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March 20, 2024

The Ten Biggest Mistakes when Moving to Spain

Want to move to Spain, then avoid these mistakes

There are all kinds of mistakes to be made when moving to Spain. Here we look at the most common ones.

Mistake 1: Not Understanding How Different the Various Parts of Spain Can Be

Spain has a rich and varied culture, with culinary and linguistic variations to go with it, to say nothing of traditions.

There´s a saying that every Spaniard has their own political party. The same applies to most things. Ask a group of people what goes into a Spanish dish like paella or something more regional like ´trigo´: you will have individual variations on top of regional ones. Even local traffic regulations/systems can be different because the terrain and weather is so different.

So do your research. Spend time in the area you are thinking of moving to, and not just a one week ´bucket and spade´ holiday (unless you are planning to move to a resort). Try contrasting times of year – if you are looking to live somewhere popular with tourists, for example, winter and summer have very different characters. In winter, some areas become impassable. In summer, some parts of Spain become impossibly hot.

Mistake 2: Buying Without Renting First

Seriously consider renting before you buy, in the area you are thinking of buying in. City life may not be so appealing when the summer heat kicks in. The dust and routine of rural southern Spanish life aren´t for everyone. Galicia’s beauty may pall when you´ve seen nothing but rain for a few months´- the very rain you hoped to leave behind. Beautiful Barcelona may not seem so lovely when you´ve had your purse/wallet stolen on the Ramblas several times over.

This is, of course, before you´ve even considered the other changes like leaving behind friends and family. Six months rental should give you a great idea of what your chosen area is like.

Renting may deplete your cash reserves but could save you from an expensive, very unhappy, mistake.

It will also give you an idea of the cost of living in your chosen area and allow you to budget for the move. It may also save you money by knowing what you do – and don´t – need to take with you.

If you are hoping to work in Spain, and don´t already have a work offer, this is also a suitable time to look for potential roles and assess the local job market. (The UK´s unemployment rate is around 4% - in Spain it´s closer to 15%.)

Be aware of the extra taxes on property that are incurred in Spain.

Mistake 3: Not Researching the Legal Position on Staying

Make sure that you are up to date on the rules applying to staying in Spain. The UK government site will tell you what the law is from a British perspective, but expect regional differences and fast paced changes.

At time of writing, without Spanish residency, British citizens may only stay in Spain for roughly three months at a time, twice a year following Brexit. Both France and Spain have asked the EU to relax this rule, according to news reports. (It would seem that France has failed.)

You may be happy with moving out part time – some people find the south too hot during the summer, for example.

Once you´ve decided on your area, seek professional help there. Make sure the people are using belong to the same region as you are moving to, and ideally the same ´town hall´ (´ayuntamiento´). Not only does this increase the chance of them getting it right first time/accepted, but they will also be familiar faces locally known to the workers there, and will be aware of any local idiosyncrasies. (Note that these can change in some areas according to who the representative is speaking to and their relationship/history with the requester.)

To help, you can use an ´abogado´ (lawyer), a ´gestor´ (a professional administrator), or a professional translator. Get local recommendations from people who have done it before. You are also going to need someone to keep your accounts/tax affairs straight, which makes the first two options the preferred choice.

If you decide to stay full time, making Spain your home, you will now also need a ´residencia´, an official residency document.

All of these things will have a cost, but there´s a Spanish expression ´Lo barato te cuésta caro´- cheap things cost you more. Our advice is to bite the bullet, get the best help you can afford and build a good relationship/rapport with them. Unless you are already a competent Spanish speaker, you may be better to find one of the many who speak good English so that you understand fully what is happening.

Some things the Spanish do so much better than at home in the UK, like paying bills at a cash machine with just a barcode. Others require endless layers of bureaucracy. Accept from the outset that things may take longer than promised/expected, don´t stress as long as things are being dealt with, and smile. Be happy when things happen more quickly than expected. Create a ruckus, however well deserved, and expect to go back to the end of the line before being dealt with.

Always say thank you. Some people, like the police, can´t accept gifts, but others will appreciate a small ´detalle´ like chocolates or cake - nothing that could be seen as a bribe - as a thank you.

Mistake 4: Making No Effort with the Language

It is easy in some coastal areas and areas that have a high number of English-speaking immigrants to imagine you’ll need no Spanish language skills at all.

These days there is no excuse for not at least trying, and it will certainly help reduce any culture shock when it hits. (It probably will).

It will help you get the gist at least of what is being said at the doctors or when paying bills and buying things. Getting to the point of having Spanish friends and being able to communicate with your neighbours will help you love and understand the country more. And there´s a lot to love.

Mistake 5: “There´s no Such Thing as Culture Shock”

When you first move, life is exciting. You´re trying new things, making new friends, learning about the local culture and visiting new places, perhaps enjoying the better weather and lower cost of living in many parts of Spain. There´s every chance that ´Brits´, or at least English speakers, who´ve moved to the area before you will point you in the right direction and explain the lay of the land.

But 3-6 months in, culture shock normally hits. It´s not something invented. Many large companies expect it when they´ve moved staff to new countries and offer them training/support accordingly.

Culture shock has several faces:

a)  Missing the familiar. At home, you know how things work. You are used to shop opening times, what the buses and cars look like, finding food you´re accustomed to, understanding the banking system. These all change when you move abroad, and it´s normal to feel a level of frustration at not being able to do the things you´ve always done in the way you´ve always done them.

b) Food frustrations. You will almost certainly have to make concessions to a new diet in your new home. Foods will be called something different and may be prepared differently – for example flours in Spain come with different purposes rather than plain and self-raising; they butcher their meat in many areas differently to British butchers.  This can sometimes create digestive disturbances. Most places have good food hygiene, but not all. Follow your instinct.

c)  Water differences. If you´ve travelled around the UK, you´ll know that water tastes very different in different places. It´s something to get used to. You will also find water restrictions in parts of Spain, and that some water is not ´potable´ (drinkable).

d) Toilets. Most restaurants and bars have good, clean toilet facilities, but in some rural areas, there is still an old fashioned ´hole´. If you have culture shock, avoid until it passes.

e) COVID masks. Spain´s rules on mask wearing have always been tighter than in the UK. You will have to accept the rules or be excluded from public places like hospitals, pharmacies, maybe more, depending on the severity of the outbreaks. Try not to complain. In most cases, a bout can be traced back to people who´ve recently flown in, often from the UK.

f)   The bureaucracy blues. Because we don´t know how things work, and because of a language barrier, the bureaucracy can create frustrations. For example, in most of Spain you need a permit to have a bonfire. The fire risk in many areas is very real.

The solution: accept that this is all part of the process. It will pass as you familiarise yourself with your new culture and find the people around you to help you through it. The rules are there for a reason. Sometimes it´s a historic one, but there will be a reason there somewhere. Laugh with your new friends about it, and when you have to do something official, prepare. Ask what you´ll need with you, and to that add identity documents. It takes a while, but you will grow accustomed to it.

(Never underestimate the value of a good translator for important things like hospital visits.)

Mistake 6: Thinking Family and Friends Will Visit Regularly

Whilst the intent is usually there, practicalities mean that most friends and family may find it hard to visit regularly.

Life at home goes on without you. People die, babies are born, you may not be able to make it to big family occasions, politics and celebrities change (although it´s relatively easy to get English TV in most parts of Spain.)

Think carefully about what you are leaving behind before making the move.

Mistake 7: Not Thinking about Healthcare

Certain people are entitled to Spanish healthcare paid for by the British Government, such as retired people calling a pension.

However, don´t assume. Ask what you need, which will usually include private healthcare insurance.

Note too that the drug regimens will be different, and the approach to some illnesses will not be what you are accustomed to, including certain drugs being banned or in different formats.

Nurses in Spain are medical team members not carers, and if you stay in a Spanish hospital you may be expected to have a carer with you.

Incidences of skin cancer in Spain have increased by 30% in recent years, so caring for and protecting your skin is particularly important for much fairer Brits!

<H3> Mistake 8: Not Thinking about End of Life

In most parts of Spain, funerals/cremations happen very quickly (within 2 days). This is often not enough time for family to get there, so having a proper funeral plan in place can ensure that things are handled the way you would like them to be, that the right people get told, and your body can even be ´put on ice´ and kept for their arrival.

If you go to Spain as a couple, one will go before the other in the normal course of events. What would that mean for you in your new home? Would you want to stay? Planning ahead can make a massive difference.

Whilst we are on the subject, your will may need changing. Take legal advice in Spain, not the UK, to ensure that it is valid.

Mistake 9: Forgetting to Prepare Children and Animals for the Move

For children, new schools in a different language and with a different system can be hard for children who´ve already been at school in the UK. Their needs, and schooling arrangements, should be considered and discussed well in advance of a move.

Animals can be distressed by the move too, and their transportation needs should be planned well in advance of the move.

<H3> Mistake 10: Not Calling in Professional Mover

Since Britain left the EU, there are duties and restrictions that weren´t in place previously.

A professional mover will know what these are and prepare you for it, as well as knowing how to navigate the Spanish road system, getting your things to you safely.

And although it may seem cheaper to do it yourself, movers often share loads, keeping your costs and stress levels lower.

Self-storage can Help

The obvious time that self-storage can help  is when you first head off to Spain. By putting your things into storage, it´s easy to come back to the UK if you decide not to stay, and easy to see what you do, and don´t, need if you do stay.

It also pays to keep things you think you won´t need for a short while after moving abroad. The seasons in Spain can be vastly different, and even if winters seem mild to us, when you are living there it will feel colder because of the temperature change. You won´t usually get decent prices for your second-hand furniture, which in many parts of Spain would achieve more; and when you move into your new home you may wish you hadn´t disposed of them.

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