SHOULD I stay or should I go?
It is a question we have all asked ourselves when facing one of life’s major crossroads: deciding whether to head back to Britain or, for some, fly the UK’s nest for fresh climes.
With unemployment in Spain now touching 20 per cent, many of us have been left wondering whether we would be better off moving back to the British Isles.
Conversely, in the wake of the financial crisis that crippled the UK economy, foreign shores have suddenly become far more welcoming for disillusioned Britons.
However, it is important not to be lured into the false belief that the grass is always greener on the other side.
To make an informed decision, it is important to reflect honestly on Spain and Britain’s relative merits.
Luckily, author Paul Allen has made that all the more simple by writing a book entitled Should I Stay or Should I Go? – a step-by-step guide on how to make that pivotal decision.
In the useful book he assesses the make-or-break factors behind deciding whether to move abroad, such as climate, cost of living, family, friends, health and quality of living.
For each aspect, Allen advises you to write down the advantages and disadvantages for staying and going.
He explains: “Jot down the emotions that each awakens, the excitement and enthusiasm, as well as the fears and worries. Assess them and rationalise them.”
First conundrum is Britain’s national obsession – the weather. It has been one of the main driving forces behind the mass exodus from the UK to Spain over the last 30 years.
With Britain averaging just 3.7 hours of sunlight per day during the year, it is no surprise that a study by Alliance & Leicester found that the weather was the second most important factor for Britons when determining whether to move abroad.
Likewise, Allen himself recollects the day he left Britain for Spain in June 2003: “We trundled out of Newhaven harbour on the cross-channel ferry with rain lashing the windows.
“It wasn’t until we were more than halfway down France that we hit the sunshine.
“By the time we crossed the Pyrenees we were stuck to the car seats, sweating in forty degree heat.
“Even the locals were complaining it was too much. By contrast, we swam in the sea every day and loved it.”
But of course, the novelty of scorching sunshine can wear off and hot weather is not without its disadvantages.
As Allen explains: “Since moving to Spain we have been blessed by beautiful sunny autumns that stretch through to almost Christmas.
“Unfortunately, it also means we are plagued by flies and eating outside becomes intolerable.
“Ants are the real bane of my life though.
“So many mornings I have gone downstairs to make a cup of tea only to find them trooping across the kitchen surfaces, spewing out of cupboards or marching across the dining room floor.”
And aside from these unwelcome visitors, even the good weather may not always be a given if last winter’s torrential bouts of rainfall become more common.
Quality of Life:
A recent survey by NatWest found that nine out of ten expats say their quality of life has improved since leaving Britain.
But what does that statistic mean exactly?
While ‘quality of life’ encompasses factors such as climate and cost of living, ultimately it signifies different things to different people.
Allen advises asking yourself what would improve your quality of life – a good work/leisure balance or closer proximity to friends and family?
He explains: “The weather was a big factor that incited my move to Spain, but it wasn’t simply about getting a good tan each summer.
“It was what the weather would allow us to do – a healthier, more outdoors lifestyle we originally hoped to enjoy.”
However, those of us who aren’t retired or millionaires, still have to work.
Indeed, this might mean that we don’t have the time to enjoy the aspects we moved abroad for in the first place.
For example, Allen writes that despite living among fantastic golf courses on the Costa Brava, he has only played twice, (ED I know the feeling).
“I still have to work hard all week, particularly now we have two young girls and my wife has given up work to look after them,” he explains.
“I could slip off to the local golf course each weekend, but disappearing on the free days I get doesn’t seem fair when we have no other family to ease the childcare load.”
This raises another important issue: leaving behind a network of family and friends in the UK can create childcare difficulties and may give you less quality time with your partner.
Cost of Living:
Financial failure is sadly one of the major reasons expatriates end up returning home.
And Spain is no longer the bargain paradise it once was. The deflation of the pound – which has dropped in value from 1.60 euros two years ago to just 1.16 euros today – has hit pensioners particularly hard.
A retired couple living in Spain on a state pension will have seen their pension income drop by some 100 euros a month over two years, a blow compounded by rising prices.
“In general, we found that the cost of living in Spain compared to Britain was, until recently, noticeably lower,” writes Allen.
“But now the price of essentials such as food, children’s clothing and utility bills appear, in many cases, to have overtaken what our relatives in the UK pay.”
When weighing up the two country’s financial merits though, Allen stresses the importance of comparing both living costs and earnings.
For, although the cost of living may be lower in one, if your salary is line with the local job market, you may be no better off financially.
Job prospects will also come into play; if you were to move back to the UK, you could find that you no longer match the skill-set demanded by a technologically fast-moving society.
You may even find, like one expatriate recently did, that you are no longer eligible to claim benefits.
Grandmother Lorraine Marsland was stunned to be told upon returning to the UK that she was not entitled to benefits because she had lived in Spain for 23 years – despite being a British citizen.
Family and friends:
Of course, family and friends are so much more than a handy babysitting service.
According to a quality of life survey of British expatriates, family and friends was by far the biggest factor they missed about emigrating, cited by 73 per cent of those interviewed.
The ache of missing loved-ones may fade over time, but for some, these emotional ties will always pull them back to the UK.
Should I Stay or Should I Go describes the feelings of author Vicky Gray upon emigrating to Australia.
“I remember feeling physically sick with jealousy when I heard of anyone going back to visit the UK,” remarks Gray.
“There is no easy way to deal with this, but as with any type of ‘grieving’ process, time is the only answer.
“So many people go back at the first hurdle, then regret it when they realise that everything ‘British’ they were craving was simply exaggerated in their memory,” confirms Allen.
Indeed, if you were to return, you might find that friendship dynamics have changed, or that in the rush of UK life, you and your loved ones are simply too busy to see as much of each other as you hoped for anyway.