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Saturday April 26, 2014

A mythical exodus? Why countless expats are staying put in Spain

According to recent reports in the UK press, an estimated 90,000 British expats left Spain last year citing – among reasons for their departure – a depressed property market, lack of secure jobs, the rigours of being self employed and soaring cost of living. Of course what these excitable reports rarely reveal is that about 900,000 Britons are still happily living in Spain (many of whom remain under the radar by failing to register with their local councils) and have no intention of returning to Blighty. Hundreds more are pouring into the country every day.

The elasticity of statistics coupled with the unfortunate experiences of certain expats create dramatic and hysterical headlines that prove infuriating to some of us who quite frankly actually very much enjoy life in Spain. All the same, it would be foolhardy and grossly naïve to imagine that living as an expat in the country is a bed of roses. But frankly where is Utopia on earth these days? Bureaucracy, draconian and at times insane property legislation and questionable costs associated with starting a business can prove hugely frustrating for many and to imagine that life is one big holiday in the sun is risible.

Every year I receive hundreds of e-mails from Britons asking for advice about moving to the Baleares. Some have already done their homework and just want reassurance that they are making the right move while others have specific issues of concern. But there’s also a small number who quite frankly are living in La La land. Some of the daft questions I’ve received in recent years are as follows: Can my family and I live off the land in a local village? No. Can we avoid paying council taxes if we buy a property in Spain? No and why should you? Can we get free healthcare even though we’re not retirees and have not paid into the British or Spanish system? No. Can we buy a property with swimming pool for about €30,000? In your dreams! Is it essential to integrate with locals? Absolutely if you want to experience the real Majorca. Do we have to learn some Spanish? Yes, unless you want to live in a British ghetto.

In the main, those Britons who choose to relocate to Spain are sensible and ensure that they have sufficient financial security or work back home to make the move without the fear of coming unstuck. To build dreams on sand, believing that a life of milk and honey or possibly manna awaits, is a recipe for disaster. The point is that the need to earn a crust and to face life’s problems in all shapes and forms is the same whether in grey and rainy Blighty or sun tinged Spain. It’s just that problems seem less grim when there’s a sun kissed mountain leering at you from the window or a frisky wave beckoning a mere five minutes drive from your home.

To contradict the Jonahs in the British press, I spoke with several leading estate agents on Majorca who told me that business was booming. Eddy Barrera, director of Engel & Volkers in the west of Mallorca said: ‘We have seen a significant increase in British cash buyers at all levels of the market, at the top end in particular.’ And Amanda Butler, of MJC Associates and Savils that deal exclusively with high end British buyers, reported record purchases with clients seeking luxury properties in the order of €3 to €50 million. She cited Deia village in the North West, Pollença and Palma as areas of key interest. Bill Webb of popular British expat removals firm Webbs is apparently stretched to capacity with the sheer number of Britons using his company’s services to relocate to Majorca over the forthcoming weeks.

Of course the Balearic islands are hugely lucky in that they attracts millions of holidaymakers each year, particularly Britons and Germans, and in turn thousands of would-be expats. Time will tell but nothing is static. For every Briton packing his bag, there’ll be another ten full of anticipation and wonder who’ll be heading to our shores, with every intention of staying for good.

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