Why Expats Struggle

Part of an occasional series of random thoughts

This is a reply I gave to “Ronny” many years ago on an expats forum. The years move on but my thoughts remain the same. It was referring to Torrevieja but in truth it applies to any expat area in Spain ……and probably anywhere else where expats are trying to start a new life.

“Hi everybody. Every week on the various forums relating to Spain there is a question from hopeful couples in their thirties, often with a child or two asking about jobs and schools in Spain. Do any of these families make a proper go of it or do they just end up hand-to-mouth.

I ask because the more I see of Spain the more I thank my fate is in the UK.
I have a UK income.

Now, that’s what I call an interesting question. I get perhaps 15/20 people every month asking me questions like:

1) Will I get a job as a bowling alley technician?
2) Would you tell me everything you know about Spain?
3) Will I like Spain?
4) What’s the best part of Spain to live in?
5) How little Spanish can I get by on? Is English enough?

Many of them start with “Hi, my name’s X and I’m thinking perhaps, maybe, possibly, at some time in the future of moving to Spain or maybe Malta, Florida, Greece or ….if………. I send them a list of URLs, advise them to join expat forums and do some SERIOUS preparation. A lot of them have children and many have absolutely no idea whatsoever re education, Spanish, Spain itself, job opportunities etc etc. I usually also tell them the FACTS. There are very few employed (as opposed to self-employed) opportunities. If you do not speak Spanish the opportunities at getting much above the minimum wage are extremely limited. You only need to see the vacancies section in the English language papers to recognise that. Nevertheless thousands come every year looking for a land of milk and honey. Whilst the grass maybe greener here in Spain (figuratively at least!) it most definitely needs cutting.

I have now had some 700 people who work with me / for me so I meet up with a lot of these types of people. Ronny, you are 100% correct in your underlying assumption that many do not make a fist of it. I can give many reasons.

1) Firstly and most importantly they have not done enough, if any, homework. They have absolutely no comprehension that for example someone who was, say, a dental receptionist in the UK is going to find it almost impossible to get the same job over here. (Plenty of good books nowadays to help with this homework/background reading, see above)

2) They have absolutely no comprehension of how expensive Spain is. I am sure I speak for many when I say that I find Spain is now only marginally less expensive than the UK for many things.

3) They make very little effort to learn any Spanish. A hobby-horse of mine so I won’t continue. NOWHERE in Spain is English universally spoken. Even in Benidorm, Torremolinos, Marbella or Torrevieja, Spanish is still the official language. NOT speaking Spanish will massively harm your chances of getting work. FACT.

4) They quite bluntly do not have a work appetite. Somehow they expect to work fewer hours for more money than they did in the UK.

5) Many were losers in the UK. Somehow they think if they come to Spain and do all the things they did wrong in the UK they will succeed. It’s pure folly to think if you do the same things you failed with before that you will get a different result if you continue to do them wrongly over here.

6) On the same track many are quitters. (Winners never quit and quitters never win.)

7) As they have done so little preparation re 1, 2 and 3 that when a problem happens they are not ready for it and struggle to overcome whatever the problem is.

Can people make a go of it? Yes, absolutely many of my guys have a lifestyle they could never have dreamt of in the UK. Some earn serious money – very serious money in some cases. Many others give up and either flee back to the UK or mess around with airport runs, villa cleaning etc etc trying to eke out a living until they win the lottery (Spanish or otherwise!). I’ll give anybody a chance – that’s my style BUT at the first meeting I know pretty well who’s a talker and who’s a walker. I know most times who will succeed, who will survive and who will fail. Equally, many have absolutely no direction whatsoever. I am fortunate that I am not down to my last five bob. I’m not into flash cars or a fancy lifestyle. So, I often say to the people who don’t seem cut out for what I have to offer, “Is there anything that you would like to do, if I were to fund a new project with you?” Unbelievably, most have absolutely no idea. So if I help them set it up, get the papers in order and even fund it they wouldn’t know what they wanted!!! ¡No digo nada! On the other hand, I mentioned it to a couple the other day and the lady immediately came up with what I believe was a very credible business proposition for here in Spain.

Sorry if the answer is a bit long winded but it is one of those “meaning of life questions” where the answer is more likely to be observations and opinions rather than “the police station is at Calle Mayor 36 and the telephone number is 9……..