Who's Left in Spain?

Published on 25/01/2011 in Expat Life

I think at the moment everyone is thinking the same “how on earth are non-retired expats surviving in Spain?”.  Good question, I do wonder how there is anyone left here under 55! Saying that I sometimes wonder how retirees are enjoying a good standard of living considering eating out and so on has become so expensive here. If the sun doesn’t shine in the winter which it didn’t last year at all, I fail to see what the big attraction is of life here if you are on a budget.

Empty benchesWhen I think of the UK with it’s meal deals, for example, 2 for ten pounds, bus passes which take you all over the country and just cheaper and more plentiful entertainment in general, I think living here can be a bit of a compromise. Can anyone convince me that it is better here for retirees? I haven’t lived in the UK for quite some time so I tend to forget what real day to day life is really like there.

I was in a nearby town the other day doing a bit of shopping. Five years ago you would have undoubtedly heard an English voice around every corner, in every shop, in the car park, in fact the place was crawling with Brits. It was a beautiful sunny day and people were sat outside the coffee shops basking in the sunshine but not one of them was British. Not even one single retired Brit. So, where is everyone?

Well, apparently there are still plenty of us about. In my children's’ class (they are twins so they are in the same class) there are eight English children including them! That’s a third of the class! So evidently there are people left but what is keeping them going?

We are conveniently located on the Malaga/Cadiz border which means that most of the childrens’ parents work in Gibraltar. But what about those further away from Gibraltar? I can only guess that many people are living on “el paro” which doesn’t last forever or making their way through their savings. I have to admit that at least half of the faces that I used to see going around, young and old, have disappeared. Many of those people actually bought property here. I cannot imagine that they all managed to sell before they went back. I can only guess that they simply walked away or they are lucky enough to get their places rented.

We have been here for six and a half years. I cannot definitely say that we will be here in six and a half years time. Can anyone be so sure? It does surprise me the amount of people that remain here struggling, living from hand to mouth denying themselves and their families of opportunities. I am not saying that the UK holds all the solutions but if you simply couldn’t progress or use your skills to make a living, wouldn’t you go back to somewhere where you knew you had more chance? They seem to forget that it was their fruits of their work back home that allowed them to come and set up a new life in Spain in the first place.

I was at a party over Christmas and I got talking to a lady in her eighties. She was telling me that she had lived here twenty years ago for about six years. She went back to England when her husband passed away. So I think that is the nature of being an expat in Spain. I think that for many, probably most, it is a temporary passage of time maybe two years, even as much as ten or eleven, that eventually runs its course and leaves you ready to go back. Of course, peoples current financial circumstances are driving people back prematurely but I can’t help thinking that it wouldn’t have been forever anyway.

That’s not to say that nobody goes the distance. I know of expats that have been here for nearly as long as I have been alive, some even longer and I would take the risk in saying that they are definitely here to stay and also those who are married to locals have more of a sense of permanency about them. Having said that I know of a lady who married a local albeit in her home town in Wales, they came here to live, he couldn’t find work here despite having the necessary contacts etc.

So, there are some left, they just don’t feel as in your face as they were in the beginning. Maybe I have just become blind to them but they don’t seem so obvious anymore.

It’s definitely a lot quieter on the expat front.

Are you seeing the same thing in your area? Leave your comment below.

Written by: Susan Pedalino

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Women In Spain

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Elaine said:
03 May 2013 @ 09:53

We've lived in Spain 23 years and now want to return to UK. The money position is just impossible. Paying for social security, taxes, etc. We rent our house and live elsewhere in the summer. We've done every job imaginable over the years and now we are exhausted trying. The problem is we can't sell the house, we struggle to pay our small mortgage etc. We never thought we would want to return. But the sun doesn't pay the bills. So difficult now. We're gutted.

MelS said:
16 January 2013 @ 14:42

We are a young family in our forties with a daughter of 11 years old. We moved to Spain 10 years ago and have loved every minute of it. The people are friendly, we have intergrated really well and all speak excellent Spanish. My husband has had to go back to the UK to work as the work situation here is zero for anyone under retirement age who needs to work. We do not get any medical as we have to pay 324 euros per month as a self-employed person which we cannot afford. Although we all love living here, it is now almost impossible to make ends meet each month and are considering returning to the UK, where we still have many good friends who all seem to be doing better than we are. It is certainly very different for anyone on holiday here or a retired expat, to anyone of our age trying to work. We speak Spanish, intergrated and have tried everything, but we think enough is enough. any thoughts on moving back to the UK. would like to hear from anyone that has moved back due to the work situation with children.

valerie said:
28 June 2011 @ 12:05

ive been thinking of coming to Spain to live Alicante area was hoping to meet other brits retired ex brits just need new life getting very dissatisfied with uk the last winter was awful to get yr roads gritted well dont go there... we we stuck in our road for over a week solid ice hadnt been gritted dont do side roads !!!there appears to be an apathy in this country and yes petrol prices thru the roof a lot of people struggling... time for a change i think cant be any worse can it??

Clare said:
28 February 2011 @ 14:11

Hi there
I am a UK magazine journalist writing an article on Brits who have moved to Spain and are struggling because of the economy.
I'd urgently like to speak to a retired British couple who have moved to Spain and are now trying to move back to the UK but can't sell their property - or had to sell it at a very reduced rate.
I only need a few quotes and a small picture of you - and can pay a fee for your time.
If you are interested please email clare.freelance@gmail.com - I need to speak to someone today.

Manzanilla said:
08 February 2011 @ 20:44

My partner and I took early retirement and moved to a pueblo blanco in Andalucia four years ago. When we arrived there were 30 British expats here, now there are just 12 and half of those would go back if they could.

We on the other hand have no intention nor desire to leave, we have made this our home and this is in all likelihood where we will end our days. So why are we different? Various things come to mind.

We don't have any family in the UK (missing the grandchildren seems to be a key factor in older people's unhappiness here).

We worked very hard to become fluent in Spanish before we came, and this has been really important. Being able to talk to people, help them with their English and their translations, read the local papers, go on outings organised by the Ayuntamiento, etc etc, has helped us enormously to become part of the community. We still enjoy the company of our fellow countrymen but we could survive socially without them.

We aren't particularly patriotic. We don't have satellite British TV or chase round the supermarkets looking for British food. When we talk about "home", we don't mean England. We support the Spanish football team and cheer when Nadal beats Murray. Some people look on us as traitors! But if you choose to live in a country, life is much more pleasant if you make it your own, rather than hankering after what you have left behind.

We like the fact that Spain still feels like a foreign land and an adventure. There are so many places to see in this country, we have hardly made a dent in it yet. If we could afford it, life would be a perpetual holiday, but we have to ration our treats.

I was pleased to read so many comments here from other people who still prefer life in Spain. And for those who do go back to the UK, I guess by the time El Camerón has finished with it it won't resemble the place they left behind.

Ian said:
01 February 2011 @ 14:35

We are an early retired couple on fixed pension income and have been living in a mostly Brit community up in the mountains behind Alicante for the past eight years. The high euro has hit hard and we do not go on as many 'jaunts' as we did but fortunately my pensions can ride the storm. I pick up a lot of friends from the airport after their trips to the UK and the first thing they say is 'light', and are thankful for their return. Where we live the winter temperature often drops below zero at night and can be cold during the day but we have the sun and the light.

Charlotte said:
28 January 2011 @ 18:30

Having lived here for 8 years and sold up in the UK, I'm not sure I could afford to move back to UK especially considering all my money is tied up in my lovely but negative equity little apartment! Ho hum. We'll just have to make the best of it for now.

bob Manning said:
27 January 2011 @ 12:11

I read your article with interest, but having made the mistake of returning to the UK once before I would never do it again.
I moved out to the Granada coast in the mid '80s and spent the best 15 years of my life there, it was not an easy life as the only work was the same as avalible to the local poulation (Buiding and working in the plastic greenhouses) but the warmth of the locals and the richness of spanish life was truly an fulfilling bonus, and I have made many true frends there my twin sons both married spanish girls and we became part of an extended family. Life was at times harsh for everyone but we alo helped and supported each other in a real comunity way (I didnt even know the people in my street in the UK, save the odd 'hello'). The 'grass is greener syndrom' finaly got the better of my wife and we returned to the UK in time for the milleniam, What a culture shock!!!!!! all of the things listed above and more and resulted in the break up of our marrage it took me 5 years of hard work to get back here an are now in Mijhas Pueblo and I decided to write a book on that period of time which is now in progress. I need to finance this by working as an Handyman/ gardener an work has become very thin on the ground and times are hard but my current Partner works in a bilingual nusery whch is a god send:We pay 325€ rent which includes Council Tax our bins are emptied EVERY day and the locals in this village are every bit as warm I think we'll ride it out.....

David Holmes said:
26 January 2011 @ 20:11

Retired to our apartment in Marbella six months ago. Sure the Euro is more expensive than it once was, but what price great weather and an amazing choice in market-fresh produce. Having been in the UK during December we were stunned by the cost of car fuel and that of food in the supermarkets; we weren't too happy with the freezing winter conditions either. I guess that most people relocated here in a spirit of adventure, and before it became too late to enjoy it to the full. Unfortunately for some they didn't factor in a much more expensive Euro and greater competition for work.

Jan said:
26 January 2011 @ 17:47

We are planning for a move to the Costa del Sol next year. We spoke to many expats during our visit this month and all have lived in Spain for 10 years or more and preferred life in Spain to the UK. Of course having enough money to live on is the main priority. Rents are cheaper, UK utility bills (consider £200 per month), UK council tax (£130 per month)food cheaper is if you source local produce, our colds and chesty coughs disappeared and our aches and pains. We can't wait!!

praguepix said:
26 January 2011 @ 14:56

We retired early, well before the 'official' retirement age, sold up our business, our commercial premises and properties we owned here and in Canada.
We spent three interesting years in Prague then decided to move on to Spain where our family owns properties.
We intend to stay here for maybe five years or so then move on, to France, perhaps.
Our big advantage is not having property. We can move as, where and when we wish. We have rented large houses in Prague and here in Spain - houses we would not wish to buy.
We both enjoy the 'free' things of life in Spain - the beach, the sun, the walks in the campo.
Whilst our lifestyle is not 'luxurious' it is certainly comfortable and decidely more enjoyable than if we lived in the UK.
However....there are things we most definitely would never have considered when we decided to move to Spain.
These are: coming with expectations of employment; coming with inadequate resources (we budgeted for a 1:1 £/euro rate);buying property; even thinking about buying offplan if we had been contemplating house purchase; living in a British area; coming to Spain without a reasonable fluency in the Spanish language - it helped that I had worked as an interpreter/translator.
Many people who come to Spain and find themselves less content than they expected may be so because they did not do sufficient planning. TV programmes and pleasant holiday memories have a lot to answer for!
Before we moved to Prague I had visited literally scores of times over three decades and had good friends there. But nothing had prepared me for the experience of living a 'normal' daily life in a foreign country.
People do need to be aware of the enormity of the step they are taking when they decide to move to Spain.
Living daily life is in no way like a two week holiday!

yvonne said:
26 January 2011 @ 13:53

Hang on in there is my advice. Id love to come and live in Spain. Nothing worth coming home for. Cold weather, no proper summers, only ones a flood, fuel prices through the roof, food prices in the shops rising weekly, dirty hospitals, our local hospital has had restricted visiting for over a month because of viruses.Wait a week to see a GP, if youre ill they "dont do home visits",no proper jobs, the whole place runs on agency workers. No job security anymore, employers can do as they like and say if you dont like it go!! Dustbins empties once a fortnight if youre lucky,3 weeks if theres a bank holiday. No.Stay there is my advice, theres nothing to come back for. Just wish I could escape, Id be over there tomorrow.

Sanchez1 said:
26 January 2011 @ 13:36

Spain has 21% unemployment. The UK has 7.5% unemployment. Going back to the UK is a no brainer for those below retirement age in my opinion.

Mike Appleton said:
26 January 2011 @ 12:00

Great article, we have a home in Formentera del Segura but still live in the UK and are fast coming up to retirement age. Yet believe me, if you think that the UK will be a better place for your family "think again". Sure you can find places to eat "at two for £10" and beer at £1.20 a pint "most of them are full from morning till night" with people who have never done a days work in their life and all our taxes pay for.
Spain is in a mess with out doubt but the UK is a far more expensive place to live, "house prices, rates, water, gas, electric, food and travel" and that is not even making mention of taxes.
Over recent years Spain has seen a steady line of people leaving the country to return home to the UK, Holland, Germany etc but be fair, a lot of this is down to the value of the euro.

Spain and the UK are both great places and everyone must make their own minds up, which is for them "but when it comes to Spain being more expensive than the Uk" sorry not true.

Have a great day.

Mike Appleton.

Scott Rayner said:
26 January 2011 @ 11:59

If you were reliant on your state pension only you would be definately struggling to exist in Spain. I agree with one of the other comments that there are many of us who spend p/t in Spain and p/t in our home country. I feel that I am in a privalleged position to be able to spend times in both countries. I get the benefit of the difference in cultures, landscapes and of course climate. In addition I have work at home which allows me to spend as much time away as I need. I must admit after spending last weekend in Spain where it was wet and the villa felt cold, a roaring fire, carpets and insulation available in Oxford was quite appealing.

John Scott said:
26 January 2011 @ 11:41

A thought provoking article, with no right or wrong solution, I think a great deal depends upon just how much money you have available to live on. It has to be said life with little or no money , life in either country, is no bowl of cherries. I have been involved in selling Freehold property in Spain (UK based) for over 20 years, and have often been asked, why, if Spain is that good, don't I live there ? I always responded by explaning that I had children at either school, college, or university,and of course a business based in the UK. I did however manage to own a property in the UK and one in Spain, this was only possible due to working seven days most weeks and having the good fortune to sell a lot of property. My son who now works for me cannot get a foot on the UK property market at present, so will have to continue to save as much money as possible to acheive the requisite deposit and fees etc, just like thousands of other young people.
On balance, I consider Spain is still slightly cheaper for cost of living , property is without doubt the lowest price for years, but ,job prospects ZERO. I think I will carry on tooing and froing, for forseeable. John.

David said:
26 January 2011 @ 10:28

Interesting article. My wife and I are in our middle 50's. We live in the Inland Costa Blanca. We have been here for just a little over 6 years and we live on a guaranteed private pension.
We have a Villa with pool etc on a reasonably large plot of land. Due to a shoulder injury, we have recently advertised our property for sale with local agents. Basically we want to 'downsize' to a smaller property with less land to look after. Although we love our house.
If we are lucky enough to sell in these uncertain economic times, we have considered a return to the UK, as we do miss the family. However, all of our family are telling us not to return to the UK as we do have a better lifestyle here in Spain.
There are a very good number of Brits in our town as it is a highly sought after inland town with low rates etc. but as Susan has commented, you do not see as many Brits around as you used to a few years ago.
If we do sell, do we stay or do we go?

Steve1 said:
26 January 2011 @ 09:04

Susan, thought provoking article but you paint quite a rosy picture of the UK. I've never known the UK to be in so desperate a state. Petrol prices, tax increases and job cuts are making this a fairly miserable place to live right now. At lot of folk here are just realising that their standard of living is actually falling rather than getting better. An thats before we even start to talk about the weather that decimated businesses before Xmas (my own business effectively stopped dead for 4 weeks).
There are most certainly problems in Spain too but I wonder whether its simply a case of the grass is greener.

Steve Dimmock said:
26 January 2011 @ 08:10

Hi , I read your article with interest and is indeed food for thought , I live in France at present but own a property in Spain which we visit when we can , We left the UK 11 years ago due to my wife being re-located in her job , when we go back to the UK it isnt long before we are happy to go back to France or Spain , the life is so different ! sometimes when you live somewhere for a period of time you think the grass on the other side is greener , not always , I know where I prefer to live !!

Trevor Harvey said:
26 January 2011 @ 03:19

A useful and insightful article, Susan, and thank you for it. But the myth of the country-wide bus pass has sadly passed into history. I qualify next year. I understand they are now eligible only for local journeys. The habit of some pensioners to travel thousands of miles annually on their BPs was not (apparently) sustainable. As far as spending just a few years in Spain, or staying longer, a good friend over-winters in the country. Even a comparatively sunless winter is warmer and ice-free on the Costas. Fuel in the UK is prohibitively expensive so the economics are sensible, it seems. Also, sunlight (not sunshine, note) exceeds the levels back home, both in hours and in intensity, so S.A.D. sufferers, like my pal, find Spain a lot less depressing - it's a life or death matter to him, as his S.A.D is so severe. These are just some of the many factors other than pure cash that influence the decision to become an ex-pat Brit. I yearn to do so. Here's hoping, but for several reasons (land grabs, taxes, wills, fees, opportunity to try different places out and the ability to respond to changes in family circumstances in the UK) I'd rent out the UK home and rent one in Spain, I think. I imagine many others will be doing likewise, but it of course means insuring properly the UK house and being a taxable landlord. I'd like to read more by people who have done this, and their experiences.

Graham said:
26 January 2011 @ 03:12

Interesting article as I am considering seriously moving at least 70% of myself (only me, no family) to Spain this year. So whilst there may be a drop in Brits in one demographic, say under 55 workers with families, they may be replaced by other demographics such as semi-retired or retired singles and couples with no dependants. These may be able to take advantage, like myself, of the low property prices now in Spain if they have cash reserves. I recognise also that some retired people who moved to Spain some years ago and took out mortgages may be forced to move back to the UK due to being unable to pay those mortgages from their UK GBP pension with the current value of the Euro but I am not sure how many Brits are in that position. The prospects for the UK economy, tax rises, cuts in public services and rising unemployment etc.. looks bleak and the weather is abysmal as normal, December being the coldest on record. So from my perspective Spain still looks an attractive place to at least take up some residency in and i expect the Brits to flock back to Spain when conditions are right.

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