Faheema is a Queen Mary student of Hispanic Studies and Comparative Literature and a Turing Scheme grant recipient who is currently undertaking a British Council Language Assistantship in Melilla, an autonomous city of Spain in North Africa.
When I heard that I was being placed in Melilla, it was safe to say I was terrified, but also excited to be living in an enclave, to be able to experience a fusion of Mediterranean meets Spanish, Africa meets Europe. Thus, I am here to be a guide, so you don’t have to go through it blindly!
For some background, I am doing a work placement as an English Language Assistant through the British Council as part of my university degree. Student life is quite different for me, as I am working yet I am still a student, thus I have not really experienced the university life here. There is one university here which is the University of Granada in Melilla campus, where physiotherapy is predominantly taught. Teaching children at school and interacting with teachers is truly amazing and a unique experience, despite it being daunting at first, particularly in my case where I have never taught children before. Nonetheless, it’s true what they say, teaching is a rewarding job, and you grow to love the children you work with.
The housing situation in Melilla is very complicated. I was lucky that I was able to find other Auxiliaries who were also placed in Melilla and were looking to flat share. Websites such as, ‘Idealista’, ‘Fotocasa’, ‘Facebook’ and ‘AirBnB’ are a good starting point to find accommodation long term, however it is better and safer to book a hotel for the first week or two and go to an estate agent for help which allows everything to be above board. However, be aware that estate agents charge a deposit (refundable at the end of the lease agreement) and one month’s rent.
Geographical location and things you NEED!
Due to Melilla’s special geographical location, with it being a Spanish enclave but situated in northern Africa, bordering Morocco., this means that once you become a resident you can get significant travel discounts called “empodramiento”: up to 70% off flights and ferries to mainland Spain.
- NIE (number) and TIE (foreigner’s card)
To get this discount and to stay for the year you need a NIE and a TIE within 90 days of your travel. Due to how small Melilla is and its special geographical location bordering Morocco, the process of getting a NIE and TIE appointment is much longer and frankly complicated than if you were to get one in mainland Spain. This is also needed to open a Spanish bank account. The best student friendly bank to open with is BBVA, and if you do not want to open a Spanish bank account, I highly recommend Starling bank or Wise as their exchange rate is good value and you can open a Euro account, signifying that every transaction you make with your Euro account will be feeless.
- Phone SIM
You will 100% need a ‘prepago’ sim once you arrive in Spain: for your workplace, university, the bank and most importantly for the immigration office and police station (NIE and TIE). You can get the ‘prepago’ sim at Movistar, Orange etc. and top up however much you want. I would highly recommend Movistar as there will be an employee that has an understanding level of English if you do not speak Spanish. For the ‘prepago’ sim, you need your passport, however for a phone contract and house Wi-Fi you will need your NIE and a Spanish bank account.
As you can see, without your NIE and TIE, there isn’t much you can achieve. Thus, it is vital you do this as soon as possible, particularly if you come to a city like Melilla where it is understandably a significantly slower process.
- Photocopies of every identification document
It is vital you make photocopies of all your documents as it is required in the immigration office, the empodramiento office and something as simple as the phone shop when getting a phone contract. Make lots of copies as these places tend to keep the photocopies etc.
- Gas butane
Check to see if there is gas in your apartment and where the closest Cepsa station is. Gas cylinders are offered by Cepsa between 4 and 6pm on weekdays and 10am and 2pm on weekends for €17. They won’t let you buy one until you trade, so please remember to bring an empty canister to swap with you.
At first, it can be a little intimidating to converse exclusively in Spanish, but you’ll soon discover that it differs from the Spanish you learned in school and university. The Andalusian accent with the s aspirada and intervocalic D is used in Melilla. However, omitting s’s like in gracia (gracias) and hata luego might be simple to master (hasta luego). You’ll be all right after you’ve mastered that!
Even though there is no official schedule for the buses at the stops, they run every 20 minutes and cost 1 euro 20 cents, regardless of how long you want to spend on board. As Melilla is a small city, you will rarely use public transport. As for taxis, there aren’t many, but the taxi drivers that are here are very friendly and helpful. There is one taxi rank in the Plaza/Centro part, at the port and of course, at the airport.
Since Melilla is a small city, there aren’t many stores there, thus many people travel to Malaga for a weekend of shopping. Large Spanish businesses like Zara, and Stradavarius are still present on the main street despite this. Most of these shops are still open regardless of siesta. One place I would recommend is ‘Sol y Mar’ on Paseo Maritimo. It acts as the equivalent of Poundland. This was the place I would go to when I first moved into the apartment for inexpensive pans, and bed sheets, etc. For food shopping, I would suggest Mercadona (big supermarket) and autoservicios which is the equivalent of off-licenses and mini supermarkets.
Nightlife in Melilla isn’t bad, but after a while you find that it is quite the same every weekend. This is since Melilla is a very small city, to the extent that nearly everything is walking distance. It is important to note that nightlife begins at 1:00am and ends at 7:00am here. You will most likely go out for dinner first which is around 10:00pm until midnight. Then, you will go for drinks with your friends and end up at the port around 3/4am. Some clubs/bars that are worth a visit are Soul Beach for cocktails, live music, and hookah, and La Compaña (pub and dancing) at the port.
Restaurants and bars
The food here is very much a mix of Moroccan and Spanish cuisine such as, tagine and couscous, tapas, and paella. Some places I would recommend are:
• Casa Sadia (Moroccan and Spanish fusion)
• Restuarante Instinto (Italian)
• Antony’s Pizzeria (Italian and Spanish)
• Bar Sevilla (tapas)
• Almibares (sushi)
• Café Rossy
• Arenal (café)
• Panara (café)
If you want any more information about Melilla, I will try my best to help you! You can contact me on Facebook: Faheema Ali.