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Interview with Lottie – A British Expat Living in Spain

Updated 23 Jan 2017
Lottie is a British expat living in the southern Spanish town of Alcala La Real with her husband, Pete. Seasoned expats, they spent a few years in Jakarta, Indonesia, before making the move to Spain. They now run a guest house, Atelier88, and offer art classes in the beautiful surroundings of their home.
From the chaotic streets of Jakarta to the quaint Spanish countryside, it has certainly been a change of pace for Lottie and Pete, and they are loving it. 

Lottie Nevin - A British expat living in SpainAbout Lottie

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I’m originally from London.
Q: Where are you living now, and when did you move here?
A: I now live in Southern Spain, in a town called Alcala La Real. I moved here three and half years ago.
Q: Did you move to Spain alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved here with my husband, Pete
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A:  Previously we had been living and working in Indonesia. Our contract came to an end, and we decided that rather than move back to the UK, we would search for pastures new.

Living in Alcala La Real

Q: What do you enjoy most about Alcala La Real? How would you rate the quality of life compared to the UK?
A: I love the pace of life here. The Spanish are extraordinarily laid back and very welcoming. We certainly have a much better quality of life here than we did in London. It certainly helps that we are not having to rush out to work, or sit in traffic jams. The weather is glorious for most of the year and the countryside around where we live is beautiful.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: There are no negatives. The only thing I miss are my children but they visit often and we speak almost every day on the phone so keeping in touch is easy. 
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Spain? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: I can’t think of any big adjustments that had to be made when we settled here. Unlike when we lived in Jakarta which was a huge culture shock, there wasn’t really anything that I found difficult to adjust to here. Shops closing in the afternoon for siesta time took a little getting used to but apart from that, it’s been relatively straightforward and easy.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: It’s definitely much cheaper to live here than in London. One of the reasons that we chose to live here was because we were concerned how we would manage financially if we returned to the UK. That said, the cost of living has certainly risen here in the past three years. Our greatest saving is things like council tax, transport and food.
Q: How would you rate the public transport? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: There is an excellent bus service here but our nearest train station (Granada) is 45 minutes away. I couldn’t live here without a car. I like being able to drive to Cordoba, Granada or up in to the mountains. I count the car as one of our essentials!
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Alcala La Real? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: The healthcare here is excellent. On the one occasion that we have had to use the emergency services, their care was exceptional. 
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living Alcala La Real? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: The area that we live in is considered very safe. It’s a friendly little town and people look out for one another. 
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Alcala la Real? What different options are available for expats?
A: There are lots of options when looking for properties here. Beautiful old cortijos, fincas, town houses and apartments. Property in this area is reasonably cheap and if you don’t mind doing a bit of work, you can find some fabulous properties at a fraction of the price that you’d pay in the UK.
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: I think the important thing when looking for a property is choosing the right area for you. We decided against living near the coast, we wanted to be inland in a rural area as this is what suits us and our needs. We were surprised when we moved here just how many other Brits had had the same idea!

Meeting people and making friends in Alcala La Real

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: The locals are remarkably tolerant of foreigners and extremely friendly to outsiders. There is no discrimination here. Everyone is treated equally.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Since moving here, we’ve made a lot of new friends. Both Spanish and English. Moving anywhere is always a bit daunting, especially when you don’t know anyone or speak the language. We’ve consciously made a big effort to take part in the community where we live and it’s paid dividends in that we are now well integrated into the community and have met some lovely people.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A: Neither Pete nor I spoke Spanish when we moved here so at first it was quite hard to have conversations with our Spanish neighbours. Making the effort to learn the language has really helped us. We’ve got a good mix of Spanish and English friends. There are plenty of groups to join if you felt you wanted to meet other expats, but for us, we are happy with meeting people through our work and what we do.                      

Working in Alcala La Real

Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for Spain? 
A: At this point in time, the UK is still a part of the EU. We didn’t need a visa to come and live here. I imagine that things will change quite dramatically once the UK leaves the EU.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Alcala La Real? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: The economic climate here is not good. It would be ill advised to arrive here and expect to get a job. Unemployment is currently high and unless you have a special skill and can speak Spanish fluently, the chances of finding a well paid job are slim. Your best bet is to start your own business, which is what we have done.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Spain?
A: The work culture does differ here. The working day is divided in two with a three-hour siesta break in the afternoon. It’s not uncommon to have a builder or electrician come and do work at your house in the evening.
August is a trying month if you want any renovations or work done on your house. The entire construction and building trade pack up for the whole of August and head for the coast. Another thing that drives me faintly potty is the amount of fiesta days and bank holidays here. The Spanish love any excuse for a party!

Family and children in Alcala La Real

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: I think it’s always much harder for the trailing spouse. When Pete and I moved to Jakarta for his new job, for the first time in years I had no job and a lot of time on my hands. Aside from exploring my new environs and learning Bahasa Indonesia, I found writing a blog a great way to pass the time. I still write my blog when I can, but since starting our business, Atelier 88, I’m busy most of the time. Any free time I have is spent on my own paintings and drawings and making work with Pete.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move?
A: Pete and I made our move abroad when our children were much older. In hindsight, I’d have loved to have moved to Spain years ago. There are some great schools here and I think that they would have enjoyed growing up in this delightful area

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: My only advice is ‘manage your expectations’! I think it would be foolish to move anywhere and think that life will be perfect. Living here has ups and downs like anywhere. Things can seem more complicated but in reality they are not. Having some understanding of Spanish is a great help but if you don’t, find a really good interpreter who can help you with your paperwork or attend important meetings. Communication is key.
And finally, a sense of humour. Some days never go quite as planned, but if you can laugh, it helps make everything better!

~ Interviewed in January 2017

We'd love to hear about your expat experiences in Spain, so if you'd like to share your insights with Expat Arrivals, please contact us.

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