Student Experience | Living Abroad | Spain | Programs | Prospective Students | International Programs | CSU
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Spain: Student Experience - Madrid

This report should give you an up-to-date idea of what you can expect to encounter in Madrid. We suggest you refer to this guide often. It will help you prepare, but will be most useful once you have settled in.


When you arrive at the Barajas Airport in Madrid, the Resident Director and the Madrid Program Assistant will meet you as you leave immigration. They will be waiting with a big sign that says CSU and will direct you to two buses located a short walk outside the terminal. Normally the temperature is hot in August, around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily, the buses are air-conditioned. A half-hour's drive through moderate traffic will bring you to a university dorm (colegio). Be prepared for dorm style behavior from Spanish students living there. Don't be intimidated if you don't get to know "españoles" right away, it's not a competition. Instead, focus on getting to know your surroundings. Also, take advantage of what the dorm has to offer, especially the pool. As far as the food goes... Well, it's Spanish "dorm" food. Keep an open mind. If you are a vegetarian, tell your director immediately so he/she can communicate it to the cooks. Madrid might seem quiet. It's because most madrileños leave the city to enjoy their August vacation. Four days after arrival, the Granada students leave Madrid and go to Granada as a group. Also, be advised that there will be other norteamericanosin your program all year long, when we were there, there were nearly 200+ norteamericanos there.

All students initially stay in Colegio Mayor Chaminade (a university residence hall, Paseo Juan XXIII, 9, Ciudad Universitaria, Madrid 28040. Metro: Metropolitano). It is located within walking distance of the University and the IP Office. The majority of the rooms are single rooms. There will be some Spanish students in Chaminade but since it is vacation time while you are there, most of the residents will be other American students. This will be your first experience in Spain and with Spanish dorm food so you should expect that it will take a little time to adjust to the food and especially the hours, 2:00 for lunch and 9:00 PM for dinner. Typically many students are not thrilled with the food. Chaminade does not provide Sunday meals so you should expect to pay for outside meals on these days. Finally, in the past, a few students have had personal belongings disappear from their rooms, so you should take the normal precautions that you would take in any hotel. Always keep your door locked, even when you go down the hall to talk with a friend or go to the bathroom. Keep all excess money and valuables in Chaminade's safe deposit boxes.

The next ten days will be filled with many informative activities. These will include tours of Madrid, the university and student areas, a welcome dinner, and a session about housing. There will be several excursions throughout the year, giving you an opportunity to visit such places as Segovia and Salamanca. The Preparatory Language Program (PLP), which includes lessons in Spanish history, politics and art, will provide an orientation to Spain, plus a review of Spanish grammar and conversation. Conversation skills were especially emphasized. Take it seriously.

Expect to be mentally and physically exhausted these first few weeks. As soon as you can go to Segunda Mano website and start looking for housing accommodations. Bring your own internet (Ethernet) cable, as there is no wi-fi  in the dorms  and the computer lab only has a limited amount of old, slow computers (looking for pisos is easier, faster, and more convenient by internet than by newspaper). You will be given information about finding a place to live on about your second day here, including general information about the better sections of the city to live in as well as the neighborhoods to avoid. It also contains helpful vocabulary related to housing that you'll need to know (heating, hot water, lots of light, extra charges, etc.). You will only have two weeks to find a place before the PLP starts and you really shouldn't wait. Shop around, but don't be too picky - pisos go very fast. Other than the information the IP staff gives you, you should expect no other help from them. It is entirely your responsibility to find a place to live. You can only stay in the dorms for 2 weeks after the PLP starts. We recommend that you try to find someplace to live before the PLP starts because the class schedule will interfere with your piso search. If you haven't found a place to live by the time you have to move out of the Chaminade, you can always stay with friends. (This only happened to one of the students in Madrid this year, and then they all found a place to live shortly thereafter). Basically, our advice to you is that you get on top of the apartment hunting immediately, even before the PLP begins, because it will become an obstacle. Buy a street map of Madrid with a street finder. It will help you understand the city and find apartments.


The climate of Spain is usually described as continental or Mediterranean, which means the summers are hot and the winters are very cold. The typical summer temperatures range between 85 and 100 degrees F. Winter in Madrid is characterized by long cold and dry spells, but be prepared for occasional downpours. The average winter temperature ranges from 30-40 degrees F; yet December, January and February have days when the thermometer reads well below freezing. Cold spells begin as early as September. January and December has been unusually cold. We had snowstorms and below freezing temperatures. Be prepared. Bring a good a raincoat, boots, and warm clothes.

Although Madrid's official smog season is a short one, there is a relatively high level of pollution all year long. Students who have respiratory problems may want to consult their physician and bring necessary medications. Remember, there are a LOT of smokers in Spain, even in enclosed areas like cafeterias and in the hallways outside the classrooms. Your hair & clothes end up smelling like smoke.


The Spanish culture is centuries old and naturally has an abundance of ingrained customs and traditions which require more patiencethan we are used to, and it is advisable to observe and respect them. However, Spain is not as conservative as most people believe. This is one of the topics that was talked about last year. Our advice:keep an open mind. Don't be shocked to see very open displays of affection, "punks," "cabezas rapadas" (skin-heads) and the very latest fashions and trends. Madrid is an extremely modern and progressive city.

Madrid is densely populated city with around five million inhabitants. BUMPING, PUSHING AND STARING is very common and not considered rude. But still keep an eye out if you're being bumped or pushed around, it's one of the ways they distract you in order to steal from you. So, if you haven't lived in a big city before, be prepared for a shock! You'll find behavior like this everywhere (metro, bus, discos, bars, etc.). You will learn to sacrifice some of your personal space and comfort. Social distance in conversation is much closer than it is in California. People are not accustomed to excusing themselves for shoving their shoulder against yours. Remember you're in a big city.

When you are introduced to Spaniards, expect to exchange "dos besos" with everyone! (but not between two men). People will speak to you at a very close distance and at times may touch you to get the point across. The most effective way to meet people, learn about their culture and make the necessary adjustments is to be open and willing to start up conversations with them. If you have any questions, ask them. SPEAK SPANISH ON EVERY OCCASION. DON'T SEEK REFUGE IN YOUR PISO. GET OUT AND EXPLORE!


It is helpful to study the political differences between Spain and the United States before arriving. Students here are politically active, as you will see by the graffiti outside of the facultad and all over the Complutense. However, there are few radical students. The political scene is not as extreme as it has been in past years, but be prepared to be confronted with some anti-American sentiment. This is mostly directed against American corporations and “cultural imperialism”, not against you as an individual.

At times during the school year, there will bemanifestacioneson campus or on main streets and in the plazas around Madrid. A manifestación can be a march, a speech or a debate. They are a normal part of the Spanish culture and are usually controlled and non violent, but they can become dangerous and there is no such thing as an "innocent bystander." Student life is usually peaceful, but if you find yourself on the scene of a manifestación that seems to be turning violent, get away immediately to avoid getting hurt. The Police may ask students around the scene of a manifestación for identification. Spaniards are required by law to have the identification card with them at all times, and you should carry your school-issued carnet de estudiante (ID card), which will be issued by the Resident Director's assistant. Also an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) is helpful as well. It's wise to avoid the political scene here (don't sign petitions, don't participate inmanifestaciones. (IP advises against these types of activities!). You could be deported.


The California State Program is a member of the Universidades Reunidas Norteamericanas , which is made up of American students from programs sponsored by American colleges and universities. A lot of students find that the course content is not as extensive as that of their home campus. Many students may believe this to be true at first, but it changes radically as the semester progresses. Because professors speak entirely in Spanish and at a normal pace, and because all texts are written entirely in Spanish, be prepared to study. Multiple choice tests are not common here; everything is essay oriented and in Spanish. So you will have to prepare well for exams.

The Reunidas classes by themselves will not be enough if you wish to improve your conversational Spanish because you will be surrounded by other American students. Each semester, there are about 24 classes offered. All Reunidas classes assign a 2000+ word paper due at the end of the semester, plus a midterm and a final. Be prepared for a "crunch" at the end of the semester. You will learn more Spanish in your regular university courses that you take with the local Spanish students. We recommend that you try to make friends with the students in those classes. You can also benefit by getting involved at the beginning of the year in an intercambio de inglés-español, where an English-speaker and a Spanish-speaker agree to meet to converse for a few hours every week. You help someone with his or her English, they help you with your Spanish. No money is involved and usually great friendships are formed. Be sure to meet your intercambio partner for the first time in a public place, like in one of the university bars at school. Notices for intercambios are usually posted on the bulletin boards in the Facultad and nearby the IP program office door. You can also post your own notice. You can also find intercambios in, "In Madrid."


Class lists for the facultad are available in the IP office. Subject areas include: Philology, Philosophy, History (in many areas such as Economics, Film Art, Mythology, etc.) and Geography. All students are required to take at least one class in the regular university semester. We recommend that students, especially students who are fluent in Spanish, take more, as they are more challenging. Take the facultad class the fall semester ONLY if you feel confident in your level of Spanish (you can get advice from the director); otherwise, wait until the spring semester. Taking classes in the Facultad gives you more of a chance to see and experience what Spanish students are really like. In many cases you are likely to be the only American in the class, so the opportunity to make Spanish friends and to use your Spanish is increased, which will enhance your overall experience. The Complutense classes really give you an appreciation for the Spanish educational system. There are normally no midterm exams in the Facultad classes. You will have to pace yourself and take one exam at the end of the semester. If you wish to take such classes, it is wise to be in good communication with your home campus academic advisor. That way you can make sure that the classes in the Facultad will count for credit. Get the e-mail address and phone number of your CSU home campus advisor before you leave and tell him/her you might need to contact them during the year to discuss how the classes you take are to be counted back home.

The first thing you must do is to find out which facultad offers the courses you want. You need to be very patient. The course list is not available until mid-September and expect changes in the classes offered by the Reunidas Norteamericanas. Look through the lists of classes, separated by subject that are available in the program office. Then copy down the courses that interest you. Classes are posted in display windows in each building. The school does not publish class schedules. You should also note that the academic schedules for Reunidas and Complutense classes do not always coincide. Be sure to ask Spanish students for advice on instructors and courses. They are a great source of information. Also be advised that there are a limited number of students allowed to take one class, so don't depend on being able to take the same class with a few of your buddies. When classes begin in the facultad, go to the class(es) you have selected. (If you can, it's a good idea to sit in on different instructors for the same course or even to sit in on different courses to see where you feel most comfortable). After two or three class sessions, you must decide whether you can handle the course material. At this point, you should approach the instructor and explain to him/her that you are here with the California State University, which participates in Universidades Reunidas. Ask the instructor for permission to take the course. We've found the instructors were usually happy to have us in their classes or, at the very least, were indifferent.

There are some precautions about the regularfacultadclasses that you should keep in mind. Spanish instructors' presentations often lack structure to the point of seeming disorganized to American students. A word of advice: sit in on several classes before making a final schedule decision. The atmosphere in the classroom is also very different. Spanish students rarely participate in class discussions or ask questions, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't. You can be an asset to the class by giving a different point of view. It is often difficult to hear and concentrate because personal conversations during lectures are common. Some students have been disappointed by the apparent apathy on the part of their Spanish student counterparts and of their instructors. Finally, you should count on extending your stay in Madrid by one month as final exams for allfacultadclasses are given in June, although in some exceptional cases they are given in May. Don't be surprised to see your professor reading his lecture from behind the desk and never using the chalkboard. Overhead projectors are not common in Spanish classrooms. But yet some teachers do use them!


There are two libraries in the building where the IP program office is located. The History library is connected to the building by a bridge, and another for Languages is located on the fourth floor. Be patient with the library facilities. To gain access to the library, you will need to get yourfacultadlibrary card from the program assistant (remember to bring your passport) The libraries at the school don’t ask you for your passport. The city libraries “bibliotecas públicas” do. You may only check out 8 books at a time. There are computers available to search for certain topics, but be ready to wait in line. It may be easier to browse according to the topics on the shelves (i.e. Geografía). Also, be ready to wait in a huge line for the copy machine. If you run across a book with a D before the number i.e. D751.75, this means it is in the "depósito" and you need to go to the "préstamo" section of the library and request it (15 minute wait). Other books can be checked out for 15 days, and you have a two-book limit. The "Biblotecas Populares" are another option and are open from 8:45 AM-8:45 PM and on Saturdays from 9:00 AM-1:45 PM. The largest one is at metro stop "Puerta de Toledo" (green line #5). Public community libraries normally have a good selection of reference texts, as well as books on general topics. They provide a pleasant environment for studying, but are closed only on Sundays.



Be prepared to be amazed! Madrid is a metropolitan center and is home to an incredible cross-section of people, some of whom are from the far corners of the globe. Contrary to popular belief, Madrid is a modern city with an ambiance similar to San Francisco or Los Angeles. There are blue-jean clad students and groups of elderly men who meet in the parks to chat about last week`s "fútbol" match. There are city workers dressed in blue jumpsuits with empty beer cans at their side, blind men selling lottery tickets and some beggars. One thing about Madrid that I have observed after travelling a bit is that English-speaking are rare and the majority of the madrileños only speak Spanish, whereas in other cities such as Barcelona, the locals don´t hesitate to practice their minimal English skills as soon as they sense an American accent. This is one fact that I love about Madrid; you are forced into the language and learn much faster than you would in a touristy city. Don't be worried by thePolicía Nacionalwielding submachine guns on the street corners or in front of important buildings. They are as bored as you are surprised by the sight of their hardware. You may stick out as a foreigner but at the same time, you will blend right into Madrid's varied population.

Madrid is a conglomeration of different neighborhoods. Each one is distinct and has its own character. It's a sea of apartments, monuments and historical buildings with streets clogged with cars, buses and trucks.Madrileños, and Spaniards in general, are people who spend their time outdoors, at sidewalk cafes, in parks or justdando un paseo. In the meantime, Madrid's subway criss-crosses beneath all of the hustle and bustle, weaving its way just about everywhere. Remember, to "know Madrid" is not to know the metro stops. Use the buses, you'll be surprised how close everything is, and buses are sometimes faster than the Metro. You'll also get a chance to familiarize yourself with the city. Sometimes the best way to explore the city is to just get lost in it! Put down the map, and just start walking. You will be amazed by the amount of cafes, bars, and shops you will stumble upon just by walking down a new street. This way, you can also find out where the best deals are for your groceries and other purchases. The discovery of new and exciting areas is a never-ending process.


Plaza Mayor is a very colorful zona. This is where you'll find the famous mesonesknown aslas cuevas, the bars that look like caves. You'll find Moncloato be an area jammed with student bars and frenzied activity, although this is where many of you may live, the party scene is mainly for high school students.Calle Orenseboasts a wide array of crazy discos and theme bars.Calle HuertasandCalle Cardenal Cisnerosare also popular streets. Gay nightlife is concentrated in the area aroundChuecaand Ballesta; most lesbian bars and discos are nearTirso de Molina/Lavapiés/Ballesta/Pez. And for the handful of punks and anarchists who loathe discos andpijos(preppy-yuppie types) you will find welcome relief in the hardcore bars around Metro Lavapiésand Malasañsa, MetroTribunal. AlonsoMartínez also has a lot of bars and clubs and if you're looking for a more laid back area,La Latina,has cool cafes, filled with locals, and tons of Tapas bars. Expect to find bars, discos, restaurants and school buildings filled with smoke as most Spaniards are fumadores.

Nightclubs and discotheques are open every night of the week, except Monday. Some don't open until 11:00 PM. Most are open until 5:00 or even 6:00 AM. Depending on the club, they draw pretty good crowds almost every night. As a general rule, entrance fees vary from between 7 and 20 euros; drinks average about 7 euros. To save money, Spaniards share "minis" or cocktails at bars before going to the nightclubs. Also, most discos are free to enter. Moncloa, a popular area adjacent to the University, has many bars and discos. As in any big city, one should be particularly watchful when visiting such areas late in the evening. If you decide to participate in the nightlife, do not go out alone. In addition, you should know that some clubs have a dress code. You may be required to wear nice clothes and shoes. It's easier to get in with girls. A group of guys alone may have a hard time getting in.

As a student of Spanish culture you should take advantage of the outstanding musical and theater productions that Madrid has to offer. Plan to attend events such as the Symphony (Auditorio Nacional de Música, Príncipe de Vergara, 134), Flamenco Shows (Zambra Velásquez, 8, Metro: Plaza de España), and other musicals (e.g., La Zarzuelaat the Teatro Lírico de la Zarzuela, Metro: Banco de España). Tickets are inexpensive. Also, try to go to the opera at Teatro Real, it's amazing! The theatre life here is the most valuable experience! It's a great feeling to just finish reading a novel and then see it performed live! The "Guía del Ocio" offers upcoming theater, club, movie and concert information. Get to know theCírculo de Bellas Artes, c/ Alcalá, 42 (Metro: Banco de España) it's also a very popular place to study. Lacartelerain the newspaper, El País, publishes schedules of the activities for the week.


There are no major health risks in Madrid...other than crossing the street. The water and food are safe for consumption. Medical services from English-speaking physicians are available at the Unidad Médica Anglo-Americana. The pharmaceutical industry is a major one and manufactures a vast array of effective medications. However, some specialized medicines are not available in Spain; so if you have special needs, you should bring your medication with you. In an emergency, either call Unidad Médica (435 18 23) as they have doctors available 24 hours/day, or take a taxi directly to the emergency room at the hospital Clínica Rúber, Juan Bravo, 49. The pharmacies are helpful and plentiful, and one can get medical advice from a licensed pharmacist on ailments ranging from a common cold to an upset stomach. Prescription drugs tend to be less expensive than in the U.S. Expect to pay 40-45 euros for a "visita" o "consulta".

Past students who have worn contacts have had difficulties with their lenses due to cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and pollution in general, which are unavoidable in Madrid. It's a good idea to bring an extra pair of lenses and a pair of glasses that you'll be happy to wear on a regular basis, as well as extra bottles of lens cleaning solution (twice as expensive here). The solutions that are available may not be the same as your solution from home (even when they are the same brand!). Finally, some students have had problems with the heat sterilization units working correctly, even with electrical adapters; so you may want to leave these at home.


The cost of living in Madrid is higher than certain areas of the U.S. Also keep in mind that the exchange rate fluctuates and this may affect your planning. All figures listed in this report are based upon the exchange rates offered during our year in Spain, so they may not be the same while you are here. The economic trend has shown year after year that the exchange rate for the US dollar is typically highest during summer months and lowest during the winter. Keep this in mind when making your financial plans. Of course, each student's living situation will be different, so it is impossible to give a monthly budget figure that will be applicable to everyone. A Madrid student should plan on a monthly budget of between $800 and $1,000 per month. Don't forget that euros are not monopoly money. Because they don't seem real, you tend to spend more, especially during the first few months. It takes awhile to learn where all the bargains are. There are many free cultural events available, so take advantage of those. Be prepared to go over your budget on arrival and during the months of October and February when you buy textbooks (which is really a minimal cost anywhere from nothing to $50) and ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU HAVE HOUSING DEPOSITS TO PAY that might include the first and last month's rent.

Banks are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 2:00 PM and on Saturdays from 9:00 AM to noon or 1:00 PM. Some banks and cajas open on Thursday afternoons. During the summer, banks are usually closed on Saturdays. The banks are almost ALWAYS busy, so be prepared to stand in line.

Various methods of banking are as follows:

  1. *Citibank is an option because you can find them almost everywhere you go in Europe. If you open your account at home and have someone deposit your financial aid checks there, you can check your balance at one of the branches in Madrid and also withdraw larger amounts than other banks may allow. On the other hand, some students had problems with this bank and do not recommend it. As of January 2008, they charge a 1% exchange fee for all withdrawals from their foreign banks.

  2. Banco Santander Central Hispano. Program´s bank. (Business hours are 8:30 am – 2:00 pm Monday through Friday and 8:30 – 12:00 noon on Saturdays (not in Summer time). Located on calle Rodriguez San Pedro, 72 (Metro: Argüelles, line 4 brown). At this branch students can open a bank account if they present a letter of guarantee from our Program office in Madrid. Sra. Puri is our contact person. Personal checks will not be accepted. Only financial aid checks or loans made by our program in Spain.

  3. CAJAS. (Business hours are 9:00 AM-2:30 PM Monday through Friday and 9:00 AM-1:00 PM on Saturday.) You can findCaja Madrid, for example, everywhere. There is even one on campus.

  4. Bank of America is affiliated with Deustche Bank and Barclay’s.

  5. Any Bank with no foreign ATM fees. Currently, some students are using Capital One, and they have not been charged a fee to withdraw money from Caja Madrid, Santander, or BBVA.

  6. VISA - The Visa card is the most widely accepted card in Europe and can be used to withdraw cash at ATM machines throughout Europe. You will need to set up the PIN number with your Visa card company before you go if you don't already have a PIN number related to your Visa card. In Madrid it is always easy to find a "Telebanco" or Cajamadrid" machine. You can also take out cash advances with your VISA card by presenting it, along with your passport, to a teller inside most banks in Madrid. The disadvantage of both of these methods is that a high interest rate begins accumulating on the day of the transaction.

  7. Home Bank- Many students used their bank from home, so that depositing from home would be easier. Also, if you will be having other people access your account while abroad; most banks require that they sign a power-of-attorney. Also, let your bank know that you will be abroad for a year so that they don't freeze your account because they think your card was stolen. If not, they have to reissue new cards, and that takes awhile. Most ATM machines in Europe don't charge a fee, but you will be charged at your home bank. Another good thing is a credit union. If you can open an account at one it's a good idea, the service charges are only $1.50 versus $4.50 for some banks.

  8. CHARLES SCHWAB BANK offers a HIGH YIELD CHECKING ACCOUNT that does not subtract ANY commission fees whatsoever from any withdrawal anywhere in the world! The account is free and highly recommended. By not having to pay withdrawal fees, you can save up to hundreds of dollars, depending on how often you take out money (and how much you take out each time). Schwab Bank does not have many branches, however, and money (in check form) must be sent through mail to their headquarters in Phoenix. Please look into this option, as it is more convenient than worrying about Spanish bank accounts and losing a bunch of money. Go to to find out more information.

It is smart to know how to manage your money. We think it would bea good idea to bring a VISA card. Sometimes a card can become demagnetized or a bank's automatic teller machine might not return your card. This is a safety measure intended to prevent unauthorized use of your card. In California if there is a problem with your card, the machine usually tells you to see a service agent. Here, the machine just keeps your card! In effect, a second card is a good insurance policy in case you have trouble with your first one.

Bank services are similar to those in the United States. A savings account is the most convenient type and usually there is no service charge and no charge for checks. Nobody in Spain uses or accepts checks. Instead, people use a "Cash Card." Once students obtain their residency cards and if they have a bank account in Spain, they are eligible for a Cash Card, which allows them to use ATM's throughout the country.

Don't take anything for granted when opening a savings account. Have the bank employee "spell everything out" (e.g., the fees, the time it takes for a check drawn on a U.S. bank to clear the one in Spain, etc.). For example, one student deposited his checks into a recently opened account and had to wait over six weeks for the checks to clear. If it hadn't been for the "friendly" IP loan program, the student would have been destitute.

You can open bank accounts in U.S. dollars (You have to do it before you obtain your student residency-about 2-3 months after arrival) or in euros. A savings account in euros is the norm and can be used to pay bills or obtain cash. Due to currency controls that still exist in Spain, only limited amounts of euros can be converted to dollars. At the present time, it's about $3,000 for each trip outside of Spain.

Cashing checks in Spain is not as easy as in the U.S. In general, a check written on a U.S. bank account will not be cashed by a bank. Bank transfers cost about $25, and usually the money arrives without difficulties within a week or so; but the error rate (e.g., being sent to the wrong bank) is much higher than in the U.S. Tracing a lost transfer can take 4-6 weeks.

This cannot be stressed enough - Expect your financial aid checks to arrive late, so arrive in Spain with an extra EMERGENCY FUND of at least $800 or $1,000 (in addition to funds needed for rent deposits, normally one, but possibly two months rent). First semester and first quarter checks probably won't arrive earlier than October and it is not unusual for your first check to arrive as late as November. The same is true for second semester and second quarter. Do not expect winter quarter or spring semester checks to arrive before February. Be sure to plan these delays into your budget before you come or you will have a lot of problems with money. It is best to bring an ATM card with a Visa logo on it.

FOOD (Top)

The Spanish diet is based on eggs, bread, potatoes, pork, and fish. Fish and shellfish (mariscos) are abundant, and their quality is superb. The same is true with vegetables and fruits.

The following items are either hard to come by, expensive or nonexistent: bagels, cottage cheese, syrup, sour cream, prepared dishes, and Mexican food products (check Corte Inglés or A Taste of America stores for these items). For some IP participants, Spanish food might seem bland and dry, so if you like any certain spices, bring some with you. Most of the spices are expensive here, specially Mexican spices and food.

Since olives are one of Spain's primary crops, olive oil is used almost exclusively in Spanish cooking. Thus you should be prepared for what we consider very greasy meals since a large quantity of oil is used on most kinds of foods. Traditionally, this is a source of many complaints at the beginning and for most students this will require some adjustment; many will learn to enjoy it. Spanish foods and the manner in which they are cooked bear no resemblance to Mexican or American foods. The high content of oil and starch tends to add weight to many Americans. It is comforting to know that when you get the urge for American food-a hamburger, for example-there are places where it is served. The same goes for Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Thai, vegetarian, and German food. Whatever the case, be brave, adventurous, and dig in. The pastries are to die for! In general, cooking with olive oil is healthier than cooking with margarine or butter. If you're not a coffee drinker, you'll soon become one - its the social thing to do (cafe con leche not cafe mocha or cappuccino). Coffee here is strong, not like American coffee. But if you like it weaker, like in the states, ask for a, café americano doble. The café con leche at the Facultad is excellent. The Facultad also has the best Napolitana de Chocolate (pastries filled with chocolate).

For those students who will be cooking their own meals there are many types of markets available for their grocery needs. Most neighborhoods have a large marketplace with stall after stall of products, each stall specializing in one thing: meats and cheeses, chicken and eggs, fruits and vegetables, bread, pastries, dairy products and dry goods. Quantity is measured in kilos and the vendor will pick the items for you; do not touch the products yourself. This is unacceptable. They do it for you!! But if you go to a chain supermarket like Champion, you pick your own fruit. But WEAR GLOVES, they are provided for you, if not, be prepared to get yelled at or get some stares. Also don't forget to weigh your fruit so that when you check-out there's already a price on it. The least expensive is Dia Autoservicio (red sign). This means you bring your own bags, or pay for theirs, and then bag your own groceries. The produce isn´t the best here but it´s cheap. Carrefour is a great place to shop: it´s fairly inexpensive and they have a good variety. But, while in Spain I would recommend taking advantage of the smaller markets where you get to know the owners. The quality is usually better, fresher, and it´s part of the Spain experience! Don´t be frightened by the patas de jamón hanging from the ceilings, you will soon grow to love jamón and see how important it is to Spanish culture. There are also smaller mercados de alimentación, supermercados, and hipermercados, but be a comparison shopper. The best prices are usually found in the larger marketplaces rather than at the corner stores. The supermarket at El Corte Inglés has a wider selection of international brands and specialty items, but it is generally more expensive. Mercado de Maravillas, metroCuatro Caminosor Alvarado, boasts excellent produce and dairy products. Keep an eye out if you go here, there tends to be a lot of pickpockets. Brown paper grocery bags are nonexistent in Madrid markets; they use plastic bags and fishnet or nylon sacks. Always bring along a couple of bags (bolsas) when shopping in the mercados. Some stores charge for the plastic bags.

Life as a vegetarian in Spain can be difficult. Spaniards don't understand what it means to be a vegetarian and it's common to find pieces of ham or fish in foods labeled "vegetarian." Cooking at home, on the other hand, is cheap and easy, and the vegetables in Spain are wonderful, fresh, and plentiful! Vegetarian restaurants in Madrid range from inexpensive to expensive. One moderate priced favorite is, La Botika (Calle Amor de Dios, Metro: Antn Martín). In addition, there are cafeteria-bars everywhere where you can find vegetarian items, such as tortilla española, cheese portions, ensaladilla rusa and bocadillos de queso.

When eating out, remember that Spaniards like to eat at a slow, leisurely pace. (They're not in a hurry for anything!) It might seem like the waiter isn't paying any attention to you (not providing good "service"), but really, he's just letting you sit and enjoy being with your friends. When you're ready to order, let him know and he'll help you. Likewise, at the end of the meal, a waiter would NEVER bring you your bill and leave it on the edge of your table before you ask for it. That would be rude. When Spaniards visit California, they are oftentimes offended by this habit of our waiters. They view it as a message from the waiter that it's time for you to, "get out." When you're finished with your meal and ready for the bill, simply ask the waiter for, "la cuenta, por favor," and he'll bring you the bill. Tipping is not a matter of leaving a certain percentage of the total bill. It is simply a token of your appreciation. Ask your Spanish friends about this and they'll tell you what they do. When you are finished with your meal, do not ask for a doggiebag! Unless it is a pizza or a bocadillo, it is simply unacceptable in Spanish culture. You are likely to get an odd look from the waiter and walk out of the restaurant with your tail between your legs. The portions are smaller here so it isn´t as much of an issue as in the U.S, but it is helpful to keep in mind.


It has been said that in Spain everyone and no one is Catholic. While 95% of the population has been baptized, the percentage of Spaniards who regularly practice Catholicism is cited as a mere 32%. Less than 1% belongs to other religions. There are an estimated 25,000 Protestants and 7,000 Jews out of a total population of Spain, 38 million. Most of the non-Catholics live in Madrid and Barcelona where there are services for them. The American embassy has lists of religious services for all faiths and of churches where services are given in English. The Madrid IP office also maintains a list of suggested churches, but there is a very limited selection.


Laundry service is normally available at the colegios. Students not living in colegios usually hand wash their clothes or go to a Laundromat if their apartment does not have a washing machine (most apartments do). If there is one, it will rarely be accompanied by a dryer. Laundromats, which are rare, are called lavanderías. Keep in mind that Spanish washing machines (and some señoras) can be hard on your clothes, so be careful! In fact, if someone is doing your laundry for you, it is best to wash your favorite blouses, shirts, sweaters, etc., yourself as students have occasionally had clothes ruined in the laundry. You can buy Woolite in Spain. If you live with a family, be frugal with the hot water when doing your laundry, and be sure your landlady knows you are doing so. In a pensión, the landlady usually does the laundry or at least the sheets and towels. Dry cleaning services are abundant, but are expensive.

Spaniards usually hang their clothes on the line to dry, so your clothes will be stiff and won't have that soft, "Downy freshness" of home. Be prepared to line dry everything you own (that means the polka dot underwear too). Even though it may sound like we're being repetitive, it's important that you prepare yourself to be open about hanging your bras or underwear on the line to dry. Be prepared to wait a couple of days for jeans to dry, especially in the winter.


In Madrid barbershops provide decent service. A woman's haircut and style (be sure to discuss what you want before scissors are in hand) runs about 35 euros and up. They charge extra for each styling aid (e.g., conditioner, mousse, gel, etc.). There are also discounts if you're under 25 years of age. Men's haircuts are approximately 10-20 euros. Results are usually good although you will find that most hair cuts will come out extremely short compared with those you get at home. So be extremely clear. If you only want the ends cut a little bit, say, "sólo cortar las puntas." Some students said that you tell them in centimeters; don't show them the amount with your fingers. Former participants have found that tourist establishments charge four times the normal prices. If you are African American, service and products are available but are expensive. It is best to bring as much black hair care product from home as feasible. The rise of immigration from the Caribbean and Africa are making these products a little more available and prices are not as expensive as before.


Some students worry because of changes in their hormonal activity. Due to the long trip crossing many times zones, do not be surprised if your menstrual period changes drastically. It may be delayed for two weeks or even as much as two months! Your complexion may change temporarily too. These changes are temporary. Birth control pills (píldoras anticonceptivas) and other birth control methods, as well as pregnancy tests (pruebas de embarazo) are available atfarmacias. Important: abortions are illegal in Spain, except in the cases of rape, incest or where childbirth would be seriously detrimental to the health of the mother. Students should also be aware that there is a good selection of feminine hygiene products and that their quality is comparable to that of the U.S. It is advisable to have Pap smears before leaving the U.S. because physician's fees are high in Spain. If you find that you are having any kind of gynaecological problems, a possible source of help is the Clínica Isadora, calle Pirineos 7- phone 91 311 10 00 – - Metro: Francos Rodriguez, line 7.


Check your neighborhood for the nearest post office. You may find the most convenient place to go to buy stamps will be the local estanco (tobacco shop). Most will weigh your letters and sell stamps. The tobacco shops are identifiable by the round yellow signs hanging outside their doors. The estancos are closed for siesta. You can also buy stamps at stands on the sidewalks. Don't be surprised if postage rates vary from place to place. Hours also vary from post office to post office, some close for siesta and others don't, so check it out before you haul a huge package there.

The yellow buzones (mailboxes) are easily found, but some students prefer to mail letters from a post office. The arrival time for incoming mail is unpredictable. However, incoming mail usually takes no more than 7 days, but sometimes it's longer. As a case in point, this year's Christmas mail (air mail letters) typically took 3-4 weeks to arrive. To help speed up the system, make sure that your friends and relatives have the correct address, and emphasize that they not abbreviate it. We repeat: DO NOT ABBREVIATE THE ADDRESS. Make sure to cross all "7's to distinguish them from the European "1". DO NOT HAVE CASH SENT! If someone needs to send you CHECKS, have them sent REGISTERED MAIL. Sometimes envelopes are opened, especially greeting cards. If anyone sends you boxes, have them label the contents carefully. You may be required to pay a customs fee for any electrical devices.

Sending packages to the US is really expensive and takes a lot of time for the package to get there. Nearly 3 weeks or even more.


Buy a mobile phone. It will cost about $50-$120. Happy Móvil is the cheapest company to call to the U.S. When you purchase a mobile phone, which will be prepaid, the phone's price usually includes saldo (amount of pre-paid money on the phone). Text messaging is very popular and the cost of messaging varies. You will not be able to use your phone as much as you do in the States, as it would be very expensive to do so. CSU will have a mobile phone company call APELCOM come and rent phones and offer contracts to students. This is HIGHLY recommended, as it saves a trip to a phone store and having to figure out the gimmicks of Spanish cell phone service. Apelcom explains everything clearly with no strings attached. There is an initial deposit fee (returned when you return the phone at the end of the year) and students who don’t use their phone that often spend only about 20 euros a month on service (VERY CHEAP).

All calls outside of Madrid, including International, are itemized. Check at home before you leave for the best rates. Also, it is best to wait and buy phone cards here at a tobacco stand for $5- $15 because the ones bought at home don't work or are virtually useless. There is also a Telecoturía at the Sol Metro station, that sells phone cards for very cheap, you tell them the country you want to call and they give you a card for that country. The bad thing about these cards is that you have to use them at a pay phone.

Telefonica offices located on Gran Vía at Cibeles and at Colón, have telephones available for calling anywhere and for receiving calls from home. If you make the call, there is a meter inside the booth that indicates how many pasos you have used. You then multiply the number of pasos by the euro value per paso (shown in the booth) to see how much you must pay. Students have called the United States from a locutorio and paid about 1.25 euros for 30 minutes.

Within the last year the Telefonica has installed a number of public phones that require a card rather than coins. "Eurocity" y "Eurohora" calling cards are great. (6 euro=200 minutes to the USA). Phone cards to U.S, are around 5€ for like 300 minutes. You can buy them at the Chinese stores.

There is a "USA Direct" booth at the Telefonica office which is for calls to the U.S. only. It connects you with an English speaking AT&T operator in New York who will ask for your billing (you may call collect or use your calling card number). There is always a line so be prepared to wait. You may also use your calling card number to call direct from other booths, dialing (900) 99-00-11, and an AT&T operator will answer your call. This is one of the most common methods used to call home. You will then give her the number to be called and your domestic calling card number. MCI cards are also useful here and can be used by dialing (900) 99-00-14. Both cards can also be used from public and private phones. With more competition, mobile phones (mviles) are becoming more popular and to receive calls is free in Spain. It may be cheaper for home to call you.

You can also go to Sam's Club at home before you leave and buy a phone card. When you're abroad you can take this card with you and use the corresponding AT&T number for that country, in Spain it is (900) 99-00-1. When using your card in Spain dial that number and at the prompt enter the 800/888 number on the back of the card. You can also add time to that phone card abroad. For $34.99 you get about 200 minutes, when you use the card abroad, but it fluctuates. The (900) 99-00-11 is free so you won't have saldo deducted and you don't have to look for a booth to use a card.


Stores are open from 9:00 or 10:00 AM to 1:30 or 2:00 PM. After comida, stores open from 5:00 PM to 8:00 or 9:00 PM. With very few exceptions, the only stores that stay open during the siesta (between 2:00 and 4:00 PM this timetable is only for summer not for the rest of the year) are the large department stores and shopping centers (e.g., El Corte Inglés and Alcampo, an all-purpose store). Most small stores are closed on Saturday afternoons. Only a few stores are open on Sundays; among them panaderías and some pastelerías, so be sure to do your grocery shopping before Sundays and also before national holidays. The shopping area downtown has all the shops opened from 10:00am till 9:30 pm every day/ 7 days a week and the Corte Inglés has a supermarket so no problems with shopping now. (Note: There are 7-11's here, as well as stores like 7-11, there is a VIPS that has a small store and restaurant (American Food) and there is also Opencor ,that is open till 2 am everyday. There are also alimentaciones all over Madrid, they are constantly open, but are very small. While they are open late at night, seven days a week, you should use them as a last resort because they don't have everything and they are very expensive. The students' number one favorite cut-rate grocery store is Día. Although the selection may be limited, the prices are great! Most stores don't take "returns" except for very large corporate stores. Another good place for grocery is Mercadona now better than Día and with a great selection of products.

The Puerta del Sol/Gran Víaarea is Madrid's shopping district, and at any given time you will bump shoulders with beggars, thieves, and fashion-conscious window shoppers beneath the flashing neon lights. However, the Goya shopping district has the same stores and seems less crowded and safer.

For those of you who can get up on Sunday morning the Rastro is something that should not be missed. This is a flea market (Metro: Latina) that spreads over five streets and several city blocks. In order to avoid the crowds, try to go early, 11 AM at the latest. However, it is not the same as a swap meet. The prices are not necessarily low. A word of caution: There are a lot of pickpockets at the Rastro, so be careful with wallets and purses.

WATCH YOUR BAGS and don't wear a backpack on your back! In fact, it is best not to take a purse or backpack at all.

Fineclothing is available for those with a little extra cashand custom tailoring for both men and women is much cheaper than in California. Leather shoes are expensive and boots are very stylish. Don't expect to be asked at a store if you need anything; you need to ask for help practically everywhere.

It is virtually impossible to make returns, with the exception of the large department stores or chain-like stores such as Zara or H&M. For large sizes (larger than 39, or 9 U.S.), women are advised to try Tal Gals, on Marqués de Urquijo Street (Argüelles area). Larger sizes are becoming easier to find. For example, Corte Inglés has a larger size section, but it is really expensive. H&M has also a modest larger size section available.

The merchants are generally honest. Nevertheless, it is important to become acquainted with the money and to get in the habit of counting your change. Customer service skills are different from those in the U.S. so be patient and don't take it personally if you fail to receive the service to which you are accustomed. All stores maintain fixed prices in Spain, the same for tourists and Spaniards, but count your change. Any attempt to bargain is likely to be ended abruptly and rudely. The only exception to this rule is the Rastro. Be sure to comparison shop. Prices vary greatly. This goes for everything (food, clothes, souvenirs, etc.)


Public transportation is cheap and good: The buses and the metro take you virtually everywhere. Be sure to look into multiple-ride tickets to save money. "Metrobus" is the new 10-ride ticket for the metro and bus, and costs 7.40 euros. The abono is a monthly pass, good for unlimited use on both buses and the metro and costs 46.00 euros for those over 21 and for those under 21, it's about 32,00 euros. The "G" and "F" buses take you to the university building.

We do not recommend getting a car, as city traffic is hazardous and parking a nightmare. The metro is often the most convenient and quickest means of transportation, especially during rush hours which, in addition to morning and evening, also include midday (2 - 4 PM). Taking the bus is a good way to get to know the city and its surroundings and sometimes it can be more relaxing. When using taxis, ask for a list of supplements, which explains surcharges based upon the hours, day of the week, amount of luggage, destination, etc. At night taxi drivers charge a little more. The metro system closes at 1:30 AM and the regular city buses stop running at 11:30 PM. Therefore, an economic option to the taxi after these hours is the "nocturno bus." The "buo" as the locals call it, leaves from Cibeles every twenty minutes and runs throughout the city. A good thing to find out as soon as possible is which nocturno runs by your neighborhood, they all start with "N" (N-19, N-20, etc.)



During orientation in Madrid you will be given instructions about how to find your own housing, and then the search begins. Shop around. Do not take the first place you see for fear of not finding housing. Some students do this, and then a few weeks later they move again. Wait until you find a place that you really like. There are always pisos for rent - you won't run out of options. Be prepared to receive VERY little help from the program staff-it is really your responsibility to find a place to live. IP provides you with two weeks of guaranteed housing in the dorms while you're looking for a piso. It may not seem like a very long time, but don't panic. As soon as you arrive, search "Segunda Mano" web site. This is a good source for pisos for rent, and there are many. In all the years IP has been sending students to Spain, the students have always found a place to live. If you don't find a place right away, you can always stay with friends some even stayed in hostels.

If possible, avoid signing a year-long contract for an apartment, and make sure you check on the required deposits. While it is common practice to pay one or two months of rent in advance, it is possible to find a landlord that does not require one. Don't panic, you will be given an in-depth orientation on what to ask, how to ask it and then what to do. The popular residential areas are Moncloa, Argüelles, and Cuatro Caminos. Depending on where you live, expect to pay around 360euros-450/mo. for your room.  If you want WFI or Internet it will cost you about 450 – 500 euros per room.

If you are truly committed to speaking Spanish, try to find Spanish-speaking roommates. It is our experience that when one lives with English-speaking students, it is difficult to withstand the temptation to speak English. The sad reality is that you speak more English than Spanish, so force yourself to live with Spaniards. It will help you learn the most about the Spanish language and culture.

There are various methods of searching for housing. Some common resources past students have used are newspaper ads and the bulletin boards at the university, the TIVE office in Moncloa, and at the kioskos (newspaper stands) located in Cuatro Caminos and Moncloa. Each resource has listings of apartments, rooms for rent, pensiones, and other accommodations. Persistence and patience are the keys to successful apartment hunting. There are agencies that charge around 50 euros and they set up appointments for you and are very helpful. The Spanish newspapers andSegunda Manohave lots of advertisements. When you call for information about a place you read about in an ad, always ask at the beginning of the call whether or not you are calling an agency. Don't continue to talk to them unless you're willing to pay the agency a fee. Before selecting an apartment, find out with whom you will be living (i.e. roommates, dueñas, etc.) This is much more important than the the way it looks. Moreover, be sure that you get a contract, but before signing it, carefully review the price and the additional expenses (e.g., Is there a finder's fee? Are utilities andgastos de comunidadincluded?, etc.), so that you will not have any surprise bills handed to you later.

There is a piso for everyone: places that rent only to girls or homosexual men (common), places that rent to couples, places that do (or do NOT) rent to students, all in different neighborhoods with different atmospheres. While it is not mandatory, it is recommended to find a piso close to the Facultad preferably already inhabited by other students (a good studying environment is vital). The most convenient/ideal situation would be to find a place already inhabited, internet installed, furnished, etc. by students so that you won’t have to deal directly with the landlord, gas company, electricity, and so on. Central heating is not mandatory and not all pisos are new enough to have it, but you will definitely miss it when winter comes!

Below you will find descriptions of some of the traditional housing chosen by students in the program. Read it carefully.


Most students opt for living in an apartment because it offers independence and allows you to have friends over, etc. Living in a piso compartido (shared apartment) can be difficult, just as it can be in the U.S. Choose your roommates carefully to avoid conflicts later. One of the biggest challenges you will face living with Spaniards or other foreigners is dealing with their customs/habits. Also, it is possible to live in a piso compartido that has older people living in it as well. This can really cause problems. We suggest you try to make sure all your roommates are students.

Many apartments require you to sign a lease, which will usually be for twelve months. Sometimes you can find places that will let you sign a three-month lease. We recommend that you search out a place that is already rented, but with a room to spare. That way, the responsibility of furnishing it and looking for roommates is taken off your shoulders. Also, if you are sharing "compartiendo" a piso, don't be surprised if you don't have telephone privileges. You may have to use the nearest pay phone for your calls. This is very common.

When looking for an apartment, always ask if there is " calefacción central" (central heating) in the building. This is economical, however, it doesn't allow you to control the temperature in individual rooms. The heat is usually turned on only during certain hours of the day and in some buildings it's controlled by the portero (door man). If there is no telephone in the apartment, do not expect the dueña to furnish one. Also air conditioning is rare because it's so expensive.

Leases and/or contracts are often required. Read them carefully to make sure there aren't any surprises. Don't get stuck for a year in a place you don't want. During our stay, apartment rents ran about 360-500 euros per person per month in a shared apartment (depending on individual taste) for rent alone. You will need to add utility costs. Utility bills are paid every TWO months and run about 50 euros bill. (Count on about 50€ per person for electricity and 10-20€ per person for gas.) Some buildings also have you pay for the portero, which varies from building to building.

Margarita Lopez (IP Scholarship Recipient 2007-08): My experience finding a place was really easy I should say, taking into account the fact that I was the first one in my group finding a place. We got there on a Tuesday and the next day we had our first orientation day, where the crew of the program in Madrid gave us a set of resources from people that had rented some pisos the previous academic year with a lot of comments and recommendations. I had made some friends on the trip to Spain and we decided that if possible, we were going to look for a place for four people so that we could stay together.

I was very worried about finding a place, after reading the Student Experience report on the IP website. It said that it was kind of a big challenge for some people and I just didn't want to worry about that at all. Therefore when I saw the housing guide from the program, I saw a very good deal that included a piso for 3 to 4 students at a very affordable price (1,100.00 € ) which we decided to go look at. The piso was neat and the size was ideal for the four of us, three of us were girls and a boy. The rent was to be paid every first of the month and we got it on September 29th, so we had to pay for the whole month of October. As soon as we saw it, we knew that there wasn't a better place for us, and we took it. The landlady liked us right off the bat and we kind of clicked when we first called to see if the piso was still available. One thing I noticed is that you have to be very polite at the very beginning in order for the landlords to like you; otherwise they won't rent you their place.

For me, it wasn't that hard to find a place, but for some of my friends from the Madrid group, it was quite a challenge. There were people that couldn't find a place until the day before we had to leave the Colegio Mayor where we were living for the first two weeks after arriving in Spain. I really liked the fact that I didn't have to struggle with it, and I don't really think that I could have found a better deal if would have waited longer. That's something that tells me that sometimes you have to follow your instincts to do things, and I don't regret it. I guess it's actually a sign of maturity, decision making, and responsibility what you learn every day, when you are basically on your own to decide and be responsible for yourself. It might be a little early to say this, but I think that I already feel the love for this city, Madrid!

The neighborhood I live in is Moncloa, the street is called Cea Bermudez. It's well located because it's really close to the Universidad and near the centro (downtown). The metro is really close to my house, the station is Islas Filipinas and there are lots of stores and banks all around. The rent does not include the utilities and we have to pay the utilities every 2 months, which we have to split them among the four of us.

Our piso is a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom and the rooms are about the same size so all the girls pay an equal amount. The living room is big in my opinion and there is a section at the entry which we have allotted for the guy’s bedroom. Therefore he pays less for rent; the girls pay 285.00 Euros every month and he pays 245.00 Euros. For food and utilities we all split the bills in equal amounts.

The piso is already furnished and the landlady keeps the place really neat. The beds and furniture are in very good condition and some items are fairly new. There is a washer, but there's no dryer so we have to hang our clothes. But every piso has its own clothesline to hang their clothes.

The piso we live in is in the 3rd. floor and it doesn't have a view to the street, so it's really quiet. The piso faces a convent from the back side so the situation is ideal for students. It's very illuminated, so we all love the place.

Boarding Houses (Pensiones)

Pensiones are boarding houses, usually run by a señora. The majority of the señoras who take in student boarders are widows, with or without children, or elderly, unmarried women. (In both cases, they are called señoras.) The advantages and disadvantages will vary from home to home, so it is very important to interview the señora and ask her very specifically about her house rules and any restrictions she places on those who live in her home. Normally, you will have your own house key, and there won't be a curfew. Sometimes house cleaning and laundry are included in the monthly rent. Most señoras will require that you pay extra for telephone calls and for the use of electrical appliances. Be sure to ask the señora if you will have kitchen privileges or if meals will be included in your monthly rent. Heat may or may not be available, so be sure to ask because it gets cold in the winter. Different señoras offer different options that can affect the rate you will pay each month. These options can be described as follows:

  1. Pensión Completa- You'll get a double or single room and three meals a day-coffee and toast for breakfast, a big meal at lunch (comida), which is considered the main meal of the day, and something lighter for dinner (cena). The señora takes care of your laundry too. The cost is about 700 €-800 €/month.

  2. Media pensión- This is a similar to a pensión completa but dinner (cena) is not included. Cost is about 450 €-550 € /month.

  3. Room with cooking rights- You cook your own meals. You buy your own food but should be permitted to use the señora's cooking utensils. Price is $300-400 U.S. Such arrangements are extremely rare for men.

If you live with a Señora on a pensión basis, you'll sometimes find it difficult to invite friends over. You will be in very close living quarters with both young and old people. Living with a Señora is a good way to meet Spaniards and learn a lot of Spanish. However, former students recommend looking around and not taking the first place you see. Also, be wary of the señora's idiosyncrasies. She may be extremely thrifty with lights, hot water and toilet paper and may complain about overuse of utilities. At times, you may feel your privacy being invaded. If you are not happy with where you are living, don't worry about moving; there are many Señoras under the pension section in the newspapers.


The residencias are for younger male and female students. Some of them are run by nuns and have very strict curfew hours. About 700-800€ per month (food, laundry & cleaning included).

Dorms (Colegios Mayores)

Cal State students usually do not choose to live in the colegios mayores for their entire stay in Spain. Most dormitories are not co-ed, so if you wish to stay in one during the year, women should contact Colegio Mayor Isabel de España, Calle de Ramón Menéndez Pidal, 5, Ciudad Universitaria, 28040 Madrid, and men should write to Colegio Chaminade, at the address given above. If you want to live in a Colegio mayor reservations have to be done one year in advance.

Cal State students usually do not choose to live in the colegios mayores for their entire stay in Spain. Most dormitories are not coed, so if you wish to stay in one during the year, women should contact Colegio Mayor Isabel de España, Calle de Ramn Menéndez Pidal, 5, Ciudad Universitaria, 28040 Madrid, and men should write to Colegio Chaminade, at the address given above. Since there are always many more applications than space available we recommend that you apply in May and in any case no later than July.

The colegios mayores are conveniently located within a mile from the main campus. Dining halls serve Spanish meals at specific hours. On weekends and holidays, meals may not be served, depending on the colegio; and some colegios close during the Christmas holidays. Students should expect to pay for outside meals on those days.

Men - Most men's dormitories provide bedding and laundry service for linens. Maid service is daily. Facilities to do hand-washing, drying racks and ironing boards are usually available. Other facilities include TV and music room, library, bar, darkroom, and gym. Sometimes tennis courts, swimming pool, and movie theaters are included. Many colegios arrange cultural, social, and sports activities. Cost per month ranges from $100-1100 U.S. Extra expenses for outside meals, telephone service, laundry service and bedding are not included. A deposit is required in most men's colegios.

Women - In most women's dorms the students are responsible for cleaning their own rooms. Cleaning supplies are provided for the students. Women students are also responsible for doing their own laundry. Laundry sinks, clothes lines, ironing boards and irons are provided. Some dorms do have pay washing machines. Recreational and library facilities, as well as cultural and social activities, are offered. Most women's colegios have curfews, which vary from colegio to colegio. However, the norm is 2:00 AM There is a possibility of obtaining permission to extend the curfew for special activities like going to the theater or to a concert. Cost per month in a women's colegio is between $1050-1150 U.S.

Both men's and women's colegios offer everything from double bedrooms with a large shared bathroom to single bedrooms with either a private bathroom or with bathroom and shower facilities down the hall. In some men's colegios, female visitors to the rooms are permitted. However, men are strictly prohibited from entering beyond the guest lounge of women's dormitories.

Living with a Family

Only a few students have been able to live with a Spanish family during the last few years. However, if you find such a situation, you will have more of an opportunity to speak Spanish and to observe the Spanish culture. It is advantageous to live with a family rather than a señora or other American students. It is also possible to exchange English lessons for room and board, thus saving a great deal on rent and enjoying the opportunity to live with a Spanish family. Meals are usually included if you eat with the family, or you may be able to obtain derecho a cocina (kitchen privileges). Normally they will wash your clothes. A disadvantage lies in the fact that you will probably be obligated to teach English at the times requested by the family. Quite often you will be expected to care for the children as part of the rent. It depends on your agreement with the family. This tends to restrict your social life. Curfews might be imposed, depending on the family. However, you will learn what their life is about and, as the months go by, cariño grows between you and the family. If you pay a regular rent you do not have to teach English, if you want a reduction in the rent price, then you will have to negotiate your English teaching.

In paid housing with a family or with a señora, in general you will be treated as a boarder as opposed to a family member-after all, it is a business. Be sure you know the ground rules before you move in. (Note: For information on prices see Pensin Completa, Media Pensin, and Room with Cooking Rights sections above.)


An open mind and objectivity will help you succeed in getting acquainted with the Spaniards. In general, they are rather hard to approach, and it may not be easy to make friends. Close relationships require time to establish. It is much easier to get acquainted with them at a party or a get-together rather than elsewhere. You may have to go a little more than halfway to meet them at first, since they are rarely the ones to break the ice. Go out as often as possible with the Spaniards you meet through friends orintercambios (trading English for Spanish) and you will find that they are genuinely friendly people, and interested in getting to know you. Go to your local bar or cafe and get to know your area.

Spaniards rarely entertain people in their homes, so don't be offended if you're not invited over to someone's house. Instead, groups of friends go out and meet in local bars for coffee or beer. One person usually pays the entire bill, and then each person in the group will take subsequent turns paying for a round. Try to insist on paying when it's your turn. Sometimes it is a good idea to use a common "pot" in which each person contributes a fixed amount of money and that way nobody feels that he or she has been taken advantage of. When a mixed group goes somewhere, say a museum, theater, and other events, for example-everyone pays his own way. Otherwise, he who invites, pays. Do not be discouraged if no one asks you to dance when you are at the discotecas. Most people dance by themselves. Don't be surprised if a Spaniard asks you, "¿Tienes fuego?" Many people smoke here. They're just asking if you have a match or lighter to light their cigarette.

Do not despair when arguing or talking with Spaniards, for they like to talk and often prefer to ignore your opinion...unless it is about their country. Do not be overly critical of Spain; even though a group of Spaniards may criticize their own government (and yours, too), they are likely to be irritated if a foreigner makes a similar comment. Be sensitive, but expect criticism of America, because it is unavoidable. In such instances it is better to listen and observe with a positive attitude to get a picture of how students in other cultures feel about world politics and influences.

Be informed about U.S. and Spanish history. Know somenting about the political system, and current events. The Spanish students you'll meet are often curious about the American educational system, student life, entertainment, etc. Reading the Spanish newspaper El País, Público, ABC will definitely help.

E-MAIL (Top)

We recommend that you go to Internet cafes to send and read e-mails. There is one called "Conectate" in Moncloa is very popular. There is also Casa de Internet in Bilbao  Luchana, which is very cheap. At Casa de Internet, you give them your name and they charge you in increments. Yahoo and Hotmail work well. All of the students we know go to Internet cafes. Internet cafes tend to have a lot of problems with backpack and purse theft, so watch your things extra closely. (Costs: 1 hour-between 1.20-2.00 euros, depending on the area. It´s good to look around). The cheapest option is to go to a “locutorio” they have reasonable prices. There are many locutorios in every neighbourhood.

Another option is to use the computer lab at school. After you've been in school for about a month, you will be able to sign up for free internet access. The computer lab is usually open from 8:30 AM to 8:30 PM, Monday through Friday.

Bringing a personal computer (laptop) is not mandatory, but it is HIGHLY recommended. Most students do this and have no problems with theft, provided that they live in a trustworthy environment. Reunidas classes will pretty much require the use of a computer at some point (for papers, research, contacting professors, etc.) and it is obviously much more convenient if you have one of your own.



As in the States, dating in Spain is a personal, individual experience. Keep in mind that relationships with Spaniards, like friendships, may require more time and effort than what Americans are used to. We recommend that you exercise caution and care in obtaining and maintaining these relationships so as to avoid misunderstandings.

Men: Very often the college age Spanish woman can be difficult to approach. Remember that it is typical for Spanish women to play "hard to get." An easy and acceptable way to meet them is through formal introduction by a mutual friend or acquaintance. Keep in mind that if a woman lives with her parents (this is very common) she is likely not to be allowed to bring people over to her house.

Women: We recommend you exercise discretion, prudence and caution when meeting or dating Spanish men as to avoid misconceptions by either party. Spanish men are very confident and may be forward as to ask you to come sleep over when you have just met them. They are very generous with compliments and piropos (flirtatious comments). When going out it is not very common for men to buy/offer you drinks at clubs and if they do, they often expect something else in return, so ladies be prepared to buy your own drinks. An important thing to remember is that American women, particularly those from California, are often stereotyped here as being "very open," in comparison to Spanish women who are more conservative at the start of a relationship.


The University of Madrid's facilities for recreation and sports activities are inferior to those at many California State University campus, although they do include good track facilities and tennis courts in the Campo de Deportes in Ciudad Universitaria. Tennis balls are expensive. Tragically, racquetball is virtually unheard of here, although the local sport frontón is similar. Four-month passes for the University swimming pools are available and are very economical. There are several indoor gyms and heated swimming pools in Madrid. A handy one for students is in La Almudena, in Ciudad Universitaria.

It is also possible to play different intramural sports throughout the year. "El Club Deportivo" is located in front of the cafeteria in our building. It is usually open and they also put banners with information about their activities. Most of us think this is one of the best chances you'll have to get to know Spaniards. The popular sports were basketball, volleyball, soccer, rugby and handball. Each building within thefacultadhas its own team/s. They all play each other at least once or twice. If you are serious about sports, we recommend becoming a member of a "club deportivo". The competition is good, the teams are like families and you can meet great people through them. There are many opportunities to travel throughout Spain, and the spirit of the 'españoles' can truly be appreciated when; you have become part of their team. Depending on the club and the sport you can expect to pay 20-50 euros a year to obtain a 'ficha' and be a participating member of a team. Take advantage of this awesome experience. Also, the university has teams for specific sports. These teams play other universities within Madrid and on some occasions travel around Spain for tournaments (example-girls volleyball).

The Ayuntamiento of Madrid has established sports clubs through the city. They offer sports such as swimming, tennis, running, basketball. From childhood, madrileños belong to one of the many clubs and compete locally and nationally as part of these clubs.

There is fairly good skiing during the winter in the Guadarrama mountains, some 55 kilometers (35 miles) from Madrid. Buses leave from Paseo de la Florida (Metro: Norte) every day; the ride is about one and one-half hours.

Cotos is the best ski area for both beginning and intermediate skiers. Cost of renting all equipment and day lift passes is 15 to 25 euros a day, depending on whether it's a holiday or weekend, etc. It comes out cheaper to rent the equipment in Madrid and carry it to the slopes instead of renting it up there. Best way to go there is by “tren de cercanias” from Chamartin or Atocha train stations.

On University of Madrid bulletin boards, you'll find lists of different sporting clubs, including skiing, hiking and mountain climbing. IP students may also participate in the University intramural programs. To join different sport teams, check the club deportivo at your facultad to see what they offer.

For those who like to run/jog, you’re in luck! Madrid has several parks where you’ll constantly find people running and exercising. This is also important when looking for a place to live, as it helpful to have a park close by so you don’t have to take the metro or walk a long distance to get there. Some great parts for exercising are Parque de Retiro, Casa de Campo, and Parque Oeste, among others.



Students in Madrid have ready access to nearby cities such as Segovia, Toledo, Avila, Salamanca, El Escorial, Cuenca, and Aranjuez, as well as the surrounding countryside and mountains. These small cities are jammed-packed with monuments and history and are ideal for one-day or weekend trips.

Some of these are visited with the program during the school year. All Spanish cities have Oficinas de Turismo which provide free maps, pamphlets and posters. In Madrid there are Turismo offices in Plaza de España y Plaza Mayor.

Students who participated on one-day excursions with Unijoven and Forocio found these trips a good way to meet people. On such trips it's highly recommended to be adventurous and not to sit alone or to clinging to other North Americans. Other information concerning excursions and tours offered at student discount rates can be obtained at the facultad.

Students have found that the best accommodations available in Spain are the hostales (not to be confused with youth hostels). A hostal is often a private family home converted into a small hotel. The rooms are usually simple but very clean; generally the hostal will have a single community bathroom rather than a private bathroom for each room. Meals are sometimes available at hostales. If a hostal is not available, try to find a one- or two-star hotel.

Students should be prepared to be asked to leave their passports with the landlord. Camping at official campgrounds is also a good option for those who are interested.

Trains and buses are relatively cheap for students.

European cities often offer student discounts on tickets for public events. Your student card (which will be given to you at the beginning of the school year by thefacultad) or an International Student ID card will enable you to save money at museums and art galleries. However, students found that student discounts weren't honored as much in Spain as in some other countries. You can buy the ISIC card (International Student Identity Card) for 6/10€ in Madrid and it's worth it. When travelling around Europe you may get discounts at museums and other travel related costs.

Finally, experience has shown that accurate budgeting for vacations can be a problem. Many students forget to plan for round-trip transportation costs (not just one-way), and they fail to include the expense of eating out while on the road. Also, admission fees when sightseeing, even small ones, do add up and should be figured in as an additional daily expense. We strongly suggest you buy both Let's Go Europe and Let's Go Spain or Lonely Planet to help you save money. They are also available atCasa de Libroa huge bookstore and Fnac.

If you are thinking about a trip to Morocco, you should read the paragraph in the Granada Student report about the country. Mexican citizens need a visa to go Morocco.

Many students find RYANAIR and EASYJET great, cheap airline for traveling around Europe. However, they don't fly into major cities and you are required to take a bus from the smaller airport to the major city near by. This process averages to be the same cost as finding a direct flight from Madrid to wherever. It is recommended not to take these airlines because they don't give you all this information and many students have been stranded because of this.


The life of a handicapped person (minusválido) in Spain is quite arduous. Using a wheelchair can be difficult due to the lack of elevators or because elevators are so small that wheelchairs do not enter. Obstacles include cobblestone streets, which are almost impossible to use, streets without sidewalks that are too narrow, or bathrooms with doorways so small that wheelchairs will not pass. There are steps to enter restaurants, public offices, supermarkets, and even hospitals. Only in rare cases will you find wheelchair ramps. The metro and bus systems are inaccessible for persons in wheelchairs or on crutches. Visiting historical sites oftentimes involves climbing many stairs. Simple tasks like crossing the street are made difficult. The handicapped frequently are stared at and at times people will make the sign of the cross at their sight. There are only a handful of handicapped parking places in Spain.


Discrimination is illegal in Spain, but it exists nevertheless. In very rare occasions, there have been cases of harassment on the street by the police. We strongly recommend that you always carry an ID with you so that you can show it to the police if they ask for it. People from South and Central America, Africa, or Asia may experience some discrimination. Just as in the U.S., you can't expect all Spaniards to be the same. Some may be insensitive, but many Spaniards are very open to meeting people from foreign countries.


Madrid is a big city, and like big cities in California and all over the world you must be careful. During the 2008-09 academic year a number of students suffered losses to pickpockets and robberies. Be very careful in the Sol and Gran Vía areas at night. Do not use automatic teller machines late at night or early in the morning (madrugada). Be extra vigilant in all American style fast food restaurants (McDonalds, Wendy's, etc.), e.g., never leave anything on the floor under your chair while you are eating. Check with the IP Office in Madrid and the American Consulate about current high crime risk areas of town. If you are carrying large sums of money, you should always use a money belt. If possible, do not carry your passport. Keep it safe in your room or in a safe deposit box in a bank and carry a copy of it until you receive your residency card (two to three months after your arrival). You will always need your passport when cashing checks, or changing money and traveling to foreign countries and crossing international borders. Always make copies of all important documents, your credit cards, your residency card, your driver's license, your plane tickets, etc. and keep them in a safe place. Madrid is no more dangerous than any other big city; the key to safety is common sense.


To work in Spain all foreigners need a permiso de trabajo (work permit), which is impossible to obtain as a student studying in Spain. Thus, working is illegal.


Here are some recommended items to bring. Read this section closely, but check your airline weight limit. Luxuries can either be done without or obtained here. You may be able to get away with taking your backpack with you on the plane at no extra charge for the extra pounds, but don't count on it.

You can buy most of the same toiletries in Spain that you buy in the U.S., so don't waste space in your suitcase with too much of that.

If you have a laptop, consider bring it. Just make sure you use common sense so it won’t be stolen.  Although you have access to computers at “locutorios” and the libraries, keep in mind hours are limited and it might not be open when you need it to be.

CD walkman or MP3 player with small speakers
Thermal underwear (you´ll need them)
A warm winter coat (Buy this in Spain, they have lots to choose from)
Light cotton clothes for the first month (Cotton is expensive here)
One or two pairs of good comfortable walking shoes. (You will be doing much walking in the city. Good shoes are available here at reasonable prices.)
Exercise wear
Clothes you feel comfortable going out in at night
Women's underwear and bras (quality here isn't the same) and very expensive
Levi's (Very expensive here. There are many other stylish brands of jeans, but the fit is smaller. Vaqueros - tight fitted jeans are common in Madrid)
Warm winter shoes and/or boots (Rain gear is also a good idea.) Shoes are good in Spain.
Athletic shoes and socks (Quality athletic shoes are very expensive here.)
For guys, a sports coat and trousers or a suit.
Wool knit gloves, scarves and caps - scarves are cheap in Madrid-buy them here!
For women, panty hose can be expensive here
A good backpack or travelling bag for weekend excursions
Contact lenses/glasses prescriptions
A good Spanish grammar book and pocket Spanish-English dictionary (Collin's Gem is good). Keep in mind that some school supplies are expensive here.
Sewing kit (cheap here in the chino stores)
Photographs of home and family
Cold, decongestant and diarrhea remedies (don't expect to find exact equivalents here), and/or Vitamin C tablets (available here but in the chewable saccharin form, also effervescent.) Pain killers (e.g. advril)
Vitamins - difficult to have them sent due to customs.
Antacid (e.g. Pepto-Bismol, TUMS)
Cosmetics (also available here, but very expensive)
Film and camera accessories (you can buy it here, for reasonable prices)
Two good towels and two washcloths
Good travel guides: Michelin green guide to Spain, Let's Go Spain, Let's Go Europe, Europe on $25 a Day, Lonely Planet guides (However, copies are available in the Program Office.)
A sleeping bag - (if planning on camping)
Birth control supplies (condoms are sold in pharmacies and supermarkets.)
Small wallet (easier to stuff in pockets.)
Pocket knife
Slippers (most apartments have cold ceramic tile floors here.)
Basic cookbook (e.g., Joy of Cooking)
English grammar book
Current adapters and transformers (You will run into both 220 and 110 volts in Spain. The current in Madrid is 220. You can also get them here for a small price at “chinos stores”.
"Picante" spices (we can't stress this enough) very important if you like spices it’s hard to find ingredients for “ethnics” foods. Bring some if you can. They are very expensive here.
Bungee cords for packing, securing gear when traveling
Locks for luggage and backpacks. Padlocks for youth hostels,
Money belt or money neck pouch
Measuring cups
Travel alarm clock
Camping gear (if you like to camp)
Speedo diving chamois - great to use as a towel on trips (camping usually).
Books in your major keep in mind that books are very heavy and you’ll need to buy some here.
Some students recommend a suitcase style backpack with a zipper on the front that goes all the way around (for easy access).
Some students also recommend sheets for stays at youth hostels and for those landlords who do not provide them (most of them do).
An important note: Everything electronic is 220 volts and is expensive.

Please no pets!


Women: Mostly fitted jeans; honestly all jeans are worn, it is all about your personal style. It´s all about tights, leggings and panty hose.  Boots are in fashion and are good for unpredictable weather.  Sweaters, knee length skirts; scarves are a must; cute hats; Flip-flop sandals are usually worn only in the summer.  Buy your winter coat here, you will find everything from short sporty coats to long elegant ones.  If you do not bring enough clothes, don´t worry, this will give you an excuse to go shopping and you will find great deals, especially in JANUARY!

If you are a plus size, it is difficult to find nice jeans or skinny jeans so please pack them.

Make up is very expensive, so bring enough to last you a year. You can find most of the same brands here, but at a higher price. Another issue was deodorant, so if you use a favorite brand, pack a few.

If you use a special shampoo or conditioner (professional) please bring enough to last a year. They have Pantee, Fructese, Loreal, Tresemme and other brand merchandise. If you use hair oils or creams, the quality is not the same even if it is the same brand, pack a few.

*Don´t worry if you are not into fashion or don´t have the right shoes, living here usually changes that.  But everyone is very unique and dresses to fit their identity.

Men: Conservative to preppy; leather shoes; plaid shirts; corduroys; grunge; jeans; jean jacket; tennis shoes; button-up collar shirts, sweaters, scarves, nice jackets, sweater layered look and boots. European no-nos black shoes with white socks!! (so American)

Few Spaniards wear shorts, so don't be surprised if you get the stares.

Winters in Madrid are REAL and not California-style! This means that they are MUCH COLDER and last MUCH LONGER than winters in California. Be prepared to wear layers of clothes beginning in November to  about March. This doesn’t mean you need to pack every long sleeve shirt you have, shopping in Madrid is affordable and with the winter “rebajas” (sales) slash prices down to practically nothing.


Housing: For students with dependents, there are considerations in looking for housing which may take precedence over proximity to the University. If you have school age children you may want to check the schools located in a given area before deciding to live there. You and your family may feel more comfortable in an area in which families tend to live rather than in area that is loaded with university students. Be sure to visit the neighborhood beforehand; check out the parks, safety of the street. Transportation, shopping, etc. All of these factors will make more of a difference to you than they will to the "typical" student who is here on his/her own.

Infants and Toddlers: There are several important considerations for students with infants and toddlers:

Clothing: We recommend that you ship part of your child´s clothes.  Don't forget to include winter clothes. You may also want to ship shoes as they are generally expensive here. (Note: Keep in mind that shipping by boat takes at least 10 to 12 weeks. You may want to ship early.)

Diapers: Everyone here seems to use disposable diapers. They are comparable in price and quality to those in the States. Cloth diapers are not much of an alternative, and no one here has a dryer.

Carriers: The backpack type carriers are the easiest to use when you first arrive; but once you're settled in, you will probably want to use a stroller. If you don't bring one with you, you can buy one here. However, they typically cost between $200 and $300. You can also check for ads in Segunda Mano.

Highchairs: Both in Madrid and while traveling, a "sassy seat" (the kind that folds up flat and can be mounted on the edge of a table) is essential. We have not found a single restaurant in Madrid that provides highchairs for its customers' babies.

Other Accessories: Cribs and playpens are very expensive, so you should try to get them secondhand. Keep in mind that you will not want to spend a lot of money on these things as you may have a hard time selling them before you leave. If you're lucky, your landlord may be able to help you out with some of these things.

Toys, eating utensils, etc., are all readily available, although expensive. Of course, you may want to bring some of your child's favorite toys from home.) Finally, you may want to bring a food grinder from home if you don't like feeding your baby processed baby food.

Packing: If your child is not assigned a seat in the plane, it is very important to keep in mind that here there will be no luggage allowance for him/her. This means that you will have to pack your child's things in with your own. Be sure to pack a large, sturdy carry on bag with diapers, clothes, toys, food, and blankets. (You, of course, will also want to bring a regular-sized diaper bag for everyday use during your stay.) We recommend that you book seats in the center section of the plane.

Schools: There are several schools in Madrid where classes are taught in English. These schools are generally expensive and often have waiting lists. If you plan to send your child/children to one of these schools, you should contact the Office of International Programs immediately for a list of schools and addresses. From there you should write directly to the schools and ask for information about curriculum, tuition, and space available. Note: A number of these schools are located outside the Madrid city limits (e.g., Majadahonda), so you may want to ask about transportation as well.

In the past some students have chosen to enroll their children in Spanish colegios. Most good colegios in Madrid are private, which means you may have to pay tuition. Tuition fees vary considerably from about $20 to $230 per month. The quality also varies so it's a good idea to visit the colegios you are considering and speak with the directors in August or September before the school year starts. However, you should be aware thatMay 15is the normal final date for registration for the Fall semester. As a result, in August there is no space in most schools for new enrollees.

From our experience, the teachers in the colegios are dedicated and professional, the children friendly and accepting (with some exceptions), and the atmosphere is highly conducive to an American child's comfort and socialization. It is also important, however, to consider whether your spouse may choose to tutor your child (materials are generally available from your child's home school) while sending him/her to the colegio part of the day. It should be added that those attending classes equivalent to Jr. and Sr. high school will find a more rigorous academic program and longer school days than in the U.S.

Updated 3/06/09 DAP