I’m Helene, you might know me from a previous interview I did with Digital Travel Guru. I still believe in inspiring others to live life to the fullest by sharing my experiences.
I’ve been to many places since that last interview, check out the stories about my adventures and other awesome travel stuff here!
What else is there to say about me… I love dancing, eating tasty food, and getting to know new places! And I love talking to people, so feel free to catch me on social media, my blog, or via email (info at the end of this post) and say hi!
Where are you living now and where did you live originally?
Hold your breath for this one! I was born in Luxembourg to Malaysian parents. I lived there until the age of 19, when I left for uni in Sheffield (UK). Random place, right? I’d never been there before, I’d just seen the website and it seemed like a cool uni, so I just went for it.
Then, after 3 years, I decided to do a masters in London, so I stayed there for a year. For my masters project, I lived in Lausanne (Switzerland) for 3 months.
I then thought, why not do another masters (I know, I’m crazy), and moved to Rotterdam (The Netherlands). After staying there for a year and a bit, I decided that I’d had enough of bad weather, and moved to Madrid, Spain.
And that’s where I’m currently living. Phew!
How long have you lived your current destination or last destination as an expat?
I’ve been living in Madrid since January 2017, so 10 months.
How may countries have you lived in as an expat?
If I’m counting correctly, that would be 4 so far, including the short 3-month stint in Switzerland.
What made you decide to move to the current country as an expat?
I have to admit, a big part of it was the weather. I think I suffer from a mild form of seasonal affective disorder, where long periods of cold and darkness affect my mood negatively. Another part was that I wanted to improve my Spanish (I’d been studying it as a hobby for a year before moving to Spain).
What were your biggest fears of moving if any?
By now, I’m not very anxious about moving to a different country anymore, especially within Europe. I think my biggest fear, if any, would be not finding a close group of friends.
How do you keep in contact with friends and family and do you get to see them often?
I chat with my mum over Skype fairly often, pretty much daily, because I only go home to see my parents once a year. I message some of my friends on Whatsapp and Facebook. The ones I don’t talk to often I still make an effort to see by planning holidays or visits.
Did you encounter any immigration or visa issues ?
I’ve only lived within Europe, and I have a European passport, so not really. The whole process is fairly simple, although filling out the forms in Spanish with my initially limited language capabilities was challenging!
How did you decide what countries or country you would become an expat in?
I went to uni in England because I really liked the system there. Instead of just being an anonymous entity in a mass of students, you have a more personal relationship with the uni, you can participate in many extracurricular activities, and there’s a real sense of community. Additionally, I just adore London as a city. The other cities I studied in I chose mainly because of the university.
For Madrid, I got a job here, so it was pretty easy to decide.
How do you make you living as an expat in Spain?
I have a full-time job working in product marketing at a technology company.
As and expat in the current country your are living in or any previous countries (did you speak the languages or learn any of the languages) if so what languages do you speak or did you learn? Any tips for people wanting to learn languages (self taught sites etc) or any other tips?
This is a long one for me too! I speak 6 languages: Luxembourgish, German, French, Mandarin Chinese, English, and Spanish. I had had a year of Spanish classes before I came here, so I didn’t have to start from scratch. I think that helped me a lot! I took full advantage of a student discount for university extra-curricular language classes, which I don’t think I would’ve taken if they had been full price… When I got to Madrid, I started attending informal language exchange events. I would speak to someone in Spanish, and then English, alternatingly. These events are a great way to improve your conversational skills, and to meet new people! I highly recommend them.
What are the approx costs of living where you are now or any previous place you have lived as an expat?
Errrrrr, Madrid is quite cheap compared to the previous places I’ve lived in. London and Lausanne were the most expensive, and Sheffield and Rotterdam kind of in between.
How do rate the standard of living in Spain?
It really depends on what you define as a high standard of living. In Spain, food and drinks are really cheap if you know where to look, and that leads to a high standard of living in terms of being able to socialize and afford a lot of meals and nights out with friends. Rent in Madrid is quite high compared to the rest of Spain, so a lot of people I know live further out of the city, not really in the centre. And the ones who do live in the centre (like me) can only afford tiny apartments.
What is the tax system there like?
I’m not sure about this because I’m not registered as an “autonomo” (independent business entity, for freelancers or business owners), but I’ve heard that taxes for independents are quite high compared to other European countries.
What have been some of the pros and cons about living in Spain?
Pros: the friendly people, the laid back culture, cheap cost of living, weather, big city, easy to get around, good location for traveling
Cons: dry air, really REALLY hot in summer, no beach, low salaries, inefficient administration, low-ish cultural diversity
Do you have any tips for people that might want to visit or move to Spain?
For visiting, you can check out my guides to Valencia and Barcelona, and my food recommendations for Madrid. I’m also on Cool Cousins where you can find a map of cool places to see in Madrid (also check out their free app!). For any questions you have, email me at [email protected]!
Do you have any future plans here to move somewhere else?
Not sure! I’ll just go wherever the flow takes me (like a true hippie!).
Can you give any insights into the local culture / customs where you live as an expat (either now you previously) How important is it for people to be aware of these when living here or visiting here?
Honestly, I think just behaving like a decent human being should be a minimum requirement regardless of where you live. Why would you behave any differently in a “foreign” country than at home? Be nice, and other people will be nice back.
Do you travel around from this destination where you are living as an expat? What are some places you have visited from here / any countries close by that you recommend / what are the travel costs like to these places?
I traveled around Spain a little bit, I saw Toledo, Sevilla, Avila, Salamanca, Barcelona (second time), and Valencia. I’m planning on seeing more of the country whenever I get the chance. It’s reasonably cheap to get the train or the bus around Spain, and apparently, Portugal is very accessible too! I still have to venture around there though.
How are the locals where you live (were they easy to make friends with)? are there any expat clubs or similar that you have joined? How easy was it to make new friends or associates here?
I love the locals! I think the only problem I had at the beginning was the language barrier, but like I mentioned before, language exchange events helped with that. I’m part of the Madrid Blogger Network, which organizes regular meetups, so I met a few people there as well.
How is the nightlife where you live? Any recommendations?
It’s great! If you’re in Madrid, try Malasaña area for bars and pubs. But take into account that Spanish nightlife starts and finishes late. And by late, I mean predrinks start at around 10-11 pm, clubs get lively at 2-3 am, and people go home at 6-7 am. Yep, that’s 6 or 7 in the morning.
How do you spend your time off here or at weekends?
I usually go to the park, grab a drink and/or dinner with friends, or go to the cinema. If you’re coming to Madrid for a weekend, here’s a post with all the must-sees.
What is the climate where you live, are there any specific times to visit?
Madrid is reasonably warm from March – June (20-25 degrees on average), then gets crazy hot in July – September (35-40 degrees), and quite cold October – February (10 – 20 degrees). I would say the best time to visit is March – June.
The HC Lifestyle Blog
My blog (The HC Lifestyle Blog) covers many different topics like food, health/fitness, fashion, beauty, blogging, and of course travel. One thing these topics all have in common is that I’m passionate about all of them. Another thing is that I believe that any of these things, or several of them in combination, have the power to make people happy and live a fulfilled life. I adore photography and visual content, so you’ll find a lot of pictures in my blog posts.
Please share one life quote or any quote you love.
“Life is an adventure.” – My life motto, tattooed on my arm so I never forget.