What To Expect From The Expat Lifestyle In Spain
There are believed to be more than one million Britons living in Spain permanently, and more British pensioners in Spain than in any other country outside the UK. The standard of living is high and its cost relatively low.
The locations favoured by British emigrés have varied little over the decades. It is the big cities and best-known coastal towns that continue to attract people and it is to these people will always want to return. Big cities are the destinations for working expats and the coastal regions and the areas immediately inland are popular with retirees and those buying a second home to enjoy for part of the year.
It all comes down to ease. Do you want to be a pioneer in a spot that few foreigners have ventured into before? Or do you prefer the ready-made option of a resort or town where you can more easily slip into the kind of lifestyle and convenience you seek? There are many parts of Spain where British expats are dominant and many of the bars, restaurants and tapas bars are run by British expats. There are also areas where you can find few expats and blend into the local lifestyle.
Spanish culture is underpinned by three elements: family, food and festivals – often enjoyed all at the same time. A classic Mediterranean mix, that influences many facets of Spanish life, it determines the shape of the days (siestas and late nights), embodies Spain’s core values (a sense of community and religion) and gives the Spanish every opportunity to do what they do best – enjoy themselves.
Wherever you choose to live in Spain, you will soon spot that festivals are the bedrock of Spain’s cultural calendar. You will see young and old celebrating in the streets long into the early hours.
Food is a major focus of life in Spain and lunch tends to be taken between 2pm and 4pm. It is taken later and lasts longer than in the UK or US. The tapas tradition reflects a social sharing approach to food with people eating out regularly with friends and dinner can often be late in the evening. Alcohol plays an important part in Spanish life with excellent and affordable wine and beer. Spirits are free-poured in most bars leading to far stronger measures than British and American visitors are used to.
Social activity generally involves vigorous conversation with everyone speaking at the same time and volumes increasing as the evening progresses. Attitudes to personal space are very different to American and anglo-saxon norms. Spaniards may seem to stand closer, talk closer and will be much more prone to touching and embracing people they have just met. This can take some adjustment, but once used to this it will feel a much more inclusive culture.
Bureaucracy and the laid back attitude in Spain can be very frustrating and the availability of gestarios who will complete forms for you reflects how difficult forms can be even if you have advanced language skills. Timekeeping is notoriously lax and can be a major source of frustration until you get used to it.
Working in Spain often involves an early start and an early finish in the hot summer months with longer hours and a later finish in the winter months.
There are many opportunities for expats to socialize with other expats in the informal environments of local bars and restaurants as well as at golf, tennis and other sports clubs. There are also many clubs and societies specifically set up for expats, including the InterNations groups which meet regularly and have special interest groups, American Women’s Clubs and sports clubs such as cricket clubs and Hash House Harrier groups (‘a drinking club with a running problem’ – you can find them at http://www.gotothehash.net/).
As many a British expat in Spain demonstrates, you can get by without any knowledge of Spanish. There are many places where that is entirely possible, from Barcelona to Marbella to Palma to Benidorm. You will often find that even if you try to speak in Spanish, the reply comes back in English – which you will find either frustrating or a huge relief.
Something to consider in Spain is the number of languages that are spoken. Castilian Spanish, or castellano, is the standard language spoken in most of Spain. You will hear it – with varying accents – in the bulk of Spain apart from the northern and eastern coasts. There are a number of other languages, including Basque, Galician and Catalan in the north and variants of Catalan in Valencia and the Balearics.
The one that is most likely to be relevant to those thinking of moving to Spain is Catalan. In Barcelona, the Costa Brava and to some extent Mallorca, it is the language you will hear everywhere, far more than Spanish.
The languages reflect the fierce regional loyalty that Spaniards have to their region first and Spain second. Well publicized separatist movements can be seen among the Basques and Catalonians.
Proximity to an international airport comes high up the list of requisites for many, to make life easier to visit family and friends and for them to come and see you. If you are buying a property, it will be an important factor when you come to sell as most buyers tend to want a home within an hour’s drive of an airport.
Madrid, Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca are Spain’s busiest airports – and their passenger numbers are growing each year. Malaga airport on the Costa del Sol is now Spain’s fourth busiest airport and has seen a major expansion to include a new terminal and runway.
Other major Spanish airport hubs include Gran Canaria, Alicante, Tenerife, Ibiza, Lanzarote and Valencia. Year-round flights are vital to a destination’s appeal – and no more so than island locations, which otherwise risk being cut off in winter if there are no direct flights out of season.