Retire in Spain: An American Couple’s Story – Part I
Retire in Spain? You may be wondering, “Could it be possible for me? The place for me?”. Assumptions exist that discourage people, like the perception that living anywhere in Europe is too expensive. But over the past couple of years, more and more Americans are making their retirement dreams come true by making the move to Spain.
Today, you get to meet one such couple, Tara and Adam. They decided to retire in Spain and we met them and became friends when they moved to Denia in the summer of 2018. In this first part, they share what’s really at the heart of such a life-change – their personal story of what brought about the desire. Let it encourage you that you’re not ‘insane’ for wanting to retire in Spain. It is possible! – Amalia & Eric
Let’s Get Introduced
My partner, Adam and I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, California for over 30 years. We met and fell in love in 2015 after two previous marriages each. Hence, we decided to not jinx things with a third marriage and, instead, ‘live in sin’!
Adam has two daughters, ages twenty-three and twenty and I have two sons, twenty and eighteen. His oldest is a college graduate and working in New York City. His youngest, a student at San Francisco State, is studying abroad for her 3rd year, 2018-19, in the United Kingdom.
My oldest is finishing his basic studies at a local Junior College preparing to transfer to a four-year university, fall 2019. Well, he was… but that is another story… My youngest is a freshman at Cal Poly Pomona studying kinesiology.
Life Before Spain
Above Image – Jumping forward a little, here I am with my youngest son in Denia’s Marina, with the mountain Montgo in the backdrop.
Adam and I are (were) computer science and electrical engineers, respectively. Over the past 30 years, we have held many high pressure, yet high profile jobs in high technology. During our last four years in the US, I had been selling real estate rather than semiconductors. I’m not sure which career was more rewarding, tiresome or horrific at the same time.
Our story is fairly typical for people living and working in Silicon Valley. All work, good incomes but hardly anything left to show for it. Tired all the time. Long hours. High Pressure. Poor diets (doordash). No exercise (no time).
We lived in a very expensive neighborhood so that my boys could still finish school at their high school after my divorce and sale of my home. Now with my youngest graduating and going off to college it became apparent that we no longer needed to live in the high rent district of Cupertino, California, home of Apple Computer.
Reaching Our Limits (or at Least Really Close)
Above Image – Visiting the rocky shores of the Las Rotas beach in Denia.
I was working 7 days a week at all hours of the day and night, the life of a realtor, and Adam was feeling a bit burned out with his current technology job. Sometimes I would have to push him out the door in the morning, him kicking and screaming like a 2-year-old. OK, that was a slight exaggeration.
We were tired, and the kids were pretty much on their own. Now what? Is this what life was really all about? Go to college, work your asses off for 30+ years, raise children, send them off to college and then collapse from sheer exhaustion?
Is this what life was really all about? Go to college, work your asses off for 30+ years, raise children, send them off to college and then collapse from sheer exhaustion?
Since it was obvious we were no longer going to stay in our high rent house, we started thinking about moving to a cheaper neighborhood, but still in Silicon Valley so we could keep our jobs. But did we really want to keep our jobs? Did we really want to continue this crazy, unsatisfying, unhealthy lifestyle?
Our Turning Point
Then in 2017, Adam’s mom passed away, as did my dad at 75yrs, too young of an age. Losing parents makes one think about their future. What did Adam and I want from our future together?
BINGO! Adam had an absolutely, beautifully insane idea. What if we retired early and moved out of California? Could we? Could we move away from our kids? Our friends? My mother? What about my cats? Yes, I am a crazy cat-lady.
Can We Retire?
Above Image – Enjoying Cava at the Marina Portet, with a great view of the sailboats and the Denia Castle.
Well after pouring through our finances, it was clear that if we wanted to retire in the USA, each at age 52, near the beach, which was a must for me, we could not do it. Our savings and investments would not even allow us to retire in Florida, which was not even an option, in my opinion. I hate Florida.
Adam, born and raised in the United Kingdom, suggested that we look at Europe. During the 4 years that we have been together, we have been lucky to travel around Europe quite a bit. Plus, Adam has family living near London. Why not give it a go? Europe… beach… no work… This is beginning to sound exciting and scary at the same time!
This is beginning to sound exciting and scary at the same time!
Target – Europe: Let the Search Begin!
Above Image – Exploring the nature of Denia’s Mediterranean coastline.
So, Europe, but where? My main requirement was a warm beach and Adam’s was a town where we could walk to almost everything. We did not want to rely on a car. Plus, we needed to investigate “affordable” places that were really working towns year-round. Who likes mass tourists in the summer and a ghost town in the winter?
Italy was out, sadly. We could not afford the Italian towns that met our requirements. Feeling dejected and yearning for the Italian pizza I thought I’d never have, we started looking at the Algarve area of Portugal.
Algarve, Portugal has stunning beaches, cute towns, and is affordable. But, the more we looked into it (Google maps, Google earth etc.), the towns with lovely beaches seemed to be mainly tourist towns, meaning that they would be desolate during the winter months. We really wanted a thriving town year-round.
From Drinking Tequila to, “Hmm… Spain?“
Above Image – Sunset drinks on the Rasset Beach in Denia, just a couple blocks from our new home.
Then one evening we were chatting with our good friend, while drinking mass quantities of tequila, about our idea to retire in Europe. She suggested that we look at Spain as her daughter had lived in and loved Madrid for over 10 years.
Hmm, Spain? Her daughter had vacationed in Javea, which is a beautiful town in the Costa Blanca area of Spain. About 1.5 hours south of Valencia and 1 hour north of Alicante (and both cities have international airports). On paper, Javea seemed amazing. Both of us being engineers, we studied every aspect of this town and, although it was lovely, it did not tick all of our boxes.
It was not as “Spanish” as we wanted and seemed to be excessively touristy in the summer months. Plus, Javea was not very walkable, since the beaches, old town and port were too far apart. Damn! We were disappointed.
However, Adam would not give up. He was determined. He figured that there must be a town around Javea that met our criteria. He was right. Denia, Spain. About 30 minutes up the coastline.
What is it About Denia, Spain…
Above Image – The charming medieval fair that comes to Denia every winter.
Denia sits right on the Mediterranean Sea, at the foot of a mountain (El Montgo), and has a 14th century castle in the center of town. Behind the castle lies the charming old town, chock full of fabulous restaurants and bars. After a 2 minute walk from the Loreto Street in old town, you arrive at the main city street, Marques de Campo, where you can meet with friends and have a café con leche (coffee with milk), caña (beer on tap), or a copa de vino (glass of house wine). It’s a great place to watch families stroll up and down the tree lined street.
At the end of Marques de Campo is the Port, which has 2 extensive marinas on either side, the Marina el Portet and Marina de Denia, each boasting more fabulous shops and eateries. Trust me, you cannot go hungry or thirsty in Denia.
And what about my main requirement, a beach? Denia has several beaches, enjoying almost twenty kilometers of coastline. To the north of town, you find the beach of Las Marinas with fine sand and calm shallow waters (and lots of summer tourists). Then to the south lies a series of small coves along the rocky coast, known as Las Rotas (but really expensive).
This pueblo, Denia, appeared on paper to be perfect for us. Beach, port, walkable, thriving working town year-round, Spanish, castle, close to Alicante and Valencia, and affordable. Perfecto! Then, we took the next step in November 2017 – VISIT!
The Biggest Resource – the People
Above Image – My oldest son visiting us in Denia.
We quickly booked our investigative trip to Denia. We knew that the weather would not be that warm, but we wanted to see what Denia was like outside of tourist season. Months prior to our visit, we joined a Facebook group called Denia Connect. This site is full of expats, local Spanish natives and local business owners. The group was, and still is, a valuable resource to get information about Denia and surrounding areas. Things ranging from, “Where can I find peanut butter?”, “Recommend an English-speaking dentist?”, to “Where is the festival tonight?” or “I hear fireworks, why?”.
We joined a Facebook group called Denia Connect. This site is full of expats, local Spanish natives and local business owners. The group was, and still is, a valuable resource to get information about Denia and surrounding areas.
Through this Facebook group, we made contact with a couple from Canada, who were currently living in and testing out Denia over the winter months, and an American couple who were living in our home town in the USA and planning to retire in Denia in 2018. How awesome was this???
We quickly met with our new American friends in San Jose, CA to learn their story. She is both American and Spanish, as she was born in Spain and raised in California. Lucky dog, she is also fluent in Spanish! Her parents, once they retired from the USA, moved back to Denia. Hence, this couple had been visiting Denia for many years and knew it well.
They were a HUGE resource with a plethora of information about Denia, Spain in general, lawyers, doctors, etc. Today, we live about a ½ mile from them and see them several times a week as they are some of our best friends here in Denia.
As for the Canadian couple, we enjoyed meeting them on our November 2017 visit and they helped convince us that Denia was the town for us. Sadly, they have moved back to Canada. We hope they come back! I digress….
Essentially, our November trip convinced us that we were ready to cut the USA cord and move to Denia in 2018, after my youngest graduated from High School. And lucky for me, I found the best Italian pizza and pasta right in Denia’s town-center at Pizzeria Senze Nome. Take that Italy!!!
Read More: Denizens of Denia
Just Pick a Move Date, Right… ?
Above Image – Admiring the famous Spanish culture of jamón (ham) that is daily on display at the local supermarkets.
Now that we had made the executive, insane decision to move to Spain, what next? How and when? These 2 questions became our topics of daily debate. Neither of us makes decisions lightly or quickly.
I am more of a care-free spirit than Adam and on a mere whim I said, “let’s just pick a date and move back from there. Adam responded with “OK”, and a sheepish smile on his face.
So, I picked a totally random date, June 23rd, 2018. Little did I know then that that date was not ideal for tax purposes, but I will get to that later in future posts. Wait for it…
“V” is for Visa
Above Image – Savoring the deliciously fresh seafood in Denia, while my youngest son visited us.
Now that we had the date set, we needed to figure out how to get our visas. Any American who plans to stay in Spain for more than 90 days needs a visa. Since I did not plan to work in Spain, the name of my visa is the Non-Lucrative Visa. How unappealing of a name is that? Name aside, it is a visa for an American who cannot work in Spain for a Spanish company.
Essentially, they do not want Americans to take the few jobs available for the Spanish. With this visa, I could still work for an American company while in Spain, if I wanted too (NOT!).
In addition, we were a little unsure if Adam needed the same visa. Being true honest boy-scouts, we figured he did as he had been living in the USA for over 27 years and held an American passport.
Hence, off we went to investigate how to get a Non-Lucrative Spanish Visa.
I hope you have enjoyed this piece and will want to read part II, coming soon: Getting A Non-Lucrative Visa Without Going Insane or Killing Someone.
Read More: Living in Spain Series
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Written by Tara Anderson
Tara Anderson is a retired American living in Denia, Spain spending her days playing tennis, cycling, beach walking, snorkeling, exploring Spain, hanging out with her new friends, mastering the Spanish language and eating Paella.
Prior to retirement, Tara, educated in Electrical Engineering, slaved in high technology and real estate for over 30 years in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has two somewhat grown, neurotic children living in the United States. You can learn more about her by visiting her Facebook, LinkedIn and Zillow profiles.