Why this American couple chose to live in Salamanca
This is a truly inspiring interview about a couple of Americans retiring early and diving into Spanish life. They did it with a plan of living in different parts of Spain, experiencing the country region by region.
There first home is the beautiful city of Salamanca, not an obvious place for foreigners to dip their toes in Spain.
This interview covers Shari and Joe’s story.
Name: Shari & Joe
Country of Origin: USA
Number of years in Spain: 2
Hi Shari! Can you please tell me about how you and your husband (Joe) came up with the idea of moving to Spain?
Hi Frank, and sure. The plan was hatched during 2020, in the thick of covid times. I worked as an occupational therapist in a hospital, and it was awful. We were short on protective gear, the nurses were burning out so badly, the covid patients were so sick, and worst of all was that families weren’t allowed in the building to visit and comfort patients- especially confused, non-English speaking, and dying patients. It was heartbreaking. At the same time, Joe was working in supply chain, which was stressful in its own way and, as you may remember, a total mess. Then a friend started talking to me about the “FIRE” movement*. Then I read everything on Mr Money Mustache’s blog, and Joe and I found that our life philosophies really clicked with his. Then our money guy told us we could probably swing an early, “budget” retirement if we moved to a country with a lower cost of living and continued to live frugally. Then we started zero-ing in on potential destinations. I was leaning towards Mexico and Panama, loving Latin American culture. Joe is a Europhile. So, we compromised: there is one Spanish speaking, Latin American culture-adjacent, European country. So, Spain it was. We moved here in Spring of 2022.
*Editor’s note: I’ve never heard of the FIRE movement before this. But frugality and smart investing led me to retiring in my mid-40’s. I totally get it. I’ve linked the above references so that other people can find out more about the “Financial Independence, Retire Early” movement.
I love your concept in coming to Spain. Can you tell readers what you told me…and explain why Salamanca ended up being your first base in Spain?
Our original plan was to move to a new region of Spain every two years, while keeping our ownership of “stuff” as light as possible. We’re interested in the geographic and cultural variations of the different regions and want to dig in and experience as many corners of this beautiful country as we can. To be honest.. we will see if we stick with this plan or not, as we are currently having a bit of a hard time leaving our beloved Salamanca 🙂 .
We chose Salamanca to start out because:
1. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage City and is stunningly beautiful and we never tire of looking upon the “Golden City”.
2. It’s very rich in culture and history. Seemingly everyone here is really well versed on Salamanca and Spanish history. We laugh because it’s hard to have any casual conversation on the street without them bringing up the Romans and the Visigoths! (which I love, as I’m super interested in history, too).
3. We generally find the weather mild and pleasant.
4. It’s a quick 1.5 hour train ride to Madrid and it’s airport.
5. It’s the perfect size for us, with about 140k people. Completely walkable. Owning a car would be a nuisance. It has a city bus service but we’ve never used it. Literally everything is within a 30 min walk. We walk about 30-40 miles a week, just to live.
6. The Salmantinos are wonderful. They’re not immediately gushingly friendly, not at all. But if you make a little effort to use humor or speak Spanish or ‘break the ice’, their warmth and generosity and good humor are revealed and it’s lovely.
7. It’s really bikeable, both in and out of town, and we are avid cyclists.
8. It has the beautiful University of Salamanca, the 5th oldest university in the world. The student energy is fun:).
9. It’s super extremely safe. I do not know what the local police do all day.
10. It’s super clean.
11. It’s 17th century Plaza Mayor is the prettiest we have seen in all of Spain. We go there every day.
12. LOTS of people here want to practice their English. So it’s very easy to meet new friends with whom to have intercambios (language exchanges)
13. There are very many Spanish language schools here, of every flavor.
Salamanca must have been a bit of a plunge in the deep end as far as a first base in Spain. Can you tell us about it and how you’ve adapted to life there?
LOL you are so right, it was/is a plunge in the deep end! We were so adamant about wanting to move to “deep Spain”, to immerse in the language, to assimilate into the culture. We didn’t want to be anywhere near other Americans! (we succeeded there, as few English-speaking tourists come here) We had strong opinions regarding foreigners who come to Spain just to live in little enclaves of their own countrymen (Eww!). Ahhh yes, so we did it. And we continue to do it, chip away, bit by bit. But now we know why everyone doesn’t do it this way. IT’S HARD. LOL. Some days it’s REALLY HARD. You’ve got to lean into challenge and constant problem solving and constant learning– and learn to like it. It seems like everything is different, you don’t instinctively know how to do anything anymore. Case in point: our second day here, we had to Google “how to take out trash in Spain”. Now, when we’re back in the US, we feel like full-on geniuses. We know how to speak to anyone, we know how things go, how things work, we don’t even need to be fully awake to function at a high level lol. But here… we were/are toddlers, we are infants, we are true bumbling drooling idiots. It’s really quite hilarious. Oh, and speaking of hilarious- if you lose your sense of humor, which of course we do sometimes- you’re in trouble.
You mentioned having friends in Salamanca. Local friends? Other expats? (is there an expat community at all in Salamanca?)
At first, like I mentioned above, we were allergic to other Americans. If we met one who kind of would like to be our friend, we would kind of move in the other direction. Obviously, we made no effort to reach out to any native English speakers on social media or what have you. I would say the expat community here is really small. But they are around, and now we quite embrace them when we find them. It’s such a treat to be able to speak and connect effortlessly! But, most of our friends here are Spanish people who also speak English or who are working on their English. And we speak to them in half and half. With only one couple with whom we are friends, do we speak Spanish 100% of the time. The key, for us, in finding these bilingual people, was to join an English-speaking practice group, for Spanish locals, at the local library on Friday nights. We love these people, they absolutely embraced us, and I do one on one intercambios with most of them, meeting up for coffee or a beer every week to talk. It has helped my poor Spanish sooo much, as well as taught me so many things about the culture, as well as helped me to make what I feel will be lifelong friends.
You’ve mentioned that you’d like to move around every 2nd year, exploring a different part of Spain. Do you have an idea of where you want to go next? And after that? Do you have a plan or are you doing it as you go?
LOL. The “trouble” here, is getting myself and my husband to agree, especially on a climate! I enjoy the moody and dramatic mist clouds rain fog and coolness and would like to move next to the north coast, perhaps Gijón, in Asturias. My husband likes sun, warmth, and more sun. I feel he is going to “win” this next move, as he has convinced me he will have SAD (seasonal affect disorder) if he is made to move north. So, our next town to check out as a possibility, is Jerez de la Frontera, in Andalucia. Other places in future contention include Santiago de Compostela (over my husband’s dead body), Logrono, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Ronda, Granada, Bejar, and Cadiz.
You also mentioned to me that you are “light” as far as possessions go, which you have to be if you have the intention of moving around? Can you give us an idea of how “light” you are? (did you arrive in Spain with just a bunch of suitcases?)
Right. “Light” is relative, yes? LOL. We sold all our furniture and maybe 80% of our possessions when we moved here. We arrived in Spain with seven suitcases, one bike, and our adventure cat, Mina. And then four months later, our 7 foot x 7 foot x 4 foot (5.5 cubic meter) shipping crate arrived, which included 3 more bikes, bike gear, and camping/backpacking gear. FYI we have yet to use the camping gear, we haven’t yet figured out how to camp in Spain, we perhaps should have sold all of that(??). To date, we believe everything we own will fit into a Sprinter van.
How has not having many possessions helped or hindered your apartment search? I ask because when we were recently looking for a new apartment we found that finding a furnished apartment was a lot easier than a non-furnished apartment. I wonder what your experience was in Salamanca.
We learned furnished apartments were more common here than unfurnished. We found it easy to quickly find a furnished 1BR 1 BA, 55 m2 apartment in the Casco Viejo (old town) area, for less than 600 euro/month. We found it on the website Milanuncios. It is fairly stuffed with our things. We would have been in trouble were we not able to beg and plead with our kind landlord to let us use part of the storage room in the basement.
How is your Spanish progressing? Did you speak some Spanish before coming here…or are you learning as you go?
We both spoke a little Spanish before landing here. We thought we spoke more than we did. Many of the vocab words I knew applied to Mexico but not to Spain. We had to familiarise ourselves with the vosotros form and with the perfect preterite. We started by enrolling immediately for a semester at the University of Salamanca, 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. We studied really hard, up to an additional 6 hours each day after classes. I took both a grammar class there and a History of Spain class, both of which were taught in Spanish only. We burned out a little bit, after 6 months. It was and is frustrating how slowly a new language comes to me in my 50s compared with my teens and 20s. For the past 1.5 years, we have been studying slowly and informally on our own, as well as doing LOTS of intercambio coffees and beers out on the town. We don’t work nearly as hard at it as a lot of people do, and not nearly as hard as we should. We are still frustrated with our poor Spanish most every day, and struggle with higher level interactions and especially when needing medical care. We plan to get back into formal schooling in the not-too-distant future. We think we are on the ten-year plan, in terms of decent enough fluency.
What’s the long-term goal Shari? Is the ultimate goal to find that perfect place for you and Joe in Spain?
Such a good question! We do not, at this time, think of having an ultimate goal of one place to “settle”. We intend to stay light on the material possessions and move around, maybe every 2-3 years. We have no intention of ever owning a home, though I suppose we do not 100% rule it out, either. I have been a happy lifelong renter and have never owned, so the concept is foreign to me. I suppose, at some point, we will get too old to continue moving, it will become too hard? So then we will move into the old folks home? We’re not sure! The only long-term goal that we’re sure about is– to learn enough Spanish to participate more fully in the wonderful culture here!