“We agreed to move to Valencia for a year, but within a couple months of being here, we knew we’d be here at least two… maybe for good…”
I was sitting in a little café across the street from the Torres de Quart, the 15th-century, one-time gates to the city, now surrounded by modern apartment buildings, speaking with recent transplant, Micah Hart.
He and his wife, Hillary, and their two sons moved to Spain from Atlanta, Georgia, last September. While we sipped café con leches and munched on tostadas, Micah told me his family’s story…
Kat: How did Valencia make it on to your radar?
Micah: “My sons had been in an immersive German program, and we wanted to continue that education, so we looked at moving to Germany…
“But there were no good visa options, so we looked at countries that offer German as a second language option in public schools. While doing that, we discovered German programs across Europe, and began sending in applications.
“We would have gone to Lisbon if we could have—we loved the time we spent there in 2018—but all the public schools were full, and the private schools were way too expensive.
“Most of these specialized schools were already fully booked, but there were spots left in Bilboa and Valencia, so we looked deeper into those two cities.
“When it came to Bilbao, we interviewed remotely with the school there and they said they wouldn’t accept the kids for only a year. That basically took it out of the running… but, also, Bilboa has terrible weather… it’s as rainy and cold as the U.K. Why move to Spain for rain?
“We had planned to visit Bilbao, but after that we wrote it off and went straight to Valencia.”
Kat: And what sold you on Valencia after getting to know it better?
Micah: “Valencia checked all our boxes: walkable, good quality of life, friendly people, low cost of living…
“Atlanta is a car city, and we wanted to embrace a no-car life. My wife had lived in DC and loved walking. In our travels we always preferred places where we could walk.
“That was one of the big dealbreakers for us when researched cities—we needed to be able to live well without a car and fully immerse ourselves in the culture.
“So we looked for neighborhoods that were on the bus routes for the international school and near park and the Mercat.”
Kat: How is your Spanish?
Micah: “We’re all learning together, but, of course, the kids are absorbing it without even trying—which is wonderful.
“Our youngest can basically speak it already. We went to the doctor recently and our 9-year-old was translating for us.
Kat: How do you find the climate here?
Micah: “Winter here isn’t cold, so you can be outside pretty much any time of year, which we love.
“It’s all relative, though… For us, it doesn’t feel cold at all—we’re out in shorts and tees but locals on the street are telling us our kids need coats. I think the coldest we had over the winter was maybe high 40s°F. Jeans and a light jacket is as much as you’ll ever need here. But locals think that’s freezing, it’s pretty funny.
“On the other hand, summer can be brutal, and learning to live without air conditioning was not fun. Our home has air conditioning, but many don’t and most shops and restaurants won’t, so it’s not like you just go from one climate-controlled space to another. You really feel the heat here.
“Now that we’ve gotten used to it, we find that it’s nice to go without some convenience that we took so much for granted back home.”
Kat: You live in the historic city center, how did you come to that decision?
Micah: “Yes, our apartment is the Ciutat Vella. It’s 120 square meters with three bedrooms and we pay 1,600 euros a month.
“It feels like a decent size. We have a small office, a terrace—which is a must-have in this climate, you want to be outside nearly all the time!
“And it’s so much cheaper than our house in Atlanta cost per month…
“We could have a much bigger house for a lot less in the suburbs, but we wanted a small place that had us out and about and enjoying the city.
“We knew there was no point in trying to find a place before we got here, the rental inventory is small and the market moves quickly, so we were in short-term rentals for nearly three months.
“When we saw this place, we felt we’d gotten lucky. The only reason it was still on the market was that it was overpriced—if it had been priced more reasonably, it’d have been snapped up already.”
Kat: What about the health care… have you had any reason to use the local system yet?
Micah: “We got Spanish health insurance after moving. It’s 2,500 euros a year for the entire family and has no co-pays… that would have been maybe two months of health care back home.
“So far we’ve only used the public system, and I’ll say that the system and the care are great—and, most importantly, free—but it’s intimidating for us because of the language barrier and the unfamiliarity of the system… which means we probably underuse it.”
Kat: You’ve mentioned more affordable housing and health care… any other notable costs that have gone down since your move?
Micah: “Not having a car is a huge monthly savings in itself…
“Other costs have plummeted as well, like our cell phones—a plan here is 6 euros a month. Why were we paying US$80 for the same services back home?!”
Kat: How long do you see yourselves staying now?
Micah: “Who knows… we have no desire to go back.
“We decided to reevaluate on a yearly basis. We’ll have an annual family meeting and take a vote on what we want to do next.
“We worked with relocation company who told us that we aren’t unusual in changing our minds about staying. They said that 85% of people stay longer than they intend… and that the 15% who don’t are grandparents that miss seeing their grandkids grow up.”
Kat: What are your favorite things about living here?
Micah: “Being part of a city that’s a community. In America we’re so isolated form everyone—in a big house far from others, in our cars alone…
“Here there’s community spirit and pride, and we want that.
“And we love the local food. Everything is so much fresher. It all just tastes better.
“We walk to the market most days and buy dinner for that day. Everything is so fresh, vegetables and fruits picked the day before. Seafood caught the same day. We love buying directly from vendors and artisans—the producers.
“Market shopping may be my new favorite pastime. And it’s a great chance to practice Spanish. When you’re there you’re bumping into the abuelas doing their daily shopping—it just makes us feel so integrated into the community.
“We also love the easy access to everything—beach, mountains, train to Madrid and Barcelona, or anywhere. Trains and short flights are inexpensive and it’s so fun to be able to visit other places so quickly and easily.”
Kat: What about your least favorite things…?
Micah: “Honestly, we’re still in the honeymoon phase and I can’t think of much to say about the downsides…
“Except for the dog poop on the streets!
“And the paperwork…
“Otherwise, the language barrier is the only real adjustment or culture shock we’ve had to deal with.”
Kat: Have you managed to make many friends, despite struggling with the language?
Micah: “Most of our friends are expats, but we want to meet locals… we’re working on it. The expats are a mix of nationalities, though, which is nice.
“We’ve met nothing but wonderful people. The easiest part of this move has been making friends and finding a community. The key is that expats are all in it together—everyone was once in your shoes.
“The kids have been the key for us and socializing. We’ve met nearly all our friends here through our kids. So far the only Spanish friends we have lived abroad and want international friends now that they’re back home.
Kat: Any advice for incoming expats?
Micah: “Everything that happens—bad or good—is just part of the adventure.
“We’ve had plenty of disasters… I think that’s par for the course.
“But it all makes for a great story in the end.
“We remind ourselves every day to just be present, accept it all, and be grateful for the experience.”
Editor, LIOS Confidential