Puente en Naron

How We Managed (and Mismanaged) Our Move to Spain & You Can Do Better

In Gentle Journeys by Susan & Jamie6 Comments


Why make the same mistakes we did? Make your own! (There are plenty to go around.)

It all started out over Saturday morning coffee on a dreary February day in western Oregon.  Susan and I had been thinking about how we wanted to spend our retirement years.  February in Oregon naturally had us thinking about warm, sunny places.

We didn't fully appreciate how a decision to live abroad would impact our daily lives in the months before we actually retired.  And we REALLY didn’t anticipate the emotional effort that was required of us during our first year as American retirees living in Spain.

With some luck and a lot of family discussion time, we made it through the rookie rough spots.  Along the way, we’ve learned an awful lot about ourselves, about our capacity to make naive mistakes and, fortunately,  our capacity to recover from them.

So what does it take to move abroad?   We've tried to capture our best answer to that question in the four articles that are summarized here.  As you explore the idea of living overseas you might find our experiences entertaining and possibly even useful.

Keep reading to find out what worked, what didn't and how you can do a better job of it.

A street in the old center of Valencia

When our house sold in a single day, we didn't hesitate.  Even though we  had anticipated having two or three months to ease into retirement,  we knuckled down and bulled ahead with our international move.  What a mistake that was! 

We didn't take time to discuss how retirement, let alone retired living in Spain, would disrupt our routines, our relationship, our lives.  That led to months of  friction between us and second guessing our decision to move  abroad.  We've had enough time to process that mistake, so when our friends started asking us, "What does it take to move abroad?" As the first step in deciding whether life abroad is for you, came up with questions that cover these four categories:

  • Know Yourself and Know Your Goal.
  • Where in the World Do You Want to Be?
  • What are the Immigration Requirements?
  • Can You Afford it?

You can find Questions to ask yourself before moving to a foreign county HERE.  They will get you thinking about the reality of life abroad rather than the romantic notions that vacations in the sun, the tourism industry, timeshare marketers and real estate agents weave for you.

If Spain is your country of choice, you'll also want to read the next post about applying for a residence visa.

Two file folders with US dollars clipped to one.

One of the things we did right was to get our visa application materials well organized.  We created a Spanish non-lucrative visa application checklist to keep track of the various forms and tasks we needed to complete.  Tasks like:

  • Checking and rechecking the requirements.
  • Sourcing and purchasing Spanish health insurance and repatriation of remains insurance.
  • Proof of income.
  • Criminal background checks, our marriage certificate and the required Apostille certifications.
  • Health certification.
  • Professional passport photos.

Based on our readers' experiences, the non-lucrative visa application is a confusing and worrisome experience.  Many readers have reported that our article about How We Got Our Non-Lucrative Spanish Residence Visa Application Right was more than a little helpful.

We added a non-lucrative visa application update in February 2019.

You can ace the visa application too.  Just stay organized and mind the calendar.

A room full of family possessions almost ready to move

When you have a residence visa, Spain allows tax and duty free importation of your used household goods and personal property, as long as your shipment arrives no later than three months after you arrive in Spain. In retrospect, we wish that we had spent much more time considering what we would send to Spain.

Despite the tempting offer of a duty free shipment, we didn't really want to lug much of what we owned to Spain. So we spent a busy July unfilling our 2400+ square foot home. Even with a couple garage sales and tons of donations, we still had plenty of stuff. After deciding against storing anything, we did send a good-sized shipment to Spain. With the benefit of both hindsight and several months’ experience in Spain —we share the moving and shipping options we investigated, the choices we made, our reasons for making those choices, and our heartfelt assessment of what we did right and what we did wrong in this article entitled Sell It, Ship It or Send it to Spain.

While we were waiting for our shipment from the United States, we realized that we made several poor choices as we decided what to ship and what to carry with us on the plane. There were so many times one of us said, Geez, I wish we'd packed that as we searched for spoons, or a corkscrew.

Two people lifting a large pet carrier off of a loading dock

When it came to moving to Spain, our biggest worry was how to get all five of our pets from the U.S. to Valencia healthy and safe. We spent hours on-line and made dozens of phone calls, chasing down regulations, comparison shopping kennels, and evaluating different airlines.

Along the way we learned that there five important things to master before moving to Spain with pets.

  1. Master the EU Health Certificate process.
  2. Choose your airline and flight carefully.
  3. Understand what cargo, excess baggage, or carry-on baggage mean when it comes to pets.
  4. Crates are great when your pets are comfortable.
  5. Patience and kindness make a difference.

On move day, we carried all of the pets' paperwork in our carry-on bags, along with leashes for everyone and harnesses for the cats. And it sure paid off at the end of our journey when we tried to get everyone into our 8th floor flat. If you want to know why we recommend harnesses and leashes read on.


Jamie  wants “life on gentle cycle” to be a story of enough rather than a search for more.  His focus is on simplicity, quiet presence, low impact travel, and mostly on living gently. He also manages the technical aspects of GentleCycle.net

Susan writes about the things that make life meaningful for her. This includes places we’ve been and what we’ve experienced as nomads these last several years. And now, includes finding a place to call home.

As we come closer to a “settled” life, Susan will begin to emphasize aging gracefully with a plant based diet, plenty of yoga, and physical activity. She is certified to teach Hatha, Vinyasa, and Yin yoga. Adaptive and Senior yoga certification is coming soon.

Grape harvest Bas Relief in Requena, Spain


  1. Susan and Jamie: having come across your site while doing a google search for visa requirements (today), I must immediately thank you for having the nature, and taking the time and effort to provide such valuable information. I and my partner are heading to Spain and are digging into the visa requirements. You are addressing so many other valuable topics. Thank you! After I read what you two have written, I am sure to return with some questions. And, I’ll share my own foibles for others to avoid. Douglas

    1. Hello Douglas,
      Thank you for your kind words. Susan and I always appreciate hearing when someone finds something useful on our blog. Good luck on your application and move. We look forward to hearing how things go.
      Regards, Jamie

  2. The non lucrative visa is any different in a case , I’m EU citizen , my wife US ,?

    1. Hello Tamas,
      As an EU citizen you,of course, are free to live in Spain without getting a residence visa. Your wife, as a US citizen still requires a visa. I have read that there is something like a family reunification visa. Unfortunately, I don’t have first-hand knowledge of that process. You might try looking on the Spanish consulate webpage forthat kind of information.

      Sorry I can’t be of more help.

  3. Jaimie: My wife, Kit, and I are exploring a move (retirement) to Valencia or Lisbon. We have been benefitting from your blog and posts and greatly appreciate that you respond to questions. We will have a number, I’m sure. The first one relates to Health Coverage and insurance. We know that Medicare does not cover most health related services for Americans traveling/living abroad. We also understand that Spain has a fine National Health coverage program and that to obtain a VISA we will have to enroll once we get to Valencia, but we also understand that purchasing the Spanish equivalent of “gap” coverage is either mandatory or highly desireable. Are we correct in that understanding? A recent New York Times article on retirement abroad and health insurance costs seemed to conclude that the cost of health insurance in Spain was quite high, perhaps $1,000 per month. That seems excessive. Can you shed some light on this for us? Is the cost split between the mandatory national coverage and an excess coverage policy (like we have here with Medicare Parts B and F)? Is obtaining health coverage there in Valencia something with which your “Moving to Spain” consultant provides assistance? I am also informed that retirees living overseas must continue to pay for Medicare Part B coverage, even if such retirees elect to be treated overseas rather than in the USA. Is that correct? We’re trying to understand how to budget for our overall health care coverages should we move to Valencia. We will greatly appreciate your response. Many thanks, Art

    1. Hi Art,
      I think you have incorrect information about health insurance. Let me see if I can give you my take on it in an orderly manner. Let’s start with Spanish Health insurance.

      1. You are correct about Spain having a good national health insurance system, however you are mistaken in that:
      2. Enrollment is not obligatory for foreigners.
      3. Nor is enrollment in the Spanish national plan permitted until after you have lived in Spain for at least one year.
      4. In order to get a residence visa, you must have a private health insurance policy that is (a) zero-deductible, (b) zero co-pay, and (c) is fully in effect (i.e. no waiting period). The consulates are very strict on this point.
      5. Health insurance premiums are quite reasonable. Our eligible Adislas plan runs a little less the 250 euro a month for the two of us (over 65 but no health issues).

      On to Medicare. First, your best source of information about Medicare is through the Social Security Administration.But here’s what we did and why:

      • Plan A is provided with out cost to recipients, so what the heck, we left that in place.
      • Plans B, and D (I think) are paid, at least in part, by the recipient. In addition,
      • Medicare coverage does not cover any treatment outside the United States (not even for vacations and temporary travel). So we declined theses plans. However,
      • We do not intend to return to live in the U.S. This is important, because if we would return, Plan B premiums are increased by 10 percent for every year after age 65 that one does not carry coverage. And,
      • Supplemental insurance providers are not obliged to offer coverage

      I spent several weeks chasing after affordable health insurance until Linda from YesValencia (formerly Moving to Valencia) put us in contact with our local agent. We’ve been happy with the options Ángel has offered us.

      Ángel Girón Descalzo, Director Comercial
      Centro de Negocios del Mar
      Av Puerto, 189, 3 A1 46022
      tel. +34 96 339 22 46

      I hope this helps.


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