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Has Spain Lived Up to My ExPat Expectations?

By Howard Fishman October 31, 2022 Lifestyle

We left the United States to dislodge ourselves from the inevitable third act doldrums. My post-career life began to show signs of the common societal memes associated with retirement. The tell-tale lack of energy. An inability to focus. Dare I admit, a slight depression.

The highs and lows of my highly active career had come to an abrupt end. And though planned well in advance, leaving my day job was a mic-drop moment that challenged what I thought had been a healthy balance between work and personal life.

There seemed to be few substitutes for the adrenaline rush provided by winning a lucrative new account. Or fighting the good fight with colleagues, laser-focused on a single goal: winning. What long-term, fulfilling happiness was offered by the win escapes me now, but I compare it to a neurotic need for Facebook Likes.

Though after departing from my day job I never reached the depths of without work, who am I?, my so-called gravitas took a serious hit. That, combined with a short-fused, unremitting referendum on well-established values in the U.S. (aggravating less from the standpoint of politics, and more about the downward trend of civilized political and social discourse), was over-the-top disheartening.

The Urge to Start Over in a New Place

In articles written for Sixty and Me during that period of time, I had offered this sage advice to retirees: It’s not about how you fill your days, it’s about the self-fulfillment awaiting to be discovered during those days.

I still believe that to be true. And as I became more acutely aware of my symptoms of inertia, and as our unhappiness with the swing of American culture grew more intense, Mark and I began to orchestrate a life more to our own specifications.

When human activity and purpose is measured on a graph over one’s lifetime, the depiction often takes the shape of an arc. On the horizontal axis, the line starts low at childhood, then jumps higher during college years, career-building, family development, and career success. It begins a downward trajectory close to and during the post-career years.

Moving to another country could seem like a drastic fix. It certainly isn’t for everyone. But we’d been focused on the idea of expat life for decades. Even before our life together. To us, it felt more like a sky’s the limit choice.

Man Makes Plans and the Universe Laughs

When relocation became a serious endeavor, we began a deep exploration into the Spanish lifestyle, its health care system, culture, climate, and cost-of-living. We hired an attorney to assist with immigration requirements. A relocation expert to help find suitable living accommodations. And a tax attorney to explain the systemic differences between the two countries.

Yet there remained a hoop of formality and regulations to jump through in order to reach the other side. Plus, the logistics required to tie up loose-ends stateside was steeped with a complexity we’d not considered. Whether on the side of emigration or immigration, it’s a strenuous, agonizing process, with a continuous onslaught of to-dos. You have to want it bad.

On a cool Los Angeles morning in September of 2021, we visited Spain’s Consulate for our final appointment. One hour later we were back in the car, with newly minted visas in hand. Both of us dazed by the reality, sporting oh crap, this just got real expressions.

Underneath the sudden concern, though, was a confidence that all prep work done up to that point – the strong planning, the mental gymnastics, the turning over of every possible stone – boded well for a successful outcome. What could go wrong?

Plenty. We could not have predicted the coldest, wettest winter in Spain’s recent history. A short-term rental with no heat and no hot water. A parasitic infection that nearly killed our 12-year old Doodle. My big, fat, Spanish hernia surgery. Cancelled health insurance. Bureaucratic bungling over resident status. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.

Dressed in our what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger winter coats, we plowed forward. And nearly a year into it (after one of the hottest, most humid summers on record), I can look back dispassionately to assess our progress.

It’s All About Context

Expats who willingly choose to leave their countries of birth, extract their lives from one envelope and slip it into another. We create an environment sympathetic to current ambitions and goals. It’s not a tossing out the past. It’s a world-building exercise riffing off curated experiences and accumulated wisdom. More of a custom fit. Context driving content.

It’s thrilling to walk down streets filled with centuries-old architecture. Dine out on tapas or explore diverse international cuisines. Cruise north to Barcelona or west to Madrid on high speed trains. Jaunt over to the island of Mallorca for a chill few days. But nothing compares to the exhilaration of living comfortably in one’s own skin.

So yes. Spain has met – and exceeded – our expat expectations.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you long to be an expat? When did this idea develop in your mind? Have you decided you will actually do it? Where would you expat to? What circumstances might make you leave your country of birth?

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Frances

I was delighted to find this article, my priority at this moment with my husband is to make quality of life and good health our priority. We want to leave behind a very damp wet climate and make the move to Spain, coincidentally. We want to be exposed to blue skies good food and a culture of art, history and some of the best of the world’s art galleries. We’ve only begun our research, let’s hope we persevere with our journey.

Howard Fishman

Hi Frances. I’m betting you can do this. Don’t let my story scare you! :) It’s fantastic here. I’ll be writing lots about the experience. If you’d like to continue to get my articles on that and other subjects, please sign up a howardfishman.net. If not, wishing you and your husband the very best!

Tracey Antonia

Life is funny, A trip planned for my 60th birthday last year (I didn’t go because of covid) turned into a year of curiosity, then interest, then possibility, then determination to move to Portugal, the Algarve specifically, in 2023. Recently, however, I have been questioning my choice. I am a city person. I love the culture, I love the energy, the diversity, I love all that a city offers. Lisbon then, I thought, but Lisbon is so much more expensive, and the architecture at my price range has left me uninspired. On a whim I looked at some apartments for sale in Barcelona last night and almost fell off my chair. The beauty of the architecture, the beauty of the city. Then, this morning I saw your post. I’ve decided to take it as a sign of redirection. Here I go again!

Howard Fishman

Yay! That’s great news. We considered Lisbon, as well. But felt Spain had more to offer for us. Barcelona is amazing. Too dense for us, which is why we chose Valencia. Good luck with your adventure!

Denise

Hi, I live in Spain. I came to study and never left hahaha. But honestly, although I absolutely love this country, if it’s your first travel far from your country I would try Portugal first, you don’t need to go to Lisbon, Algarve great choice, but there are others such as Coimbra, Oporto, Caldas da Rainha… great cities, great people, great food! But again, Spain is also a fantastic option! Wish you the best.

Howard Fishman

Thanks, Denise!

J P

I’d love to, but I’m starting to think this is only feasible for couples. Most of the world is pronatalist and sexist. Whist there is plenty of acceptance of gay couples, there is none for a single childless woman. We’re the pariah no one cares about. No one cares that we’re ostracized, judged and/or ignored. Any single childless women try being the ex-pat in retirement? I’d like to know if anyone was open to being friends with them or how much they were accepted in the local community.

Last edited 28 days ago by J P
Howard Fishman

I’m so happy you wrote a note about this particular concern. We do know single women here. I know a couple of them do not have children. We certainly don’t care one way or the other. We have found the expat community here to be accepting about almost everything. There’s an immediate affinity between most expats. I also remember visiting San Miguel, a big expat community, and meeting many single women, some without children. Of course, I won’t dispute your assessment, but thought I’d let you know there are some bright spots.

Lana Muir

At age 71, single and without children, I live full time in Mexico and love it. Absolutely love it. Married couples welcomed me with open arms in social settings and within a month or two I made new friends, also single, on the tennis courts and by joining the local theatre. As an extravert, it was easy for me to meet new people. To have a friend, one has to be a friend, it’s that simple. And here’s the best part, my Mexican neighbours are amongst my closest friends. They know that I am always here to help them in any way I can. Our patio parties are the best ever – babies, small children, dogs and live music! If I had a husband, he would probably put a damper on my social life….just saying….I am surrounded by single women in their 60s and 70s and most of them create the life they want. Some are quite miserable and who want’s to be friends with misery?

Howard Fishman

Brava! Thanks for getting at the things I couldn’t (above) because it’s not authentic coming from a man in the situation being discussed. I also liked your point about being an extrovert. That does make things easier. But I think (speaking for myself, as I am an introvert bordering on ambivert….it’s a spectrum) that you can strike a deal with yourself to move into situations that seem foreign and difficult with a plan to show your best intent and self. Shrinking from them only increases the isolation.

J P

Seems you two are blaming the victim.
Signed,
Very outgoing and friendly, but my experiences are my reality.

Georgina

Well I have been an ex pat for 45 years, the learning curve can be daunting but you curb your expectations and learn to love where you chose to live.

Howard Fishman

Yes. You have been. And that’s a very sensible approach. :) Hope you’re well, Georgina.

LisaG

I have never understood ones life measured by their job ethos.
I could not wait to finish work and live life!
I for one have not found a downside to retirement.l have loved every minute.Found new hobbies, friends and an inner happiness.
No work was a means to an end not my defining persona

Howard Fishman

Cheers! I wasn’t able to achieve that during my career, could only try for a good balance!!

Beth

Wherever you go, there you are.

Barbara

Very true, but just remember you take yourself with you.

The Author

Howard Fishman is a writer. An expat from California, now residing in Spain, Howard is focused on a journalistic second career, sharing insights on the expat experience, the culture of aging, meaningful friendships, generational workplace issues, and the arts that best express who we are at fifty plus. His writings can be found at https://howardfishman.net/.

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