Immigration and a new home

It has been a fair few months since I last reported here. As one can imagine, a great deal has happened. Most of this is related to settling into the new home and the new life as a retired person. Here I will report on our experience with the last steps in our first annual Non-Lucrative Visa (NLV). Then I will reflect on some of our experiences of the culture. 

As I detailed last time, we arrived safely and our visas were issued about two weeks later. I returned the first few days of December and met my sister Mary at DFW. She kindly drove up with the visa empowered passports and after a lovely evening, I departed the next day to return home. 

Bureaucracy and our TIE

For the next step in the process, we worked with Graham Tyner of Settle Easy as his price was a third that of our lawyer. Rumor has it that our lawyer could have accomplished the task faster, but speed was not of the essence. First step is to obtain empadronamiento with the city of València. This is to register as a resident of the city and is an important way the government allocates resources. The appointment went well, although it was very good that we had a gestor (agent) who was fluent as the kind gentleman didn’t initially think we had all the documents we needed but between them they sorted it quickly. 

an identification card for foreign residents in Spain with a picture of a card holder

The next step was the Tarjeta Identificación Extranjera (TIE). This is our residency card. We must have this in hand as we travel in and out of the country as we will quickly be past our 90 day Schengen Visa limit. Appointments for obtaining the TIE are notoriously backlogged to the point that it is well understood in the bureaucracy that it is impossible to obtain a TIE within the required 30 days of arrival. Our appointment was obtained on 30 January. The appointment went well as we provided our document of empadronamiento and our passports with visa. Fingerprints were taken and would be encoded into the TIE. It took them six weeks to create the card. 

five pictures showing various scenes of travel and friends

While all this was going on we were settling into the new house, entertaining visitors, traveling a little, building new friendships, and getting used to the idea that we are retired. We’ve had visitors and we’ve shared in some of Corinne and Tim’s visitors. We traveled separately to keep someone here with the dogs as they settled into the new home. Patrick visited Susie in York and I visited Jorge in Rome. Our first trip together was in January as we joined Corinne and Tim and their guests with our good friend Mughette joining from Seattle as we explored Marrakech. More on these trips later. 

We also had a fun time talking a bit about our move with James Blick of Spain Revealed. James and Yolly are celebrities in the tiny world of anglophone visitors and immigrants to Spain.

Adapting to the Culture

We have been most fortunate in our new friends. As I mentioned in the last post, Edgar and his husband Fernando adopted us immediately and have been a gateway to many other friends. Most of these new friends speak little or no English. Many are children of La Communidad de Valencia This has given us much practice in learning Castilian.NB1 It has also given us good perspective on the cultural differences that we are experiencing. 

A view of an 18th century library to evoke the law via the significance of books.

One of the first items we have encountered is that there are usually multiple confidently stated answers to the same question. At first, this was simply peculiar. Now, I am beginning to understand it as cultural. My hypothesis is that it is related to the difference between our Anglo-Saxon Common Law tradition versus the Roman/Napoleonic Civil Code Law tradition. This manifests in a world where everyone accepts that the answer may be different in what appears to be a similar situation. In Common Law, the court adjudicates with a principle of stare decisis where a body of decisions clarifies to the point that a common understanding is achieved in the face of various cases and one can be confident of the outcome in a subsequent case. In civil law the court is never bound by prior decisions, but may be guided by them. This leaves the population with a casual acceptance of multiple outcomes to the same question. And so we come to the translation problem that Patrick and I have begun to relax into, namely, that for every question, three Spaniards will likely give four confident answers.  


One question upon which we have encountered very little disagreement is the question of tipping. Spaniards do not, unless we understand an extra euro or rounding up to the next euro as a tip. Even that little bit is often not done. Our local friends have expressed acceptance that norteamericanos will tip, but they think it odd and extravagant. 

a still life of travel related objects including money passport and tickets
A bit of David’s first trip abroad in 1989.

When this topic comes up on the Facebook groups for expats and immigrantsNB2 there is always a huge outpouring of virtue signaling. The sides in the battle tend to fall into two categories: first those who express concern that by these actions we may change the culture of Spain concerning tipping, and second, those who maintain that the staff in Spain do not make enough money and we need to supplement their pay with a generous tip. 

In the case of the first group, I think it an act of hubris to think that North Americans (understood as a tipping combination of the US and Canada) are powerful enough to change a culture. Changing a culture would require more than a few tourists and fewer expatriates or immigrants. The official Spanish statistics indicate that only about 32,000 people live in Spain from the US and Canada. If I’ve moved my decimals properly, that’s 0.06% of the population of Spain. In fact, it is interesting how far down the list of foreigners one finds the US. In 2020 that was position 33. It doesn’t seem much changed in 2022

In the case of the second group, we find the people who are thinking from an economic environment different from this one. The first question is what constitutes a living wage. In Spain, the average household expenditure is $32,133.(exchange rate $1.098 2023-04-12) In the United States, that figure is $66,928. Any tips you add to whatever salary the waiter is receiving are not likely to shift their household number up or down against the average. Are they happy to have it? Perhaps. It depends on if they simply turn it in or if the custom at that establishment is that they keep the excess. In the places we frequent that are more local than tourist, I doubt they spend time thinking about it. 

Living in the economy

And this last point is one that we think about a good bit. We built a very modest retirement account through our careers in the United States, and now we live in a comparatively modest way here in Spain. We live much more as our Spanish friends do. It has been an adjustment. We notice how our new friends move through the world and we reflect on how substantially we have changed the choices we make. It is important, both to our budget and to our efforts to integrate into the society of our new home, that we live in this economy. We must think in terms of the Spanish economy and not that of the average skewing city of Seattle

a kitchen preparing a meal
Living, shopping, and cooking at home on the economy here.

NB1 The language known around the world as Spanish is more politely called Castilian here in Spain. There is no substantive difference, but Spain has four constitutional languages: Castilian, Galician, Basque, and Catalan/Valencian. No one I’ve met is bothered by people referring to the language as Spanish or español, but it is more polite to call it Castilian or castellano. Also of note is that Catalan, the language of Catalonia, is linguistically the same as Valencian. This is an emotional and political topic for some and many Valencians maintain that their language is distinct, but scholars including the Valencian Academy of Language disagree. As you can imagine, this is not discussed or debated by immigrants like ourselves. 

NB2 The term expatriate or expat is one that refers to someone who plans to return to their country of origin at some point. It is often associated with work for a multinational corporation or government, but in the 21st century it is increasingly a term for long-term or slow tourism. The term immigrant refers to someone who moves to another country to take up permanent residence. Patrick and I are immigrants to Spain. We are working to assimilate into this culture, learning the language and customs. From this base we will gradually and more deeply explore Europe.

What do you think?