Surviving a Military Family Move to Spain

Congratulations on your new orders to Spain! Now what do you do? When my husband got his orders last year we had no idea what we were in for. Obviously, moving an entire family to a foreign country is stressful enough but not knowing what to do is even worse.. Below are some tips and things you will need to know prior to moving to Spain.

Overseas Eligibility Screening

Immediately after receiving verbal confirmation of a transfer to Spain the military service member as well as all dependents will be required to complete a overseas eligibility screening. This includes a medical evaluation, dental evaluation, screening for mental health issues among other things. Additionally, if you are moving to Spain with a pet you will also have to get your pet medically screened and microchipped and be up to date with all vaccinations. Your pet will also need a certification by a veterinarian no more than 10 days before your flight. There are also different requirements and paperwork needed for flying on a military aircraft versus flying on a civilian aircraft. The service member’s sponsor should be able to provide any of that information. After everyone has completed and has been medically approved to go overseas, the package is submitted to the gaining command for approval.


A flight to Spain can happen in one of two ways, civilian or military provided. With either mode there is a number of things that need to be completed prior to boarding the plane. The service member needs to ensure that their military orders are up to date and that all travelers have current passports. It is also recommended that you carry any birth certificates or additional forms of identification with you just in case. Again, if taking pets you need to make sure that their travel certificate is up to date and you have all the paperwork prior to getting on the plane.


You will either arrive to Spain in one of three ways: through the Sevilla airport, the Jerez airport or through military transport. Sevilla is about an hour and a half from Rota and be Jerez airport is about half an hour away. A sponsor should be arranged to pick you up at the airport but if not there are rental car services at both airports and you are allowed to rent a car as long as you have a valid driver’s license. You can drive in Spain with your United States license for up to 90 days before having to get a international driver’s license.

Checking In:

Naval station Rota is not actually a United States owned military base, it is located on the Spanish Armada base. Due to this fact, military members and their dependents must be screened by Spanish Nationals in order to be allowed on. The military member will coordinate with the command in order to check the family in and get them the appropriate identifications and security measures.

International Community Relations:

After checking in, the military service member and all dependents over the age of 18 must attend a mandatory 4 day course on community relations. In this course they will teach you about Spanish history, language, and other requirements for the base. They will also take you into Rota and show you a little bit about the city. It is at the end of this course that you are able to take a test to receive your international license.

Living out in town:

The military provides housing on base but there is also the option to live out in the neighboring towns. Downtown Rota is close to the beach but is limited when it comes to parking and space. El puerto Santa Maria, which is 15 minutes from base provides bigger houses with more parking and sometimes private pools. Chipiona and Sanlucar are about 30 minutes up the coast and offer beachfront homes. Wherever you decide to live you will have to get used to the culture shock of being in another country. Outlets are different and require transformers for American products. Additionally, Spanish homes tend to be smaller and washer and dryers are usually much smaller or not included. If that’s the case, it is best to go to base and use the laundry services.

Driving and getting a car:

If you are shipping a car from the states just know that depending on the type of car you have it may be very difficult for you to drive. The roads in Spain (unless in more developed suburban areas) are very narrow and it is very easy to damage your car or someone else’s if your car is too big. The majority of people who come to Spain usually buy a Rota beater. A Rota beater is just what it sounds like, an older car that people are okay with getting damaged. The only caveat with that is, there is a much higher chance of you getting a bad car or a car that costs a lot of money to upkeep.

If you are shipping your car, you need to make sure everything is completely up-to-date with the registration and insurance and the car needs to be showroom-ready before it is allowed to be transported. When your car arrives in Spain, you will need to pick it up in El puerto Santa Maria. You are only allowed to ship a certain amount of cars as per your orders. Anything more than that will be paid out of pocket. You will also be required to get the car inspected and registered on base through the security office.

Driving in Spain is similar to driving in the United States with the exception of some of the traffic signs along the road. Spain is very friendly for drivers in the sense that there are tons of signs everywhere letting you know the speed limit, exits, landmarks, ETC.


The base has an elementary school, middle school / high School as well as a child development center and school-age children center. Some people choose to enroll their children in Spanish schools in town and this allows the child to become bilingual in both English and Spanish. There are different requirements for enrolling your child out in town that you would have to check the command upon arriving. There are also a lot of Spanish tutors and Spanish exchange programs available.

Spouse employment:

The United States has an agreement with the Spanish government to offer 70% of employment opportunities to Spanish Nationals on the base. That means that for spouses of American service members there are a limited number of job opportunities on base. Many spouses do not work or they participate in volunteer opportunities as a means of maintaining experience.

Tips and tricks:

Always carry euros as converting American dollars to Euros can be annoying and most businesses will not take dollars. most places also allow for you to use a credit card or debit card. It is best to carry Euros as well because during the check-in process there are several fees that you must pay in Euros exclusively.

There are tons of shopping opportunities in and around Rota. The most common is the mercadona which is just a grocery store. There is also Carrefour where you can buy electronics, clothes, food and more. Decathlon is a sporting goods store similar to Dick’s sporting goods or sports authority. Ikea is 30 minutes away in Jerez and there are also shopping malls like Area Sur or El Paseo. In Cadiz, which is 30 minutes from Rota you can find El Cortez Igles which is essentially a giant Macy’s / Nordstrom rack.

*One thing that should be known about in Rota is making sure that your valuables are locked up. It is best not to keep your base pass visible in your car because it makes your car a target for carjackers / robbers. It is also a good idea to make sure your house is properly locked and you inform your landlord if you are going to be gone from your house for long periods of time. Rota is pretty safe for the most part but like anywhere in Europe there is always a chance that something could happen. It is also highly encouraged that you get renters insurance just in case of a robbery, flooding, fire, etc.

Overall, though the move to Spain can be stressful there are tons of opportunities to travel and see Europe. There are airports 30 minutes to an hour away and towns like Malaga or Ronda are a little over two hours away. Once settled into Rota you will find that with an open mind you will enjoy your time here.

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