I am an American living in Valencia, Spain. Living Abroad is a series of articles documenting my experience for anyone else considering moving abroad. Check out the entire series.
I spent years searching for a place to live after I decided living abroad was the right move for me and my family. In the end, my wife gave me two countries to pick from and we were soon bound for Valencia, Spain. Our plan is to stay for two years, plenty of time to soak in the city before our return.
I had never heard of Valencia before deciding to move there. It’s the third largest city in Spain and three hours south of Barcelona. It’s a beach city that reminds me of Miami. While the American expat community is growing as more digital nomads discover its low cost of living and great quality of life, it’s still a very traditional Spanish city.
Whether moving to a new city in the states or abroad, things are going to be different. Moving to Valencia has been no different. For this part of the Living Abroad series, let me tell you about some of the good and bad things about my new home in Valencia, Spain.
5 Things I Love about Living in Valencia, Spain
There are several things I love about my new city and new life in Spain, things that make the idea of leaving hard to bear. In no particular order and part of a much larger list, these five things will give you a sense of the great things Valencia has to offer.
The cost of living is soooo much cheaper than Oakland, California
Right before moving to Valencia I lived in Oakland, CA. If you know anything about Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, you know it’s one of the most expensive places to live in the USA.
While rent for a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco can run you $4,500 a month, we managed to stay under $3,500 by moving across the bay to Oakland. Every month, just to pay the rent, send my son to daycare, and keep internet flowing through our home and cell phones, we spent $5,100 a month. That’s before gas, food, date night and the million other expenses we had every month.
Here in Valencia, Spain, we have a three-bedroom apartment, with a huge terrace, near the center of the city and 20 minutes walking distance from the beach.
My son is in a bilingual daycare with weekly swimming lessons, a child psychologist and a two-floor ball pit. We have a bundle package with two cell phones, internet faster than Comcast ever gave us and international roaming through Europe and the USA. All of this is costing my family $2,100 a month! Valencia has allowed me to enjoy a higher quality of life and spend $3,000 less a month for it.
Everywhere in Spain isn’t this cheap, but Valencia offers an amazing cost of living for all the basics.
Spanish life is not dominated by work
Life here is … different.
I never realized until I left how much work and my career dominated my life. When I met a new person, “what do you do?” inevitably came up within the first few minutes. I moved based on work, I scheduled dinners and drinks around when I could leave the office and at least half of my free time was spent working on my career through education, networking or staying up on the latest tech news.
It’s very different here. Spending time with family and friends matters most. Work is a place to make money. I don’t work for a Spanish company, but I feel the difference in my coworking office, in the friends I make and in the conversations I have. It’s also the first time I’ve actually had to defend and explain why Americans work so much.
We can eat out all the time … literally
I love going to restaurants and eating out. I’m one of those people who prefer a restaurant to a home-cooked meal. And when my restaurant experience happens outside on a sunny day, there is nothing better.
Along with the cheaper core living costs, restaurants and bars are significantly cheaper than their American counterparts. On average, I pay $2 for a beer and $10 for a bottle of wine when eating out. Most restaurants carry a special of the day or “menu del dia” in Spanish, which is a three-course meal (desert included) for $7 to $15 .… BTW, that includes a beer or wine.
As much as I love eating out, it’s one of the things I hate spending money on. When we first got serious about our finances, eating out was one of the first expenses my wife and I had to cut back on. Now, dinner isn’t a huge decision with these prices. When you add that to the fact that 50% of the restaurants here have outdoor seating, I spend several days every week eating outside and soaking up the Spanish sun.
Europeans are about that travel life
A weekend trip to the south of France sounds like a Jay-Z line. When you live in Valencia, it’s a $30 flight.
We’ve been abusing this privilege since we moved here. In the first 11 months of being in Valencia we visited: Florence, Italy; Pisa, Italy; Paris, France; Barcelona, Spain; Seville, Spain; Alicante, Spain; Murcia, Spain; Madrid, Spain; Ibiza, Spain; Brussels, Belgium; Ghent, Belgium; Bruges, Belgium; and just to make it interesting, Jamaica for a wedding.
Most of these trips happened with little planning or thought. I would just look up the Ryanair deals from Valencia, pick a city that sounded interesting, then go to Airbnb to make a reservation and we’re there. We can actually explore Europe a weekend at a time and don’t need two weeks and $3,000 for a European vacation.
For someone who loves to travel, Europe has an amazing travel culture. Europeans travel all the time and have accommodations and amazing destinations to support the demand. It’s easy to get around, find places to go and find things to do. We’ve been to more new destinations in our first 11 months of living in Spain than we had in the last six years in the U.S. There isn’t the same culture of travel hacking for reward points, but the cheap flights make up for it.
The beach city life is great
A 20-minute walk brings me to the beach. For me, the beach isn’t just about swimming and sand. It’s the beachfront restaurants, walking along the boardwalk and sun on my skin.
Beach cities have a beach vibe. People enjoy being outside. Things move a little slower. Drinking at lunch isn’t a big deal (well, that’s a Spain thing, not a beach thing). As I said before, Valencia reminds me of Miami … including the fact that the clubs stay open until 8 a.m.
One of my biggest beefs with the Bay Area is the fake beach (as I call it). San Francisco has a beach, but it’s too cold to actually go swimming. The beach is an afterthought thrown in the back of the city. I’m happy I finally found a beach city with the right beach vibe.
5 Things I Hate About Living in Valencia, Spain
With all of that goodness going on, it might sound like things are perfect. The truth is, nothing is perfect. As many things as there are to love, there are things that drive me crazy and cause me to miss the good ‘ol USA.
You need to know Spanish, English isn’t cutting it
In many other European countries and bigger cities, a lot of people speak some English. Countries like Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands have embraced English and many citizens can hold a conversation.
Even the bigger cities in Spain see enough English visitors so it’s easy to get around without learning Spanish. However, Spain is generally behind other countries when it comes to learning English.
Valencia is a Spanish city and is less international than its better-known cousins Madrid, Barcelona and Seville. This means you need to know Spanish in order to survive in Valencia. Every day I bump into people who don’t know any English.
If I wasn’t taking lessons and committed to learning the language, life would be a lot harder. Learning Spanish was one of my reasons for moving to Spain, but sometimes I just want people to understand me. It’s definitely been a struggle being in a land where few people understand you.
Invasion of the mosquitoes and flies
Every summer, the city is invaded by mosquitoes and flies. With the amazing weather, well-manicured public parks and outdoor festivals, you spend a lot of time outdoors. Combined with the fact windows here don’t have screens (I really don’t understand this), you are subjected to flying insects all the time.
We currently have three electronic mosquito repellents running in our home. While the Caribbean DNA running through my blood is keeping me safe, my wife and child are getting exposed to the mosquitoes. When I eat outdoors, I’m often attacked by flies interested in my food. We had mosquitoes and flies growing up in Maryland, but I’ve never been assaulted like this before.
The time difference from the USA
My wife and I work remotely with companies in America through my company, Victoriam Consulting Group. This means we have meetings scheduled based on U.S. Eastern and Pacific time zones. Well, the Pacific time zone is nine hours behind us, meaning a Californian lunch meeting is a 9 p.m. video call for us. Personally, I’m a night owl and love the ability to sleep in, but with a two-year-old in the house, my sleep schedule is governed by him and I don’t get the benefits of later nights.
I’m forced to work a lot later than I want and often have to wait an entire day for anyone to wake up on the other side. It’s doable but more taxing than I expected.
Spanish wages are way, way, way below the USA
The average Spanish worker earns €1,500 a month, which is about $21,000 a year. This is very low for the average American. For example, the average software engineer in Spain earns about $39,000 according to Glassdoor. In America, it’s $103,000.
However, we are starting to miss working with people in a real office. As we’ve started to look for opportunities locally, the large difference in pay makes it hard to justify working locally when we can work remotely for much higher wages. Coming from such higher salaries, you sometimes feel out of place talking about money with Spaniards. The difference in wages really matters more the longer we think about staying.
Spanish food is plain as f***
I love seasoning and hot sauce on my food. I like dressing on my salad, special sauce on my burger and dipping sauce for my calamari.
Spain disagrees with my views on food. Hot sauce literally doesn’t exist. Most restaurants don’t stock it at all and even the supermarket rarely carries it. Seafood is often served grilled with lemon. No salt, no Lawry’s no Old Bay. And if you like salad dressing, you’ll need to adapt to olive oil and vinegar only.
In addition, with Valencia being a smaller and less international city, it’s hard to get international food. Mexican food is hard to find. Japanese, while available, isn’t great. And I would give almost anything for some good Vietnamese food, which I was able to find in bigger (and more expensive) cities like Barcelona. Valencia is the home of paella, but is not an international food hub by any means.
Overall, I’m Happy
I knew moving to a new country would be a challenge and filled with ups and downs. This list just scratches the surface of my new life abroad, but hopefully gives you some insight into my experience in Valencia, Spain.
Thinking about living abroad in a new country or already have some experience living outside the U.S.? Leave a comment and join the Wealth Noir community to get involved in the conversation about living abroad.
Damien is a Personal Finance Nerd and former Facebook Product Manager who started Wealth Noir to help others find wealth. He actively invests in stocks, robo advisors, and cryptocurrency … but loves real estate investing. He holds an MBA from MIT and a Comp Sci & Econ degrees from Unv. of MD. He’s a proud dad, which is his biggest accomplishment.