A few days ago, we revealed that we’d be taking a sabbatical year to live abroad. It’s the culmination of years of dreaming and many months of planning, but in the very near future, we’ll be living abroad and exploring an entirely new culture! Today, we’re thrilled to share the details of our new life overseas!
Many countries, such as Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam, and even less-frugal options like Australia and New Zealand were initially under consideration… but to be completely honest, the search for the right place to spend a whole year as a family was a pretty easy one for us. Culture, art, tradition, family friendliness, and food are important items to us, but those are things that we’ve enjoyed in countries all over the world. Our baby has some minor medical conditions that we need to keep an eye on, so a high quality of affordable medical care both in our “hometown” and anywhere we might visit was important to us. Our dogs are getting on in age, so we wanted to make sure that we offered plenty of opportunities to enrich their golden years by bringing them on road trips, to restaurants, and on long walks through the countryside. Each of these requirements thinned the list of contenders even further, until we were left with an incredible, short, list. The specific needs of our family (including a four-month-old baby and two dogs) led to us focusing on Western Europe as the best destination to begin what we hope will be a lifetime of globetrotting adventures.
Ultimately, the desire to see our baby and dogs thrive (and to minimize the impact to our savings) led to us considering cities in Spain and Portugal as finalists for the next year. Braga, Portugal is the #1 mix of quality of life with a monthly budget for two of under $2,000 on The Earth Awaits, after all! Las Palmas, Coimbra, and Zaragoza, also score incredibly high.
Both Spain and Portugal would give us access to more experiences and opportunities than we could possibly fit into a single year. Both are noted for their rich history, affordable cost of living, family-centric culture, and highly developed medical care and infrastructure. Both have a thriving tourism sector and sizable expat communities. Both countries offered yearlong visas to Americans which didn’t have requirements such as a local employer or major business investment. In the end, though, one place just felt more right than any of the others.
After weighing cost of living, quality of life, proximity to airports and activities, and so much more, we decided on an enchanting, vibrant place to call home for the next year. It is with huge excitement that we share the news: our 2018 family adventure will begin in Granada, Spain!
Even after considering our desire to rent a house, have a garden and parking, and to have extra space to welcome the many friends who have promised to visit, Granada is well within our budget of $3,500 per month. In fact, it leaves us with a little extra margin to take monthly jaunts on budget airlines within Europe, and to share those journeys with you.
Granada is a city located in Spain’s southern region of Andalucía. It’s possible to visit ski resorts in the mountains, beaches on the Mediterranean, and ruins of three empires all within the same day. The city is a center of tourism and education, and is jam-packed with history and character. The world-famous Alhambra fortress, the Generalife palace, and the entire old town known as the Albaicín are all included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Spain’s medical outcomes rank 5th in the world (the US is 24th) in the World Health Organization’s World Health Report, and our cost to insure the entire family with zero copay or deductible is less than we have been paying for a High Deductible plan for just one of us in the United States. We’re confident that we’ll have access to some of the best healthcare in the world.
We’ve arranged for temporary housing in one of the Granada suburbs, but plan to use our first month in the country to find long-term accommodation. We may end up just outside of the city, or even in one of the other stunning nearby cities like Córdoba or Seville, but for the time being, Granada is where we’ll hang our hats.
Best of all, you won’t have long to wait to hear about our travels! We’re under four weeks from being safely settled in Granada. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing the experiences of the past few months, like our efforts to acquire visas for the family. We seriously can’t wait, and hope you’ll stay with us as we share the best of Spain, Europe, and the world with you.
If you’ve followed the blog for a while, I know you must have a million questions. I’ll try to address many of them in the posts you’ll read in the coming weeks, but if you have a burning question, just ask it below and I’ll do my best to answer!
Congrats on the huge news, sounds like Spain will be an incredible journey!
It definitely will! We can’t wait to get on the road!
Sweet! I was hoping for Portugal since we spent last year there, but seems like you made a solid choice.
Thought of you when we booked out April road trip to the Algarve! Thanks!
Wow – such an exciting time in your lives! Looking forward to reading more about your adventures!! Safe travels!
Thank you! Hopefully we can share some great adventures here! We’ve already got some incredible trips around the continent planned.
We’re a family of five (with two girl teens and a boy tween) traveling the world. I’m more than a little envious of the live-abroad-in-one-place families, lol, because sometimes I get tired.
We share our experience (and travel expenses) on our blog. We’re mostly sticking to inexpensive countries but we have many splurges and have a big bucket list.
We’re in Nicaragua for a month having a break.
So cool what you’re doing! We waited way later than I wanted to – teens! But here we are now, finally.
Thanks, Colleen! It sounds like you are on an amazing adventure of your own, though! Our long term plan is to be slow traveling the world as well, but I think we’d probably pick “bases” for 3-6 months at a time from which to explore. Moving is such an undertaking that doing it too frequently has got to be tiring. Thank you for reaching out and I can’t wait to see where you guys end up next!
Congrats! Very excited to follow your journey. I’ll be interested to read the process of getting your two dogs over. It’s one of the reasons we (family of two adults, two children under 3, and two dogs) have chosen to keep our travels within North America where we can travel in our RV, for now. We have slowly started to entertain the idea of spending longer periods of time abroad with our dogs. I am reluctant to go through long flights that may stress our dogs – especially our one dog who seems to have anxiety issues as she ages!
I will definitely write a post about this. In some ways, the requirements are more stringent, and the stakes higher, in moving the dogs. We actually make our airline selection based on the reputation of the airline and their logistical strengths when it comes to moving animals. We’re going with British Airways, who has a dedicated Pet Desk to help, has a tracking system that shows the progress of the dogs every time they’re handled, and will give them food, water, and medicine as necessary.
Unfortunately for us, we’re coming from the West Coast, so flying direct to Spain on an airline that has good animal handling practices was near-impossible (outside of subjecting the dogs to a six hour drive to LA first), so we’re going through London on the way. The dogs will be on the same flight with us to London, then they’ll go to Heathrow’s Animal Reception Center, where they’ll be unloaded, kenneled, fed and watered, and put on the first (short) flight to Madrid in the morning, where we’ll meet them.
Needless to say, we won’t breathe easy until they’re there safe and sound, but I take deep breaths and think about the fact that once we get them to our short term accommodation, a little cottage on a huge plot of land, they’ll have the time of their lives as they run, dig, chase, and play!
It’s wonderful to hear how you have put a lot of thought into their well being and needs during this move. All the best to you and the pups!
Holy Smokes! You pulled the trigger. Congrats! My wife and got engaged in Barcelona a couple of years ago in front of The Sagrada Familia and a few days after we ran with bulls in Pamplona. We absolutely love Spain and we’re totally jealous of your adventure. We look forward to updates. And, who knows, we may not be far behind you!
Hello, I came upon your blog by chance. My wife and I have dreamed of living in Europe in retirement at least part of the year. We never thought it possible until I stumbled on your blog. A few questions please: how did you rent a place? How does one go about renting? AirBnB? Once this is resolved then food/ transportation/ entertainment are easy to resolve. What about health/evacuation insurance? Is it necessary? Costs? We have superb Anthem Blue Cross coverage that covers us overseas. If the overseas hospital will not bill Anthem then we can pay and get reimbursed. In such a situation why insurance and if so what type? Do you have medical evacuation insurance? Finally I disbelieve you! $3500? How many people? I am ready to quit my job! Best wishes, Sundar
You have asked a lot of questions that I’m planning to cover in future posts, but I’ll try to address some of them now to allay your fears/curiosity.
Yes, we have rented a house for the first month of our stay, which we will use to find long-term accommodation once we arrive. We used AirBnB to book the first month, and messaged with the owner to negotiate a discount on a monthlong booking.
We took out a policy with a Spanish insurer for several reasons: First, because the nonlucrative residence visa that we received has stringent insurance requirements that require a policy with full coverage in Spain, with zero deductible, with a minimum coverage of 30,000 Euros. Your Anthem/Blue Cross coverage might cover the minimum Euro requirement, but it’s likely that it would be tough to prove to a consular officer that it’s a zero-deductible full-coverage policy for Spain if it doesn’t explicitly cover all inpatient, outpatient, and preventative services in Spain. Second, the cost to cover our entire family on this fairly high-end policy is less than covering just me with a High Deductible Health Plan in the United States. In the end, the reason we went with Spanish insurance is the same reason we didn’t take out evacuation insurance: we’re not visiting Spain, we’re moving there. We will be residents for tax purposes, technically on a track that could lead to permanent residency (even if we don’t end up going for permanent residency), so there will be nowhere to evacuate us to– Spain will be home!
We are a family of three humans (38, 39, and four months) and two dogs. The cost of the insurance was a little under $3,000 per year.
Finally, $3,500 per month is a pretty substantial amount of money compared to Spanish salaries. The average monthly net salary in Spain is 1749 Euros (About $2100 today), so we’re working with basically 175% of a local salary. We wouldn’t spend even close to this amount if we didn’t have the dogs, a car we’ll be leasing which we’ll need to park, and a determination to travel all the time. Flights around Europe from Malaga (assuming you’re flexible about times, seat size, carry-on only, and don’t need an assigned seat) are in the tens of Euros. Small 2-3 bedroom apartments are available for 5-700 Euros/month and are ubiquitous. Ultimately, expenditure is a matter of what your non-negotiable luxuries are. We’re moving to Europe to partake of things that, on an everyday basis, are free (culture, history, beautiful surroundings, family-oriented friends and neighbors) or very inexpensive (museums, great beer and wine, great food). If you need fast cars, expensive electronics, and regular fine dining, then $3,500 might not be enough… but if that were the case, I’d urge you to give genuine thought to which experiences in Europe would make you truly happy, and which are just fleeting luxury.
Thank you for a cogent and comprehensive reply. We are older (67, my wife is 60), son is grown/launched. I have a fine job with pension, still working because I like it, but scared of “retirement”.
We have enjoyed Europe on many visits, hence the interest. However we will probably not spend a year in any one country, would like to move around. You answered vital questions: AirBnB is expensive compared to the rentals you quoted. How do you know about these rentals? Your answer re insurance is acute. Also I don’t think even my Anthem will cover if we are residing as opposed to touring. I am going to check. Why did you not do Global Nomads? I presume you found local insurance cheaper? Any other tips for me to check out? Thanks. Sundar
It’s my pleasure. In case it wasn’t clear, I am very passionate about travel and life abroad, so it’s always fun to talk about.
Our AirBnB for the month was $1100. That’s a one bedroom cottage on some orchard land about 10 minutes outside of Granada center. It’s definitely more expensive than local rentals, which is why we’re just using it as a jumping off point to find our longer term accommodation. In Spain, Idealista, Fotocasa, and EnAlquiler are the big rental search sites, and you can find more appropriately priced houses and apartments there. We’ve identified some great possibilities (assuming some of them are still on the market when we land later this month).
I understand the hesitation to leave behind the stability that you have known for so long. I think that’s a stumbling block for the vast majority of people who dream of a life abroad. For what it’s worth, I believe you can do it! There’s certainly some risk any time you leave your comfort zone/leave behind a perfectly good job, but the potential reward is so worth it, in my opinion.
We didn’t go with World Nomads (or similar) because while it technically covers medical emergencies and the like, it’s not health insurance and as such doesn’t meet the requirements of our visa. It’s also cheaper to cover our family for the year through Sanitas.
Check out the post I have coming later this morning– it covers all of the requirements of our visa in detail. It may be interesting to you.
Ay, que suerte! I love Spain and miss it so much, since I studied abroad there in college. Granada is a wonderful choice. I loved the southern culture, the slow pace, and the hot days there. There is always cold sangria available or fresh-squeezed juice at a cafe to make it cooler and soak in the sun while people-watching. Have a wonderful adventure, and we hope to be doing something similar next year when we retire. Can’t wait to hear all about your adventures. 🙂
Thank you! We are having the time of our lives here, and almost, almost settled in at our new house– I have a handful of blog posts about the moving and getting settled in to write, but for the moment we’re just getting set up. The city is amazing, our house in the heart of the Albaicin with a roof terrace overlooking the alhambra is amazing, jamon in all its forms is amazing… life is good.
Very interesting to read about your experience. My wife and I are starting our paperwork for the visa. We be moving to Marbella. Our budget is 300K euros to buy a place and hoping to spend $2K per month while living there. I will be going there in couple of weeks to see some places. Excited and nervous at the same time…
You should be able to find a very nice villa in most of Malaga province for 300K or less. Depending on the kind of place you can live with (if you wanted buy a town house in a smaller village or an apartment for significant savings), you may be able to spend significantly less than that. We were in eastern Malaga province last week, and there are tons and tons of apartments and village houses in historic places, in really nice shape, for 100-150K EUR.
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Congrats on the move. I look forward to hearing of your adventures in Southern Spain, one of my favorite places on the planet. Cheers!
Thank you! Spoiler alert: it’s awesome! Actually moving here had its share of ups and downs until we got settled, but everyday life (and our audition for FIRE and slow travel abroad) is everything we hoped it would be and more. I have two posts in progress that I hope to get out this week about it.
Fantastic! I will look forward to reading them.
Congrats on your move. We have our interview October 16th and hopefully will be able to experience what you are experiencing right now. I have a questions about how you sent your stuff over (I hope you haven’t covered this and I just missed it). A year is a long time to go with just two suite cases. We are trying to get information about mailing some boxes or shipping. Any information would be great.
We stored most of our things in the US, and used the absolute maximum weight for all our checked bags, 32 KG per bag, two bags per person. Everything we brought with us fit in the car we drove from Madrid to Granada, including our two big dogs (it was a big car, though). The only things we shipped over were our daughter’s clothes when she hit a new size. We rented a fully furnished home here, and the expectation of many furnished places is that basic kitchenware, etc. are also provided. Our place had brand new towels, good appliances, etc. We spent about 500 Euros getting everything else we might need at IKEA. I have read that it is possible to label some items shipped as “cambio de residencia con visado” and avoid customs, but I have no firsthand experience with that approach. One of the best decisions we made in moving was bringing only what we could bring with us. It made us mobile and made our move in a breeze. It has also resulted in interesting learning experiences about what is available here– for better and for worse– and has been a fun part of the adventure. Discovering Spanish equivalents and brands as needs came up was neat, and when the local stuff didn’t pass muster, you can order from any of the Amazon sites anywhere in Europe. I’d say we spent about 1000 Euros total on new clothes, household goods, etc. over the past seven months. For us to have shipped the same amount would certainly have been more, if the cost to mail just the few boxes of baby clothes are any indication.
ETA: We do pack very light when we visit family, and bring back things here and there– but it’s much less than we had expected to at first.
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Can’t tell you how much I am impressed with your dedication to replying to comments, and the extraordinary and extremely valuable insight of your articles. A big THANK-YOU! Other than my wife and I being mid-60’s to early 70’s I could copy and paste your family’s preferences for ours, right down to the aging dog. We, too, have exhaustively researched our options, and are gravitating to Galicia (we’re Hawaii wooses and will sacrifice a bit of sunshine for relative warmth) for long-term, starting with a 1-month VRBO or similar rental, and then transitioning to a long-term rental. Our major consideration is whether to rent year on year or purchase. In a perfect world we’ll rent (major departure from having owned properties our entire lives), as the exit strategy for selling is dim. Would love to hear where your family is now (June, 2021). Regards, Andrew
Thanks for the kind words, and congratulations on your pending retirement adventure in Spain. I think your instinct is correct; At first, at least, I strongly advise people to rent rather than buy. In the course of our three and a half years in Spain, we have seen so many people come, immediately purchase a property (or even purchase one before moving), find that it’s not what they expected, and up sticks and leave very quickly. Some people have a fantasy about what rural life in Spain will be like, others think that a given city will surely be for them and end up disappointed. Renting gives you flexibility to recover from a misstep that buying does not. Besides, just because you start off renting doesn’t mean you have to go on doing so!
For our part, we remain in Granada, and actually are still renting the same house we found when we first arrived. We got lucky and found the right home and right city first, and I would make the same decisions again. We’ll likely move on from Spain to elsewhere in the EU in the next few years, but this is home as of today.
Thanks for your reply. Amazing, still in Granada–good to know you got it right! Our preference is to rent long-term unless by qualifying for a “resident” mortgage (by virtue of having a TIE) we are able to purchase with an LTV in the 80-90% range. Your thoughts would be appreciated.
My other question is whether the condition (for a non-lucrative visa) that stipulates that I am not allowed to hold a US mortgage is cast in stone. This could be a deal-breaker, as I will rely upon US rentals (which happen to have positive cashflow after the mortgage payment) for ongoing income. Regards, Andrew
I am not sure who Matt is, but you are welcome 🙂
I haven’t really checked out mortgages here, to be honest, as we don’t intend to buy in Spain (more likely in France). My gut sense is that mortgages are generally for shorter terms here and perhaps not quite as favorable to the borrower as mortgages in the US. That’s based on very little knowledge, though, so investigate from the safety and comfort of your rental and I’m sure you’ll figure it out.
There is absolutely no official requirement that you carry no US mortgage, and this requirement is a one-off imposed by a couple of the consulates abroad. There is no discussion of foreign mortgages whatsoever once here, including at renewal time. Renewal is very simple where you really just need to prove that you have remained in Spain the minimum period and that you have sufficient financial resources (this time for two years, the term of the renewal). So, you can rest easy on that one once you get here.