There and back again – UK to Spain (and back) in six months
Hi, my name is Al and I have a wife and two daughters, one 4 year old and one 5 month old. In 2012 we went on an adventure that was exhilarating, stressful, emotional, fun, crazy and a massive learning experience. You might look at the title and think 6 months in Spain is totally acceptable. The difference with our story is that we were actually planning for long term, not short term. We moved everything we owned abroad and signed up to long term rental and employment agreements. Here’s what happened.
How it all started
I was contacted in early January 2012 by an old colleague who had already moved to Spain with his family for a job in Barcelona. He was now recruiting and wanted me to consider the opportunity. I discussed it with my wife and, although hesitant, she agreed to see what was on offer and where it took us. I went through phone interviews and then face to face interviews in Barcelona and was finally offered the position. After some serious ‘debate’ with my wife she agreed that it was an opportunity not to be missed. I accepted the role, handed in my notice and we started organising our new lives in Spain.
Although this was stressful it was also hugely exciting. It was great thinking about what the opportunity could do for us and where it might take us. We organised shipping, a place to live, commuting, schooling, transport and a whole lot more and then waited for the time to come when we jetted off for our new life abroad.
Landing in our new lives
The first month or two was pretty good albeit a coupe of pretty big problems when we first arrived. The first speed bump was that I hadn’t ever seen my net income (only gross) and had worked everything out on the tax information I was given. Unfortunately I was never told about social security so we lost over €100 a month from my net pay. Not good when you budgeted to the max and left yourself a small buffer just in case. The second was that we had been miss lead on my commute time some what and what was expected to be a 50-60 minute commute max was actually a 90 minute commute. This was a big inconvenience as I was out of the house more each day, leaving less time to enjoy what we had moved abroad for.
Although these challenges were pretty significant we did what we could to make things work. Living just outside Barcelona was amazing. We were five minutes from the beach and we had a great communal pool at the back of our garden, which my daughter loved!
We experienced loads of great things. We ate out in local restaurants, went to local attractions, road on public transport, tried to talk to the locals and spent lots of time at the beach. We had our worries, like my daughter’s schooling options and our bank account following the impact of the social security screw up, but we did as much as we could to immerse ourselves and get over the issues.
My wife had started building up some friends who also had children so our daughter was getting invited to parties and social events, which was great. We were having to work quite hard to make it good though and with me being out so early in the morning and back so late at night it was starting to get harder as time went on.
The tipping point
Late in September we had some exciting and slightly nerve racking news that we were expecting our second baby. It’s not something we had really considered before moving to Spain so it came as a bit of a surprise. We researched options and booked into the local gynaecologist. Luckily I had private health care set up although it was still a big challenge to find doctors. The process started off Ok but the more we looked into things the more worried we were about having a baby abroad. I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t have children when they live abroad, but it didn’t feel right for our circumstances.
Adding this new scenario to our already challenging situation with cash flow, commuting times and other things it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a happy balanced life out in Spain. We finally made the decision to leave towards the end of October and it was then that we realised just how difficult that would be. As I said at the beginning, we signed into a long term rental agreement and I had a payback clause in my employment contract for my relocation costs. The frustrating thing about the employment contract was that it was partly their fault for not giving me all the information on my salary. Not much I could do about that though, we just had to find solutions to the challenges ahead.
I told my boss of our intentions to move back to the UK, which was extremely tough as she was also a friend and I felt I’d let her down. I had to do right by my family in the end though. My wife and daughter were flying back to the UK at the beginning of November and we decided they might as well not bother coming back to Spain after that. Following a short trip back myself I was then in Spain for five weeks up to Christmas, which was really difficult.
Moving back to the UK
During that time I had to pack up the house, battle with my employer over the payback clause (we had no money!) And work out how I was going to get a job back in the UK. I was expecting to have to stay in Spain until March 2013 on my own, which wasn’t a good place to be. Finally, the week before Christmas, my boss helped me secure a deal with the company that got me out of the contract and meant I didn’t have to return after Christmas. This was a great result and made our Christmas all the better.
There were challenges to this though, in that I didn’t have a job and we had no car, house or money plus a baby on the way but that was more appealing than being separated for another three months. We managed to coble together enough money to ship our stuff back to the UK at the end of January and hard bargained our way out of our rental contract without having to pay the remainder (over €7000). I did have to face the landlord when I flew out to finalise the shipping, which wasn’t a fun experience.
So what did I learn?
I learnt a whole lot about myself, and what’s important to me. I also learnt that I should listen to my wife more and take her guidance into account. And most importantly, I learnt that I would love to abroad if I did it properly. I should have spent more time researching, more time understanding the impacts, more time consulting my family with an open mind and less time worrying about just the things I wanted to achieve.
The advice I would give to people considering moving abroad would be:
Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
Understand your core motivations and desires, and be true to them.
Make sure you’re not stretching your budget to the max just to make the move happen, especially if you have children. Give yourself a back up.
Try not to do it with debt (although don’t let that stop you if it really feels right).
Plan for all possible scenarios and understand what you’ll do if things don’t work out.
Plan a bit more, just to be safe.
But absolutely go for it. We will do it again in the future, once the time is right for us and I’ve done enough planning! I look back on our experience with fond memories and I appreciate all the lessons I’ve been able to learn.
You can find out more about Al’s experience at www.smartrelocationguide.com.