OPINION: Lucky? It takes a lot of effort to pursue the ‘expat’ dream in Spain

Sue Wilson explores how expats in Spain are viewed from back home and explains that it takes more than just luck to retire here.

OPINION: Lucky? It takes a lot of effort to pursue the 'expat' dream in Spain
Photo: ivonnewierink/Depositphotos

Over the years I’ve lived in Spain, I’ve never given too much thought to how Brits abroad are perceived by those back ‘home’. Not, that is, until the Brexit referendum opened my eyes.

British citizens in Spain are accustomed to how “expats” are portrayed by the media. Images of bowls-playing pensioners, Brits lazing on the beach, or frequenting Union-Jack festooned English bars are stereotypical and jaded images. But what about our fellow British citizens back in the UK? What is their impression of us?


A stereotypical image of Brits enjoying 'expat' life in a bar in Orihuela. Photo: AFP

When I tell UK people where I live, the most common response is “lucky you”. It’s hard to disagree. I’m living the retirement that I dreamed of (Brexit excepted) and I’m grateful for it every day.

Brits in the UK always imagine I live in a villa near the sea, have a great social life and spend hours in the sun making the most of the climate. I can’t argue with any of that – it’s all true – though my idea of a great social life is rather quieter than most would imagine. What they don’t appreciate, however, is the effort it took to achieve this dream, and the threat it’s under today.

Four years ago, my husband and I bought our two-bedroomed house for a pittance, then spent every cent of our life savings renovating it. We would never be able to afford anything comparable in UK – not even close. On top of that, we couldn’t afford a comparable lifestyle, as our only source of income is a British state pension. How anyone in the UK manages to live on that, with the increasing cost of living, is beyond me.

It’s not all about money though. A house move is one of the most stressful life experiences. Add to that the complication of moving to a different city or region, and you’re upping the ante. Moving to another country requires a different level of courage and stamina altogether.  

When people in Britain mention how fortunate we are, I suspect they’re not just jealous of our lifestyles but that we had the nerve to make it happen. Despite the massive upheaval though, more Brits than ever before are now moving to Europe.

In a study by Oxford University, published last week, it was revealed that 84,000 British citizens have emigrated to the European Union during 2019 thus far.

In the whole of 2015, the number was just 58,000, so this represents a significant increase, which has been directly attributed to the Brexit referendum. The numbers are expected to increase further, with Spain likely to remain the most popular European destination.

Of course, it’s possible that those migrants had been planning to emigrate for some time. Nevertheless, Brexit has surely encouraged many to speed up their plans, in some cases by many years.

Last week, Spain reported an increasing number of British citizens registering as residents.  It would seem that, thanks largely to fears surrounding Brexit, unregistered Brits in Spain are finally getting their affairs in order. For many months, the British Embassy and campaign groups across Spain have reiterated the importance of being legally resident, and the message now seems to be working.

Nobody knows how many unregistered Brits exist in Spain. It has always been assumed that numbers stood at two or three times those registered – perhaps as many as a million. Whatever the real figure, it’s hoped the increase in legal registrations continues to grow. If you live here, you should be registered as a resident, filing a Spanish tax return and using a Spanish driving licence. Now is not the time to be living under the radar.

Our compatriots in Britain might well say we’re lucky to live in Spain. We are. It’s a beautiful, diverse and welcoming nation that offers so much and expects little in return. The least we can do is abide by their laws, and their customs, and be grateful that we chose such a wonderful place to call home. I hope I never stop pinching myself at my good fortune.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain




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Seven essential apps that make life in Barcelona easier for foreign residents

Barcelona is one of the most popular cities for foreign residents in Spain and for good reason. But, if you want to enjoy the city more and make the most of it, these 7 essential apps will help you out.

Seven essential apps that make life in Barcelona easier for foreign residents

Barcelona is a popular place for foreign residents due to its coastal location, international businesses and startups, its unique architecture, world-class culture, festivals, and easy access to nature. 

But, there are some aspects of the city that can be difficult to navigate, such as parking,  bureaucracy, finding places to charge your electric vehicle, and transport connections. These apps will help you with all of these, as well as offering you great bargains on anti-food waste apps, restaurant recommendations and more. 


This is the Barcelona mobility app that helps you get around the city via various modes of transport, all in one place. It allows you to book Bicing bikes, pay for parking meters, recharge your electric vehicle and locate shared mobility vehicles, among several other features.

Drivers can also access B:SM car parks using the automatic number plate recognition system, without having to take a paper ticket.

All the services can be used within the city of Barcelona, but the parking meter feature can also be used in the surrounding towns of Badalona, Castelldefels, Esplugues de Llobregat, L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Montgat, Sant Boi de Llobregat, Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Sant Joan Despí and Sant Just Desvern.

It’s completely free and you can download it via the AppStore here and the Google Play Store here.  


Barcelona’s transport app, is a must-have for all those who use public transport to travel around the city frequently. You can plan your journeys on both the metro and the bus systems, including working out connections, waiting times and accessibility of various lines. You can also find out in real-time if there are any delays and receive alerts straight to your phone or e-mail.

It also allows you to buy and validate tickets via the app with T-mobilitat. All tickets such as the T-casual, T-usual and T-jove can be uploaded and recharged via the app so that you’ll be able to pass through the ticket barriers with a simple swipe of your phone rather than a physical ticket.

You can download the app from the Apple App Store here and Google Play here.

READ ALSO: How much does it really cost to live in Barcelona?

Fonts BCN

With the Fonts Bcn app you can access information about all the fountains in the city of Barcelona. It could be useful for those who have dogs who need to find water quickly on hot days or those who like to go out running and don’t want to run with a heavy bottle. Find out which fountain is closest to you, how to get there, consult the map and obtain basic information on all the drinking fountains in the city.

It also allows you to consult artistic and historical data and fun facts about some of the city fountains, which are either works of art or iconic urban structures. You can even listen to fountain playlists, enabling you to enjoy your own magic fountains across the city. 

You can download the app from Google Play here and from the App Store here

Barcelona a la butxaca

This is the mobile app of the Barcelona City Council and offers all the main municipal services for residents in one place. From here you can manage any online procedures, be notified of any incidents on public roads, keep up to date with the schedule of events, consult current information and check the fiscal calendar.

You will also find real-time weather information, useful telephone numbers and access to the “How to get there” service to find the best route to get around the city. In addition, with the “La meva Butxaca” service you can store the content that interests you the most and access it when you want.

You can download it on Google Play here and on on the App Store here

READ ALSO: 14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Too Good to Go

Too Good To Go is a great app that allows you to get your hands on food that would otherwise be thrown out.

According to the Too Good To Go website, around a third of food is wasted. Not only is that bad for the environment, but it also means that you can take advantage of loads of perfectly good (and tasty) food that would otherwise go straight in the bin. 

You can download the app here, and through the Apple App Store, Google Play y Huawei AppGallery. From there, you can browse the various local restaurants and businesses partnered with Too Good To Go, including Aloha Poke and Udon, and arrange to pick up your food from a nearby location. 


Phenix is another anti-food waste app that allows you to save money, help the environment and support local businesses. This app basically lets you snap up food products that are going to be thrown out at bargain prices, in the form of a ‘surprise basket’.

With over 360 local shops, restaurants, cafes, and butchers in Barcelona already signed up, there’s a great deal of variety to choose from.

It’s simple to use: download the app here, activate your geolocation, choose the local stores that most appeal to you, pay securely through the app, and then go and pick up your basket at the store at the time slot given to you. 

Barcelona Restaurants

The official guide to restaurants in Barcelona this app has been created by Turisme de Barcelona. It enables you to find updated guides to the city’s culinary offerings, with a selection of some of the best restaurants.

You can carry out searches by area, price, type of cuisine, as well as particular characteristics such as if it has a terrace or if it allows groups. You can also find detailed information on each restaurant, located it on Google maps and share the location with your friends and contacts. A handy feature also enables you to mark the restaurants you like the most as “favorites”. 

You can download it from the App Store here