The Canary Islander
I have lived in the Canary Islands for 10 years and worked as an editor for a local English language newspaper and then went on to become an author and columnist for a number of newspapers and magazines around the world. I also contribute to a ...
Where are you from, Barrie, and what are you doing nowadays?
I worked as a teacher and head teacher in the south west of England, and then became a school inspector in England and Wales. A new life and career as a newspaper reporter in Spain's Costa Blanca led to my partner and myself into launching and editing an English language newspaper in the Canary Islands. My books include novels in 'The Prior's Hill Chronicles' series, as well as books for expats in the 'Letters from the Atlantic' series, which give an amusing and reflective view of life abroad for intending, as well as current expats.
I write regular columns for newspapers and magazines in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Canada, UK and the USA, as well as producing a weekly online newspaper, which covers all of the Canary Islands. I also write a popular weekly blog for expat, called 'Letters from the Atlantic'.
Why did you choose to expatriate to Spain?
I have always loved Spain and the Canary Islands, and visited many times before making the move to live and work here. Initially, we moved to the Costa Blanca, but work opportunities, health and lifestyle choices took us to Gran Canaria.
As an British expat, what where the procedures you had to follow to move there?
It was all remarkably simple. We went to Spain on an inspection visit through a reputable real estate company, but not intending to buy. We found a home that we loved and decide to proceed after we sold our home in the UK. The most difficult part was telling our families.
How long have you been in the country?
13 years; two years in the Costa Blanca and 11 years in the Canary Islands.
What has attracted you to the Canary Islands?
The climate and the health benefits that it would offer to my partner who has fibromyalgia. This means that he can live all year, pain free and without taking medication, which he had to in the UK. In addition, the 'live and let live' attitude and lifestyle in Gran Canaria was very attractive for us.
What has surprised you the most at your arrival?
Very little, as we knew the islands well. We had done our homework!
Was it difficult to find accommodation there? What are the types of accommodation which are available there?
No, it was easy, with plenty of choice. We bought a small apartment initially. Looking back, I would advise people to only rent in the first instance, until they are sure of the area where they wish to settle. If they decide to purchase a property, it is better done a year or two later.
What are the local labour market's features? Is it easy for an expat to find a job there?
No. I am continually asked this question. It is as if expats expect jobs to be waiting for them. They tend to forget that the islands have the worst unemployment situation in Europe. Priority is rightly given to Canarians and Spanish who live here. Pay is low and working hours are long too. My best advice for intending expats wishing to work here is to create a job for themselves.
How do you find the Spanish lifestyle?
Much depends on the individual, I guess. Generally, it is relaxed, but for some expats it can drift into a bar and restaurant culture with very little effort made to join in with local activities. Many expats tend to only mix with only their nationality, with no attempt is made to speak the language. Alcoholism and drugs misuse are a concern for many expats, although few will admit this.
Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?
Yes. There is no point in being an expat otherwise.
What does your every day life look like in the Canary Islands?
This depends upon the day but, as with most people, it is a balance between work and relaxation. Unless you are retired, the usual pressures of paying bills, and pressures of everyday life remain. However, the sun is shining, which makes all the difference.
Any particular experience in the country you would like to share with us?
Every day is an adventure! Most of my experiences are already shared in my weekly blog, 'Letters from the Atlantic' and are far too lengthy to retell here!
What is your opinion of the cost of living in the Canary Islands? Is it easy for an expat to live there?
Nothing is ever easy, and prices are much higher than when we first moved to the islands. The cost of living is more expensive than in Peninsular Spain. Rental costs are now much higher too as the islands have become very popular in recent years.
How do you spend your leisure time?
Photography, walking, computers, techie toys, people watching and writing. Each island is different, so I try to make a point of visiting each one in turn regularly, which is very important for The Canary Islander website, which I established a few years ago, and my blogs.
What do you like the most about the Canary Islands?
The climate, the 'live and let live attitudes', variety of scenery and outdoor living.
Your favourite local dishes?
As a vegetarian, this can be challenging in Spain, but papas arrugadas and vegetarian paella are firm favourites.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
Ease of visiting family and friends, cream teas, National Trust gardens, green grass and trees, Marmite and the smell of Dettol. I also miss the presence of the UK animal welfare charities and animal protection laws over here. There is a still a real need to educate people in animal welfare; it can be distressing.
What has motivated you to write your blog "Letters from the Atlantic"?
As a reporter, working for an English language newspaper in the Costa Blanca, I started writing articles about living and working in Spain. I receive many questions, as well as accounts of other expats experiences that I include in my articles. These articles became very popular and readers began to ask for back copies. A collection of my experiences were later published in the book, 'Letters from the Atlantic' as well as in the subsequent volumes. My weekly blog 'Letters from the Atlantic' appeared shortly afterwards, which also appears in a number of newspapers and magazines in other countries.
As a country, Spain and the Canary Islands have been good to us, and this blog is a way of sharing our experiences, both good and bad, with other expats. Hopefully, others will avoid some of our pitfalls from these blogs, as well as helping them to achieve the most from their new lives in a country of their choosing.
How does it help?
Both the blog 'Letters from the Atlantic' and 'The Canary Islander' websites have helped me to put something back to a country that has been good to us, as well as answering many questions that expats in Spain have. I receive many emails from expats each week, which often form the basis of future 'Letters from the Atlantic'; in this way a problem or issue faced by one is shared by all.
The Canary Islander website has also helped to promote tourism to the islands since the recession of 2008, which resulted in the Canary Islands having some of the worst unemployment in Europe. In addition, we launched 'News from the Canary Islands' on online English language newspaper last year, which helps to bring all seven islands together, as well as informing expats of not only local news, but also relevant news from Peninsular Spain. This project has also helped my partner and myself to become part of the islands' expat community.
Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates in Spain?
Do your homework is the main message I would give to all would-be expats. I hear from so many expats whose lives in Spain have not been as fulfilling as they thought. There is more to expat life than sitting on a sun drenched balcony, drinking gin and tonic all day. Learn the language; do not try to recreate a mini-Britain; watch your alcohol consumption; get to know your neighbours; try to absorb and enjoy the new culture; and try to understand what may be regarded as unusual laws and customs. Also, for those of working age, do not expect a job to be created for you; reinvent yourself; do something different if you have the skills; try to create a job for yourself and, above all, don't expect the state to look after you; try to put something back.
What are your plans for the future?
More of the same, I guess, and to continue to enjoy my life in the sun. As long as people are reading and enjoying my blogs and books, I will continue to write them. Unfortunately, Brexit will bring with it many new and unnecessary challenges, but most expats will face and deal with them. This will also be a time when a clear head and good advice will be even more necessary.