I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than in most countries. How easy it is to make friends in Spain!” George Orwell
Laid back and laden with renowned architecture that straddles millennia, cultures and religions, not to mention the fine wines, sophisticated eating, endless summers and Mediterranean-kissed coastlines, it’s little wonder that Spain has long been considered the ultimate retirement village.
“The Spanish lifestyle is very easy going,” says British-born Glyn Herbert, who retired to the Spanish island of Mallorca with her late husband, Andy, 16 years ago. “It’s full of fiestas throughout the year, and everyone—young and old—comes out to celebrate them to the full; something we have lost a bit, I think, in the UK.”
A recent report by US News placed Spain fifth globally for a comfortable retirement—down from fourth in 2018—describing it as “highly connected to the rest of the world” and “one of the most culturally accessible countries” (New Zealand topped their poll, by the way); while Spain came top of a 2019 study by wealth manager Blacktower Financial Management of 45 European nations, labelling it “the perfect destination for anyone looking to relax in their ‘golden years’”. International Living magazine names Mallorca as the second-best island in the world for retirees, thanks to a coastline “ringed with marinas and harbour and natural rock-lined coves offering privacy” coupled with “hilltop castles in the mountainous countryside”.
According to a special report by the Office for National Statistics and Institiute Nacional de Estadistica, between 2008-2017, the number of over-65 Brits living in Spain more than doubled to 121,000 accounting for more than 40% of the nearly 300,000 UK citizens there.
Glyn and Andy, who passed away eight years ago, moved to the Spanish island from the UK having previously also lived in Switzerland for the best part of a decade.
“We had been coming to Mallorca on holiday for several years, so when my husband retired, we sold our home and bought a place here. My husband especially liked adventure and wanted a project to keep him amused.”
Andy, says Glyn, was the project manager of their house build, and the couple lived onsite throughout the process. “It took a while to get planning permission so the first year was like an extended holiday,” she continues. “It was challenging at times, with plenty of brick dust! But the Spanish builders were great and became our friends.”
Glyn, a keen hiker and practitioner of yoga and pilates, says it’s easy to keep busy and make great friends as an expat, and is still pals with people she met for coffee on their first day 16 years ago. “It’s a very caring community,” she adds. “The support I had from my friends when I lost my husband kept me going. Everyone comes together if ever anyone needs any help.”
Glyn and Andy met in a pub in England, “fell in love and married a year later”. “He was my best friend and soul mate,” she says. “I miss him every moment of the day.”
Following in their parents’ footsteps, the couple’s two grown-up children also live overseas, their daughter married to an Australian and living in San Francisco; while their son and his German partner live with their young son in Switzerland, so “a good mix of different cultures!”
“My wonderful grandson was born in Switzerland, is only six years old and already speaks three languages,” beams Glyn. “I am very proud of him and he loves to visit me here in Mallorca.”
Being away from her family, she reveals, is the hardest thing about living overseas.
“You do miss that spontaneous popping in and out when you live near each other,” Glyn says. “But I am very happy for them enjoying their lives in other countries and all of the interesting experiences that brings.”
Glyn doesn’t make the trip back to the UK very often, and though she loves being back there is always “happy to return to peaceful Mallorca for the simple life”. Christmas time, she adds, is especially sentimental “when you remember the festive atmosphere in London and the shops buzzing with the build-up”.
“But the positive is when family do visit here over the holiday, we all enjoy a very relaxed, low-key Christmas in the sunshine. Christmas morning begins with Cava on the beach before heading off to a good restaurant for lunch with family and friends. So, none of the stress of a huge food shop and lots of busy traffic!”
Retirement Hotspots from Around the World
The Annual Global Retirement Index named Panama as the most desirable retirement destination for 2019, citing a sunny climate, low taxes and it being “tucked out of the way of the hurricane belt”. Other well-placed nations include Thailand, Peru, Spain and its neighbour, Portugal.
Portugal—or more specifically, it’s Algarve region—topped this year’s Live and Invest Overseas retirement hotspot list thanks to its “safety, terrific year-round weather (3,000 hours of sunshine annually) and areas where you can get by on English alone”. Portugal’s living costs are also the lowest in Western Europe.
According to financial technology company SmartAsset, Germany is Europe’s finest retirement spot (“gorgeous architecture, impeccable infrastructure and a first-rate healthcare system”); while Costa Rica is the best place to retire for a low cost of living while offering incredible weather, beautiful beaches and “among the highest living standards in Central America”.
Combing data from the Global Peace Index with the midyear 2019 cost of living index by Numbeo.com, CNBC concluded the “Central European gem” of the Czech Republic is the ideal retirement destination, brim-full of “world-class beer, polka music and hearty home cooking”, and boasting European Union standards at Eastern European price points. Other top 10 entries include Austria, Slovenia, Iceland, Japan, and New Zealand.