Key tips for auxiliars, part 2: packing for Spain

packing for Spain

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Planning to move abroad? Here are my tips about packing for Spain!

Part dos of my key tips for future auxiliares de conversación in Spain! Have you checked out part 1: pre-departure?

Well, the time has come! Are you ready to jump? Make a leap of faith? Leave your old life behind and try out la vida (loca) española for a year? Both the most exciting and most difficult part (after sorting out the visa nightmare) of getting ready to move abroad: packing. What do you take? What do you leave behind? Over the years, and after various “moves” abroad and back, mostly to Spain, I have fine-tuned the art of packing my life in to a 50lb suitcase (plus one carry-on item and a personal item, of course). When I first came to Spain in 2007, I had two checked bags and two carry-ons and came home with 4 checked bags! Rookie mistake! So here are my 5 easy tips for packing for Spain:

*Warning: Spain’s customs laws have changed over the past few years, so now if you try to mail a lot of stuff with high value, it will get detained in Madrid and you will have to pay a lot in import taxes. Going through this is a nightmare, so don’t count on being able to have your friends and family send you big boxes of stuff from home. Save yourself the trouble and send just small boxes and lie about the contents, placing the value around $10. That’s how I get my stuff through without problems, otherwise ship with a specific international carrier designed to help moving boxes abroad. 

1. Don’t overpack

Let me go ahead and state the obvious. DO NOT OVERPACK. You are moving to Spain for a year, you are going to buy things there. If you are like me, you will probably buy a lot of things! How you gonna get all that stuff home after a year if you show up at the airport in September with two overweight checked bags, carry-ons, and wearing all your winter clothes?

Be smart. Do you really need 5 pairs of jeans? Nope. There are jeans in Spain, in fact, really good jeans that cost a whole lot less than ones from the US. You can pretty much find everything you need in Spain that you have back home, and most of the time its cheaper. Towels and bedsheets are cheap, and you can find most of the things you need for your apartment at Spain’s equivalent of dollar stores, the chinos. I remember girls posting in the forums last summer asking if you can find tampons in Spain. facepalm. You’re moving to Spain not Uganda. You can bet that made the Guiri Bullshit twitter page.

Fit your life in one suitcase and one carry-on. Last time I checked they almost never weigh carry-ons on international flights from the US; you aren’t flying Ryanair. Put all your heavy stuff in it, wear your jeans, boots, and winter coats, the stuff that takes up the most space, and you’re good to go! Throw everything else in space-saver bags. You’ll thank yourself in June when you come back home.

My best advice when packing, is give yourself an extra day before, pack up your suitcase, unpack it, then repack it. Taking stuff out. Repeat as necessary. The worst is waiting a few hours before your flight departs to pack and then bringing a bunch of unnecessary stuff, like the summer of 2009 when I brought 3 pairs of wedges and no pants.

packing for Spain

Don’t be THOSE people in the airport. Source

2. Layers

Pack a lot of layers. No matter where you are in Spain, even in Andalucía, winter is cold and people are frugal with heating. Wear lots of layers, sweaters, scarves, and boots. Are you planning to stay through the summer? If not, don’t bring a lot of summer clothes because realistically, you won’t start wearing them til April or later. Most of your time in Spain will be chilly or cold, so pack accordingly. Also pack according to your regions. If you are in Pais Vasco, Cantabria, Asturias or Galicia, you know that it rains a lot. Bring a good raincoat and boots. In Madrid it is sunny for most of the year, so you can probably do without.

Also, for the most part, you can dress however you want for school. I remember I showed up for my first day in Córdoba in “business casual” and I was the most dressed-up person there. Talk about uncomfortable. In general people dress nicer here, but don’t feel pressured to bring dress pants or button-ups because more than likely you won’t have to wear it. Also, big name international brands like Northface, Adidas, and Nike are more expensive here. So if you anticipate needing something from them, best to buy online before coming (where these products are much cheaper).

If you are curious about how women dress in Spain, check out my post about women’s fashion here, dudes, click here.

packing for Spain

3. Shoes

Be frugal. Shoes weigh a lot and take up a lot of space. There is great shoe shopping in Spain, especially in January during all the sales; I have bought some of my favorite pairs here. Girls, leave all those heels behind, just bring one pair. You will be walking about 100 times as much back home, and unless you were raised walking on cobblestones like Spanish women, you will wear them once and never again. Throw them back in your closet with your UGGS. Chicos, do you really need all those athletic shoes? I have never seen a Spanish man wear running shoes with every day clothes. It’s like Atlético Madrid beating Real Madrid in soccer. It just doesn’t happen.

My advice is try to bring only 4-5 pairs of shoes MAX, less for guys, and make sure some of them are comfortable enough to withstand hours of walking. Running shoes for hiking and exercising – I’d recommend these Adidas hiking shoes from Amazon. A pair of good boots or every day shoes, flats or a nice pair of shoes for special occasions, and sandals (like this Birkenstock Granada sandal!) for the summer if you’ll be here. I promise you will find great shoes here, and it’s a good excuse to go shopping!

packing for Spain

I wish I took my own advice

4. Things you can’t find easily in Spain

Every time I hop on that red-eye flight over to Madrid, there are always a few key things I bring with me that I know are almost impossible to find (cheaply, easily, or not at all) in Spain. If you are living in or near Madrid, you are lucky because there are some “American” grocery stores there, but for the rest of us, it’s a lot harder!

English books. I am a BIG reader. I always have to be reading something. Last year I had such a hard time finding books in English in Spain. I even remember stocking up on English books in Gibraltar! Don’t count on being able to find a lot of books in English here, and the ones you find don’t have a lot of variety and are expensive. And books weigh a lot so it’s hard to bring them or ship them. Do what I did and invest in Kindle or an ebook from Amazon if you read a lot. They are cheap, you can find tons of books for free, and if you read a lot, it’s a worth it.

I am a big baker, and the two most difficult ingredients to find in Spain that I use are brown sugar and vanilla extract. I always bring a box or two over when I come. I love baking chocolate chip cookies for my kiddies, like the ones from home, so for me it’s worth the precious baggage space.

I also bring a lot of my American make-up. For some reason, brand-name make-up products for girls in Spain are wildly overpriced. I pay 10 dollars for Clinique mascara at home and here it costs 20 euros! If you realise that you’ve forgotten some essential products when you get to Spain, it might actually still be cheaper to order online that buy in store. I also wear contact lenses that I can’t find in Spain, so I alway make sure to stock up when I am home. However, as a general rule, medicine is A LOT cheaper in Spain that back home, so it’s better to wait and get stuff here that you might need.

Then my other two things I can’t live without for a year are Crest Whitestrips and good deodorant. Spanish deodorant SUCKS! I always show with about 5 packs of my favorite one from home. And the whitestrips speak for themselves. But that’s just me. And bagels.

packing for Spain

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5. Electronics

While most things in Spain are cheaper than back home, electronics are not one of them. If you have a computer on it’s last legs, the LAST thing in the world you want is for it to die in Spain. Get it checked out before leaving and invest in a new one if you can. I always send in my Canon DSLR camera in for a check-up when I am back home. Unlock your American smartphone to use while you are in Spain, that way you aren’t stuck with a cheap plastic piece of crap for a year.

packing for Spain

Americans going abroad, more is not always better. Source

Phones, cameras, ipods and Apple products cost a lot more in Spain than back home, and you can’t mail it internationally without paying a lot of fees. Trust me, I just had to get a new iPod a month ago. I know some people who think it’s a good idea to leave a laptop at home and come with just a tablet or a mini laptop. They’ve always regretted it. I use my computer for everything here, it’s my tv, my phone, everything. It’s probably the most important thing I’ve brought with me. Make sure it can last a year.

I also bring a stacked CD case of my favorite movies, something that is my go-to when I am sad or homesick. You can’t really buy DVDs here because the region is different and most computers don’t let you change your region more than 3 times. Also, websites like Pandora, Hulu, and Netflix don’t work in Spain unless you know how to block your laptop’s IP address.

Girls, don’t bring hair straighteners or hair dryers, you can find them in Spain for cheap and you risk breaking them on the different power outlets here or frying your hair off. I’ve seen both happen, cough, cough, to me.

Next up: the search for an apartment in Spain!

How did I do? Did I forget anything? What do you always pack when making the move abroad? Anything you miss from home that you always bring with you?

Don’t forget to “like” my facebook page, and be on the lookout for more tips and tricks for moving abroad!

packing for Spain

Psst! Some of these links are affiliate links! I gotta pay the bills you know, but like always, my opinions are my own – like you could expect anything less from me…

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51 Comments on “Key tips for auxiliars, part 2: packing for Spain

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  1. Very, very comprehensive, Liz! We have the same packing style. Now that I’ve lived here for so long, nearly all of my clothing and appliances are Spanish, save my DLSR and computer. And, strangely, most spanish girls I know don’t use tampons!!

    1. whoah I didn’t know that about the tampons! pretty much most of my clothes are from here, along with two years worth of stuff for my apartment. I hate buying electronics here for my piso but I do it. not worth the packing space, except for the important stuff like computers and cameras, so caro here. I made my friend bring me a macbook pro from home for xmas, saved me hundreds of euros!

  2. Great list! With regard to watching DVDs and blocking your IP Address here are two tips:
    -I often check out DVDs from my library or borrow them from Spanish friends, and just watch them on VLC (which anyone can d/l for free if you don’t already have it). That way you don’t have to change your computer’s DVD Region.
    -I downloaded Hotspot Shield to block the IP Address. I only “Connect” in order to make free phone calls to the states (cell and landline) from Gchat (in my Gmail).

  3. I actually had a question for you regarding the NIE process. I’ve been told mixed things regarding whether we should have our medical certificates and background checks translated into Spanish for the NIE. What has your experience been with that?

    And OMG I can NOT believe girls were asking if they would be able to find tampons in Spain! What, did they think Spanish women don’t get periods?!

    1. No you don’t need to translate your medical documents or background checks for your NIE. To apply for your NIE once you are in Spain, you just need the letters, copies, passport, photos ect. its all listed on the extranjerias websites. you only need the med check and police stuff for the visa in the states.

      You wouldn’t believe the dumb stuff people post on those groups. thus the creation of Guiri Bullshit on twitter. SO funny 🙂

      1. Hello,I’m 16 years old and want to move to Spain.I want to teach English out there.I know you have to take a TEFL course,but what would I need to take in college?Also do you really need to go to uni as I can’t afford it atm.?would be great to have some advice

    2. In their defense, I spent a summer teaching English in Perú, and in the city I lived (only an hour outside Lima) even the most US grocery store/WallMart types of places (Plaza Vea) had the smallest tampon selection I’ve ever seen. I’m talkin’ maybe two brands (and not the fancy kind- lots of comfy cardboard) and about double the price there are here. But I’m sure Spain is a bit different. I am heading there next week so I guess I’ll find out!

      1. I meant to add that your posts have been the single most informative resource I’ve found so far in preparation for my time in Spain! Thanks so much!

  4. I just loved it!!! It’s great to see how things work, and I can agree with almost everything ;).

    BTW, do boys in America really wear running shoes with jeans???? OMG 😮

    1. Do boys in Spain really wear purses? 😉 I can vouch that they do. My boyfriend’s brother wears his “bolso” all the time. Hehehe.

      I like your tips. Overpacking is definitely a no-no, but now that I’m moving here (even if only for a few years), I brought two suitcases. And there’s more to come! Hah

    2. Long term moving is different! I wish I had known I would come and stay for so long, I would have packed differently, oh well! Awesome that you got it down to two suitcases though, impressive!!

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