As the dramas of Brexit continue to roll out with a question mark hanging over when and how and at what price, many people – in particular, retirees – are speedily making the decision to move to Europe… but is this a sensible move?
Certainly, making the move before Brexit Day (whenever that will be!) is sensible because there will be many months of uncertainty afterwards and of course the rules and regulations for British people relocating will reflect the decisions that the government makes about Europeans living in the UK.
Moving to a new country can be fun and very rewarding. Many choose to make the move in the pursuit of good food, wine, cheaper living and much more house for the money. These are all valid reasons, but making really good research before you order the packing boxes is essential and finding out about banking, taxes, insurance, the health system and any other bureaucratic issues will help make the transition far smoother.
Spain, France and Portugal are the most popular countries for the British, with Malta and Cyprus not far behind. A high percentage of British people moving to these countries are of retirement age and this immediately raises two important questions about healthcare and language.
The NHS has its problems for sure, but the treatment is completely free and whilst outpatient appointments can be sluggish, when the chips are down and someone is injured or critically ill, the system ‘comes up trumps’. Check what type of health system your chosen country has and whether you will be eligible to use it. In France for example, there is a good health system that once you are registered into the French system you will be able to access, but there are limits and everyone is advised to have private ‘top up’ insurance in case of a serious accident or illness.
Unfortunately, the British have a reputation for being lazy about learning a new language and many believe that ‘everyone speaks English’ so there is no need to learn the language of your chosen country…. wrong, wrong, wrong….If you are moving to a European city then you could well find that you can get by without speaking too much of the language and you will be able to find an English speaking Notaire or lawyer. If you are planning on living in rural France or Spain though, be warned, very, very few local people speak any English and even if they did learn it at school, they are reluctant to try practising it!
Whilst you make your research, it is well worth spending some time in your chosen country in the area that you are considering moving to. Don’t book into a hotel, but rent a typical village house instead and live truly like a local. Get a feel for the way of life, you will be surprised how different it is – and don’t believe that the differences will not matter, because they will! All the big festivals are different in other countries – Christmas for example, is a single day of celebration in France and Easter non-existent! Check out the local clothes shops as you will not believe how much you can miss M&S as clothes sizes, styles and prices can be so different.
A browse of the pharmacy shelves and make up counters is interesting too and will explain why many wish they could pack their local branch of Boots! If you have family in the UK, check out postage charges too- they are scary and the delivery time takes so long. Whilst you are there, hire a car and see how you get on driving on the right (except in Cyprus!) and what you think of local driving skills – you may well find yourself missing rush hour on the M25!
Living in the UK we do enjoy a high standard of living and most of us have good mobile signals, Wi-Fi, efficient heating and reasonable fuel bills – which we all take for granted. All of these things are not necessarily available where you have chosen to live and if they mean a lot to you, it is well worth checking things out. If you are house hunting, always use your mobile whilst you are at the different properties to check the efficiency of the network.
Food in the UK is another factor that most of us take for granted. We are used to a wide selection of fresh and frozen products and a wonderful array of ready meals. There are Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Mexican and European products available in all major supermarkets and the supermarkets are open seven days a week and until late some evenings.
Again, living in a European city you will find the supermarkets are open long hours, but finding foreign foods is often a challenge! Food prices in French supermarkets are definitely higher but much cheaper in Spain. Most supermarkets in rural areas are closed on Sundays and in rural France, many close on Mondays too.
Finding your favourite baked beans, breakfast cereals or teabags can be more than a challenge. If you have a special diet, you will need to check what is available locally – in France even vegetarian products are limited. If you are coeliac for example, the number of gluten free products available in rural supermarkets is more than limited in both France and Spain.
Many of the brands that you know and love in UK are not widely available in all European countries and even when they are, the instruction booklets may not even have an English section. Enjoying British television and radio abroad is not always as easy as one would think and erecting a satellite dish on your roof doesn’t promise you good coverage of your favourite sport or your beloved EastEnders! Think too about your love of reading the paper, are you happy for it to be online? If you can get a hard copy, it could be a day late and will definitely be expensive. British magazines can be hard to get and definitely have a hefty price tag.
If all of the differences between the UK and your European destiny will enthral rather than frustrate you, that is fine and if you are happy to embrace the country’s different foods, traditions and culture and not going to worry about making a Tesco international order or taking regular flights back to the UK to get resupplies of all you miss, then your move from the UK will be successful. Even so, your pang for British things might well catch you out suddenly and you will have a hankering for something very British like a hot cross bun or great fish and chips!
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