Hi, I’m Julie from Siesta and Sangria. Welcome to my Spain expat guide. I was born and raised in the suburbs of New York City. From a young age, my parents exposed me to new places and cultures and instilled in me a love of travel. I vividly remember my first trip to Europe when I was nine.
We went to Italy and I frantically took pictures of the Colosseum and the ruins of Pompeii on my camera. I started a contest with my sister to see who could eat more gelato. And I was very proud to win!
Studying for a Semester in Seville
Years later, I had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of studying for a semester abroad in Seville in 2012. I quickly fell in love with the endless sunshine and beautiful old buildings. I really enjoyed literally getting lost in the city’s charming cobblestone streets and going out for tapas.
Early in the semester, I started dating a guy from Seville, or a Sevillano as they say. The next few months were very special as I got to experience Seville’s hidden spots like a local. Once I returned to the US at the end of the semester, we continued to date long-distance for five years.
My love of Seville continued to grow during those years. I returned many times to visit and spent holidays in the city. I was thrilled to move to Seville in the spring of 2017. It was amazing to no longer be long-distance and to get settled in this incredible city. I was officially an expat living in Spain!
Life as an Expat in Seville, Spain
I now live in the historic center of Seville. For the past few years, I have worked in marketing at a touristic apartment company but due to the coronavirus situation the business is no longer hosting many visitors.
I’m taking advantage of the crazy year that is 2020 to study digital marketing, which is something I have wanted to do for some time. I’m also embarking on a new adventure with my Instagram account @siestaandsangria where I share my experience as an expat in Spain.
Another thing in the pipeline is a blog and website which has been really fun to work on. It’s been amazing to connect with other expats and travelers online and I’m excited for what’s to come!
I spend my free time exploring the city center of Seville. It always holds new surprises and hidden gems, even after all these years. I enjoy spending time with friends over tapas and drinks. I’ve traveled less this year, but I’ve had the chance to explore towns closer to home which has been a treat.
Exploring the Beauty of Spain
I’ve explored much of Spain as an expat. The country’s beauty never ceases to amaze me. Spain is a big country and the climate, terrain and typical dishes vary a lot between the different regions. Spain has so much to offer.
This summer I stayed closer to home and did day trips in Andalusia, the region where I live. I visited two incredible towns close to Seville for the first time, Frigiliana and Setenil de las Bodegas. They are considered to be some of the most beautiful towns in Spain and they exceeded my expectations.
Even after nearly eight years of travels in Spain, there are still new surprises in store. For each place I tick off of my bucket list in Spain, I add another two. Each amazing town leads me to more that I add to my travel wish list.
Two spots still on my bucket list are Toledo, which is a charming city located an hour from Madrid, and San Sebastian, the culinary capital of Spain. I’ve fallen in love with countless Spanish places, but I have to admit that Seville is still my favorite and holds a special place in my heart.
There is something magical about the city of Seville. It is rooted in tradition and it’s the home of flamenco, La Feria de Abril and so much more. While Seville is the fourth-largest city in Spain, the historic center is full of charming cobblestone streets and has a small-town feel which is nice.
The main sights are all within walking distance and it’s easy to get lost strolling through the quaint plazas. Seville’s Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and is extremely impressive to visit, inside and out.
Triana is across the river from Seville and the views are just lovely. Triana is also full of azulejo tiles and tiny tapas bars, and it is well worth a visit.
Must-See Attractions in Spain
Granada is a fascinating city located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Andalusia. The Alhambra palace sits atop the cliff, a marvel of architecture filled with intricate carvings and azulejo tiles.
Its lush gardens are a pristine oasis with views of the historic center down below. It was built in the early 1200s by the Nasrid dynasty, the last Muslims to rule Spain, and so many centuries later it remains in amazing condition.
Segovia is an extraordinary city in Castile and Leon. Its majestic Roman Aqueduct, which is nearly intact, has stood for nearly 2000 years and the Alcazar, once a Moorish castle, served as one of the templates for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle. The historical center is absolutely picturesque.
If you are searching for a Spanish town with a Cotswolds vibe, look no further than Santillana del Mar. This town boasts medieval towers and Renaissance palaces. Nearby, there are impressive caves, some with fascinating Palaeolithic findings and intriguing prehistoric cave art.
Access to these caves may be limited in order to ensure preservation, but if you can make it to one, prepare to be extremely impressed! Another wonderful place is Ronda, one of the most charming towns in Andalusia in the Sierra Mountains, perched on the edge of a ravine between two cliffs.
I am fond of this town as 500 years ago my ancestors lived here. I’ve enjoyed exploring this town and finding out about my roots. Spain has a vast history. Whether you visit the 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct or explore the over 8-centuries-old Moorish alcazar, you can’t go wrong.
Culture of Spain as an Expat
The people of Spain are quite animated, straightforward and spontaneous. There’s less fluff and less emphasis on perfect manners and planning. I always find myself saying “por favor” and “gracias” more than everyone else. Family and religion are very important to Spanish people as well.
There are many awesome festivals and parades throughout the year where the spirit of celebration is vibrant and contagious. The Spanish love a good party and any excuse to enjoy a fiesta is taken without hesitation.
When I was abroad in Seville in 2012, it seemed like the only place to get a coffee to-go was Starbucks! Sevillanos take the time to sit down and savor a coffee with a friend. People in Seville love to go out and enjoy the city.
You’ll see young parents grab a drink in the sun with their children next to them playing soccer in the plaza. Spaniards seem to enjoy life and take advantage of the gorgeous weather. I love this aspect of Spanish culture.
Luckily, integrating into Spain as an expat was pretty seamless. There were very few surprises, as I had lived here for my semester abroad and had visited so many times previous to my move there. By the time I arrived to live in Seville I had a pretty strong level of Spanish, but I was out of practice.
It took longer to get up to speed than I hoped, but I can say that my hard work paid off! I can speak Spanish in nearly any situation that life throws at me. It’s a pleasure to speak with the locals in their native tongue.
Spain’s Amazing Tapas Scene
Spain’s tapas and food scene is pretty incredible. I am a huge fan of the famous Spanish tortilla, as well as the Galician specialty of Pulpo a Feira, which is octopus. Gazpacho, a cold tomato soup, is another favorite of mine.
It’s so refreshing, especially in the summer. I’ll be honest: the translation just doesn’t do the Gazpacho cold tomato soup justice. It’s much more delicious than it sounds. The wine and cheese are out of this world too. And as an American I still cannot believe the low prices of this country!
I always keep an open mind with the food in Spain. They eat many things that are not common in the US. I give everything a try and this attitude has really expanded my food repertoire. You might not believe it, but in the south of Spain it’s customary to eat snails (caracoles) in the summer.
They are prepared differently than Escargot in France, as the sauce is not buttery, but with herbs. Each restaurant prepares them with their own sauce. My mom still probably doesn’t believe that I eat them, but I do!
Pro tip: The eating schedule in Spain is quite different from that of the US and most of Europe. Spaniards typically eat lunch at around 2 or 3pm and dinner at 9 or 10pm. Visitors or new expats will probably find themselves eating at empty restaurants if they don’t adapt to the dining hours!
Challenges for an Expat in Spain
The biggest challenge of being an expat in Spain has been the distance from friends and family. Before coronavirus, frequent visits were wonderful and allowed me to see loved ones quite often. Luckily, WhatsApp, Facetime and all of today’s technology make them seem much closer.
Recently, I’ve had the chance to get to know other American expats in the area which has brought a piece of home to Seville. There are expat groups on Facebook that I would highly recommend to expats anywhere. They are a great way to navigate a new city and make some friends along the way.
Tips For an Expat in Spain
Most importantly, have some patience and keep an open mind when moving to Spain as an expat. People might do things differently but that’s all part of the fun! The chance to get to know this beautiful place called Spain, its amazing people and customs, is an incredible experience.
But keep in mind it might not be as close to a vacation as you might imagine.There are everyday stresses at work and adapting to a new country might not be totally seamless. I’d recommend doing some research before moving to make sure that the city you’re heading to is a good match.
Spanish bureaucracy can be a challenge, particularly if Spanish isn’t your native language. Make sure you do your research and have some patience as paperwork progresses slowly. Punctuality isn’t a great feature of life here.
Don’t be surprised if the shopping streets look like a ghost town in the early afternoon. From 2-5pm, many shops close during the week for siesta. Don’t worry though – they open up after 5pm and stay open until at least 9pm.
In Seville, all stores and even large supermarkets are closed on Sundays, with the exception of some restaurants, bars and convenience stores.
Moving to a new country is an amazing and truly special experience. I hope you keep these tips in mind and wish you the best on your expat journey to Spain. Thanks for reading and feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions or would like more info on the stunning Spain!