Living in Spain – top tips?

And from the sunny Iberian peninsula, the temperature coming through La Linea on the way to the Gib frontier this afternoon was a rather nice 27 degrees Celsius.

While weeding my path this morning, I was thinking about people who move to Spain and make so many classic mistakes.

Easy to say after ten years and more of living here.

We have seen so many people come for that ‘Life in the Sun’ – and move right back to the UK. Or get divorced. Or both.

So here are some top tips.

1) You are not coming on permanent holiday (unless you are exceedingly rich). If you can’t afford to eat out every night in the UK, why do you think you can afford to do it in Spain?

We have seen so many people spend their money on eating out all the time:

‘We always eat out once a day.’

‘I do cook a meal at home once a week.’

If you have a pension, and you can afford that sort of expenditure, fine. But if you come before a pension age (which must now be approaching 80 the way governments keep escalating qualifying age), without sufficient capital, that lovely eating-out lifestyle won’t last. Or rather you won’t.

2) The same applies to the bars. A lot of Spaniards we know drink at home. When they drink. They certainly think it is somewhat tonto to give money to someone else when they can buy it cheaper in the supermarket.

Sure, some drink loads in bars. Most don’t. They may spend a while there with one drink. We learned quickly that any more than two drinks in one bar and people – even British bar staff/owners – tend to think you have more money than sense.

3) Renting. Uf! If you have sold your UK property and you have realised your capital assets, renting is hardly the most clever move. Short-term while you are looking for a property maybe. But once you start approaching the 12 month mark you need to reconsider. You are messing around, not making a decision, eating into your capital, but hey! someone else is taking your money so they will love you as long as you keep paying that dead money to them.

Don’t. Unless it is to me of course.

4) Jobs. There is a worldwide recession and has been for years. These things go in cycles in case you haven’t noticed. If there are no jobs in the UK (or wherever else you live) why do you think Spain will provide jobs? Especially to people who don’t speak much Spanish and have no contacts. And moreso in Andalucía – the Costa del Sol – which has traditionally been poverty-stricken. Don’t be misled by visiting busy resorts where there are holiday-makers in bars, and non-Spaniards working there. There is no money around in Andalucía right now.

5) That gorgeous Castle in Spain finca set in the midst of olive groves with its own water (ie well), where you can grow your own stuff and live off the profits too. Yeah, we had that dream as well, and nearly bought it. Think again.

6) The UK is small, and we all dream of our little plot of land, detached from our neighbours, where we can peaceably live. Natch, there are loads of cheap places in Spain that exactly fit the bill. Well sort of. They are invariably miles out in the back of nowhere, and when you want to sell, because you are miles out in the back of nowhere – no-one wants to buy it. Why do you think the Spaniards want to sell it to you? Because they want a flat on the costa. Why do you think other Northern Europeans want to sell it to you? Because they are sick of it. Or skint.

7) Ten years or more back, when we were looking for places on the internet – via the never-ending dial-up – one person told us ‘Never dismiss semi-detached.’ Puffffff. We were moving to Spain because we wanted to afford a place without neighbours in our face, we wanted that space, we did NOT want someone next door. Even though we have always been lucky with brilliant neighbours.

Dear Reader. He was so right. We would never have learned the same great Spanish, learned about Spanish cooking, gardening, rendering, just everything really, about life in a Spanish pueblo without our Spanish neighbours with whom we share a wall. And who water my plants, and gave me four alcachofas this weekend etc etc. I am sure there are people who do buy huge detached plots and have similar neighbours, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to jump into new and foreign society when you have helpful neighbours literally over your wall.

8) If you think you have enough money – you are wrong. If you have doubled it, you are probably still wrong. If you have done your calculations with Net Present Value, you are more than likely to be wrong about that too. Treble your estimates or quadruple them – you may be getting there. You may still run out of money.

9) There is no cheap life in the sun.

10) Please don’t think you can come and live in southern Spain and pick up a job in Gib at the drop of a hat. Seriously.

Winter jasmine - a little place in the sun

35 comments on “Living in Spain – top tips?

  1. What a great list of tips, I know of one or two who’ve moved lock stock & barrel, thinking its going to be one long holiday, only to find it’s not what they thought, want to return to the UK, but can’t sell their property in Spain, and are now spiralling downhill in the financial stakes.


  2. I Realy hope I will prove you wrong on this one:)

    ” 10) Please don’t think you can come and live in southern Spain and pick up a job in Gib at the drop of a hat. Seriously”

    I’ll Be going to La Linea in May, without ever being there, no job as of yet, and with the hope to start a new modest life with my litle family.


    • I guess you will have done your research into housing, available jobs in your area of expertise/skill/quals/experience, schooling in Spain for any children, costs, so at least you will know what to expect. Wishing you good luck with your new start.


    • Thanks you. It is indeed with a gorgeous scent, the only shame is that unlike summer jasmine, which lasts for months, this one only lasts a few weeks. It’s the first year I can remember the winter jasmine being in full bloom and there are still flowers (not many) on the summer jasmine which usually stops flowering at exactly the moment the winter one starts.


  3. Thnx for including a photo of the jasmine along with the post. For me lush fragant jasmine is an appropriate symbol of aspirations to “la dolce vita” or whatever the Spanish equivalent is.Your tips are relevant for any sea/tree changers. We’re aiming in the next couple of years to make that change to our house in a country village but the reality we consider is we’ll be living the same very ordinary lives we do now but poorer for money whereas now we are time poor. We look at our neighbours and know we’ll be living like they do, modestly because every point you make above applies to us also. And yes, I agree, while I feel our neighbours are sometimes a little intrusive as far as my anti-social self goes, we’d be lost without them.


    • You’re right, I did choose a photo that sort of encapsulated people’s image of a life in the sun, so this one with the glorious flowers, a glimpse of the sea in the distance, and our typically white painted walls (the bricks aren’t ours :D) summed it up for me. It would be la vida dulce I suppose, pretty similar, except I’ve never heard anyone use it here!

      I threatened to do a piece on ‘uprooting’ some time ago, but not got around to it yet. It will prob be on Clouds though, as it will be more general. You are right though, these points (or adaptations of them) are relevant to people looking to change their life. I do have another one to add on here though, so I’ll try and do it today or tomorrow. I can’t remember – did you see my time rich/money poor etc series on Everypic?

      Anyway, I totally agree with everything you say and can empathise with your words. Especially having lived and worked in corporate Sydney – delivering a tea urn ;)


  4. And ever has it been so. My friend moved lock stock … to Germany, he had married a lovely lady from there. It was always going to be a ‘normal’ life just speaking a different language daily. It took 10 years before he felt he had started to actually be part of the life he wanted to lead. Nothing to do with friends neighbours family, more to do with his own head.
    I dream of a little smallholding, probably French, but the problems are difficult enough to overcome when you entirely understand the culture and language. My mother-in-law has sold her place in the Dordogne. It was just a place to visit, I could have lived there, the neighbours were brilliant etc etc.
    Thanks for the post thoroughly enjoyed.


    • Cheers Roy.
      We did toy with France and Portugal. And Greece. And Italy at one point.
      You are right of course, the main issues are getting your head around it all, realising it will be a different life, and managing your finances (ie no fat pay check every month) in a totally different fashion.
      Any small-holding would be nice, but ground never comes cheap in nice places and at the end of the day, you have to make sensible decisions where you invest your money in a property.
      Bit inconsiderate of the MIL, I must say. Think one of my friends bought a place there, I’ve been meaning to email her for the last three or four or maybe five years.


      • What’s a fat pay cheque, haven’t seen one of those for years? But seriously, Italy. In 198? there was an ad for a Permaculture venture being set up in Northern Italy, I did nearly throw it all in and go. Mrs P was heavily pregnant and persuaded me it would be better to stay where we were.
        Probably right but I am left wondering sometimes. The old ‘what if’


        • Never mind a fat one, I haven’t seen one at all for years.

          It was late v 80s/early 90s when we were looking at Italy. Of course, I’d lived there briefly as an au pair (of sorts). Actually we’ve always been considering everywhere at some point. It was just getting the wherewithal together to make the move and do it.

          There’s a right time to do these things I guess – whenever that may be, and obv it wasn’t right for you all. Would you have ended up with Italian Pickle? :D


          • Indeed we would. Also, my son has a thing about Italians. At school he would wear Italian football / rugby shirts and call himself by Italian sounding names. One I think was Don Phillipe Peroni I seem to remember.

            I think my spouse spent her travelling ambitions as a younger person when she bummed round the world for a bit ending up living in Australia for a while. Now she likes to be in the UK because of the seasons. Personally, I don’t mind summer but winter plays havoc with my joints (not the smoking variety) and some sun in December would be lovely if it comes without the damp.


          • Spouse sounds like me bumming around the world and ending up living in Aus :D
            And I like the seasons too. We get them here but not the same way. There is not enough sun in the Uk, and there is an excess of it here. Eso va la vida.

            I do like the winters, because they are great for walking cycling gardening – but they can be cold and damp too, and I think few people realise that. We all have joint problems at some point. Even the Landies.

            And speaking of Pickle, must dash to sort out my pickled cauliflower.


          • My friend spent time in Gib as an old salty. He told me about the damp and fog. Not quite as cold as here though methinks.

            Enjoy your cauliflower, I am about to pick some chard.


          • It’s not been foggy or wet this winter :( It’s always damp so you get used to that. Glorious now, just been on dog walk.

            No idea what the caul will be like, just looked on the tinties and threw a few spices into some boiling vinegar. It should work.

            My chard/spinach beet/acelgas patch is looking most healthy right now. Sharing it between me and the chicks :)


          • Sounds lovely, my Chard is not too bad but that’s all I have. Peas are starting to show as are the broad beans its all so slow.

            Been glorious today, poured yesterday tonight freezing. Hey ho.


  5. Great post.. Many, many people dream of living in these exotic (& yes, to North American people think Spain is exotic) places and like you said, do zero research. I’m at the age where moving across the world with limited financial means, no job, etc, well..not for me..
    Although I am moving from Florida in the next year, I am only moving a few states over and there is a job waiting.

    Much enjoyed your candor here :-)


    • Thanks :) I think working abroad is great for a year or two when you are young, to gain experience and live a different life. And you either stay there, or you go back to where you know the score, and sadly, have to get your nose to the grindstone and make some money.

      Now to me, Florida sounds exotic!! Wondered what your forthcoming changes were. Good luck with it. Right now, everyone needs to keep an eye on an income. The situation is too tight to chuck a job without having one to go to.

      People are always thinking about upping sticks and going for that nice greener grass. Trying to remind people to make sure they have done all their checks, and checked again. And again, before they make a move.


  6. Funny tips. I like the one about the jobs. People in Europe love Spain and they wanna come to work here…. difficult!!!! super difficult!!!! More when conditions are as u tell (they dont speak well the language or they dont know many people)
    About drinking at home, I must say that in the north is more common to gather with friends in bars and not at home to drink!!!

    Nice post!


    • Thank you. Many people (in the UK) are used to moving around for their job, so Spain (or France or wherever) is just a bit further, with a different language. I think what people fail to consider, is the very different culture.

      I accept younger people go to bars – remember I am a generation older than you! – but having said that, there is a lot of botellon in Andalucía, and a lot of drinking at beach parties. Any parties we have been to (with younger people actually) have been at the beach.


      • Oh yes, In Andalucia there is a lot of nice weather to do that. Also in other parts of the south-center. The eternal rain in the north, makes us meet directly in the bar (actually i have heard that the very young generations are starting now with the botellon, but mostly bcs they are under age so they would not get served in bars).

        Congrats again for this post!


        • Absolutely, I think the weather has a lot to do with it. All you have to do is to look at the UK, and the pub drinking culture over there – where, the weather is so unpredictable.

          Oh, and we also have botellon here in Gibraltar too, that’s largely because of the cost because the spirits, whisky, rum, vodka etc are so cheap here in Gib.


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