Lifestyle & Culture

Inka Piegsa-Quischotte in Spain: Is the British dream of retirement in the sun evaporating?


This was the original British dream: Let’s escape the bad English weather, at least for a time, and buy a second home in sunny Spain. Preferably on the Costas with sea, sand and year around sunshine, or in the Canary Islands. First as a holiday home in the form of an apartment or villa; then, when retirement comes, as a permanent home for our old age.

Maybe we can run a small business to supplement our pension or rent our place out when we don’t use it. Moreover, we will own a nice property to leave to our children.

Between 800.000 and 1 million British nationals did just that, often with the help of a substantial mortgage. The number far exceeds those of other nationals such as Germans, Scandinavians and, more recently Russians who have a great presence in Torrevieja where I live in the province of Valencia.

Then came Brexit, Covid and last but not least, Filomena.

With all the ensuing grief, changes and difficulties, the mood of Britain’s expats in Spain is somber. Let’s look at the consequences of Brexit first.

‘Everyone wants to sell, but no one wants to buy’

Since the 1 January 2021, the UK is no longer a member of the European Union, the transition period is over. British property owners do not lose their ownership, but the enjoyment is curbed.

First hurdle is the 90-days rule. That means they can no longer come and stay at their homes in Spain all the time they want, but are restricted to 90 days in any period of 180 days. And no, they can’t just hop across the border to France or Portugal for a few days and then come back for another 90 days. Because now, passports get stamped.

Second hurdle: They can still rent out their properties when they can’t use them, but they are now taxed at 25 percent instead of the 16 percent for EU
members.

As Mariano,the owner of Bigasol estate agency in Torrevieja, has told me this has already led to a first wave of British home owners putting their properties on the market and leave. But, as Mariano said, “Everybody wants to sell but nobody wants to buy.”

For those who want to live in Spain, things have also got more complicated. Those who already had residence needed to change their permit which involved paperwork, red tape and expenses. Those who didn’t do so before 31 December 2020 or are applying for the first time now, have it even more difficult because now the first thing they have to do is to submit proof of income or wealth.

Although the figures vary a little from province to province, the average requirement is 2,000 pounds per month per couple and an additional 500 pounds for every family member. Pensioners are really seeing their dream evaporate because many just don’t have that money.

They also need proof of health insurance.

Result: another wave of selling, or trying to, no buyers and great disappointment.

‘Bleak’

This naturally has negative consequences for the real estate industry in Spain too. Asked how he sees the future, Marinano answered with one work: “Bleak.” Who is thriving though are the removal companies. They are fully booked out moving folks, young and old, back to the United Kingdom.

On the other hand, those British who do still come with a view of snapping up a cheap property are younger couples who have the financial means to meet all the requirements and to pay the fees of lawyers, accountants and financial advisers who are necessary to deal with the countless forms and red tape. Needless to say, these professions also have no reason to complain.

The COVID-19 situation in Spain doesn’t help either. Despite curfews, travel restrictions between provinces and restrictions of meetings to four people, the numbers of contagion and deaths are rising. The government is already painting a black picture, predicting that this new wave will be worse than any before.

Vaccinations – the Pfizer one – have already begun with sanitary personal and people in residence homes being first. Shortly, the Moderna vaccine will arrive in Spain too. But many months will pass until everybody is vaccinated twice and it takes effect. So it’s highly unlikely that the Brits will jump from the frying pan into the fire, so to speak.

Meanwhile, the dream of retirement in the sun in Spain becomes a very distant possibility.

Filomena the final straw

The final straw, was Filomena. The Brits came to Spain not only for the lifestyle but primarily for the sun and the mild winters. What should happen a week ago? Along came Filomena, the worst snowstorm and cold wave Spain has experienced in 50 years, locking in Madrid and other locations.

They were skiing along the Gran Via!

Although it isn’t snowing any more, it’s still bitter cold, even in the far south. For some Brits expats I talked with, it was just the final straw for their decision to leave. We can freeze to death in the UK too, they said, but at least there we can stay as long as we want.

About the author:

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

See more of Inka’s work here.

Read more about Spain in our Dispatches archive here.

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