We are receiving an increasing number of requests for advice and assistance from US and Canadian citizens wanting to retire to Spain or to spend a year or two here with their children.
We were intrigued why there is such a sudden influx of interest. So, we decided to ask an American family in Spain who have spent a great year and a half here.
We think it is a great opportunity for youngsters to visit Spain and, (in our day job!), we help families to chose and apply for state or private/international schools, depending on their age and Spanish language knowledge. The Malaga and Valenica regions appear to be the most popular at present.
Let us introduce the American Family in Spain. Over to Alan …
1. Please tell us a bit about yourselves. Where are you from? How old are your children? Names etc.
We are Heidi and Alan Wagoner. We are from North Carolina, USA, and have lived in Spain over a year and a half. We have two kids, Lars (11), and Anya (9).
2. When did you move to Spain?
We moved to Spain in August of 2012.
3. Why did you decide to move to Spain?
We figured a Spanish speaking country would be the easiest, as we’d all had some exposure to Spanish. Initially, we were thinking a Central our South American country, but we liked the idea of Spain, as Europe is “culturally dense” and offers a bit more diversity.
4. How did you decide to live where you are? What were the influencing factors?
Once we knew that Spain was our destination, we made a list of requirements.
– We wanted to be on the water. The Atlantic side can get very cold, so we opted for the warmer Mediterranean Sea.
– We wanted a town or city where there was only a single primary language. Cities like Barcelona and Valencia not only speak Spanish, but Catalan is common as well. We thought that trying to decipher and learn two different (but similar) languages was a bit too much, so we opted for a “traditional” Spanish speaking city.
– We wanted to be within an hour’s drive to a major airport.
– Friendly people. This was easy, as we’ve met fantastic people all over Spain.
– We did not want a area that was big with the expat crowd.
– We wanted a place that was in/close to nature. We didn’t rule out a city, but wanted the ability to see Mother Nature and have that ever so coveted sea view.
– It had to “feel” right. I know that’s a very subjective thing, but the “I’ll know it when I see it” mantra worked for us.
Once we had our list of requirements, we took a scoping trip before we moved, and drove along the coast from south of Valencia to Málaga, and looked at pretty much every town in between. We drove 1200 kilometers in a week, and found a number of nice places, but Almuñécar really fit the bill.
5. What difficulties did you face and how did you overcome them (during the planning process and once in Spain)?
Heidi is the big Planner in the family, so doing a lot of research is what she does best. Really be honest with yourself and dig deep to figure out what you want. Many people picture themselves sipping wine at an outdoor cafe, but that may be more of a holiday dream. Really take the time to envision your daily life and how you want to live and what your family needs to tick.
Being prepared can help alleviate some of the stress related to planning for a new environment, but my biggest suggestion to those who are interested in moving to Spain are get involved with expat forums.
Some of the difficulty is just not knowing “the process” of how things are done here. Just because you found it in writing on the web, doesn’t make it true. Be sure to network and ask around, and get a input from a number of people.
Once we were in Spain, our inefficiency with the language was probably the biggest hurdle. We’re getting better, and it’s not as stressful as it was when we first moved here, but the people here in Spain are very helpful and kind if you try to meet them halfway. The kids of course are now fluent and it is just second nature for them to speak and understand the language.
Overall, I would say the education standard for the school our kids attend would be slightly below what we had in the U.S., but there is a lot more to our choice than just comparing one school system to another. Our biggest concern with our kids’ education was that they socialize and learn the language. The schools are a little more basic and don’t have as many “things” available for the class to interact with (i.e. computers, science projects, book reports and more).
We’re lucky in that both of our kids are very smart, so the rote learning of subjects was less important to us. Not getting straight A’s was difficult for our eldest, so it was fairly stressful the first few months. But after a lot of struggling, and work, both of our kids are fluent, and are at the tops of their classes.
7. Was it easy to get them enrolled in school here? What paperwork did it involve?
Once we had the proper paperwork (NIE) from the police station, it was very easy. That allowed us to register with the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento), and determine the proper school for the kids. The school paperwork was very straightforward, and our kids were registered in a day.
8. Tell us about your price comparison blog posts. How does the cost of living in Spain compare to in the US?
That is a very difficult question to answer because prices vary so much within the USA, State, City etc and the same is true for each area of Spain. I am working on some detailed posts that should be out soon comparing our costs in Apex, North Carolina to Almuñécar, Spain. Of course we can only share what we have experienced.
We do publish our detailed costs each quarter on our blog, so that is always available as a reference as well. These cover our costs in broad categories (Auto, Housing, Food/Household Supplies, Travel, etc). I can however tell you that our cost of living in Spain is less than half of what it was in the USA. Again, much of this is due to personal choices (housing, vehicle, activities, travel, etc)
9. What are the best and worst factors for a US citizen moving to Spain?
That’s a tough question to answer. Not knowing the WHERE (to go shopping, to rent a car, etc.) or the HOW (do I get a cellphone, get internet service, etc.), can be very stressful. Know that going into it, there will be frustrating moments, and that you can work through them.
I wrote an ebook, Live in Spain” Resident Visa Tips and Tricks. It helps streamline your process to apply for the non-lucrative/retirement visa for non-EU citizens. I am receiving great feedback from those that have purchased it and followed the process. It is always great to get that email from a reader stating “Our visas were approved!”
The worst factors for us were probably missing some of our favorite foods or restaurants. Just yesterday, Heidi was at our local store, and sent me pictures of American style cake mix and frosting. It’s amazing that we were both so excited over Betty Crocker mysteriously appearing for the first time in our town.
The best factors have been that we’re much closer as a family. We spend more quality time together. Our life is much more relaxed and enriched. We wake up to fantastic sunrises, weather and people, and the sunsets are awesome too. Everything in between is much more fulfilling for us.
10. What advice would you give any other US citizens thinking of moving to Spain?
I would advise those U.S. citizens who are looking to move to Spain to be open to new ways of doing things. Embrace the culture and try to become a local. If you try to reproduce your U.S. lifestyle here in Spain, you will be setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration. Without a doubt, our time here in Spain has been fantastic. It’s an experience that I hope my kids will remember and take with them for the rest of their lives.
Thanks for sharing with us guys! We wish you the best of luck with your exciting new travel plans and are happy you enjoyed your time in Spain!
So, if YOU plan to be an American family in Spain or are thinking of retiring here, you now have a few simple steps to take:
- Contact Us to help you plan your move, chose the best part of Spain for you, sort out the schools, NIE applications, set up internet and phone contracts and everything else you may need.
- Pop over to YouTube and have a look at our videos: Family in Spain on YouTube
- And finally … start learning some Spanish. ¡Ya!
See you soon … in Spain!
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