About Foundation for International Education (FIE)

Foundation for International Education (FIE) supports US universities, colleges and their faculty in the provision of a Madrid study abroad experience for their students.  The FIE Spain program is located in Madrid suburbs at the Universidad Europea de Madrid (UEM), one of the leading private universities, with an innovative curriculum, cutting edge facilities and high quality student life.  The FIE Resident Director will be available to help you in every way and will provide a liaison between FIE and UEM as well as additional support services.

Prepare Now!

While you might feel like your semester in Madrid is ages away, start planning now as your departure will sneak up on you!  We’ve prepared this document to address any questions that you might have as your departure approaches, and in compiling the following information, we have tried to be as accurate and up to date as possible.  However, the world is a changing place and some information may no longer be spot on, so please use this as a guide, and feel free to contact us with any further questions. 

Be Prepared to Experience Culture Shock

For many of you this is your first time living in a new country.  You are no doubt feeling a mix of emotions.  While we can prepare you for your arrival, once you arrive, the experience belongs to you.  Be prepared to undergo some culture shock – what people experience when they are placed into a new or foreign environment.  You will face many changes and differences, some of which are subtle and disguised.  There are lots of little adjustments that you will need to make in your habits and attitudes, but keep an open mind and take it all in stride.  Moving to any new country is a real challenge, but it is also a very exciting opportunity to learn.  Things may be different in Spain, but this is why you’ve decided to come here!

Culture shock affects everyone differently.  Some people may feel its impact in the first few days because of all the changes, while others find themselves feeling homesick weeks later, after the novelty of the new place has worn off.  Remember you’re all going through this together and everyone experiences some form of it. 

Familiarise yourself with current events and pop culture in Spain.  Read Spanish newspapers and magazines, watch Spanish television and listen to the local radio.  Watch Spanish films, a great way to improve your Spanish and learn about the Spanish society.  Before you know it, you’ll be dreaming in Spanish!  The Spanish culture has its peculiarities in that it has different ways for dealing with time, space, non-verbal communication, social interactions, different customs, etc. 

Here are some tips to help you prepare for a new culture:

    • 2012 Let’s Go Spain & Portugal. New York.  Let’s Go Publications, 2011.  Originally started by the Harvard University students in 1960, this book has become “the” budget guide for travelers (first-timers or veteran explorers).
    • Fodor’s ‘12.  Spain 2012.  New York.  Fodor Travel Publications, 2011.  Published since 1936, this guide has been called by Newsweek “the king of guidebooks.”  The guide offers a useful and concise overview of Spanish history and culture.
    • José Álvarez Junco and Adrian Shubert.  Spanish History since 1808.  2000.
    • David T. Gies.  The Cambridge Companion to Modern Spanish Culture. 1999.
    • Marie Louise Graff.  Culture Shock!  Spain:  A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Culture Shock! Guides).  2005.
    • John Hooper. The New Spaniards.  London. Penguin Books, 2nd edition, 2006
    • J. Michener.  Iberia


  • Graham Greene: Monsignor Quijote
  • Ernest Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises
  • George Orwell: Homage to Catalonia
  • Washington Irving: Tales of the Alhambra


What to pack

Possibly one of the biggest dilemmas you will face prior to arriving in Madrid is the all-important issue:  What to pack?

First of all, there are documents that you absolutely must have with you when arriving in Madrid. 

A valid US passport and a student visa issued by the Spanish Consulate in the US. 
Be sure to make photocopies of your passport and visa and keep them in a safe place at home and with you in Spain
.  Should you lose your passport, having copies makes the process of replacing them much easier.

Don’t forget to check the airline restrictions!  Security measures are continually changing for your safety.

Many airlines will not allow you to carry liquids in your carry on-luggage. 
Many airlines will allow you two checked bags in addition to a carry-on and personal bag, but realistically you should pack only what you can carry yourself.  Also, airlines have weight restrictions.  You will be charged if you exceed the limit, so check with your airline to see what they will accept.  It’s also a good idea to bring a smaller “weekend” bag or bagpack for any short trips you decide to take. 

Don’t forget!

You will need an adapter plug as soon as you arrive since you will bring electronics from home, laptops, battery charger for cameras, etc.  Spanish electricity does not match US voltage. Spain uses 220 volt AC and power outlets have a plug which is different from the plug used in US.  Most travel stores and airport shops sell the adapter you will need, which you can buy in the US or in Spain. 

Spanish plugs are different!  Therefore, you should purchase an adapter plug for Spain.  The prongs are round instead of flat as in the U.S.  Adapter plugs are available at all international airports.  Buy a couple before you leave the US.  Great Britain has even a different type of plug.  We recommend that you buy a complete packet of plugs for international travel.

A small non-electric, battery powered alarm clock will be essential, as batteries are the same in the US and Spain.  Although you may purchase a converter or look for dual voltage appliances, it is advisable to avoid using converters on digital equipment.  Most of the basics, such as hair dryers, can be purchased upon your arrival.  You will find excellent prices at the shopping malls in Madrid.

Bring copies of prescriptions for any medications you will need, and for glasses or contacts if you wear them.  It is also a good idea to bring your own contact lens solution, as it can be expensive to buy here.  Have enough medication for the duration of your stay, because you may not be able to get an appropriate equivalent, and be sure to carry your medications in their properly labelled bottles.  Any necessary prescriptions should be packed in your carry-on bag.  We also recommend that you bring your preferred over-the-counter cold medicine, as there is nothing worse than searching for the right medication when you don’t feel well.

You will need your own bath towels and linen if you are staying in student apartments.  They can be purchased after you arrive in Madrid at reasonable prices in IKEA.  But remember: bring at least one towel for your first few days!

Madrid is a compact city, so you will do a considerable amount of walking every day – probably much more than you did back home.  Be sure to bring comfortable shoes that were designed for walking.  You don’t want to spend your experience abroad limping around from blisters or stress fractures!  Fashionable “runners” are popular footwear for young Spaniards; however, avoid wearing “trackie bottoms” in public unless you are clearly working out.

A travel-sized umbrella that fits in a backpack or handbag is a must.  The weather here can change suddenly and without warning.  Additionally, a warm water-resistant coat is essential as the winter months can be quite chilly.  There is nothing worse than being wet when you’re already cold! 

It is very important to bring sunglasses to protect your eyes.  Remember Spain is known for its sun!

Since November and December are usually cold months in Spain, you should bring warm clothes and lip protection.  You will be outdoors for many activities and UEM’s campus is a very open one with very few areas of protection.  Spain has a very dry climate.

For traveling in Spain and Europe it is recommended that you bring a bagpack, more convenient for long walks, underground rides, bus trips and trains. 

For safety purposes, bring a money belt or pouch to keep money, credit cards, tickets and your passport out of the reach of pickpockets while travelling and also in Madrid.

Bring a bathing suit and beach towel since UEM has two swimming pools and you will also have opportunities to go to the beach.  Spain is a peninsula with islands, Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, the Canary Islands, and we have beautiful beaches!  Villaviciosa de Odón also has a Sports Center with a swimming pool.

Part of your experience of living abroad is to get to know and experience the culture of your new country.  You will soon notice that overseas, Americans have a way of standing out in a crowd.  To blend into your new culture it is a good idea to leave your university sweatshirts and Greek t-shirts behind.  They automatically label you as an American.  You aren’t a tourist now, so don’t act or dress like one.  On the other hand, exclusively American brands such as Levi’s Jeans, Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister are highly sought-after among young Spaniards.  Baseball caps also clearly identify you as an American. 

Above all: if you don’t wear it at home, you probably won’t wear it here.  Remember Madrid is not the middle of the tundra.  If you leave anything at home you can always buy it here.  You will also want to leave space for bringing back souvenirs and other things you buy or accumulate in the next few months!

Helpful Tips for Packing:

  • Try to wear your biggest or heaviest items on the plane.
  • Bring slippers!  Spaniards do not walk around barefoot in their homes which is considered to be dirty and rude.
  • Bring clothes that can be layered and that wear well with others.
  • Bring warm sweaters since the heating in homes and buildings is not the same as in the US.  Usually heating is turned off during the night and until November 1 it does not exist!  Spaniards are very energy conscientious and the cost is extremely high in Europe.
  • Ziploc bags are perfect for packing things like underwear (which you want to keep clean and dry) or toiletries and cosmetics (which might leak due to cabin pressure during a flight).
  • Stuff smaller items, like socks, into shoes and crevices.
  • Tightly rolling your clothes can save space and avoid wrinkles.
  • Keep all your valuables, prescription medications and important documents in your carry-on luggage.
  • Anything sharp should be packed in your checked luggage.
  • Attaching a bright tag to your checked luggage will help you find it more quickly at the baggage claim.
  • Full bottles of shampoo and moisturizer are heavy and take up precious space in your suitcase, so bring small travel-sized bottles to get you through the first few days.  Many (but not all) American brands are available here at stores like El Corte Inglés, Carrefour, Alcampo.  In the unlikely event that your luggage is delayed, you may want to pack a change of clothes and toiletries in your carry-on bag.
  • Some medications that are legal in the US may be illegal in other parts of the world.  You may need a letter from your doctor explaining what the drug is used for, and verifying that you have brought just enough for the duration of the programme.
  • Check with the Spanish Embassy about travelling with medications
  • Check about locking your suitcase.  Security scans checked bags and reserves the right to break locks and search bags.This is occurring more frequently in the last few months so make sure you purchase special locks (available in the US) which can be opened easily by security personnel.



You will be housed with a Spanish family in a single room or in local apartment style accommodations with UEM students in the village of Villaviciosa de Odón, adjoining the UEM campus. 

Breakfast and dinner (normally the evening meal) daily are provided with the host family.  Laundry is included in the homestay option.  Weekday vouchers for lunch on campus in one of the university cafeterias are provided for the apartment option.

Luggage Storage

We do not have adequate space to store your luggage if you choose to travel after the programme.  So please bear in mind that whatever you bring you will need to carry around. 


Visitors are not allowed because having guests compromises the comfort and security of the people you live with: overnight guests are not allowed.  If you are expecting friends or relatives, you can talk to the housing people and see if they can house your guests (for a fee) in their residences or if they can suggest hotels or hostels in the area.


Madrid is considered to have an ideal climate, in that it doesn’t get overly cold but yet it can be very hot in the summer.  Also, you’ll find you can experience almost any kind of weather as you travel from the plains of Castille and surrounding mountains to the varied coastline.  Madrid seldom gets much below freezing or sees more than a dusting of snow, but there are exceptional years.  When you arrive in Madrid in September, the weather will be hot during the day with lower temperatures at night.  Though cold, winter in Madrid is quite dry.  Fall and spring are the most pleasant times of the year.  The days are generally warm and the nights cool.  Madrid, and other regions of Spain, Andalucía and Extremadura, have suffered droughts for years but there are not any restrictions in place at this time. This situation has changed since November 2009 with the heavy rains and snowfalls which lasted until March 2010.  We have continued to get lots of rain in 2010-2011.  Unfortunately, it has not rained in many parts of Spain during the first months of 2012.  Spaniards are very conscientious about not wasting water.  Water is very expensive in this country.  Here are the average temperatures in Madrid from January to December. 

January 9ºC  
February 11ºC  
March 15ºC  
April 19ºC  
May 22ºC  
June 27ºC  
July 33º  
August 35º  
September 27º  
October 22º  
November 15º  
December 11º


Laptops – UEM is a wireless campus, the first wireless campus in Europe, with free Internet connection, and therefore you may want to bring your laptop if you own one.  The Coliseo de la Cultura also is a wireless building with a library in the center of Villaviciosa de Odón.  Your residence will also have 24 hour internet access.  Email – You must have an e-mail account as it’s the most frequent way for FIE staff to get in touch with you.


Remember when dialing from Spain, Madrid is eight hours ahead of Pacific Time and six hours ahead of Eastern Time.  For example, when it is 12 Noon in Spain, it’s 4:00 am in California and 6:00 am in New York.

To phone Spain from the US: Dial 011 (the international dialing code), followed by 34 (the country code for Spain), then 91(the area code for Madrid) then the seven-digit number.  For example: 011 +34 91 549 6126.

To phone the US from Spain: Dial 001 followed by the area code and number.

Mobile (Cell) Phones

You will soon notice that everyone in Madrid carries a mobile phone.  On September 5 you will have the option to purchase a cell phone directly at a Movistar, Orange or Vodafone store or through Platform 3000/Piccell Wireless.   

Banking and Local Currency

To get you through your first few days, it is helpful to arrive with a few hundred euros in cash.  Exchange money at your bank, as the currency exchanges at the airports charge higher rates.  Ask for mixed notes in smaller denominations.  Do not plan to keep large amounts of cash in your room.

Do not purchase traveller’s cheques since you will not find many banks willing to cash them!  Additionally, having money wired to you at a Western Union will cost a fee, depending on the amount wired, but money successfully transfers within 15 minutes.  A Western Union transfer can be sent to the Spanish Post Office in Villaviciosa de Odón and you can pick it up with the transfer identification number and your passport.
Campo, 57
28670 Villaviciosa de Odón Madrid Spain
Telephone:  91 616 66 18

It is strongly recommended that you get a credit card if you do not already have one.  Major credit cards — Visa and MasterCard — are widely accepted in Europe.  It is also strongly recommended to have more than one credit card in case of loss, theft or a demagnetized band.

One of the easiest ways to get money from home is with a bank or debit card.  If you do need to be sent money, an easy option is to have someone from home deposit money into your account.  Then you can withdraw from it at an ATM. Additionally, some bank cards that act as debit cards can be used to make purchases where major credit cards are accepted.  Using a credit card or your debit card in an ATM will always give you the best exchange rate. 

Banks that Don’t Charge to Withdraw Money Overseas.
In the US some banks will allow you to take money out of overseas ATMs without charging you for the privilege, Bank of America, Barclay’s Bank.  Check with your bank about this option.  We have a Barclay’s Bank in the center of Villaviciosa de Odón.
Make sure you let your bank and credit card companies know that you will be abroad so they don’t put a freeze on your account (to protect you from fraudulent charges), and check that your card(s) will work overseas.  You don’t want to be stuck here without access to your money! 

Also, find out if your American bank is affiliated with any international banks.  This might save you from paying a transaction fee from both your American bank and the ATM’s Spanish bank.  If you do have to pay a fee, it is cheaper to withdraw larger amounts less frequently, rather than €30 every other day. 

You’ll find the Spanish bank system less convenient, as they are closed on weekends and have lobby hours Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm.  The biggest banks in Spain are Banco Santander, BBVA, La Caixa.  There is a branch office of Banco Santander and ATM’s machines on UEM’s campus.

For those of you who are not accustomed to living in a major city, be prepared for an adjustment; the cost of living in Madrid will be different to that of the US.  The Spanish currency is the euro (€) since January 2002.  We suggest you start to familiarize yourself with the currency before you arrive.  The current euro exchange rate is 1 EUR = 1.44762 USD. However, it changes daily so check the most current rate

Money, Finance and the Cost of Living

How much money you should bring depends on your personal financial situation and what sorts of things you plan on doing in Spain.  Please remember that Americans enjoy a relatively low cost of living compared to the rest of the world, and Madrid is an expensive place, even by European standards.  Your dollars will not go as far here and unfortunately what costs $1 in America will not always cost €1 or less in Madrid.  At the time this was written, the exchange rate was approximately $1.30 to €1.00.  For the most current exchange rate you can check online at:

March 14, 2012
1.00 USD = 0.766305 EUR  
US Dollar   Euro  
1 USD = 0.766305 EUR   1 EUR = 1.30496 USD  

We recommend you have at least $2,000 USD (not in cash) set aside for the duration of your stay for food and personal expenses.  Keep in mind that your purchasing power is directly related to the dollar/euro exchange rate.  Your program fee covers your tuition, housing and some meals only. 

Spain is still not as expensive as other European countries.  The following price approximations may give you a rough guide to how much things cost in Madrid.

Hamburger, French fries and a soda– € 6.50
Lunch at University cafeteria– €7.00
Weekends (drinks, food, club, cab home)– €50.00-80.00
Flamenco show– €30.00–60.00
Pair of Levi jeans– €80.00–120.00
Hairdryer– €35.00
Music CD– €22.00
Chocolate bar– €0.80
Can of soda – €0.45 (at store) €2.00–3.00 at bar
Shampoo– €3.00
Cinema ticket– €5.70–6.70 with student card, €7.00–8.00 without
Restaurant meal (menu) between– €10.00–20.00
Theatre ticket– €25.00-50.00
Haircut– €15.00–30.00
Metro ticket (single)– €1.00
Bus ticket (single)– €1.00
Real Madrid soccer game– €30.00–150.00
Coffee– €1.50–2.50

Student Discounts

Madrid is a very student-friendly city and many places give discounts with a student ID card – museums, cinema, transportation, theatres, etc.  Getting an ISIC (International Student Identity Card, is a good idea as ISIC holders may enjoy specific discounts.  However, these discounts are not always limited to ISIC holders and normal student ID cards (UEM student ID card, Carnet Joven) can often work just the same.  You can purchase an ISIC in the US for $22 which includes some insurance coverage/benefits, or you can buy it after you arrive in Madrid at TIVE.


FIE students are covered by health insurance with DKV through the Universidad Europea de Madrid.  DKV has agreements with the most important private hospitals in Spain.  For further information please visit the following link from the DKV website

Safety Abroad

Madrid is a relatively safe place by comparison to major cities in the US.  You should always use your best judgment when you are in a new environment – and if you happen to be alone at night, stay in well-lit and busy pedestrian areas.  Do not go to parks at night!  Like any big city, Madrid has its rougher neighbourhoods.  If you wouldn’t want to go there during the day, stay away at night.  Petty theft and pick-pocketing, as in any highly populated city, occur most commonly, so always be aware of your surroundings and use your common sense, especially in tourist areas, airport, train stations, tube.  If you do find yourself in trouble, contact the Policía Nacional, Madrid’s law enforcement, which has local stations all over the city.  In case of emergency, dial 112.
APUNE, the Association of North American University Programs in Spain, has asked that we provide our students with the following link to their website.  Please read the recommendations for health and safety and take the safety precautions seriously.

Have a safe journey!  We look forward to seeing you on September 2, 2012.