Why the Expat Dream can go Wrong
October 11th, 2006
Half of those who chose to make a new life in Spain end up returning home. But why does the dream turn sour for so many? Ian Frewer spoke to established expats who offer advice to the new arrivals on the Costas.
“A lot depends on whether they came to Spain, or whether they just left England.”
Steve Hall is a successful entrepreneur based in Torrevieja, near Alicante, in southern Spain, who also runs The Newcomers Club, a group offering advice and social contact to people newly arrived in Spain.
Offering advice is not always easy, to people who don’t want to take it.
“I reckon about half of those who come out here below pensionable age go back within two years,” Steve told us.
“A lot of the problem is that they believe too much of what they’re told before they come out here.
“They believe they’ll get a job, that they can manage on far less money than they actually need, that everything will somehow just fall into place. But it doesn’t. The truth is that jobs are few and far between, that you may not get a phone line for years, the area is saturated with British tradesman, the cost of living is not as low as people think, and that Spanish bureaucracy can drive you mad at times!”
Hall knows; he sometimes has the sad job of telling someone that their best bet is to return home, if they can’t manage in Spain, and he seldom gets any thanks for that piece of advice.
Gary and Terri Hart, both in their forties, originally from Huntingdon, in Cambridgeshire, are returning home to England as soon as they sell their house in Villamartin, on the Costa Blanca, in southern Spain.
“We thought I’d be able to make a living out here, me being an experienced builder, but it’s been hopeless.” Gary told us, “The only way to get any work is to price it so low that you undercut everyone else, and then there’s no profit in it. Terri helps out in a bar sometimes, but that only pays peanuts.”
But it isn’t just financial.
“I miss the children, but especially I miss seeing my grandson grow up. He’s three now, and he hardly knows me, when we go back,” said Terri, her eyes filling up with tears.
“My younger daughter’s expecting in November, and I just want to be there with her. We’re missing out on so much, and I can’t even speak to her often, as still haven’t got a phone line.”
“Much of it comes down to language,” Steve Hall told us, “Most newcomers don’t know any Spanish, and then they feel isolated. That’s why we give free Spanish lessons at the club. Learn Spanish, and you can always cope with a situation.”
It’s a different story for those who retire to Spain, with a decent pension. George and Rose Halliday are in their sixties, and moved to Spain four years ago, having previously owned a holiday apartment for years.
“We know the area, we have a circle of friends, and we can manage fine on our income.” Rose said.
“Okay, we miss the grandchildren, but they come out to see us quite often, and we go back two or three times a year. Our children are adult, now, and they have their own lives, so they don’t really miss us that much.”
George feels that, like so much in life, it all comes down to money; an income sufficient to support your chosen lifestyle, and to provide things like a telephone, and a computer for emails, and to pay for an interpreter when you need one, and to own a home you’re happy in, and to travel back to the UK when you feel like it.
“It’s all about income, not capital. With today’s interest rates, you need a heck of a lot of capital to provide a decent income, but a good pension, or shrewd investments give you the income you need. Money may not buy happiness, but it certainly helps!” he says.
Even so, a fifty-per-cent failure rate among expats who try to make a new life in Spain is an alarming statistic.
Peter Sharron runs a successful removal company in Alicante, in south-east Spain, and gets to speak to many of those returning to England.
“So many of those who go back came out here for a fresh start,” he told us,
“They don’t do their homework, they don’t research the realities of life out here. I have to blame many of the selling agents, and even the TV shows that make it seem so easy to start up out here. The fact is that life may be different here, but you, you’re the same person as you were in the UK. You won’t miraculously become more successful just because the sun’s shining.”
“Forget about living the dream,” he said, almost sadly, “the reality’s what counts, and it isn’t easy living. If you don’t have the money in the first place, you’ve got an uphill struggle to make it out here. I just wish someone would tell them the truth, instead of leading them on.”