Retiring abroad: a life in sunny Spain

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In the third installment of my series on retiring abroad, the focus shifts back to Europe. In previous posts I’ve talked to Loren Chudy, who retired with his wife Jan to rural France, and to Allan Prout, who left the ice and snow of Saskatchewan to spend his winters in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

This time, I talk to Sue Martin, who left England with her husband Ian to spend their retirement near the village of Pedreguer, in sunny Spain. And they’re not just relaxing in the sun: aside fromSue and Ian working around the hacienda and doing local volunteer work, Sue writes books and has just started her own travel blog, www.memoirsofamotorhome.com.

While Loren and Allan decided to make the move when they hit retirement age, for Sue and Ian the reasons were more complex: as noted at the beginning of this series, the decision to become an expat arrives in different ways for different people. And the adjustment to living in a new country can be easy, or more difficult.

Here’s a look at the expat experience for Sue and Ian in sunny Spain.

Travelling Boomer: How did you decide to move to your home away from home?

Sue: We bought a holiday home in Spain back in 2003. We flew to Barcelona, then headed south searching for a good location. Back then Spain was inexpensive and offered ideal weather along with some stunning countryside. Return flights to either Alicante or Valencia could be purchased for less than 50 euros! I had friends who owned an apartment in Javea, so hearing about the area from them planted the initial interest.

We had the property for two years when my husband’s business started to decline. It was his idea to move here permanently — at that time I was not keen as my own property business was booming. However, I became very ill and suddenly the money earned from my business seemed insignificant compared to just being alive! So I agreed to up and go . . . sold the business while still retaining shares and directorship to give me an income . . . and moved to the small village of Pedreguer, close to Denia on the Costa Blanca.

TB: What do you like best about living in sunny Spain?

Sue: Definitely the way of life. It is slower, people have time for you, there is no rush, the shops are mostly individual with very few hypermarkets. There is not as much traffic . . . the rat race has not reached here. To be honest, it is a bit like living in the U.K. used to be back in the fifties and sixties. The big cities are obviously different, but they are far away.

TB:  What were the biggest adjustments you had to make?

Sue: The biggest adjustment living here was simply day-to-day life. It is very much a “mañana” attitude, no big shopping centres where you can buy anything and everything, the shops didn’t stock much variety and certainly none of the trusted English products which are healthy. No vegetarian stores or products here!

So, I decided to make it all myself from scratch, a lot of fun but very time-consuming. We do, however, have a Spanish orchard complete with oranges, mandarins, lemons, avocados, figs, limes, olives, nispero and caci (a type of persimmon). So, along with our vegetable patch in which I grow all our other needs, we are fine.

Siestas were also difficult to get my head around — everything stops and shuts at 1:30 and doesn’t open again till 4:30. Being English, I even now cannot get used to shops being open so late into the evening. The glorious Mediterranean weather, however, makes up for everything else! Except for the summer when it is too hot for us, so we now rent out our villa in July and August and head for cooler climes!

TB: What’s your day like in Pedreguer?

Sue: My day now is filled with growing and tending to the gardens, fruit and vegetables, making jams, salsas etc. And it’s dotted with yoga classes, voluntary work at the local animal shelter and finally my writing and publishing of children’s story and activity books (available at www.touchwoodtales.com). Retirement has become a full-time job.

Last year we also purchased an old motor home and now plan trips to explore as much of the rest of Europe as we can . . . Portugal, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Bulgaria etc. Living here gives us wonderful access to so much — no longer do we have the dreaded Channel Tunnel between us and the rest of Europe and Asia!

TB: Is there anything you miss about your old home?

Sue: I do miss the culture, little things like a good shopping experience, the theatre, shows, London etc., etc. Spain just doesn’t have that, and I miss the quintessential “Englishness” of England, including, dare I say it, the cool rain. But I now indulge in all of that when I return to see family and friends, which is about three times a year.

TB: Would you move back home permanently?

Sue: Would I return? Perhaps . . . at the moment the jury is out on that one. Never say never, eh? Ian won’t, I know that for sure, he has nothing there to return for.

Three different expats, three different stories. But all seem to be happy with their decision to spend their retirements in a foreign country they’ve come to call home. That’s not always the case, of course: retiring abroad can raise a number of difficult issues, from neighbour problems to personal conflicts to trouble getting the proper medical care.

However, there are some lessons to take from the experience of our three expats. First, spend some time getting the feel of your future home before you take the big step: that can help you anticipate any potential problems. Second, get involved: all three expats have made an active connection with their new homes, exploring the culture, reviewing the restaurants, doing volunteer work. Third, don’t look back: you’ve chosen a new life, so embrace all the good things about it.

We’ve seen three sides of the expat experience, but there are as many stories as people who decide to retire abroad. If you’re an expat and want to share your story, leave a comment or contact me at marshman.paul@gmail.com.

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Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

2 Comments

  1. Thanks, Loren. I imagine it would be interesting to contrast Sue’s experience of moving to Spain with your move to France. I imagine the whole cultural “siesta” thing might be hard for most outsiders to get used to. I feel it when I travel to Latin countries: I show up for dinner at 7 and I’m 3 hours early. I do know the former colleague you referred to — hope she finds it useful.
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