RELOCATING TO SPAIN
Every year some 300,000 British people move abroad. The under 55s tend to go to Australia, Canada or New Zealand, while the over 55s head to Spain and France. For those moving to Spain, Property Guides editor Christopher Nye offers some tips on making a success of the move
A new life in Spain, or in any new country, represents the chance to get to know a different culture and language.
For Brits and Spain, it’s usually about an end to the long, chilly commute and the start of an active retirement with all the “me time” you want, in far better weather (Spain has twice the sunshine of the UK, 2,500-3,000 hours of sunshine per year compared to around 1,500 hours in the UK).
When Property Guides asked readers what they were looking for in a move to Spain, 73% said, “a healthier lifestyle”, 64% said they wanted “a happy retirement” and 49% a lower cost of living. Also mentioned were “a new adventure” and “new friends”. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it?
But moving your entire life to a different country isn’t exactly a walk in the park. How can you be sure you won’t be ripped off on the property purchase (we’ve all read the horror stories of lost money and homes never built), what about healthcare after Brexit, how will you make friends…?
Firstly, relax! Hundreds of thousands of British people (and people from other countries too) have made the move to Spain before you, the vast majority painlessly.
Buying a Spanish home
There are three main issues with buying a property in Spain – seeing the right homes, being protected legally, and getting your pounds sent there safely and at the best rate. Each can be resolved by using the right professional.
Firstly, a good estate agent. You want someone who speaks English, is proactive and not too hard sell. Agents in Spain earn much higher commissions than in the UK and you can expect better service. But that can tip into being a little over-protective of clients! Beware organised ‘viewing trips’ where the agent puts you up in a hotel – staying independent can let you see a better range of properties and areas.
The ‘wild west’ days of dodgy Spanish time share sellers and developers are largely behind us, but you most definitely want an independent lawyer on your side, one that specialises in property. Thirdly, the biggest risk to your property purchase could be changing exchange rates. If you agree to buy a €200,000 property with the pound worth, say, €1.20, and then by the time you complete in two months’ time the pound is only worth €1.05, as happened between January and March this year, you’ll need to find tens of thousands more cash. You can protect against this risk if you use a property specialist (we recommend Smart Currency Exchange).
Although life can be simpler in Spain – and certainly cheaper – there will be some extra costs, beyond the obvious ones. It’s easy to work out, but many people don’t and then seem surprised when they get a bill for swimming pool cleaning or high costs for air-conditioning. Write out all the expenses you have in your UK life, then take out the miserable things you were paying for at home, such as train fares and heating bills, then add in the things that will be making your life better – such as golf club fees or a new boat!
Post-Brexit, health insurance might be your largest on-going expense, especially for retirees with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure. We await to see if a replacement for the EHIC will be found, or some other reciprocal health system such as existed within the EU. However, to be on the safe side, do budget for a couple of thousand pounds a year for health insurance.
When you spend more than 183 days a year in Spain you will become officially tax resident there. Spanish taxes are not particularly high, and local taxes – their equivalent of council tax – are considerably lower. Don’t forget to make a will when you get to Spain.
Spain may also require British citizens to get a visa from next year. There are several versions, but the “non-lucrative visa” will suit most retirees. This requires you to show that you have sufficient savings or income, and health insurance, not to become a burden on the state.
For people hoping to work, the EU has a “blue card” just like the US’s green card, but Spain also has its own working visa system, just like the UK will be for the many Spaniards hoping to move to the UK.
The important thing is to keep it legal! In the past, thousands of British people spent long periods in Spain without registering or paying local taxes. You simply won’t get away with that anymore, as your comings and goings will be recorded at the airport.
In conclusion, moving to Spain is going to get more complicated, but is easily doable and life there is as enjoyable as ever. So while the rest of us may be dreading the winter ahead, you could be playing golf in a tee-shirt in January on the Costa Blanca!