By Linda Wainwright
In almost 30 years in Spain I’ve brought up children, divorced, worked, been unemployed, been ill, been fit, made friends, and lost friends. In short, I have lived an ordinary life.
I live in a sub-tropical archipelago, the Canary Islands, actually off the coast of Morocco, the southern most part of Spain. The decision to emigrate from my damp homeland was easy. Before internet, however, research was limited. The first advice I would give is to do thorough research. Once you’ve scoured the facts, look for blogs and stories from immigrants for the real nitty-gritty.
Spain is by no means all flamenco dancers, bullfights and beaches. There are industrial areas. The north west coast is battered in winter by fierce Atlantic storms. Mountain ranges at either end of the country remain snow covered throughout winter, and summer comes slowly up there. I’ve seen snow covered peaks in Asturias in June. On the other hand, I’ve been on beaches on the Costa del Sol and the Canaries in January. Spain is the third largest country in modern Europe proper, and a diverse country in every way.
The different provinces are as different as are the states of the US. The cultural differences will depend on which region you choose or your company sends you to. Andalucia is the image most people have when they hear the name Spain, but it is only a part of an intriguing country, as Texas is only one face of the US. In other parts of Spain, or here on the islands, traditional dress and music is more folksy and less dramatic, harking back to the country’s rural roots.
If part of your reason for moving to Spain is to find a milder climate, as mine was (I was told it would be better for my son’s asthma, and it was), then the Canary Islands are for you. Along the Mediterranean coast the climate is less warm, but still kinder than northern Europe or the northern US states. One thing to note, if you don’t like the heat, is that air conditioning, although to be found in banks and offices, is not as common here in houses and apartments. At home I open windows back and front of the apartment and let the breeze waft through. Likewise, both dishwashers and tumble dryers are by no means the norm, but there is nothing like the fresh smell of clothes dried outdoors on an old fashioned line.
Any culture shock in moving to Spain is relative. It’s a Catholic country but for the most part open to other religions and nationalities, and in recent years has passed LGBT laws, so basically, everyone is welcome. The biggest difference I find, even after all this time, is “the manaña syndrome.” It is a fact of life, more so in the warmer parts of the country, where the afternoon siesta is still very much part of the structure of life. (Recent moves to change working hours to fall into line with other European countries are being strongly resisted.) Don’t expect offices to be open mid-afternoon, nor at weekend. Afternoon is, however, a great time to go the supermarket, my local one is deserted between 3pm and 5pm, but at least it does stay open.
When it comes to paperwork of any kind, including the cyber variety, there is never any sense of urgency, no staying late to “get the job done.” This might be pleasant if you’re the worker, but frustrating if you’re the one needing the papers or advice. It happens in hospitals, tax offices, post offices and, well, everywhere. We may complain about the pressures of life further north, but 21st century Spain is finding it hard to let go of its love of papers, stamps and seals, so be prepared.
And speaking of paperwork, although the internet has resulted vast improvements in my time here, it’s still a chore, and much still has to be done face to face – which is why we employ gestors. This is a profession loosely comparable to a legal clerk, but mostly we just pay them to stand in line to pay taxes or register our change of vehicle, because we can’t take the time of work to do so.
Other than suffering from underfunding, like most of the western world, medical services are good. If you are working and paying social security, or unemployed but have paid it in the past, then an excellent standard of healthcare is available to you. If you are a European citizen this extends to senior citizens who have a European Health card, but seniors who are not European should have private medical insurance. Rates are pleasantly lower than for the US.
Value Added Tax (IVA) rates are in line with other European countries, currently at 21% for most goods, but the Canaries enjoy a much reduced rate, currently 7% on the majority of purchases, making, say, eating out more affordable.
I’ve recently been checking house prices and rental prices, and, in short, findings are that, like everywhere, city living or resort living is expensive, and sadly much of the Mediterranean coast is now resorts. However, prices in less famous cities, like Gijon in Asturias, for example, are reasonable, and the further you go from the coasts the more affordable housing is.
Immigrating to Spain is much easier for Europeans, and there are different entry/work rules for different countries. Spain having “conquered” much of the world 500 years ago means that several countries have citizens with family links which entitle them to work here. It’s complicated, but check online or with your local consulate or embassy.
There is one, big mistake I’ve witnessed over the years, and that is the delusion of immigrants or expats that life in Spain is going to be one, long holiday. Of course that’s nonsense. We work as hard as we did at home, but we do have more free time to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
Writer Linda Wainwright tells readers about life on the Canary Islands at https://islandmomma.net/