Becoming an EXPAT: Moving My Family to Spain (Part 1)

On August 11th, 2018, my husband, two daughters, and I will be moving to Madrid, Spain. We will officially be referred to as “expats.” I had no idea what an expat was until I found out I’m going to become one, and I had no idea what the word meant. My husband told me that it stood for “expatriate.” I had to actually look it up because it sounded so negative, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Expatriate just means someone who lives outside their native country.

It’s always comical to watch how people react when I tell them that my family and I are moving to Spain. Usually, their eyebrows raise, their jaw drops, and they repeat back to me, “Spain?” I think most people are used to hearing, “to the other side of town” or “to (insert name of city or state)”. They do not expect “Spain.” Even though I’ve heard myself say it at least a hundred times, I still need a moment to process it after I tell people.

I think to myself, “Is this for real?”

becoming an expat Moving to Spain (part 1)

Well, it is. It is very real. My husband and I both accepted teaching positions at a private, English-speaking school in Madrid. Over the course of the past 10 years, we have worked with overseas employment agencies and subscribed to websites that hire for overseas schools, but we either weren’t getting our foot in the door, we couldn’t find positions together in the same city, or it simply wasn’t the right time. We gave up spending money on the agencies and the websites, and my husband began sending out resumes and cover letters on his own time.

He sent them out to nearly every country in Europe; we weren’t being picky. At least, not until this year.

becoming an expat Moving to Spain (part 1)

In May of 2016 I visited Madrid (Traveling Abroad Alone). One evening when I was standing in Retiro Park, I smiled and thought to myself, “This is it. This is where I want to raise my girls.” That night I called my husband on Skype and told him that he needed to do anything in his power to get our family there.

This year, having become exhausted and nearly hopeless from all the job searching, my husband decided to only look at international schools in Spain. He submitted exactly one resume. Out of all of the places we have searched and applied to, the one that stuck was the one where I envisioned us living, playing, working, and exploring.

I believe in fate, and to me this was not a coincidence.  

When we were both offered positions at the school, we were at the same time ecstatic and nervous. Who wouldn’t be? We are going to be moving our whole family across the ocean to another country with a culture very different from our own and to a country where the native language is not English.

Once we accepted the job offers, my anxiety kicked in, and the questions started flowing through my brain: what do we do first? what documents will we need? who do we need to meet with? Having to complete FBI background checks, get physicals and blood work done at the doctor’s office, have our pets’ veterinarian authenticate their vaccinations, complete paperwork for our work Visas, set up Visa appointments at the Spanish Consulate in Chicago, selling our home, and working full time is enough to give anyone a nervous breakdown.

Still, it seems that every time I feel overwhelmed, someone provides me with help and guidance to soothe my nerves. We have been in contact with other families and individuals that have moved to Madrid that we will be working with. Employees of the school and other expats living in Madrid have been unbelievably incredible.

becoming an expat: Moving to Spain (part 1)

We get asked a lot of questions, but one of the most frequent ones is, “Why would you want to live outside the US?”

I typically respond by saying, “Why wouldn’t I?” My husband and I have been traveling enthusiasts for years, I am happiest when I am abroad, and I love the European culture and lifestyle. I’m not one for staying in one place for extended periods of time, and I want to explore the world. I also want to give my children the gift of living overseas. We may be able to go on an African safari or an overnight ferry from Barcelona to Rome for a weekend getaway. I want them to experience new cultures and help them realize the world has so much to offer outside of our little Midwestern bubble. They will be receiving quality education from a highly regarded international school, and they’ll be bilingual within a year. So, again, why wouldn’t I want to move?

At first I thought people were being closed minded or that they weren’t cultured, but then I started to doubt our decision and question if we were being selfish by living our dream while not thinking about the impact the move will have on our children. Our oldest, who turns seven in April, isn’t as thrilled as I would like her to be. Still, it’s really a now or never situation; this is the right time, and I know it. Will there be challenges? Absolutely. Will it take some time to adjust? Without a doubt. Is it hard leaving behind family and friends? God, yes. Will this be an amazing opportunity? That goes without saying.

Yet, there are times my excitement fades, worries and doubts creep in, and I start to think we’ve made a mistake.

It is in those times that comfort can be found in the most unlikely of places. For me, it was in the Linn County Recorder’s Office. We were renewing my daughter’s passport, and I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while; our daughters went to daycare together. Her husband is from the Czech Republic, and their three girls were born here in the states. Although they live in the US, they travel back and forth to Europe on a regular basis. I mentioned our upcoming move, and I think that she could sense that I was feeling anxious and flustered at that moment. Instead of asking me questions, she simply stated: “Your decision to do this is the greatest gift that you could ever give your children. You are giving them culture, humility, and the world”.

I put my hand over my heart and closed my eyes when she said those words; I held back tears and thanked her. Now when I begin to doubt our decision, I think of her words. I think as moms we often doubt our decisions. We go to Facebook or the internet seeking advice, but sometimes all we need is a new perspective to let us know that what we’re doing is alright.

Our decision came down to one question: at the end of our lives, will we be able to say, “I did” or “I wish I had”? We chose the former.


Mary, a native of Rockford, Illinois, attended DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois where she received her BA in Secondary Art Education. In 2007, she moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa after accepting a position as a high school visual arts teacher with the Cedar Rapids Community School District. She and her husband, Collin, who is a teacher in the Iowa City Community School District, reside in Cedar Rapids with their daughters, Zoey and Munroe. Zoey is five and Munroe will be turning one in October 2016. In addition to being a full time mommy, full time teacher, and writer for the mom’s blog, she is also a professional artist who has shown and published works both nationally and internationally. Mary enjoys traveling, painting, and most of all, spending time with her family.


  1. Mary, I am so proud of you! You were such a bright, smiling friend at Boylan, and we definitely had fun! Enjoy your time living abroad! Hopefully I can come visit!

  2. As a fellow expat (2 different times in our married life, currently completing year 7), I would tell you to prepare for the culture shock and homesickness. It usually shows up in months 3-6 and it can look very different in everybody but especially children. My oldest son waited to show much signs until close to month 6 when we were beginning to plan our summer visit home. His behavior became very bad and his teacher was noticing it which was usual for him. It finally clicked with me what was happening so we talked and discussed all the fun things we still were going to do. His behavior improved the next day.

  3. Hi Mary, I would love to get more detail from you. Especially on why you chose Madrid. I am thinking seriously about Spain. Barcelona is on the radar (I love it there and found a great school) but having my kids learn Catalan is not my first choice so I started looking in other areas, Valencia for example. I thought beach life might be nice. Can you let me know what you like about Madrid. Also, I would love to stay in touch, see how the move goes, get any tips … 🙂 Thank you!

    • Hi Ingrid!
      I’ve been to Madrid and fell in love. It reminded me of a combination of Chicago (where I’m from) and Italy. It has a big city look but very relaxed feel. The city is extremely family oriented. Kids are everywhere and embraced by everyone. My husband and I have traveled all over Europe and Madrid just seemed to fit our lifestyle.

      It really comes down to what fits your needs and where you feel comfortable. I would definitely visit each place first before making a decision.

  4. Hi Mary,

    Your story was very inspiring and makes me think of mine and my wife’s current situation. My wife is from Czech Republic I am from NY. We live in the outskirts of NYC and we have a constant struggle whether to sell the house, pack the family up ( I have 2 kids 6 and 3.5) and just move to Prague. My fear is ensuring my kids get the standard of education they would get where we live. Plus having to get then acclimated to a new Country. No different then what you have experienced. I don’t have the stress to look for a place to live seeing my wife has a house in Prague. It has always been a dream of mine to move to Europe and if not for the concerns of the kids it would happen.

    Like many others the burn out that comes with my job and the financial stresses that come with living in a NYC suburbs is overwhelming at times. I think the move would solve many of our problems I’m just so on the fence because of the kids. My younger one is not so much of an issue since he is not in school yet but daughter just started kindergarten and is comfortable and to uproot her makes me a bit uncomfortable. Also I want to give a quick shout out CR I have a very good friend who is from there, and currently owns 2 restaurants in the area. Anyway nice reading your post keep doing what you’re doing, it’s awesome!!!!

  5. Hi Mary, Im also a math teacher who recently moved to Madrid from NY. I have an 11 year old as well. Let me know if you would like to grab a coffee sometime.

    • Marla,

      I would love to connect. We are moving this summer and I am so curious about your 11 year old. Did you do public or private school? I am moving 2 kids to Madrid and want to make the right choice.

  6. New to your blog but love your story so far. I studied abroad in spain 12 years ago and I have been itching to move there ever since. I thought, maybe its too late now that i am married with a kid, however, your story is very inspiring and i cant wait to hear more about your experiences living abroad. By the way, I am also a fellow illinois girl (from chigago).

  7. Hello! I hope all is well. I am currently a teacher and it is my hope to move abroad. I also have two littles. What advice would you give? Do you feel like you made the right decision? Is teaching in Madrid different from teaching in America?


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