Moving to Valencia with kids: where to start

We moved to Valencia in February 2018 and have now been here almost a year. Valencia is becoming quite popular with foreigners moving to this wonderful city and I think we are all struggling with the same questions. Moving to Valencia with kids means questions around schools, family friendly neighbourhoods, healthcare and other issues. Where to live, which schools to choose and where to start with your paperwork.

valencia expat tips

So how do you organise an international move like this? Where do you start when moving to Valencia with kids? When still living in Scotland, where we came from before settling in Valencia, we were already planning our move for about a year beforehand. Once we picked our destination, I did a lot of research online, printed out info about neighbourhoods and schools and I joined a number of online forums and facebook groups. Some useful groups to join beforehand are:

Internations

Internations is an international forum for expats all around the world.There are free and paid for memberships and I chose to pay for a basic membership for six months, to get access to the forums and being able to ask questions to other members. It was worth it, as I ended up making a few great contacts and even friendships, before we even moved. To already know a few people in Valencia who had made the move before us, felt comforting and reassuring in the run up to our actual move.

Facebook groups for expats in Valencia

This is a bit of a hit and miss in my opinion, because there are all kinds of people in these groups, from all walks of life and each with their own very personal opinion. Ask a question about schools – or anything really – and you are often none the wiser. Still, you may get the odd gem of information or end up making a few contacts who you are on the same wavelength with.

Type in ‘Expats in Valencia’ in the search bar and you’ll get a number of groups you can join. If you are a mum with children under the age of 14, the (private) group Bumps and Babies has been the best source of support, information and friendship in my opinion. If you are a ‘digital nomad’ or you run your own business, the groups Valencia Coffees and Co-working and Expats and Business in Valencia have been useful for me to make contacts and even find some freelance work.

Handy maps to buy: know your whereabouts

I love maps and I am very happy we bought some before we moved. We stuck them on our wall in the study and used them to circle our favourite neighbourhoods, school locations and potential places to move to. It really helped to narrow down places to look for accommodation, as well as to understand the city and surroundings, distances and the whole region better. These maps were very good in my opinion:

Michelin map Valencia spain
Valencia region michelin map


Schools: where to start?

Moving to Valencia with kids means you have to find schools. Many parents worry about this as of course we all want to do the best thing for our children. Most of us expats are worried about the kids struggling with the Spanish language and school system and maybe not thriving. Most kids do perfectly fine though and pick up the language in no time, especially when they are young. It is good to prepare yourself for an initial adaptation period which requires a bit of extra love and support from the parents (we had this too! Read my post about that here).

International, bilingual or Spanish?

There are a LOT of schools in Valencia. I don’t think there are many other cities where there is such a vast choice in public, semi-private and private schools; Spanish schools, bilingual schools, American schools, French schools and British schools; and then there is the choice of curriculum. My advice? Write down your criteria for a school and don’t let yourself get caught up in the heated online discussions about which school is best. It is VERY personal and what works for someone else may not work for you.

moving to valencia with kids

My other bit of advice? Visit a number of schools beforehand so you get a good idea of the different facilities, atmospheres, etc. Many expats end up choosing one of the big private American or British schools, but your children may actually be just as happy in a public Spanish school (which could save you a ton of money and your kids may end up speaking Spanish a lot quicker). It all depends on what you want for your family.


moving to Spain with children
This is handy book with lots of useful advice on how to move to Spain as a family with children. Recommended! 15,44 € BUY

Catchment area

One thing to remember is that to get into a public or semi-private school (called a ‘concertado’), you will need to live in the catchment area as the local municipality will decide whether your children get a space or not, if they have availability. The private schools do not have this criterium. Alhough you can try and get into a school all year round, the general enrollment time is one week in May, where you can apply for a spot in the schools of your choice. Your local municipality, wherever you end up, will have the dates on their website around that time.

Valencia school enrollment information

Check out my post about schools for our own story.

Healthcare in Spain

Public healthcare

As an expat arriving in Spain you will not be able to join the free public healthcare system unless you have a Spanish work contract and are an employee. If you are registered as an autonomo (self employed) person and are paying into the social security system you also have access.

Private healthcare

So what most do, is get private health insurance which then gives you access to the private hospitals. We have done this for our family. To give you an example, for our family of four we are currently paying about 200 euro per month with Adeslas, one of the main insurance providers. We have been happy so far as you get very quick appointments with any specialist in hospital and good care overall. The public system however is also very good in general, but of course, waiting lists are a little longer than with private healthcare.

VALENCIA expat tips

Accommodation in Valencia

Now, where to find a house! Again, a bit of research beforehand is useful, so you can narrow down the areas you would like to focus on when house hunting. Most expats start renting first, which is a good idea as you just don’t know how you’ll feel until you’ve lived somewhere for a while. With that in mind, it should take the pressure off a little bit about whether a flat or house is perfect or not. As more people are moving here, great rental homes are becoming a little more in demand, so prepare for having to be a bit more flexible with your preferred location, budget or space criteria.

Renting an AirBnB to buy time

For us, the main criterium was location, because we wanted to have our children in a certain semi-private school, so we had to live nearby. We were lucky to secure a rental agreement on a house before we actually moved, but many expats rent an AirBnB for a month or longer when they arrive after which they take their time to figure out where to rent or buy.

Property websites for homes in valencia

The main websites to look on for houses are Idealista and Fotocasa, although there are others too. These two have the largest amounts of property advertised. Most estate agents will ask for one month of administration fee. They will also ask for at least one month deposit. Some landlords require a few or more months rent up front if you can not yet provide enough proof of income or have only just arrived here. Private landlords will not ask for the administration fee, but a deposit and some rent up front is usually standard.

Hiring help: a relocation agency

It can be useful to hire someone to help you with all the paperwork. It can take a lot of headaches out of the process and you will save a lot of time. We hired an agency and it was worth every euro. They helped us set up a bank account, arranged all house viewings, organised rental agreement and liaised on our behalf, set up the internet and accompanied us to acquire our NIE number (tax number) and Empadronamiento (registration with the local council). These last two things are essential papers to get as soon as possible as you’ll need them often.

Moving to Valencia was the company we hired. We still hire them for help sometimes when we need that extra bit of reassurance when tackling the Spanish bureaucracy. They have a lot of information on their website about how to organise paperwork like NIE, how to find accommodation, articles on neighbourhoods and more. So even if you decide to do it yourself, it’s a helpful site.

Valencia city guide lonely planet

Choosing schools in Spain. Emigrating with children

Moving to Spain with children means making important decisions around schooling. Choosing schools in Spain means getting to grips with a whole new system, and lots of choices. Do you put them into a local school or a more international one? We moved to Valencia earlier this year and had to make decisions about schools in Spain for our native English speaking 4 and 6 year old sons, who had no Spanish whatsoever. Here is some information about schools in Spain and the different aspects to think about. *I am of course no expert, so this information is purely my personal experience and knowledge.


Choosing schools in Spain: preparation

Before the move we had done some research into choosing a school in Spain and particularly schools in Valencia. We visited a few too while my husband and I were over for a recce trip. Were we going to go for an English, bilingual or Spanish school? And what curriculum is best? It is hard to know where to start and like most expats, we looked at the best known private international or bilingual schools first. This was only because they are mentioned most in forums and on expat websites. There are so many

other choices which could be much better suited to your children and your lifestyle. It is worth ‘shopping around’. They may also save you quite a bit each month if you don’t have the funds or the desire to commit to private school fees.


Schools in Spain: Public, semi-private or private

I was blown away by the vast amount of schools Valencia. They range from public schools, semi-private schools (‘concertados’) to private schools. Many schools have nursery, primary and secondary school/baccalaureate all in one building. That way your child can stay in the same school their entire childhood. No wonder parents get quite anxious about finding the right school.

Public schools in Spain


Public schools are state-run, Spanish, and many parents are happy with their children to go here. They are free, but you pay monthly for the ‘comedor’ or dinner hall at school. That is if you want your children to eat at school and not come home for lunch. The public schools, there are of course many, are the trickiest to select as an expat. You just don’t have any knowledge about which ones are good. Also, if you don’t know where you are going to be living yet, it is pointless trying to enroll them since you need a postcode within the catchment area. But if you are looking for a way to get your children to speak Spanish as quickly as possible, going to a local, Spanish school is a good option.

Semi-private / concertado


The semi-private, or ‘concertado’ status means that they are run and paid by the state but as a parent you contribute a monthly fee to receive the extras that a school offers. This could mean perhaps an extra teacher per class, more freedom in terms of their curriculum and how they design their classes and activities. A lot of the semi-private schools are religious (Catholic). And whereas some of them charge about the same as most private schools (which is around a minimum of 300-400 euro per month per child, often more), others charge very little and are in fact very affordable.


Private, English or Spanish schools in Valencia

There are also a great number of private schools in Valencia. Some are small, other very large, and they are based on either the Spanish, British or American curriculum. The best known among expats are the Amercian school, Caxton College, British School of Valencia, Cambridge House and Mas Camarena. There is even a French Lycee. But there are smaller ones too, such as Los Olivos.

schools in valencia

Even though a lot of the private, bilingual or English speaking schools in Spain call themselves ‘international’, almost 100%  of the pupils are Spanish children. Many Spanish parents nowadays want their offspring to become fluent in English. Future job prospects are important in a country where unemployment rates are still at almost 25%. Being English speaking therefore has advantages. The ‘international’ part has mostly to do with the fact that half or almost all lessons are taught in English or the curriculum is based on the American or British system. It also means for many of these schools there are waiting lists.

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Moving to Spain with children

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Schools in Spain: in what language will they be taught?

Choosing schools in Spain, and Valencia, comes with another question. What language will my child be taught in? I believe that the younger the child, the less important it is what the main language is they are taught in and whether or not it is a British (or other) curriculum. Obviously children will learn Spanish much quicker with full immersion. Most expat parents with teenagers say their children adapted better to their new environment in an international school with a curriculum similar to what they were used to back home, especially if exams are on the horizon. A toddler? They just want to play and within weeks they’ll come home using a handful of Spanish words already.

Bilingual schools in Spain

There are a lot of bilingual schools (English and Spanish), with some following the Spanish curriculum, some the British. Some are 100% English spoken schools and then there are some other foreign languages with their own schools too (French, German). Last but not least, this is Valencia and they have their own language called Valenciano which is a bit like Catalan, although I am sure the locals will tell me otherwise.

Valenciano as a compulsary subject

Valenciano is compulsory in all schools in the Valencian region, private or not, with a minimum amount of hours per week. It is a political thing, and depending on who the mayor is in any particular year, the hours could go up or down in the curriculum. Most schools choose to teach subjects like music, religion or science in Valenciano in addition to the actual Valenciano language classes, to make up for the required hours.

schools in valencia

Creating multilingual children

A lot of expats freak out about the whole Valenciano thing and get frustrated that their kids have to study it, but to me it’s just another language. This is my humble opinion. Surely it can only be beneficial for a young child’s brain to learn plenty of different languages? The biggest argument against Valenciano I hear all the time is that “they only speak it in the Valencia region so what’s the point?”. Now I am Dutch and Dutch isn’t actually spoken anywhere else in the world other than the teeny tiny Netherlands and a few old far away colony islands in the Caribbean. Any expat child moving to the Netherlands has to learn Dutch if they are not in an international school. Also not particularly useful as a world language.

Your child may not stay in the Valencia region when he or she grows up, but they’ll have had the benefit of studying another language. They will pretty much be able to understand Catalan too as a bonus. Just my personal opinion, you may feel differently. The only advice I can give is to ask the school if it is possible for your child not to get Valenciano lessons until his/her understanding of Castellano is good enough.



How to get a space in a Spanish school?

When you choose schools in Spain, the next question is, how to get your child in it? Now this is the tricky bit. Like everywhere, good schools are hard to get into. Almost all bilingual or fully English semi-private and private schools are very popular among the Spanish parents. They all want their brood to speak decent English. This means it is not easy to get a place.

Spanish parents often start looking at their preferred school almost as soon as their baby is born. Then they enroll their kids as early as they can possibly start. In Spain this is the year they turn 3 and in the private schools that are offering preschool childcare, they even babies accept babies. So by the time you arrive from abroad with your 4 and 6-year old, especially halfway through the year, classes are full. You may find yourself having to put your kids in a school that wasn’t even on your shortlist.

School enrollment times in Spain

Enrollment time is usually mid May and school websites and the local municipality publish the exact dates on their websites . To enroll your child in a public or concertado school you need to live in the right catchment area to score enough points. Other factors are whether you already have siblings in the school and some other criteria – check your council website for the details. For private schools the postcode area is not a concern, but they may still have waiting lists. Many private schools have school bus transport around the city.

international schools valencia spain

Choosing schools in Valencia: ask other expat parents

I hope this post has been somewhat useful for those of you thinking about moving to Spain as a family. It is tough knowing whether you are doing the right thing for your children! At the end of the day, you can start with one school and change down the line if it is not working out for you. I have heard that many people do this. It is also a good idea to join some local Facebook groups and check other people’s opinions on schools. Without one central international school in Valencia, expat children go to many different schools everywhere around town.

Be aware though that asking about schools on these forums is a bit of a mine field. Everyone has their own take on things. What suits them may not suit you and your family. Some love the all singing all dancing international private schools with the beautiful facilities and the matching price tags. Others sing the praises of their little local public school in their own neighbourhood. “The facilities may be poor but the teachers are fabulous”. If you have time, ‘shop’ around. You may just find a hidden gem.

Preparing to move to Valencia: where to live

When looking into moving to Valencia, it is incredibly useful to buy a few maps to get to know your whereabouts to understand the location of neighbourhoods, schools and city areas. A city map is great to know more about the inner city neighbourhoods, tourist spots, public transport routes etc. We found the regional map particularly useful because most international schools and other schools we were interested in, are all located outside of the city. It helps to get an understanding of distances between the city and suburban neighbourhoods and out of town villages where many expats end up living and the school locations. Fold it out and stick it on your wall, mark specific areas of interest and areas to potentially move to, etc. Top tip!

Michelin map Valencia spain
The map of the city centre of Valencia
Map of Valencia region
The map of the Valencia region.

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Moving to Spain with children

Book tip: Living in Spain: Teach Yourself. 13,11 € order

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Living in Spain guide

Moving to Valencia with children: settling in

moving to valencia with children

Moving to Valencia with children can be a bit overwhelming. Where do you start? Moving abroad on your own is one thing, but when you have two kids, a husband and a couple of cats tagging along it is a different ball game. Especially when half of the family is Dutch and the other half British (hello Brexit!).  Think about all the paperwork you have to get organised, in particular when you are not fluent in the language of your new country yet. Our first quarter was one with ups and downs. Moving abroad as a young family is wonderful, but not without its challenges.

We decided we were moving to Valencia with children earlier this year and it was hectic! Our boys, 4 and 6 years old, are at the perfect age for moving abroad, at least, that is what people keep telling us. Still, it is a huge change for these little ones. It certainly can cause a lot of anxiety and meltdowns. After all, we took away all they had ever known in their short lives. Their home, their garden, their school and nursery, their wonderful childminder, their friends, neighbours and village.

The kids, I must admit, are OK now. But not without a good two to three months of very emotional behaviour, abandonment issues and absolutely not wanting to go to their new school. It has been in the past month only that both of them have been happy to walk into their classrooms by themselves. I am very proud of them. It must have been a nightmare those first weeks, being in an unfamiliar environment, not understanding a word.

Moving to Valencia with children: anxiety the first few months

My boys were proudly announcing to every man and his dog back in Scotland that they were going to go to a Spanish school and making new friends. The actual settling in phase however was far from pleasant. Once the novelty had worn off after a very exciting first day, they soon realised this was reality. It was not nice at all being put in a strange Spanish school ALL day and having lessons different from their old school. The times were weird and the days long (9am to 5pm!). There were strange teachers, strange children, all speaking in a strange language. How scary can you make it for little ones without their mama by their side? Needless to say, for at least eight weeks every single morning was a drama.

“I just waited for you to come back”

I had to walk my normally very confident, happy 6-year old into his new classroom where the teacher literally had to peel him off my legs. He was clinging onto me, begging and screaming not to be abandoned. It was awful. I left many a morning in tears, feeling so, so guilty about the whole move and what I was doing to my children. Was this really worth it? Why was I being so selfish? Had I been naive?

This was not what I had in mind at all for my family, starting a new life in Valencia. My youngest was only slightly better, but also always crying at drop off. At pick up time both boys were generally calm, usually telling me their day had been ‘ok’. But I shall never forget the day when I asked my youngest what he had done at school. He replied with:”Nothing mummy, I just waited for you to come back.”



Ending up in a 100% Spanish school with zero Spanish

The selection of schools did not go entirely to plan either. In November of last year we selected this great bilingual semi-private school on the outskirts of Valencia. We even chose to rent a house in the right postcode area in order to be eligible to enroll the boys. A bilingual school would be best in our opinion, to learn Spanish but also still get a good English based education so they would not struggle too much.

We arrived in Valencia late February. Although the staff of our preferred school suggested that there was a high probability of at least one of our children getting a space (in infantil, the Spanish equivalent of nursery), this unfortunately turned out not to be the case. With the school not being fully private, it was the council who eventually decided and they were unable to provide a space for either children. What a disappointment! We had already moved and the children were at home. What to do next?

Moving to Valencia with children

Our 6-year old has to be in school by law, so the council was obliged to find us a school in our area. They were only able to offer us two spaces in a local Catholic ‘concertado‘ (semi-private) school we had never even heard of (S Bartolome, Godella). We are not religious ourselves and were also worried about the 100% Spanish school they were suggesting for our children, so we were apprehensive. We were also very annoyed with ourselves for not visiting more schools beforehand (top tip visit many!!). But we shouldn’t have worried, as when we arrived at the school for our first introduction, the staff greeted us like family, kissing us on both cheeks and making us feel very welcome. We were the only foreigners in the school. The school turned out to be lovely.


Moving to Spain with children

Making friends and napping at lunchtime

The kids in school, young and slightly older, are all very kind. And although my eldest son gets a tad bored of them all trying to practice their two words of English during break-time, he has already made friends. Teachers all work together to adapt lessons for our eldest, who of course didn’t speak a word of Spanish.

The local language Valenciano (yes! another issue when enrolling your children in a school over here, as they have at least four hours of it each week!) is toned down for the time being in order to bring the kids up to speed with Spanish first. During the first few months at nursery, his lovely teacher let our exhausted 4-year old nap in the classroom while she took the rest of the kids outside to read them a story so he could fall asleep. How sweet is that?

moving to valencia with children

No homework, vegetable plots and trips to the theatre

Another plus at this school is that there is no homework, which is rare in Spanish schools. I am so grateful for this! School days in Spain are very long, so having to spend even more time staring at letters and numbers really isn’t what I believe any kid age 6 should be doing. The school also has their own vegetable plots. They do plenty of cheap school trips to museums, theatre and other out of school places.  A downside? Teachers with terrible Spanish accents teach English at the school. But my kids being native English speakers already, I don’t mind at this point in time. We do plenty of reading with them at home.

For now, it is good, so we will stick with this school for at least the next year before reviewing our decision. We will then have time to decide whether this is going to be the school for our boys long term. Just now, all we care about is that our boys are happy. We want them to fit in socially, make friends and become fluent in Spanish. Within two months my children were able to understand basic sentences and count to 30 in the most adorable Spanish accent. That is at least something to celebrate!


Moving to Valencia with children…four months later

We are now almost four months here and the boys are doing much better. They are integrating at a faster speed than us. Both are happy to go into school by themselves, no more tears. They are having swimming lessons in Spanish and will also be going to summer camp in July. On the weekend we often hang out with international families. This gives them a bit of a break so they (and we too!) can ‘just’ chat in English. Learning a brand new language is tiring!

Our youngest is a sponge, knowing so many words in Spanish already. I guess for him it doesn’t really matter what language he is learning, as he is only 4. He is still developing his English grammar and vocabulary as well. He happily picks a Spanish book at bedtime now, rather than English or Dutch and is hardly aware of it.

Routine, cuddles and a safe home environment

Our six-year old is still showing some anxiety and a need for reassurance, especially at home. I can understand the reasons why and we are trying our best to just be there for him. Being in a Spanish speaking environment all day not knowing what is going on, must play havoc on your brain! Sleep, routine, cuddles and a safe family home is the best cure.

Now summer vacation is here (oh my, nearly three months long!). Perhaps the boys will have their huge anxiety issues again in September when school is back. Still, a teacher told me that most Spanish kids have exactly the same issue after such a long break. At least a row of other parents and their upset children will join me in the first week of school. To be continued…

Moving to Valencia with children

Essentials for moving to Valencia with children: city and regional maps

To get an idea of all the neighbourhoods, where the schools are, to figure out where everything is, this Michelin map is an essential purchase. Price 5,45 € ORDER HERE

Michelin map Valencia spain

If you are planning to live outside of the city itself, it is very useful to have a map of the province of Valencia, showing all the towns and suburbs where many expats tend to move to. Many international schools are situated in the outskirts too. Price 8,06 € ORDER HERE

Valencia, historic city with an edge

This summer my family and I did a house exchange with a lovely family in the city of Valencia, Spain. It is a fantastic city for families with children and there is plenty to see. So what to do in Valencia?

what to do in valencia
Renting bikes and cycling through Turia park to the City of Art and Sciences

 


Valencia seems to be a city of many layers. At first sight, it’s just like any other big city: lots of high-rise buildings, busy traffic and not an awful lot of beauty about it when you first arrive on the outskirts of town. It is after all Spain’s third largest city and has just under one million inhabitants. But when you dive into it and stroll around – or rent a bike – you discover a wonderful, laid-back, colourful place full of art, parks, cafe culture and last but not least…the beaches. Oh and also plenty of vintage shops. Did we love it? Oh yes, we did.

Street Art in valencia

The Ciutat Vella, including Barrio del Carmen, is the old town. Now as any old town this one too has plenty of little streets, old buildings, cathedrals and historic squares, but what makes Valencia different is the street art. What? Graffiti and historic buildings? No way! Yup. And it looks pretty good. Definitely a big hit with my 5-year old who loves drawing (why are they allowed to draw on walls, mummy? Erm…).

Now I would use all of my own photos in this blog, but unfortunately my dear husband left our camera on the plane to Madrid. Ouch. Fingers crossed we’ll get it back. In the meantime, you’ll get my iPhone shots and some beautiful images I found around the net.

 

what to do in valencia
Image: Travel and Lust

what to do in valencia
The mural in the image below must have been one of my son’s favourites. “It’s a mummy! Did you now that mummies have toilet roll wrapped around them?” Image: Travel and Lust


what to do in valencia


City of Arts and Sciences

The City of Arts and Sciences is a world in itself. This impressive part of Valencia, whether or not you end up actually going inside any of the buildings, is worth visiting. It consists of the Oceanographic (Europe’s largest sea aquarium), The Science Museum, the Palau des Arts and the Hemispheric. Plenty to keep you occupied. More info here: www.cac.es

what to do in valencia
The City of Art and Sciences is an amazing complex of white contemporary architecture (by Calatrava) and blue shallow water all around the buildings. The kids couldn’t wait to get their clothes off for a dip after a visit to the Science Museum!


science museum valencia



Turia gardens in valencia, great for bikes and kids

Rerouting the river Turia and turning the old riverbed into a 9km long park must be one of the best decisions ever made by city planners. What an asset to have for the people of Valencia. Full of play parks, fountains, cultural events, free outdoor gym equipment and cycle and footpaths. We rented bikes from Valencia Bikes (although there are many rental places everywhere) which kept us entertained all day and was great to move around quickly from A to B with the kids. Valencia is super kid-friendly by the way. Mini play areas next to the cafe terrace, why doesn’t anyone else think of that as standard?

what to do with kids in valencia

 


discover The beaches in valencia

One of the great things about Valencia is the proximity to the beach. Different from what most people think when they hear the words ‘beach’ and ‘Spain’ in one sentence, the ones in Valencia are nothing like the package holiday type. We experienced some fantastic beaches, quiet and more lively, but never overcrowded or lined by tacky bars and souvenir shops. A breath of fresh air. You can easily reach them by public transport, bike or car.

what to do in valencia
Valencia has some great beaches all along the coast, many of them quiet. This is the beach at El Saler, just south of the city. It’s 8.15pm…kids still playing. Spanish routine!


what to do in valencia
A little gem of a place on Patacona beach is La Mas Bonita, cafe and beach bar. Fantastic food and stunning location.