The Top 5 Newbie-Expat Mistakes

Published on 29/06/2011 in Expat Life

We’re helping in the launch of a great new ebook called “The Expat Files” at the moment which covers various different case studies of families, couples and retirees that moved to Spain, some of which are still here but many are not.

Reading the book got me thinking about our own experiences in moving to Spain and living here for the past seven years; and also those of our friends. So I thought I’d share with you some of the most common mistakes I see new expats make out here.

If you are planning on moving out here, or have just arrived, hopefully some of these points might help you on your way.

1. Savings, who needs savings?

Moving is expensive. Moving to another country is even more expensive. There are always extra costs that you never imagined that creep out of nowhere. Being in a foreign country, often with no access to other family and friends, you are totally dependent on what you have saved up to keep you going until you get to that first pay day.

And that first pay day can often be quite far away, especially if you come out looking for a job or to set up a business.

Budget for at least two years worth of outgoing before you come out.

We ran out of money after just 4 months, even though my original sums showed we’d be fine for the first year with no income. Either I’m rubbish at maths or we spent too much.

It happens, so budget for two years, be pessimistic in your calculations and that will buy you enough time to get settled and find work.

2. It’s like being on holiday!

British expat

Erm, no it’s not. When many expats arrive, particularly if they arrive in the summer, they feel like they are on holiday. Sunny days, lots of beer, late nights and lots of eating out.

Unless you’re retired the last thing you can afford to do is piss all your money up the wall. It happens…a lot. It’s both a waste of time and money and starting off as if on holiday reduces your motivation to find work or start your business.

We have seen so many people make this initial mistake that they never quite settle and end up leaving having wasted a considerable amount of money at “my new mate Roy’s bar”.

Roy’s only your mate because you alone are keeping his business afloat!

3. Shouting: “Do you speekee English??”

Please, if you want to live in Spain you need to start learning the language before moving here. It’s not that tough really, at least to a basic level.

Simply adding an “O” to the end of every word does not make it the Spanish equivalent.

I once heard an English woman asking for an appointment at the dentist and she called it “an appointamento”. My face went bright red as I stood behind her, especially as she said it at a volume level normally associated with talking to your mates in a nightclub.

Aside from anything else, it is basic manners and culture to at least learn the language of the country you are residing in. Like I say, even to just a really basic level.

You cano do ito ;)

4. We just need a small apartment

For a holiday perhaps, but when you’ve been used to a reasonably sized house back home with a nice garden, living in an apartment can be quite tough for many expats.

Villas (a word used to make a house sound more exotic) are generally very expensive to rent so most people will go for the cheaper apartment option. This in itself can put a strain on a family as most apartments tend to be a little on the small side.

The best option is normally to go for something in between a villa and an apartment, i.e., a townhouse. These are generally, but not always, larger than apartments and offer more outside space. They are also not much more expensive than apartments to rent.

We have seen many families climb the walls in properties normally only used for holidays; the lack of space often meaning everyone is on top of everyone else at home.

I used to live and work out of a small apartment when we first moved out and it was really tough.

You have to keep your initial costs low but you also need to be comfortable in your new environment. Be realistic as to what you need and if you can’t afford that extra space…just wait until you can.

5. I’m so popular

Vulture expat

Established expats often prey on “newbies” like vultures. Newbies arrive all naive and innocent and will often trust those that befriend them early on. The vultures love this new fresh meat bearing their life savings.

Along with many others, we made this mistake and after a while we cottoned on to the fact that what they were after was our money; little did they know that we didn’t really have that much anyway!

I know, it’s sad really but it is often the case. Times are tough in Spain at the moment so many expats will go to some extreme lengths to put food on the table, or beer in the belly more like.

I would say it isn’t the Spanish that prey on the newbies, it is generally other expats. Expats are always shafting other expats. Newbies arrive not speaking the language and rely on other expats for advice and contacts.

It’s just that their advice and contacts aren’t always the best.

I’m not saying don’t trust other expats, just tread with caution and look for the tell-tale signs…a big beak and large wings tend to give them away ;)

Written by: Justin Aldridge (EOS)

About the author:

Justin has been running Eye on Spain for over 5 years and recently with his partner Susan launched their popular moving to Spain video guide, Spain Uncut.

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onlooker said:
07 June 2017 @ 11:36

When you first arrive in Spain you will only be either 'fresh meat' for the ex-pats, someone to be conned out of much as they can. Or you will be entertainment. Not all are dishonest, but they will sit with the scammers and give them an air of respectability, while knowing that the work you are discussing will not be done, and any money you hand over is gone with the wind.

tony&kim said:
05 July 2011 @ 17:22

Hi Vick&Pete

Don't get too stressed about it - adopt the same careful approach as you would to anyone working on your home in the UK eg get more than one quote (which we didn't), take up references (which we didn't) and don't pay anything over until you've got sight of an official invoice (which we didn't).

Basically don't caught up in the excitement of buying and then forget the basics (which we DID!), and you'll be fine.


Vick and Pete said:
04 July 2011 @ 23:18

OMG I have just been reading all of these comments. We are moving to Spain in April 2012. I never thought there would be so much to be wary of.
We plan to rent before we buy but even this holds risks it seems. I don't know where to start now but still coming ;-)

Patricia said:
04 July 2011 @ 20:05

2.- It's like being on holiday.
It most certainly is NOT like being on holiday. Anything but. Unless you are vastly wealthy, have domestic staff and no worries.

Ken Ackers said:
04 July 2011 @ 16:39

I have used 3 english trades guys - all came on recommendation
( mossie screens, electrician, reja fitter )

All were brilliant - I was struggling fitting spotlights in the bathroom Morry the spark came out after work miles away sorted the problem and charged just for the call out!

I have found the ex - pat tradesman who have been there years are fluent in the lanuguage and their families are spanish are sound.

tony&kim said:
04 July 2011 @ 15:23

And if they ask for cash up-front from you on the premise that they've been ripped-off in the past themselves by unscrupulous customers, make sure you ask them for - and receive - a tax invoice showing their business address before making any payment.
A British owned Spain-based "company" we've dealt with in the last year with has refused point-blank to provide any information to us, has refused to provide either his own or his solicitor's address, and now wants our UK solicitor to email our complaints over to him in Spain. What a joke!!

James Stevens said:
04 July 2011 @ 14:50

Another tip when letting your property is to ensure that you have a copy of the tenants passport and preferably DNI (if they have bothered to register) and whatever you do son't let the agent handle the deposit.

I have been waiting for almost a year to recover damages from a deposit which the agent holds but which she won't release until she has agreement from both parties solicitors. And guess what? Nobody knows where these tenants have gone (agent has no forwarding address) and my solicitor has contacted theirs and been told that she has no contact with them.

Just be very careful who you deal with.

Billy the kid said:
04 July 2011 @ 01:07

Especially read this about expats ripping you off if you are in the Duquesa area. That place is full of english bandits

foxbat said:
01 July 2011 @ 22:24

As a first step towards identifying a potential Brit rip-off merchant, check out his car / van... is it on Brit plates? Does it have a visible UK Tax Disc? Is it valid?
If the vehicle is on UK plates without a valid tax disc, for Pete's sake, walk away or send him on his way, since he is clearly quite happy to play fast and loose with the Spanish authorities and when the work you wanted done all goes pear shaped what chance do you think you've got?
And always remember the more charming the rip-off merchant is at the beginning the nastier he will be when it all goes to ratsh*t.


Patricia said:
01 July 2011 @ 14:03

You are so right, Paul. They want it "bueno, bonito y barato" or preferably "bueno, bonito y gratis".

Patricia (campana)

Paul Whitelock said:
01 July 2011 @ 13:22

Oh, and by the way, I no longer rent and translation clients have to pay 50% up front before I start work.

Four times bitten, five times shy!

Paul Whitelock said:
01 July 2011 @ 13:20

Yep! I've only ever been ripped off by foreign expats.

I let an Irish lady "friend" live in a house of mine in Ronda for 6 months at a very cheap rent - she still owes me over 1000€!

Then a Scottish lady rented the same house for 6 months. This time we had a contract but that didn't stop her doing a moonlight flit at the end leaving unpaid utilities bills and damage. She has disappeared off to Holland!

I was ripped off by English hoteliers who commissioned me to translate their menu but never paid me. They're still around but I don't patronise them any more!

An English owned radio station on the coast still owes me for translation work I did a year ago.

In the end you just give up chasing!

Cath Marsh said:
01 July 2011 @ 10:11

We live in England and use our home for holidays at the moment. We received a letter from the administrators of our urbanisation threatening us with having someone take the weeds up in our garden as they were a health hazard and charging us. One of our neighbours took a look and picked less than a supermarket carrier bag worth. Someone was obviously trying to make some money.

30 June 2011 @ 22:53


lorraine said:
30 June 2011 @ 14:39

I have to agree with ex pats ripping expats off.
We are in the process of moving to Spain and were introduced to Indian Tony who at first was very helpful(or appered to be). We foolishly paid him to get us a woodburner installed and even purchased a car from him.....only to find that the woodburner never arrived neither did the wood we paid for in January..and when we went over in february the car vanished too. As we had been "advised" to leave all the documents with the veh we had no proof of what had happened and no recourse either . He took us for over a thousand euro ! Worst thing was that others eemed to know about him yet didnt want to worry us!!%&&&.
Ex pats are people I am now very wary of and will go local spanish all the way.Even in my broken spanish its better than being taken for a fool.
If you are in the Alcala la real area please be wary of this bloke!

Patricia said:
30 June 2011 @ 14:05

Another absolutely great article, Justin! And in particular Point 5. Yep. Dick Turpin rides the "costas".


Mickey Spillane said:
30 June 2011 @ 12:14

Happens in France as well...Brits ripping off Brits so beware !!

haravardu said:
30 June 2011 @ 09:21

Spot-on Justin. And Tenerife has identical issues with respect to British 'tradesmen'.
Any chance of including the Canaries, especially Tenerife, in your regular coverage?

midasgold said:
30 June 2011 @ 08:59

Nice photo Justin.Good likeness ?
Only jokeing mate! Great article.

Como tu quieres said:
30 June 2011 @ 03:48

You forgot "In the name of Charity anything and everything goes." Yes times are tough. If they(the City & Guild Guys)Can't ripoff ex-pats here they will go back and ripoff ex-pats back in UK. There is no escape.

como tu quieres said:
30 June 2011 @ 03:36

Justin you are absolutely RIGHT That Tuti Fruti Spanish at an an arrogant volume makes me equally Red. The Flashing of €100.00 or minimum of €50 crisp notes for a Kilo of onions or €5.00 a pair of bedroom sleepers in the Markets has led to "a pric (price) for los Giris," "another pric for los extranjeros who speak only English," and "a PRICE for those who make an effort have lots of coins and make an effort to ask in The language of their adopted home.

As for Ex-pats ripping off Ex-pats Just seems Normal as its UK price because it comes with a guarantee of 25 years of experience Of the literacy and numeracy "City & Guild Qualified. Bravo Bravo Bravisimo. I deal With all Spanish suppliers including plumbers,carpenters etc; even cleaning ladies who will charge at least €4.00 per hr. for all our clients and always brief them when they first come over with exactly these 5 donts'. Honesty, hard work, value for money and explaining them that This is Spain and NOT Britain and watch how you tread brings you not just more clients but life long friends and joy of living the Spanish way of life. What really makes me sad is the fact that despite of bad experiences of ex-pats with Ex-pats they still keep on becoming victims again and again. Especially with the British TV business, It seems the louts keep coming over,disappearing leaving them with No TV Channels once again for the 3rd or 4th time. In our urbanization the new president is taking the so called 50 members of TV: Club (Set by the old president), who are left with No British it was transmitted illegally for 14 months and are being taken to the court and all the community including the TV Club members have to pay for the legal coasts. The Brits are at war with each other here in Spain. "Should we laugh or should we cry"! Justin What do you think? :( :)

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