I was asked recently to comment on my experiences of living in Spain and the info I sent I was told might be helpful to others, so I am posting it here. I actually lived outside the UK for almost 14 years, with 11 of those in South Africa and then almost 3 in Spain.
Sadly for us, due to us needing to work in order to remain outside the UK (no huge savings or pensions etc to let us live without working) when work opportunities changed or dried up in Spain, my husband could only find work in the UK. There seemed no point in my living in Spain with him back here so we were left with no alternative but to return to the UK. I am now living and working back in England but with a love and passion for Spain and plan to return regularly. We did not leave the UK for any lack of love for it - just for a change, new experiences and adventure. We did not return because we did not love our new life and countries. We returned because there was no alternative for us financially to be able to go on living outside the UK.
In regards to healthcare - it was great if you weren't seriously ill or if you can afford to pay into the Spanish system because you are earning a living there. I was very impressed with facilities, care and service. On my return to the UK I needed some serious hospital treatment - if I had been living in Spain or RSA I could not have afforded this and I would not have been treated because we could no longer work in Spain and were not able to pay into the system. Private healthcare was out of our league. A lot of changes occurred just before our move to Spain which meant that we could not easily hook into the system like some of our friends there who had been living on their pensions and had been in the system for many years. If you have been out of the UK for as long as we had - we also had no ability to work with the European Healthcard system either and this is also not meant for permanent living within Spain.
I had wanted to run my own little dog business (and pay into the Spanish system) but the rules and regs applied to larger establishments and there was nothing for the smaller one - we were quoted 70,000 Euros to set up officially - again, we just didn't have that kind of money and the work I had wanted to do was far more as a hobby and with only a small income taking in and working with only around 4 dogs at a time. The Spanish system did not cater for much below 20 dogs and I was never going to be a commercial venture requiring the environmental impact assessments and almost "industrial" costs of such an establishment. Regulations made it impossible to do.
We would never have purchased a property in Spain as the market is just not great still - we had friends trying to sell for over 5 years - and they still haven't sold. If someone needed to return urgently to the UK for whatever reason and "needed" to sell a property purchased in Spain, this could be a serious issue. Personally I would only suggest renting.
Also, my greatest worry for anyone living outside the UK is what happens if they need to return. It's lovely to think that his will never be necessary. We never thought we would live in the UK again or that we would need to - but life is not predictable. We were out of the UK for almost 14 years (South Africa and then Spain) and the horrendous trouble and expense and hoops we have had to go through on our return have been exhausting and costly. Trying to re-establish bank accounts, trying to get credit established even to get a mortgage (we can't until we have worked here for 3 years) and even trying to rent (because you have to have credit checks etc) is also almost impossible - if you haven't lived somewhere, then there are no credit records for you. If you are going to give up everything in the UK you need to make contingency plans and to consider any costs and consequences of returning should you need to.
I would thoroughly recommend anyone to live in another part of the world and to have that adventure, my husband and I do not regret a single moment, but I would advise never to leave everything totally behind. Having some form of house, rental, bank account, credit cards, connection in the UK is essential unless someone is financially secure enough that they really think they will not need it. Having said that - we thought this over 14 years ago - but you never know what life with throw at you. We certainly wish we had kept a flat or banks or something established in the UK - things would still have been complicated but without as much stress and financial set back as we have had over the last year and a half.