17 Oct Pros & Cons of Expat Life in Alcala de Henares Spain
Every wonder what life as an expat in Spain would be like? Linda from Indie Travel Podcast lived the expat life in Alcalá de Henares Spain for 10 months. I asked her to share with us the pros & cons of living in Alcalá de Henares with us.
The pros & cons of living in Alcalá de Henares
We’d decided we’d never again base ourselves in an inland city. As Kiwis, the sea was ever-present as we grew up, and we always found ourselves missing it when we were away from it for too long. So how on earth did we end up spending ten months in Alcalá de Henares, which is possibly the furtherest Spanish city from the ocean? Well, I had the opportunity to do a master’s degree there, and it was just too good a chance to turn down… So, we went.
We didn’t know much about Alcalá before we arrived, apart from the fact that it was near Madrid, but it had a surprising amount to offer.
1. It’s beautiful and historic.
Alcalá was the birthplace of famous Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, and boasts one of the oldest universities in the world (where I studied; that was cool). There are Roman ruins and a beautiful cathedral; Catherine of Aragon was born there; and it was there that Columbus got permission from the reigning monarchs to head off to discover America. Oh, and it’s a Unesco world heritage site. In short, it’s packed full of history and is beautiful to boot.
2. Tapas. Enough said.
You can get tapas in most cities in Spain, but they only tend to be free with a drink in the south of the country. Alcalá bucks this trend, with most bars providing a free tapa with your beverage. Those that don’t give you free food, instead discount the drinks and have an extensive menu of cheap tapas.
3. It’s quiet
We’re not huge fans of big cities, so we were stoked to be based in Alcalá rather than Madrid (which was an option because of the way my course worked). The atmosphere in Alcalá seemed a lot more relaxed and laid-back than Madrid, and people didn’t tend to always be rushing around. It was nice.
4. It has good connections to Madrid and the rest of the world
However, since there are bus and train connections into Madrid, if we did fancy a bit of big-city life, we were only 45 minutes away from it. It was easy to go to an event or spend a day in the big smoke. More important was the direct bus to Madrid Barajas airport: Craig travelled overseas five or six times during our stay and the ease of connection to the airport made life so much easier.
5. It’s cheap
Alcalá is a pleasantly cheap place to live. Since it’s a student city, shorter-term accommodation isn’t too hard to come by, and it’s much more affordable than Madrid. Plus, grocery prices are amazing compared to our home country of New Zealand, and eating out is inexpensive too.
1. No ocean
It has to be number one on the list of negative aspects: Alcalá is not anywhere near the ocean. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve said that it would be the perfect city if only it was on the coast, and our greatest disappointment is that it was not. There is a river, which is pleasant enough to walk along, but it just isn’t the same.
2. Spanish transport is expensive
While many things are cheap, transport within Spain is not. Getting to the aforementioned sea (in Valencia) cost a lot more than we could have liked.
3. Networking and co-working spaces don’t exist
While I was doing my course and working as a language assistant, Craig was building up his location-independent business, Performance Foundry. Internet at home was bad at best, but there weren’t any co-working spaces where he could hire a desk. He found a cafe or two where he could work, and there are lots of libraries around, but it wasn’t ideal. Similarly, as it’s not a main centre, networking opportunities were minimal — networking mostly meant going into Madrid.
4. It’s hot and and it’s cold
The locals say that spring and autumn don’t exist in Alcalá, that the weather passes straight from sweltering summers to freezing winters. Perhaps we got lucky, because for a large proportion of our time there the weather was temperate; but it’s true that we sweated for a couple of months and shivered for several others. So be prepared for an extreme temperature range.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the bureaucracy. We’d lived in Spain before and knew what to expect and how to avoid the worst of it, but the fact is that living in Spain means bureaucracy of the first order. Craig spent three hours in a bank once just to pay for his Spanish course; getting my ID card involved at least ten forms and a trip to Madrid — and that was with the university doing most of the work.
On the whole, I loved Alcalá de Henares. It was a great place to live, study, work, and eat, and I’d recommend it as a pleasant alternative to the bustle of Madrid. Personally, I’d be back there in a shot… If only it was by the sea.
Linda Martin runs the award-winning Indie Travel Podcast, and along with her husband Craig, has been travelling full-time since February 2006. She loves chocolate, wine, and all things Spanish.