Moving abroad can often become stressful when trying to work out what items to bring and what to prepare and research in advance. As a student from the UK who has just moved to Spain for nine months, I fully understand this experience and have therefore created this list to help you check-off the essentials before you leave.
If you haven’t already, please read over my Year Abroad Guide and ensure you have already completed the respective sections. As in my Year Abroad Guide, my advice is most suited to Queen’s University Belfast students who are partaking in the British Council programme in Spain, although others may find some information of use to them.
In terms of packing, it’s a good idea to check the weather of where you’re going to and take suitable clothing for the months you’ll be there. If you plan on returning for the Christmas holidays, you may find you only need to pack for up until December, and can then change your wardrobe for when you come back. Whilst European supermarkets tend to sell the same hygiene products, you may want to bring a few of these “home comforts” with you so that you have something familiar to use during the first month of adjustment. Not only that, the last thing you want to be worrying about on your first day abroad is where you can find toothpaste.
For anything you can’t bring with you which you know you’ll need (in my case, bed sheets), plan where and when you can buy such items before you get there. For the first night I slept without sheets but I then bought some the next day. Also, don’t forget you’ll need to eat, so consider bringing small food items with you (bearing in mind what utensils will be available in whatever kitchen you’ll have access to) and checking the opening times of the nearby shops.
Finally, if you have some space left over, perhaps bring a few photos or small items to remind you of home. If you don’t have the room available in your suitcase, you can always print photos when you’ve moved at a local photo developing shop.
Below is a list of all the documents you will need to bring with you for Spain (this list may vary, but not greatly, for other European countries). For most of the paperwork you will do on arrival, you will need to provide the original document and a photocopy. Before leaving, you should scan all of the documents I’ve listed, print five colour copies of each and create multiple soft copies (save them on your laptop, your memory stick, a virtual drive). That way, you have back ups should you lose you printouts or your equipment gets damaged, lost or stolen.
Check local libraries and with your placement or university abroad to see if there is a printer and scanner you can use should you need it.
- Passport – copy the main two pages
- International Child Protection Certificate
- Employment contract
- Rental contract, signed by both parties (if you have one already) – copy all pages
- European Health Insurance Card
- National Insurance number
You may also need a bank statement proving your recent rental payment to get your Empadronamiento (see below) or, if you haven’t paid the first month yet, your rental deposit. I wasn’t asked for this, however.
It’s a good idea to bring a hard copy of your insurance policy, should you get sick and need to bring it to the medical centre/hospital, but do make sure you have a virtual copy you can refer to at all times (either on your laptop or mobile).
Depending on where you go, you may need to provide passport-style photographs, such as when I got my citizen card (check out my post Moving to Gijón for more information on this). For ease, you should print a set before you go and also scan one and save it as a soft copy. For example, when filling out the form for my bus pass, I had to upload a passport-style photograph. You can read more about obtaining a bus pass in Asturias here.
If you’re a student, don’t forget to bring your Student Card and your International Student Identity Card, if you have one. If not, you can apply for one here. Some places will only accpet the ISIC if you’re not a student from that country so it’s worth having one. You won’t need photocopies of these.
Provided the process hasn’t changed after Brexit, there are forms which you need to bring to your university or placement provider to fill out (full explanation of this can be found on my Year Abroad Guide). If you have more than one placement, you should print out a copy for each in advance to save time when the paperwork needs to be filled out.
Paperwork (Spain Only)
For your NIE and Resident Certificate (see below), you can print off the application and payment forms in advance but they do provide them at the Oficina de Extranjeros (foreigners department) of your local comisaría (police station). You can find the list of forms here. You need the EX-15 form to get the NIE. If you are staying in Spain for more than three months, you will need a NIE and a Resident Certificate. You can apply for both with the EX-18 form. This Youtuber gives helpful instructions on filling out the forms:
The payment forms (Modelo 790-012 tax form) for the applications can be printed off here; however, to avoid selecting the wrong payment option, I recommend waiting to receive the payment forms at your meeting in the comisaría. My EX-15 application cost 9.64 € and the EX-18 application cost 12.00 € (you can read on my post Moving to Gijón under the NIE section to find out why I had to process the two applications).
Please note, the process for foreigners in France is different and such paperwork is usually handled by your university abroad or placement provider.
Below is a summary of the important paperwork to be filled out when in Spain – bear in mind that not all of it may be relevant to you if you’re going to Spain. Full details about how I obtained my Empadronamiento, NIE and Resident Certificate can be found here.
With your accommodation being the first thing to arrange, the Empadronamiento (padrón for short) is the next thing. This is essentially a municipal register of all the inhabitants in the town and where they live. It’s important that the town can track this information in order allocate resources across regions accordingly. This means that when you leave the country, you need to take yourself off the register again.
You will need a padrón to get your NIE (if you’re staying in Spain for longer than three months) and to get social security (if you need it). For both the NIE and social security, see just below.
To obtain your padrón, you need to go to the ayuntamiento (town hall) in your town with the following documents:
- Passport (and copy)
- Rental contract (and copy)
- You may also need a bank statement showing your most recent rental payment (or the deposit if you’ve yet to pay your first month’s rent).
They will give you a form to fill out and, once done, they should be able to provide you with the certificate of your Empadronamiento there and then. You don’t need to make an appointment for this, just turn up at the town hall (the sooner the better, as it can get busy very quickly).
This link provides further information on the process.
Please click here to find out about my personal experience obtaining a padrón.
Número de Identidad de Extranjero (NIE)
A NIE is essentially a tax and identification number and is legally required for a number of reasons. If you’re studying, working and/or opening a bank account in Spain, you will need a NIE. To obtain your NIE, you need to go to your local comisaría with the following documents:
- EX-15 form (can be obtained there)
- Modelo 790-012 tax form (can be obtained there)
- Passport (and copy)
- Empadronamiento (and copy)
- Employment contract (and copy)
- EHIC (and copy)
After applying, you then have to take the filled out tax form to the bank to pay the fee of 9.64€ and return this to the comisaría before you will be given your NIE. For a lot of regions you need to book an appointment online in advance which can be done here. Try to do this as early as possible (even looking over the summer and booking a date for when you know you should have accommodation by, remembering that you need official residence in Spain to get a NIE). If you find you can’t book an appointment, it means this option isn’t available in your area and you just have to show up on the day and wait in line. Again, try to get there as early as possible to avoid the queues!
Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (TIE)
Basically, if you need a visa to stay in Spain, you need a TIE. It’s proof of your permission to stay in Spain. Members of other EU countries do not need a TIE, and are instead given a Resident Certificate (see just below). As it stands, UK citizens in Spain do not need to get a TIE but this may change after Brexit. If you would like more information on the TIE, however, please follow this link.
For the TIE, you have to fill out an EX-17 form.
Like with the NIE, some areas require that you book an appointment in advance online. This can be done using the same link for the NIE.
The resident certificate is a legal requirement if you are from another EU country and will be living in Spain for more than three months. If you already have a NIE, you must go to the comisaría with the following:
- EX-18 form (can be obtained there)
- Modelo 790-012 tax form (can be obtained there)
And, if they haven’t asked it from you already:
- Passport (and copy)
- Empadronamiento (and copy)
- Employment contract (and copy)
- EHIC (and copy)
If you haven’t got a NIE already and also need to get a Resident Certificate, you must follow the same process detailed under the NIE section, but fill out the EX-18 form instead (this gives you both the NIE and the Resident Certificate, whereas the EX-15 form is just for the NIE).
As with the NIE, unless it’s not possible in your area, you need to book an appointment online, using the same link I provided in the NIE section. Please note, if you’re on a placement, you may not be able to apply the Resident Card until after your contract starts. You will still be able to get your NIE in the mean time and will have to return to the comisaría for the Resident Certificate after you contract has started.
Seguridad Social (Social Security)
If you’re doing the British Council, you don’t need to get social security as your earnings are not considered a salary. Instead, you use your EHIC and Insurance. You also don’t need social security to register at a doctor’s (although registering isn’t necessary if you’re not permanently moving to Spain). If, however, you have an additional job, you will need to get social security and pay tax on this money. This link provides more information on the process.
You should aim to have at least £1000 set aside to keep you by for the first few months abroad, as your Erasmus Grant and first wage may not come until November. My first Erasmus grant came on 6th November and my first wage came on 20th November, and I handed back all the required paperwork for both payments at the earliest date possible. The money you bring with you will help you to pay a deposit, your rent, bills, buy food and transport to your university or placement.
My first Student Finance payment for the academic year came in August, so I was able to rely on this money to pay my rent (you can make international payments with Halifax). I also had euros in cash from working as an au pair over the summer which I used to buy my food, household items and bus/train tickets. I would advise against bringing significant amounts of cash in case you lose it or get robbed (unlikely but it does happen to students every year). With the Post Office you can get a Travel Card which works in cash machines and shops in many countries.
Preparation for your school(s)
For those on the British Council scheme and other similar programmes.
By the time you move abroad, you should have the details of your school(s). If not, make sure you have made the relevant people running your programme aware. If you have, you should have made contact with the school(s), introducing yourself and asking any questions you may have and possibly arranged a date to meet the teachers before your contract starts. You could also ask them if there is anything they want you to prepare or bring.
Most schools will ask you to create a short PowerPoint presentation (in English) about yourself and where you’re from to show the pupils. Be as creative as you can and bear in mind the language ability of the pupils. The British Council also recommend bringing items from your home town, which is often well received by pupils. The following list of ideas was made by the British Council:
- photographs – the Language Assistant’s house, street, town or village, region, family, pets
- maps (for example of the Language Assistant’s home town and/or of countries where the Language Assistant’s language is an official language)
- tourist information – hotels, campsites, monuments, price lists, opening and closing times, museum tickets, tourist brochures and postcards
- music – popular and traditional
- easy-to-understand textbooks related to social themes or illustrating grammar points (for example, conditional tense)
- audio-visual aids – weather information, quiz shows, word games, soap operas (especially those known in the UK), adverts, cartoons
- television/cinema listings and reviews
- local newspapers, teen magazines, weather forecasts, minor news items, problem pages
- a school timetable/a school report
- transport timetables and tickets
- real menus from restaurants, price lists from bars
- empty packets – toothpaste, soup, chocolates, etc.
It’s important to remember that school systems work differently in other countries and so it’s worth researching how it runs in the country you’re going to: the names of different school levels; what ages pupils are in each level; what subjects they study; what exams they have.
Furthermore, the British Council provide many tools to help your plan lessons, some of which can be found here.
Whilst you may not be in the country yet, Google maps are a great way of navigating about the area you’ll soon be living in. For those going to Spain, I recommend searching in advance where your nearest ayuntamiento and comisaría are. For everyone else, you should check where your nearest health centre, pharmacy and hospital are to save time and ease stress in an emergency. The same goes for any other medical needs which typically aren’t dealt with at those locations (the opticians, for example). Although you may not need to go, it’s also a good idea to check where your local dentist is in case of an emergency.
Moreover, you should research the different banking options (checking as well which banks are in your area) and phone providers if you intend on getting a foreign sim. You can also find out what activities and events are happening in the area to help keep you busy and meet new people, which is especially important when moving to a new place.
For all of the above I have shared my own experience of events in Spain in my post Moving to Gijón.
It can be quite overwhelming moving to a country where they speak a foreign language. No matter your level, it may help to make a list of essential vocab you’ll need when there. Here is a just a list of some categories:
- The house and household items
- School items
- Ordering food/drink
- Key words for appointments (setting up residency, bank, doctor’s)
Whilst going over vocabulary, and even grammar, is an important part of your language learning in general, this suggestion of learning or revising elements before you go is purely to give you more confidence once you’re there. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the right word or use the wrong agreement as you can often still get your point across. You’ll learn so much whilst you’re there so don’t worry if you feel you don’t have the sufficient vocabulary or fluency to speak.
If you’ve prepared all of the above, you’re as ready as you can be for your Year Abroad. And if you’re feeling anxious, worried or scared, please know that that is completely normal. Even though I had spent two months which a French family prior to my Year Abroad, I was so stressed and anxious that I contemplated many times not going. This is where your friends come in and it’s thanks to them that I’ve come this far already. The thought of going and everything you have to do is definitely worse than what it is in practise; the “what if” thoughts are unlikely to ever happen.
If you have any questions about the above or would like advice on any matter (even if it is that you just feel uneasy about the whole experience) don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
Please read my article “Moving to Gijón” which, whilst focuses on the system in Gijón, Asturias, offers information and advice on what paperwork to do and administrative tasks to complete during your first week or so abroad.