How to Start Living in Spain with Kids: Our Story

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So far in this series of posts, I’ve explained why we decided to move to Spain and how we finally earned our non-lucrative residence visa. I’ve explained up to when we left for Valencia. Now let me tell you how we began living in Spain with kids.

How to Start Living in Spain with Kids: Our Story Valencia paella


This post is mainly about our experience apartment hunting and then finding schools for the kids. After two years of homeschooling in Southeast Asia, we decided to put the kids into locals schools if we started living in Spain. Keep in mind that this is our specific story, and your experience might be quite different.

In this small series posts, I’ve tried to my best to describe different aspects of our first-year saga living in Spain. For more tips on Spain residency and living in Spain, look here:


How to Start Living in Spain with Kids: Our Story Valencia

How to Start Living in Spain with Kids: Our Story Valencia grafitti


We flew into Madrid and took a train directly to Valencia. Jet-lagged but giddy with excitement, we met with our Spanish friend and he showed us to the apartment we would rent from his mother (that story here). It was mid-August. Local school started in about a month. Our priority was finding schools for the kids so that they could start on the first day. Time was limited. Ready, set, GO!

The apartment we moved into is in a spectacular location right in the El Carmen part of the old town and close to many awesome things to do in Valencia. It was an awesome neighborhood and a fantastic location, but we quickly came to realize that the apartment was too small for a family of four. If we were going to live in Spain for more than a month or two, we would need a new place — and soon.


How to Start Living in Spain with Kids: Our Story Streets of Valencia

Armed with Google Translate and zero Spanish skills, we hit the pavement looking for apartments. Schools in Spain require a permanent address to apply, and it would be pointless to use our present address unless we were 100% sure that we would find a new apartment in exactly the same district. The school hunt was now a second priority.

We had to work fast.

The Mid-August Ghost Town

Here’s the problem: we arrived in the middle of August when many businesses — including real estate agents — would be closed for weeks. As I mentioned in my post on culture shock in Spain, lots of people here are on vacation for the entire month of August. That includes real estate agents and the landlords themselves.

This resulted in a limited number of apartments. We did start visiting some potential rental, but it was hard to judge what the neighborhood was like because no one was around. Some streets seemed completely deserted. The shutters were closed, the shops were locked up, and there was almost no one on the street.


Some agents told us that many people start a lease from September, but they’ve already secured the apartment by mid-July (so that they can enjoy their summer, I guess?). Therefore, it’s best to start looking for apartments in June when business run normally and the majority of landlords are around.

Home sweet home

How to Start Living in Spain with Kids: Our Story Turia park science museum

Despite the odds, we hustled for several weeks, seeing as many places as we could. In the end, we had three apartments that fit our budget and specifications. We chose one very close to Gulliver Park and the City of Arts and Sciences and were thrilled to discover that the landlords were a sweet older couple who have since been very kind and understanding with us.

The place is fully furnished and has a washing machine, digital TV and a kitchen with essentially everything we need. Nothing is fancy and most of it is old, but everything works. My guess is that this was possibly the home of their parents or some other relative that had passed away.

We’re paying less than 600 USD to live in an amazing city right next to an incredible park and science museum. Score!


How to Start Living in Spain with Kids: Our Story valencia from above

Now we had an apartment lease and our NIE number, which is basically like your Spanish ID number (they gave us this when we got the non-lucrative resident visa). Now we went to the city hall to register ourselves as residents. This has to be done within 30 days of landing in the country. First requirement: done. We’re officially legal residents, living in Spain with kids. Whew!

Unfortunately, we couldn’t relax yet. When you start living in Spain with kids, you must also have to register them for school. It’s very hard to homeschool kids in Spain. It’s possible, but you have to jump through a number of hoops to prove you are educating your kids. We didn’t want to go through this, especially since we were still trying to complete the paperwork just to start living in Spain with kids. Besides, the kids wanted to have some local friends and wanted to give public school a shot, anyway.

Now that we finally had an actual address with a certificate of registration (Certificado de empadronamiento), we could start approaching schools.


How to Start Living in Spain with Kids: Our Story Maristas

As you know by now we didn’t speak Spanish. We also knew no locals who could help us. Our Spanish friend had left town already (he lives in the US now) and we didn’t want to impose on his parents after they helped us so much with the apartment.

Instead, we just looked for schools on Google Maps and then walked over to them. We had no plan aside from simply walking into the schools nearest our new apartment and then…improvise, I guess.

Son’s school secured

The first school we walked in told us to come back later when the staff was back from a late lunch. Instead of waiting, we walked two blocks north to the next school on the map. Little did we know that this was the famous school in town, the one ambitious parents sometimes fought to get their child into. Perhaps our ignorance worked in our favor, because they accepted our boy, despite us knowing zero Spanish. This is a story for another day.

School hunting continues

There were no spaces left at this school in our daughter’s grade. In fact, most schools in Spain confirm students attendance for the following school year by March. Most people just return to the same schools year after year. Fortunately for us, some don’t because they’ve moved or some other reason. By early September however, most kids are registered in schools, and for popular schools, there’s always a waiting list.

Upon hearing that our girl didn’t have a spot at the same school as her brother, one of the teachers at our son’s new school dropped what he was doing and walked us down to the city’s education department. Well, we actually didn’t know what we’re doing or how far the place would be when we started walking. After 20 minutes and a small tour of the park we’d soon live near, we arrived at a government building.

Grateful for kindness found

Once we went into the Department of Education, this teacher basically held our hand through the entire process, walking us from one office to another. This saved us an incalculable amount of time — possibly days or more. There was no benefit in helping us like this. This teacher could have just handed us a map and told us where to go, but instead, he spent his own time and resources to help us. On a side note, it was kind of fun to be with him as well, since he had been a teacher for a long time and many people working for the department of education were once his students at one point or another.

We were deeply grateful for his kindness and were happy to know our boy would be attending a school where someone like him would be teaching.

Girl’s school found

How to Start Living in Spain with Kids: Our Story Valencia school uniform fruit stand

After this teacher’s help, we quickly found out which nearby schools still had openings left. We left this building and walked straight to another school about fifteen minutes away from our new house. They had kindly accepted our girl, and fortunately for us, the school’s English teacher was there preparing for a new school year. Thanks to her, we cleared everything with school administration and had our girl registered.

And just like that, both of our kids were enrolled in local schools in Valencia. Classes began two days later.

So now we had an apartment in Valencia, had registered schools and were officially living in Spain with kids. Problems solved right?

I wish.

Unfortunately, this was only one leg of the journey, but I’ll save the rest of the story for another time.


We’ve had some challenges getting set up, but it has been worth it for us. How about you? Would you move to a different country? Or have you?

Further Reading:

How to Start Living in Spain with Kids: Our Story Valencia school
How to Start Living in Spain with Kids: Our Story Valencia

Photo Credits via Creative Commons CC BY : #5, #6 (color slightly altered on both)


  1. Hi,

    Thanks for your advice thus far. My wife and kids are relocating to Las Palmas for 3 years as she has a job there. I am being told by the immigration affairs expert at her new employer that I have to sign a custody agreement to my wife in order for the kids to be able to attend school, go to the hospital etc?

  2. Hi’ thanks so much for sharing! I was wondering how your kids did in school not knowing Spanish? We’re they able to attend the same classes? Thanks

    • Hi Mariam. It was tough at the beginning of course, but both kids learned quickly. They were given support classes in Spanish at their schools, and attended the same classes, yes, but I think they learned even more simply through soccer teams and extended playtimes during the siesta hours. I talk a little more about it here.

  3. gabriella rodriguez says

    Hi there! Your posts are so great! My cousin, 7yr old daughter and I will be moving to Spain this September until June of 2020 through the Auxiliares de Conversacion Program. I’ve been looking around but I haven’t gotten a straight answer as to the procedure of enrolling my daughter in 2nd grade. We’re going to be in Andalucia, not sure of the specific area yet and I know it would be different from Valencia. But should I bring vaccinations or school records? She only knows a few phrases and words in Spanish, but I speak a good amount of spanish. Thank you!

    • Hi Gabriella. I hope your move goes great! As for “straight answers” regarding enrollment, I wish I had one for you, but each area of Spain works differently…sometimes each office in each area. We were once told completely different advice from the very same office. That’s why I say just bring all the info you can just in case. Be prepared for as much as possible. Sorry to be vague but I don’t want to give you the wrong info. Best of luck!

  4. Hi Jason,
    Amazing blog! Thanks for sharing your story!
    My husband and I are originally from Argentina but lived in Canada for 15 years. We now have 3 Canadian daughters.
    We love Toronto but the cost of living is very high and the winter too long.
    I am a bit concerned about my daughters adjusting to a new school. They have been in the same school since the start and have very close friends. They are multilingual (English, Spanish and French) so that doesn’t concern me.
    Also, what about Valenciano? I preferred if they learnt english as a second language.
    Anyway, thanks a lot for posting your experience!

    • Hey Vi

      If you plan to live in Valencia, taking Valenciano class is required, unless you sign a waiver saying you’re only in Valencia for a year (my son’s Valenciano was waived for the first year). English was the second language for our kids to learn. I replied more in another post.

  5. Jason,

    What school did your boy attend? I am looking for a school for my 5th and 7th graders.

    • Hi Sheila

      Our boy attended a concertado school near Gulliver park. Unless you plan to take your kids to private schools, it really depends on where you live. I hesitate to name the school outright as experiences may vary and I don’t know if they want it advertised. It might help to check schools on ranking to see if there’s any school you might be interested, check their school website, and even contact them to see if there are any openings for your kids. Hope you find a school your kids enjoy!

  6. Tally Hershko says

    HI Jason, thank you for sharing your experience, really interesting! We will be moving to Valencia with 3 kids in October so all this info is very valuable. How did you get along without knowing Spanish? Did you take some lessons? any recommendations? Also, since we are arriving after the school year is starting, we don’t plan on registering our kids to school until the following year. You wrote that homeschooling in Spain isn’t common, do you think it will be problematic? We also plan on registering to private schools.
    Another question, if you don’t mind, what are the recommended neighborhoods, in your opinion, also outside of the city, to live with kids? Where there are other expats and families? Thanks again for the information and keep on traveling! Best, Tally

    • Hi Tally

      Ok I’ll try to tackle your questions one at a time:

      Re: Spanish, I’m afraid that my wife and I are still atrocious speakers. Yet we got along without it, using basic phrases/vocabulary, Google Translate, and (eventually) two kids who act as our translators, although I wouldn’t recommend using that for too long. I’m not proud of this, and it limited our social opportunities, but it is what it is. If I were you, I’d start taking lessons as soon as you can. Your time in Valencia will be much richer for sure, and there really aren’t many English speakers in Valencia.

      Re: Homeschooling, it’s possible, I think, but if you stay in Spain for a while then you may have to prove to the Spanish government that your kids are being educated. If you plan to put your kids in school later on, then you might not need to deal with this. We weren’t sure if this would affect our chances of extending our visas later on, and we wanted our kids to make local friends and learn Spanish, so we stopped homeschooling for a while. It was the right call for us.

      Re: Neighborhoods, we really liked the Russafa area, as well as south of it and east, across the Turia Park. I’d highly recommend looking for a place within walking distance of the Turia. I don’t know that much about outside of town. My son played for a soccer team in Paterna for a while, and we had a good impression of the area and people we met there, but not a comprehensive knowledge of what it’s like to live there.

  7. Tiffany small says

    Hi! We too are trying to get to Spain this fall and Valencia is one of my top picks! Are you still there? How long did it take for you to receive your non lucrative visa? We will have to visit the Miami embassy but will be in Spain in July so can’t get to Miami before late July becuase we have to leave our passports with the embassy for the application process. I’ve read extensively about the visa and feel I’ve got a good hold on the expectations. So far the embassy has not responded to my emails. The website says you do not need an appointment, and to just show up. Is that how you did it? We have 10 and 11 year old daughters that are super excited about the possibility of this adventure. My husband will more than likely not be able to join us for the entire time but will able to visit enough!

  8. Pim Ballard says

    Hi Jason. Thank you for your post. It is so useful. My son and I are looking to move to Mallorca. He is 9 and quite shy. I can not decide if public school or private school would be better for him. How are your children enjoying their school ?

    • It’s hard for me to judge private VS public for you, I’m afraid. Our kids both went to concertado schools, and they both had great experiences, with a few snags along the way. No place is perfect. Our friends the Wagoners ( have kids in public schools in Almunecar, I believe. If it says anything, we left Spain last Spring for more travel, and our two miss their schools and friends dearly. I hope you find the school that best fits your son!