What is it Like for a Young Family Moving to Spain?

Mark Eastwood is author and owner of SpainMadeSimple.com

From time to time we get emails on who we are and what we do, so we decided to add this little story of my move to Spain for all of you who like to know.

Moving To Spain

At least once a day I wonder how I and my young family ended up in Spain. Life has changed completely and at times it feels frightening, I wonder if our move to Spain was too impulsive, mad and stupid but at the same time I realise it’s exciting and that we only live once (allegedly) so why not?

website-author-Mark-EastwoodOne thing is for sure – our lives will never be the same again…

Once upon a time we lived near Brighton working from home on our own business. We certainly earned a decent living but the business was declining and motivation was ebbing away.

It did frustrate us that as we worked so hard, house prices were shooting up faster than we could earn it.

In 2001 a close friend came back from an inspection trip proclaiming he had found the land of milk and honey “it’s paradise” he exclaimed before telling us this paradise was actually known as Javea on the Costa Blanca of Spain.

Six months later we were worn down and we went on the inspection trip. This was with a superb company who in no way pushed us into anything. Most people seem to knock inspection trips – I wouldn’t. I think most of us are adult enough to make up our own mind and not be pressured into anything rash.

It’s most important to realise that the people hosting your inspection trip to Spain make their money from commission from the estate agents (if you buy), ok you know that but you really, really need to know that they will only have links with a few estate agents so there will be lots of available properties you won’t see – BUT – they can do a great job in honing into what you are looking for and showing you specifically the right sort of properties you are looking for (or they should do, otherwise they are wasting their time as well as yours).

We paid something like £149 each for the flights and they paid for the hotel. We started off in Moraira on the Costa Blanca on the Friday. I wondered why our good friend had been so enthusiastic.

Admittedly it is a fantastic place (looking back now) but I was looking for the earth to move. It didn’t. Later we went to the neighbouring town of Javea, all of a sudden the feeling hit – THIS IS IT!

For me (and for others the feeling will be different depending on what you are looking for) Javea had the WOW factor. I liked the fact it had distinct areas i.e. the busy beach area for the typical tourist-type day at the beach with lots of noise and things going on, the quaint old-town with narrow streets, your typical Spanish town and the port area, very much the vision of a white-washed fishing village, you could almost taste the fresh fish and wine just by looking at it.

If you haven’t been to Javea before, these areas really are very separate, well they were before a wave of new apartment blocks sprung up to try join them into one urban sprawl (just kidding Javea town council).

I liked the fact that Javea was surrounded by green hills and mountains which were peppered with luxurious looking villas. It felt like the Beverly Hills of Spain!

We had one funny experience when we looked at one house in Moraira. When we were coming out some people pulled up and asked what we were doing. It turns out they had bought the house about three months ago but because so many agents are selling the same houses our agent wasn’t informed.

They were furious. Probably something to do with the strange looking underwear the men had strewn about the place. Annoyingly it was the best property we saw, they had a great buy looking back now.

Javea The next day on the Saturday we were due to fly back that night. Now I swear we were not motivated by pressure but you guessed it, that day after a whole 24 hours of looking we saw the property that we were destined to buy.

My wife was practically jumping around she was so excited there was no chance of the agent not realising that they had hit gold.

House prices in Spain were surging at that time so we didn’t mess around trying to negotiate discounts.

We wanted it, we got it and we don’t regret it one bit. Looking back we were perhaps lucky. At the time we hadn’t heard of the dreaded words ‘land-grab’ but fortunately our property wasn’t ever going to fall into that category.

We thought we were buying the property in Spain as a place to retire to – an investment. I’m writing this now from that house in my late 30’s – what went wrong – or should I say right?

I blame Channel Four mainly. A lot comes down to the programme ‘A Place In The Sun’. Watching that makes it very hard to go to work the next the day without dreaming of sipping wine beneath crisp blue skies with waves lapping your feet.

Every time we visited the Costa Blanca we met people who came across like religious converts. They had a glazed look in their eyes as they spoke about how great the lifestyle was and how happy they were. Come on out they proclaimed.

One day we examined the fact that we were living in a house with rooms smaller than the average jail cell. We already had a house in Spain near the sea, we heard good things about the health system, the education system, the quality of life – what on earth were we doing!

We decided it was now or never – our oldest daughter was four and needed to start school that September. We knew it would be so hard once she started school and got entrenched in the system (and we would feel guilty uprooting her). So we decided to move to Javea, Spain.

We got quotes from the removal companies. Now I hope I’m not as mad as I may come across but I decided to do this myself. I’ve proved it’s possible. You can hire a 7.5 tonne truck and have the greatest adventure of your life (or nightmare – your choice).

The removal companies do in fact do a great job and there is more involved than you may think. I can only estimate this but I would say for an average 3-4 bedroom house budget approximately £6,000. Get quotes from at least three different companies and don’t necessarily choose the cheapest – they are taking your entire belongings with them!

I’ve now done the drive to Spain about 5 times and I love it – told you I was crazy! Others cannot understand this but when you have worked in a highly stressful business you crave a bit of time to yourself, time to think, the phone not ringing, nothing to interrupt your day, just drive and daydream, enjoying the changing countryside and the temperature change as you drive south.

Disclaimer – the French equivalent of the M25 around Paris is absolutely crazy and worth avoiding for those of a nervous disposition. There are a few different ways fortunately.

At last we arrived in Spain and it took a couple of weeks battling bureaucracy (welcome to Spain!) to get our daughter in the Spanish state school. To be fair the schools are finding it hard what with the influx of younger families coming from northern Europe, especially in this area which is heavily populated by Brits.

Javea-portThe first day was a memorable one – she was told she was a stupid f****** girl by another British girl. The class is around 60% English, 20% German, 10% Spanish, 10% something else but the language is absolutely 100% Spanish – ok hang on clarification is needed.

Here in the Valencia area they speak their local dialect – Valenciano, although most people can also speak what we know as Spanish (Castilian or Castellano).

We have heard of people moving back to England because the schools have suddenly introduced lessons in Valenciano only (bit like a school in Wales teaching lessons only in Welsh) which the (English/German) kids don’t speak.

Looking past this – the area to the north which includes Barcelona is known as Catalonia where they speak their own dialect known as Catalan. As Valenciano is almost identical maybe it will be advantageous if your kids are likely to stay in Spain. That’s another story as many kids do move back to England.

I won’t bore you with every detail of our time here in Spain but let me give you a flavour of what to expect.

Someone said to me that every day for at least six months I would question what I had done. Of course I laughed at the very suggestion (not to his face of course) but that turned out to be wise words indeed. Take it or leave it but you will feel like this and if you don’t then you are either very lucky or out of your mind. It’s normal – don’t deny it.

You are in a foreign and I mean FOREIGN country, you probably can’t speak the language, you will be lost when you breakdown (car not your mind), you want a phone line installed, your computer modem gets struck by lightening, yes I’m drawing on my own experiences here, you won’t have any friends, it’s not all fun in the sun you know.

Some people can’t take it – they move back, right now I know of people going back to what they call home, I also know people who have lived here 15 years or more and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

Why Would People Move Back?

Easy – financial reasons. You have to put food on the table. Mostly us Brits are useless at languages and so we can only do activities related to our fellow ex-pats. True this market is vast (and growing) but you cannot earn money or get a job as easily as you can in northern Europe.

It helps if you can earn money from outside of Spain but live in Spain, for example, something Internet based, freelancing, commuting from Spain to England for the working week and spending long weekends ‘at home’ in Spain.

One man I know runs a fast food operation in England and goes back from Monday to Wednesday to supervise his staff who do the day-to-day running of the place. Generally people I know turn their hand to lots of different odd jobs and do ‘this and that’ to make ends meet – things like cleaning villas and airport runs (this may not be what you wished for your kids).

I even now know a (gasp) plumber moving back to England. I thought tradesmen, plumbers, electricians, builders were like God here, they told you what to pay and when but no times are a changing – maybe because so many of them have moved over, the most established will survive but newcomers may find it much harder now.

Another chief reason people move back is family and friends – this mainly hits the women who are more sensitive to this kind of thing then us uncaring men who have our football, beer and new mates – what more do we need?

This is a foreign country and to be fair – why wouldn’t some people miss what they have been used to. In their home country they know how things work and can communicate to anyone. Spain is NOT for everyone.

Spain is not cheap. Oh dear, I’m opening a can of worms. The fact is that since joining the euro, prices have gone up steeply. Some things cost more – ouch! Food and drink is good value and eating out is almost cheaper than eating in sometimes – YESSS.

Cars, white goods, electrical items DIY stuff i.e. kitchens and bathrooms are usually more expensive. All of this can be a shock to new arrivals who find their money can run out quicker than expected (tell me about it).

Crime – another can of worms. It isn’t quite as bad as the British tabloid press would have you believe (jealous lot) but it is here and is on a higher scale. Let’s face it the whole area is littered with wealthy northern Europeans with fancy villas and money.

The Eastern Europeans are generally credited with the recent crime wave with an under-staffed and uncaring police force blamed for standing by and doing nothing. Hopefully this situation will change but it is an issue for now, especially in the Southern Costa Blanca i.e. Torrevieja.

Why Would People Never Move Back?

So many people say to me, Mark, I’ve been back to England once in 5 years and I hated it. I have to say I had to go back to sort business loose ends out and it wasn’t THAT bad but I can understand what they are trying to say. England can be grey and dull and that drives me mad, it literally can depress people (not a good thing!).

Javea-promenadeEngland can feel very grim, busy with people rushing about like headless chickens to earn a living simply to buy useless goods that they are convinced by advertisers are essential-must-have-items.

Hello – wake up call – what is life really about? – quality of life – do you have it? No? – then get it, you don’t have to move to Spain but it can help. The sun does make a big difference.

House prices have rocketed here. In four years they have doubled but even so you get FAR more for your money than you can in the UK.

Houses come in all shapes and sizes, new ones tend to be like English estates – all the same and small but your money WILL go much further. You can have space and a large piece of land here which would be unimaginable in England.

Eating out is a real pleasure, especially at night under the stars with a sultry breeze blowing and it is so affordable. Many restaurants have a great menu of the day which has 3 courses with a half bottle of wine for approximately 10 euros.

The relaxed lifestyle is good for the health. Well it can be stressful when things take ages to get done but generally because of the heat you also adapt to it and you feel more laidback too and you don’t feel like doing too much either.

You also realise it makes sense NOT to take life so seriously and to value quality of life so much more. Taking time to TALK to others can make such a difference and makes you feel good.

I maybe shouldn’t say this but it can be possible to get by without speaking Spanish (in certain coastal areas). So you could have your cake and eat it i.e. the best bits of Spain with your Sky TV, English goods – there are many places servicing you with all the English products and services you are used to. This really isn’t right but it is possible.

Adventure. Life in Spain is rarely dull. It can be like living in the Wild West sometimes, you never know what will happen next. People drive up one-way streets, drive through red lights and openly flout laws. Yes, I am touting this as a positive factor!

Friends. It is easier to meet people as other people are in your situation i.e. they have uprooted and want to make friends. In England new social circles can be hard to break into. Here in Spain people invite you into their homes much more readily. There are also many clubs and societies so you can find people with fellow interests.

If you are of retirement age you are set here. Your friends and family will all be visiting often and you will be spoilt for choice if you like doing activities and meeting people.

The Spanish people are remarkably tolerant and forgiving. Imagine if in England we were suddenly overrun with hoardes of Spanish or Bulgarians who drove up the property prices so much we could hardly afford to buy, everyday prices shot up and most of them expected us to speak Bulgarian and acted non-plussed when we didn’t. Think about it.

Think Carefully Before You Move To Spain

It does make sense to try evaluating which category you might fit into. It might save a lot of heartache but even if you move to Spain, you can always move back and you should never regret a thing because at least you had one of life’s rich experiences and that can’t be taken away from you.

This is my personal experience and others will have something entirely different to say I expect – so do tell us – write to me and I’ll post it here – we would all love to hear YOUR story.

Mark Eastwood Webmaster

Comments

  1. Hi Mark, I read all your Article and comments, it’s very interesting and clear. Thank you for giving honest opinion and advice. My husband and I want to move to Spain and we been looking and reading articles for ages, now we are planning to come soon before Christmas for 3 days, can you pls recommend to us which is the best school and areas to live in Costa blanca with young families. school is very important to us, if you can name state and private ones that will be much appreciated , we have 2 boys age 6 and 2. We r looking to rent our house first and rent in Spain and if everything work out we will move properly. I hope you don’t mind me asking to much:((

    Looking forward to here from you.

    Regards
    Sabi

  2. Dawn anderson says:

    Hi mark, thank you for sharing your experience with us. This may sound a bit crazy but I’ve wanted to move abroad for many years, but as a single parent bringing up my 3 boys I stayed in the UK to bring them up. Now however my youngest is nearly 20 and the itch to move has to be scratched. I have picked a date, I have picked an area and I move next year. I am a little scared and apprehensive but totally committed to doing this, I am single, and am doing this move alone, I have lots of people skills and will mix easily, I am learning spanish at the minute in the hope it will help my intigration easier if I have at least an idea of what they are saying. My lovely friends here say I’m brave, and they are right, but it’s my life and I want to live not exist! Moving to spain is for my physical, emotional and spiritual health, it’s something that I have to do, it would be nice to here from anyone who could help me in anyway, it would be greatly appreciated. I’m not much of a technical person but I get by, please post reply an somehow maybe we could get in touch personally. Thanks again Mark. Dawn

  3. Mike O'Neill says:

    Really useful article – thank you.
    We purchased our house (5 miles inland in El Pinar de Campoverde) in July 2015 – it is close enough to the beaches but also inland far enough to be able to avoid the summer rush of tourists. We don’t like overcrowded areas and the beach areas do charge more for everything than we pay in Campoverde – location, location, location !
    Having visited our property and the area quite a number of times now, we find the Spanish people we have come across to be extremely courteous and helpful, particularly the younger people who like to ‘practice’ their English on you !
    We are retiring early and will move to the Costa Blanca (south) permanently next Spring.
    We are lucky to have final salary pensions and property to sell in the UK giving us the affordability to go early and with UK pensions also to be claimed in a few years time, we will be in a very strong financial position, as our property is fairly modest in size, but suits our needs – who wants big bills with lots of gardening and cleaning to do when you are retired – not us thank you !
    I am an accountant so the numbers have been worked and reworked many times over.
    We researched very thoroughly before we chose an area to buy our Spanish property – I cannot stress enough how important this is.
    It is true the Spanish bureaucracy will probably drive us mad initially – but we are ready for it having researched every aspect of this that we have been able to do.
    I am an asthmatic so the climate and lifestyle will suit me very well and we are both looking forward to starting our new lives in the Costa Blanca next year….and no surprise but we already have a list of visitors lined up.
    Our final piece of advice is do not try to replicate what you are leaving behind – try to live, eat, drink sensibly (and behave) like a local. Your money will stretch much further than you may think if you do this.
    We will write to you again once we have settled next Spring.
    Mike & Jane

  4. Heather Chambers says:

    Having read various articles of moving to Spain, has given me food for thought. My husband and I plus our two dogs, are thinking about moving to Granada, next year. I agree with the article above, When in Rome etc, we both have travelled and lived abroad during our life time. So I feel that stands us in good stead.

    Yes I am expecting a life style and culture shock, but I also expect to work at becoming an expat in Spain. Our reason is for a relaxed and slower lifestyle change in better weather. Not perfect, but better than mid Wales.
    I would like to know more about the pros and cons of moving, as it IS a big move for us, We definitely don’t want to be one of those couples that want to return!

    We obviously expect and will learn Spanish, as we want to live in a rural area, again we imagine, it will be mainly Spanish people around us with a few other expats from various countries.

    We would be grateful for any further advise and hearing about other peoples experiences, so that we can be as prepared as possible for the BIG move.

    I look forward to hearing from you

    HC

  5. HI,
    Wow thanks for shearing your experience.
    We move to UK from Poland, our English was very bad (well still isn’t perfect) but after 9 years we decided to move to Spain in next 3 months. Life in the UK is much easier but the weather killing us everyday now. Also the life style MUST HAVE in not what I would accept.
    People should appreciate more they who they are than money money money all the time .
    We decided to rent out house in Spain for around 6 months to try it out, if everything goes according to the plan we will stay forever.
    The only problem that we are uncertain about is our kids 12 and 3 years old how they will go on.
    Good luck to everybody thinking about moving to Spain or Australia.

  6. Denise phillips says:

    Hi, so enjoyed reading about your experience moving to Spain.

    My Husband and I are going out to Spain in a couple of weeks on a viewing trip and looking at areas in which we’d like to be before we look at properties. We are looking for a holiday home where we can just fly out to when we feel like it

    My husbands has finished work due to ill health and we are looking for a flat area thats open all year round ,as with many other people the sun helps his condition.

    We want to be amount ex pats and spainsh too, would be grateful for an ideas?

    Denise P

    We were also wondering hoe easy it is

  7. Moncef Houara says:

    Hello, I need help for which documents are needed in order to apply for residency? My wife is from an EU country (Bulgaria) and I am a US citizen. Please any help will be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

    Moncef Houara

  8. thank you for giving an honest and frank insight into moving/living in spain, my wife and i want to move to spain but are having the dilema of finding which location would be best suitable for us.
    If anyone can give any advice it would be gratefully apreciated.

  9. Good read,
    My family are moving to spain inland Alicante October 2014. firstly, We are renting for 12 months decide if its right for us and to find the best area that suits us and maybe buy if all works out. My Partner is driving down from Santander with belongings and our dog we are flying a day later. He works in the middle East so we aren’t relying on employment in Spain. Can I ask how did you find the Spanish State schooling? My son is only 2 but I like to start researching into this area?

    Thanks

    Frances

    • Hi,
      Good read and very useful, We are thinking about moving to Mallorca, in the near future. My husband and two children 6 and 3 now. how do you feel about the state schools, I feel in two minds about my daughter (6 ) missing out in information, due to language. I am struggling with this, but know she will benefit from it in the long run. Also do you have any more information on “inspection trips”.
      Thank you Look forward to hearing form you soon.
      Ema

  10. Lee Firman says:

    Really good article. I can relate to it as I took my wife and two children (aged 3 and 1) travelling Spain and France (in a car and tent!) for 3 months last year, and we spent a week in Javea. It seemed like a lovely place, nice beach, fantastic restaurants, amazing villas, and the wonderful Montgo.

    It did seem that the economy in Spain was forcing a lot of ex-pats to sell-up and move, and a lot of construction seemed to have been completely abandoned. Nevertheless, we’re still looking to move out to Spain (or France) within the next 30 months – so am glad that I stumbled across your website, which I am sure will provide very resourceful. Thanks.

  11. mary millar says:

    what a great story im sitting here with my laptop dreaming of all the lovely hols I have had in el galan nr Murcia at my sisters holiday house my partner cant wait to buy a place we will have a look at javea it sounds lovely its snowing here in Edinburgh so you enjoy the sun with your family thanks mary

  12. Mike Jenkins says:

    Intend moving there in 2014 and retiring with my wife, but also would like to work part-time painting murals
    on swimming pool areas and interior walls. (noticed that most casa’s have bare walls, so there could be an opening for illustration there) We have friends living there, and have met a golf society to join, so looks pretty cool to us.

  13. Francesca Ammata says:

    Thanks for such a readable, balanced and laid back blog. My family and I would like to move to this region and you give a really fair insight into the good bits and frustrating bits. i sit here typing this in the rain in the UK. The pull towards Spain is strong! The adaptation is part of the fun, the language learning a great challenge and altogether you have inspired us a little more to make that move!
    Thanks, Fran

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