As a recently retired American expat living in Spain, it is one of the most frequent questions I get.
Of all the places in the world, why did we choose to move to Spain?
Why not stay in sunny San Diego? Why not retire to Arizona or Florida? Why not Mexico or Costa Rica or southeast Asia?
It is a great question… and one I have considered countless times. After much self-reflection, it came down to personal preference and some very simple requirements.
So,… explained in three easy steps, Why Spain?
We chose Europe… because of a connection
I spent most of my early childhood (to age 11) living in Europe. This included 4 years in London and 4 incredibly impressionable years in Iceland from the age of 8 to the age of 11.
Those four formative years in Iceland would create a lasting bond with Europe.
Iceland is responsible for my wanderlust. In the summer months, on Saturdays, we would pack a lunch, jump into the car and explore the breathtaking natural beauty that this sub-arctic volcanic island (so young in geological time) had to offer… Thingvellir, Geysir, Gulfoss. We explored caves, hiked glaciers, and mountains, saw countless waterfalls and experienced Mount Hekla spewing molten lava up close in the darkness of winter. I experienced the aurora borealis (the northern lights) many times. Each is an experience etched permanently in my mind.
My childhood in Europe had left an indelible impression on me.
I’m sure Arizona and Florida are great, just not for us. Same with Asia… it just never had much appeal. Central and South America are places I’d love to visit, but, for me, Europe was where I left my heart. I wanted to go back and experience living in Europe as an adult, and share the experience my girlfriend.
Our values also played a role in the decision. Over time, as we pondered what our new life would look like, we felt like our values, mindset, and lifestyle aligned more closely with European living than with American living.
We chose Southern Europe… for the climate
Having lived the last 37 years in sunny San Diego, California I was spoilt.
I wasn’t about to move to anyplace with snow or where the winters were colder than the mild Southern California winters. This also meant our new home would have to be near the coast… that is the Mediterranean. As I found out, even southern European coastal countries have cold winters if you are not near the coast.
So, the list of possible countries was short: Portugal, Spain, southern France, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Malta or Cyprus.
Cyprus, Malta, Turkey, Montenegro, and Albania all seemed a stretch, so we crossed them off the shortlist. France was an early serious consideration, but, ultimately, we weren’t convinced it was right for us. The language barrier was a concern.
It came down to Portugal, Spain, Italy, Croatia, and Greece.
We chose Spain… for the visa
Ok, it wasn’t really that straight-forward, but since we are simplifying things here, it was a big part of the decision.
Getting a visa in Spain certainly wasn’t easy.
Spain is notorious for its bureaucracy. But, compared to Portugal, Italy, Croatia, and Greece, the Spanish visa seemed much more straight-forward for our situation.
There were two primary challenges with the relevant visa programs from these other countries:
- They wanted cash or property investments to the tune of several hundred thousand U.S. dollars, otherwise known as the ‘Golden visa’, (that was NOT ‘gonna happen… WAY too risky for me!), or
- The visa process itself was nearly impossible to understand. What little requirements we could find, even on official government websites, were extremely vague. It felt like the process was: (1) fill out some forms, (2) submit said forms, (3) wait around [an undetermined amount of time] to see if you hear anything… not very reassuring.
By comparison, once we narrowed it down to the Spanish Non-Lucrative visa, the volume of active websites delivering up-to-date, quality information about this specific visa and its procedures was impressive.
We found Americans who had recently done (or were in the process of doing) exactly what we were trying to accomplish… including important details like which Spanish embassy in the U.S. we would go through and which city in Spain we would end up in… both are vital to getting the procedure correct for your own situation.
It took months of careful planning, attention to detail, gathering and translating documents, lining up tasks, timelining everything and paying attention to dependencies. Luckily, as a career Analyst, these were some of my strong suits. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but we did absolutely everything (visa, Padron, NIE, bank accounts, finding an apartment), both in the states and in Spain, on our own even though our Spanish was almost non-existent. The only thing we outsourced was the translation of official documents. For me, it just took sheer determination and tenacity.
Of course, we had also visited Spain during one of our many ‘scouting trips’ and fell in love. We fell in love with the laidback vibe we found in Andalusia and along the coastal regions, the long days, the cafe culture, the families young and old who make the pedestrian streets and citrus-tree-lined plazas the place to meet friends for lunch, dinner and coffee late into the evening.
So, there you have it! Why did we choose Spain?
- We chose Europe because of a childhood connection
- We chose Southern Europe for the climate, and
- We chose Spain for the visa
Of course, there were many other things that figured into the equation… Spain has an incredibly diverse culture, rich history, amazing food, and wonderful people!
It was never an easy decision. But it is one that we never regretted. And we are still grateful every day for the opportunities we have.
This is an amazing journey… and we can’t wait to see what comes next!
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