Foreign, female and fabulous: How I found my tribe in Madrid

Giving up old friends, family and a secure job to move to a foreign city when you are fast approaching 40 can be daunting, to say the least. Cepee Tabibian shares the challenges and rewards of making such a move.

Foreign, female and fabulous: How I found my tribe in Madrid
Cepee Tabibia 'hit refresh' on her life and hasn't looked back. Photo: Cepee Tabibian

My love affair with Madrid started with a summer abroad in 2001, an experience that played a pivotal role in the trajectory of my life. As an American trying to create a life in Spain, I spent many years bouncing back and forth to Texas. I first arrived in Spain as a student learning Spanish, then later taught English, earned my masters, worked for a Spanish start-up, and finally found a way to make it work on my own terms through remote work.

READ ALSO: The Ultimate A to Z Guide to Teaching English in Spain

The road to get here hasn’t always been easy. Just three years ago I was living the good life in Austin, Texas. But the comfort and predictability of each year was slowly smothering my adventurous spirit. At age 35 I knew it was time to feed my soul and rediscover myself by shedding my house, car, job, routine, security, and 401k for the thrill of the unknown.

Moving to another country as a carefree 20-something is one thing, but starting over as a woman in your 30s requires a bit more strategy. Society understands if you spend your 20s exploring because you have “time,” but pressures us to believe that your 30s are a time when you should have life figured out and be ready to settle down. Well, I was halfway to 40 and nowhere near clarity. All I knew was that I needed to step out of the monotony of my life and gain a fresh perspective. I knew that moving back to Spain, and specifically Madrid, could help, but I had no idea that it would be the perfect place for reinvention for a woman abroad.

Moving to Madrid on my own

So why Madrid? What captivated me from the start was the city’s energy. I’ve traveled to cities around the world and have never encountered one as vibrant as Madrid. It’s a warm, social city that always felt like my place in the world. Experiencing it again as a “seasoned” woman, I appreciate that it’s a social city for all ages. Take a walk in the city center, bar hop, or indulge in the nightlife and you’ll see that people in Madrid really know how to live. This is a city where young, old, and everyone in between revel in what the city has to offer; it’s a place where making friends later in life is relatively easy.

Photo: Deposit Photos

Another alluring factor is that Madrid is affordable. While housing prices have risen dramatically over the past few years, compared to other western European capital cities it’s ranked as one of the least expensive—and one of the sunniest. In Texas I grew up with two seasons: hot and hotter than hell. Madrid is different; it has four seasons. Even though the Texan in me suffers through the winter, the sun still shines on most days.

Moving here as a single woman, I was happy to escape the college scene in Austin for a city whose demographics were more in my favour. With an average marrying age of 33 in Spain and one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, you’re surrounded by single people of all ages in Madrid. I’m rarely asked about my marital status here, unlike back home where my existence as a single, childless female was a constant curiosity.

No city is perfect, and transitioning from your comfort zone to Madrid comes with its challenges. If you had a career back home, brace yourself for a limited job market. Most positions require a working level of Spanish, so if you don’t speak the language you will miss out on many opportunities. Given my experience, among the opportunities that do exist, the salaries are low, the workdays are long, and the workplace is rigid. Many native English speakers leverage their language skills and teach English; the jobs are plentiful and pay well compared to the average Spanish salary. However, for most it’s a means to an end with little mobility.

For newcomers to Madrid, I suggest building a network of like-minded people from the start. Finding my community enhanced my experience here and led to numerous collaborations and opportunities. It can be difficult to break into Spanish friend groups when you’re over 30 if you’re not pursuing a degree or arriving with a job. However, rediscovering the city at a different stage in life taught me that Madrid has a large community of inspiring and entrepreneurial women.

Madrid’s empowering community of women

The limited work opportunities here contribute to the entrepreneurial spirit of the international community. There is a thriving community of women in Madrid, and a variety of groups, that meet regularly and empower each other to pave their own paths in the city. These female pioneers leverage their expertise and work experience to create better opportunities for themselves in Madrid.

READ MORE: Freelancing in Madrid: A survivor's guide

Photo: Deposit Photos

Madrid is a social city, which means there are events and meetups every day of the week. When I first arrived I bounced around from group to group until I discovered a few female-run and -oriented meetups for professionals that gave me what I didn’t even know I needed: a model of what was possible in Madrid. This tribe of like-minded women inspired me through their actions and empowered me with their resources. Limited options in Madrid can lead to a limited mindset; however, this community of women encouraged me to aim high and to think big.

Many of the women who move to Madrid later in life are at a crossroads. We’ve come to Madrid for a “refresh,” leaving the security of our previous lives to pursue a life more fulfilling but without a clear plan of what’s next. Madrid’s low cost of living gives us the opportunity to escape the rat race and reflect, to explore our interests, or to create or dabble in a side project. Madrid allows the ambitious to find their space and fill in gaps in the market. Instead of being one of many in an oversaturated market, you have the chance to really stand out. The female-run communities where I found the most inspiration, and formed lasting friendships, are International Women in Business, Intercom Spain, and La Piscine.

The power of community inspired me to create my own spaces where I can indulge in my interests and meet like-minded people. I run the Madrid Blogger Network, the city’s largest community for bloggers and content creators, and She Hit Refresh, a community for women over 30 who want to break free from routine and start a life of travel—and for those who already have, like me.

Moving to Madrid may be the single best decision I’ve made in my 30s. Not only did the city provide the fresh perspective and sense of adventure I was in search of, it gave me something more. It led me to my tribe.

Join Cepee Tabibian at She Hit Refresh or in the Madrid Blogger Network


Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.