Move to Spain – Our Family Dream Come True

CONTRIBUTED BY HEIDI AND ALAN WAGONER OF WAGONERS ABROAD

Do you dream of living right on the Mediterranean? Of strolling along the beach every day? Of becoming fluent in Spanish? Or learning to cook tapas and traditional Spanish cuisine? Maybe moving to Spain is what you should be considering. The Wagoners have done it and share just how doable this dream really is…

Rainbow over Almuñécar, Spain

The view from our new home in Almuñécar, Spain

Our Spanish Dream

We are an American family of four who wanted to have a true cultural immersion experience. We had hoped to get international placements with our jobs to make this possible. But, despite our trying, it just wasn’t happening.

One day it finally dawned on us:

‘The only thing holding us back from making this dream possible is the working abroad aspect of the dream. If we can’t find jobs to let this happen, is there another option?

Well…

Maybe we should forget about the working abroad angle and focus instead on the living abroad part of the dream. Does that make the dream any more attainable?’

Suddenly, it became clear:

‘Yes! We can do that!

Why just read about these things and wish that ‘one day’ we’ll be able to do it? ‘One day’ is today!

We’ll shift our perspective and we’ll make this possible!’

With that shift in thinking, we committed to making this happen. We committed to moving our family abroad for a full year – and we’ve done it!

How we Made it Happen

We made this decision in early November 2011 and we were on a plane on August 25th, 2012 – so it was about a year and a half of planning and preparing to make it possible.

We starting selling many of our belongings almost immediately, literally starting the next month. So December 2011 was basically spent decluttering our home and preparing for selling.

We put our house on the market a few months later in April 2012 and it sold in three weeks! It happened much faster than anticipated so we had to move out by May 31st – even though we weren’t leaving until August!

If you want to see the full list of everything we did, check out our To Do List. It’s a pretty long list and will hopefully help you know how to get started making your own move abroad possible.

Why we Sold our House Instead of Renting it Out

Exploring Paris for Christmas

Exploring Paris for Christmas

Oddly, this was a pretty easy decision to make. We wanted to be in control of our budget, and not have to worry about any unforeseen expenses in the U.S. Anyone who owns a house knows what I mean!

Our house was ten years old and getting to the point where things should be starting to break. We didn’t want to be in the position where a major house expense would affect our ability to travel, so we decided to just sell the house.

We had also heard horror stories from friends and family about renting out their homes!

While stressful at first, selling the house was a smart decision for us. Once it was sold, we didn’t have to worry about it. This also allows us to have a more ‘open ended’ return date as well as a return location.

We’re now completely flexible and open to opportunity!

Choosing Where to Live in Spain

A few months before we planned to move to Spain, we took a scouting trip. We knew that we wanted to be on the Mediterranean. We also wanted an area where only Spanish was spoken.

We ruled out the the Northeastern part of Spain along the Mediterranean coast (Valencia up to Barcelona) as there are two primary languages:

  1. Castillian
  2. Catalan

We figured it would be easier for all of us to assimilate a single language and we were fairly certain that we wanted a small city / town.

We basically drove along the coast, and would stop in towns that looked interesting. Sometimes we would like the ‘vibe,’ and investigate further. Other times, one of us might say,

“I’m just not feeling it…”

…and we’d continue driving…

Almuñécar really resonated with us – and that’s how we chose our Spanish home town. And we still absolutely love it! We have had excellent weather, and living on the Mediterranean is a dream truly fulfilled for us!

Choosing our Spanish Accommodation

Whenever we travel, we always book online and spend days searching the plethora of apartment rental sites as well as hotel booking sites. The house we chose was listed as a holiday rental and we negotiated to rent long term. It worked out quite well for us all.

A Typical Spanish Day for Us

Exploring Pisa on our European Roadtrip

Exploring Pisa in Italy on our European Family Roadtrip

The adults get up around 7AM, and the kids about 8AM. We:

  • make the kids breakfast
  • prepare their lunches
  • talk about the upcoming day (tests, homework, etc.)

We drive or walk the kids to school at about 9AM. We may go out to a local cafe for coffee or zumo (fresh squeezed orange juice), or head back home for breakfast.

We then enter our workday, which consists of:

  • responding to emails
  • writing posts for our blog
  • planning the next trip

It’s amazing how time flies!

Our work now is focused on monetizing our various websites, and being open to other forms of mobile employment so that we can continue to live where in the world we want and enjoy the cultures and experiences that make us feel truly alive.

We pick up the kids at 2PM, and talk about how their day went. It’s then home for a leisurely lunch. The kids may go out to play with their friends for a few hours, or start their homework.

We normally eat about 6 – 7PM, then:

  • watch some TV
  • play card games
  • help the kids finish up their homework

Then it’s off to bed for the kids at about 9:30, and the adults hit the hay around 10 or 11PM. It’s a pretty simple lifestyle, but we love it!

Walking away from our normal 9-5 jobs was tough but it has given us a lot more quality time to spend with our kids. However, we would caution you:

‘Don’t move abroad to escape ‘normal’ life. Normal daily chores and work still need to be done, no matter where you live, especially if you’re moving with children.

Instead, travel for the cultural immersion and opportunities to explore fun new places, foods, cultures, and experiences.’

Our Monthly Expenses in Spain

We spend $3,000USD a month to live in Spain. We track all of our spending carefully so we can give you a very accurate breakdown of exactly what this is costing each month:

  • $338 – Car expenses (we bought a car here)
  • $743 – Food, restaurants, and supplies
  • $304 – Misc
  • $540 – Travel
  • $135 – Storage of belongings in the US
  • $209 – Communications
  • $810 – Housing and utilities

For another family of two (with similar aged children) who want to live this way in Spain, I would think the minimum you’d end up spending would be about $2,000 USD.

It all comes down to your accommodation and transportation choices – so these are the areas you could reduce over what it’s costing us. We could easily live in a smaller place a bit inland for less and if we didn’t own a car that would be cheaper as well.

Also, we do like to travel to surrounding areas and countries as well so that is costing us over $500 each month. You could also trim costs by not doing this – but not for us! Why do this if we can’t do all things we set out to do?

Our Travels

Checking out the famous Running of the Bulls in Castril, Spain

Checking out the famous Running of the Bulls in Castril, Spain

About once or twice a month, we try to check out other areas. In Spain (Andalucia in particular), there always seems to be some celebration or fair going on, so we try to avail ourselves of the opportunities to experience those type of activities.

That said, we recently returned from a six week tour of Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France – and had a blast!

Schooling

One of our main goals in making this move was to get our kids as fluent as possible in Spanish. We are lucky in that both of our kids do well in school, so we were less concerned about grades, and more concerned about socializing with other kids.

It was challenging at first, but it has really paid off. Lars and Anya had a great school year, and it was a huge boost to their self-confidence. They have loads of friends and love our home.

We’ve got some really great video interviews with Lars and Anya about how they feel about this kind of lifestyle here if you’d like to watch.

The Spanish Visa Situation

The visa situation can be a bit challenging. There’s a list of documents that need to be provided, and they must have an Apostille, and the whole thing requires a lot of trips to the copy store. But it’s manageable.

Alan is currently working on an eBook that will be published soon that covers the entire process.

Our Travel Planning Style

Hiking Cinque Terre in Italy

Hiking Cinque Terre in Italy

We do the high level planning for a trip as soon as the idea pops into our heads – but we don’t live by the plan. I would say we do more research on cost, activities, transportation etc and then just go and wing it along the way.

Sometimes we know where we are going, we book accommodation for the first night or two, get to know the area – and then look. It is much easier looking for long term when you are there. Then you can view the place prior to booking and get to know each area so you can make the decision that suits you best.

This is more work, but it works for us.

Our Spanish Proficiency

The kids are now very proficient. The adults are not quite as adept (yet), but we understand considerably more than when we first arrived. Lack of language skill is certainly not a reason to stay away from a move like this!

Our Next Big Dream

We’re toying with the idea of moving to Southeast Asia. The thought of living in Malaysia or Thailand is appealing, and the kids are interested in learning Chinese.

Top Tips for Moving to a Foreign Country

If you’re considering moving to Spain – or any other country – for an extended period of time to have a real immersion experience, then our advice is:

‘Do it! It’s definitely doable.’

You’ll need to:

  • do a lot of research
  • talk things over as a family
  • agree on the decision – and stick to it
  • make a plan for saving and budgeting
  • get rid of anything you don’t need
  • arrange your finances as needed
  • set a timeline and follow it

As with most people, we had acquired a lot of stuff (OK, you can say junk) over the years. Streamlining our ‘life footprint’ was key to getting rid of the accumulated stuff that was dragging us down.

Remembering they are just things will help you let go of the emotion that is attached and view them for what they actually are. The memories still remain in your head and heart.

For those with kids, get them involved in the discussion as early as possible. Even if they don’t understand all of the details, they will feel more involved.

Talk to them about the prospect of leaving their friends and making new ones. Ask them about what they want to get out of travel to a different country.

Above all, remember:

‘Traveling abroad is a team sport!’

We’d love to hear your stories about moving to Spain (or another country) in the comments below!

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2 responses to “Move to Spain – Our Family Dream Come True

  1. Heidi and Alan, thanks so much for sharing your story! I’ve loved watching your videos as well. It’s so great to see how much Lars and Anya are loving their new home – and how moving to another country (with children and without employment) is doable…it just takes the right mindset and planning.

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