Relocating to Spain – The Settling in Period

Published on 15/11/2006 in Relocating to Spain

Moving house is considered to be one of the most stress inducing events that you can experience in your life. In fact, some say that it is up there with redundancy and divorce. So what about moving house and moving country at the same time?

Nobody said it was going to be easy but I witness so many Brits who come to live the sunshine dream only to pack up shortly afterwards and return to the motherland. Of course, some are forced to return against their will due to financial reasons but many just cannot settle. Once the holiday period is over, real life begins and once the novelty of three hundred days of sunshine per year wears off, many Brits regret their move.

Their move to Spain is usually long anticipated and on departure they vow never to return to the UK but after the huge build up, they often experience an anti-climax period which can result in depression. Every individual case is unique but there are similar push factors pertaining to different social groups depending on age, gender, retired, working etc.

Here are the main factors; some of them will apply more generally than others:

Feelings of Loneliness and Isolation

This can affect different groups from the very young to the very old.

Children in Spanish schools who miss their friends from the UK. Not being able to speak Spanish in school is also isolating.

Mothers of babies and young children. In Spain, there is no health visitor as in the UK. You have to be quite self-sufficient and proactive at researching mums and tots groups. These will usually consist of a group of expat mothers meeting in each others houses. Spanish mothers usually rely on their families and friends for support, both emotional and physical.

Young singles may have been excited by the prospect of living and working in the sun but soon realise that they still have to work long hours to pay the rent whilst the sun shines outside. In fact Spanish office hours differ from the UK in that after a longer lunch break, staff return to work until up to nine in the evening. They also find that the friendships that they left behind break down as people move on. On the other hand, those who do keep in touch with their friends soon get fed up with them scrounging cheap, boozy breaks whilst they still have to get up for work every morning.

Retired people may have been planning their move for years and were just waiting for retirement. Many feel lost and lonely without the job that also provided them with a social network.

People who lose a partner through separation, divorce or death certainly miss the familiarity of the UK when trying to cope with their loneliness.

Whilst some people shy away from their fellow expats, many people find the community to be a useful support network. However, people agree that they can never replace their friends from the UK and some even complain about being taken advantage of by more needy individuals.

Missing Family and Friends

Where leaving family and friends are concerned, people will always justify their move with claims such as “It’s only two hours away by plane!” Don’t forget your journey to the airport, waiting there and then your plane journey. If you are used to seeing the grandchildren every Sunday, you will experience an inevitable void in your week for a while. Realistically, it will be hard to cope with the physical distance if you have lived around the corner from your old school friends for the past twenty years. The dynamics of your friendships will change and so will you. If you stay in Spain, you will probably make new and different friends.


It is true that the Spanish Costas have a well developed infrastructure which is one of the main reasons why they attract so many expats. However, this does not mean that services are well organised and efficient. In fact, life can sometimes feel like one long, frustrating goose chase. This frustration can be exacerbated by the language barrier and lack of cultural knowledge. The only way around this is not to expect efficiency and to relax about things. You may need to re-prioritise and question your need for deadlines. If you don’t then you inflict unnecessary stress upon yourself which will prevent you from enjoying your life in Spain.


The younger your child is, the easier it is to put them into the state system which is of a good standard and free. If you have older children you may prefer International School with other expat children and Spanish children from middle class, professional backgrounds. For further information on educating your child in Spain read the schools in Spain article. Private, international schools are not cheap and many families return to the UK because their child cannot settle in school. Likewise, some adults return to retrain or study because they are unable to find the necessary courses etc in Spain.

Health Reasons

Although the UK NHS system receives its fair share of criticism, many Brits suffering from ongoing illness may return for it because it offers a familiar system that they can trust. Although there are many good English speaking doctors, nurses etc on the Costa del Sol, many people find it reassuring to receive care from a native speaker in their own familiar territory. Click on link for information on healthcare in Spain.


Some people never get over the feeling of general homesickness. This can be triggered by a multitude of factors including missing their leisure pursuits in the UK to their centrally heated carpeted home.

I am sure that if you ask any expat in Spain, they can come up with at least one aspect of UK life that they miss. But after so much preparation and planning involved in relocating, anybody returning must have good reason to do so. Everybody’s response to change is different and the adaptation period will vary greatly depending on personality and previous experiences of change. However, very few people can adapt overnight and expats should take their time to settle in and ensure that they have the right positive mental attitude.

Here are some points for anybody who is unsure about their new life in Spain:

1)  Make an effort to learn Spanish. Start with listening in on conversations to get a feel for the rhythm and join up at a local Spanish class. It is even better to start lessons before you leave the UK.

2)  Take your time and only do what you are comfortable with. Some people will throw themselves into new friendships and later sift out the good from the bad whilst others prefer their own company until they feel more settled.

3)  Do lots of research. Find out everything you can about your new life in Spain via the internet and books.

4)  Try something new everyday. It could be something simple like new food or go into a new shop.

5) Get online to email friends and family back home.

6)  Continue your hobbies or take up new ones appropriate to your new lifestyle.

7)  Accept your homesick days. It is natural to miss your familiarity.

8)  Try not to get too frustrated by the inevitable day to day hurdles of life in Spain. Everything gets resolved in the end.

9)  Adapt your timetable to suit your new lifestyle.

10)  Go exploring. Spain is a vast country with lots to offer. Aim to visit a different place every weekend.

11)  Do not be hard on yourself if you feel unsettled. It can take up to three years to adjust for some people.

12)  If you are renting, try to make your rental property as homely as possible by putting up pictures of family and adding your own personal touches.

13)  If you have children, it is even more important that you learn Spanish as they will follow by example. Be positive about the whole experience as you will have a direct effect on their mood.

14)  Do not compare it to the UK. Enjoy Spain for what it is and make the most of its many qualities. Remember the reasons why you chose to leave the UK in the first place.

Written by: Susan Pedalino

About the author:

Women In Spain

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