Spain has for many years now been one of the most popular expat destinations, especially amongst the UK population, with many people looking for sun, sea and a new way of life. Even though the number of people moving to Spain as a percentage of the expat worldwide community has probably dropped over the last 20 or 30 years, due in the main to the Internet and more information being available about other countries, it is still very high on the list of potential new homelands for many people. But what kind of challenges are facing expats moving to Spain?
In order to be able to give you all expats interested in Spain a response, Expat Forum has run a poll on behalf of Barclays International Banking.
According to the participants’ responses, Loneliness is the main issue surrounding a move to Spain, with the 35.29% of the vote.
The fact that loneliness, as is becoming a trend amongst the vast majority of countries, was one of the main issues facing expats moving to Spain may well surprise many. Spain is a country which, especially for the UK expat community, can in many ways seem like “home from home” due to the vast number of people having moved there over the years. However, it is easy to forget Spain is also a major attraction for other expat communities around the world and as such there may be issues for other foreign nationals.
The subject of loneliness is one which appears to be more and more prevalent in the minds of expats looking to move to many countries around the world. It is very often an issue which is initially ignored because many people automatically assume they will “drop into their new life” and all will be well. However, once the excitement, once the glitz and glamour of your new move have subsided you will literally be left to look at your new life and what that entails. One of the best means of combating loneliness is to get yourself out and about in the local community and ensure that you do your best to mix. Sitting back at home waiting for everybody else to do their bit to make you feel welcome is a recipe for disaster because everybody else has their own life and you need to be more proactive.
The common trend amongst expats moving overseas is to move for employment opportunities with more and more families now moving as a group. However, while the family environment will obviously assist in the settling down period there will be times when one partner in particular is left alone for a significant amount of time. This may well be somebody who is working out of a home office, a partner left behind to look after the children in the house or some other similar situation. It is these difficult situations which can introduce nerve wracking and emotional bouts of loneliness which can then transfer to other areas of your everyday life.
The main way in which you can address these issues is to talk, talk, talk and ensure that each and every person in your group is there for one another. If you find yourself in a situation which makes you feel uncomfortable or you can see bouts of loneliness on the horizon then you need to shout up and stand your corner. There is no point sitting back and hoping that the loneliness will pass because it is very often a self fulfilling prophecy once it begins. Build your own social network, make friends with the local community and above all get yourself out of the house as much as you can because it is unhealthy to stay between four walls 24 hours a day!
Relationship problems (17.65%)
The problem of relationship problems is never far behind in relation to potential issues awaiting expats moving overseas. The situation in Spain is no different to that anywhere else around the world and even before you apply for your travel documentation you need to be 200% certain that each and every member of your party is behind the move. If you yourself are having second thoughts or things are preying on your mind with regards to a move overseas then you need to make your partner aware as soon as possible. Even the best relationships in the world will at some stage encounter turbulent waters when moving overseas because of the alien environment in which you will find yourself. If you are at home and you have problems with your normal everyday life then you will have friends, family and colleagues to talk to, but if you are overseas then your expanded network is much smaller. You may not have anybody to talk to about relationship problems!
We’ve also seen the emergence of another trend with regards to the expat community with many people now moving overseas to be with a loved one they have met in a foreign land. For many people this is literally the stuff of fairytales and dreams but unfortunately these fairytales and these dreams can turn into a nightmare unless you are realistic and face reality as soon as possible. If you are moving overseas to be with a foreign national then there will at some point be cultural issues, work issues, social issues and a whole array of other problems which you may or may not have thought of. That is not to say these are not insurmountable problems and challenges but those who expect to move overseas with a new love may well find the waters a little more choppy than they had expected.
There are potentially unique situations in Spain regarding for example UK expats because of the number of UK expats already in the region. If one member of your party is spending more and more time with other expats then this can lead to jealousy and potential relationship problems although many of these feelings may well have never merged under “stress free” situations. Moving overseas is something which needs to be done as a group and together rather than going off doing your own thing and potentially leaving the opportunity for loneliness to creep in and lead to arguments and potentially serious relationship issues.
Healthcare is one of those issues which is initially in the upper most minds of many people but unfortunately it can be forgotten further down the line as money becomes tight and budgets are stretched. However, if you are moving to any country in the world you need to ensure that you are fully aware of the health services available and the potential cost to you. When in Spain, in simple terms, you will be treated on the same basis as a resident of Spain and indeed those who have a European health insurance card may well be able to claim back any medical costs upon returning to the UK. If you have moved to Spain full-time then obviously this will not be an option.
The NHS style service available in Spain offers free healthcare to the masses although there may well be areas in which you are asked to contribute towards the costs. One issue which you may encounter, and indeed you may already have come across when taking a holiday in Spain, is the number of private doctors. Many hotels and other corporate entities will automatically recommend you to a private practice because very often they will receive some form of remuneration possibly in the form of commission. Indeed, even if an NHS doctor is called out there is every chance that they may well offer some form of private treatment as well and you will need to specify what is required, i.e. state funded treatment.
While there are obvious attractions with regards to the Spanish healthcare system, and the fact it is available to the masses, you may well wish to look towards private healthcare especially if you have a family. There is no state funded health care system in the world which is not being overstretched with regards to funding and footfall and Spain is no different. We have seen similar issues in the UK whereby the cost of treatment continues to rise as does the number of people seeking treatment. There may be a situation when you require treatment immediately, something which may well lead to waiting lists with the state service, and in these situations private healthcare insurance can literally be worth its weight in gold. Healthcare is an issue which you should consider at a very early stage and you must make yourself fully aware of the pitfalls which may await you.
Cost of living (5.88%)
While there was a disappointing response from the Spanish expat community in relation to our online poll it is interesting to see that the cost of living does not appear to be a major problem for many people. We would assume that the vast majority of those who responded to this online poll, and who live in Spain, are from the UK expat community where the difference between the relative costs of living has been very clear for years.
It is interesting to see that a group of pensioners now living in Spain, but originally from the UK, have set up a movement to pressurise the UK government to reconsider increased pension payments to those overseas. It seems that a number of UK expats now living in Spain are struggling on a financial basis with their income well under the European level for “minimum income”. This is certainly a problem which is facing many from the UK who now live overseas but are entitled to pension payments from the UK government because of their previous national insurance payments. However, the cost of living in Spain has increased over the last few years in line with the rest of Europe where commodity prices have had a larger than expected impact upon food price inflation.
Spain is a country, like so many, which takes in everything from the cheap and cheerful holiday destination to the luxury areas such as Barcelona. The variation in climate, prospects, terrain and attractions is often translated into a large variation in the cost of living. The ongoing economic crisis across the Eurozone, and indeed across the world, has had a dramatic impact upon property prices but in many cases commodity prices have pushed food inflation higher and higher. If you are looking to move to Spain it is paramount that you look at an area which best suits your budget, best suits your hopes and then decide if a move to Spain is really in your best interests.
Cultural differences (5.88%)
Cultural differences between expats living in Spain and the Spanish national community would appear to be very thin on the ground if this poll is anything to go by. It is unclear exactly why this may be the case although when you consider that Spain has been a popular holiday destination for over 40 years now, especially amongst the UK population, it is maybe no surprise to learn that historical friction between cultures has reduced over the years.
When you also take into account the fact that the Spanish economy relies very heavily upon the tourism industry then it would make sense for the Spanish population and the authorities to avoid conflict and friction wherever possible. That is not to say that instances of cultural friction do not occur because with the best will in the world people are very different and we all have very different views. It has long been said that those who move overseas and readily seek out cultural differences and cultural friction should not really be moving to another country. Part of the overall experience of moving to a new land to begin a new life is to appreciate the local culture otherwise why would you have left your original homeland in the first place?
If you ever do decide to move overseas you should move somewhere which attracts you on a basic level and somewhere which interests you on a higher level. Experiencing and integrating with new cultures around the world will most certainly broaden your own horizons and could even open up new opportunities and ambitions for you.
Other problems (17.65%), namely Bureaucracy and Employment
There were a number of other issues brought to the attention of the expat community on the expat forum website which mainly included Bureaucracy and Employment.
Time and time again the subject of bureaucracy, mountains of paperwork and forms are discussed in negative terms by the expat community. However, the truth is that due to issues out with the control of the Spanish authorities, i.e. international crime and terrorism, there is a need to be safer and ensure that all paperwork is in place and all people are who they say they are.
A good way to save up some of your precious time when doing your finance or daily banking is to open an offshore account that will allow you to meet those distinct financial needs that your local bank may not be able to meet by the time you can benefit from no-hassle online banking and financial planning help.
Employment under the current economic cloud is going to be very difficult in any country around the world and Spain is no different. Over recent days we have seen problems with the Spanish debt markets and indeed the government has been forced to increase the amount of interest it is willing to pay to attract IOUs from investors. However, it is not all doom and gloom because Spain is an enormous economy and no matter how difficult the environment is at the moment opportunities will be there if you look hard enough.
Spain has been one of the most popular expat destinations for the UK community for over 50 years now. It is an area of the world which takes in a number of cultures, climates and indeed a vast array of different terrains. However, moving to a new country will present challenges for you with loneliness, relationship problems, healthcare, cost of living and cultural differences very much at the forefront of the minds of many people.
The truth is that none of these problems are insurmountable and those who literally give up and go home at the first sign of difficulty should maybe never have considered a move in the first place. If you take a step back and consider the potential issues if you ever moved within your former homeland they are very similar. The only real difference is the fact that in a foreign land small issues can quickly become larger and if left to fester they can quickly impact upon other areas of your everyday life.
Spain is a country which is certain to attract more than its fair share of expats in the months and years ahead despite the fact that the ongoing economic downturn across Europe has had a big impact upon the region. However, there will always be a tourist industry in Spain which will attract visitors from overseas which will then have the knock-on effect of attracting more and more expats in the future. There are short-term issues to take into account regarding the economy and the immediate prospects for Spain but in the long run this is a country which has been held close to the hearts of many people.
There are many areas of Spain from which to choose so you need to do your homework and find something which is compatible with your prospects, your hopes and more importantly your finances. If you find this perfect area then you have every chance of a successful move to a very popular country!