Brexit - Part 4
Various questions have arisen concerning living in Europe should
Britain exit the EU. How short are peopleís memories. Rather a
lot of us have been living in Europe since the dawn of history.
I have been living in Spain since the sixties. My neighbour has
been living in France and Germany even longer. Britain wasnít in
the EU then, and I certainly dont remember any problems. It
really isnít going to make much difference. The only difference
I have noticed is Schengen, and even that didnít make much
difference to us going to France and Belgium. Maybe there will
be some difference if you are reliant on health care abroad, but
that can be handled better by insurance.
This all does call into question the way one should be thinking
about buying a home abroad. What are the problems? Please note
these problems dont necessarily have anything to do with Brexit.
The first problem is a very simple one. Most people decide to
move or retire to somewhere after theyíve visited a few times
and liked the place. Sounds reasonable. And so it is, except
that has nothing to do with buying a house. The easy way to do
things is to rent. There are several reasons for this.
Buying a house abroad usually means paying over the odds. The
locals dont pay what you will be paying. I have lived in France,
Spain, Portugal, and indeed owned properties in all those
countries. Iíve also owned property in Bulgaria and Montenegro.
You could say I have some experience of these matters.
If you buy in a tourist area you will pay tourist prices which
could be anything up to ten times what the locals pay in non
tourist zones. For instance, I used to live in the Algarve. I
bought a six bedroom house set in 6 acres of land with a river
running through. It certainly needed work modernsing it, but it
cost me £83,000. People less than two miles away were paying two
and three times that amount for two bedroomed apartments.
I was in the country rather than the town, but was only 1
kilometre from a motorway access road, and only 3 kilometres
from the coast.
The first thing you check is the average wage in the area you
want to buy in. The last thing you check is the prices in the
estate agentís window. You then take a rain check.
If you want to retire you will find that as you get older you
get health problems. You need to be near the hospital. You want
to do less housework and less gardening. You also might like
more money to spend. One partner may die and you suddenly feel a
long way away from your kids and the grandchildren.
Letís go back to money. You will find UK house prices increase
faster than the average tourist prices. You will also find that
you can only sell to other tourists, which cuts down your
market. You will also find that it is difficult to compete with
other vendors, and also find that the market has very nasty
You will also find that owning a property is expensive. You will
have to pay rates, water rates, and shell out for repairs, and
general maintenance, plus insurance.
My friend pays only a small amount for rates, about Ä600 a year.
However, all she gets for that is approximately two plastic bags
of rubbish collected each week from a bin 1 kilometre away.
I live by the side of an estuary, on a 13 hectare estate with a
landing stage at the bottom of the garden. I have to do
housework, but no repairs, no maintenance, and no gardening.
Thatís all done for me. I get all services, except the gas
bottles. It costs me Ä400 a month for a 2 bed apartment. I
secretly laugh at the folk who have bought properties, and at
least half the people I know are struggling to sell them.
I kept a place in the UK which I rent out for five times the
cost of my place in the south. I have a place to come back to if
necessary. I also have a nice home in the sun. I have no
worries, no maintenance, and no rates or insurance to pay, and a
much better lifestyle because I have a nice income from the UK.
And if I fancy leaving, all I have to do is give a monthís
My advice is (and almost nobody listens to me) rent, dont buy.
The next problem about living abroad is speaking the language.
By all means move to southern Italy. Before you go make sure you
learn the language. They dont speak English down there. Go to
France. Itís a great place, but they dont like it if you dont
speak the language. If you move to Spain but keep speaking
English you will have to live with the English abroad. Is that
what you want? In Portugal, you need to speak Portuguese unless
you move to the Algarve, where most people, whatever their
nationality, speak English.
Staying in the EU wonít help you with any of this, and Brexit
wonít stop you moving.
The next problem is currency movements. The Brits dont use the
euro, and are not likely to in the foreseeable future, so there
will be fluctuations in the value of your money. If you move out
of the UK on a fixed pension, beware. You could be letting
yourself in for a bumpy ride financially speaking. Make sure
before you go that you are likely to be able to suffer some
swings in the exchange rate.
When I first went to Portugal there were sixty escudos to the £.
Forty years later there were 315. Imagine what that did to the
value of a house you may have bought. It would need to
appreciate 500% just to keep up with the currency conversion.
When I went to Portugal the second time there were 155 euros to
£100. Over the years that dropped right down to 110. Imagine
what that did to people living on British pensions. Their living
expenses went up by nearly 50% on top of inflation. Once again,
none of this will be affected by Brexit.
Working abroad takes many forms. I used to have a neighbour in
Spain who lived most of the week just outside Malaga, but he
worked in London as a taxi driver. He caught a flight to Gatwick
friday afternoon, and worked in London that night, taking a
short kip in the back of the cab when he finished round about
4.00 am. Then he worked saturday and sunday right through till
the early hours of monday morning, catching a 6.00 am plane back
Others specialise in giving an English service to English
ex-pats. Others do learn the local language and get work in the
normal way. The rest are pensioners, and increasingly people
like me who, via the internet, can work pretty well anywhere
there is a decent connection, and that includes Albania these
The next level is one of real integration. I canít see that
changing much with Brexit either. So many European countries
need the British tourist, and they certainly want them spending
the winter months in the sun. It keeps the hotels open and
people in employment. They most certainly need us snow-birds. In
fact, the more I think about it, the more obvious it becomes
that Europe needs the UK much more than the UK needs Europe. We
are a large and relatively wealthy economic block ready to buy
European goods and services. We have the rest of the world
available, and the rest of the world has gotten a lot closer
Ah yes, that reminds me. A couple of years ago I spent the
winter in Central America. I rather liked Nicaragua. Some of you
may remember some of the island properties I put up on the site.
I floated around those island homes on Lake Nicaragua just off
the charming city of Granada. Next winter I shall be going to
Ecuador. Who needs the south of France?
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