My life as an expat in Madrid (2004 to present) and some of what I’ve learned

October 21, 2016

Happy Spainiversary to me…

Today I celebrate 12 years of life as an expat in Madrid!

Time just keeps passing, and I just keep staying here.

I still don’t know why. But it’s fun.

To celebrate, I wrote this for my students on my serious website. But it turned out rather well, so I’m sharing it here, too.

Mr Chorizo added a few notes… you know, things Mr Daniel didn’t want to share with 100 thousand people on his other website for whatever reason. 

Those are in brackets. The rest is Mr Daniel, keeping it real.

Here goes!

My life as an expat in Madrid, in 1400 words

It’s been 12 years since I moved to Spain.

I first came here on vacation with my dad, in August 2004. We were in France for a week, and Spain for a week.

[Typical American thing to do… let’s see Europe in two weeks! A different city every day. I have very few memories of any of it.]

At the end of August, we were in Granada, and I met a girl. She wasn’t Spanish, but she lived in Madrid.

She was an Erasmus student. And I was very young.

somewhere in france before moving to madrid21 years old, actually.

I went back to Arizona, but suddenly my life wasn’t working out. Soon I found myself with no job, no house and no girlfriend…

And all I could think about was that girl back in Madrid.

So I called her. And offered to come and visit.

She said it sounded like a good idea, so I came.

[Actually, she said something more like “Listen, I’m not in love with you or anything, but if you want to come to Europe, go ahead.” Also, take a look at that haircut. “They should have shot me crossing the border”, says much older and more conservative Mr Daniel. The truth is, though, girls were all over me back then.]

Anyway, I arrived in Madrid on an overnight flight from Philadelphia, on October 21st, 2004, and called her from the airport.

She told me to meet her in a plaza in Alto de Extremadura (not the most exciting part of Madrid).

It was a cold and rainy morning in October, just like this one, when I got off the metro and started my new life. I sat in the plaza waiting, in the rain, with the distinct feeling I was making a huge mistake.

What happened after that?

Well, I found a room to rent in Lucero (near Alto de Extremadura, and even less glamorous).

[We had people in the neighborhood who would shoot pigeons with pellet guns in the park, and cars would be set on fire at night. I didn’t realize it was such a dump at the time, because for me it was all just Europe… Look, ma, real buildings!]

I studied to be a teacher. I got a job. I learned a lot of Spanish. The girl went back to her country. I made some other friends.

And for some reason I stayed

I got another girlfriend (actually a series of girlfriends) and had a series of teaching jobs, too. Some of them were bad, some of them were better. But I (almost) always enjoyed teaching.

And I had always liked writing. During my first year in Madrid, I wrote a novel.

It was never published.

Thank god.

[When I say it was never published, I mean I decided the world would be a better place without my novel. It’s still sitting around at home somewhere. But I’m not gonna do anything with it.]

I moved to a house in Embajadores. And then another house in Puente de Vallecas.

Around that time, I fell in love with a girl from the north of Spain, and she broke my heart. Then it was a girl from here in Madrid, who broke my heart again. I think there was a girl from Brazil and one from Bulgaria in there as well. It’s a long story.

[Note to self: don’t date Basque girls. If I had learned that one back in 2006 or whatever, I could have saved myself a LOT of pain later on.]

With my heart broken, I started writing even more to keep myself busy.

I also started boxing. If you think having your heart broken hurts, you should try being punched in the face. That hurts more.

Everything looked good, and except for the occasionally broken heart, I was happy with my life in Madrid.

It was sure more exciting than Arizona.

Life as an expat in Madrid goes on…

Eventually, I got a new girlfriend, this time from Italy.

And then, a few years ago, my grandmother came to Spain. She loves to talk, and we talked about travelling. She’s travelled around the world several times. And I listened to her, and thought “I want to travel around the world too!”

I decided to start writing about English because I wanted to have the time to travel (and a bit more money too). And I had decided long ago that writing novels wasn’t a good life strategy.

So I started writing a blog about English. And getting followers. And writing books. And making videos.

[My first idea was to use “I have a website” as an excuse to charge more for private lessons. Then the economy collapsed. So I changed it to “hey, let’s get rich by selling $3 ebooks”. Both terrible ideas, in retrospect.]

About three years ago I moved to the north of Madrid, to the romántico barrio de Tetuán. I broke up with my Italian girlfriend. (This time it was actually my idea, so it wasn’t all that heartbreaking.)

And soon after that I decided to quit my job and be a writer and blogger full time. I was tired of getting up at 6 AM to go to my first class, and tired of getting home at 8 PM after my last class, after a long bus ride outside the city.

[Actually I was tired of being treated like a nobody when in fact I was a best-selling author, and I was finally earning enough money to make quitting my job seem reasonable.]

So I quit, and here we are.


Precious freedom…

I’ve learned a lot in these years.

But mostly, what I’ve learned is that your life is what you make of it. Everybody has difficult times. The economy collapses (like Spain’s did several years ago), or your girlfriend leaves you for someone else, or your landlord threatens to kick you out of the house.

The important thing is what you do next.

Do you complain? Or do you take action to make tomorrow even better?

This is kind of like learning a language. You can complain. You can say “This is hard!” and use that as an excuse to give up.

You can feel bad about where you are now, and focus on your obstacles.

Or you can dedicate some time every day to improving where you are now, and focus on overcoming your obstacles.

It’s a choice we all make. And we make it every day.

[Fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day. — Steven Pressfield.]

And now, 12 years of life as an expat in Madrid

I’ve had some good times here in Spain, and I’ve finally had the opportunity to travel, too. I’ve been all over Europe, at least. And soon I hope to start travelling “around the world” in a serious way.

Recently, I’ve been to Portugal, Hungary, Croatia, The Netherlands, Ireland, the UK and more. I celebrated my 11th Spainiversary last year in Sevilla.

I wrote more books and made a lot more videos. I got my heart broken a couple more times.

life as an expat in madrid daniel welsch
Fun times in Cuenca, last week.

I never really expected to be in Spain so long. Actually, I had some strange idea that I was going to die young, so I didn’t really have any sort of plan for my life for a long time.

All those poets and rock stars died young, after all. And I couldn’t really imagine my life at age 27 or 30 or 35. So I just figured I wouldn’t live very long.

[I was really annoying when I was younger. But honestly, it seems like Arizona was full of people being annoying in different ways. Anyway, I’d be happy to slap some sense into 20-year-old Mr Daniel, as soon as the prices for time travel start to go down.]

That’s another thing my grandmother (and grandfather) made me realize later. People in my family live a really long time. And whatever happens, life goes on.

Who knows what’s next? I should be able to continue writing about one thing or another for a few more decades. And travelling. When I was 21 and just arriving here in Madrid, that was all I really wanted to do. And now I’m doing it.

[Actually, I’ve basically achieved every life goal I had when I was younger. They weren’t such big goals, as it turned out. Time to get some bigger ones. Like dominating the internet, and becoming famous on Youtube. And having a really cool life as an expat in Madrid. ]

It’s all turned out much differently than I expected. Being a writer, these days, is different than it was a decade or so ago. And so is everything else.

But all in all, it’s going pretty well.

Life, my friends, is good.

And thanks, as always, for reading.

Mr Daniel.

P.D. Spainiversary is what we guiris call our anniversary of living in Spain. We consider it to be a real word, just like selfie or LMFAO.

P.P.D. For SEO reasons, I keep using the phrase “life as an expat in Madrid”. Because it’s all about pleasing the Google bots in the end, isn’t it? See 5 big questions I’ve been asking myself since becoming a professional blogger for more about that.

P.P.P.D. In fact, life as an expat in Madrid is even more fun if you can be a digital nomad part of the time. But being a digital nomad is hard work too.

P.P.P.P.D. I’m rereading this on my 14th Spainiversary, and not much has changed, except the fact that I moved to Barcelona in the meantime. Otherwise, I’m the same guy. A couple years older and a bit less optimistic. Oh well.

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. So, What type of visa do you have? I came on the auxiliare program and quit it….rather do my own thing….but in limbo about visa :// rather do private classes and my online business, but the 3 month limit is cramping my plans hmmmm thanks in advance!!

    1. I was originally “undocumented” and I did the arraigo social eventually, so now I have a work permit. Another long story. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Yo te escribo en español! Que dicha leerte, no sé si me recuerdes pero compartí piso con esa chica de alto de Extremadura!!!! Y si… el recuerdo que guardo de ti sigue siendo el de aquel muchacho de pelo largo, algo callado pero tan gentil! Suerte y que sigas viajando! Si algún día Colombia aparece en tus planes… te espero!

    1. Yeah, María Angelica, claro que me acuerdo de ti, y estabas ahí desde el primer día… ¿sabes que Robert (amigo de esta chica de Alto de Extremadura) ahora vive en Bogotá? ¡Se ha casado con una colombiana!

  3. I want to read this novel … I’m not going to publicly dare you to resurrect it or anything like that, but am interested.

    Nor do I jest. There’s actually a whole field of academic study called “juvenalia.” It’s not a very big one, but it exists and much can be learned from reading youthful writing.

    As for the 27 club, doesn’t every young person have that fantasy? My number was 24. Never happened, despite certain reckless tendencies that should have ensured it …

    Hope the G-bots smile on you kindly! 🙂

    1. Hey Anthony, thanks for commenting!

      Talking to people over here, it would appear that not every young person fantasizes of going out Hendrix-style. Maybe it was just us tortured long-haired types.

      And the novel… I don’t even think it’s really that bad. I just don’t feel like the world needs to know so much about my internal monologue.

      (Actually, it might be that bad.)

      And as for G-bots, well, “life as an expat in Madrid” is pretty sweet. 😉

      And I’m ranking right up there with some serious websites that talk about it!

  4. We had a project recently in England whereby several famous and not so famous people wrote a letter to their younger selves, with you reflecting on your time in Madrid at the moment it could be an interesting topic


  5. Hahaha just came across your blog and loving it!
    You know why you don’t date Basque girls? (Here one) Because we don’t know what this “dating” thing means!! (I learnt it with an American…)
    On a serious note, thanks for sharing the precious freedom part, it helped a lot 🙂

  6. Really interesting post. But I do not understand what you mean when you say “Actually I was tired of being treated like a nobody when in fact I was a best-selling author, and I was…”

    I amb spaniard and I am sick of our “job culture”, so I guess what you mean, but…

    1. Hey Vicente, yeah. Probably what you imagine I mean. The work culture where it doesn’t really matter if you’re competent or hardworking, as long as you show up.

  7. Hi Daniel! I really loved reading this article and your article about moving to Madrid! I have been thinking about moving to Madrid ever since I visited this city for the first time in August 2015. I was wondering if you know much about finding jobs in Madrid as an expat. At the moment I don’t speak Spanish at all, only English, German and Dutch, and I was wondering if this will be a problem? Also, do you know where you can look for a place to live best? These are probably the only things that are holding me back at the moment. I hope to hear from you!

    1. Hey Bernice, the two biggest websites for looking for flats are and – and about finding a job, it really depends. A lot of people teach English, which you can do without speaking Spanish. I also know a lot of people working in international companies despite not speaking much Spanish at all. It kinda depends on your field. Best of luck and hit me up if you’ve got more Qs!

      1. Ah, thank you so much for your answer! Do you also know websites where I can best look for jobs? I think I would like teaching English for example!

  8. Hi Daniel!

    My husband and I will be moving to Madrid from Sydney in April! He is Spanish but I am not. So I have a bit of anxiety but still quite excited! Your blogs are relieving my qualms a bit because you sound very happy there!

    We wouldn’t have any prearranged jobs before going there but hopefully we would have sorted an apartment before going. Any tips we should know about to prepare for our big move?? 😀


    1. I think Spotahome is the thing you’d use for apartments before showing up. Or AirBnB I guess. Other than that, just enjoy it and don’t take any of it personally. I’m sure it’s a lot different than Australia in one way or another. Thanks for reading!

  9. So… what’s wrong with us Basque girls? 😛 After living in the UK for 10 years I’m actually thinking about moving to Madrid soon(ish), are you still there? Maybe we couuld grab a coffee and you can tell me all about it 😛

    1. Hahahahaha um… nothing’s “wrong” with Basque girls, per se. I’ve just gotten into some complicated situations with them. Drop me a line and I’m happy to get a coffee 🙂

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