I started having the first thoughts of leaving South Africa in 2008. Yes, ten years ago. My company was doing OK, every year was better than the previous one, and in good spirit, we closed the shop for the Christmas holidays and went on leave. We came back and found out that the electricity has suddenly become a precious commodity, so precious, that we couldn’t have it all the time. Eskom started load shedding.
Well, it was a complete disaster. In my business (printing) deadlines are the most important. And when you market yourself as someone that never misses the deadline and get your business because of this fact, this is a complete catastrophe. We went through the process, known to all of you, but completely unthinkable to anybody in Europe that cost us money, clients, turnover, and mostly nerves. We had to pay for huge generator which was eating hundreds of liters of oil by the minute, had to organize hundreds of canisters to transfer this oil, had to extend shifts so we can work once the power gets back, had to replace computer boards on our machines regularly because sometimes the power would come back, and go again when we don’t expect it to happen. And so on, and so on. But, we got used to it. Like a frog in the boiling water. It just got warmer, and we were cooking, but, what the hell, we were still moving.
At that time I started my love romance with the Internet. Hours and hours on the computer, looking for the best place to move. The one I can afford, the one I don’t have to run away from again. I became a professional immigrant. I looked everywhere and didn’t like most of the things. I became familiar with many of the worlds immigrant programs, looked at the forums, tried to get more information, interacted with people. Started with Asia – Malaysia: good program, but many health problems, Philippines: ok, but lots of poverty, unstable regime (I was so right there) Thailand: not the place to raise a family, plus you cannot own your property. Singapore: easy to get in, but very hard to stay and on top of everything, too bloody expensive.
Then I moved to South America – Costa Rica: the only stable country in Latin America, but too expensive, Panama: too much crime. Argentina: too unstable. At that time Chile wasn’t even showing on the radar, and the other countries were either too poor or plagued with crime. Some of the countries looked sort of ok, but they offered no future for kids. And, knowing South America, things could change overnight and the economies could be busted within a month. It happened before, it will happen again
I was already too old for Australia, I didn’t like the cold in Canada (that is one of the reasons I came to South Africa) and I figured out I would never have enough money to pay for decent health and home insurance in the US.
My next focus was, of course, Europe. I went through all the programs each country offered and found a couple of suitable candidates. Of course, I visited them all. Malta was first on my list, but it really felt claustrophobic – such a small island and so many people, and no tree in sight. Cyprus was promising, but I didn’t like the fact that there was a lot of corruption and money laundering going on there and the property prices were unrealistic. Same as Greece. Plus the language. Have you heard before a saying: “it is like Greek to me” Well, it really is!
Most of the European countries had unrealistic entry prices, like Austria, Switzerland, UK. Italy was another problem: North was too expensive and the South, for my taste, too wild. There was nothing in-between.
Some of the Eastern European countries offered decent value programs, like Hungary, Bulgaria, but I really didn’t see myself living there. Even some of the “new” countries offer these programs nowadays, like Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, but apart from the fact that they are not part of the EU and it might stay like this for another 20 years, they are really not nice places to live in.
So the choice slowly but surely came down to three countries, Portugal, France, and Spain.
Portugal was the first to go. I simply didn’t see myself there. It is a small country, it is at the end of Europe, the economy is very fragile and property prices recently exploded. If you go there with your kids, they will learn Portuguese, spoken only by them and Brazilians. It was also a bit cold for my taste, not only the weather but the sea water too. Lastly, Portugal is badly connected to the rest of the world.
France was another story, probably the most beautiful and looked after country in the world, but very expensive and burdened with taxes. Very hard to start a business and very expensive too.
In the end, the only one country stood remaining – Spain.
And the winner is…
Now, there are quite a few advantages that Spain offered. First, it is a beautiful country and the climate (especially the number of sunny days) is as close to SA as it can be in Europe. Money needed to obtain the permanent residence was quite low – you basically don’t have to pay anything for the privilege, all the money needed you will spend on yourself. The health system is one of the best in the world and not expensive at all, schools are quite good (there are a lot of international ones) and the property was relatively cheap. Once you get the permanent residence – that’s it, it is yours for life, no further requests. You will even get a pension one day. Your kids get access to the European educational system where you pay 200 euros a month at most for some of the best universities in the world. Because there are a couple of millions of Brits, Americans, Scandinavians, French, Italians, you are well connected to the rest of the world. And once you learn Spanish, there will be another 30 countries where you can freely use it.
But, one of the deciding factors was definitely the fact that Spain is cheap. Compared to Europe, that is. Even compared to South Africa. Yes, the restaurants tend to be expensive, all the services that include people might cost more here (salaries are higher, or not, I’m not sure) but here you don’t have to pay high bank fees, you don’t have insurance costs, you don’t need maids and gardeners, your water bills are very low, there are no taxes and rates in amounts known in South Africa, you get free health care, free schools, you can use public transport, insurance for your car is negligible and, if your car stops in the middle of the night, you can still walk home. Supermarkets charge more or less the same, social life is well developed and most of the things you can’t enjoy in South Africa are here free. I had a different life in South Africa, but, at the end of the month, when you look at your bank account, Spain is cheaper.
On top of everything, and more than any other nation in Europe, Spanish people are welcoming. You will not feel like a foreigner even in the most remote village in Valencia province. They will befriend you and you can easily become part of the community.
So, this story answers the question of why I choose Spain. To explain why I choose Valencia I would have to write another one.
Hope it was not too boring.