Finally Feels Like Home!
I have been living in Gran Alacant for approximately six months now and boy, what a six months it has been. Life here is not easy, in fact it has been the hardest six months of my life, but if one has no struggle in life, one hasn't lived at all. I am relishing whatever challenge and experience is thrown my way at the moment, because that is what I choose to do. I could have given up on my Spanish dream, months ago. In the past, when the going got tough, I got running. This time my outlook on life seems to be totally different. This is probably partly to do with the fact, that I know we are not going back to the UK, but it is also about, finally standing on my own two feet and following what I want to do, not what others want or expect of me!
The first thing to report, is that I am now Official as it were. I have obtained my Residencia, which reaaly means I am a tax resident here. I have completed all the necessary steps, in order to reside in Spain permanently. This was my goal from day one and I achieved it on my 45th Birthday this year. I could not be happier. Many people who have lived here for years, still do not have their resident status, so for me to achieve it within a few months, is a bonus and shows that there is still life in the old dog yet!
I have been working for the same family run restaurant for about three months now. The last time I worked in such an environment was 2000-2004, so it was a bit of a culture shock for me at first, but I am a fast learner, good cook and a people lover, which all helps in the catering game. I am not only working in a kitchen, but I am also working front of house, in the bar and also taking orders. It is a complete departure from what I last did in the UK, but I am actually enjoying it. Hard work is good for the soul, as they say, so my soul must be an angel by now. The summer season is about to start in its full glory, so by the time I write the next review, I will be able to conclude just how well I have done, as we approach winter here in Spain!
Britain v Spain
As I approach my six month anniversary, living in Spain, I thought I would, as part of my personal review, discuss the pro's and con's of living here, compared to The UK. I have written about this before, but, like everything in life, views change! Had we moved to the Costa Blanca, under normal circumstances, I would of course be more objective with my findings. One should bare in mind, that my feelings are in large part due to previous experience. For other people embarking on a new life, their thoughts and emotions could be very different. Six months is also not a long time to assess how well, or not one has done, compared to the potential in Britain. When I blog about my experiences, a year down the line, things may well be very different. For now, I will try and be as non biased as I can.
The biggest, noticeable difference between Spain and Britain, is the pace of life, which is completely at odds to what I am used too. Britain was fast paced in every respect. One of the reasons for moving was to remove the stress and pressure, I was under, living and working back home in The UK. The duress I felt as an individual was immense in comparison. Of course for me, the biggest burden came from work. During my final year, the physical and mental strain I was under was unmeasurable. Pressure from family to live up to expectations, friends to conform to their way of thinking and the huge cost of living, had also taken its toll, leaving not only myself, but others close, shattered by our experiences. It order to survive on a monthly basis, we had to pay out at least 3000€ a month in bills before we even started living. This is a huge sum and another one of the reasons we decided to move.
There is less pressure in Spain, that is a fact. I have never felt so relaxed and free in my life, although I still haven't adapted fully to Spanish life, due to the vast differences. The pace of life is much, much slower here and I still rush around on occasion, like I am living back in Southampton. Over time, as I am assured, I will become less manic and eventually chill out, as the Spanish do so well. A good example of this is Siesta. I will probably never get used to a three hour period of inactivity in the afternoon. In fact, as I recently read in The Euro News, The Spanish Government, want to abolish the siesta period, due to the huge amount of income lost during the three hours, each day. Personally I feel there is a need for a siesta, during the summer months in Spain. It gets terribly hot and temperatures can reach 40 degrees plus. In the winter however, things should indeed change. Like most things here, change will come slowly. Spain has an unstable Government and has a General Election next week, just after The UK Referendum, that could be the time, change comes!
Access to health care can be hard for many people of foreign descent, living in Spain. In order to claim anything, you have to prove you are contributing to the Spanish system. For most, like me, that is about proving you are working and paying your social security. For others, it may be that you have access to sufficient funds, to pay for your own health care. For many more there is no access to care, unless you are from Europe, when you gain access through the EHIC Card, but only for a three month period, after which time, you have to apply for Residencia in Spain. The UK is very different. As a fellow European you would have immediate access to a GP and treatment, no matter whether you work or not. I tend to agree with the Spanish system, that does prevent misuse of public funds. By allowing foreign nationals to gain free access, to The NHS in Britain, we are failing in our duty to protect our citizens, funds and tax revenue!
This is also the same for benefits. It is very difficult for me to claim any benefits in Spain. I have to work for at least a year continuously, before I am entitled to anything, and then it is only paid on a pro rata basis. What you pay in, you can get out and no more. A better system compared to Britain? Well, maybe! There is less of a safety net here, but to be honest, families do tend to take on the role of the State in certain circumstances, that Britain, due to the nature of the family there, has to provide. On balance, once again the Spanish system wins. This is more about cultural differences and attitudes towards employment, which are completely different in Spain. Changing a whole culture is difficult, if not impossible!
Pensions are also determined very differently in Spain. I will have to work for fifteen years here, to be entitled to a pension of about 400€ a month. Of course the longer you work, the higher the State pension. From what I believe, this can rise to a maximum of 1000€ per month. Again this is worked out on a pro rata basis. I am in two minds about the pension aspect here. I believe the 1000€ pension is not sustainable, especially with wages being that much lower and unemployment running at around 25 percent. Who actually pays for this? A higher retirement age and less income, is sadly going to be the norm, across Europe. It will have to change here eventually!
Now here is my bug bare. This is one of the things that lets Spain down, the paperwork. Since arriving in Spain, I have never had to fill in so many forms, do so much paperwork and employ so many people to complete, what essentially should be an easy process. Every step of the way we have had to pay approximately 100€ to someone who knows the system and can get us the outcome we need. Becoming official is a complete nightmare, from beginning to end and the costs involved can be expensive. The paperwork and documents you have to carry around with you on a daily basis are huge, but like anything in Spain, if you follow the rules and abide by the law, you will not have any problem. To give you an example of just how bureaucraticthe Spanish system is, I will refer to 'The Padron'. The Padron, is like our Electoral Roll. When you sign on to the roll, you are given a printed certificate, which you need as part of anything you do, from applying to Residencia to obtaining a credit card. This document expires every month, and has to be renewed. The process of waiting in a queue once again can be lengthy, but as one Spaniard told me recently, it keeps people in a job, a rare thing here!
This brings me nicely onto the subject of employment. The biggest single downside to life in Spain is employment. In every respect, obtaining a job in Spain has been the hardest thing to do. The wages are much lower for a start, although the cost of living is much lower still. We have a three story townhouse, with views to die for, at a cost of 450€ a month, approximately 375 pounds. I have just paid my water bill for three months, at a cost of 92€. The cost of electricity, is supposed to be higher than The UK, in fact about three times as much, although our bill for the last two months, with four people sharing was only 300€. We paid more than that in The UK. We pay no Council Tax and about 20€ a month for Broadband, and that is it! So the cost of living is far cheaper! Going back to the work situation, one has to understand that employment law is geared to the employee here, not as it is in Britain. Employers have to pay for contracts each month, for each employee, and of course the major downside, is the seasonal nature of employment. Saving in the summer months, for the winter is essential, in order to survive. So for the first time, in my life, I am having to save, which is hard, when wages are lower, but I am managing. Also, unless you speak Spanish fluently, you will not get a job paying a good income. Spain does tend to keep the good jobs for themselves, which is completely different to the UK. My personal view, is everyone should be treated equally, well, that isn't going to happen anytime soon!
As a homosexual man, coming to live in Catholic Spain, I had worries about acceptance. In all honesty I need not have had concerns. Gran Alacant, has been referred to as Gay Alacant, by those who live and work here. There is a large gay population, one of the largest in Spain itself. The Spanish, as a culture are less accepting than many others, due to reasons I have highlighted today, especially centred around family. Public displays of affection are frowned upon and overt homosexuality is equally not accepted. I have come across some anti gay feeling, but in the main I have had no problems. The expat community have been totally accepting and instrumental in our settling in here!
Finally the cost of everyday essentials. Most things are far cheaper in Spain. A pint of strong beer is 2€, cigarettes are 4.35€ and bread is 89c. In reality things are about half the cost they are in The UK. You can live as cheap or expensive as you like. Eating out is also much cheaper. We paid 30€ for two of us, at a local restaurant for a starter, main and alcohol. Other places charge similar prices and the food is by and large good.
When you weigh up the pro's and con's of life between The UK and Spain, give me Spain anyday. From the weather, scenery, lifestyle and cost of living, it wins hands down. There are more reasons to live here than not. Spain does of course have its downsides, but I would never trade this, for The UK. As a resident, I now have an element of protection, no matter what happens in The EU vote, that can not be taken away from me, so finally I can begin to live my life, as I would have liked, rather than how others wanted me to!
It's nearly been six months, since we moved to Spain, but how have we done? What have we achieved? Have we moved forwards?
Coming soon, our six monthly review. A lot of challenges have been thrown our way since the last, three month review, more than we could have expected. A lot of them have been good but many more have sent us on to a new path of discovery. A path we did not want to follow, but one that has been thrust upon us through circumstances, beyond our control. Like much of what has happened to us, in recent times, we have to take what has happened, as part of our journey.
This page will assess where we are today and just what we can expect when our next review takes place in six months time. I can guarantee, it wont be what we think!
Darrell had some bad news, over the last six months, which changed our whole outlook in Spain. So much so, we nearly decided to return to Australia immediately.
Family issues have raised there head in Darrell's home country. These issues have to be dealt with quickly in oder to achieve a successful outcome. Although serious, at least it has bought Darrell closer to his family. This is a good thing and something that should have happened a long time ago. He has a wonderful family and I am pleased I encouraged him to involve them at this point, during the interim.
Darrell will be returning to Australia, for an indeterminate period, in the near future. I am quite happy to stay on in Spain, which is now my home, to keep our life ticking over, until successful resolution. When I am able, I will fly to Australia, to make sure things are running smoothly. It is a testement to our relationship, that we can do this. Family is important and just because I can not leave Spain at present, it should not stop Darrell from doing so. There are a few chapters left unfinished in our life, which need and will be dealt with. This is a chapter that Darrell now needs to deal with.
This is the best thing about living in Gran Alacant. The sense of community, is second to none. We know quite a few people here now, all of whom, have been fabulously accepting of us. Celebrating June's Birthday on the 1st June was the high point of living here so far. We not only met some wonderful people, but we were a part of a charity event raising money for MABS. This charity is trying to raise money to build a hospice in Spain, for those suffering with cancer, not an easy task, but Zest, who hosted the event, managed to raise over 600€.
The expat community, are truly welcoming and have allowed us to settle in to life here, with ease. At six months in, I am happy with where I am, the people I know and the challenges ahead. That is down, 100 percent, to the community spirit in GA.
As you would expect, the biggest change for me, at least, over the last six months is my lifestyle. In Britain I lead a very inactive life, unable or unwilling to leave the house, especially in the evening, due to the English weather. One's standard of life in Southampton was very different to it is now. One does tend to have a lifestyle built around an indoor way of living back home. Spain of course is very different, as the photographs above show.
Today we are living, very much an outdoor life. The sun shines nearly every day, well, 320 days per year to be exact, which makes our region one of the sunniest in the World. The houses are not built for spending long periods of time in, with most residents preferring the long hot days outside, on the solarium or at the beach, which presently is packed all the time.
Spain is a place to explore and discover, the scenery is beautiful and there is so much to see within a 50 km radius. We are beginning to experience our region, as well as spending time in Benidorm, which, I have to say, is growing on me. As long as I don't spend any longer that a few days there, I am fine and enjoy it fully. It isn't somewhere I would like to live, but in small doses I love it!
I am also walking far more than I ever have done. I enjoy early evening walks and with the sun finally going down at gone 10 pm, you can stay out, eat out or just be out for as long as you want. We do enjoy spending our evenings in the numerous bars or restaurants in Gran Alacant, which we know like the back of our hand now. Standards are great and the service always exceptional!
Just walking around our urb, it is amazing how many people wave, hoot in their cars or just pass the time of day. If I walk to work, everyone you pass in the street says hello and it is rare that you find anyone who does not at least smile. That is in sharp contrast to those back in Britain.
My six month adjustment in lifestyle, has changed me for the better. I am fitter, healthier, having lost two stone in weight. I am no longer suffering with the onset of arthritis and am also mentally in a much better place. I am fulfilling my dreams and am living a life, that is far better for my health and wellbeing. My future in Spain is finally becoming more settled, especially after obtaining Residencia, but like everything else, there are things I need to change in order to grow as a person and feel completely happy. These changes won't happen overnight, but they will happen eventually. As individuals we all continue to evolve, even when we think we are standing still. The issues for change are personal to me and will only be achieved, when I am confident enough to push for them!
So far we have had two visitors, staying with us at Casa Caprice. In May, Henry and Saffy, Jamie's work colleagues from Britain came out to stay. They spent five days with us, experiencing life in Spain briefly. The weather was good and hot and they were able to spend time relaxing on the beach, swimming in our pool and even traveling to Benidorm for a night to see that famous city, in all its glory. It was lovely having them both and I am sure they will come back in the future.
We have more visitors arriving in August, three old friends of mine and Darrell's, Elaine, Myra and Jean, who will be staying with us for a few weeks, In September we hope to see Stephen and Shaun, who will be here, helping Darrell and I celebrate our 21st anniversary together. These are five important friends in our life, who were significant in our past and will now play an important role in our future!
The support of friends, both past and present is important for our success, living in Spain. They continue to motivate us, to move forwards, never looking back!
The EU Referendum Result!
What does the vote mean for us, six months on?
So my home country, Britain, has voted to leave the The EU. I have just woken up and seen the news all over social media. 52% of the United Kingdom have voted to leave, in what is clearly a momentous decision and will change the course of history for my country for ever, Personally I just didn't think, we would finally stand up and be counted, telling Europe exactly what we thought, but I was wrong. Good on the British public for doing what we had to do. Yes we really had no choice.
Europe has been collapsing for the last few years. Since moving to Spain, living in another European state, I have actually seen Europe at work. Don't get me wrong, I love Spain, but this country is in a mess because of Europe. European regulations, Directives and Legislation has caused the collapse of this and many other European countries, over the years. Europe should have woken up years ago to the will of its people. This failed project, its waste, over paid bureaucrats and ill thought out laws, should eventually come to a close. Brexit should be the first step towards the break up of this discredited union.
The most disgusting thing I have heard, about our vote to leave The EU, is everyone who voted out is racist and it was all about immigration. This is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong! This vote had nothing to do with racism, it had everything to do with taking back control, stopping the waste and investing back in our Country. I have seen The UK, change much, especially over the last ten years, allowing unchecked immigration, the implementation of ridiculous European Directives, waste on an unprecedented scale, unrealistic quotas and Britain paying the second highest amount of money into the European cash cow. The EU is the worst of all organisations, grown out of all control and like the charity I used to work for, a lumbering, bloated, poorly structured, out of control discriminatory project of Nazi origins that only thought about their own self interests and not the public they were supposed to serve!
In the wake of the referendum, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister resigned, just after 8am Friday morning. This really came as no surprise. David had no choice. He had campaigned to stay within Europe, yet the public rejected his call. What other option did he have.
I actually have a lot of respect for Mr Cameron. He did what he had to, to bring our Country out of the deepest recession we have ever endured. He introduced gay marriage and championed a lot of the causes I believed in. This was not always the way. At the beginning I could not stand the man, or what he stood for, but over time, listening to the man and studying his policies, I realised he was right in what he did to ensure Britain became the strongest growing economy in the World, as it is today. He was vindicated and we grew as a Nation.
Working for a left wing charity, its corrupt management and its sanctimonious marxist rhetoric, I have finally realised, just where my political alliances lie. Conservative at heart, with a strong belief in my home country. This is why, David's decision to back staying in, disappoints me, he made the wrong choice. I have a stronger belief in my home than he did and I know we will forge our way with brilliance, just as we did in the past.
Mr Cameron was the Prime Minister we needed at the time, to clear up the mess, left behind, from the shambolic Labour Government before. He did that job well, and to the best of his ability. I for one will miss his leadership, but his resignation was inevitable.
So what happens now? At the moment, nothing will happen. Negotiations will take place over a two year period. As an expat my status here in Spain, my rights and Residencia will all be part of the negotiations.
When the new Prime Minister is elected in October, he or she will probably trigger Article 50, signalling the beginning of divorce proceedings between Britain and Europe. It is likely that our status in Spain will not change, there is no reason for it too. Countries like Norway have agreements with Europe to ensure its citizens enjoy free travel and access to services in Spain, without any problems. For expats talking in village squares up and down the Costa's, in panic, not knowing what to do, just sit tight. I am of the view that nothing will change at all. Britain brings in a lot of income. Countries like Spain do not want to lose money and expertise from the UK, their economy is in a bad enough state, without forcing up to 1 million expats out of the country. In a place like Gran Alacant, the City would close over night, it just will not happen.
There has been a lot of scaremongering about Brexit, none of which has been substantiated. No one knows what will happen, we just can not make any assumptions. It is probable that people in my position, with Spanish Residency, will be allowed to stay. New migrants who want to come and live and work in Spain, will probably have to apply for a work permit before arrival. If you contribute to The Spanish system you will continue to enjoy your current status, as we will. If you are retired, living here, you should remain in the same position, with a separate agreement with Spain, to allow you to use services as now. It happens with many other countries, why not us. Nothing will change!