Tag Archives: Spanish bureaucracy

Inside Secrets to Spain: Top 3 Tips

19 Nov

Here is my article about Spain which was just published in Insiders Abroad:


Is There Customer Service in Spain?

11 Nov

I love most things about living in Spain, but customer service is not one of them. I have even contended they should remove the Spanish words for customer service, “atención al cliente,” from the lexicon. I have previously recounted my problems in receiving packages with my personal belongings from California. When I first reported no monetary value for the old personal items mailed to me, the Spanish authorities returned the package to the U.S. I tried unsuccessfully twice more to have my belongings sent. The last time, I completed all the requirements within the mandated time period, paid nearly 100 Euros in customs fees, and they still returned my package to California. By this time, all the potentially breakable items had broken. I never received the refund I requested. One package I did eventually receive was gaping open and the contents from the top of the box were missing; the Spanish postal service was not even professional enough to tape it closed. Then the postal worker who “delivered” the box claimed it was heavy and asked me to help carry it into my apartment.


If I mail order something from the U.S., there are huge import taxes, but there are some things worth paying extra for that I cannot get here in Spain. I have also mail ordered items from Spanish companies, and more often than not, the couriers claim they tried to deliver my package, even when I had been home the whole day. When I call the number they provide for the supposed missed delivery, they argue with me, saying they did come to my place and ring my doorbell. They are never wrong, and never apologize. One agent insisted they had a photo of the courier at my door, but when I asked them to send it, I was told they could not.


My friends and I have had similar difficulties when using a taxi. Some drivers will ignore directions I provide to avoid traffic snarls. They may bark at you for having an inadequate command of Spanish. The other day, our cab driver from our town of Altea was unfamiliar with any of the streets or major landmarks in our village.


Most of the time the food here is great, but there are occasions when the restaurant serves sub-par food. If they ask how the food was, and you give an honest assessment, most of the time, I have received the blank “Bambi in headlights” look, with no offer of any reparations. Once, when I tried to return or exchange a podiatry device which broke after one use, the pharmacist looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and said there is no guarantee on products they sell. WHAT?!


I recently learned of an even more ridiculous incident. A woman bought a pair of shoes, and when she got home and looked at them, she discovered they had given her two different sizes. When she went to correct the error, with receipt in hand, they insisted they had made no mistake, even suggesting she may have gone to another store to buy another pair to make a mismatched set. Her husband had no better success in attempting to rectify what should have been a simple exchange, accompanied by an apology.

And I won’t even start on confounding, changing requirements of the government bureaucracies in getting required documentation for a visa, registering your living address, getting a bank account and more. There is even a hilarious videos representative of many people’s  exasperating experiences, which I have previously viewed on YouTube, although it seemed to have been removed when I tried to find it.

My recommendation in Spain is to remember, The client is always wrong.

Quirky and Different Customs in Spain

6 Feb

I love my new life in Altea Spain. However, there are some quirky and unexpected things which I have encountered or needed to adjust to.


I recently read that when local children were enacting a bull run using toy wooden bulls that this year they would not be allowed to have the bulls’ horns lit on fire during the run. Apparently this was perfectly fine in prior years.



Tree on which people climb to tie on their t-shirt at the St. John festival

During the many Spanish festivals, people sometimes engage in dangerous behavior. At the local St. John festival, participants carry a tree to the church plaza while encouraging observers to throw water on them. Once in the plaza, they pull the spindly tree to a vertical position and fueled with alcohol attempt to make the perilous climb to the top. What I found particularly interesting was the ambulances that were waiting just a few feet away. One has only to think of the running of the bulls in Pamplona for another example. Or the “baby jumping” festival near Burgos, where people in costumes jump over a mattress on which lie babies born in the prior 12 months. This ritual serves to rid the babies of evil spirits and guard against illness.


As I have mentioned in prior posts, dealing with the Spanish bureaucracy is nearly always fraught with difficulties, often because what you are told you need to do changes with successive visits. Similarly, I have had my rental cars towed two of the four times I rented them. In one case, I parked in a handicapped spot and put up my disabled placard. When I returned to retrieve the car, it was gone. When I contacted the local police, they informed me I had parked in a handicap spot reserved for a specific car, as indicated by the numbers on the handicap parking sign. I said I have travelled to and driven in many countries, and have never seen handicap spots for specific vehicles. I received a blank look, and was told I had to fork over around $150 to get the car out of impound.


I have also previously mentioned the multiplicity of problems I have had in receiving packages sent from the U.S. One box arrived gaping open, with items missing. Then the postman asked me to help carry it because it weighed a lot. Another box of household items was twice returned to my son, first because I declared there was no monetary value to items which were only sentimental, and the second because they did not see the documentation that I had submitted the nearly 100 Euros customs fee. I have been trying unsuccessfully for more than two months to get a refund for that, and there is no chance of getting a refund on for the hundreds of dollars I spent in having the box mailed here twice.


The sidewalks in my village are made of attractive, but incredibly slick tiles, especially when wet. It is so precarious that people typically walk in the road when it rains. I see many more people here with arms and legs in splints or casts, which I would bet is related to the falls people have. I have jokingly suggested that maybe the tile sidewalks were the idea of the local orthopedic physicians.


Moros Y Cristianos festival 2015 in Altea

Moros Y Cristianos festival 2015 in Altea

The Spanish definition of opening early means 9 or 10 in the morning. Such opening times are understandable in light of the lengthy afternoon siesta, and businesses and meals occurring late at night. Often when businesses close for several weeks or months, there is no sign informing the would-be patron of the closure. Nor are there websites for businesses which provide that information. Businesses including grocery stores are closed for national and local holidays, which can sometimes last several days. After the several day local Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians) festival, all businesses were closed for the day, not for the holiday but for a day for people to recover from the festival. After four days of festivities and drinking starting at 8 or 9 in the morning, and ending around 4 a.m., they need a recovery day.


I find Spanish people generally genial, and polite. They always greet you when you enter their business. In their vehicles, they are very good at stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks. However, when walking, they may suddenly cut right in front of you or stop and block the sidewalk while conversing. When picking up my dog’s excrement from the sidewalk, I have had people step over my head, and roll over my foot with a stroller.


Sometimes there are what seem to be arbitrary rules. When we recently went to a high end musical and dance variety show which featured a choice of two dinner menus, we were told everyone in our group had to order the same menu. Otherwise, we would be placed at separate tables based on our dinner choice.


Have you ever encountered unexpected behaviors/customs while living in or travelling to a new country?



Spain: Travelling and Living Challenges

6 Oct
Moros y Cristianos: Altea 2015

Moros y Cristianos: Altea 2015

Life sometimes gets in the ways of one’s plans, or should I more aptly say, my plans. I intended to post about some of the interesting places I have visited near my home in Altea, Spain, during the week visit of my middle son, Michael, but with a few anticipated and unanticipated events, I felt more compelled to blog on the vagaries of the past couple of weeks.

I have found that if things can go wrong in Spain, they often do. Serendipitously, my son, Michael was arriving on the same day as my computer generated appointment was to get my fingerprints done at the National Police in Alicante to finish the steps for securing my first renewal visa. (For details on my experience with the visa process, see my posts: https://starrtreks.com/2015/07/09/how-to-apply-for-non-lucrative-visa-for-spain-as-us-citizen-bucking-the-trend/.https://starrtreks.com/2015/07/26/patience-and-tenacity-requirements-for-obtaining-a-spanish-residential-visa/; .https://starrtreks.com/2015/08/09/you-must-be-kidding-steps-to-get-a-spanish-visa/

More Moros y Cristianos

More Moros y Cristianos

Since he was arriving into Alicante on a Tuesday, on the same day as I had to go for my huellas (fingerprints) and delivering my photo for my Spanish residential visa, I booked a rental car. It took about a half hour on the local bus to nearby Benidorm, where I was able to book the car for 48 hours for only 38€, far less than what it would have cost if I rented in my little town of Altea. As it was the biggest festival of the year in Altea, Moros y Cristianos, lasting many days, many streets were closed and parking spaces were limited. Probably the only benefit to being disabled is having a handicap placard for one’s vehicle. Even then, it was difficult to find a space for the rental car. After a long search, I finally found a spot. Just to be sure, I made sure the word, minusválido, meant handicap parking; it did. I had a bad feeling about the parking spot, which was confirmed when I went to retrieve the car the next morning at 7:30 a.m. to drive to Alicante for my 8:50 appointment. The rental car was gone. I had no time to try to find it, so I walked about a half mile to the downtown taxi stand, where there were no taxis; it was far too early for most people to be out and about.

When I saw one of the ever-present street cleaners (with a shovel and plastic bucket to pick up litter,) in Spanish, I told him of my predicament and need to be in Alicante for my appointment to renew my visa. He kindly summoned a taxi via phone. I did arrive on time, for a fee of about 85€.

I had an uneasy feeling while waiting for my turn with the staff, having gone through so many errant trips to the local Oficina de Extranjería (Immigration and Naturalization Office) in Altea. However, in this case, all went smoothly, and I the worker commented on how fluent my Spanish was for being in Spain about a year, even sharing his observation with his colleague. (There are many ex-pats living in the Costa Blanca who don’t know more than two words.)

I had originally planned to take the now unavailable rental car to the Alicante airport to retrieve my son, but obviously could not. In the meantime, on his side, the phone app he had set up would not work to contact me. He finally called from a pay phone, and I advised him to take a cab and pick me up at the National Police, and then we would head back to Altea. That went well, for costing another 85€. I am supposed to retrieve my renewal residential visa somewhere around the first of November of this year, a mere four months before it expires for the year. Then I get to start this process all over again.

After he settled in by place for a bit, we headed to the police station to try to figure out what happened to my rental car. In the meantime, I tried to stop at several copy shops to scan and send some important papers, but they were closed for a fourth straight day, this day to recover from the festival partying from the prior week. To abbreviate the part of the story about retrieving the rental car, I was told by the local police that I was in a specifically reserved spot for a handicap vehicle. In Spanish, I replied I have travelled to many countries and never encountered this. Placidly, he told me it would be 136€ to get the car released. What he didn’t say was that I needed to retrieve the car immediately, that there are no regular staff on site, so it took three tries before I was able to retrieve the car, just in time to return it to the rental agency, although with a quick side trip to historic Guadalest.

Michael and I had a fabulous time with friends, and day trips to Guadalest, Denia, Albir and even Benidorm, which I typically detest. (More about those destinations and the Moros y Cristianos festival in future posts.) Naturally, getting the Beniconnect Bus from Altea to the Alicante airport was fraught with snafus, mostly the lack of staff answering the phone, and simply disconnecting after 20 to 30 rings. By persistence, and multiple ways of contacting them, we got a departure time late on the evening before his scheduled departure. Ever the dapper dresser, Michael turned many a head as he headed for the bus.

Michael leaving Altea en route to London

Michael leaving Altea en route to London

I love Spain, except for how difficult it is most of the time to get anything in the government and in businesses done efficiently and the first time. For me, this is (sometimes) a good lesson in patience. My advice remains: plan on at least three visits to accomplish your task, and if it is any less, celebrate!

You Must Be Kidding: Steps to Get a Spanish Visa

9 Aug

This is the third in a series of three posts on getting my initial non-lucrative residential (or retirement) visa to reside in Spain. After many challenges with both the initial application at the Spanish consulate in San Francisco, and completing the remaining requirements once in Spain, I finally received the actual visa three and a half months after arriving in Spain.

Based on my experience of the seeming indecipherable or changing requirements to get my initial Spanish visa, in the fall of 2014, I started looking into the requirements for my first visa renewal. I used the identical forms and letters for documenting the required financial ability to support oneself with their specified minimum amounts, and medical insurance. However, when I went to the local Oficina de Extraneria, office where foreigners process visas, after several hours wait, the worker curtly told me that my financial documents were not originals and not “autorizdo.” When I asked what that was or how to do that, she just kept repeating the word. I was also told that my medical insurance, which had qualified the prior year, was the incorrect type, that it was a tourist medical insurance, not that for a resident.

I was concerned about meeting the deadline for the visa reapplication, but the worker told me I had up to 60 additional days to complete the requirements. I later saw online that the deadline was up to 90 days past the expiration date of the visa.

For the financial documentation, I asked my California financial advisor, to get the letter he had written about my finances and income, notarized. As well, I asked my California banker to print an original bank statement and notarize it. I had my financial advisor mail them expedited. When the original and notarized documents arrived two days later, I took them for official translation. By then, I was within a few days of the additional 60 days to submit all paperwork. I didn’t want to take the chance of missing the deadline if the online 90 day extension was incorrect.

When I returned to the Oficina de Extraneria, I feared the requirements would be changed, as is not uncommon in dealing with Spanish government workers. In addition to the newly minted financial documents, I brought the other required documents. When I contacted my medical insurance company, they insisted their medical coverage met the Spanish visa requirement, so I brought it (with official Spanish translation). I was pleased when told that the documents met their requirements, with the possible exception of the insurance. However, they indicated they would submit the documentation and if the government did not find the insurance to be acceptable I would be notified.

Several weeks later, I received a registered letter from the Spanish government saying I needed to get qualifying medical insurance. I went online to try to find qualifying medical insurance. While I speak decent conversational Spanish, I did not feel equipped to deal with the intricacies of making sure the insurance met all of the requirements, so I called a company who had English advertisements for medical insurance. When I called, the woman who answered did not speak English. After I asked, she put on an English-speaking colleague who was helpful. He got my information and told me a representative from the specific company that met my needs would be contacting me. I was surprised when I received the call that the caller and none of her colleagues spoke any English.

After laboring through the application process in Spanish, printing out and filling forms which had to be scanned and returned, and sending a copy of my NIE card, I was told I needed to submit my bank name and account number for billing purposes. I do not yet have a Spanish bank, but I offered to pay the policy in full. That was unacceptable to their policy. Thus I had to start over and I had been given a short time by the Spanish authorities to submit qualifying medical insurance. I found a local insurance “seguros” English-speaking broker who was able to secure qualifying medical insurance with the required zero deductible/no co-pay. I could either pay monthly through a Spanish bank account or the full annual amount, so I did the latter. I returned to retrieve the actual policy a week later, which fortunately was in Spanish. I then went to the Oficina de Extraneria where I submitted the original policy, the required copy, and the whole insurance book. After a discussion between two of the workers, they decided the insurance qualified. Hurray!

I then proceeded to contact the original insurer that the Spanish government said did not qualify so I could cancel that policy to receive a refund. They asked me to send the documentation from the Spanish government saying their policy did not qualify. After several communications, I told them it didn’t matter if they thought their policy qualified if the Spanish government would not accept it. I finally got a refund.

Several weeks after submitting the insurance documentation, I got a letter saying my renewal was approved, that I needed to go online to schedule an appointment, and they provided yet another required payment to be submitted before retrieving the actual visa. The payments have to be made at a bank only on a limited number of days of the month within a very narrow range of hours. My appointment is set for the very end of September, again in somewhat distant Alicante. At that time, I believe I will be submitting my photos and being fingerprinted again, which means it will likely be another 30 to 45 days (as it was the first time) before I actually can retrieve my visa. Once I receive my visa, which will likely be in early November, it will be set to expire in a little more than four months.

And one final recent frustration in the dealing with the Spanish bureaucracy…I had my son send a box of personal items to my home in Spain. One prior shipment was a fiasco. When I received the usual demand from the Spanish post office to name the contents, provide a receipt for the contents or provide and swear their value, I honestly told them, they had no monetary value and were only gifts, souvenirs, and very old personal items. In spite of sending them this response, they kept dogging me with the same request, to which I gave them the same answer. I learned this week that the returned the box to the U.S. I have yet to find out where or if is completely lost. Surely, it cost them more time and money to do this than to forward the box to me. Ridiculous.

Anyone else had similar problems with the Spanish bureaucracy?

Mailing Mishaps and More

25 Apr

After almost two months, I finally received the second box of items I had mailed to me here in Altea Spain after I had gotten a permanent apartment. As I previously detailed, in preparation of the move from California’s Central Coast to Spain, I sold my large house and all its contents, with the exception of family keepsakes, a few travel souvenirs, and my most cherished kitchen items. It is not worth shipping most things, but I am quite attached to certain pans, my kitchen knives and the wooden block that holds them. To that end, before coming to Spain, I packed two boxes; I brought two large suitcases with me on the plane. That was all.


IMG_0875 (2)

Marie Sharp’s

Before the second box was packed, I decided to purchase spices and condiments I could not find here in Altea. Most of these were Asian, like fish sauce, black bean garlic sauce, sriracha, sambal, and surprisingly, crushed red chili flakes. Spanish food is seldom spicy, and I crave that taste profile so much that I carry a small bottle of the world’s most delicious hot sauce, Belizean Marie Sharp’s habanero pepper sauce in my purse.


Besides the outrageous shipping rate for mailing my box, (over $300), after several weeks, I feared it was lost as I had heard nothing, and the first box had come quicker, (not quick, mind you.) When the first box arrived, it was gaping open and the postal worker asked me to help carry the box as it was heavy. What??!! A few items were broken and missing-I now only have three of the “big five” animals from my collection from my safari in Africa. Given the shape of the box, I was surprised more items weren’t broken.


With regard to the second box, I finally received a letter from the Spanish post office demanding I download forms from their website, fill them out regarding the exact contents of the box, and provide receipts for the items. In Spanish, I tried to explain that most items were personal and old, with the exceptions of the condiments I could not get here. I subsequently received a demand of about 55€ for tax and other fees to get the box released. That is about the same cost of the condiments. If I had taken off the seals, I may have avoided this fiasco, but I had been worried, they might think I was transporting contents other than what was listed on the bottles. If they were opened, they would spoil, so I left the seals intact so as not to raise any suspicions. After a few more weeks after paying the fee, I received notice my box was now being sent to customs. So I paid the fees, but could still have customs deny my delivery? Such are the frustrations of adjusting to the Spanish bureaucracy.


Taxed condiment and spices

The box finally arrived yesterday. Once again, the postal worker asked me to help carry it. No dolly in sight. The box had been resealed, but once open it was evident the contents had been randomly thrown into it. Even the knives were not put back into their wooden block, protruding every which way. And since I am accident prone, it was inevitable that I would get cut. At least it wasn’t too deep. Once the bleeding stopped, I was able to unpack the contents, wash the dishes as well as the Provençal style napkins and hot pads, and Williams Sonoma t-towels. I experienced the simple joy at having those cheerful Provençal bright blue backgrounds punctuated by vibrant yellow lemons, as well as the thick, quality t-towels.


Now inspired to cook, I decided to make a Caesar salad, as I now had anchovy paste (which I find easier than fresh anchovies) and my immersion blender. I mashed together the garlic, anchovy paste, mustard, egg yolk, and then prepared to gradually blend in the oil. When I turned on the blender, I heard an electrical cracking sound from the outlet, and the blender would not work. That wasn’t all. There was no electricity in my apartment at all. I had used other American appliances with electrical converters without any problems until now. I only hoped I could figure out how to get the electricity back working. I remembered during one of my apartment tours that when the electricity wasn’t working, the realtor went to a small metal box on the wall near the entry door to turn on the electricity. I repeated what I had seen her do, and after flipping all the switches to the same direction, electricity was restored. In every house I have ever owned in California, whether old or new, all the electricity circuit breakers are located outside at very inconvenient spots outside and in the back of the house, making for difficulty in locating or fixing when it is dark or inclement weather. I think the Americans could take a lesson from the Spanish…at least in this regard.


I had difficulty getting the salad dressing to thoroughly blend without the assistance of the hand blender, but it still was tasty, along with the perfectly cooked boiled and peeled eggs, with their perfect soft bright golden orange yolks, with nary a trace of green around them. I am still surprised when I go to a restaurant, and egg yolks are covered with an unappetizing green outer layer. It is incredibly easy to make them without that hideous green. If you don’t know how, let me know, and I will post it. Hint: the key is bringing the water to a boil, shutting heat off, then adding the eggs and covering for the time needed to cook them to your liking.




The arrival on the second box allowed me to get my piso (apartment) up and running in full. I had already covered the gold velour couch and two matching chairs with fundas de sofa (couch and chair covers blue with a little background gold keeping with the Provençal and Spanish color theme) and I covered the pink shellacked side board with Provençal table cloths, blue with lemons, of course.) The same pink shellacked headboard and bedside desks “adorned” my bedroom, so I bought neutral sheets and comforter, and bedcover with a touch of pink to bring the room together. The mattress provided was not to my liking, and given how much time is spent sleeping, I splurged and bought a mattress from an upscale hotel chain, on whose beds I have always slept well. It was well worth it. My apartment here in Altea does not begin to compare with the home or furnishings California, but I am quite content here. The neighborhood, views and people can’t be beat.


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Pepper: local celebrity

And now Pepper and I am heading out to buy a new immersion blender in the hopes of rehabilitating my pathetic Caesar dressing, and then heading to the beach for the beautiful weather and view, a tasty two course menu del dia, and later cavorting with friends.