, due to the summer heat in Europe and airline moratoriums on pet travel above a certain temperature, our dog was unable to fly with us on the same day so the agency held on to him for three days and then sent him on an overnight flight connecting in Frankfurt. The company then liaised with another transport team to bring our four-legged family member directly to our apartment in Barcelona. Once again, make sure you have all documentation prepared with certified vet checks, vaccines, USDA certification, etc. done. Details for international pet relocation can be found here
Establish a Spanish Bank Account You will need this to obtain a Spanish cell phone contract. Information about opening an account in Barcelona can be found here.
Look into Cell Phone and Internet Services You will need a Spanish phone contact number to obtain an Empadronomiento certificate and TIE
Make Appointments for Empadronamiento and TIE Be sure to do this well in advance as appointments can be full for over a month. The first is registering in your local neighborhood and to do this, you will need your passport, temporary visa, and apartment rental contract. The certificate you receive from this will allow you to apply for your TIE, enroll your children in school, and obtain private health insurance. Information about the Empadronamiento can be found here and for NIE here.
We moved to Barcelona in late August and completed all our appointments and registration requirements by October. The process was lengthy, partly due to our broken Spanish and Catalan, but we found the officials in all the government offices to be extremely friendly and helpful.