Declining numbers of émigrés to Spain may signal end of Brit retirement dream

Published:  20 Dec at 6 PM
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For decades, British pensioners sick to death of eternal sunless skies, freezing cold and ever increasing bureaucracy have voted with their feet and taken themselves off to sunny Mediterranean havens mostly located in the south of Spain.

Assured of a warm welcome as well as warm weather, they bought homes, eked out their meagre state pensions and generally lived a life which suited them very, very well. As many who arrived didn’t bother to register with local authorities, it’s tricky to estimate exactly how many came and are still there, but estimates drawn from pension records range around 340,000 across the EU with the majority in Spain.

One reason for warm Spanish welcomes was the high number of construction companies involved in creating new dormitory villages such as Quesada on the Costa Blanca. Even local bar owners thought Christmas had come early until expats started up bars of their own. The expat exodus saved the UK’s NHS a good deal of money, with the government picking up the tag for those who had EHC cards. All told, almost everyone was happy.

However, in 2017, it’s a different story as the stream of UK expat retirees has slowed to a trickle and may disappear entirely due to Brexit. Work and Pension department numbers of those receiving British state pensions overseas fell in 2010 and again last year, with those in the know predicting next year will see a declining population of pensioners in Europe.

Up until 2007, a combination of the strong UK economy and growth in businesses set up to assist those wishing to emigrate resulted in moving overseas for retirement becoming almost essential in order to achieve a better lifestyle for less hard cash. Expats expected house price growth as it exists in the UK, but stalling Mediterranean economies soon put paid to that assumption, leaving many expat households in negative equity and unable to return to the UK. Since 2008, the selling price of a home in Spain has dropped by 33 per cent, and expat savings are diminishing fast.

In the years following the 2008 financial crash, would-be expats became more cautious, and many retirees switched their allegiance from Spain to France for culture, gourmet food and lifestyle reasons. The effect of Brexit hasn’t yet been calculated, with many would-be expats simply taking the plunge, emigrating and hoping for the best before the worst happens. Sterling’s rapid depreciation post-referendum hasn’t helped, and the long-term prognosis can’t be predicted with any certainty.

Spanish businesses are convinced a dearth of Brits won’t harm their takings as they believe other Europeans will take over, but many believe the golden option of retiring to the sun is almost over for UK pensioners.
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