After living, working and being chronically confused in China, I decided to move to Madrid in early September '14. Initially I had thoughts that it would be an easy transition as, yes, I'm a European so surely it can't be that hard for a European to relocate to a country within my citizenship...? In some ways I was right; by majority I was oh-so wrong.
With regards to my own experience, I found that there were two hurdles to overcome when you arrive in Madrid, Spain:
First hurdle: living situation
Unfortunately for me, I was one of those supremely unlucky individuals who had a lot of drama with living situations. With hindsight, it could have been avoided in some ways, but at least I learned very quickly how the Spanish housing sector works. I would say, judging from my experience, stay in a hostel for a couple of weeks and scout out houses/apartments from there. It gives you ample time to explore and become accustomed to the barrios.
So, due to bizarre circumstances I moved into a two-bedroom apartment near Sol with a Spanish girl. It quickly became apparent that we were polar-opposites with our outlooks towards hygiene, lifestyles and general interests – a risk when moving in with a person you've never met before. To add more reason for doubt, I didn't see a formal rental contract during the whole month I lived there (a very important document needed to obtain legal work and residency papers in Spain). With this in mind, I moved out of the apartment before the next month's rent was due; stayed in an absolutely lovely AirBnB room with an equally lovely couple; found another apartment after an endless stream of viewings, and started from scratch.
A word of warning: be prepared to haggle. Landlords, like mine, will try to get as much money out of you as possible, trying to exploit your inexperience with Spanish customs. It is an annoyance, but remember that Spain's economy is in complete turmoil; 54% of people are unemployed so less money is circulating around the capital. My landlord asked for two month's rent, an Aval (the bank puts aside x-amount of funds to ensure you can pay the rent – do NOT do it as it is an obscenely expensive arrangement) and a guarantee of one year's occupancy. After exchanging many-an-email, it was reduced to one month's deposit, no Aval and a guarantee of one year's occupancy, which is a much more agreeable option for your pennies.
Second hurdle: obtaining the appropriate documentation
Spanish working regulations aren't particularly difficult to follow if you have some guidance from the company you're working for or are pretty good at using Google. You, however, have to take into consideration the work ethic: everything requires approximately a month's wait.
To apply for an NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjero, a tax number allocated to foreigners), you first go to a foreigners' documentation office on Calle San Felipe 7, near Chamartin, to obtain your temporary NIE number. When you receive that number, you have to book an appointment to get your permanent NIE, located in a foreign office on Padre Piquer 18, near Casa de Campo. Be forewarned that you will have to wait 4 weeks for an appointment and bring copies of all the documents you physically have (I didn't so I had to traipse the streets looking for a photocopying shop).
Luckily, getting your Social Security number is a pretty linear procedure: you show up, line up and get your Social Security there and then. For further ease, all you need is your passport and temporary NIE number. You can easily search for the nearest Tesorería de la Seguridad Social to you; there are quite a few dotted around Madrid, centrally and in the outer barrios.
After sorting out all the legal and work issues, life in Madrid is easy. Life can't be that bad if your daily routine is orientated around eating out somewhere and drinking...
Credit: Natalie Vass