Pretirement story: Planning a move to Spain

Hey, everybody, today I’m sharing a guest post from Buck, the writer behind one of my favorite blogs, Bucking the Trend. One of my favorite things to do on is share interesting stories of pretirement, such as the recent story of my friend Rebecca who gave up her fancy corporate job to move to Mexico

Buck is planning to pack up his family and move to Spain and is well into the planning and preparation stage. Read on for his story and be sure to share your thoughts and advice for Buck in the comments! 



Earlier this summer, Pretired Nick and I were comparing notes.  We share a goal of living abroad with our families and he asked if I’d do a guest post.  This is the latest on our story.

The tagline on my blog says “Save. Invest. Retire @ 42. Move family to Spain.”  If everything were to go exactly as planned, we would reach our goal in the year 2017 or thereabouts.  We all know things rarely go “as planned” but it’s good to set goals, right?

This was the plan up until about a month ago when my wife and I decided to turn everything on its ear.  The tagline should now read “Save. Invest. Pretire in 2014. Move family to Spain.”

The Goal

For as long as my wife and I have been married, we’ve had a goal of living abroad.  We tried to navigate our careers so that we could live and work in a place other than the U.S. but the stars just never aligned to allow us to do it.

Our plans were put on hold with the birth of our twin boys a little over 8 years ago. Now that they’ve grown and we have some money in the bank, we’ve been able to rekindle our dream to include the entire family.

Our goal is to move and immerse ourselves in a Spanish-speaking country for at least one year starting in June 2014. The following are some of the questions we’ve asked ourselves that have led us to this decision.


I went on my first trip abroad during my sophomore year in college. And while it was only a month-long whirlwind tour through some parts of Western Europe, I returned with a new appreciation of different cultures.  It also struck me how most everyone we met that was close to my age was able to speak English – at worst in a conversational way, at best with an authentic British accent.

I learned that many countries teach English at very young ages, most at the start of any sort of formal schooling around age 5. I thought this was wonderful and vowed to give my kids the gift of bilingualism and the time to take in a different culture and all the things that go with that (language, food, people, sites, etc.) I think this experience will go a long way into making our sons more well-rounded.

Why Now?

Like many big decisions in life, there is rarely the perfect time to do something like this.  The more relevant question when I first brought it up with the wife was why not now?

As we evaluated our original plan of waiting another 4 years to move, we started seeing bigger issues that would potentially be roadblocks. Two of the bigger considerations were:

  • Age of our boys. The twins just started 2nd grade and the thought of waiting until they were nearly teenagers seemed like it would be more impactful both from a schooling and social perspective.
  • Age of our boys’ grandparents. We are very fortunate to have both sets of grandparents with us. Everyone is in relatively good health but with ages already in their early-to-mid 70s, no one is getting any younger. To wait another 4 years to make this move would push the elder grandparents closer to their 80s. Besides, I think they are excited to have a new place to visit their kids and grandchildren as well.

Why Spain?

Because our twins are in their third year of a Spanish-English dual language immersion program at their school, it’s only logical that we seek out living in a Spanish-speaking country. This experience should cement their fluency in the language.

While we have several target countries in mind (most of which are in South America), Spain remains #1 on our list.  I spent some time studying and working in Madrid nearly two decades ago and my wife and I have been back a couple of times since. There is something about the Spanish lifestyle that appeals to us and I suspect it has something to do with siestas, jamón serrano, and the nearly 3,000 hours of sunshine that pours down on southern Spain every year.


You know how most personal finance blogs at one point or another always mention the word ‘freedom’ that financial independence brings?

While we aren’t yet financially independent, we’re taking advantage of the freedom that our savings has enabled. We’ve fully funded our tax-advantaged retirement and are diligently saving almost everything going forward in cash to be able to qualify for the needed visa. More on this in the next section.

To get into some specifics, we have about $90K in taxable investments and another $50K in cash that is more than enough float us for a year or two while abroad.

As long as we don’t end up in one of Spain’s larger cities (Madrid or Barcelona), it appears that living in Spain may actually be cheaper than our current location in the U.S. Rents in Andalucía appear to be reasonable and my goal is to live in a town/city center where we can walk or bike as part of our daily routine without the need for a car.

Next Steps

At this point, we have a lot more questions than answers and are glad to have the better part of 9 months to put a plan in place and make it a reality. The following are the most immediate to-dos at the moment.

  • Visas – Figuring out the needed visas is the first priority. We’re leaning toward applying for a non-lucrative visa. This is a one-year visa typically granted to retirees who have ample savings (or passive income) to support themselves.  This visa does not allow you to work in Spain. We’ve done our best to save enough money to live on for a period of time that I’m hoping we can qualify.

While I haven’t found it spelled out in black and white, it seems the magic number is around $85K in savings plus an additional $15K needed for each dependent. If my math is correct, that means our family will need to prove a savings of around $130K to be able to qualify for this type of visa.

  • Schools – Apparently there are three main options when it comes to schooling in Spain:  public, semi-private, and private. We need to determine which option we can afford and which is going to be best for our boys given our goals (to learn the language and culture).
  • Immersion – Even though we have the luxury of not working, I still think it is important that my wife and I find ways to become part of the community. To this end, I’ve found several programs that hire native English speakers to be part-time language assistants in schools around the country. I’m thinking this may help us get some immediate contacts in the area that may be more difficult to obtain on our own.
  • Stuff – What are we going to do with our house and all the stuff it contains? Since we plan to return back to the U.S. at some point, the current thought is to rent out our house and put anything we want to keep in storage.


As with anything new, we have our list of fears and unknowns. Will we miss our friends? Will we hate it? Will we love it? Will we ever come back? (That last one is my mom’s fear and not necessarily mine).

Admittedly, this prospect “terrifies the bejeezus” out of my wife (her words). But at the same time she is up for the challenge and equates her fear to the nerves and anxiety that our children regularly have to face, but which we avoid as adults. It seems only fair that we should also be put in uncomfortable situations in the name of growth and new experiences.

Thanks for reading. If there is anyone out there who may have a bit of advice for us about Spain or any other Spanish-speaking country that you think should warrant our time in research, please comment or reach out to me directly via the Contact form on my blog. ¡Muchas gracias!

Pretired Nick here again. Well, what do you all think? Is Buck on the right track? Any advice for him as he plans this move? I was in Spain a couple years ago and also fell in love with the country. When I researched a move to Spain I found very challenging visa issues and a barely functioning bureaucracy to complicate matters even further. Buck has a lot of these issues figured out already and I know I can’t wait to read the posts when he packs up and makes his move to Spain!

Also, for anyone else considering a move to Spain, I do highly recommend the book Moon Living Abroad in Spain (affiliate link). I read it from cover-to-cover when I was seriously looking at making the same move. Although my plans to move to Spain are on hold, I still highly recommend this book.

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52 Thoughts on “Pretirement story: Planning a move to Spain

  1. Pingback: Why I need to change my blog's tagline | Bucking the Trend

  2. Wow, how exciting! I’ve never visited anywhere overseas, so I always get jealous when reading about things like this. I would love to visit Europe. It seems like you’ve put a lot of thought and planning into this move so far, taking your kids into consideration and what you need to have saved up. I think it’s a good idea to give it a try for a year instead of just moving straight there. It is interesting how much further our money will go in other countries- something to consider as it will make pretirement easier. Good luck with everything!
    E.M. recently posted…Student Loan Debt: Update #4My Profile

    • Hi E.M. Yes, we’ve committed to doing this for one year. We’ll re-evaluate after that. In speaking with other folks who have done something similar, many suggest that it isn’t until about 9 months in that you finally hit your groove and the new location starts feeling like ‘home’ and that it would be a shame to leave shortly thereafter. Many end up putting in 2 years minimum. I’m hoping this is how it turns out for us and that we’re not clamoring to leave after one year. Thanks for your comment.
      Buck recently posted…Why I need to change my blog’s taglineMy Profile

  3. A few years back my wife and I rented an apartment in Sevilla for one month, and also spent a few months studying Spanish there for several months a few years before that. I love Andalucia, and would love to go back and spend even more time living there. Sevilla is a gorgeous town, great culture, great food and drink, and easy to get around as they have a bikeshare program now. It’s a rather good size city with all the vibrancy and benefits, but not overwhelming and doesn’t really feel that way. Absolute horrid economy now; when I was there in 2008 you could see all the construction projects just stopping not even halfway through and staying silent.
    It’s also easy to get around Andalucia via the excellent rail system, and there are always plenty of buses to get to the other towns. Granada struck me both times as places I could also stay longer, and I really enjoyed the pueblos blancos, which could be a consideration if you wanted a more small town feel.
    I’ve now talked myself into going next year too. I may wait a few more years, but want to do it before the toddler really gets into school. I’m interested to follow how your school options pan out.

    • Wow. I love stories like this. Andalucia is our first target and while my wife is leaning toward a town directly on the coast, I have Sevilla, Granada, and Cordoba in my sights. It’s been about 10 years since I’ve been to any of these places, so I’m glad to be reminded of Sevilla’s live-ability. Many people we talk to about this warn us of the lousy economy but if we’re not dependent on earning an income from jobs there, I’m wondering how concerned we should be ultimately be… Thanks for chiming in.
      Buck recently posted…Why I need to change my blog’s taglineMy Profile

      • Pretired Nick on September 12, 2013 at 8:07 pm said:

        I’ll weigh in here, too, for what it’s worth. We liked the white hill towns a lot, in particular Ronda was large enough to feel like a real city, but small enough that it was very accessible.
        We absolutely loved Sevilla, but we didn’t venture much from the tourist zone so I can speak much to what the town is really like. While we fantasized about living there, I also realized it was more of a vacation getaway kind of place so it wasn’t quite right for us.
        Barcelona was the place where I felt most at home. It had the relaxed vibe of the West coast U.S. plus the beach and the big city with great transportation, etc. But, like Buck said, too expensive to be very realistic.
        In the end, our search finally dialed in on the Valencia or Alicante regions. There are some great towns, including Valencia itself, that are totally walkable and bikeable but are big enough to have some culture. (At least on paper, I haven’t been to this area yet.) I found some great international schools that made me want to be a kid again. Por examplo:
        I wish I was definitely going the way you are, but we have a few hoops to jump through before we can make our move…

        • Yeah, Valencia is another that should probably be on our list. If you ever go, be sure to check out Las Fallas festival. Fun for the whole family until the night they burn the big float-like sculpture things to the ground.

          Also funny you mention Alicante. There is a new teacher in our boys’ school that just moved to our hometown last month from Alicante to teach in the immersion program. She said she’d put me in touch with a friend of hers who teaches at a school back in that region of Spain.
          Buck recently posted…Why I need to change my blog’s taglineMy Profile

          • Pretired Nick on September 12, 2013 at 8:54 pm said:

            Wow, that’d be great to have a built-in contact there. Knowing a local can make things SO much easier!
            That festival sounds awesome. We were in Sevilla for the Feria de Abril and it was pretty mind-blowing, but rather hard to engage in when you don’t know someone. The Spanish know how to party, that’s for sure!

            • Yeah, I think we are actually going to be less picky on location and lean toward wherever we have the deepest/best contacts through this whole process that are able to help.
              Buck recently posted…Why I need to change my blog’s taglineMy Profile

              • Valencia is an underrated place that gets a bad rap. A bit more of a bigger city feel with all the modern architecture, but also some great old neighborhoods. In Sevilla you can escape from the tourist hordes and save some euros by going just over the river to Triana, the old fisherman’s neighborhood, that feels like worlds away but is really just a few mins walk across the bridge from everything. Lots of immersion schools to choose from there, which are great ways to meet locals who will post looking for “intercambio” exchanges to practice their English while you practice Spanish.

                Wasn’t a huge fan of the coast in that part of Spain. Far too many uniform high rises, cookie cutter restaurants with menus in 15 languages catering to northern Europeans. Every town would have a British holiday area, then a German area, etc. Never went to Alicante, however.

                That being said, these are all old towns and not every neighborhood can be despoiled, right? There are probably interesting parts to find everywhere, and a contact with someone at a school would be tremendously reassuring.

                Good luck!

  4. This is fantastic Buck — I’m really impressed not only that you’re doing this at all, but that you are actually pushing the date up by 3 years!

    We have family friends who took their family to 3-4 locations across the globe for approximately 2 year stints at each place (I believe) and they said it was the best thing they ever could have done for their kids and themselves.

    There are always a million reasons not to go, as I certainly know since this is something we’ve considered but always find a reason (or 20) why we couldn’t possibly do it. Pathetic really.

    I’m just so impressed that you’re really making this happen!
    Brad @ recently posted…Travel Hacking Update – September 2013My Profile

    • Thanks Brad. Any chance your friends blogged about their experience going to those different places? I really enjoy reading about these types of stints that bring their kids along, especially if they are candid, real-life takes. I know not everything is going to be peaches and cream on an adventure like this.
      Buck recently posted…Why I need to change my blog’s taglineMy Profile

  5. I’m very impressed, I hope it all goes according to plan!

    I just don’t have the guts to pull off something that ambitious. I’m a homebody and I think I would miss family and friends too much.

    Buena Suerte!
    No Waste recently posted…I Hate FashionMy Profile

  6. Good luck! One of my friend lived in Italy for a year and they had a great time.
    What your plan for income? You mentioned financial independence, but can you really get there in just a few years?
    I would love to spend some extended time in Spain too.
    joe recently posted…7 Compelling Reasons to Use Cash Instead of CreditMy Profile

    • Hi Joe. We will not be financially independent by next June. My goal is to have enough savings to live off entirely for the 1-2 years that we are away so there is no pressure to earn income during that time. With that said, my wife is an independent contractor and is researching ways that she may be able to work for a client yet in the States while we are abroad. Obviously we’re still figuring that out. I also may pick up a part-time (18-22 hr/week) gig as a language assistant in a school. It certainly doesn’t pay a lot, but should be enough to cover each month’s rent. Thanks for the question.
      Buck recently posted…Why I need to change my blog’s taglineMy Profile

  7. I think this is an awesome goal for a couple reasons:
    #1: I think that to be truly great, you must leave your comfort zone. I get stressed about moving to another state. Moving to another country is a huge stretch of the comfort zone if you ask me.
    #2: Buck is doing this to help out his children. His kids will be fluent in a second language. What an awesome gift that will be.

    I look forward to reading about Buck’s adventures in Espana and beyond.
    Mr. 1500 recently posted…Thursday Rant Rained OutMy Profile

  8. I think it’s great that you’re being adventurous and going to Spain. A lot of people have dreams to live abroad but can not figure out ways to do so. Good Luck. I wish you and your family the best.
    Romona @Monasez recently posted…Importance of a Savings PlanMy Profile

  9. I love this idea. I’m not sure if we’d ever be able to jump out of our comfort zone and actually make the move. I have a friend who did this when her son was about the age of your sons. They chose Argentina because it was half as much to live there as Europe. They rented their house and stored everything else. She owns a law practice and left that to a partner to run. I think it was a huge leap of faith, but rewarding in the end. I barely left county lines growing up, so that is a big barrier to my ability to blend in. I hope to make my daughter more fluid in the world, even if we never do anything this exotic.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted…Buying A Home – Home Equity Loan or Mortgage?My Profile

    • Hi Kim. Wow, sounds like your friend took an even bigger risk by leaving her law practice – that’s leaving a lot of skin in the game.

      I know for some folks, this sounds awfully exotic. The thing is, it is somewhat relative based on past experiences. If we had never left the U.S., I don’t think something like this would have been on our radar. The wife and I have built up to it slowly over time. We’ve both been to Spain 3 or more times on separate trips including me having lived there for a 9-10 month stint. Having that experience in my history makes this decision that much easier. Heck, my wife wasn’t even born in the U.S. and immigrated here when she was very young. I think these types of things play into it.

      I like Mr. 1500’s comment about stretching your comfort zone. That is where a lot of growth can occur and I don’t think it matters if stretching that means moving county lines or country lines. My thought is: if you feel passionate about doing something and you may regret it if you don’t do it, you have to find a way to make it happen – fears and all.
      Buck recently posted…Why I need to change my blog’s taglineMy Profile

  10. I really loved this article as I am too part of the crowd that wants to move abroad, get to know new people and cultures. As far as I know, EU citizens can live in any EU country for three months no questions asked and only after this period they can go for a longer visa. If this would be the case for US citizens as well (and I don’t see why it wouldn’t), maybe it would be the best idea to go this route. This way, you not only have 3 months to see if you really like it there, but you also get to be IN the country and solve the visa issues and get some local support from lawyers who do this kind of thing and will surely have some tips on making the transition easier. Because yes, all over Europe bureaucracy is going to kill you slowly.

    I’m sure going to become a regular reader of your blog to follow your progress!
    C. the Romanian recently posted…Countries in Europe where You Can Live for Less than $1,000 per MonthMy Profile

    • Yes, U.S. citizens are also allowed a 90-day tourist visa with no questions asked as well. The issue is that obtaining the long-term visa cannot be done while in Spain. All that legwork needs to happen in your home country (at least this is what I understand from my research). In fact, we have to apply and later pick up our longer-term visas in person (entire family) at the office of our regional consulate (ours happens to be a couple hours away in Chicago). I like your line of thinking, though. Thanks for commenting.
      Buck recently posted…Why I need to change my blog’s taglineMy Profile

  11. No advice for living abroad but I love that you’re deciding to just jump into it rather than continuing to put it off. Personally, I have a problem with putting things off for “one day” and sometimes you just have to realize that there is no perfect time and be willing to take the risk. Whether you end up loving or hating it, you’ll be glad that you went through with it and you’ll learn a lot together as a family. Best of luck!
    Matt Becker recently posted…The Terrible Twos and Financial ResponsibilityMy Profile

  12. Good luck on the move. It sounds very exciting. I don’t think I’m as adventurous. I did do a group study exchange through the Rotary where I lived in Mexico for a month…it was a great experience but I didn’t have a wife and child at the time. I love that you want to expose your children to more languages…most of us here only speak one language. My wife and I are Chinese so we speak it…but my wife was born and raised in Central America where she went to a bilingual school so now she is trilingual. My Spanish is okay too…but I’m always trying to improve it and immersion is the best way.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted…Are you Lured in by Sales?My Profile

    • Nice Andrew. If I may ask, in which language to you converse with your child? If it is primarily in English, do you plan on exposing him/her to your native language, Spanish, and/or any other languages? If so, why or why not?

      I like to hear other people’s perspectives on this with their kids. I know a couple of instances where friends were raised in non-English speaking households but weren’t really encouraged to master that language because they either felt embarrassed or less “Americanized” doing so. As they look back at their childhood, several of them wished they had embraced their parent’s language a bit more. I think they realize it was a bit of a lost opportunity and that learning these things as an adult can be more difficult.
      Buck recently posted…Why I need to change my blog’s taglineMy Profile

      • Pretired Nick on September 13, 2013 at 7:08 am said:

        I have some cousins who have one American parent and one French parent. They spoke exclusively French at home when living in America and when they went to France for five years, they spoke exclusively English at home. Now they’re completely fluent in both, of course. We were always jealous of them!

  13. Good question Buck! We’ve been thinking about that a lot and the baby is only 2 months so we are not sure. I agree that many families in my generation felt embarrassed about being a non-English speaking household and did not speak their native tongue. It is ashame that the children don’t speak it. My parents sent me and my sister to Chinese school on Sundays. My wife definitely wants our child to be exposed to more languages. 2 languages would be easy…3 makes it harder. Not sure what we’ll do…but some ideas would be for each of us to speak in one language, i.e: me: Chinese and wife: Spanish. English will be learned at preschool. My friends tried to expose their children to their native tongue also but it is difficult…once they get to school…they only want to speak English. And also, my grasp of the language is not that great so once they get a little older…it would be hard for me to convey my thoughts and I might be forced to switch to English.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted…Are you Lured in by Sales?My Profile

  14. Wow, this sounds like a fantastic trip! Will you be working while you’re abroad?

    I grew up bilingual (Ukrainian, which is fairly useless) and I’ve always thought it was such a shame that American culture as a whole doesn’t really promote “bilingualism”-thank goodness for immersion programs.
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted…Budget Travel: 6 Destinations, 400 Dollars.My Profile

    • Hi Stephanie. We are planning as if we will not be working but we do have a couple of irons in the fire that may allow us to pull in some income. Me from being an English language assistant or continuing working for my current employer (will have this discussion with them the closer to our departure). And my wife from picking up contracting work with a client of hers still in the States. We shall see…
      Buck recently posted…Why I need to change my blog’s taglineMy Profile

  15. Buck, I salute you!
    I don’t have any real advice here, as I’ve never been out of the country, but your journey sound like a good one.
    My wife and I almost bit on teaching English in South Korea. We’d love to travel and we plan on doing it, but not right now. Did you seriously consider any other locations? Are there cheaper options that are similar?
    Jacob @ Cash Cow Couple recently posted…Motif Investing Review – A Better Way to Pick StocksMy Profile

    • Hi Jacob. Destinations in S. America are still on the table and I think, on the whole, could be cheaper.

      Here’s the catch, however (mind you, we just started our research and my thoughts may not be all that fleshed out). In speaking with folks from or familiar with certain areas down there (my son’s former teacher is from Lima), it sounds like it would be pretty risky to send our kids to public schools there. The thought is that we would have to pay for private school to get the level of education that we’d want or expect. I’m trying to figure out if paying for a private school in S. America would offset any cost benefit of living there as opposed to paying nearly nothing for public schooling in Spain.

      I’d love to hear from anyone that has familiarity with schooling options in any of these places mentioned.
      Buck recently posted…Why I need to change my blog’s taglineMy Profile

  16. Hello Buck, I am so glad Nick featured your story. We’ve had a Spain travel book on the shelf for two years, and that is just for a visit. Of course, I’ve read every comment here and have now made a list of all the cities everyone mentioned. I’ll need the whole 90 days of the travel visa just to see them all!

    What struck me most about your post is what you said about your children. I do think that they are at a great age for this experience. I can imagine the, “I don’t want to leave my friends, your ruining my life!” of a teenager (not that your boys would be like that, but friends are everything at that age). The fact that you already have them in a dual language program (love that! they offer them here in TX, and if we had children they would be in one!) shows how much you value and prioritize having your children know at least one other language. What a gift!

    Best of luck as you make this a reality!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Tammy. It’s unclear to me if you’ve been to Spain or if it is still on your list. Either way, I think it warrants a return trip – ha!

      I’ve been to nearly every country in western Europe and for me, Spain is the best. In my opinion, it has the perfect intersection of culture, people, food, and sites.
      Buck recently posted…Why I need to change my blog’s taglineMy Profile

      • Thank you for mentioning that. I really think it helps to have people narrow my choices as my bank account will only allow for so much travel. I appreciate that!

        I was in Madrid and the Canary Islands many moons ago when I was a senior in high school as part of a foreign exchange. I was more interested in boys than the landscape and culture, so I must go back and appreciate all the rest!

  17. I think it’s awesome that you guys are doing this, Buck! What a great experience for all of you. A much better option than staying here, giving in to fear, and spending the next 50 years wondering “What if?” Congrats, and best of luck to you!
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted…A Lesson in Attitude and Great Reads for the Week Ending 9/13/13My Profile

  18. Wow, you guys are very brave. I would have a really hard time leaving Canada to live anywhere else permanently. I like your analysis of the timing and knowing what is best for your family. Your children will grow and become so much more cultured for it.

  19. I think you have a good plan and good reasons to do this now.

    Being of spanish descent I’ve always wanted to visit Spain. I’m grateful that I was tought how to speak spanish at home even before I attended school. When I was 11 I also lived and attended school in my native country for 1.5 years. It was a great way to learn how to read and write it as well.

    I look forward to reading about your adventures. Buena Suerte!

  20. Wow! It’s really outstanding. Spain is my dream place. I love Spanish language and I would really want to go there. You know now days I am learning this language. You guys have shared your fabulous experience and good planning to achieve goals in a perfect way. Thanks for sharing this post.

  21. Pingback: Planning Our Spanish Adventure | Bucking the Trend

  22. That move to Spain sounds pretty cool, Buck! I’ve just about finished skimming your whole blog and got bounced over here to pay Nick a visit.
    Justin @ RootofGood recently posted…Running Out Of Money In Early RetirementMy Profile

  23. Pingback: Spain Preparation - The Commitment | Bucking the Trend

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