Moving to Spain From the UK as Brexit Expats

Moving to Spain From the UK as Brexit Expats

We knew we would be moving to Spain when Boris Johnson won the UK election in 2019. As UK citizens, our long held hope that Brexit would not happen was lost, along with our plans to travel Europe permanently for at least another ten years. 

We had already spent eight months in Spain, living in our motorhome in both busy cities and off the beaten path places, and had fallen in love with the country and it’s larger than life, fun loving and generous people. Moving to Spain offered a port in the Brexit storm, a place where we could buy a house and at least shelter there every other 90 days, seeing out our Schengen Area obligations as ‘third nation’ citizens.  

Although Phil also has an Irish passport because he was born on the island of Ireland, we didn’t know at this early stage that his citizenship would also apply to me as his wife. After months of digging (and after we had bought a house that we technically didn’t need) we discovered that an obscure piece of EU legislation affords me the ‘right to a family life’ with Phil, wherever we choose to roam in Europe..Schengen be damned!  

So, Irish passport in hand, printed and electronic copies of the legislation and various emails from the EU confirming our position, we once again can travel permanently in Europe with no restrictions. Except…we now own a little bolt hole in the mountains of the Marina Alta – think Benidorm and 30km inland – which is totally off-grid and 3km from our nearest neighbours. Although it was not our intention, we have found our spiritual place completely by accident and hope to always have a home in this rugged and little visited part of Spain.

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moving to spain garden
A bumper courgette harvest

In a dip in the mountains, surrounded by cherry and olive trees, our house was originally a small cattle shed, added on to over the years and now a three bedroom dwelling. We generate all our own electricity, use bottled gas for hot water and cooking, and chop our own wood for the stove in winter. Water is collected from the local spring and used to fill our underground tank. We have one room in which we can get 4g, and we supplement this with ruinously expensive satellite internet so we can work when we’re not travelling.

It’s a simple life that feels pretty easy. We love being self-sufficient and during lockdown, planted a 100m2 veggie patch, which was far too large, so the neighbouring village was well supplied with courgettes and tomatoes. Often in return, we would receive a jar of tomato frito, or a plate of courgette brownies, made by loving Spanish hands with our produce – we had a cottage industry on our doorstep.

Our Spanish Community

Although ‘our’ village and the neighbouring village are remote, together they are an eclectic pair. In winter, the occupants number 100 or so, but this can swell by 300 in summer, as families come for the holidays from Madrid and Valencia. Last summer, we sat by the pool bar in easy conversation with locals, Brits, French, Swiss and German folk.  We know that we will always be outsiders in a tight knit community where the spoken language is Valenciano and the culture and traditions of the area remain strong …but that’s ok because we have been welcomed with open arms and are lucky that we’ve clicked with a local couple who lived in the UK for several years and speak excellent English and an ex-pat Scottish couple who love the wilderness as much as us.

moving to spain overlook
Our valley in the Marina Alta, Spain

I have been attending Pilates in the community hall, where I understand not a word the instructor says (but understand her hands when she pushes me into impossible positions) and we make a point of going to the local bar or restaurant on a regular basis when we’re not travelling. It has been challenging to try and learn the language – some local people only speak Valenciano, not Castilian, the main language of Spain. Yet Valenciano in wider Spain is of little use. Add to that the recognised challenges of learning Valenciano, or indeed any language when travelling extensively and often, and we are at an impasse.  

The country is no stranger to ex-pats and moving to Spain has been made easy by the wealth of information available online. The Costa Blanca forum is our go to resource for pretty much anything to do with living in Spain. There are so many businesses run by expats, for expats, that finding someone to help is easy. There is even a British builders merchant on the coast where we can buy building materials not available in Spain!

Daily Life After Moving to Spain

Missing Home, Family and Friends

There are aspects of life in the UK we miss, but not many. Spain is slow to change and the availability of world foods is limited. We certainly don’t miss the UK weather or the expensive cost of living. In Spain, our annual ‘fixed’ costs such as gas, electric and council tax are less than a single month’s costs in the UK.

We had family visit at Christmas and enjoyed eating lunch outside in a balmy 23 degrees. It has been hard during lockdown, knowing that if we went back to the UK we would have to quarantine and potentially place our elderly parents at risk. We have missed special moments and celebrations that we would usually have been at home for. Although in normal times, the UK is a quick (and cheap) flight away, the current situation has highlighted how far apart we are and has served to remind us that none of us are getting any younger.

A Normal Day Living in Spain

"We occasionally muse about how we ended up where we live - in life, as well as where we call home."

Izzy and Phil, on living in Spain

We are lucky in that we don’t need to work. Phil has a military pension, which in Spain is more than adequate, and we make money through our blog. When we’re not travelling, Phil is busy managing our hectare of land, chopping wood and fetching water. We have also been making improvements to our house, which leaked like a rusty sieve when we moved in, because “all Spanish houses leak” according to the local builder! Unfortunately we found this out two weeks after moving to Spain, when the worst gota fria (cold drop) in living memory hit our valley and we woke up at 3am to water pouring in through the ceiling and coming up through the floor!

When I’m not acting as builders mate, out hiking or tending to our rampant veg patch, I work on the blog, managing all the aspects of our small business, sharing information and helping motorhomers and road trippers make their dreams come true.

collecting wood moving to spain
Collecting wood in the mula (mule)

Once a week, we make the 30 minute trek to our nearest supermarket and stock up. We have a meticulous list – it doesn’t do to run out of milk when there is no convenience store to nip out to – and try and do all our ‘town’ jobs on the same day.  Sometimes, we may treat ourselves to lunch out, but in reality we prefer to cook in our outside kitchen at home and enjoy a lazy few hours on our patio, enjoying the sun in winter and the shade from our grapevine in summer.

We occasionally muse about how we ended up where we have – in life, as well as where we now call home.  How did a laid back Irishman and an uptight Brit ever get together in the first place?  Originally, we thought we might buy a house in Tarifa, the southerly most point of Spain, but decided eventually that it was just too far from the nearest airport and a long drive from northern Europe, a frequent motorhome destination.

Finding Housing in Spain

We found our house on Ebay, idly searching one evening. Driving into the Spanish mountains along narrow roads and hairpin turns, we fell in love with the surprisingly lush and dramatic landscape, close enough to the coast to feel like a holiday destination.  We never wanted to live in an urbanization, surrounded by other ex-pats in a concrete jungle. We need space, air and big landscapes where we can cycle, hike and feel close to nature.

moving to spain motorhome
Motorhoming in Morocco

Life in a motorhome taught us well for life in Spain. We were already living with the limitations of solar and water constraints and had downsized our previous life to fit in a van. Our small house in Spain feels like a palace in comparison, and fits the environment perfectly.  Built to withstand Spain’s climate, it has thick walls, small windows and cool tiled floors to give respite in the fierce summer heat. Just like our motorhome, it does what we need it to do – no more and no less.

The Biggest Adjustments in Moving to Spain

Not only had our time travelling in Spain acclimatised us to the climate, we had also come to understand and appreciate the culture. Spain loves a party, the louder and noisier the better! Every village has a fiesta, often loosely tied to a religious festival and a public holiday. Our first summer in the country felt like one long holiday as we moved from village to village, wondering why the shops were always closed, only to find each village had its own public holiday! 

moving to spain tractor
Phil on his toy…sorry mula!

Meal times have been the hardest to become accustomed to …in summer, it’s not unusual for the farmers to sit down to dinner at 11pm, once they have squeezed as much of the sunlight as possible into their long working day.  

Having now spent three summers in Spain, the term ‘mañana’ (in the indefinite future) which is much derided by northern Europeans, takes on real meaning. When temperatures are over 40°c for much of the day, the indefinite future seems all too close, especially where manual labour is concerned …it’s too hot even to think properly!

The Cost of Living in Spain

Living in the house is actually cheaper than living and travelling in the motorhome!  Our electricity and wood for the fire is free.  The cost of bottled gas in Spain is capped at around €18/$21 a bottle, one of which lasts a month. We pay 30c/35c for 350 litres of fresh, drinkable spring water, and use around 1,000 litres a week. Our SUMA (council tax) is €30/$35 a year – for comparison, this was £2,500/$3300 a year in the UK!

moving to spain food market

Going out for a beer is ridiculously cheap. At our local bar, we pay €3/$3.50 for a beer and a glass of wine, and good Spanish wine is not expensive in the supermarkets.  We can often get a very respectable bottle for under €2/$2.39. Eating out in Spain is better value for money than the rest of western Europe, especially if you stick to traditional food in non-tourist areas. A three-course menu del dia (meal of the day) will set you back around €12/$14 per person including wine and coffee.

Our Future in Spain

Do we regret buying a house we don’t actually need? To all intents and purposes, Phil’s Irish passport and the EU legislation restore us to the position we were in as UK citizens before Brexit. We have not needed to apply for Spanish residency to be able to live there, as long as we don’t spend more than three months in the country in any one stretch. It is our intention to keep travelling; Scandinavia in 2021 and the Silk Road in 2023. Both exciting trips of at least eight to nine months, to places we’ve always dreamed of.

And yet, the idea of home, of going home after each trip feels right and so we have no regrets about buying our Spanish sanctuary …as John Lennon said “there’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be”.

phil and izzy moving to spain

Izzy and Phil

Izzy and Phil have been adventuring and road tripping all their lives. Nearly three years ago, they quit work, sold their home and possessions to travel full-time in Europe in a motorhome. They blog at The Gap Decaders, where they share motorhome and road trip destinations, practical tips and advice. You can also find them below on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

If you’re moving to Spain, currently living in Spain or just curious about travel and life abroad, leave your questions for Izzy and Phil in the comments below.

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