Expat Essentials

Expats in Spain: Will they stay or leave the country once the Covid-19 pandemic is over?

According to the latest statistic I could find which dates from 2018, approximately 300,000 British expats reside in Spain. The total number of foreign residents is of course much larger because Spain is the most desirable European country to move to, mostly because of the weather and the laid-back lifestyle.

Like everybody else, expats in Spain are currently living through the biggest health and financial crisis since World Ware II, subjected to the severest restrictions of freedom of movement in Europe. The situation has changed everybody’s lives and tragically, claimed many.

Unlike the Spaniards who have to stay put, expats have the choice to move back to their country of origin once it’s all over. The interesting question is, do expats in Spain consider doing so or will they stay and the reasons for either decision.

It’s also worth finding out how the crisis has changed expat communities. In order to find answers to these questions, I have interviewed several of my fellow expats in Spain from different regions and with different lifestyles. Many are pensioners, others are self-employed, running a small business or writing.

The overall consensus is: We will stay.

Here is what some of my interviewees had to say:

FIONA FLORES WATSON

Fiona Flores Watson, who is a writer, tour guide and translator living in Seville:

This is my home now. My work and family are here. Things will be tough in the travel industry, and the travel writing sector will be affected too, but that is part of what I do and I want to support tourism in Seville in getting back on its feet by encouraging people to come here as much as possible. Tourism is essential to Seville’s economy; it was booming before this happened. 

Fiona also pointed out how the expat community has pulled together much more than before, with people asking about each others health and providing tips as how to cope best.

Geoff Cooper and his wife Jeanie are pensioners and they have given a lot of thought as to what to do.

They are adamant:

Returning to the UK is the last thing we want. We retired to Spain on impulse, almost by accident, but love being here. We have a far wider circle of friends and activities compared with our previous life in England. The climate here is much more conducive to our needs.

In some bizarre ways, this crisis has drawn us nearer to Spanish friends and acquaintances, even if it is by daily telephone and internet contact. It has shown it’s we “elderly vulnerable” (I’m clearly right in the middle of that category) on whom we can rely.

CAROL BYRNE

Carol Byrne, who is Irish and a self employed writer and editor and lives west of Granada in Andalusia:

My partner and I are selling a house, but don’t think that will happen anytime soon as we are expecting a recession once the threat of Covid-19 blows over. I have been here in Spain now since 2006 so don’t think going home or anywhere else will be an improvement. Plus we have a good social life and friends, so will stay. The expat community has shown quite a bit of spirit during the lockdown, so far, even though we have not been able to meet up.

Personally, I check in on any friends who are alone to see if they need anything, and we are all messaging each other more than usual. Plus
there are plenty of groups on social media where we discuss our ‘survival’ tips!  The local bars are probably suffering quite a lot more than we are, but it will be good to meet up again once all of this blows over, which I think will not be for a long time. The one thing is not being able to visit friends and family abroad as planned; that is hard. 

DARLENE FOSTER

My close friend Darlene Foster, who is Canadian with husband Paul being British, moved to the Costa Blanca some five years ago.

She is a successful writer of children’s books. Like all the others quoted, they will stay because Spain has become their home. They love the culture, the climate and the people.

As is so often the case, I – on the other hand – am the odd one out. I will leave. My reasons however have nothing to do with the virus and all the fallout. Being a nomad at heart, I have the urge to move to another country every few years and have done so, bringing the total to seven.

It’s time to move on for me, the coronavirus and its effects on Spain just have precipitated my decision.

About the author:

Inka Piegsa-Quishott is an international attorney-turned-travel and lifestyle writer. She has contributed to BBC/Travel, several inflight magazines, TripSavvy (Spain) and TravelAwaits among many other publications. After several years in Turkey, she now lives on Spain’s Costa Blanca.

Read more about Spain in our Dispatches archive here.

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