10 Tips On Starting a New Life In Spain

Photos of My Apartment in Southern Spain

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The beach in Sabinillias, close to my apartmentAnother view of the Mediterranean at Sabinillias, close to my appartmentView of mountains and some developments at the Manilva area. View from my lower balcony over the development and towards the Mediterranean in La DuquesaThis is the carpark at a supermarket about 20 minutes drive away. You can see the Rock of Gibraltar just off the shore.The development where I bought my apartment off-plan, in the middle of construction works. Scary.The apartments behind mine. The development has 4 swimming pools and this is one of them, taken before the development was finished and the palm trees only just planted. Things not quite ready - it looks quite different today.View over a different part of the development towards the sea.The apartment from ground level.
The beach in Sabinillias, close to my apartment
The beach in Sabinillias, close to my apartment
Another view of the Mediterranean at Sabinillias, close to my appartment
Another view of the Mediterranean at Sabinillias, close to my appartment
View of mountains and some developments at the Manilva area.
View of mountains and some developments at the Manilva area.
View from my lower balcony over the development and towards the Mediterranean in La Duquesa
View from my lower balcony over the development and towards the Mediterranean in La Duquesa
This is the carpark at a supermarket about 20 minutes drive away. You can see the Rock of Gibraltar just off the shore.
This is the carpark at a supermarket about 20 minutes drive away. You can see the Rock of Gibraltar just off the shore.
The development where I bought my apartment off-plan, in the middle of construction works. Scary.
The development where I bought my apartment off-plan, in the middle of construction works. Scary.
The apartments behind mine.
The apartments behind mine.
The development has 4 swimming pools and this is one of them, taken before the development was finished and the palm trees only just planted. Things not quite ready - it looks quite different today.
The development has 4 swimming pools and this is one of them, taken before the development was finished and the palm trees only just planted. Things not quite ready - it looks quite different today.
View over a different part of the development towards the sea.
View over a different part of the development towards the sea.
The apartment from ground level.
The apartment from ground level.

Rent a Property in Spain First

Start By Renting An Apartment In Spain

Before you decide exactly where to live in Spain the best idea is to rent an apartment or villa for about a year.

Obviously if you choose to rent on the Costa del Sol, it won't give you much insight into life on the Costa Brava - you'll have to decide which general region suits you best.

However, once you've selected the general area, you can rent almost anywhere within that area whilst you gain a thorough understanding of all the different residential developments available to you. Renting enables you to:

  • find out the truth about each individual housing development
  • hear about the effectiveness of each development in all weathers
  • hear about apartments for sale direct from the owners thus avoiding the amazingly high Spanish Estate Agency fees and maybe getting yourself a better deal.

Don't Hurry Your Spanish Property Purchase

An English estate agent in Spain loves to meet people from the UK who are in a hurry because this often means you don't have time to figure out if what he is offering is the best option.

Spain is a fabulous place to live and work, but the quality of life on the different developments is quite varied and you need time to find out which one maps most accurately onto your desired lifestyle.

Buying Off-Plan

I bought an apartment as a holiday home on the Costa del Sol, and I bought off-plan. This means that I didn't see the apartment, nor the development in the flesh before I bought it.

I would never do this again, despite the fact that luckily, it worked out relatively well (see photos above), I now know having spent some time in Spain, there are other developments in the same area that would have suited me better.

OK - the developments I covet now cost three times as much as what I paid for my apartment, but I didn't give myself the chance to find out the advantages and the disadvantages of each, price not withstanding.

Devon Countryside

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Garden invaded by sheep from field next door. Just some of the grass that needs cuttingMy friend Kathy's new foalMuddy lane to my houseA farmer's take on keeping Britain beautiful. Residue from a farmer burning plastic Autumn 2007 - no longer legal thank goodness.
Garden invaded by sheep from field next door.
Garden invaded by sheep from field next door.
Just some of the grass that needs cutting
Just some of the grass that needs cutting
My friend Kathy's new foal
My friend Kathy's new foal
Muddy lane to my house
Muddy lane to my house
A farmer's take on keeping Britain beautiful.
A farmer's take on keeping Britain beautiful.
Residue from a farmer burning plastic Autumn 2007 - no longer legal thank goodness.
Residue from a farmer burning plastic Autumn 2007 - no longer legal thank goodness.

Spanish Lifestyle Is Truly Different

In the UK, I live in Devon, and I can say that the life I lead now is different to the one I led before I moved here from Hampshire. The main differences are:

  • I have a much larger garden to take care of so I have to hire a gardener.
  • The mile long lane to my house is unmade, so I have to drive a 4 wheel drive car or I can't get the shopping home.
  • The area is underpopulated. There is less going on. You make your own fun.
  • When there is a storm, we lose our telephone lines, sometimes for weeks on end.
  • It's a rural area so there's far less concrete underfoot. Instead we have mud. You have to like mud.
  • There's no work to speak of unless you find the inside of an abattoir appealing, enjoy working with young offenders (large prison nearby) or get your kicks making cheese. You have to work for yourself.

Some people rate rural life highly precisely because there are so few people around. While it may look appealing superficially, those same people tend to moan endlessly about lack of this and lack of that.

These moany people haven't figured out that towns and villages need significant populations in order to enjoy a healthy local economy. And credit where credit due - our bucolic lifestyle is funded by the hundreds upon thousands of working people in urban areas many people I know are so desperate to keep out of Devon.

Without a population requiring services, businesses die. In the coastal areas of Spain finding a target market for your business offerings is not a problem. There is a large enough local English/German and Dutch (not to mention Spanish) population to support you if you do your homework first.

Do read my friend Graham's Blog. He lives in West Marbella and is currently selling his bar and restaurant business after 20 years. His blog talks about everything you need to know about running a bar or restaurant in Spain.

I want to point out that the way of life you can lead in Spain (given enough money) is potentially very different to the one you lead in the UK. The reason I think moving to Spain (or any other new country) constitutes a new way of life because so much changes at once.

Changing mere counties is pale by comparison. The emphasis in the part of Spain where I own property falls on leisure, language, local culture, cuisine, health, relaxation, sunshine, water-sports, social gatherings, a manicured architectural beauty, concentrated populations and the outdoors. And if you like those things and you've enough income, the Costa del Sol might just be what you are seeking.

Beachside Apartment

Front line beach apartment. Beautiful but the down side is noise, lack of privacy and lack of security.
Front line beach apartment. Beautiful but the down side is noise, lack of privacy and lack of security.

Do You Really Want To Live On The Beach?

People often think they want to move to Spain and buy an apartment on the beach. This is generally a mistake. Beaches are noisy and crowded in the summer months, and with the wide open expanse of the beach right by your apartment, burglars can eye up your property and make a quick entry and get-away.

Another reason is that beach-side properties tend to be owned by people who only come for holidays and so you can find yourself living on a ghost development during the autumn, winter and spring.

The beach is often near to the night-life spots so the noise and exuberance of holiday-makers having a good time can outweigh the pleasure of being that close to the sea.

From the point of view of location, I think I made the right choice regarding my apartment. Being on a hill and half a mile back from the coast, I have great sea views, can be at the beach in 5 minutes, but suffer none of the noise and fear of burglary that the beach brings.

Spend Less Money On Food

The food produce available both in supermarkets and street markets is cheaper and of a better quality than that available in supermarkets in the UK.

We buy most of our groceries from Mercadona, Supersol or Carrefour. Fresh fruit and vegetables is best bought in the street markets.

The Spanish don't restrict their purchase to perfectly formed, blemish-free fruit. Some of the best tasting fruit you'll ever eat is less than perfect to look at.

Your food budget will go further in southern Spain and if you buy a house, you'll have room to grow your own. You'll produce a much wider range of vegetables and fruit than you can in the UK, without the need for greenhouses or supplemental heating.

Eating in a tapas bar or restaurant is usually cheaper than eating out in the UK. A vegetarian or meat based meal plus a basic but good quality wine will probably cost around 15-20 EUR per head. However if you choose a specialised fish restaurant your bill could be quite a lot higher, as fish is expensive to buy in, even in southern Spain.

Rio in Spain

My Dog Rio Near The Beach in Spain
My Dog Rio Near The Beach in Spain

Dogs On Beaches

I am a dog-lover and a dog owner. Here in the UK I often take my dogs to the beach where, at least in the winter months they are allowed to run and play. The beach access rules for dogs are stricter during the summer.

However the major disappointment in Spain (at least in the area where I live) is that dogs are not allowed on any beaches at all. It is to do with the beaches achieving and keeping Blue Flag status.

However, not many people take much notice and you see dogs on beaches all the time. I've walked mine their at evening time when most people have left. And you have to pick up after them. The Spanish in the area all seem to have dogs and tend not to pick up after the animals on the beach nor on the pavements.

Spain Is Prepared for British Immigrants

With so many people from the UK living in Spain - some reports are now saying around 1m - Spain, more than any other mainland European country understands the needs of it's British immigrants.

The new European countries like Bulgaria and Croatia cannot compete with the huge infra-structures set up and running in Spain for British Immigration.

I certainly found this - it's not that they don't expect you to speak Spanish, but they let you off the hook for not speaking Spanish when you first arrive. Lawyers, banks, doctors, vets, schools - they all cater for the British on the Costa del Sol.

Furniture

Spain has some beautiful and elegant furniture on offer. There are showrooms dedicated to the stuff, where to furnish a small 3 bed-roomed house you'd need about £50,000. Actually there is just such a place at the bottom of our road in La Duquesa.

Spain does have cheaper places where the furniture is quite unremarkable. Or, there are companies that will furnish your entire appartment for you for a fixed price. You give them your keys and you come back a few weeks later to find everything installed, right down to new light fittings and papered or paint-effected walls, including unique oil paintings if you so desire. For a two bed appartment you can pay as little as £9,000 or as much as - well the sky's the limit.

And don't forget the curtains. Spain has the most exquisite curtain fabrics known to mankind - and they come with the equivalent price tag.

If you want good quality furniture for yourself, and you can't afford to pay the £20,000+ it will cost for something very special, you may have to hire a van and drive the lot down from the UK. There are certain advantages - it's cheaper and you can fill the van with fabulous wine for the journey home. But it'll still cost you your time.

The Weather

The Costa del Sol is hot in summer and warm in winter and overall the area enjoys 300 days of sunshine per year.

Now obviously it does rain in Southern Spain, and it can be torrential. We and many others have had problems with our apartment suffering from damp patches. The developer has come back and fixed most of them - during this last winter, we only had one damp patch appear. So we are on the home run.

This sort of snagging issue typically would not happen in Britain - you expect a newly built house to be waterproofed, but in Spain, you get the impression the builders don't really plan for water.

So - expect to have a few problems in your new apartment and then patiently wait to get them fixed. It is best try to keep a cool head when negotiating with developers. Spain is not England - just keep repeating that to yourself. The whole experience can be character-building, just at a time, when you really don't need any extensions to your character.

Buy Second Hand Property - Not New

OK - this is purely personal- but so is everything else I have said here. When you buy your apartment, buy it second hand, not brand new.

Definitely avoid off-plan as you don't know for sure what you are getting. And by ignoring all off-plan offers you are also avoiding the frankly night-mareish trip through snagging-land that you'll forced to endure otherwise. You will also avoid what myself and all my fellow neighbours have just experienced which is the setting up of a community.

In Britain, if you live in a block of flats, the flats are usually leasehold properties and you have a management company that takes care of the maintenance of the fabric of the building, with all leaseholders paying a proportion of charges. It can be a mildly annoying experience, but for the most-part we bumble along with it.

In Spain - think again. The community is a required legal entity, the success of which is 100% dependent upon the President of the Community, especially in a large development like our with about 250 homes. Our development is barely 3 years old and we are already on our third President and our third management company. It has been a rough old road with some legal document written in Spanish and badly translated into English for us to agree to or not, practically every month.

The community is responsible for addressing the problems of anti-social neighbours, the upkeep of the communal garden (a huge feature in the better developments - our gardens are huge), the upkeep of the swimming pools, roads on the development, the water supply, the appearance of the buildings, making sure residents don't degrade the general ambiance with enormous satellite dishes and other ugly accoutrements, parking, and resident communications. The last being quite challenging when a percentage of owners live the length and breadth of Europe.

The Spanish residents often have entirely different concerns to the British residents. The Spanish don't tend to mind noise - they are a noisy lot in general, The British like peace and quiet. So if your development ends up with a Spanish President, don't expect him/her to find the same things anti-social. In other words, you may find little empathy coming your way for a noisy neighbour problem.

One other thing you might like to consider. Buy an apartment on the most expensive development that you can afford. The logic here is that it is better to own a mediocre apartment on a very up-market development, than the very best apartment on an ordinary development. The reason is simply the quality of the neighbours.

Now imagine, if you have followed my advice you'll have rented in the area first, you'll be making friends who live on all these scores of different developments and you'll hear first-hand which ones have the best established communities and the best quality build and lifestyle arrangements for your tastes. Best of all you can avoid the whole set up phase of the community.

Don't Make a Mistake - Choose a Penthouse

Buy a Penthouse

In Spain, the term penthouse means any apartment on the top floor of a block. On the Costa del Sol tall buildings are now rare, so penthouses are mostly on the third (top) floor of developments. Therefore in any development, around a third of the apartments count as penthouses.

Its my advice to buy one of these. Why? OK I'll tell you why. Do you remember I said earlier that Spanish builders don't deal with water too well? That equates to the guttering either not working or being missing altogether. They just don't factor it in.

Further, if the person above you decides to wash down their balcony, or worse still, wash away Fido's urine, it'll all end up on your balcony. And when it rains, the rain falls in veritable waterfalls onto your balcony and roof and terrace.

It's at times like these that you appreciate the rather excellent guttering we have as standard in the UK and that we all take for granted.

I bought a penthouse, not because I knew these things but because I wanted a better view and wanted to avoid the sound of people walking above me.

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Comments 10 comments

stormyweather profile image

stormyweather 4 years ago from Devon, UK Author

Now's a good time to rent an apartment -so many are empty - you can try out your new lifestyle for very little.


vivian. 4 years ago

thinking about moving to spain for years but never seem to mannage it ,thanks for words of wisdom .


Graham 6 years ago

I used to live in Spain with my wife. The one thing we miss about there is the weather, though in the winter it could get very cold, and wet. Property prices are quite flat at the moment due to the poor state of the Spanish economy, and jobs are very difficult to come by.


grahunt profile image

grahunt 7 years ago from Valencia, Spain

Good points on this hub. I like the realities that are presented here. Gives a good idea of everyday life


stormyweather profile image

stormyweather 8 years ago from Devon, UK Author

That's good to hear. There was a doom and gloom TV program here recently that said all the Brits were leaving Spain due to property price issues . . . tell me it's not true!


Craig Dewe profile image

Craig Dewe 8 years ago from Auckland, New Zealand

Hey Stormy,

I just had to put in my recommendation for living in Spain. It's great...even though I live in Madrid and not anywhere near the beach.

Good weather, good people, good times.


micky 8 years ago

If you are visiting Spain to view different regions and need to hire a car try carjet.com. Their prices are good, no extra for additional drivers etc. You can prepay on the internet or use their UK call centre

If you haven't got a Euro bank account yet - make sure You have a "Nationwide" bank debit card. No charges for using an ATM abroad and they use the Visa exchange rate

Found the info rmation on the site most helpful


Better Yourself profile image

Better Yourself 8 years ago from North Carolina

Hey Stormy,

While I have never been to Spain, I think I would fancy the Devon Countryside. Guess I'll need a Land Rover or something! Cute pictures. Thanks for sharing


Frank Clark 8 years ago

I moved ot spain a couple of years ago - I can tell you this is great advice. It is a great place to be but it helps to know a thing or two before you go:

Don’t waste your time and effort as I foolishly did bringing down loads of winter clothes. I ended up giving away all but one of my jumpers and coats and I don’t own any gloves or scarves. A cold day here in winter is 10oC and that’s pretty rare. Here in this warm climate people don’t worry about spending loads of money on carpets and heavy curtains. We have polished marble floors (Vacuum cleaning is a 15 min job.). All our curtains are lightweight and can be machine-washed.


russellhub profile image

russellhub 8 years ago

I am interested in moving to Spain. This is really useful. Thanks a lot, Stormy Weather

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