How to rent an Apartment in Spain (if you're a clueless American and don't speak Spanish!)

So the Expat Software offices have officially moved to Spain. It's sunny here every day. The buildings are made of stone. You can walk places. Name me one city in America where they have all that and maybe I'll move back. Oh, and you'll also need to find me a huge 3 bedroom apartment overlooking the town square of that city for less than a crappy studio would cost in the bad part of Seattle.

Getting this place was hard. At least, it was hard for me and my girlfriend because neither of us speaks Spanish. I mean sure, we can order beers and ask about hotel rooms and that sort of thing. But we were in no way prepared to deal with the hassle of buying real estate in a foreign land. Hopefully, if I spell out some of the things we didn't know, it might help somebody else!

Stupid simple things:

Spanish people like their families, so Spanish houses are HUGE. In the countryside, you'll have trouble finding anything with less than 6 bedrooms. Seriously. Renting a house is going to be hard. In cities and towns, homes are often the entire floor of a building. You can find smaller apartments, but they are still called a "Piso" (floor). So if you're looking to rent one, you're looking for a Piso en Alquilar.

It's nearly impossible to find rental property in Spain on the Internet. There are tens of thousands of websites devoted to finding holiday flats for Brits traveling to Costa Blanca, so any search for apartment rentals in Spain is futile. Here are a few sites we found locally that actually rent property to Spaniards:

You can wander around your target town, looking for "en Alquilar" signs in windows and try making phone calls in a foreign tongue (hard), or you can go to the various "Immobilaria" (real estate) offices scattered around and ask them. It will still be a struggle, as nobody ever speaks English, but at least you can use hand gestures and point to things in dictionaries and so forth.

Spanish leases are One Year Minimum, so you're basically hosed if you want to find a place for 6 months. We spent an entire day walking around Pamplona trying to get around this fact, with no luck at all. If you're gonna go, go big. Nobody will rent to you for less than a year.

Painful details

You'll need a Spanish bank account. All the utilities and rent payments will need to be set up as direct debits from a Spanish bank. Overseas banks won't cut it. Even if you have a Barclays account at home, and there's a Barclays branch next door to the real estate agent, you're still screwed. International banking is not yet up to speed that way. You'll need to open an account locally, which is hard because…

You'll need a Spanish address to open a bank account. This seems more of a showstopper than it actually is. If you have a sympathetic real estate agent on your side, you'll hopefully be able to sit everybody down in the bank and work things out. In this case, it definitely helps to have an account with an overseas branch of the same bank. At least then it's sort of in the bank's best interest to help you out.

You'll need permission to reside in Spain to open a bank account. This one is tough for Americans, because it's hard to get a resident visa without a residence. And you need to get that visa before you leave home. We got lucky here because my girlfriend is English, and she was able to handwave around the issue with a bunch of broken Spanish about the UK technically being part of the EU and reciprocity and a bunch of other confusing stuff that exasperated the banker until he just signed the papers. I think I would have been screwed here had I been on my own. Likely I would have had to go from Bank to Bank until I found one that forgot to ask about my Resident status.

You'll need permission to reside in Spain to stay there a whole year. Uhh… Ask me about this in a couple months. The Spanish Embassy website is down right now, so I haven't quite gotten around to looking into this. Yeah… It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission, right?

Getting set up once you're here

Assuming you're a small software development house staffed with Expat Americans, your first concern when you get here will be getting ADSL into your new apartment. For the task, this little page is Gold (use Google's language tools to translate it to English):

That will give you a bunch of info you'll need to know about various DSL suppliers in Spain. If your place already has a land line, you should be able to limp through the online signup process for one of those providers. If, like me, you don't want any more hassle at this point, you can do it all in English through the phone company (though for a bit more money):

You'll need a mobile phone too. That's easy though. Walk in to any phone shop on the street and try to look helpless. These people have one task in life: to supply mobile phones to those who don't yet have them. Things will work themselves out. (We're on HappyMovil, which seems to be really cheap compared to the others, with $.05 calls to the United States!)

There are a bunch of other things to set up too, but if you're lucky the real estate people will get them switched over for you. Here is some good info on utilities and stuff :

Anyway, I can't imagine that this has made for enjoyable reading, but hopefully it will be helpful to anybody else trying to get set up in Spain. If you're planning to come out and have more questions, don't hesitate to drop me an email. It is all good here!

Jason Kester

I run a little company called Expat Software. Right now, the most interesting things we're doing are related to Cloud Storage Analytics, Online Classrooms, and Customer Lifecycle Metrics for SaaS Businesses. I'll leave it to you to figure out how those things tie together.

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