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Living in Madrid

Madrid, located at the very heart of the Iberian Peninsula, has been the capital of Spain since 1562. It's the second largest city in the European Union, with a population of 3.2 million in the city and 6.7 million in the metropolitan area, including SLU-Madrid students.

A group of SLU-Madrid students in Plaza Mayor

Madrid is considered the major financial center of the Iberian Peninsula because of its economic output, high standard of living and huge market size. It hosts the head offices of the majority of Spain's companies. It's also home to three of the world's largest companies' headquarters: Telefónica, Repsol-YPF and Banco Santander. In addition to the banking and industrial sectors, Madrid is home to textile, food and metal-work factories clustered along the city's southern fringe.

The city is a business center and the headquarters of the Spanish government and home to Spain's Royal Family. Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas International Airport, Europe's sixth busiest airport, connects the city to the world.

SLU-Madrid is located amidst other universities, private homes and religious houses in Madrid's Chamberí District.

Phone and Communications

Cell Phones 

Because students visiting Spain are non-residents, you can run into limitations when contracting cell phone services. The following is a summary of what is available and will give you an idea of what you can get depending on your individual needs and situations. This is general information. Saint Louis University — Madrid Campus is not related to nor has any interests in any of the providers listed in this document.

Students who arrive with unlocked cellular phones from their own countries can purchase a Spanish SIM card for their phones. Proceed to any of the companies listed below and request a SIM card. If you prefer to purchase a Spanish phone, here are some tips: 

Purchasing a Pre-paid Phone or SIM Card 

You can purchase a phone or SIM card at Spain's main department store, El Corte Inglés, where various phone operators like Movistar, Vodafone or Orange sell phones and calls and data packages.

You will need a copy of your passport and the original to purchase a SIM card or a phone with calls and data services. You will find these three operators in the department store's cellular phone section, and they will all have various call and data packages on sale. 

How Do I Reload My Phone With Money?

If you have a prepaid SIM or phone, when you run out of money (or "saldo") on your phone, you can reload it at most through ATM machines. 

Purchasing a Phone With a Long-term Contract

You can sign up for a phone with a yearly contract at El Corte Inglés with the companies mentioned above. You must provide the same documentation, and in addition, you must have a Spanish bank account to pay monthly bills — not recommended for students without a Spanish residence card (TIE).

Some contracts require a commitment of a designated number of months, called "permanencia." If you break your contract before this minimum time ends, you maybe be required to pay an extra fee. 

Cell Phone Costs  

Rates vary between operators, so be sure to ask for the rates before your purchase. Making international calls from a cell phone is quite expensive, sometimes costing over a euro a minute.

Using Your Personal Phone 

Contact your U.S. provider to unlock your phone if it's not already, so it can be used with other SIM cards, or ask for an international calling package.

Find out if using your smartphone with other SIM cards will affect your apps, contacts or other settings on the phone, such as iMessaging, WhatsApp etc. We recommend this option if these apps work the same regardless of what kind of SIM you use.

If you are considering using your U.S. mobile service while abroad, you will likely pay high roaming rates to your U.S. provider, may have connectivity issues and you'll still have to dial internationally when texting and calling locally. Using your U.S. number while in Spain in case of an emergency is not practical.

Communication With Family Members

SLU-Madrid will only contact a student's parent, legal guardian or home institution if a SLU-Madrid registered student:

  • seriously violates SLU-Madrid's Student Responsibility and Community Standards (PDF);
  • is incapacitated and has been hospitalized due to illness or injury;
  • has a serious mental health concern and is deemed harmful to themselves or others in the community, or their condition prevents them from acting as a university student (including but not limited to attending class, submitting papers, taking exams, etc.).

In most other instances, SLU-Madrid staff will communicate directly with the student. It will not share information due to strict Spanish and European privacy laws, as well as several U.S. federal laws, including FERPA and HIPAA.

Connecting with Your Loved Ones

Being abroad can make staying in touch more difficult for you and your family. Challenges include the time difference, academic excursions, personal travel, roaming costs and unreliable WiFi access. However, emergencies can arise anywhere, anytime. Here are tips for staying connected with your loved ones while you are abroad:

  • Purchase a phone and data plan to enable you to be in touch anytime and anywhere. Do not rely only on WiFi access. You'll find plenty of options; roaming costs should never be a reason not to stay in touch with your family.
  • Develop a communication plan. Schedule regular times to talk to your family. Always contact home if you are in a city where there has been any kind of emergency or crisis. People worry about you when you're away.
  • Use your phone to talk, chat using message applications like WhatsApp and stay connected through social media. Follow along with others abroad and at home, and share your experiences through social media channels, such as Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat.

The Madrid Metro (Metro de Madrid) serves the city of Madrid and is the seventh-longest metro in the world. Students are encouraged to apply for a transport card online. The application is in Spanish, but SLU-Madrid has English instructions available (PDF).

Mail and Packages

Students are strongly encouraged to bring everything they may need with them to avoid customs fees, taxes, deposit fees and any other charges.

We strongly discourage students from having packages sent over unless it is absolutely necessary. Upon arrival in Spain, all packages will be assessed customs fees, which can be very expensive. They also require you to provide a Spanish tax number on the documentation you must present. Most students do not have a Spanish tax number and Spaniards will be very reluctant to provide this information as a personal favor.

When it's absolutely necessary to get something, you have two options:

  • Purchase whatever you need in Spain. It's easier, quicker and eventually cheaper.
  • Receive a package, and depending on its content you may face custom charges plus 21 percent value-added taxes and other fees. You will need a Spanish tax number; finding a Spaniard willing to let you use this number can be difficult.

Students living with host families arranged by the University should have all mail sent to the University. Packages and mail requiring a signature can be sent to:

[Student Name]
Saint Louis University ― Madrid Campus
Avenida del Valle, 34
28003 Madrid, Spain 

Students who do not live with a host family arranged by the University should have all mail sent to their local address, not a University address.


Do not ship medications as they will not clear customs.

Ask your doctor to email Dr. Ruben Borrás, an English-speaking doctor that many students see, who will be able to prescribe something similar.

Dr. Borrás will guide you through ensuring you have your required medications. Contact him at or at 666 847 988.

Banking and Finance

Students must open a bank account only if they plan to receive money through a check or wire transfer. Students are not obligated to open an account, and Spanish legislation makes doing so time-consuming. Study abroad students are encouraged to use an ATM card or credit card to access funds in their home country.

You may open an account with your passport; however, after three months in Spain, you must present your Spanish residency card (Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjería or TIE), or your bank account will be closed.

To withdraw money from your Spanish account, you can write a personal check and cash it at any branch of your bank. You must present official documentation, such as a passport, to cash any check. A photocopy of your passport is not valid identification.

In Spain, personal checks are only used to access bank funds. To make purchases in stores, use cash or a credit card.

The best way for people to send money to your bank account is through a bank draft made out to you in euros. The transfer will usually take a few days, depending on your home bank's connections with your bank in Spain.

Checks in foreign currency are usually accepted but take longer to clear.

The University works with Banco Santander, which is close to campus. They are located at Paseo de San Francisco de Sales, 35 and you can call them at 91 533 32 01. You should indicate you are a SLU-Madrid student.

The following sites and resources can help you calculate your living expenses:

  • Prices in Madrid: Features average prices of restaurants, transportation, utilities, groceries and rent in Madrid. Various economic indices are calculated for Madrid.
  • Updated Prices: A list of prices in Madrid for food, housing, transportation, going out and more. Compare the cost of living in Madrid with other cities.
  • What Lifestyle Can I Afford?: Compare your monthly budget to these estimations and get an idea of the lifestyle you can afford in Madrid, including all living expenses.
  • Rental Prices for Apartments: Find Information on the monthly rent for apartments.
  • Expat Arrivals: This site contains information for people moving to Madrid.
  • Seriously Spain: Find information on what to do, where to eat and shop and how much it costs.