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. 


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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Which areas in Spain have the best tap water?

Tap water is generally safe to drink in most areas of Spain, but that doesn’t always mean that it tastes good everywhere. Find out which areas have the best tasting tap water and which have the worst.

Which areas in Spain have the best tap water?

When they first arrive in Spain, many people are unsure if the tap water is safe to drink or not, but according to the Spanish Ministry of Health, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink.

Spain’s Organisation of Consumers and Users (OCU) also confirms that tap water in Spain is generally good quality and is a good alternative to bottled water. Of course, it’s cheaper than bottled water too.

READ ALSO: Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

Despite this claim, there are several areas in Spain that don’t have good-tasting tap water, leading to the necessity for filters or even buying bottled water instead.

The OCU, who carried out a comparative analysis of the taste of the tap water around Spain, has revealed that the taste of the water is directly related to how hard or soft the water is. In other words, the harder the water, the worst it tastes.

The hardness of the water is caused by the amount of minerals in the water like lime and magnesium salts. “In areas of Spain where the water is hard, it tends to have a bad taste. In these areas it is common to use natural mineral water as table water,” the OCU said.  

How hard or soft your tap water is can also affect the way your clothes are washed or even your hair. If you live somewhere with soft water, you’ll see more bubbles created from the detergent you put in your washing machine. Your clothes will also stay bright for longer and form fewer bobbles. If you live somewhere with hard water, the opposite can be true. You’ll also need more shampoo for it to create a lather on your hair.  

The OCU study found that the softest, and therefore the best tasting tap water, can be found in the areas of Galicia and in Castilla y León, specifically the cities of Burgos, León and Valladolid, as well as in Madrid.

Both Extremadura, the Basque Country and the Canary Islands also have soft tap water. And in the Valencia region, it’s Alicante where the softest water is found.

On the other end of the scale, the hardest water and the worst tasting can be found in Almería in Andalusia, Valencia city and in the Aragonese provinces of Zaragoza and Teruel.

Only slightly better, but still pretty hard and with a disagreeable taste are the provinces of Murcia, Albacete, Jaén, the Balearic Islands and Tarragona, areas across Murcia, Castilla-La Mancha and Catalonia.  

And finally, the areas with only slightly hard water are Asturias, Navarre and La Rioja; Barcelona and Girona in Catalonia; Cádiz, Seville and Granada in Andalusia; and Ciudad Real in Castilla-La Mancha.

Of course, the taste of the tap water is not down to the hardness or softness alone. It could be due to the number of chemicals added such as chlorine, the type of filtration process and where the water comes from in the first place, whether rivers or reservoirs and the type of water they have too.