White building with red tile roof along a Spanish river

How Two American Retirees Managed (and Mismanaged)
Their Moved to Spain

What Worked, What Didn't and How You Can Do It Better!

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.

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

A street in the old center of Valencia

We jumped right into our international move.  That was a mistake.

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.

We got the non-lucrative visa application process right.

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

Sell It, Store It or Move It to Spain?

A room full of family possessions almost ready to move
Sell It, Store It or Dump It in the Thames?

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.

Moving With Pets - Oh Boy!

Two people lifting a large pet carrier off of a loading dock
Nothing worried us more than moving our pets across the Atlantic.

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.