My family and I arrived in Torrevieja three and a half years ago. Like most foreigners here, we were escaping something; in my case chronic chest complaints in a damp part of UK (these problems are 90% better in this dry part of Spain), and the stress of doing a job for anything up to 15 hours a day which once I had enjoyed, but by then I hated. We were attracted by the climate, the opportunity to learn a new language and culture, a supposedly more laid back lifestyle, and a cost of living which hopefully would allow us to work less, have more leisure, and get to know each other more. At the time I felt as if I never wanted to work again (in fact it took me two and a half years to finally close down my financial services business in the UK), and I never quite understood my wife, who strangely wanted to carry on working as a physiotherapist! We were not in any sense pioneers, wanting to live self sufficiently in a remote foreign backwater, nor were we real estate agents, providing a primary service enabling other Brits to settle here. Rather we are part of the vast army of secondary service providers, in our case physiotherapy and various health products.
We were fortunate in having financial resources which enabled us not to earn very much for a while whilst establishing ourselves, and we have also been able to observe at close quarters the economic failures (many) and successes (a few) of other foreigners who settled here. The owner of this site refers to Spain as Klondike territory for Brits, but we all know how many were bankrupted for every one who made a fortune in the gold rush. This brings me to rule number one of economic life here; ‘The best way to make a small fortune in Spain is to start with a large one’. Certainly if you come out of here and, for instance buy a bar, without any experience of the licensed trade, you might as well pour money down the drain, it’s almost as quick. The second rule of economic life is to trust no-one, until you know them well; there are an awful lot of conmen and crooks around.
To revert to our story; we went about the tortuous process of registering my wife’s Chartered Physiotherapy qualifications in Spain; official translation, notary stamp, hours traipsing between government departments in Alicante, further translation, another visit to Alicante, months of waiting, and bingo, Diana could proudly frame her certificate stating that she was ‘homologada en España’. All this despite the fact that qualifications are supposed to be freely transferable between EU countries.
The next issue to be tackled was whether to be legal or not, ie whether Diana should pay social security contributions and get any other necessary permits and licences. The problem here is that to be legal, and therefore to qualify for Health Service treatment, sickness benefit, and a pension after 15 years contributions on reaching retirement age, an autónomo, a self employed person, now has to pay nearly 250 euros a month in social security contributions (not to mention the 55 euros a month we pay to our asesor fiscal, or accountant). Many people earn less than this a month, particularly when they first start, but they are nevertheless working illegally, and if caught would be punished. In addition, VAT, or IVA as it is known here, is paid on every euro of turnover, there is no exemption for small traders. We took the pragmatic view that we wanted to be legal, but that we should wait a while until income increased before starting to pay, which we did as soon as possible. Many Brits here have been working illegally for years, but they are only following the example of the Spanish, for whom tax evasion is a national sport. However, we wanted to sleep soundly at nights.
By nature we are cautious people, and we certainly did not want to invest huge amounts of money in marketing, business premises, advertising etc, so we set up business from home. Our accountant advised us that health professionals do not require permission to work from home, and in any case we are only one of numerous cottage industries on our urbanization, so, apart from one neighbour who was worried about our clients (one or two a day) walking past his house, this appears to be going smoothly, although of course we may expand to new premises in the future. We count ourselves as successful, growing slowly but surely, but there are still months in which our outgoings exceed our incomings – running a business is not easy here.
The other big problem is the language; our daughter is fluent, my Spanish is of good conversational standard, while my wife’s is less so. Probably 20% of our clients we communicate with in Spanish, while with the rest we use English. Because my wife’s Spanish is not yet of a sufficient standard, she does not usually see Spanish people for physiotherapy. Yet our language level is far higher than that of most British people, who either play at learning the language, or don’t bother at all! I do have sympathy with those who try, but struggle, however, and it is particularly difficult for those who are older, or do not have the opportunity to meet Spaniards very often in their day to day lives. The result for us is that our marketing efforts have mainly been with English speakers, while we get a steady trickle of Spanish enquiries from the company’s publicity. Even a few months ago my heart sank when I answered the phone and the voice at the end gabbled away in quick fire Spanish, but now I am not fazed, and I am sure the proportion of Spanish clients will increase, as we market more in Spanish.
So what is it that we actually do? My wife, Diana, provides conventional physiotherapy, with electrotherapy, massage, mobilisation, exercise, ergonomics, hydrotherapy and education, as well as using her particular skills in relaxation, breathing, counselling and the Alexander Technique. We are both trained in fitting and selling Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT) Shoes, which only arrived in Spain a few months ago, from Switzerland, via the UK and many other places. MBT footwear activates muscles in the body, to support the spine and the foot arches, relieving pain in joints. They greatly reduce pain and wear and tear on the ankles, knees, hips and back, re-educating the functioning of the whole body. They also improve circulation, very helpful particularly for diabetics, and can also the help the balance of patients with neurological problems, such as strokes. Our own lives were changed by these shoes, along with those of hundreds of thousands worldwide, and now hundreds (so far!) on the Costa Blanca.
Our empire is growing, however, because very recently we have taken on agencies for aloe vera products, and Q Links. Q Links are pendants which fundamentally improve the function and performance of the body, boosting resistance to stress and mental focus, helping the immune system, and assisting people to train better. Initially we were sceptical, but we are now starting to understand the Sympathetic Resonance Technology, on which Q Links are based, and there are huge amounts of both anecdotal evidence and scientific studies to prove how well they work. Again, we wear them, and they work for us!
Our needs are modest, and our ambitions are simply to help people, to provide a good service, and to earn a living. No service or product, however good, can survive without marketing and selling, and of course we both have to wear many hats. The linguistic mix here complicates marketing – we have had literature translated into German and Norwegian, as well as English & Spanish. However, we think we are going in the right direction. An awful lot of people have had their fingers burnt; the advice is to do your research, know your market, and to make sure you have a business idea which will be attractive, and which sits well with your skills and abilities. Oh, and not to trust anyone. Just the same as anywhere else really!
For more information on our services, or even just for advice or a chat, contact Colin or Diana Beaven on 965708227or firstname.lastname@example.org . Our website is www.torreterapia.com . You can find out more about MBT Shoes on www.mbt-uk.com The Q Links website is www.qlinkspain.com .