Bursting Bubbles in Spain

By: Lisa Sadleir - Also see author's expat blog listing & expat interview

“What ?”  My mouth drops open as I hear the very words that my mind had told me that I was going to hear but I had tried to convince myself that it wouldn’t really happen.
Oh but it did.
“To be named as a beneficiary on your social security, your husband requires a valid residency certificate.”
Now, I need to pause even as I write this. Shock. Horror. Disbelief … She did not really say that did she?
Yes she did. Even after I had thrown (according to hubby) the libro de familia, proof of last autonomo payment, passports, and whatever other excuse of a piece of paper I could find, across the desk at her … she patiently gave that look that said “I understand everything you are saying and yes it is ridiculous but that´s how it is now”!
As I sat there flabbergasted and asking if I should send my husband back to the UK and what about the children and whatever silly comment I could think of (all the time knowing that it was futile, she was only doing her job and actually, we were in the wrong), she went off to consult with a superior.
Not surprisingly, the reply was that there was nothing they could do. I could not have an updated piece of paper until my husband has a valid residency certificate.

Before going any further, maybe I should introduce myself. My name is Lisa Sadleir, aka “Mum from Family in Spain”, I assist people who are living in Spain or moving to Spain, particularly the Malaga province and the Costa del Sol … and I burst bubbles.
I’ve lived in Spain and the Spanish islands for over twenty years. I married my British husband in Fuerteventura and both our children were born there. We’ve bought and sold houses in Spain. We’ve set up and then sold businesses in Spain. We love Spain and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, but the bureaucracy still drives us crazy and this is what I wish to share with you.
When you move to a new country, it is tempting to just hand over money to somebody to sort everything for you, without really understanding what is going on. You may even also find yourself signing contracts that you do not understand. You have much better things to occupy your time … buying new sun loungers for the pool, meeting friends for leisurely lunches, ensuring the new house is perfect before the almost never ending line of visitors start to arrive. “No way! Not me” I hear you shouting … Really? Are you sure?

Maybe due to my passion for learning, or maybe due to my stubbornness, whatever the reason, I’ve always insisted on understanding everything I’ve had to do in Spain. Over the past twenty years I’ve learnt how the Spanish system works (or doesn’t work, as some may say) and how best to work with it, or even round it. I believe in sharing my knowledge and the information I uncover. This led to the birth of my website www.ccbspain.com , an informative and up to date source of information about living in Spain and the infamous Spanish bureaucratic system. The website blog is designed to show you how to complete some of the important paperwork needed to keep your day to day life in order.
One of the many mistakes expats make in Spain is thinking that by burying their head is the sand and ignoring a problem, it will eventually go away. This is wrong on so many accounts.

In Spain, you are responsible for finding out if there are any outstanding debts or monies owed in your name. If a letter is “returned to sender”, for example, due to the postal address being incorrect, it will not be sent anywhere else, it will sit on file somewhere, getting nice and juicy and fat, as the interest for late payment is piled on. A small speeding fine that could have been paid on the spot can easily turn into a three figure sum and even a case for on the spot arrest. No, I am not dramatising, I am sharing my experiences from helping other expats and also sharing my knowledge, in order to help you realize the importance of actions and the consequence of non action in Spain.

Paperwork and procedures are always changing in Spain. It can be difficult to find a reliable source of information. English newspapers can be prone to publishing information provided by their advertisers and this may not always be accurate. I have dealt with so many people who have read advertorials, providing half the information, in hope of luring people into their office for the rest of the story which, of course, comes with a price tag. Keep an open mind when you read these articles and find your own trusted source of information before taking action.

Choosing to move to Spain involves decisions of where to live, how to earn an income, protecting our property investments in difficult depressed markets, ensuring legal and taxation needs are met, arranging regular money transfers from our home country, preparing wills, and dealing with much smaller but just as frustrating tasks such as satellite TV installation, obtaining NIE and empadronamiento, or integrating into your local community.

The secret to successfully moving to Spain is to bring your sense of humour with you and be prepared, typically by learning as much as you can beforehand, and then working with a trusted expert who can smooth the waters. Sadly, many foreign residents arrive without having researched the differences between Spain and their home country, and are then forced to accept the word of a real estate agent, or their bank manager when making decisions.
Without labouring the point, you wouldn't necessarily put all your trust in a person who is earning commission from selling to you if you were back home, so why do it in Spain?
So that’s the end of my pep talk, for now.

My point is, living in Spain is a wonderful experience and the quality of our family life in Spain would be very hard to beat. The outdoor lifestyle means we enjoy quality time with our children on a daily basis. It is relatively easy to eat healthier and relish new experiences and new cultures.

I love the fact that our typical family Sunday lunch is enjoyed in a local chiringuito (beach bar), plates of fresh fish and seafood. The children eat whatever we eat and are not afraid to try new things.
I am proud of the fact that, aged 5 and 7, both our children are bilingual and are accepted as part of the local Spanish community and integrate easily with children if all nationalities.
I love being able to have all the doors and windows open most days of the year. I admit we get caught out every now and then when a storm kicks in. But material possessions soon dry out.
I look forward to taking the children to the never ending stream of colourful and noisy ferias and festivals. I love the fact that my daughter performs flamenco like a native. My husband and myself have discussed how much fun it would be to tour Spain, following the feria timetable, once the children have grown up and we are retired.

Even after more than twenty years here and despite the rollercoaster of experiences you face as an expat in a foreign country, when I wake up in the morning and look out and see blue sky and the beautiful surroundings in which I live, I am grateful for what I have and I know we have made the right decision for our family.

We love our family life in Spain and you can too … provided you come here with your eyes wide open and keep your head out of the sand.
Oh, and before I forget, the short scenario at the beginning was taken from a recent blog post about my husband’s own quest to renew his Spanish Residency Certificate. It is a classic example of how the changing procedures in Spain can easily catch you out. It is also a prime example of the chicken and egg scenario … He needs the residency certificate to confirm he has health cover; they will not confirm he has health cover until he shows a valid residency certificate.
But do not worry … he knows somebody who can sort it out for him.

About the author:

Lisa Sadleir, aka "Mum” from @FamilyInSpain (twitter), is a very happy workaholic mum who lives in southern Spain with her husband and two beautiful children. She blogs about her Family Life In Spain. With over 20 years experience of living and working in Spain, she shares experiences, essential updates, advice & assistance related to living in and moving to Spain. ¡ Olé
Blog address: http://familylifeinspain.com Twitter: @FamilyInSpain
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Contest Comments » There are 19 comments

Yolanda Solo wrote 7 years ago:

Even though Lisa must be having a nightmare right now, I still had to laugh. She is so right, Spain is a great place to live, but sometimes so incredibly frustrating! When you look at the overall picture however, we are lucky to live here.

Chris wrote 7 years ago:

Keep up the good work and excellent and invaluable service

Stephen Hall wrote 7 years ago:

I agree with John - love your attitude. Rule 1 in Spain is never to take yourself too seriously Rule 2 is never to take the bureaucracy too seriously. There is no rule 3

Julea wrote 7 years ago:

As always Lisa is an inspiration to us all

Gaile wrote 7 years ago:

My mother has been here for twenty six years and we still get surprised at how complicated life gets in Spain, without trying... on the other hand... who would want to be anywhere else - nice article Lisa - thanks for making me smile.

Barbara Leonard wrote 7 years ago:

Lisa is quite correct to flag up all the obvious pitfalls that sadly 98% of the British make when moving abroad, but point out that moving can still be rewarding. There is absolutely no logic to many of the procedures you are expected to go through in Spain. Who knows, an unexpected side effect of the crisis may be cutting some of the useless paperwork that hinders efficiency! Great blog!

Molly wrote 7 years ago:

Even after 16 years in Spain it´s amazing how things still keep you on your toes, changes in rules and life situations seem to crop up and each time the bureacracy can be different. Good to know that other people have the same problems! Great article.

Sue Sharpe wrote 7 years ago:

Lisa has a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of living in Spain - We are so lucky that she has chosen to share her experiences.

Matthew Hirtes wrote 7 years ago:

Sometimes Spain feels like living in one giant asylum. If only Lisa's anecdotal tale was the exception to the rule. However, having resided here for eight years now, I've come to the conclusion that this is one exception-less rule.

Zora wrote 7 years ago:

Well written, Lisa. You do amazing things to help people across Spain. Keep up the good work!

Paddy Waller wrote 7 years ago:

Great piece from Lisa....practical info for anyone living or thinking about living in Spain

Brian McLean wrote 7 years ago:

Lisa, That bureaucracy is a weird and wonderful animal. It has changed greatly, but only to make it different, it hasn't got any easier. Back in the late seventies, I had had my fill of renewing my work and residence permits every year and never having the right papers despite my best efforts. It was then I decided to apply for Spanish nationality, It was an incredibly easy process when compared to renewing papers as a foreigner. I imagine that has now become less complicated since accession to the EU. Very good advice for anybody thinking a coming here and a very easily readable piece that will, I hope, smooth over "burrocracy" for the unitiated. Cheers,

Robin wrote 7 years ago:

Living in the south of Spain I happen to know that Lisa is personally responsible for getting good, hard, essential information out to the people who need it so, despite her modesty, she doesn't just burst bubbles - she blows them too: little bubbles of hope for the confused and the lost. Her website is one of the best there is for individuals and families trying to wade through the noise and get to the answers when it comes to living in Spain.

John Wolfendale wrote 7 years ago:

I love your attitude. Its exactly right. And I will not allow myself ever to "but in England........." We are guests here and we should behave like guests.

Alex Bramwell wrote 7 years ago:

Spend long enough in Spanish offices and it becomes a sort of zen challenge. Can you have everything you need, or blag it if you haven't. The satisfaction of getting it right first time is like catching the perfect wave or seeing you latest Facebook post fly. Sad but true!

Anne Manson wrote 7 years ago:

Brilliant! Even the bad - you find an effusive way of making it sound like an experience not to be missed! Good luck Lisa .

Diana Berryman wrote 7 years ago:

Brilliant Lisa I am just glad I didn't read horror stories like that before I moved to Spain or I may never have got here!!

Lynda wrote 7 years ago:

This is an excellent portrayal of living in Spain. My husband and I have lived here for 8 years now, and like Lisa we have owned businesses up until 12 months ago when we decided to retire and "live the dream". We are still finding the legalities of owning a business here are catching up with us, all because our Gestor didn't finalise all the paperwork properly. It is just another challenge and adventure for living in this laid back country. All will be sorted and it is worth living with these little foibles when you can take advantage of the beautiful weather and lifestyle.

Rachel wrote 7 years ago:

Well written and well said Lisa - the amount of times I´ve said and still say ´no way´or ´unbelievable´ after 16 years. The Spanish bureaucracy system still infuriates my sense of logic and I can´t see it changing - but live in hope!

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