Allergy-Friendly Study Abroad Guide: Madrid, Spain

Clare is studying abroad in Madrid, Spain while managing peanut, milk, and egg allergies. She is currently a junior at Marquette University, where she’s majoring in Biomedical Sciences, with a Marketing and Spanish Minor. You can find her on Spokin @clarekirch and on Instagram @kirchnerclare.

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Tell us about you!

Where are you study are you studying abroad?
Madrid, Spain

How did you choose your study abroad location?
I have a Spanish minor, so I wanted to be able to use the language while I was abroad!

Had you been out of the country before studying abroad? Do you speak the local language?
Yes, and yes!

Did you plan anything ahead of time?

I made my own allergy cards with the main languages of the countries I knew I might be visiting while abroad, researched grocery stores around where I was going to be living, and found stories of other people with food allergies studying abroad and paid attention to their tips and tricks that made them successful. Whenever I know I am going to a new country for a weekend trip, I always find at least one grocery store near where I know I will be staying, a vegan restaurant or two (since that encompasses the majority of my allergies), a McDonald’s just in case and I locate where the hospitals are near where I will be.

What are your best tips for studying abroad with food allergies?

Do your research on where you are going to be living! I opted not to live with a host family so that I could make my own food, which I would recommend if you are worried about daily meals. Studying abroad is such a growth experience, especially in your confidence—do not very be afraid to ask questions or leave a restaurant if you are not feeling comfortable. It is also amazing for growing in flexibility—if your first plan doesn’t work out, don’t worry! Be adaptable and figure out an alternative plan.

Did you have any concerns about traveling with food allergies?

I did have concerns—the first time I traveled out of the country, I had a reaction in Italy and had to navigate the hospital system, so I was nervous about possibly having to do that again. I spent time researching and preparing which helped to lower my stress. Additionally, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find food at restaurants or grocery stores, but I told myself if I could find the ingredients to make two solid meals, I would be fine. The first day I arrived in Madrid, I took a few hours at the grocery store and read the labels of anything I thought looked promising! European countries are required to list the top 14 allergens on all of their packaging, which I found to be very comforting because I knew they were aware of people like me navigating the food scene with restrictions. I also ventured to my first paella restaurant that night and had a great experience using my Spanish allergy card. 99% of the restaurants I have been to have been very responsive and considerate about my food allergies and a lot of the waitstaff love the allergy card since it takes the stress off of them having to remember my allergies when they talk to the chef. Overall, I think a combination of research, planning, trial & error, and not being afraid to ask as many questions as you need are the secret to navigating a new country safely!

What airline did you fly? How did you handle accommodations and airplane food?

I flew American Airlines and Iberia to get to Europe, and around Europe I have been flying RyanAir, WizzAir, KLM, and EasyJet. I do not eat the plane food, but I bring snacks of my own! Usually I bring a sandwich, fruit, some Hippea snacks and some No Whey chocolate!

Where did you live and how were meals handled?

I have been staying at an Airbnb and generally cook my own food during the week. I also try new restaurants with friends and am able to converse with the waitstaff in Spanish about the possibility of eating at the restaurant with my food allergies before I sit down.

What are your 3 favorite places to eat in Madrid?

Tiki Taco
Amazing and inexpensive taco place! I typically order a combo of the first four tacos on the menu because they are consistently safe for me. The gluten-free tortillas and the very good allergen menu when you ask for it.

Monkee Coffee
my favorite place to get avocado toast and a latte by my school. They were very good about ensuring no cross contamination!

LaMucca del Carmen
Great restaurant for steak, they show all the allergens beforehand and the waiter was super helpful!


Is there any food your study abroad location is known for that you were able to have safely?

Paella is huge in Spain—my favorite has been the squid ink paella at La Gloria de Montera in Madrid.

What other places have you visited so far?

I have been to Mallorca, Segovia, Luxembourg, Brussels, Paris, Budapest, Vienna, Barcelona, Milan, Venice, Florence, Sorrento, Capri, Positano, and Amsterdam so far. In Budapest, Csicseri was amazing for pita sandwiches, Ristorante Dell’Osmarin in Venice was great for fried fish, and Blueberry Maki Bar in Paris was a great sushi option!

Besides the food, were there any fun experiences or favorite things you did?

I went horseback riding in Madrid, did a wine tasting in Luxembourg, went to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the Tulip Festival in Amsterdam!

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