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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Lost and Found in Spain: Susan Solomont talks her book about being an ambassador’s wife abroad

Serendipity. A random occurrence of events that happens casually or unexpectedly.

Not that my run-ins with Spanish bureaucrats have been serendipitous, but as I looked back on 12 years of Spain through rosy colored glasses (or just a Cruzcampo haze), I realize that so many of the relationships and milestones of my Spain life have been a series of coincidences. From my hearing casually about the auxiliar de conversación job to meeting the woman who would introduce me to the Novio (who happened to live around the corner from family back in Chicago) to how we named Millán.

I recently met with Susan Solomont, a former diplomat to the American mission in Spain, for coffee and a chat on a rainy morning in Seville. Her literary agent had put us in contact months before, but between our schedules and the time difference, a well-timed email meant that we could meet the following week during the Solomont’s annual trip to Spain instead of connecting over Skype. Serendipitous, indeed.

beautiful old door in Europe

In many ways, her husband’s appointment as ambassador to Spain under Obama was just that – a happy coincidence and the chance to serve her country’s diplomatic mission abroad. Spain and the US have long enjoyed a positive relationship, so despite the frantic preparations to arrive at Calle Serrano, 75 and all of the minutiae of being a diplomat’s wife, Susan’s journey was, like mine, full of small but bountiful coincidences.

My reporter’s notebook – a relic of the days when I planned to be a journalist and had a heavy interest in Washington – stayed shut as we filled an hour with conversation that carelessly flitted between topics – touching on politics (got that right out of the way), sharing our favorite places in Spain and musing about raising children to be kind and forward-thinking.

In her book, Lost and Found in Spain – Adventures of an Ambassador’s Wife (you can nab it on AmazonBarnes and Noble or Indie Bound), Susan starts off with an anecdote before delving into an aspect of Spanish identity, from cultural to religious to historical. In many ways, Susan’s inception of the news she’d be headed to Spain, her apprehensions over the move and settling into her new life mirror my own, just revved up on Cola Cao Turbo. I felt moved by the shared experience and wanting to learn more about life in Barrio Salamanca – just a few blocks from my house but somehow worlds away.

Susan Solomont headshot

Susan graciously answered my questions via email so that she could enjoy snuggling Millán and tell me about her own children while I sipped my fourth coffee of the morning over our chat.

Can you speak about how your letters to loved ones back home evolved into a book?

When I lived in Spain I wrote a series of letters I called Holas. They started as personal letters to keep in touch with my 13 closest friends. They started to go viral, and I started writing more about our life as diplomats. They were more informative than personal and they ended up reaching over 3000 people.

Leon Square Spain

A literary agent friend who received them encouraged me to put them into a book. She said to me, “A book of letters is not a book. You need a beginning, a middle, an end. Tell a story”.

It took me two years to write the book and two years to find a publisher. These things take time and finally, in 2018, the book came out.

Your transition to Spain was not a smooth one, despite training and assistance from the Department of State. Looking back, what could you have done to prepare yourself for the post?

The transition to Spain had its highs and lows. I was not able to bring my professional work to Spain and instead had to work hard to forge my own identity – hence the “Lost” part of the title. Plus I was away from family and friends and my community. The “Found” part – I found my role, my voice, my place in the Embassy community and Spanish community.

Our Department of State (DOS) is changing [sic and] can find roles for spouses and partners. Perhaps now I could have brought my professional work with me, but in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t.

No doubt, an ambassador’s job takes you to many interesting places across Spain for various functions, several of which you detail in your book – I particularly liked the story of Jerez del Marquesados. What was your favorite? And is there somewhere you didn’t get to that you wish you could have visited?

view of Trujillo, Extremadura

I’m often asked what is my favorite place in Spain. Impossible to answer, I love so many places. We traveled everywhere in the country. It is so special that I know each region and have visited. I do have a particular fondness for Extremadura and its countryside. I also love Mallorca. The color of the water, the beauty of the Tramuntana countryside.

One day I will return to walk part of the Camino.

An ambassador’s life or his wife’s seems glamorous. What were your days actually like?

Our days were very busy. People assume this is a job where you are socializing all the time. Yes, we were constantly meeting people, but it’s not fancy teas and dinner parties. The work was political, economic and cultural. We also were there for Americans living abroad and traveling. We worked long and hard days advancing the agenda of the US [in Spain], sharing cultural values and strengthening the bilateral relationship.

Holidays can be both memorable and difficult times for those of us in Spain. I celebrate July 4th, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in my house, which my husband and his family willingly take part in. How has your view on American culture changed since your assignment?

When we lived in Spain we celebrated all American holidays and also celebrated Jewish holidays both with our Jewish friends in Spain as well as non-Jewish friends. Our July 4th celebration was very special. We served hot dogs and hamburgers, had an American rock n’ roll band, danced the night away and celebrated the US’s birthday.

american products thanksgiving

Halloween- I used to host a doggy Halloween party where embassy staff would dress their dogs up and come play on the lawn. Our Marine Unit had a Halloween party as well.

And Christmas- we had the most fantastic tree, decorated in Spanish and American flags.

There are many Spanish stereotypes flirting around Spain and the Spanish lifestyle – I’m guilty, having lived in the land of toros and tapas! Are there any that you found utterly false, or even alarmingly true?

bullfighting in Seville Spain

YES— we wanted people to know that siestas, bullfights and flamenco are not the norms. Spain is a modern democracy that works hard. Perhaps on a weekend someone might take a siesta. Or perhaps there are people who go to the bullfights but not everyone likes them. And the same for flamenco.

Spain and the US enjoy a strong relationship, and each sees the power and mutual benefit in these relations. Were you met with any hostility as part of yours and Alan’s mission while in Madrid?

Not at all. We were embraced by Madrid and all of Spain. People would stop me on the street and say, “I love your country, I love President Obama”.

Have you been back to Spain since 2013? What is your first stop in Madrid?

metro of Madrid

We come back at least once a year. We always spend time in Madrid. We get very busy seeing old friends and eating and drinking too much. We always need a vacation after our time here.

I had to glance at my watch to keep a well child check up, but Susan’s second coffee date of the morning arrived shortly before I had to duck out. Juan and I have always had a case of six degrees of separation – we have about a dozen people in common – but on that rainy, midweek morning, finally gave one another dos besos. Another serendipitous moment (appease me, please).

Chance led both Susan and I to Spain, and despite our moments of both feeling lost, we found ourselves – and, funnily enough, one another – through its people, culture and food and wine.

Susan Solomont titles

Susan and her agent graciously provided me with a PDF copy of Lost and Found in Spain, but all opinions expressed here are my own and were not contingent upon meeting Susan. I enjoyed its lighthearted tone – it does read like a long form letter in many sections – and its reflections on Spanish life and culture through an American lens. You can find more about the book and her companion’s children’s book, Stella the Ambassadog (adorable!), on her author webpage.

This post does not contain affiliate links.

Lavender fields in Spain: the Brihuega Festival de la Lavanda and what you need to know

You don’t need to travel from Madrid to Provence to see lavender fields in bloom this summer.

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Brihuega, a blip of a village in the Guadalajara province, has come to produce close to 10% of the world’s lavender. My parents had a few scattered plants in the backyard of my childhood home, and, along with lightening bugs and scrapes on my knees, the lavender bloom was the true sign of summer. During a rare weekend without my kiddo or the Novio, I stumbled across the Festival de la Lavanda, a touristic initiative in Brihuega to celebrate the town’s most famous resident.

Open road, the scent of lavender hanging over a village and a muggy afternoon ahead of us, Danny, Inma and I headed northwest on the A-2 motorway shortly before lunchtime. “¡Ponte algo blanco!” Inma urged, reminding me that the soft purple would pop more if I wore something white or light-colored. The two-lane highway was crammed with cars descending into a town of barely 2400, and the bars were much the same. In a province where fields are often tinged yellow by the sun and heat at this time of the summer, the lavender fields shone a vibrant violet.

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Lavender is huge business in this little town – half of the shops are dedicated to selling products made with the flower, from cosmetics to lavender-infused cakes to handkerchiefs embroidered in violet. Although Brihuega has only been producing for around three decades, the festival has gained national and international attention in Spain – in fact, it has only been celebrated for seven years!

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The story goes that the village and the pedanías surrounding it relied heavily on the Real Fábrica de Paños, or a linens producing facility, for work and commerce. When production was reduced, farmers in the area began to look for different business avenues to help keep Brihuega from becoming a ghost town. Andrés Corral reputedly went to France and, upon discovering that his hometown’s agricultural conditions were ideal for cultivating and harvesting lavender, began to plant.

To date, there are around 1000 hectares of lavender in Brihuega and Villaviciosa, and Spanish haute fashion house Loewe derives many of its perfumes from Brihuega’s aroma. Who ever said the Spanish weren’t innovative or took risks?

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While in town, there isn’t much to see but the winding, narrow streets open up to small, cozy plazas. Since the bars were packed with other tourists, we ate most of our lunch a base de tapas – snacking on the morsels bars give you with your drink order. Apart from the lush Jardines de la Antigua Fábrica de Paños and old city ramparts, you can visit a smattering of old churches and convents, as well as the city history museum.

Post-coffee and souvenir hunting, the lavender fields were waiting. The sun was still high enough when we left that we beat most of the crowds and were able to park just a few feet off of the fields, which rolled over knolls with exposed earth, each hump bursting with violet blossoms. I went to Provence as a 16-year-old on the tail end of the lavender season, but this time, I was intoxicated by the smell and the stark way the color popped against the sky and the soil.

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When is the Brihuega Lavendar Festival?

The typical bloom time lavender is in the summer, from late June through July. This, of course, depends largely on the climate during the spring, but it’s safe to assume that the booms are at their fullest around the second and third week of July.

The 2019 Festival de la Lavanda in Brihuega will be celebrated the weekend of July 19th with a series of outdoor concerts (you get seated among the rows of plants!), guided tours and street decorating contests. You can purchase concert tickets on the official website as well as reserve a spot on the guided tours for 4€.

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How to visit the lavender fields in Brihuega

The best time of day to see Brihuega’s acres of lavender crop is around sunset, though this is the busiest time. There are designated parking areas if you travel by car, and the tourism office offers limited spots on chartered buses for 4€ during weekends in July at 7pm and 8:30 pm, just as the light wanes.

There are no facilities, so be sure to bring water and a fan if it’s hot. There are also swarms of bees, in case you’re allergic. Uh, and sandals are not the way to go because you’ll be jumping over the bushes and walking on uneven terrain.

Getting to Brihuega, Spain

It’s easiest to reach Brihuega via car – the pueblo is about 90 kilometers northwest of Madrid. From the A-2, take exit 73 and follow signs towards the village or the other town attraction, Mad Max’s miniature museum. This will also allow you to visit the lavender fields at your own pace.

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If you’re coming from Madrid or Zaragoza, connections through Guadalajara offer regular bus service to Brihuega through Autocares Samar. You can find hours and prices on the village’s tourism page. The village is surrounded by over a dozen lavender fields (over a thousand hectacres of the beauties!) but also sunflower fields you should stop off at, if you have the time.

Summertime is rife with festivals in Spain, ranging from traditional to bizarre to well-known fètes, like La Tomatina or Los San Fermínes.

Brihuega Lavender Festival

What are your favorite small town festivals in Spain? Share them with me in the comments!

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.’”

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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? 

GPSMyCity: Take your travel guides anywhere!

Like any traveler, I have pet peeves about tripping, from tipping to sipping to the fact that my SBB Swiss train app for trains in Switzerland when a ticket collector is hovering over me.

Perhaps the biggest are wasting time figuring out where I am (unless I am purposely wandering) or not knowing enough about what I’m looking at – or stressing out over where to eat something more than mediocre food. I find myself scouring in-flight magazines for insider tips (to then resort to tearing out pages) or scribbling notes on work documents as I attempt to catalogue my trip.

christmas market in Salzburg Austria

During my last travel season – one that saw me in the UK, France, Belgium, Germany twice and Austria – I wanted to maximize my time away from the virtual office without having to do all of the legwork ahead of time. I downloaded GPSMyCity thanks to an invitation to test drive the app and planned my afternoons loosely – from hitting a new neighborhood near the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris to tackling emails from quaint cafes in Vienna.

The best part? I could do it all without wifi and without using my data thanks to a nominal upgrade to the app.

GPSMyCity has more than 6500 walks and wanders throughout more than 1000 cities worldwide that are available straight to you device. You can add not just cities, but the type of trip you want – offbeat, cultural or something to hit all of the monuments. It’s easy to navigate and free to use with your data.

walking tours in Spain

The app does more than just help you navigate around a new city: you can access thousands of articles from travel bloggers and read them in-app when you’re to touring or even download ahead of time for a small fee, without using your data or incurring roaming charges when you’re pounding the pavement (or are too far from a signal). I was exploring itineraries offline while at 20,000 feet and without trying to connect to the horrendous wifi on the Deutschebahn trains, a definite plus of the offline capabilities of GPSMyCity.

GPSMyCity is offering a FREE upgrade of three of my articles during this entire week (February 18 – February 25, 2019), and I want you to see just how these guides and articles can help you not run around in circles looking for monuments, hidden gems or a decent place to eat.

The following Sunshine and Siestas posts are highlighted this week:

Visiting Seville: Alternatives to the Tourist Beat, an article that explores by favorite off-beat ideas for a trip to the capital of Andalusia.

Where to Eat in Barcelona, which includes a few picks for great eateries in Barcelona that won’t leave you feeling empty (neither your stomach nor your wallet nor your soul after scouring the Barri Gotic for something semi-authentic).

Five Things to Do in Madrid with Kids, with my favorite things to do with little ones in Spain’s largest city.

ceramics at Plaza de España Seville Spain

You can also browse any of the following SandS articles in the app for free:

Why should I download a travel article for later use?

While most people stay connected while they’re traveling, there’s a clear benefit to downloading articles ahead of time: you can catalogue your findings without having to go back and try to search a particular website or topic. And because these guides and articles are written by other travelers, you get on-the-ground insight and the exact GPS coordinates of every place mentioned within the post. If your phone is anything like mine, not having to turn on your location finder is reason enough.

How can I upgrade for free?

First, you should download GPSMyCity to your preferred smartphone device; the app is compatible with both iOS and Android systems. Then, you can click on one of the articles linked above and either read directly for free this week, or upgrade to be able to save the post to your phone for future, non-data wasting use.

GPS travel giudes
I’m headed to Zaragoza this week and have already downloaded a few maps and an article from my friend Kate from Kate’s Travel Tips to help me take advantage of my free time.
Disclaimer: if you buy any of the guides from GPSMyCity that I have published, I will receive a small commission that helps keep Sunshine and Siestas up and running. I use GPSMyCity myself when I’m traveling for work around Europe!

Tapas Tuesday: Roscón de Reyes, or the Spanish Twist on King’s Cake

The Epiphany is one of my most beloved Spanish Christmas traditions. Not only does it extend my holidays by a few days, but the Cabalgata parade means that candy literally rains down the streets of San Jacinto. Spanish children await their gifts from three wise men who travel on camels, distributing gifts (or coal) much like the Magi did when they traveled to see the Messiah. Santa Claus is making waves in Spain, but Gaspar, Melchor and Baltazar are three of the most recognizable faces for a Spanish child.

Apart from collecting hard candies that will serve as bribes for my students until June, people also gobble up the Roscón de Reyes, a sweet cake filled with cream or truffle fluff that’s traditionally served during the afternoon of January 6th.

Roscon de Reyes

What it is: A panettone-like cake made from flour, sugar, eggs, butter, milk and yeast, plus a few spices. Sliced open in the middle, the cake also has cream in the middle and is decorated with sugar-dipped fruits and sliced almonds. It’s essentially the first cousin of a King’s Cake, traditionally eaten in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday.

Where it’s from: Roscón – and its variants – have long been served in Spain on the Epiphany. The tradition actually began in Rome, when cakes commemorating the Three Wise Men’s search for Christ were served first to the poor and then divvied up for soldiers on the 12th night after Christmas. He who found the lima bean within the cake was exempt from work that day.

Nowadays, the person who finds a small plastic baby is the King or Queen of the afternoon, whereas the unlucky recipient of the bean must often pay for the cake the following year!

Goes great with: Coffee – it helps cut down on all the sugar you just consumed.

Where to find it in Seville: Roscón is one of those dishes that you’re better off buying – without a Thermomix, it’s pretty laborious! Head to any confitería and reserve one (I prefer Filella and Lola in Triana), or even pick one up in a supermarket if you’re in a pinch – a cake for 8 people will run you about 20€.

bakeshop

The Three Kings have a completely new significance for me – my son was born on January 4th and received a visit from Gaspar, Melchor and Balthasar before leaving the hospital. In fact, we were released from the hospital on the Epiphany, only to be told that the Cabalgata was passing right in front of the hospital. My first food at home after his birth was Roscón, and the small toy tiger my fatherin-in-law bit into that night will forever be treasured.

If you like the Three Kings Cake, try some other convent sweets like Huesos de Santos, Yemas de San Lorenzo or Roscas de Vino.

Have you ever tried Roscón de Reyes?

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