Five Things You Didn’t Know About Filing Your Taxes as an Expat in Spain

If life abroad weren’t complicated enough, filing taxes from abroad becomes even more complicated. As he drove me to the airport in 2007 for a year in Spain, my dad casually mentioned that I’d need to fax my first paycheck so that he could get a handle on my tax situation as soon as possible. “You’ll lose your passport otherwise.”

I scoffed, but eventually heard horror stories of people held at customs for not defaulting their student loans or not filing their taxes. Back before we had smartphones, I scanned and made copies of all of my bank statements just in case Uncle Sam came calling. Every April 15th, I gloated over all the zeros on my tax returns.

European Euros money

Then came love, marriage and the baby carriage, and I entered the murky world of filing taxes in Spain as an employee, dutifully filing in both countries.

A dozen years on, my interest in protecting my assets while understanding tax laws for my little American passport-totting Spanish children had me looking to the experts for more information about how and when to report my earnings abroad, as well as how to generate a positive return. It turns out that I had little idea about the intricacies of basic filing knowhow, which I’m sharing here as five things most expats don’t know about filing their US taxes from Spain:

Deadlines – April 15th is just another date on a calendar for expats filing taxes abroad

When you’re living abroad, you suddenly have double the dates to remember – holidays at home and abroad, your next trip stateside, and when to file your taxes in both countries.

This proved to be especially important for me as an American living and working in Spain. The Spanish declaración de la renta is not due until June 30th but cannot be filed until April 1st; in order to file my American taxes, I had to first file my Spanish claims and receive my return to send to an American accountant. April 15th – the American deadline – is thus too precipitated, but the common knowledge is that Americans residing abroad have a two-month grace period until June 15th, so long as you have filed for the extension prior to April 15th.

Five Weird Things You'll Find in Your Spanish Apartment

You can file for a later deadline, provided you do it prior to April 15th. Below are the important dates to remember when filing your US taxes from abroad:

Previous year tax return: October 15th

FBAR: October 15th

Even if you arrive to a zero balance on your tax return, you are required to fill out an FBAR if your worldwide assets total more than $10,000 or their local equivalent across any account bearing your name – even if just for one day. For instance, I began filing an FBAR in 2014 when I bought a house, as the amount I transferred in from the US was over the threshold.

Child tax credits: having a case of the babies can pay off on your taxes

I was well aware that the Spanish government offered what they called a cheque bebé, or a tax rebate on children up to age three. I chose to get the monthly 100€ check as a lump sum on my Spanish returns, as well as take advantage of the Comunidad de Madrid’s 90€ monthly rebate for working mothers.

When I found out I also qualified for a refund in the US under a recent tax reform called the Child Tax Credit, I was thrilled to know that the money I was paying out of pocket for childcare would be returned.

cute baby in a hat

There are two types of child tax credits: the Child Tax Credit and the Dependent Care Credit. I was able to file for the former, which qualifies for a reduction of $2000 per child, provided the child is under 16, has an American social security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and is an American citizen. Because I did not earn enough to be taxed in the US via my Spanish income, my child tax credit came in the form of a refund – finally someone paid me a “salary” for my second shift job!

The other credit is for those who wish to claim up to $600 per child for childcare costs for dependents under the age of 12 when one or both parents work or are eligible to work.

Ojo – if you have filed for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion , you will not qualify for these exclusions.

FATCA: This is the reason why your foreign bank asks you for a W-9

Oh, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. No sooner had I signed the dotted line on a mortgage, my assets at my Netherlands-based bank were frozen. Imagine me, IKEA boxes piled onto a cart, having two debit cards and a credit card denied when I’d just been paid my finiquito and my monthly wages.

Parisian bistros

Enacted in 2014 and enforced heavily throughout the world, this IRS-imposed financial bullying is meant to catch those with offshore accounts but ends up hurting expats with its reporting. All Americans wishing to bank abroad are typically asked to provide both a W-9 form and a copy of their residency status to open and operate a bank account; when the law came into effect, I was politely asked to sign a W-8BEN, despite the DO NOT SIGN IF YOU ARE A US CITIZEN OR GREEN CARD HOLDER warning across the top.

Anyone know any Spaniards named Catherine Gaa? No?

Despite following my bank’s instructions, my accounts were frozen for two weeks, meaning my mortgage, life insurance and other important bills went unpaid – even my blog went offline when I was truant on my hosting fees.

FATCA can be problematic when trying to bank or own a business abroad, as the IRS has to know about it. Your bank is probably getting bullied into giving you the W9 and demanding to see your local residency card, anyway. In turn, they report your full name, birthdate, US social security number and bank balance to the US authorities.

Cuenca cathedral

Word to the wise: if you’re marrying a foreign national, bring up FATCA and taxes in the US like you would the question of having children or not. It may impact how you bank together.

Double taxation and Foreign Earned Income Exclusion: do I make enough money abroad to file?

While we’re on FACTA… the reason the whole mess came to be was because of a bunch of rich people using tax paradises to not pay on their worldwide earnings, something that the US requires you to report no matter where you live or where you earn your money (or euros or yen). It traps us little guys who earn normal salaries abroad and pay taxes on those earnings.

While the US has tax treaties with more than 6 countries, these agreements are really meant to not tax foreign nationals living and working in the US from being taxed in both countries. In other words: if you have a US passport and earn money, you should file. If you are, say, Spanish and work in the US, you wouldn’t have to file in Spain because of these treaties.

If you’re earning less than $100,000 worldwide, chances are you won’t owe the IRS any money. You can file for something called the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion in this case, or even the Foreign Tax Credit, which deducts $1 for every dollar you have already paid in taxes in another country. This is where filing for an extension in order to pay taxes in your country of residence comes in handy; you can then apply for the Foreign Tax Credit via Form 116.

Back filing and getting up to tax compliancy

Most expats know that they are legally obligated to file taxes every year, but the common belief is that if you don’t earn money in the US, you won’t have to pay any money to Uncle Sam.

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A friend of mine brought up a great point recently during a US consulate town hall: if I know I owe nothing to the IRS, why do I have to pay someone to do my taxes? When you compare the price of back filing your taxes through the IRS’s streamlined procedure to the $50,000 start price for not complying with FATCA, it makes sense to bite the financial bullet. What’s more, the IRS can find you since you let your bank report to them.

In order to become compliant via the streamlined process, you must:

  • File your last three federal tax returns
  • File your last six FBARs, if applicable
  • Pay any taxes due
  • Self-certify that your previous failure to file was non-willful

What companies can file my taxes for me? Can I use Turbotax if I live abroad?

Anyone else wish they would have learned about filing taxes when they had their first job? Or in high school? Or at any point in their lives?

When I was slinging sandwiches at age 15 at a local deli, I never imagined I’d end up living abroad. My dad dutifully tallied my $6.25 hourly wage before April 15th, and we celebrated with 29 cent hamburgers at MCDonald’s for dinner. Taxes are fun! I’d say as I chowed down at the dinner table.

HA.

You can absolutely use Turbotax or your parents’ accountant, but as we began to earn money from renting our home and then bled money into childcare, I realized I needed someone who was specialized in tax law in both Spain and the US. The Novio does a great job on our declaración de la renta in Spain, reading up on new laws and saving receipts of everything from school uniforms to a new corkscrew for our rental property – but he is as useless as I am on American taxes.

cat gaa sunshine and siestas

Bright!Tax was exactly what I needed as money matters got murky last tax season.

An honest review of Bright!Tax  from an American abroad

Katelynn, a qualified American CPA working for Bright!Tax, got in touch with me immediately to schedule a call and talk through my household situation. While filing taxes when it was just me was a cinch, marrying a person with a different passport and entering a 30-year mortgage and lifelong parentage with him complicated things. Katelynn’s humor and understanding of both Spanish tax law basics and the language allowed her to figure out exactly where we were spending our euros and how that may benefit me in my US return.

Taxes for Americans in Spain

What’s more, the communication was immediate yet not drawn out – she meant business in the best sense of the word, keeping deadlines in both countries in mind. After each call, a follow-up email with my action tasks was sent, allowing me to keep tabs on the documentation I would need to provide for my situation. As I was also preparing for a move and a baby, I appreciated that I didn’t have to chase someone else down.

Rather than sending all of my personal and financial information via email, Bright!Tax uses an interface with double authentication that allows you to fill out corresponding fields and upload your documents directly to their server. It was quick and simple to understand, and I didn’t have to worry about my information getting out to the interwebs or about GDPR, the European data protection laws (my new vendetta after FATCA).

The best part? I was able to get a refund equivalent to a month’s pay via the Child Tax Credit and the depreciation for renting our home in Seville. My dad had worked out how to make my return equivalent to zero year after year, but having insider knowledge of new tax laws meant a payout and direct deposit into my American savings account

I have already reached out to Bright!Tax about my 2019 filing, which will include the FBAR and the FATCA forms, this year. If you mention my blog or my name, you can get $50 off your filing – and if you need to take advantage of the streamlined process, every little bit helps!

February means my place of work will be sending me a list of my deductions for 2019, and the Spanish government will be paying me another 600€ for contributing another member to society (and someone who will pay pensions in the future), so it’s time to get cracking on my taxes once again. As they say – nothing in life is certain but death and taxes – and the cervecita I’ll have when I’m filed and compliant in both countries.

Full disclosure: Katelynn prepared my taxes free of charge for 2018 in exchange for my post. I can’t speak more highly of the whole process – and I keep it real.

Parenting in Spain: the differences between raising children in Spain and the USA

The 48 hours I spent in the hospital post-birth were a bit of a blur. Between doctors and nurses coming in and out, trying to figure out breastfeeding and the cycle of 20 minutes of dozing before I was interrupted by doctors or a hungry child, it wasn’t until I was back home and fumbling through the first few days and dozens of dirty diapers that the habits of Spanish parents – and just how different they were to my own upbringing – shook my baby-lagged brain.

Fast fashion: my mom sewed all of my clothes growing up

Fast fashion: my mom sewed all of my clothes growing up

I grew up without technology and in an American family in a large suburb of Chicago during the 1990s. Most of my childhood was shaped by the adults who had grown up in the 50s and 60s, and my mother stayed home with her two daughters until I, the elder, was seven years old. Summer camp, sports leagues and a part-time job in high school color my memories of growing up American, and they are also coloring the way I view child-rearing in Spain as I expect my second and push through the terrible twos of my somewhat terrible Spanish son.

The differences between parenting in Spain and parenting in the US are stark, and it begins with the fact that Spaniards tend to begin their families later. When I got married right as I turned 30, many of my friends back home were already parents or expecting; I was the first of my group of American girlfriends in Spain to have a baby, and many of my Spanish friends – including those older than me – have not made a foray into parenthood.

I'm a cool mom: taking my kid to a goat roasting festival in Quirós, Asturias

I’m a cool mom: taking my kid to a goat roasting festival in Quirós, Asturias

At home, I rule the roost and tread water between a full-time job, a toddler, a child on the way and a husband completing a master’s. It all feel imperfect yet under control, even if my American parenting ways sometimes clash with age-old Spanish upbringing habits – particularly with the older generation.

Ear piercing

When my husband and I found out we were expecting a boy, I breathed a sigh of relief: I would not have to make excuses for choosing to not pierce anyone’s ears. Most Spanish families pierce baby girls’s ears while they are a few weeks old or even at the hospital before being released. This is mostly due to the fact that the baby will not remember the pain, but it also aids in distinguishing boys from girls. I grew up playing sports and did not pierce my ears until my junior Prom, and at my mother’s insistence.

Even still, Enrique was a lovely baby who did not wear just baby blue, and many older women in the neighborhood mistook him for a lovely niña. I was always too tired to argue and just said a quick gracias to the nosy abuelas at the pharmacy.

Babies must be weighed at the same time every week

As Enrique grew, I became obsessed with knowing how much weight he had gained. It became a fun guessing game with my mother-in-law, who would take the bus to my home every Wednesday afternoon to weight him at the nearby pharmacy.

Can I visit La Granja with a stroller?

“Remember,” she said after a doctor’s appointment, “what he’s wearing and this time of the day, as you should always bring him into the pharmacy at the same time on the same day of the week and in the same clothing. That way, you get the most accurate reading.”

Imagine the horror when Enrique pooped shortly before the 5:30 pm weigh in one afternoon, or how much we laughed when he gained more than half a kilo in one week during a growth spurt.

Perfumes and perfect outfits

Babies are adorable and sleepy and smell good, they say.

They also spit up on themselves, poop constantly and get weird baby pimples as they fatten up. No matter – babies in Spain wear perfume and outfits that clasp, snap and buckle, both of which I find outrageous. I opted for buying newborn clothes that were soft, durable and well-priced. Enrique had a few beautiful pieces sewn and embroidered for him by family members, which I saved for special occasions and outings. Most of the time, he was in a zip-up pajamas in the cooler months and onesies that snapped at the crotch in the summer.

My mother-in-law dotes on my son and pleaded to buy a number of big-ticket items despite having a number of hand-me-downs. She was especially proud to buy him his first pair of shoes when he began to stand, but I was surprised when two came in the box. One pair were lovely brown boots to dress up a look, whereas the others were what we Midwestern Americans call gym shoes. “Well, because you don’t dress him like the other mothers. He’s ‘sporty.’”

little-boy-baby-clothes-on-a-clothesline

While there was absolutely no malice, she was right: I didn’t dress my child like the rest of the mothers (and I didn’t always dress myself up to leave the house, either – gasp!). I found the clasps and snaps a hinderance during a blowout caca, and considered his comfort over being adorable.

Thankfully, all of the baby perfumes were re-gifted as soon as we discovered Enrique is prone to dermatitis. A baby who pooped himself still smells like poop, even masked by a thick veil of Tous perfume for newborns (and who spends that much money on a baby perfume?!).

Breastfeeding, solid foods and when kids eat

I breastfed Enrique exclusively until he was four months old, something I felt pressured to do. It was time-consuming and he had reflux, but on the flip side I could do it anywhere (out to lunch! At the movies! On an airplane!) without scrambling to find a microwave or shelling out money for formula. We moved on to cereal at four months and were advised to start solids at six.

Enrique is a pretty good eater, but I was shocked when the pediatrician suggested his first lean meat come fro her barnyard friend, the horse, and that he should try kiwi at six – which landed him in the ER with a rash. In the US, we typically start on mushed veggies and certainly do not eat horse (my mother was silently weeping when I mentioned this to her).

Don't let this picture fool you - Enrique ate everything from charcuterie to tiramisu to caccio e pepe on our Rome trip

Don’t let this picture fool you – Enrique ate everything from charcuterie to tiramisu to caccio e pepe on our Rome trip

Kike’s favorite foods now are mostly kid friendly: fish sticks, yogurt and hot dogs. But he’ll also eat a full cocido marileño, is capable of eating an entire tapa of marinated olives and asks for bocadillos de foie for a snack. O sea, español when it comes to eating.

Bedtime and schedules

Spanish children go to bed extremely late. My friends – even the Americans – gasp when I tell them that my bedtime was 7:30 p.m. until I was 8, after which I could read until 8pm but that lights out was to be adhered to – no matter how late it got dark in the summer.

In casually mentioning that my kiddo is usually in bed by 9pm, I am met with bewildered looks. But when does he eat?! Around 7:30 or 8pm, right after his bath. Don’t you lay with him until he falls asleep? Nope, we have a bedtime routine after which I say, “Now Mommy is going to have dinner.” Enrique was not a good crib sleeper, but he leaves me to have some adult time in the evening.

Likely talking grandma into not having a nap

My biggest thing is that my son’s designated nap time at daycare is right in the middle of the day, which is when we’d ideally like to be outside on cooler days or taking friends up on plans for meals. I am moderately strict on the weekends with both nap times and bedtimes, even when there are some tears (even from my friends when I tell them the time won’t work for me).

We also let him sleep late on the weekends. There is nothing better than me waking up on my own at 8am and having a cup of coffee and mindlessly scrolling through social media before I have to start the trudge through changing diapers and clothes and fighting against the TV. Speaking of…

Having the TV on all the time

This is as Spanish to me as a tortilla – Spanish households seem to have the TV on at every moment of the day, and my kiddo asks for Pocoyo as soon as he’s lucid in the morning. I try not to use no TV as a punishment and encourage him to play with his toys or color before he’s pushing the remote buttons and mine.

Family roles and relying on grandparents more

When I was a child, we lived five hours away from both sets of grandparents, so my earliest memories of being at home are with my mother. When she comes, 100% of her energy is focused on my son, and he knows Grandma speaks English, and Abuela speaks Spanish. I have only gotten a babysitter once, and that babysitter was a family member who traded a Saturday night out for Netflix and a pizza.

Dueling grandpas

Dueling grandpas

Grandparents are very involved in Spain, particularly because both parents tend to work in major urban areas. It’s common to see grandparents pushing strollers, at the pediatrician and hanging out at the park. Some of my friends’ children do not even go to daycare but spend all day with their abuelos.

More than two years in and expecting my second, I feel like I have struck a balance. A Spanish friend of mine once said, you either raise a child “a la alemana,” or according to a strict schedule, or “a la gitana” or with the kiddo in charge.

Not a politically correct way to call it, but I am trying to raise Enrique and Millan “a la sevillamericana” – a hybrid of American and Spanish ideals and parenting habits. This all goes out the window when we’re in casa de los abuelos: his Spanish grandparents let him stay up until he is falling over, force feed him chocolate and homemade pudding and allow the TV to babysit. Still, I appreciate the closeness they’ve developed with Enrique and their desire to be involved or let this frazzled mom go have a haircut in relative peace.

Advice for being an expat parent abroad

Being a parent is a hard job, no matter how you slice it. It takes patience, humbling and some commiserating. Add to that cultural and often linguistic barriers, and you’ll find that the highs are extremely high, and the lows can feel crushing.

I often ask other expat parents in Spain for their advice and ideas for exploiting the fact that my children will grow up as not only bilingual but bicultural – and likely without noticing the difference between the two.

Baby's first glimpse of the ocean

Perhaps the hardest part for me is doing so with my parents so far away, and knowing that their experience raising two kids in the 90s was way different than the issues and challenges I’ll face in the new millennium. It’s a frequent topic of discussion when we have our weekly chats: “You know, Catherine, things were just so different!”

Seek out other parents – both expats and locals – to help you navigate and lend a hand if you need childcare. A friend of mine came to visit Seville with her husband and two girls, and I loved watching them while my friends had dinner out for once. She’s been inspirational and helpful in seeing what’s coming and having the shared experience as an American mother raising children in Spain.

Remember that your child needs the fundamentals first – food, shelter and your love and attention. The rest will figure itself out. If you lead by example and encourage your child, he will learn (even if that means a watch down the toilet, having the kid with a dirty school uniform because you forgot to run a load of laundry or a house littered with toys and crumbs).

Christmas in the US

Don’t compare yourself to what everyone else is doing. There is no handbook to parenting, and especially a handbook to parenting abroad. They say in Spanish, cada niño es un mundo, and it’s true: each child is different, and so is every family. You will do the best you can if you believe in the work you’re doing. And you will mess up, so get over that fast.

I’m 30 weeks pregnant with another little boy (have you missed me on the blog?) and preparing for a second isn’t so much about researching car seats and ironing onesies – it’s about making peace with the fact that chaos is coming, that there will be four of us, that my body will turn back into a milking cow, a pillow and a punching bag. Now, who has advice for not losing my shit when I’m nursing one and scolding the other?

Strange parenting habits in Spain

Have you noticed any other odd parenting habits in Spain or the country where you live? 

Resources for Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Rape Victims in Spain

On April 11th, 2018, the Today Show aired the story of Gabrielle Vega, a young woman who alleged she was raped while studying abroad in Spain. While on a semester in Salamanca, Gabrielle contracted the services of a student-run tourism company, Discover Excursions, to travel to Morocco. Given that Morocco isn’t the safest place to explore at night, one of the guides (and owner), Manuel Vela Blanco, invited Gabrielle and two friends to his hotel room for a drink. With his back turned, she alleges, he poured a glass of champagne.

The next morning, she woke up woozy and realized she’d been violated by the same person entrusted to keep her safe in Morocco.

I wish I could say I was shocked, but I wasn’t. Rumors have long swirled around Manu and his employees  – I’ve been privy to them boasting about sleeping with multiple women a night – but he continued to run a successful tourism company whose target market was female study abroad students. I’m disgusted that I interviewed for Discover Excursions in 2009, the year Blanco Vela bought out the company and the rumors began emerging.

Since that date, more than 30 women have come forward with a similar story (not everyone was raped) and authorities in Spain are investigating the allegations.

I was deeply affected by Gabrielle’s testimony. Even as someone who has never been their client and much less their friend, I reached out to Gabrielle on social media and asked how I could help. Her request was simple: a list of resources for women who might find themselves in a similar situation. Working in higher education, I am familiar with Title IX reporting, with local resources in Madrid and how to file a police report – but there is not an extensive list.

I seek to provide that here. When I began this blog post in late April 2018, I had no idea of how reporting worked or that there was infrastructure in place to help victims.

Sadly, domestic violence and sexual assault are an everyday occurrence in Spain. Have you heard of La Manada, a group of men from Seville who were recently convicted of sexual misconduct after allegedly gang raping a woman at the San Fermines festival in 2016? Spain is behind the times when it comes to handling sexual assault and rape charges, and even something supposedly harmless like cat calls are commonplace – but citizens are thankfully speaking out, and each autonomous community has resources for victims – from hotlines to pamphlets to volunteers.

empty bench lonely

Please share the information about where to go if you are the victim of a sexual assault, of sexual violence, or of rape while in Spain. Even if you think it will do no good to denounce someone while abroad or you feel ashamed to report, now is the time that we must speak up. Below you will find a growing list of resources for the major study abroad cities, which happen to be many of Spain’s largest. If you have further information, please comment or email me so that I can update the list.

What constitutes rape or sexual abuse in Spain?

It’s helpful to know a little bit about law in Spain regarding sexual abuse, gender violence and rape, which is under fire with the La Manada conviction. Spanish penal code defines both sexual abuse (abuso sexual) and rape (violación) as an act against a person’s sexual liberty.

Much like a robbery or petty theft, there is a heavier penalty when violence is exercised against the victim. This could be through intimidation or force but can be difficult to prove – and this is exactly why the Manada, a group of five guys who gang raped a woman during the San Fermines festival, were let off. Worse, they filmed the rape and planned it ahead of time, sharing the crime on a whatsapp group.

Hermana yo te creo

The jail time associated with each is from one to five years if there is evidence of violence; if not, the maximum prison time drops to three years. Like I said, Spain is a little behind the times when it comes to punishing these sorts of crimes.

Spain-wide resources

If you are the victim of a sex-related crime in Spain, follow these steps immediately after the crime and making sure you are ok (better to have a trusted friend and preferably one who speaks Spanish):

  1. Have a medical examination performed. The word for rape in Spanish is violación, and you should keep a copy of the medical report for the police report.
  2. File a police report (denuncia) at a National Police Station.
  3. Contact the Servicio de Atención a mujeres víctimas de Violencia de Género (Support Service for Women Victims of Gender-based Violence, herein referred to as S.A.V.G.) – 24 hour service, where you will receive specialized social, psychological, and legal support and where they will help you to come up with a safety plan for potential risk situations. This service is available 24 hours a day, 365 day; the number is (+34) 900 222 100 and is free to the caller. You may also use this service if you are not a legal resident of Spain or in an “irregular” residency situation. Email is [email protected]

The emergency number in Spain (similar to 911) is 112. The hotline for women who have been physically or sexually abused is 016. Both hotlines are free to call and are available in several languages (some lesser-spoken languages are only available from 8am – 6pm during the work week).

If you are the victim of any sort of crime in Spanish territory (this includes Ceuta and Melilla), you are strongly encouraged to fill out a police report. This is called a denuncia, and it can be filed at any National Police (policia nacional) station, which are open 24 hours a day. Here is where to file a police report. Be sure to be as descriptive as possible, bring an ID with you and, if you feel your Spanish is not up to par, bring someone who can translate.

You can file in person, via telephone (at a cost) to 902 102 112 from 9am until 9pm. Victims of sexual abuse or rape cannot file a police report of this nature online. If the crime was committed outside of Spain but involves a Spanish national, it may be hard to file a report and you may get pushback – but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.

In Spain, gender violence, also known as domestic violence or violencia de género, is investigated and prosecuted via the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality (Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicios Sociales e Igualdad), they have an informational sheet about your rights (mostly directed towards victims of violencia de género). The Guardia Civil is tasked with investigating violent crimes against women and minors as part of the EMUME program. They have an office in each province, which you can download here. In addition, there is a Spain-wide toggle search of resources according to the type of service you are looking for, as well as geographic location.

I cannot tell if ATENPRO still exists and whether or not it is a program funded by the Spanish government or by the Red Cross of Spain.

Your country’s Embassy or nearest consulate will have resources, too, and it’s understood that the consular agents are tasked with protecting the interests of their constituents. Most Embassies are located in Madrid (a full list is available here) and many have consulates around Spain. The US has consulates in Spanish territory in Barcelona, Seville, Valencia, Fuengirola (Málaga) Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Palma de Mallorca. Andorra is also under the jurisdiction of the US Mission to Spain.

The US Embassy website and American Citizen Services in Spain – including emergency services – can be found here. You can also request a translator through ACS.

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Additionally, most major cities have a branch of the Instituto de la Mujer (Spanish only). You can read about your rights in the event of a crime via an online contact form or find information about legislation in Spain regarding sexual harassment and asault. The organization is headquartered in Madrid on Condesa de Venadito, 34. The nearest metro stop is Barrio de Concepción (Line 7), or you can take bus 53 from Puerta del Sol. Below, I detail the contact information of the Instituto de la Mujer in popular study abroad and touristic destinations.

The city of Madrid has put out a short pamphlet (in English) about where to go and what to do if you have been assaulted or raped. Further, Red Ormiga provides assistance to undocumented immigrants, including in cases of rape or sexual violence.

If you suspect you have a sexually transmitted disease, called an enfermedad de transmición sexual, you can have a test performed at any public clinic, so long as you are registered through an empadronamiento.

Important: if the person harassing or violating you has access to your computer or phone, always clear your browser history. Many websites listed on this post will also have a button called “salida rápida” which will allow you to close the page quickly. I, unfortunately, do not.

Finally, you can choose to do online counseling via Better Help. If you are in Spain with health insurance, check out your options, as many programs will allow you to see a therapist as part of your coverage.

Pathways to Safety: an overseas resource for Americans abroad who have been victims of sexual abuse, rape or aggression 

American victims of sexual assault and violence have access to a toll-free crisis phone number. Dial the country code first, which for Spain is 900-99-0011. After dialing the country code, the victim will be prompted to dial the hotline’s direct number, which is 833-SAFE-833 (833-723-3833).

Important: For calls on a mobile phone, the call should be deleted from the call history log for safety reasons. On a landline, they should first hang up the receiver, then pick it up and dial another random number and then hang up again. This prevents someone from redialing, and this can help you stay safe at the hands of a person who is hurting you.

The phone number is for immediate response. You also have the option to email a crisis case manager at [email protected]. The response time via email may be anywhere from two hours to six hours; in an emergency situation, a phone call would illicit an immediate response. If a victim chooses to report their assault to the police, an English interpreter will be provided upon request. If you are traveling alone, you can contact the U.S. Embassy to request that an officer accompany you for the medical examination in addition to a police station.

Pathways to Safety seeks to help victims of interpersonal and gender based violence, including domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking, and forced marriage. At this time, they only help Americans who become victims while abroad in ways like safety planning, legal aid services, counseling, and transition and basic needs assistance either in a foreign country or back in the United States, whenever possible.

You could also contact RAINN – the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network headquartered in the USA. They have an 800-number and a live chat in the event you are a victim or would like to consult the statute of limitations.

Resources for sexual crime victims in popular study abroad destinations in Spain

This post is not meant to be directed only at students enjoying a semester in Spain. But the truth is that rape culture is prevalent in the US, particularly at the university level. Remember the Penn State sexual abuse scandal a few years ago? It’s estimated that one in six university students will be victims of sexual harassment or abuse.
Additionally, study abroad students are often more vulnerable – the drinking age is lower in many countries, they are out of their cultural and linguistic element and often lack the knowledge of how to deal with intense or potentially dangerous situations. There is even a 2013 study about how young women on a semester abroad are at a higher risk for becoming victims of sexual crimes.
I’ve taken the most popular study abroad destinations in Spain and found a few local resources. I will be adding to this list every time I find new or updated information. You can also check the site Securely Travel, which is a blog run by a former security adviser and who has covered Ms. Vega’s case.

Madrid

metro of Madrid

Madrid is regarded as one of the safest cities in the world, but lewd comments and catcalling are, sadly, commonplace in La Capital. You will find a number of resources here, including headquarters and a number of non-profits. This list will likely expand.
Important: If you are the victim of a violent crime and require a rape kit done in Madrid, you should go to Hospital de la Paz and ask for an evaluación forénsica to be performed. Be sure to fill out a police report prior to your hospital visit. Paseo de la Castellana, 261, metro Begońa (Line 10). +34 917 27 70 00.
You can find a list of shelters and resources in English, published by the local government, at this link (in Spanish here). If you are outside of the Madrid city limits, there are satellite offices and shelters in several large towns, published here.
  • APUNE – an organization of American university programs in Spain. They are located on General Martínez Campos, 24,between the Iglesia (Line 1) and Gregorio Marañón (Line 7) metro stops. +34 91 319 91 18.
  • SINEWS – a multi-lingual counseling company offering support for victims. Their offices are at Sagasta, 16 on the ground floor. Nearest metro stops are Bilbao (lines 1 and 4), Alonso Martínez (Lines 4, 5 and 10). +34 91 700 19 79; +34 60 926 93 23 is the emergency line.
  • Asociación Asistencia Mujeres Violadas – a non-profit that provides psychological and legal support to rape victims at Calle Alcalá 124, 1º A. Metros are Manuel Becerra (Lines 2 and 6) and Goya (lines 2 and 4). +91 574 01 10; [email protected]
  • Servicio De Atención A La Mujer (Sam) – a newly-formed division of the National Police tasked with investigating violent and sexual crimes. The Madrid-based headquarters is located in the Comisaría de Policía at Avda. Doctor Federico Rubio y Gali, 55; Metro at Francos Rodríguez (Line 7). +34 913 22 34 21.

To file a restraining order, you can do so at the located at the Comunidad de Madrid Dirección General de la Mujer at Calle Madrazo, 34, 3rd floor. The nearest Metro is Banco de España (Line 2); +34 91 720 62 38: or at C/ Manuel de Falla 7 , 2ª pta. (nearest metros are Santiago Bernabeu and Cuzco, both on Line 10) +34 91 720 62 38.

This is saddening but also necessary: In Madrid, you can now share where and by whom you were assaulted on this interactive map via Free to Be Madrid. I urge you to share your story, in English or Spanish.

Andalusia: Sevilla, Málaga and Granada

Barrio Santa Cruz Sevilla

In Sevilla (as well as Granada, Málaga and any other town in Andalusia), the Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicos Sociales e Igualdad and the division known as the Instituto de la Mujer are responsible for overseeing resources for reporting and attending to victims. The autonomous community-wide ministry is located in the capital of Seville at Avenida de Hytasa, 1, +34 95 500 63 00; the central office for the Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer for the entire comunidad is located in the center of town at Doña María Coronel, 6: +34 95 454 4910, [email protected]

That said, you can find information about the Instituto de la Mujer in each province of Andalusia, as well as their satellite offices in other municipalities in the same link. The organization provides shelters and psychological help for victims of gender violence, as well as health and employment training.

Córdoba

Centro Provincial Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer Córdoba

Avda. Ollerías nº 48 (14071).

Teléfono: 957 003 400. Fax: 957 003 412.

[email protected]

Granada

Centro Provincial Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer Granada

C/ San Matías, 17 (18009).

Teléfono: 958 025 800. Fax: 958 025 818.

[email protected]

Málaga

Centro Provincial Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer Málaga

C/ San Jacinto, 7 (29007) Málaga

Teléfono: 951 040 847. Fax: 951 040 848.

[email protected]

Sevilla

Centro Provincial Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer Sevilla

C/ Alfonso XII nº 52 (41002).

Teléfono: 955 034 944. Fax: 955 035 957.

[email protected]

  • The Servicio de Asistencia de Víctimas de Andalucía is a gender-inclusive psychological and judicial support service for victims of crimes – which includes foreigners, tourists and minors. There are offices in each province of Andalusia and the Campo de Gibraltar, and their services are listed in their English-language pamphlet.
  • The Costa del Sol chapter of Soroptimist International is active, championing for women’s issues and providing support in nearly four dozen languages.

There are US Consulates in both Sevilla (Plaza Nueva, 8) and Fuengirola, a town to the west of Málaga (Juan Gómez Juanito, 8).

If you need a restraining order, you can follow the steps listed on the Junta de Andalucía’s website.

Castilla y León: Salamanca

rainy in plaza mayor valladolid

While the Junta de Castilla y León is located in Valladolid, where I chose to study abroad in Spain, the capital isn’t home to a plehora of Erasmus students or co-eds on a semester overseas. The regional government provides a list of resources under the Health and Social Services Ministry and runs a program known as PAWLA to bring resources straight to victims of gender and sexual violence.

The Sección de Mujer of Salamanca – home to one of the world’s oldest universities and a destination for abroad programs, it located in the Edificio Administrativo de Usos Múltiples (ESAUM) on C/ Príncipe de Vergara, 53-71 – Planta Baja; (+34) 923 296 746 or (+34) 923 136 458. This governmental organism also provides help to family matters and those dependent on drugs; the list of satellite offices is found on the Familia, drogopendencias y mujer section of the Junta de Castilla y León’s website.

The central office for the Centro de Acción Social (CEAS), which deals with citizens in crisis, is located in Valladolid, but a simple Google search will yield the office nearest you – even if you’re not in a provincial capital. They will be able to direct you to more resources and translators, if needed.

Finally, the Asociación de Asistencia a Víctimas de Agresiones Sexuales y Violencia de Género is active in Castilla y León and partially funded by the regional government. León, Valladolid and Burgos are of note; the Salamanca office is located at C/ Corral de Villaverde, 1, 5ºB; the office phone is (+34) 923 26 05 99 or the 24-hour (+34) 609 83 53 36. 

Cataluña: Barcelona

parc guell barcelona3

Many will argue that Catalonia is not Spain, but the northeastern region of the Iberian peninsula is also known for being one of the more progressive. A simple Google search for this post brought back a number of resources for victims of sexual crimes, including free therapy sessions for victims of sexual crimes during youth, monetary compensations for victims and a number of organizations meant to protect and support victims.

While the official language of all of Spain is Castillian Spanish, it’s more common to hear catalán or inglés. That said, if you speak in Spanish in larger urban areas, you will be attended to in Spanish. Keep in mind that, at the time of publication, local law enforcement is upheld by the Mossos d’Esquadra, a division of the Civil guard whose day-to-day operations are run by the Catalan government. Within Catalonia, the emergency number 012 will connect you to the Mossos; you can also dial (+34) 932 14 21 24 outside of the region.

Like all other regions, you should follow the protocol of calling the police, having a pelvic exam and making a denuncia, as outline in this PDF about sexual assault and rape put out by the catalán government. To file a police report, the Mossos Denuncias page describes how and where to do so around the comunidad. And bravo to the Catalonian government’s website that has clear instructions and resources for the whole region, the most relevant of which are listed below.

The general hotline for victims of sexual crime in Catalonia is: (+34) 900 90 01 20 (24/7).

Two major hospitals in Barcelona will treat victims of sexual assault and have specialized units for their emotional and psychical treatment:

The public Hospital Clínic de Barcelona is one of the largest treatment centers in the region, and in addition to an ER and psychological units, treats victims in the Programa de Prevención y Tratamiento de las Secuelas Psíquicas en Mujeres Víctimas de Agresión Sexual c/ Rosselló, 140, bajos; (+34) 629 63 45 53. Note that the aforementions unit is only open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 am until 1pm. Hospital Sant Joan de Deu has a Unidad de Agresiones Sexuales for sexually abused minors. Ctra. De Esplugas, s/n: (+34) 932 80 40 00.

Finally, there is a US consulate with select Embassy powers in Barcelona in the Sarrià neighborhood at Paseo Reina Elisenda de Montcada, 23; (+34) 93 280 22 27; the Ask Citizens Services email is [email protected]. The nearest subway station is Reina Elisenda (the end of Line 12).

Communitat Valenciana: Alicante and Valencia

Fallera Women in Las Fallas

In Valencia, the Instituto de la Mujer is overseen by the Consejería de Bienestar Social and, at a more local level, the Dirección General de Familia y Mujer. Unfortunately, many of the websites and associations listed on the Consejería’s website were broken or out of date (the Plan of Action was last updated in 2012 and only gave actions through 2014, for example). You can reach the central line, operative 24 hours a day, at (+34) 900 58 08 88 or (+34) 900 152 152 for the hearing impaired. The Generalitat also lists police commissaries that have special attention to victims of sexual assault.

You may find that some services operate first in valencià, a language closely related to catalán. Those organizations with pages in English have been added here, though the most complete information will be in valencià or castellano.

  • Institut de les Dons in the Comunitat Valenciana is located on C/ Castán Tobeñas, 77 in the Ciutat Administrativa 9 d´ Octubre, torre 3; (+34) 961 24 75 89; [email protected]. Closest metro is Nou d’ Octubre (lines 3, 5, 9).
  • Their counterpart Alicantina, la Coordinación La Dona, is on Av/ Oscar Esplá, 33-35 in Alicante. (+34) 965 92 97 47.
  • The Centro de Asistencia a Víctimas de Agresiones Sexuales is likely to give more support. While they do not have resources in English on their webpage, they are a reference in Spain for their pioneering work in support for victims and are right in the center of town. C/ Guillem de Castro, 100; (+34) 963 94 30 69; [email protected]
  • The Asociación para la Protección e Integración de la Mujer provides services for immigrants, particularly for victims of abuse. They are headquartered in Valencia at C/ Baron de Carcer, 48 8L; [email protected]

Further, the Generalitat offers economic help to survivors who meet certain socioeconomic conditions, such as residency and income. This page is in Spanish, as well as the online platform to apply.

There is a US Consulate near the Colom metro stop on Carrer del Dr. Romagosa, 1, 46002; (+34) 963 51 69 73.

País Vasco: Bilbao and San Sebastián

Lastres Asturias village

Like Catalonia, the Basque country has a higher degree of autonomy; their police force is known as Ertzaintza. Again, although the official language of the whole country is Castillian Spanish, you may find that resources or services are in euskera first; the Ministry of Justice does have an informative pamphlet in English about the steps victims should take, as well as contact information for the following resources and services.

  • The Specialized Information Service and Hotline Service For Female Victims of Domestic Violence (S.A.TE.VI.) is available around the clock for confidential information and support at (+34) 945 01 93 27 or (+34)  945 01 93 16; [email protected] The hearing and speech impaired can get assistance by sending a text message to (+34) 600 12 31 12 with personal details and location, by typing the words “gender violence”.
  • The Servicio de Asistencia a la Víctima (Victim Assistance Service, or SAV),  is service which provided by the Basque Government that offers information and the social, legal and psychological assistance. They have limited hours, so you should call authorities outside of normal business hours, taking into account reduced hours and staffing in the summer months.
Bilbao

Palacio de Justicia

Ibáñez de Bilbao, 3-5

(+34) 900 40 00 28 (free phone)

(+34) 944 01 64 87

San Sebastián

Palacio de Justicia

Plaza Teresa de Calcuta, 1

(+34) 900 10 09 28 (free phone)

(+34) 943 00 07 68

  • The Instituto Vasco de la Mujer is known as Emakunde in the Basque language, and their services also extend to men who have been victims of sexual crimes. The main office is located in the Basque capital of Victoria-Gasteiz (+34 945 01 67 00); [email protected]. They have a website in English and have listed their protocols in a helpful PDF (in Spanish). I could not find information about satellite offices in the comunidad.
Title IX
If you are on a program abroad through a US university, there will likely be a Title IX point person. Originally meant to prevent discrimination based on sex, race or creed, it also covers sexual harassment and sexual violence, and the Clery Act deals with reporting crime on campuses.
If your study abroad program (I believe this can only be program-related and not a private company, such as CIEE) does not have a point person or does not report, they may be in violation of the Clery Act and you should push them to train staff members.
Discover Excursions
If you have anything to share about being a survivor of a sex crime related to Manuel Vela Blanco or a staff member of Discover Excursions in Sevilla, you are encouraged to write Gabrielle Vega at: [email protected] At the time of the original posting, the company had cancelled their upcoming trips and their offices are closed. Plus, their social media has been wiped. While they may be difficult to convict, we’re making progress:
Discover Excursions
I could not have written this post without the help of Nicole Pradel, Meghan Holloway, Lindsay Vick, Helen Lyons Poloquin, Ali Meehan of Costa Women – and, of course, Gabrielle Vega. They are not only women I admire and call friends, but they took also it upon themselves to gather resources and reach out to their contacts. Niñas, thank you for fighting with me.
where to go if you've been assaulted or raped in Spain
This post is meant to be a starting off point – women in Spain are angry and we’re shouting at the patriarchy and misogyny. If you know any other websites, groups, demonstrations or the like, please comment below or email me, and I will add them to the list.

5 Outdoor Activities to do with Kids and Teens this Summer in Cádiz

Andalusia has the winning combination of weather, history and culture and wallet-friendly prices, making it especially tempting for a family trip to Spain. Kids will faun over castles, stretches of some of Spain’s best beaches and theme parks: older kids and teens will appreciate activities dedicated to their interests and energy levels.

what to do in cadiz with kids

The Cádiz province, considered to be the oldest continuously-inhabited part of Europe, is a favorite for Spanish holiday-makers in the summer. Roughly 30 blue flag beaches, whitewashed mountaintop towns and a robust gastronomic tradition are my top picks for things to do with family in Cádiz:

Kitesurfing, Windsurfing and Adventure camps (Tarifa)

The pico of land at the very south of Spain (and, indeed, of Europe) straddles the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Oceans, making it one of Iberia’s windiest points and one renowned for kitesurfing and windsurfing worldwide – the town of Tarifa boasts about 300 windy days each year! And if that weren’t enough, the beaches of the Cádiz province are amongst Spain’s best stretches of sand and family friendly, too.
tarifa street

For adventurous teens over 14, combination teen summer activity and language camps such as Lenguaventura in Tarifa bring together project-based language learning with sporty activities. Participants can choose windsurf, kitesurf or adventure camps in either English or Spanish, and parents will know that 15 years of Swiss management make the camp safe for their kids. Prices include nearly every amenity; only inscription fees may be added.

A Campo Abierto (Medina Sidonia)

If you haven’t the stomach for bullfighting, you can visit a ganadería, or a livestock farm, where toros bravos are bred. And not just any farm – that of Alvaro Domecq, Jerez de la Frontera‘s prodigal son. Winemaker and former mayor of the Cádiz province’s largest city, Domecq’s name is almost always synonymous with the toro bravo, as it was Domecq that pioneered artificial insemination to ensure quality stock (and bullfighting on horseback, known as the rejoneo).

bullfighter jackets El Jueves Market Sevilla

You can visit the family’s farm, inherited just before the Spanish Civil War from the Duke of Veragua, by guided tour. You’ll learn a bit about bullfighting and the rejoneo in addition to seeing bulls, oxen and stately Andalusian horses. Prices begin at 11€ for children, and you can add on sherry tastings and flamenco performances.

You can book tickets at A Campo Abierto and visit the charming village of Medina Sedonia while you’re at it.

Dolphin and whale watching (Tarifa)

Tarifa boasts more than just windsurfing – the Straight of Gibraltar is home to a variety of dolphin species and even killer whales. With success rates hovering over 95%, most companies will offer 2-3 hour boat trips through the Straight, providing information about the wildlife and ecosystem of Tarifa, as well as facts about marine mammals.

Not got your sea legs? You could consider adopting a dolphin!

Boat ride in the Doñana National Park

Europe’s largest nature preserve and most important wetland, UNESCO-lauded Parque Natural Doñana, straddles the Cádiz, Sevilla and Huelva provinces and is framed by the Atlantic Ocean and Guadalquivir River. Home to the Iberian lynx, wild water horses and countless species of aquatic birds, visitors can visit part of the expansive park as part of a boat ride while on foot (visits to Doñana can only be done via certified tour companies because of park protection measures).

Horseback Riding in Doñana National Park, Spain

Setting out from Sanlúcar de Barrameda (a town known for its sherry production and exquisite tortilla de camarones in case you’re more into the gastronomic offerings), boat tours are about three hours and include a guided visit of the park during two stops. They also serve snacks and refreshments for purchase on the pontoon.

Doñana is under threat of more than just losing its UNESCO nod because of deforestation and human-started forest fires, depopulation of its fauna and ecological threats due to industry. I urge you to use responsible tourism companies whose carbon footprint does not add to the problems the park faces.

Biking the Vías Verdes 

Using old train tracks as their guides, you can actual cycle along the old routes through some of the picturesque pueblos blancos, or white villages. The province of Cádiz boasts four “green ways” between 4 and 46 kilometers long.

archidona malaga pueblo

Snaking 36 kilometers through the countryside and mountains between Olvera and Puerto Serrano, this route (or a portion of it) will take you through natural parks and near rivers, over old bridges and through tunnels that once served the southwest corner of Spain. If you’re looking for something closer to Cádiz city, the Vía Verde Entre Ríos travels along the coast between the towns of Rota, just across the bay, and Sanlúcar la Barrameda.

Pack a bocadillo, rent bike gear, and enjoy an active day out.

Getting to Cádiz is easy via Seville, Málaga and even Jerez de la Frontera, where you can find cheap connections across Europe and even to the USA via Málaga. There are also a number of charming boutique hotels and campgrounds.

Streets of Cádiz old town

Looking for more activities for kids and teens further afield? I’ve written about my top picks for families in Andalucía and great things to do with kids in Madrid. I’ve also written about a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, many of which can be found in Andalusia.

Do you have any tips for great, interesting things to do with family in Andalucía?

The Guiri Guide to Having a Baby in Spain: Fourth Trimester

It’s just before 4am and my body wakes me up slowly. The baby, in his Pack n’ Play next to my bed, is stirring, too. Like clockwork, he’s still doing comfort feedings once a night, snuggling into my armpit as I lift up my pajama top. The light on my Kindle is soft enough to help guide him to my nipple, his eyes still pinched shut. I feel a familiar tug and a squeaky sucking noise, and flinch as my milk comes in.

One feed down, six more to go today.

cute baby in a hat

Nine months. It’s been nine whole, life-changing, tiring, fast-paced months. He’s been on the outside just as long as he was on the inside, a baby milestone that we mothers hold dear.

My closest friend congratulated me on keeping the baby alive . “Keeping a baby alive?” I replied, “That’s the easy part!” It’s everything else that’s been trying.

The first 100 days

They say that babies need three more months of gestation to be completely ready for the outside world. And us new mothers? We need those three months to ease (um, or not) into the immense responsibility of caring for someone else. I didn’t feel like myself for those three whole months. It took a new pair of jeans, an awkward first sexual encounter and my child being an actual person for me to feel the fog lift after nearly 100 full days with Enrique in our lives.

The first six weeks – “La Cuarentena”

I was thankful and overwhelmed to have my family with me for the first week of Enrique’s life. They kept me hydrated and fed, gathered my lactation pillow when the baby needed food and helped me to learn the new parent ropes. I hadn’t changed a diaper since I was 12 – two decades in the past – and didn’t know how to bathe a baby with his umbilical cord still attached.

My dad, sidelined with a lingering ankle injury, and I challenged one another to walk one block further every morning while my mom stayed with the sleeping baby, knitting a blanket. I learned how to breastfeed in the streets without feeling weird about it. We took him for his first exams and check ups.

He was healthy; I was besides myself.

new mom in Spain

’s job wouldn’t allow him to take his 30 paid days of paternal leave because of an assignment, so I spent long hours at home with the baby, struggling to get him out of the house so that I could clear my head or run out for another bag of coffee or maternity underpants (I was sad to give those up, I have to say). Forced to learn how to do things with one hand with a newborn in the other, I reverted to the most primal instincts: eating, sleeping, brushing my teeth and whatsapping.

There was a day when my tupperware of puchero was heated up and then cooled off and then heated again so many times that I didn’t eat it until nearly 8pm. By then, it was all mush. Another day, I counted ten granola bar wrappers on the coffee table and realized that I wasn’t taking care of myself.

I wouldn’t have been able to survive the first month as a mommy without my mother-in-law, who came to stay with me every night. She’d cook a meal for me, bring me whatever I asked for (including hemorrhoids cream, eep) and even took care of the baby at night so that I could sleep some. We became quite close in those 40 days.

^^^

I returned to Madrid when Enrique was six weeks old, relieved to be in a smaller house where I could leave the baby in his crib while running to the bathroom. He was getting bigger and stronger, and I was eager to explore Madrid and make the most of my 16 weeks with the Little Man.

I had an appointment with my matrona a few days after arriving to Madrid. She had me fill out a survey that was supposed to determine my risk for postpartum depression. The questions were misleading, like, “I feel confident I know what I’m doing.” Sometimes? “I want to spend all of my time with my baby.” It’s nice to have a five minute shower without the baby hanging off of me? She didn’t classify me as at-risk, but I felt overwhelmed just by the questions. Freaking Mommy Culture.

ill love you forever book

I did my best to find other mommy friends and attend the free sessions at my health clinic on baby first aid and baby massage. But I felt judged, like my parenting skills were nowhere near the rest of the mommies who didn’t need to breastfeed their babies until they konked out.

One weekend, while my mother-in-law was in town, we walked to the Corte Inglés for baby gear (que conste: I spent more time at the Nuevos Ministeros Corte Inglés than anywhere else during my maternity leave, and they have a great sala de lactación). I saw someone with a baby about the age of mine who looked well-rested, perfectly coiffed and didn’t have a single spit up stain or booger on her neatly pressed blouse.

“You know her mother is doing everything for her, right?” my mother-in-law whispered as she motioned for me to take over the stroller again. “Te toca.”

^^^

My cousin – the mother of four girls under age five – asked me at a family party, “Aren’t you just loving it?”

My answer was as brave and truthful as I could muster: “Most of the time.”

The first three months

I made the realization that I was not a fan of the baby phase. Much like I hated teaching preschool, once I came through the fog of the first 90 days and could admit that newborns were not my thing, I immediately felt better.

Enrique turned three months on American soil, already having earned his wings on a cross-Atlantic flight. Apart from a higher-than-usual poop frequency and the awkwardness of passing through security with a carry-on, diaper bag, stroller, baby carrier and the baby himself, I was relieved to have someone else to hold the nugget while I was home. I relished in walking the dog and the baby together every morning and helping him learn to roll over and strengthen his neck muscles. I felt comfortable breastfeeding (even if no one else wanted to see it because, America) and was catching up on sleep.

little dude big roar

After buying a new pair of jeans (I dropped the baby weight way too quickly due to nursing) and finally being intimate with my husband, I felt 95% like myself again.

During these few months at home, I did my best to play with the baby, to be attentive to him and to return to a semi-normal life. I could put him in his hammock without tears so as to wash the dishes or take a shower while singing to him. Breastfeeding no longer felt like a chore – the baby hopped on and off the boob without getting distracted. As we got to know one another better, I settled into a routine.

Albeit, a routine that still involved pumping once or twice a day and a lot of bad TV.

The first eight months

As we teeter on the edge of nine months, I’m amazed at how much Enrique has grown and learned. By all accounts, he’s a happy, healthy baby with a penchant for ripping paper, putting everything in his mouth and rolling over 17 times before falling asleep. He’s got six teeth, is nearing 9 kilos and loves to babble. Every day, there’s something new to learn and see, and I’m often left wondering where these nine months have disappeared to.

When he’s asleep or leaves me with a few minutes of peace, I sometimes forget how much life has changed. Or that I had a life before him.

Playa de las Catedrales

One of the things I’m finding the hardest to come to terms with is the lack of time. I’ve always managed my free time well, setting goals and accomplishing them while staying active and still sleeping eight hours a night. Since having a baby, it takes me six weeks to draft a blog post, three hours to shower and get dressed and about one minute to feel frustrated about it. It’s impossible to micromanage with a baby.

Case in point: I began writing this blog post before the baby was three months old. I have written and rewritten it in my head countless times while busing a baby to daycare, while rocking him to sleep, while trying to rock myself to sleep after a late night feeding.

Yes, I’ve gotten distracted with freelance projects, with trips to Sevilla, with returning to work. Those babies who sleep for hours on end? Mine is not one of them. In fact, the pediatrician told me to put him in a forward-facing stroller when he was six weeks old. So much for binge-watching all of Game of Thrones so I’d have SOMETHING to talk about with friends.

So, toma, you get short vignettes (that’s all I can manage before he wakes up and wants to eat/play/burp!):

On Breastfeeding

On one of the baby’s first outings, my mom, the Novio and I went to have breakfast before taking him for the heel prick test. The baby was four days old, and the January sun was already bright. We’d succeeded in getting four people out of the house on time, but panic struck as soon as we sat at Pedro’s bar.

hungry baby

DIOS, the baby is YELLOW!” I cried, then cried tears. “I’m not feeding him, I suck at parenting!”

Granted, I’d slept about four hours and was mentally exhausted to boot, but seeing a jaundiced baby was not the way to celebrate cutting our getting-out-the-door time from three hours to two.

I’d struggled to breastfeed in the hospital, resorting to pumping to stimulate my production and having an awkward moment with my father-in-law where he massaged my breasts. My poor puritan father couldn’t be in the same room with me when I fed his first grandchild. And, now, my child was yellow as a banana.

^^^

Menos mal that women are speaking up about how difficult breastfeeding can be. Between stressing about the baby gaining weight and latching correctly, then being literally en tetas all day, I felt like a cow. It was an endless cycle of, Eat-Burp-Sleep and repeat every 90 minutes. Any time I’d finally get him down and out of my arms, it would be the question of what to do first: pee or eat.

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I was hellbent on breastfeeding exclusively for six months, which often lead to head-butting with the Novio when he wanted to start the baby on solids or he suggested I give the baby formula. When Enrique was around 12 weeks old I finally cracked and bought a bottle of formula as back up, even though my instincts told me he didn’t need it. Again, damn Mommy Culture for telling me that breastfeeding is the ONLY way to go, and that even considering formula was a mortal mommy sin.

I attended a few Liga La Leche meetings, which I highly recommend. If for nothing else, for moral support and for a few hours out.

^^^

I love being able to breastfeed my baby, but I HATE pumping. I hear the flat sucking sound of my expensive pump that is too small for my boob size and shudder. I struggle to not spill the pumped milk when transferring it from bottle to storage bag and have on more than one occasion cried over spilt milk.

^^^

When we took Enrique for his four month check up, I was told that he was slightly underweight and would have to start on cereal in his bottles. I was devastated. Once again, my confidence took a hit as I cursed my body for not responding to what I conceived as natural. Everyone reminded me that a fed is best, but all of the god damned Mommy Wisdom pointed to my failure to feed him myself.

Two months later, we started him on solids, leading to less diapers to change but more constipation.

^^^

Enrique breastfed until last week, mere days before his ninth cumplemes. We stuck with it, despite my being topless for a large part of the day when all of the lactation experts suggested I feed on demand. I have only had blocked ducts when I returned to work and no bleeding or cracked nipples – just a few nibbles from his new teeth. I feel fortunate that it’s gone well and that we’ve found a rhythm, especially when I know many women who were unable to breastfeed.

baby tummy time

The destete always had an end date, as I travel for work in he Fall. In many ways, I’m relieved that he’s a good eater and will take bottle, spoon, hunk or anything waved in front of his face. I’ll miss the way he caresses my face and boob when he stares up at me, and feel that all of those hours with him in my arms have helped forge a bond. He still gets pangs of mamitis whenever I arrive home from work, often stopping what he’s doing and whining until I pick him up.

But I’m ready to move on and watch him learn to eat on his own. Maybe that’s just part of motherhood, the constantly letting go.

On Returning to Work Post-Maternity Leave

Before I could really enjoy maternity leave and bonding with the baby, I had homework: I needed to find a childcare option. Unlike all those well-kept Spanish mamás who can rely on their mothers, we had no choice but to pay for someone else to watch our baby sleep and occasionally give him a bottle or change a diaper.

Truthfully, finding a guardería felt a lot like rushing a sorority to me.

We were given a permanent spot in my first choice guardería, just one block away from my job, for July. But that left May, June and a handful of days in April to cover. Desperate, I dressed us up nicely and went from daycare to daycare, trying to impress people I’d speak to for three minutes, acutely aware that there was a baby quota, and that quota was low.

Just like legacies have a pass into Alpha Beta Baby, so, too, do brothers and sisters. I finally wizened up and checked prices and availability so that I could dedicate more time to eating my way around my neighborhood bakeries rather than pushing a baby carriage for anything other than leisure.

Baby's first glimpse of the ocean

Looking for daycare in Spain was a test of my patience. My favorites? “We make only organic food!” Yes, and charge me three times as much what I could make at home myself. “We’re bilingual!” So is my household. “We have the cheque bebé!” What difference does it make when you’re charging me those 90€ more in organic food and estimulación de inglés?

Ugh.

When I finally found a place that had an opening (they may have broken a few laws to make an extra 400€), I truthfully wasn’t impressed. There was no plan escolar and the place smelled like baby (did I mention I hate the smell of diaper cream and Nenuco?). But I promised myself that my time at home would be the baby’s main source of stimulation and cariño and signed him up.

^^^

My vuelta al trabajo date got closer with every sleep, with every bag of breastmilk stashed in the freezer. While my other pregnant friends had worked out a few extra months at home, I looked forward to going back to work. I like the professional part of my life, and the truth is that I couldn’t watch any more reruns of The Big Bang Theory.

You know it’s bad when you can sing all of the commercial jingles.

On the day that I left Enrique at the daycare for the first time, there were a few tears. These tears were easily quelled with a coffee and piece of cake, and a very understanding boss. If it comes to anything, it was my years as a teacher and knowing that the employees were trained to at least not leave an infant unattended on a high surface. I only called the guarde midday for a week for a progress report (and to make sure he’d pooed).

But, I have the friendliest baby who breaks into a smile whenever he sees someone new. You have no idea how much it hurts when you go to pick up your spawn and he cries as soon as they hand him off to you.

^^^

My days now are long. Alarmingly long. A friend vacationing in California once asked why I was awake at 6:30am on a Thursday. Easy – it takes me exactly 80 minutes to wake up and get us out the door. When I return home, there’s baby food to prepare, said baby to play with, chores to keep up with once he is asleep.

But as someone who likes crossing things off my list, I make it work. And it makes nights and weekends even more fun. Though Mondays are even more monday with an adorable little family, I admit.

On First-time Parenting

I used to boast about how well my baby could hang – he’d fall asleep in the jaleo of a cervecería as if he were being rocked in someone’s arms. Then one fine day, we discovered that Enrique was colicky. Now, there are two types of colic in Spanish: one in which the baby cries uncontrollably for no apparent reason, and the other where a baby can’t easily digest breastmilk and cries and screams for several hours in the evening. This eventually tapers off at three months, but it seriously tested our patience.

Qué le pasa?” The Novio would ask me, and I’d run down the list. Is he hot or cold? No. Is there a tag scratching against his skin? Unlikely. Is he tired? Perhaps. If all else failed, out came the food source.

Baby in my arms

Then there was the time we forgot sunscreen in the car and had to coat his face in diaper cream. Or when we’d leave the house only to return because of an explosive poop episode the minute we’d order a beer. And one of my favorites was when he wouldn’t calm down to sleep, so I walked him in the rain to a bar where I could dip in for a hot drink. As soon as he heard the Semana Santa music, he closed his eyes and stay asleep for well over an hour.

We’re still so new to this and don’t ever think we’ll stop learning how to handle an infant, a toddler or a teenager. Most days, we can laugh at ourselves (though this usually involved having had a decent night’s sleep), and I think we’re holding it together all right.

Well, until I cry from accumulated sueño and because I really, really want a cookie.

On Mommy Culture

One of my longest sevillana friends came to visit a few weeks ago, and we spent a warm afternoon over dobles in Plaza Olavide with the babe. I asked her to regale me with stories of dating in the Big Apple, what it was like to have an American salary and about her last vacation; she asked me how I was holding it all together.

Nothing like hanging with your abroad besties to realize just how different your life has become.

Perhaps one of the hardest things to come to grip with has been the cross-cultural mixed signals and the extreme judgement. Maybe it’s all in my head, but it can be difficult to navigate what I know to be true about child-bearing from my own American upbringing, and what Spanish abuelitas say. Our pediatrician is Venezuelan and suggested that the baby’s first lean meat come from a horse; she was later under fire when she told us to give the baby kiwi, sparking a rash and a trip to the ER.

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When I check my phone while out on a walk, I feel like I’m betraying my baby. Or when I drop him off at daycare. And when I ask my husband to feed him to I can wash vomit out of my hair, I wonder if I’m being selfish. Can other mothers sense this? Do we have a sixth sense when it comes to who is doing their job and who isn’t? Hell, I even felt bad watching Gilmore Girls while feeding the baby on my maternity leave. Aren’t I supposed to give my undivided attention to him at all times, and not to Lorelai and Rory?

My mother stayed home with my sister and me, returning to her job as a teacher when I was in second grade. I am thankful that she made that choice, but I know I wouldn’t be happy wearing just one hat.

Perhaps it’s the influence of social media that’s got me all huffed and puffed. That we judge one another with all of the postureo and the need for attention and the need to share all. The day care’s director assures us that we are both doting parents who give off an air of peace and tranquility towards the baby. If he only knew how exhausting he can be…

On Motherhood and What Comes Next

As I settle into motherhood and continue to be amazed – by how much the baby learns, by the seismic way in which he has changed our lives and our relationship with one another, by the sheer exhaustion that consumes my week. Truthfully, it took me time to get a grip on how much I adore the little beast I created and nurtured while I have slowly let go of my past life.

For a long time, I wondered if I wasn’t meant to be a mother, despite my deep desire to have children since I was a child myself. All of those women who gushed about how complete they felt, how their child was the best thing that ever happened to them – I didn’t feel it. Motherhood and the abundance of feelings and love slowly permeated into every aspect of my life as Enrique gets bigger and comes into his personality.

And I’m not afraid to admit that I miss my old life, pre-baby. Or that I miss being pregnant. Or that I want at least one more.

Being a parent is one of the most emotional things I have ever experienced (and this coming from someone who wears her heart on her sleeve). I feel abundance and I feel complete scarcity. I’m both hopped up and run down. My baby can be a burden one minute and my source of joy in another. My hormones have subsided – for the moment, anyhow – but  can’t even begin to fathom how they may change as we watch this tiny human learn to walk, talk and probably become a huge asshole.

I wish I had advice for other first time mothers, especially us guiris who live in Spain. You’re subject to extreme morriña for your family and home country, as well as the exhiliration of raising a baby abroad. You’ll warp your language and find your native tongue comes out when cooing at your little creation. You’ll scoff at the unsolicited advice from abuelitas but feel relieved when they tell you how to combat diaper rash. As with anything unknown, you won’t know what you feel until that phase of your life has, regrettably, passed.

For now, I’m trying to be myself as I change and adapt to being Enrique’s mommy.

^^^

At my six month check-up with my gyno in Madrid, He of the Amazing Mutton Chops, I asked a very simple question as soon as the wand went back in: “There’s no one else in there, verdad?”

No, hija, your womb is all clear.

Well, for another year or two until we decide it’s time for Enrique to be a big brother.

The Guire Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth

I’d love to hear your feedback – and thank you all, sincerely, for the well wishes and the outpouring of love for the Babyman. To those of you who have visited, sent gifts, trekked out to my parents’s house in the suburbs – thank you. It helps knowing that, despite all of the changes, I have great people to rely on and an Army of Titos!

You can read about my experience as a pregnant foreigner in Spain and about labor and delivery in earlier posts. In Barcelona and considering a hypobirth or doula services? Liana van Zyl offers English-language services in Barcelona. I have personally not used her but would encourage you to contact her about pre- and post-natal care!

The Guiri Guide to Pregnancy in Spain

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Photo Post: A Perfect Day in Tapia de Casariego, Asturias

When we returned to Western Asturias, where we took our babymoon, we had two things clear: we’d stay at Agustina and Angel’s guest house, la Casona del Faedo, and we’d let the baby mark our rhythms. Enrique would turn six months old during our sojourn, and as such, was on the verge of starting solids. He’d already earned his wings and had become a proven road warrior, so we were confident that he could handle a few nights of sleeping in a new place.

Tapia de Casariego Asturias

If it were up to Enrique, he’d wake up at 8am sharp. Wake up slowly, blinking in the morning sun that streams in, accompanied a damp breeze. A horse bellows in the distance as he balls his hands into fists and stretches them down towards his feet.

While the Novio refueled with a coffee and prepared a day bag, I fed the baby with one of Agustina’s cakes in hand, my back pressed up against a 19th Century headboard. The morning had dawned chilly but bright, the promise of a perfect day. Agustina wrapped up a few spongy squares of cake and pressed plums into our hands for the road.

Tapia de Casariego was within reach when I did the Camino de Santiago in 2013. Everyone raved about its picturesque port and laid-back surf town vibe. Just like that July day four years prior, the weather would have been perfect for a diversion back up to the coast instead of dipping down to A Caridad; four Julys later, I had convinced the Novio to spend a morning before taking the baby to Playa de las Catedrales during low tide that evening.

Camino de Santiago signage in Tapia de Casariego

The familiar yellow shell met us as soon as we’d parked the car and steered ourselves into the main square. A sea breeze lifted off the peninsula and swept through the sleepy center of a town that thrives on fishing, agriculture and tourism. There was little more than the requisite church, one which channeled Tenerife’s temples, and a few shops, still shuttered in the early morning.

We wound around the steep streets of the fisherman’s barrio, a mismatch of humble homes that fans out over an isthmus, stopping to have a beer right at noon next to the small port.

view of Tapia de Casariego

The port of Tapia de Casariego

Yep, it’s as picturesque as they say.

Rather than the packed ports at Luarca and Cudillero, Tapia’s humble puerto boasted less boats and of those there, not one screamed luxury or even a fresh coat of paint.

I have come to realize that I need a body of water to feel calm and full. Being from the landlocked Midwest, even a river will do. But a bustling little port with cheap beers and sunshine? Sold. One hundred times sold.

Tapia de Casariego

beer on a sunny day

Most of Asturias’s festivals fall in July around the Virgen del Carmen feast day on July 13th, and Tapia treated us to a small parade, complete with a doll-sized Virgen Mary that would eventually be floated out to sea. The drums and bagpipes called Enrique’s attention, and he squirmed in my arms, grinning.

Banda de Gaitas Tapia de Casariego

Regional dress in Asturias

Traveling with a baby is…different.

Gone are the lie ins and leisurely lunches; the lack of planning, non-existent.

But the beauty lies in the little moments, in his discovery of a new place, a new flavor, a new feeling. We took Enrique down to the Entreplayas beach, littered with treasures of the low tide. Stripping off his cloth shoes, he gingerly set his toes in the damp sand, squealing with toothless delight.

I slipped off my sandals, resting them on a rock beside the baby’s, and rolled up my jeans. As the cold water rushed in, he curled his toes and shuddered before breaking out into his laugh.
the beach at Tapia de Casariego

Baby's first glimpse of the ocean

Following the Novio’s cousin’s spot-on recommendations for food, we made a reservation at La Terraza, a long-standing cider house in the heart of the village. Being just a few kilometers from the River Eo, which separates Asturias and Galicia, we had the pleasure of a menu that included both – and we went full-on Galicia with raxo, pulpo a la feira and a salad drizzled with escabeche.

Asturian food menu

where to eat seafood in Tapia Asturias
Delicious food at La Terraza Tapia de Casariego

And, as always, no faltó la cidrina, the Asturias habit we can’t seem to break. Enrique snoozed in his stroller, obviously to our cider-fueled laughter and clinking glasses.

Even though the day was only halfway over, it was the broche de oro on baby’s first trip.

Have you ever been to Western Asturias? We’re planning on making it our thing and would love tips! Be sure to check out La Casona del Faedo near Cudillero and my tips for an Asturias roadtrip!

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