Hola Espana! Hola Madrid!
My wife and I finally got a preview of what would our life be in Spain, the next chapter of my family's sojourns into foreign lands.
We were in Madrid and Barcelona in the last 2 weeks and had a first hand taste of the Europe life - Spanish version and of course, of the cost of living.
What can I say. Madrid is really a beautiful place. True to what people write about it, it is indeed a lovely place with all its historical architectures and beautiful sculptures.
The place is just exquisitely laid out with spacious parks and lovely trees.
Especially at night, its reputation as a 'walking city' is really something to be experienced first hand. It was an enchanting experience strolling along its lovely parks, with the brightly colored structures illuminated like Disneyland.
It helped that we were there on the tail end of the winter season, which somehow made it manageable to walk around with the slowly warming weather during day time.
But for someone who has lived and always been in the tropics, the night time weather was still very cold. It was about 5-10 degrees Celsius at night and in spite of the 3-4 layers of clothing and with all thick gloves and scarf, walking around was still punishingly chilly .
We were happy and relieved that we accomplished all that we sought to achieve in the 2 weeks of this trip.
Actually, my wife accomplished them as all I did was merely to listen to her stories of appreciation of the various flats and international schools that she went to. I only needed to finally agree which ones we would take.
Unfortunately, my travel was paid for by the office and hence, I need to do work and report to the Madrid office and attend the 2012 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Nice Relocation Agent
My wife and I were really thankful to find a very honest and hospitable Spanish lady named Alexandra who owned this relocation agency called MadRelocation (http://www.madrelocation.com). She was everything that my wife hoped for in a relocation agent. Extremely customer-centric and insightful with her ideas on what should an expat consider in relocating to Madrid.
All throughout the days that she went with my wife, interviewing school headmasters and flat owners, she was very transparent with her ideas and opinions. Given her personalized service, we actually believed that every Euro that she charged us was worth it.
She did not ask us to pay the balance of her fees immediately even after we have closed the contract with the owner of the flat we will rent in April and the international school (http://www.stgeorge.es/en) in which we have enlisted our kids for this September, the start of the coming school year. We certainly recommend her service to any expat who is also moving to Madrid!
|Image via Wikipedia|
The Flat We got and the Kids' School
The flat that we will be renting was a bit far from the city - by Singapore standard of course. It is located in Alcobendas and takes about 30 minutes via Cercanias line plus a 10 minute bus ride from Santiago Bernabeu (Yes! this is also the place were Ronaldo and Real Madrid play - Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is their home) to get to my office in Calle de Santa Hortensia.
It is certainly near the kids' new school and should only take about 10 minutes by car ride (about 3.8 kilometers).
The distance and convenience of the school and the market (they call it 'Mercado') to our new home is nowhere near the convenience of our residence here in Singapore, which is all 5-7 minute walking distance to the kids' school, MRT station and groceries/mall. It's even a 5 minute ride by cab to my Changi Business Park office.
But we knew we can't expect the same, given what the budget can accommodate. Especially with the amount of school fees we have to pay to St. George International School for Jacob and Erin, we can't afford to find a much closer and affordable flat to the school as we would have wished.
Nonetheless, we felt we still got a good distance from the new school and its accessibility to a train station balances out the downside of its distance from office.
The new house is a little smaller in area than our flat now. About 30 sqm. smaller at 100 sqm., we feel that at its rental rate of a shy less than 800 Euros, it should already be a good choice for a 3 bedroom flat that is about 10-15 minutes walk from the Alcobendas S.S. Reyes, Cercanias train station. Besides, the whole place is newly renovated and repainted. We are the first tenant since its renovation 2 months back. The appliances like the dishwasher, washing machine and fridge are all brand new.
The owner required at least 2 months of advance rent. According to Alexandra, if owners decide to use their Plan Alquila (not sure of the spelling and also the concept) insurance to cover the contract, then s/he may only charge for 1 month advance rent. But accordingly, the norm for most owners is to request for 2 months.
Only downside to the deal is that we needed to furnish the flat with the basic fixtures such as a dining table and chairs, sofa, coffee table, TV (of course, else my kids and I will die of boredom) and beds for the rooms. Good thing though, Alcobendas has an Ikea outlet nearby, so it should be easy to at least procure some of these furniture the moment I move in April.
Cost of Living
The housing cost in Spain is definitely a 70-80% cheaper compared to Singapore, at least for comparable flats that we have seen and for the same amenities as the HDBs in Singapore. The rental rates of condominiums and landed properties are certainly at par, with rates of over 2.5K-5K Euros or about 4.1K to 8.25K Sgd per month. .
The cost of utilities like electricity (about 100Euros for an average consumption, considering heating due to cold climate), gas (about 80Euros, also considering heating) water (about 25Euros), cable TV (about 20Euros) and internet (about 40Euros) are seemingly higher, but this can be attributed to more I believe to consumption than the average tariffs.
Definitely, the cost of goods and consumer services are way higher. Just to give an example, a 320 ml bottled water would be about 1.50 Euros, which is like 2.5 Sgd. Coca Cola and similar sodas are definitely expensive at 2.5 Euros - that's like 4.25 Sgd. The cheapest decent meal you can find in most low to mid-price restaurants in downtown Madrid - contrary to what we have read and maybe because things may have changes in the last 2 years since the crisis - is actually more expensive than in Singapore. A meal set is 10 to 12 Euros excluding drinks, such is about 16 to 19 Sgd, definitely not cheap!
Cab fares are also a bit on the high side. Flag down rates are about 3 Euros (that's 4.95 Sgd). A 5 kilometer ride - which will cost about 10 Sgd in total including flag down rate in Singapore - will probably cost about 8 Euros or about 14Sgd.
Bus and Metro (they call it the Subway, which connects most of the entire Madrid city locations) rides are charged at flat rates, regardless of distance at 1.5 Euro. There is another train line that connects the outer districts to the city. It's called the Cercanias lines (they call it the Train - and it's run by a different company called Renfe, which also runs the Bullet Train service to farther provinces like Barcelona from Madrid). This train service has variable fees depending on distance but the total would not be too far off from 1.5 Euros. It was about 1.35 Euros for some 8-10 stations distance. Alexandra mentioned that these rates have already increased quite substantially in the last 6 months as was the case for the income taxes. :-(
It is a mix feeling of anxiety and excitement, anticipating this move to Madrid, certainly not the best of conditions that I had hoped for. However, it is what it is now given the commitments I have made as well as the preparations that have been done. I need to look forward to the 2 years of my career and hope that I do well. More importantly, I pray that my family will enjoy their stay and make new friends.
My new boss and colleagues in Europe seem nice and pleasant to work with. It was good meeting them in Madrid and in Barcelona. But I am not sure, being the only Asian in that office building in Madrid as well as the only Asian in the whole Europe team, I am certainly wondering how such situation will pan out for me in the next 2 years.
Till next time, when I am in Mdrid.