The Other Version Of Expat Life In Spain

Published on 07/06/2011 in Expat Life

Whether this will interest other Eye on Spain readers, I do not know, but, whilst greatly enjoying the articles here, it strikes me that there is a group of expats who rarely feature. So, I thought I would fly the flag and give a brief flavour of life for those of us who are not here through choice.

Before questions arise as to how I get internet access in jail, I should explain that I am not referring to criminals but to business people ("what's the difference?" I hear you ask) and others who find themselves posted here. Spain's charms were not something we sought out; we have had them thrust upon us.

There's quite a community of us, mainly in Madrid and Barcelona - bankers and accountants, military personnel and engineers - and our experience of the country can be quite different from those who have chosen to move here, selecting their location.

MadridComparative costs seems to be a perennial topic on EoS. This subject looks quite different if you've moved from working in central London or New York. A Metro journey costing one euro instead of four pounds, rent on a four bed house with shared pool, 20 minutes from the office, being EUR1200 - whilst a two bed house an hour from the office in London costs GBP2400.

Perhaps surprisingly, given we're a group who never planned to be in Spain, there seems to be an overwhelmingly positive view of the location: city life, the beauties of the surrounding countryside, the food, the weather. Advance knowledge varies from person to person - but it may be that those who come to Spain at short notice with few prior expectations naturally find it a better experience, as they do not have preconceptions which may get disappointed.

The downsides? In common with our compatriots on the coast, some of us also struggle in our attempts to gain the language. Those who have given up jobs to accompany their spouse or partner in their career move find it very difficult to find work here. And this may lead into a major problem from the corporate perspective: it's challenging to persuade people to take up a role in Spain. This seems to be in part because the country is viewed as off the beaten track from a corporate perspective, but also significantly because dual career couples may struggle to find work for the other half.

Endeavouring to provide a practical conclusion, I'll attempt to offer some tentative advice, both for those who find themselves posted to Spain and for those with an active desire to move here.

If you are considering a role in Spain, I would encourage you to go for it. From a business perspective, the country will be embarking on a great deal of change - many IPOs planned, probably more mergers and acquisitions to enliven things. From a personal perspective, Spain is more distinct than most European countries, and there are few cities to rival the mix of culture and outdoor activities easily on hand in both Madrid and Barcelona.

If your dream is to live in Spain, I would urge you not to forget the inland heart of the country. Stunning scenery, medieval walled towns, great city life. There is some work for English speakers - more, inevitably, for those with Spanish as well - especially in secretarial and administrative roles, but also in IT. You will see some adverts in English on the Spanish job boards - they are posted as such specifically to attract native and fluent speakers.

And for those of you who have already made your homes on the coast - do visit the capital! A swift train ride delivers you to Madrid from most points around the country, and here you can find everything from fascinating historical sites to some of the world's best galleries, to absolutely first rate food. You may even bump into an unintentional expat whilst here. Do say hello if you do.

Written by: Stuart B

About the author:

The author is a British expat based in Madrid.

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Louise said:
11 June 2011 @ 10:38

A good read! Nice to read something positive about living in Spain. We're planning on moving over in a couple of years but won't need to find jobs that aren't there! We'll make sure before we leave that we have set up enough investments to provide us with an income before we go! We're also planning on living slightly inland rather on the Costas so we get to live the 'Real Spain'!

Stuart B said:
10 June 2011 @ 09:57

Thanks to all for your most kind comments.

In answer to Clive's question, I'm in a corporate role here, working for an IBEX35 firm (ie, one of the larger public companies in Spain).

I'm a Brit, previously I've been a corporate expat in Ghana but otherwise, although I've spent a large part of my time abroad, I've always been UK resident.

For the future, I still maintain a home in England, so I'd expect to go back there sometime - if not for a few years yet.

Cecilia said:
08 June 2011 @ 16:45

I read your article with interest, I was posted to Valencia 5 years ago, the British Army and my NATO colleagues looked after my family and I very well. We were provided with valuable information before we arrived and fully supported whilst here. My family enjoyed it so much that when I retired from the Army in 2009 we stayed in Valencia, my husband is employed, my children attend the local village school and we have integreted well into the local community. It was difficult breaking the ties from the military and going it alone but we have grown as people during this time and now find we can use our knowledge and experience to help and advise others. I have only one frustration and that is that all school and official correspondence is in Valenciano, I understand the need for the Region to promote their historic language but it makes it more difficult for expats. I did not know of Valencia and its customs until I was posted here and I thank the person who selected me for the job as they helped me find such a lovely place in the sun.

Patricia said:
08 June 2011 @ 13:38

Totally agree B. Marshall. Of course they do things differently in Spain. Mind you, you had better not vocie those opinions over on the forums here LOL.

I came to Spain first time in the final years of the Franco regime, so you can imagine the changes over those years. I worked with and for Spanish people, and made many Spanish friends. You can go a long way if you smile, try to see it the way others see it, stop criticising, and to quote a Spanish saying: "se cazan más moscas con miel que con hiel".
Don't get me started on the ghettos on the coasts!!


B. Marshall said:
08 June 2011 @ 12:21

How refreshing and positive. I have always wondered why people "dream" of moving to Spain, only to complain that they do not speak Enligh in town halls, health centres etc., that we foreigners have to register and carry identity cards (like the Spanish do - and which we now have managed to be replaced with our passports and an A-4 letter), and that they in general do things differently from us. And Stuart B - you are right. Get out of the ghettos on the coast and visit the country inland - it is amazing, beautiful, and so diverse from region to region.

RoyW said:
08 June 2011 @ 11:27

Great article. Everytime we visit Spain we find new and interesting places along the way, and friendly Spanish people too. Shame our dream of moving to Spain failed due to the financial crisis and housing bust, but at least we can look to renting long term in the future and spend more time getting to know Spain and improving on our spanish.

clive said:
08 June 2011 @ 11:21

very good article
I would of been interested in a little of what type of job brought you personally to Spain
and where you have lived before

and what your hopes were in terms of living for the future

Peter said:
08 June 2011 @ 10:41

An intelligent, well written and balanced article. The language barrier is a constant problem, although [as mentioned in another response] the british do seem to have greater difficulties in general than other europeans.

Susan Starling said:
08 June 2011 @ 10:10

Great article! Thank you for offering this highly interesting perspective. It's fascinating to hear a corporate view on the future prospects for Spain. And I fully agree that despite some price increases, the cost of living in Spain is still quite low, even from the point of view of an expat in one of the less expensive capitals (Berlin).

Bill said:
08 June 2011 @ 10:03

If you get transfered to Madrid and maintain a north European salary you will find your standard of living double overnight. And you will still be a two hour flight from home. However you may find it hard to integrate since you will probably be in an English speaking environment which makes it difficult to learn Spanish.

It is also possible to move to Madrid without a job and without speaking Spanish and easily pick up a (low paid) job teaching English. Perhaps more surprisingly you can do the same and pick up a better paid IT job (if you have IT skills) although they are not so easy to come by at the moment. The pay for good IT workers is not much different to the UK (outside London). (sorry to contradict you here Pat Lee - but a few of us have managed it ;-) )

Frank said:
08 June 2011 @ 09:31

A brilliant article, and so well written. As a former prison officer who enjoys spain and is enjoying learning Spanish I find this article fascinating from several angles. Its descriptions of living in Spain and about Spain itself are so true and well articulated. The article also shows what I have always known that you will find intelligent thoughtful and decent humanity as well as the bad of course in all walks of life. (Even businessmen. LOL)
Best wishes Frank

Frank said:
08 June 2011 @ 09:29

A brilliant article, and so well written. As a former prison officer who enjoys spain and is enjoying learning Spanish I find this article fascinating from several angles. Its descriptions of living in Spain and about Spain itself are so true and well articulated. The article also shows what I have always known that you will find intelligent thoughtful and decent humanity as well as the bad of course in all walks of life.
Best wishes Frank

marion Allen said:
08 June 2011 @ 09:29

Thank you so much for this stimulating article - it has added to my personal awareness of this country and broadened my understanding of a whole different part of the community here.
Sounds like a potential Association or annual jamboree in the making......maybe someone could come up with an anacronym ...LISBON (Living In Spain By Others Needs) mmmm well I dont have time to do a better one - I am off to a lovely Fine arts meeting and then have to prepare for the English singing choir this evening....ah this is the (retired) life! All the best to you who are working and making a life in Spain.

pat lee said:
08 June 2011 @ 08:10

all very true, if you get the chance to be offered a job in Spain , go for it .
Dont go, if you are looking for a job , even in IT .
Creating your own job is sometimes an alternative, but your rate of success can be disappointing , especially if you rely too much on the ex pat community .
Plenty of small seasonal jobs , if you brush up your spanish , but competition is now fierce from other eastern EU countries , as they happen to master basic spanish in a few weeks
only .
So, if you are young or experienced , healthy and not utterly broke and desperate , try it .
Spain really is welcoming to those who bring something of use .
And I dont mean another pub , free zine , estate
agent , etc.. these days are gone .

Paul Whitelock said:
08 June 2011 @ 07:31

Well, after the build-up I was expecting something much more negative than what we actually got from you, Stuart B. I'm glad that your article was positive about life living in Spain, even if it wasn't planned or desired.
You're absolutely right about the importance of having Spanish. If I didn't speak fluent Spanish (I'm a graduate in Spanish, was a Spanish teacher in the UK, then a languages inspector, now a freelance translator/interpreter) I wouldn't enjoy living here as much as I do.
Nice article!

Terry S said:
08 June 2011 @ 07:28

An excellent article. I have only been a visitor to Spain and we did take the opportunity to visit Madrid and the coastal resorts. I found Spain a beautiful country with a lot to offer inland and at the coast. I would return tomorrow and consider living there.

Patricia said:
08 June 2011 @ 01:48

I came to Spain some decades ago, and certainly not in search of the sun. Fascination? Yes. I was taught Spanish from age 13 in my home country at secondary school, then took a languages degree, and then studied at Granada University. I knew a lot about the country and its culture long before moving to Spain, as my parents sent me to Spain for a Summer while still a student. My husband is Spanish.
All of what you say above is true Stuart.


Steve said:
08 June 2011 @ 01:25

An interesting alternative view. Thanks for sharing. I am constantly surprised how many "Corporate expats" there are in Stockholm. Again, they seem to have a generally very positive attitude. I have lived here so long in Spain that the UK would be "foreign" to me after just one visit in 10 years. Perhaps we all have wanderlust in our DNA nowadays.

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