The following interview with British expat Frank Hughes, who has recently relocated to Spain, gives a real insight in to what it is really like to live there. It is a worthwhile read for anyone who is planning to move to Spain.
Where are you from originally and where in Spain do you live?
I am from Birmingham and live in Peterborough and in Spain in Ronda, Andalucia.
Why did you move to Spain and what did you do there?
I prefer to be in Ronda during the winter and also wanted to improve my Spanish as I hope to travel in South America. I spent 4 months in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia in 2009. In Bolivia I worked in a home for street children and would have been more effective if my Spanish had been better.
How long have you lived in Spain?
I live in rented accommodation from October to March. I have done so for the last two years and intend to continue doing so for as long as I am able.
Did you learn much of the language before you left England and would you recommend this?
I started learning Spanish in 2006 at beginners evening classes. In 2010 I began lessons with Fiona at Viva Languages. This was very effective as lessons were tailored to my level and we concentrated on weaker areas. Away from the larger coastal resorts English is not widely spoken so some Spanish is essential.
What do you like most about living in Spain?
The winter weather is better than in the UK. Day to day living is cheaper as long as you accept that even main supermarkets stock only currently available fresh fruit and vegetables.
What are the best things to see and do in the area?
The area has a great deal of history from the Bronze Age, the Romans, the Moor occupation and then the Christian conquest in the late 15th century. Evidence of all these periods is everywhere. The town is famous for its bridge over a gorge that separates the old from the new parts of town and views of the surrounding countryside are spectacular. Bull fighters from Ronda are said to have elevated it to an art during the 18th century and Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles were frequent visitors when regular bull fights took place. The Bull Ring is now a museum and there is a festival once a year in September. The surrounding countryside with mountains and valleys offers marvellous walking.
What problems or difficulties did you encounter in Spain?
Fresh milk is not readily available. Internet connectivity is comparatively expensive and 12 month contracts are required. There are computer and internet establishments and many bars, restaurants and cafes offer free wi-fi which is not reliable.
How easy or difficult was it to find a home in Spain?
I found furnished rental accommodation – houses and apartments – readily available. I considered buying but it was difficult to find suitable property at a reasonable price despite publicity to the contrary. The situation is different in coastal areas where it does appear that properties are being significantly discounted.
How easy/difficult is it to connect to utilities in Spain? (Water, gas, electricity, telephone.)
Living in rented accommodation I took over the payment of water and electricity bills during my rental period. There is no mains gas. Propane gas bottles are used where properties have water heated by gas.
Was it easy to meet people and make friends to socialise with?
I registered with Government sponsored (free) Spanish classes for foreigners and classes are provided twice a week for 90 minutes. On one occasion there were 10 different nationalities represented although most had English as their second language. The friends I have made were mainly connected with the classes but those who live there have Spanish friends who in turn have become at least acquaintances. I have become known by locals in my favourite cafes and bars. As well as going to supermarkets for convenience I also make a point of using small shops both to become known and have to use the language.
Did you find it easy to integrate into local Spanish life or did you feel like an outsider?
On the whole the locals are welcoming and friendly. There will always be a minority who are less so.
How are senior citizens treated in Spain compared to here in the UK?
Generally senior citizens are better respected in Spain. Families tend to live closer and three generations in a home is comparatively common. Any benefits such as senior citizen concessions are not generally available until age 65 whereas in the UK discounts etc. are often offered to the over 60s.
Did you feel safe going out at night in Spain?
There is comparatively little crime in smaller cities and areas such as Ronda. It is higher in the larger cities and coastal areas. Homelessness has increased in recent years but this does not appear to have resulted in more crime.
What advice and tips would you give anyone thinking about moving to Spain in the future?
It is important to have at least a basic understanding of Spanish. I would advise visiting for short periods at different times of the year and living in rented accommodation before making a commitment. Establish an understanding of the rules surrounding your circumstances such as tax implications. Although rules have been fairly relaxed in the past, the authorities are tightening up significantly. Take into account that the EU health card is not insurance and unless you are contributing to the tax system offers a very limited entitlement.
If you are planning to move or retire to Spain and would like to learn some of the language before you go, visit our Spanish tuition pages.