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BREXIT

Moving to Spain: Brexit and Covid-19 meant I had no time to say goodbye

Deborah Hill always wanted to make the move to Spain but with a race against the clock as Brexit deadline approached she hadn't planned on being caught up in a global pandemic. Here she shares her experience of moving to Spain with The Local readers.

Moving to Spain: Brexit and Covid-19 meant I had no time to say goodbye
Deborah Hill outside her new home in Alicante province. All photos: D Hill

Long before words like 'customs union' and the 'Irish backstop' came into our daily vocabulary, I had been thinking that some day, in the far distant future, I might like to transition to Spain. 

To be honest it was one of those holiday pipe dreams many of us have after peeking at estate agent windows touting cheap properties in sunnier climes, quickly forgotten upon return to the practicalities of the real world.

When the Brexit referendum went to the polls in June 2016 I never imagined that it would actually pass. I was shocked and horrified at the idea of cutting ties with Europe where I had a lifetime of close ties both personally and professionally. 

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Months later I took the decision to buy a house near Alicante with a view to keeping my Spanish relocation options open. I soon had a long-term tenant and continued my daily life in London while waiting to learn how Brexit might force a decision to stay in London or commit to Europe.

In spite of Theresa May’s oft-repeated reassurance that “Brexit meant Brexit”, I soon realised that Brexit mostly meant uncertainty.

For the next three and a half years I followed the comings and goings of politicians in Europe and the UK increasingly concerned at what rights I might lose to travel, work and access healthcare in a post-Brexit Spain.

With then-mayor Boris Johnson at a dinner and talk for London business owners. I could not have known then that Boris would become one of the main architects of the Brexit withdrawal that would eventually lead to my decision to leave the UK.

 

Finally, following the Withdrawal Agreement of July 2019, and frankly, tired of the anxiety that came with rumours of impending post-Brexit doom, I decided to become a resident in Spain prior to the December 31st deadline. Last summer, I still had the luxury of time to make my transition a lengthy, considered and methodical one. 

In the meantime, news from Wuhan with its virus problems seemed very far away indeed. But, as Covid spread, so did a sense that something big was about to change.


Empty supermarket shelves in London. 

As people started to hoard pasta and toilet paper, I began to feel what many refugees feel, waiting to decide what to do until the very last moment, hoping against hope, that the war (or in this case, a modern-day Bubonic Plague) would not end up on my doorstep. Unfortunately, arrive it did.

On Friday March 13th, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez declared a State of Emergency which included a total lock-down to begin on the following Monday. Suddenly, I was faced with no time to consider the consequences of making a major life decision to flee my London home for Spain. I now had two days to decide what to do with almost 30 years of accumulated possessions.

Every refugee must decide what they will take, and leave behind. A devotee of Marie Kondo’s advice on decluttering, I had been on a healthy path of recycling or gifting many things I did not really need, while trying to retain mostly things that only gave me joy.

I now found myself at the local recycle centre discarding entire pieces of furniture without even looking at what might be inside. Panic was an amazing motivator – and by 9pm on Sunday March 15th, I was boarding one of the last flights to Spain for the next several months. 


Arriving in an eerily quiet Alicante airport.

 

Upon arrival at Alicante’s normally bustling airport the Guardia Civil hurried us out of the terminal, bypassing passport control. I had a sense in the next few days that I had taken a time machine into London’s future, because Spain’s lockdown was already in full force, with deserted motorways and streets (aside from the lucky dog walkers),  and heavy fines imposed by police on anyone caught breaking the lockdown rules. In comparison Londoners were still functioning relatively normally – even as Boris Johnson himself was in hospital with the virus. 

Spain’s two-month lockdown in April and May was brutal. I counted myself lucky to have had a fresh air balcony, a feature which instantly became a status symbol in Spain.

As in much of the world, everything was closed – and while Spain may be famous for its sunny weather, it was wet and cool around Alicante during the lockdown, while London was enjoying a magnificent warm and sunny spring.

Perhaps it was inevitable that some envy, homesickness and even self-doubt began to creep in as the lock-down and Covid crisis persisted longer than anyone could have imagined. 


A sign in English outlining Covid-19 safety rules on a local terraza. 

 

I am aware that everyone now has their own lockdown story, and my gratitude diary is full on a daily basis compared to what many have had to suffer. I will, therefore, not complain about the bureaucracy I had to face to get all of my Spanish residency documentation in order, during a pandemic.

I also would have liked to share my relocation experience with family and friends who offered to help, all of whom had to cancel their travel plans due to restrictions. I did feel some sense of loss that the relocation that was meant to be a celebration of a new start and the fulfilment of an impossible dream ended up being such a very different experience, albeit one with no regrets.

Like any refugee there was certainly a feeling of relief in having escaped something – in somehow making it to the other side, against all odds.

But there was also a sense that I had lost some of my personal choice in this relocation, and certainly some of the celebration that normally comes with this kind of life transition.

Brexit started my refugee process, but it was Covid-19 that ensured that there was no time to say good-bye to friends, nor were there farewell parties in workplaces where I had known colleagues for so many years. 

Then, one day, after facing the challenge of moving yet another carload of my earthly belongings into my newly vacated home, I experienced a moment of clarity. I was sitting on my patio when I suddenly heard something.

It was… the sound of silence, only broken by the swish of palm fronds from a tree in my back garden. In London the din of megacity noises had become so normalised that this natural sound almost took my breath away.

Like everyone I must now wait for the new year to see what the post-Brexit relationship between Spain and Britain will actually look like on a day-to-day basis.

And, although I did not come to Spain for the weather, the mostly sunny days and a temperate climate have been an unanticipated plus. There are worse places on earth to be marooned.

Deborah Hill worked as a face2face psychotherapist in London for over 20 years and is now working from home as an on-line counsellor. Contact her via email HERE.

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MOVING TO SPAIN

CHECKLIST: Everything digital nomads moving to Spain need to consider

Spain’s Startups Law is 100 percent going ahead after its very last ratification by the Senate and Parliament. If you’re a remote worker who’s now planning to come to Spain, there’s a lot more apart from the enticing law to consider beforehand, from costs to location.

CHECKLIST: Everything digital nomads moving to Spain need to consider

Spain’s Startups Law has now been completely ratified by the Spanish Senate and on Thursday December 1st was voted in definitively by Spain’s Parliament in one final vote, meaning that there are no more obstacles for the legislation to jump through.

In other words, it is a reality and there is no looking back or toing and froing for a law which has continued to receive support from all sides of the political spectrum in these very final stages.

In these last stages, the Spanish Senate added several amendments relating to better perks for serial entrepreneurs (people who start multiple businesses), incentives for startups in rural communities of Spain and denying the condition of “startup” to companies that have partners that “present risks”.

In a nutshell, Spain’s Startups Law is considered a first in Europe, with lots of incentives and tax benefits for foreign startups, less bureaucratic obstacles overall and favourable conditions for non-EU remote workers and digital nomads, including a residency visa.

The following two articles cover everything that you should know if you’re looking to benefit from the new law as a startup in Spain, but in this article our focus will be on non-EU remote workers and digital nomads and what to consider with a move to Spain.

Here is a list of what digital nomads should consider if they’re thinking of taking advantage of Spain’s new legislation.

Spanish residency and taxes   

The new digital nomad visa is particularly promising for non-EU digital nomads from countries such as the UK, US or Australia for example, as until now getting a residency permit for remote work hasn’t been at all easy, with the best option being to apply for the self-employment visa which requires a business plan, proof of guaranteed earnings and more. It will also be available for remote workers with a contract for an overseas company.

Digital nomads will be able to benefit from Spain’s Non-Residents Tax (IRNR) at a reduced tax rate of 15 percent for the first four years, even though they can spend more than 183 days a year in Spain and are therefore technically fiscal residents.

You can read in more detail about what digital nomads stand to gain in terms of taxes and a residency visa in the article directly below.

READ MORE: Spain’s new digital nomad visa – Everything we know so far

Where to move to in Spain as a digital nomad

This will be one of the most important decisions that you have to make, but again we have you covered.

From the best places for co-working and digital nomad culture to the best place for cost of living and for integrating into Spanish culture, the article below gives you an overview of some of the most popular destinations for nómadas digitales.

FIND OUT: Ten of the best cities for digital nomads to move to in Spain

Then again, you may be interested in enjoying a quieter life in rural Spain. You’ll sometimes see news stories about the offer of free accommodation in quaint Spanish villages that want remote workers, but these quickly get filled.

One of the best ways of finding the right place is by searching yourself, the article below explains how to do it.

FIND OUT: How to find Spanish villages that are helping people to move there

And do you really know what life in rural Spain will be like? Here are some points to consider.

READ MORE: Nine things you should know before moving to rural Spain

Rental costs

Spain is generally seen as having a very affordable cost of living, but it greatly depends on where you move to in the country. 

According to Spain’s leading property search portal Idealista, who released a report earlier this year, the most expensive cities to rent in Spain are San Sebastián and Bilbao at around €901 a month, followed by Barcelona and Madrid with €875 and €848 a month respectively.

The Balearics, the rest of the Basque Country and the area around Marbella also have above-average rental prices.

The cheapest places to rent are in the interior of the country around Teruel, Cuenca, Ciudad Real, Zamora and Palencia, while Almería and Huelva were the cheapest coastal cities averaging €504 and €477 a month.

As inflation rises, rents are increasing, so you may find that they are higher come January 2023.

You’ll also have to consider temporary accommodation for when you first arrive in Spain, the article below should help you with that.

READ MORE: How to find temporary accommodation in Spain when you first arrive 

General costs of living

As with rent, the general cost of living varies greatly, depending on where you want to base yourself within Spain. Barcelona, Madrid and places in the Basque Country generally have the highest cost of living, while places in central Spain and inland Andalusia have some of the lowest prices.

It’s worth keeping in mind that if you choose Barcelona, the cost of living has risen by 31 percent in the last five years. According to the annual report by the Metropolitan Area of ​​Barcelona (AMB), the minimum wage needed to be able to live comfortably in Barcelona is €1,435 gross per month.

You will need similar amounts for Madrid and the major Basque cities but will be able to get away with earning less in some of the smaller towns and cities.

Keep in mind as well that Spain is yet to disclose what the minimum income will be for digital nomads to be able to access the visa.

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Costs of co-working spaces

You’ll find co-working spaces all over Spain, mostly in the main cities but, even in small villages that are trying to attract more people because of depopulation. 

According to the latest report on the Status of Coworking in Spain in 2020-2021, Barcelona has the most coworking spaces, followed by Madrid.

Málaga, Seville and Granada, however, have the greatest offer of coworking spaces at the most affordable prices.

Co-working spaces are available to rent in Spain by the hour, day or month and also have the option for private offices for meetings and calls. 

According to the report, in 2021 the average price of a desk in a co-working space was €188 per month.

If you want to find out more about renting in Spain, check out The Local’s page on renting here

Internet speeds

Internet speeds are generally good in Spain, across much of the country, even in small villages. 

According to the Speedtest Global Index, Spain has an average broadband download speed of 154Mbps and an upload speed of 107Mbps.

For mobile speeds, the average download speed was 35Mbps and the upload speed was 10Mbps. Phone internet speeds were slightly faster in the bigger cities such as Barcelona and Madrid.

Healthcare in Spain

Even though the Startups Law will not be tweaked anymore and all that needs to happen is that it comes into force, one of the matters that still hasn’t been mentioned by Spanish authorities is what healthcare options will be available to holders of digital nomad visas. 

Will they need to get a private healthcare scheme as is required for non-lucrative visa applicants which can be expensive especially if you have pre-existing conditions? Will they be able to pay social security fees or the convenio especial pay-in scheme to access public healthcare? 

Whatever the outcome, Spanish healthcare has a good reputation although in recent times there have been protests about the lack of doctors and health workers in the country and consequently longer waiting times. 

Private healthcare options are affordable for people with no pre-existing health conditions.

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