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Ten Questions to ask before moving to another country

We have been looking at whether the grass is greener somewhere else. There seems to be an obsession with people putting out websites about 'the ten cheapest countries to retire in', or 'the top ten best countries in the world'. Interesting maybe, but not necessarily very helpful. It isn't a good idea to settle down in a country simply because it's cheap. And what someone else may like you may hate.

Here are a few more important points to remember when you are thinking of moving to another country.

1  The current pandemic has reminded us just what a social animal the human being is. We like going down the pub, or to the local whist drive, or the dance club, or the wine club, or whatever group turns you on. That means you need to live in a country where the social life is similar to what you are used to.

My friend Julie was a cafe person. She could sit all day watching the world go by, chatting to complete strangers, and drinking her coffee. France was the place where she was most comfortable.

I love my food and drink, so, once again, parts of France suited me down to the ground. Spain I love because I spent a large part of my teenage years wandering around the country and it simply feels like home.

On the other hand, Bulgaria is nice and cheap, but I don't speak the language, and I'm not really in tune with the culture and mores. There is one hell of a lot more to life than a cheap breakfast, and negligible rents. And I do like a pub atmosphere. Ever tried going to the pub in Bulgaria?

I once played violin in a local band in Sophia, the capital of Bulgaria. I tell the story in my book Behind the Wire Fence. You should read it some time. It's full of interesting exploits. You can get it from Amazon, here's the link:

We got thrown out of the restaurant where we were playing because they wanted to shut up for the night and we ended up playing on the various levels of a high rise apartment building. The residents weren't keen and all of us suffered serious bodily damage, and I ended up escaping through the wrong door, and spent the next month living with a very sad lady whose husband was a political prisoner. One night I took her out. She wanted to go to a drinking house. The local band playing were a Shadows tribute band (I kid you not). The atmosphere was seriously depressing. It was quiet, and all the customers were busy getting drunk to blot out their ghastly lifestyle for a few hours. The local pub it most certainly was not.

The most important thing to do to find out what really counts for you is to spend at least six months renting in a country before you buy. Find out whether you stick out like a sore thumb. Are you accepted by the locals? Do you feel as though you belong?

2  Get to know the place thoroughly. Spending a holiday in a country and enjoying life is not like living there. Live there before committing yourself. And make sure you test out everything while you are there. Dont treat your time in a country as a holiday. Treat it like a crash educational course.

3  How easy it is to get back to where you came from to see friends and the kids?

So how close are you to an international airport, and are there daily flights which don't cost a fortune?

4  Does the country you're investigating have the kinds of things that make life for you especially enjoyable? Do you like a comfy climate? For most people the Algarve is just right. For me the winters are too cold and the summers are too hot. On the other hand, are you a traveller and just want a base to come back to?

For many people the climate is crucial. One of the reasons I chose the Algarve for my home is that the climate is pretty good. But we do get days when the temperature reaches 45 degrees C in the summer. That is not nice. Could you cope? I found a way round this. we went north in the summer and travelled around. Then we went south in the winter. Problem solved.

If there are problems for you, make sure you too can either cope or get round them.

5  Can you cope with a country where the language is different? I can get by in Portuguese but only just. Even when I translate a website that I need to use to fill in a form I get stumped by strange translations. In trying to apply for a residence permit I come to the question: Are you a) Empty b) Full? -- Pardon?

I have just looked at a website telling us what a great place Bulgaria is. Also, what about Hungary? Have you tried learning Bulgarian? Have you seen just how long Hungarian words can be? Are you up to it? Knowledge of the local language is almost an open sesame to a country. Dont speak it? Then you aren't really in.

6  So many things are dealt with differently in different countries. Are you prepared to study the ways of a new country?

In Portugal I have a local friend, and I always ask her how the Portuguese would deal with a particular situation. It is invariably different from what would happen in the UK.

I had an argument with a bank. Rather than handle this in the English way, I went for advice. I was told to ignore the letters and emails the bank where sending me. Seemed odd to me. But after a while the communications simply stopped. It was as if they didn't know what to do, so they stopped doing anything.

You dont see police here very often. There is no such thing as preventative policing. The way things are done is by denunciation. The police sit in the police station until they are called out. No denunciation, no action.

There's a lot more, and you need to learn how things work, or you are not going to get on very well in your new home.

7  Are there things available that you really need?

Can you buy your special tablets? What's the health-care situation like? Do you need to go private? I was surprised to find that when I went to buy an implement for the swimming pool it would cost 2,000. Next time I was in the UK I found I could buy it for 500.

Another important issue. Sell a house in the UK and an estate agent will charge you anything up to 2% in commission. In Portugal they charge anything up to 10%. Check the cost of living. And forget to start with the cost of beer and wine. Selling a house and paying the 10% selling fee to an agent would offset the cheapness of a seriously large quantity of wine.

And do note that lawyers in your chosen country may be a bunch of incompetent wankers. Caveat Emptor. But who has your back. In Portugal that rarely means your local solicitor.

8  And do remember to check the house prices. It isn't a matter of whether they are cheap, but set the prices you are asked to pay against the prices the locals pay. In that sense, the first thing to check is what wages the locals get paid. What can they can afford to buy? Check house prices in the private ads in the local newspaper. Pay more attention to those prices than those in the estate agent's window.

I do have a whole chapter in my book on real estate dealing with valuing a house abroad. Reading just that chapter would save you tens of thousands of pounds. Here's a link to that book as well:

9  And what about the end of the dream? Your partner dies. Now what? How do you deal with that? You and your partner have probably lived together for rather a long time. How are you going to cope on your own? Do you have an exit strategy? If not, then I suggest you get one before you move in.

10  Okay, so you have an exit strategy. Supposing that strategy is to sell up and move back closer to the rest of your family.

This is where you need to have a rather different view on valuations. Let us suppose you were on the ball when you needed to value the purchase price of your new home. But what about the selling price?

I have mentioned this problem in another blog. It is something you need to consider when buying, rather than dealing with the matter when you finally need to sell. Of course you may be lucky and the market for homes may have risen nicely. But suppose you were not lucky.

Suppose you moved to the US, and the social unrest there got really out of hand. You might find what had once been a nice neighbourhood has turned into Trash Alley.

Suppose you took the advice of that guy I mentioned earlier and you bought in Italy (as he suggested), or you bought in Spain (as he suggested), or Bulgaria (as he suggested), you might find when you want to sell that things have changed rather drastically.

Here is a simple, and realistic scenario. In fact, it is highly likely to occur. You buy in southern Italy. Nice. Except that you find the tourist season lasts about two or maybe three months, and then shuts down. You find the people dont speak English. Then you find that finally Italy votes to leave the EU, and that means they go back to using the Lira, which crashes in value by at least 40% almost overnight. Now you're looking pretty silly.

Thinking of buying in Spain? The economy is collapsing. Youth unemployment is even higher than in Italy. In fact it is hovering around 60-65%. And that was before the covid-19 crash. There are ghost towns now in Southern Spain. Buying real estate in Spain is investing in the country. Do you really think that is a good idea? 45% of Spaniards now want out of the EU. If Spain does crash out, what chance the new Peseta doesn't lose at least 40% of its value almost overnight.

Currently, buying anywhere in the EU is asking for serious financial trouble ahead. By all means buy in these countries after they have crashed, but not before. You will regret it.

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