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Tumbit : Jo Green - Having a Baby in Spain

Jo Green, 34, has been living & working in Spain with her long term partner for 5 years. As a "Professional Career Woman" in the UK she always believed that being a Mum was something that happened to other women. However, on moving to Spain she has found herself succesfully managing a career and being a full time Mum to an unplanned (but much loved) Baby Daughter. Things in life change, things don't go to plan... Jo tell's how it's those that can and are willing to adapt to change that generally succeed in making a life in Spain.

Registering For School in Spain - Part 2
11 October 2010

Click here to read Registering for School – Part 1.

We knew from other parents at our daughter's nursery that school registration week was between the 4th and 14th of May, so came back from a week’s break in the UK with that weighing on our mind.

On taking her to nursery on our first day back, we were given a registration pack that had been left there for us. Whether a number of these packs had been taken by the school to the nursery, or whether the nursery had specifically gone to the school on behalf of the parents, I don’t know – either way it was quite helpful.

The other thing that was helpful was the fact that the covering form detailing the registration process was in both Spanish, Valencian and English!

The first form was just the basic details about my daughter and us as parents (Names, address, Date of Birth, NIE and SIPS numbers), and on the reverse it clearly stated what documents should accompany the registration. Basically all that was needed was a Medical certificate (specifically for school starters detailing any health issues); a copy of the birth certificate OR the ‘libretto de familia’; a copy of the Padron; and a copy of both parents NIE OR Passports.

All in all quite straightforward!

A second form was in the pack (this time issued by the Communitat Valencia and unfortunately not in English) asking a for a few of the same details and also asking for what I believed to be instructions for her religious education.

Finally came a form (in Spanish) for one of the parents to sign to give permission for the child to take part in any activities outside school premises.

All of these forms and documents were to be presented at the school between these dates in order to register her to start classes in September.

Although my Spanish can only be described as ‘passable’ at the best of times, the whole process was surprisingly straightforward and easy – I basically presented the documents, the secretary then stamped one of the copies and passed it back to me as conformation that she was now officially ‘in the system’.

The exact date when school was to commence was as yet unknown (they almost always aim for the 7th or 8th of September, I was told) but that somebody from the school would call us to inform us of the exact date and procedure. Classes would initially be for 1 hour a day (accompanied by parent) for the first week, rising to 2 hours the next week (still accompanied by a parent), and so on, in order to get the child used to a full school day. A ‘proper’ school day would be in place by the start of October.

Procedural matters in Spain never cease to amaze me – some things (like trying to correct an incorrect SUMA bill) often take multiple phone calls or visits, and reams of paperwork, whilst the seemingly important stuff (like obtaining a residencia certificate or registering for school) are more often than not achieved quite painlessly!



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Spot the Tourist ?
02 October 2010

I have often wondered if there was a specific period of time that it takes for the average British expat living here in sunny Spain to become fully indoctrinated into the ways of the culture of their new home country. Like an exact age: weight: time ratio, or something scientific - just something that is marked, explainable and quantifiable.

Of Course, there’s always going to be that small handful of people who simply refuse to adapt to a different way of life in a new country in the slightest – all British TV, refusing to speak any Spanish at all and only drinking down the Red Lion or Rose and Crown, as opposed to visiting their local Spanish bars, attempting to engage the locals in conversation and watching Spanish TV. Sadly, there is always going to be that minority who either can't, or don't want to change.

But I was thinking this – at what point does the newly arrived expat stop behaving like a tourist just here for a short holiday, and adapt to their new lifestyle accordingly, and is there somekind of mystical equation that decides when this point in time arrives? - It’s sometimes a game myself and some friends play when we are in our local bar – trying to categorise the various clientele.

Firstly, it’s trying to guess the nationality of whovever comes into the bar (easy!); Secondly, are those that we have identified as being British expats or are they tourists? (normally just look out for the pasty white legs and ridiculous shorts in the middle of February - it can be a bit of a give-away!); Finally, how long have those that we have been able to identify as being expats actually been living here in Spain?

So I’m interested to know this: What are the idiosyncracies that easily identify a Brit from being either a Tourist on holiday over here, or an Expat living here? - And further to this, is there a marked and noticable difference between ‘recent’ expats and old-timers? - Add your thoughts and opinions to the comments box below and we’ll see how many we can get.



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Yearly SUMA Bills - The Plot Thickens !
21 September 2010

You can read my previous blog about my ongoing problems with Suma via this link Suma property taxes bring a nasty surpise.

In a previous blog I mentioned how my SUMA bills never seemed to arrive correctly, and that on my Asessor’s advise I have now returned them unpaid for the last 3 years.

Futher to a call from the Director of the SUMA office I had to resort to sending my Asesor to the office in person to resolve the outstanding issues and to find out exactly what the problem was before we could look into putting it right.

Two out of the three yearly SUMA bills (car tax and domestic basura) always seemed to be correct, however, one always seemed to be an extortionate amount for Commercial basura. Although my finca was once registered as a farm, I understood that it had since been registered as a domestic property when I bought the property – when then was I paying an additional 400 Euros or so per year needlessly (on top of the fines and interest accrued for non-payment each time I refused to pay) ?

Friday of this week brought yet another phone call from the Director chasing up the payments again and asking for reasons as to my non-payment and I simply asked him to call my Asesor in person for clarification.

In a Fawlty Towers-esque style, it seems that my Asesor was actually in the SUMA office at this time attempting to sort the problem, but that a supreme lack of communication by all parties meant that nobody understood what was being requested or what action was required by whom.

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth (mainly on my part) I managed to find out that yes, my property HAD been changed on the registry from a farm to a domestic dwelling, but that the SUMA offices had duly changed it back again – without informing either myself or my Asessor !

When asked why, they simply said that this was because my partner had been for a few years registered as being an ‘Autonomo’, or self employed. A such this ‘obviously’ meant that we were running a business from the premises and would therefore be creating a massive amount of basura.

I felt inclined to point out at this stage that my partner WAS (past tense) Autonomo for about 2 years, but no longer. Equally so he did NOT work from home, instead working as a contractor and from their offices in another town. Even if he DID work from home, he worked in the IT industry where absolutely NO basura was produced !

As things stand, my Asessor is trying to obtain some kind of certificate from the Town Hall to that effect, that he can then present to the SUMA offices. Only then will they make the necessary changes to my file and cancel of the ‘debt’ that I have accrued over the last three years.

At the end of May the outstanding SUMA Bills are re-issued along with the fines and penalties added and then posted out. Maybe I am being unfair, but I fully expect to be presented with a hugely compiled SUMA bill and that I will have to keep plugging away to get the situation resolved.

 



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Registering for school
15 September 2010

Originally written & Posted July '10

Over here in Spain children are able to start school as early as three years old. Well it’s not ‘proper school’, but it is actually called ‘pre-school’ and this is usually for 3 – 6 year olds and leads nicely into primary school.

So given that our daughter will be three in June, and that the school year starts for 3 years olds in September it is something that we naturally have to think about. On one hand it seems a very young age, but on the other she has made friends in her 2.1/2 years at Nursery and seems flexible and adaptable enough to make the step and move along to pre-school with her friends.

Our Finca is situated in the Campo, halfway between a Village and a slightly larger Town. Officially, we are resident in the village, however our buzon de correos, bank and all the bars and shops are located in the town and so naturally we feel more a part of the community in the town as opposed to the village. Add in the fact that the village is practically pedestrianised and without any parking closeby, and that my daughter already attends nursery with her friends in the Town, and I’m sure you can appreciate why we would like her to attend the pre-school in the town rather than the village.

The reason that she does not attend nursery in the village is simply because there isn’t one – and as far as I know there is only maybe 2 or 3 children her age, and certainly no more than about 50 in the school as a whole, covering the ages of 3 to 11.

 

Due to the small numbers the pre-school and primary school are combined in the village, and in many cases classes are made up of 2 class years together. Whilst we don’t feel too strongly about this being a major issue, we would prefer that she attended a school that made separate provision for each class year, along with the friends that she has already made, and in a school that was dedicated to ‘pre-school’ children.

Would this be a problem? – Especially given that our Padron clearly stated that we were resident in the next village?

The staff at the nursery, the locals, and even the Pre-school in the Town itself said no, it would not be a problem at all. It even seems like they want our ‘business’ as the more children they have, the more funding they can apply for – and in any case the number of children of that particular age registered on the pardon was pretty low for that year.

The ‘problem’, we believe, comes in 3 parts :

1.) Each school is largely autonomous and has a set period every year when parents attend the school to register their child for the coming school year – due to start in September. Our first choice (the Town) has their registration week in May, whilst our second choice (the Village) has theirs week 1 of April.

Therefore, if for any reason we are unable to register for the Town, we have missed the registration for the Village and have to wait a further year before registering.

2.) Apparently the Village, feeling their nose pushed out of joint, can cause a fuss and in some cases insist that the child is taken out of school and made to attend the school where they reside. Again, this is basically down to them wanting the funding from the regional Government allocated to her place.

3.) We do not have a ‘Libretto de Familia’ – some schools request this on registering, however when we registered the birth of our daughter at the Ayuntamiento (in the village) we were told that we were not eligible to have one because we were not married (Gasp!) – We have since been told that this is not the case and just that the Ayuntamiento were just being lazy. As we DO have her Residencia, NIE Number, Spanish Birth Certificate and Full medical records, we are hoping that this will suffice.

Although our Spanish is passable enough, and we are confident to attempt this procedure on our own, there is no margin for error here and we have asked a Spanish friend (who is also training to be a teacher) to help us out – just incase there is some tiny, but crucial point that we have overlooked or misunderstood.



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13 Observations On The Peculiarities Of Life In Spain
30 August 2010

Every ex-pat that has ever lived in Spain for even the shortest period of time has had to adapt in some way to the subtle differences in everyday life. Setting aside the obvious issue of Spanish timekeeping, I have listed just a few of my observations :

• Am I alone in finding it incredible that after numerous years living here in Spain, every brand of cling-film that I buy seems to be non-stick?

• Spain apparently has more high street banks than any other country in the world. This is seemingly neither due to the overall wealth of the nation, or the amount of daily usage that the average saver or borrower generates. It seems to be down to the fact that it can take a team of 4 staff to deal with half a dozen customers in a single morning – probably due to them having to double up a Citizen’s Advise Bureau, Samaritans, Town Hall (unofficial), Town Hall (Sometimes official aswell ), and community centre.

• Spain also reportedly has more Café bars than any other country in the world, with almost 1 bar for every 10 people. And, in the majority of towns, you can still struggle to find a decent slice of cake!

• Despite what the Spanish Government may lead you to believe, a “Non-Smoking” area in a public place seems to be entirely optional.

• Nobody seems to find it ironic that Telefonica have a department called “Customer Service”, and Telefonica themselves don’t seem to worry about being questioned for false advertising.

• Utility bills for Water, Telephone, Electricity, Town Hall taxes etc… always seem to arrive at the same time, often for 6 months at a time, and are rarely correct.

• If you do not live within spitting distance of the Town Square, then you must therefore live “in the Campo” – this is black and white – there is no in between.

• Fiestas and Fairs etc… are rarely publicised before the event, but you can read about them in plenty of local publications after the event to see exactly what you have missed out on.

• It is impossible to buy everything that you need for the week in just one supermarket, often requiring as many as three trips.

• You will never, ever win an argument or debate with a Spaniard, likewise you will rarely change their opinion once their mind is made up.

• Nobody seems to realise that a 65 year old woman on a moped just looks wrong.

• Small dogs are like a plague of vermin around the town centres. Where do they all come from?

• Whenever you see children trying to play in a park, you will always see a swarm of grandma’s chasing after them trying to force feed them tostada’s and yoghurts. Just let them play! – They’ll eat when they’re hungry!

If you have anymore observations, then please add them to the Comments box below…



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SUMA Property Taxes Bring A Nasty Surprise !
23 August 2010

Perhaps it is the traditionalist in me, or perhaps I am am being too English in my outlook, but I consider it fair play only to pay for goods and services that I have used and no more.

I have lived in my Finca now for 5 years, and in that period of time the yearly SUMA bill has not once been correct – sometimes it includes costs for neighbouring properties ( 3 different Catastro references on the SUMA bill in my name ? ) and sometimes it lists me, entirely incorrectly, as being a Farm – and as such this carries a much higher charge than a building that is not used for commercial purposes – like a House.

Every year I have sent the details back to my Asesor, along with my reasons for not paying, and every year he has contacted the SUMA office on my behalf to sort this mess out.

Every year the response comes back that, yes, they hear my concerns and will change their database accordingly and send me out the correct SUMA bill for payment as soon as …

For the last 3 years this has not been the case – no corrected bill was ever sent out to me, and instead the following May I have received the current year’s bill (still incorrect) along with the bill for last year (completely unchanged), but to add insult to this a penalty fee and interest rates have been added to this.

Each year, at my Asesor’s suggestion, I have simply not paid the bill, as I am waiting for the correct bill to be re-calculated. Am I perhaps being typically English and a little niave in expecting that the interest charges and penalty fees for the last 3 years will be waived?

I hold onto my faith that things will eventually get resolved, but every year when I receive the compiled Bill including all fees and penalties my heart sinks as I know that sooner or later things will come to a head.

That call came in this morning – the Head of Outstanding Debt at the provincial SUMA head office in Alicante called me demanding money before court action would take place ! Of course they denied all knowledge of any querie on my file, and stated that at this stage in the proceedings, because of the term of ‘non-payment ‘and because no official complaint about the details being incorrect were on my file, I would be unlikely to be able to appeal about the full amount being demanded.

Next time you receive a SUMA bill please check that the Catastro reference is for your property, and please check that that your property is correctly classified as soon as you possibly can !



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The 3 things I miss most when NOT in Spain
12 August 2010

As much as there are many things that I love and Miss about the UK, whenever I return for a break to see my family and friends and do a bit of shopping, it doesn't take me long to start missing a few things about being back “Home” in Spain :

The Children - Difficult to explain – especially of you are not a parent! - I was back in the UK in August and every night all of the Toddlers (and under 5's) were sent to bed at 7pm sharp, regardless of whether Dad had got back from work and given them a kiss goodnight, regardless of whether they were tired or not. It was simply the done thing!- Whilst it may be good to keep the child in a routine it seemed a shame to send them out of the way before they could chill out with the rest of the family – be taken out to Parks and Bars or Restaurants or whatever.

It was also noticeable how few of the older children were playing in gardens and the streets (regardless of time and day) - where are they all? - At home watching TV or Playing Computer games?

Eating Out - Whenever we have visitors over from the UK we hear stories of how eating out in the UK “is so cheap now compared to Spain”. And when I was last in the UK I had to agree that it was. However, on reflection I would much rather have a 3 Course Home-Cooked Menu del Dia (Including Wine, Bread, Alioli and Coffee) for 8 Euros than I would have to suffer the indignity of a “2 Meals for a Fiver” In Wetherspoons, where I would be surprised if any component of the meal did not see a microwave oven.

Coffee - It seems to be the exception rather than the rule to find a half decent coffee house – and even then it is quite expensive. I called into a Patisserie with a friend for a Coffee and a Cake and could hear the Kettle boiling and the jar of Instant Coffee being rattled behind the kitchen divide. Needless to say the very sound almost set my teeth on edge – it is easy to get used to drinking a good standard of coffee and taking it for granted that it will be available in even the grottiest of Bars over here.

It's even acceptable to go out for a night on the town in Spain and drink nothing but Coffee and be served a good Cupful without receiving a disbelieving smirk from the Bar Staff.

Of course there's loads of stuff that I love about being in the UK and It's easy to complain about things – I just wondered if anyone else missed things about Spain when they were in the UK ?



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Baby Illness in Spain
05 August 2010

On the whole we are very fortunate to have such a healthy baby. In her two and a half years, aside from the usual scheduled visits to the medical centre for her vaccines, we have only had a small bout of chicken pox to contend with.

Even though we all have private health insurance we have been fortunate enough to never need to make a claim against anything, and whilst this is a good thing, it also means that we are completely clueless if and when we do have an emergency or anything like that to deal with – and that we will just need to play things by ear as and when it should occur.

Last week our daughter started with a bad cough and a sore throat, which we initially put down to her teething, and then a few more of her friends at nursery started to have the same problem. On Thursday of last week her temperature rose a bit and the cough seemed to travel down to her chest.

Fortunately our nursery is quite forthcoming with giving out good advice (after all, they have experinece in looking after hundreds of babies over the years – we have just 2 years experience of looking after 1 Baby) and advised us to take her straight to the Medical Centre. This was mainly a precautionary measure because the following day was a Fiesta, then came the weekend, and then came yet another fiesta ! Naturally we didn't want to have an unwell Baby for following 4 days and be unable to treat her with anything so we hurried straight up to the medical centre in the next town.

Unfortunately most smaller Towns & Villages only offer health centre facilities at certain hours – and even then the process of getting an appointment is “Typically Spanish” (Which you can read about in my 1st Blog)

However, the medical centre in the next, larger Town not only has a dedicated Paediatric Nurse, but also has a 24 Hour Emergency service – so we were confident that we would be able to get her the required treatment without any problems.

We caused a minor upset when the Nurse asked us if we had been giving her any medicines because she did not understand the brand “Calpol“ and it's medicinal properties, but other than that we were able to get the required prescription.

Almost every village has it's own Farmacia, and many of Villages have an arrangement so that between them they can offer cover on Evenings, Weekends and Fiestas – and the rota is displayed in the window (and usually also listed in the local newspapers) so you always know where there will be a Farmacia open. Her prescription was for 3 different types of medicine and in total it came to just 3-60 Euros - I'm pretty out of touch with what prescription costs in the UK are, but I didn't think that was too bad.



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Accepted at last !
27 July 2010

After living in Spain for 5 years, and 2.1/2 as a parent, it finally seems as though we are getting somewhere close to being accepted into the local community.(Speaking Spanish as badly as we do, and both working with native English speakers, it is hardly surprising that it has taken us so long and we wholy accept that this is our own fault).

At nursery our daughter has a best friend who is a local spanish girl, and with her birthday being yesterday our daughter wanted to make her a small card and give her a little token present to take to nursery to give to her. This was followed up yesterday evening with a call from the girl's mother (Who we have never actually met!) Thanking us for the gift and card and inviting her to a small birthday party today !

Wow ! - For a Spaniard to invite anyone to their home is an honour – especially “ Extajaneros “ like ourselves ( one might also call us “ Guiri's “ ).

It may seem slightly odd but last night we found ourselves thinking about this – and we have no idea what the etiquette or protocol is, or what we should expect. In England a toddlers birthday party would be a barrage of balloons, jelly and ice cream and party games - should we expect the same or are there vast cultual differences that we didn't yet know about? - Were we expected to leave our daughter or stay at the party with her ?

It turns out that I needn't have worried. We could not have been made to feel more welcome. The family spoke clear Castellano to us (Not forgetting that this was their second language – their first being Valenciano, so this in itself was a real effort to make us feel welcome on their part)- and our daughter, as "the best friend", was made to feel esepcially welcome.

The customs and protocols were pretty much as you would expect in the UK for a toddlers party – plenty of food and cakes and pop and crisps – plenty of screaming and shouting and playing. All in all I am really pleased that we were invited – and happy that we made the effort to go and would recommend that anybody in a similar situation came out of their comfort zone and did the same.

Tips : Take a change of clothing for your child – in situations like this it is aswell to be prepared, and learn the words to “Happy Birthday“ in Spanish, as below ... (Although you may find that there are a few regional variations, you should at the very least be able to wish them "Cumpleanos Feliz")

" Cumpleaños Feliz,

Te deseamos a ti,

Qué los cumplas en tu día,

Qué los complas feliz !"



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The True Cost of a Spanish State Education
21 July 2010

Although my daughter is a year away from even starting pre-school, I have been doing my homework and asking around for the opinions and advice of various friends as to their experiences with the whole Spanish Education system. On the whole it appears that (aside from a few insignificant and expected niggles such as “Thing’s aren’t like this in the UK...“) it seems that most people are happy, however I have noticed that since I started asking questions a couple of months ago, that just recently more and more people have a concern with the same issue.

This month it just happens to be September – the first month back to school after the lengthy school holidays and also the time of year where children move up a year or on to a new school and as such new subjects will be taught. This means that a host of new school books will be required to be bought and paid for - and it is not unusual for 2 or 3 Books to be required for each child and for each school year (Pity the Family with a host of children of school age!)

Sometimes it seems a book can cost as much as 30 Euros and in most cases the cost of buying these books for one school year alone can be around 250 to 300 Euros (per child!)

The Education Department for each Autonomous Region subsidises these costs to a degree (This is called the “Bono Libre“ and is distributed in the form of Vouchers that can be redeemed at participating Bookstores) but it rarely covers even half of the amount required – and even then, this is only applicable for Children at Primary School and not beyond.

On top of this list of books (that will be provided by the school) each individual teacher will produce a list of items required in order for the child to participate in their lessons – such as calculators and various pens etc... – You can see how it all adds up – and if it is anything like when I went to school half of these items will either get lost or go unused

The problem is that there is never an alternative to the books required – and as such it seems that the publishers are well aware of this and hike up the prices – it is a captive market after all ! Furthermore every parent wants to provide the best possible start for their child and is put in a position where they have to buy all of these books together in a relatively short period of time to avoid their child going without and slipping behind in class.

Many of my friends and neighbours have been caught out with this situation in the past and have wisely started to put a small amount of money aside each month just to cover the bombshell that drops in September every year, and I am considering doing the same (I like to be ahead of the game!)

At nearly all Private schools the cost of the required books is covered in the overall charges for each term, so this situation only applies to state education.



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