24 May, 2010 @ 14:40
5 mins read

Make or… break

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.

Jon Clarke (Publisher & Editor)

Jon Clarke is a Londoner who worked at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as an investigative journalist before moving permanently to Spain in 2003 where he helped set up the Olive Press. He is the author of three books; Costa Killer, Dining Secrets of Andalucia and My Search for Madeleine.

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  1. It’s not a matter of deciding to go back to one’s country of birth, it’s having to go back that is the issue. Choice does not often come into it.

    Spain, and Andalucia in particular, is a real mess. There are no jobs, unemployment is 27% in Andalucia (not 20%) and will rise to 30% or even 40% it is predicted. In Andalucia there are no proper jobs, especially if you are an expatriate. There are no benefits and there is no assistance for small businesses (or new businesses). The tax system is insane and penalises anyone who wants to start work legally, and Spain’s employment law is equally stupid. On top of that the whole place is endemically corrupt, and I mean the whole place, and nothing is ever handled in a proper businesslike, professional way. The attitude of businesses and local government is appalling and it makes living in Spain a tedious chore.

    I have not met a single professioal person (with a career and proper qualifications) who has come from the UK and got a similar job in Spain. Everyone is either a plumber, or a builder, an “estate agent”, or some other self-made career, or of course all three of the above.

    Spain would be a great place to live if it could just be run like a proper country. It’s lazy attitude to everything is often touted as a reason to move here. Believe me, you’ll not want to suffer it long-term.

    Sad to think that if Spain was a more efficient and non-corrupt they could pay their austerity measures back twice over. Ants are the least of your problems.

  2. I only come here to read Fred’s comments.

    I have friends who have gone to live in other Countries, Australia, South America etc and they are all doing well, they can get planning permission in no time and it seems all is quite easy when you have some cash in your bank account. In Spain it does not even matter if you have money in your bank account as the authorities will do their best to make sure you do nothing apart from watch your money drain away. It is a strange attitude but I suppose it keeps the population down and discourages younger people without pensions to live there. The Country will never prosper with that attitude. It feels like they want you to leave with their indifferent attitude. I have previously given English families money for food before, that is the state I have seen some people in. After many younger people have lived there and their money is going or gone, they let themselves go, their clothes look like they found them in the dustbin etc. Their enthusiasm goes. Probably the happiest people there are the wealthier independent retired people. Take the weather out of Spain and most would not even think of moving there.
    I know a few good Spaniards but I cannot get used to the dictatorship macho attitude. The Mayors are treated like Gods as they have so much power. They should have most of their power taken away and regional planning authorities should be implemented. All the local corruption is too much.
    Was it the OP where I read one politician had over €700k in his house in cash when searched. He said it was donations!! More property abuse to turn a blind eye.
    Anyone reading this, don’t buy a property in Spain until they sort their act out. You will help yourself and the people that are there. It is better than signing a petition and carries a lot more weight. Spain does not respect any European laws so more pain is what is coming until they sort their act out. I won’t hold my breath though.

  3. As always no nonsense posts from Fred and Reap.

    However I have to tske issue with this ‘wonderful Spanish weather’. Can someone tell me where this ‘wonderful weather’ is to be found.

    We lived for 2 years in northern Galicia. The weather is unrelentingly bad, we could’nt believe that it can rain for months on end. We lived on the coast where it never really got cold but when you are living in a brand new small apartment block with SINGLE SKIN WALLS – you never ever felt warm in the mild winter climate and flu/viruses are a given in the whole north west of Spain.

    Behind the Sierra Nevada, winter was the only really good weather – very cold but dry – the locals were wimps and I lost count of the rows I had with bus drivers journeying to and fro Granada – turn the bloody heating off and get some blood in your veins.

    Summer normally began at the beginning of April and lasted until the end of September – please don’t tell me that the high 30sC and over is comfortable because it is’nt. If all you want to do is sit indoors getting drunk and watching Murdochspeak/Sky News/propoganda with air conditioning stripping the last vestige of humidity from the air, then this is the place for you.

    A beautiful country – in Andalucia – are you all blind. so many mountains and hills stripped of all trees centuries ago, top soil washed away long ago. The only truly stunning scenery I saw in the whole of Andalucia were the forested national parks between Guadix and Granada an area totally impossible for human habitation.

    Take a look at Jaen province a horrible scenario of monoculture – olive trees and sod all else. The author of this piece mentions golf – not a word about the totally wrong use of water – a golf course uses enough water for 10,000 people – insanity pure and simple.

    I’ve travelled through Extramadura/Aragon/Castille la Mancha/Cataluyna – beautiful any of it – there’s none so blind as those who will not see.

    I’ll tell you where the landscape can be stunning – North West Spain but the wettest climate in the whole of western Europe. If you can handle very high humidity and lots and lots of rain then the NW walks all over southern Spain and IMO that is the only beautiful part of Spain – take a holiday there (I hope you get decent weather)and then return to the south with eyes wide open and see if you disagree.

    Reap said it all in his last paragraph – the only ones who will complain about what he has written are the carpet bagging cowboys who change from plumbers to IT to estate agents.

    And to further back up what Reap said – look at the really successful European economies – brim full of regulations. In the Netherlands you have to study and pass lots of exams for 2 years before you are allowed to approach a member of the public to try and sell any insurance product. Cold calling has been banned in Germany for decades. Try building a house without all the paperwork nec. in the Netherlands or Germany – you won’t get past day one before the police come along and arrest you.

    The UK lost any integrity it had a long time ago, I’m sure that Spain being corrupt is a magnet for many UK cowboy con-artists and you will have seen another multi-millionaire MP ex banker has fiddled £40,000 and both Paddy Ashdown and Cameron have desrcibed the little scroat as ‘an honourable man’- sad to say but in a league table of corruption, the UK will not be far behind Spain.

    Only just recovering after more than 2 months from a bloody painful trapped nerve in the spine it is time to go and see the marie about building plots. It’s no good offering him a bribe – he will call the Gendarmarie to have me arrested.

  4. Mmm. Looking at these depressing comments from the UK point of view you might think that Spain is such an awful place to live. Fortunately having had the practical knowledge and experience of our friends who moved there last July I know differently. They now have jobs work hard and are enjoying every day. My sister in law also lives in Catalonia and enjoys it and both have adapted to the Spanish way of life.

    I’m surprised your readers can be bothered to get up in a morning. Depressing bunch!!

  5. Stuart, I work full time in Spain, and have lived and worked longer in Spain than your friends have, and I do actually get up every morning as well. You can never really rely on what “friends” tell you. Only you, yourself, can judge what life is like when you experience and live it in this country, and as I’ve said before many people love Spain and good luck to them, but that does not discount other peoples experiences.

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