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Insight #5 Creating a New Lifestyle: A Family’s Journey from the UK to Galicia

Posted by Annika Daseking on 19/06/2024
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In today’s fast-paced world, many families dream of finding a place where they can slow down, immerse themselves in nature, and offer their children a better quality of life. For families seeking such a change, Northern Spain—with its lush green hills, picturesque coastline, charming historic towns, and welcoming communities—presents an ideal destination. Yet, the dream of moving to a new country comes with its own set of challenges. What are the best areas for raising a family? Which homes and neighbourhoods will suit your lifestyle and budget? How do you navigate the complexities of visas, schools, and other essential paperwork?

At Galicia & Green Spain Property & Relocation, it is our mission to help families find not just a house, but a home and location where they can thrive. Our tailored approach ensures that each family’s unique needs are met, providing peace of mind and expert guidance throughout the property purchase and relocation process.

In this edition, we sit down with a family of five who embarked on their journey from the UK to Galicia in search of a better life for their three children. They share their stories about adapting to a new culture, navigating the Spanish education system, making new friends and discovering the hidden gems of their new neighbourhood. Their insights offer a firsthand look at the realities of moving to Galicia as a family, far beyond what you can find in guidebooks or on social media.

 

Join us for a personal chat with a MUM and her FAMILIY about their personal journey from Brighton to Gondomar in Galicia.

  • Can you describe your former life in Brighton? What did a normal day look like? And how does your day-to-day life look now?

Brighton (UK) is a pretty cool city to live in. We had the sea, it was multicultural and quite arty. We lived super central; I had a cargo bike instead of a car for me and the kids to go places as everything was on our doorstep by cycling and loads of cycling lanes.

I was working from home 5 days a week; my husband was a carpenter working on building sites across Sussex. Our two eldest children were going to a Spanish bilingual school 20 minutes away from home, and our little one was looked after by a nanny.

We basically ran around all week getting things done and making sure that the mortgage and the nanny were paid. I had panic attacks once a week, my husband’s credit card was constantly in the red even though we had 2 good jobs and he’s not a spender. Our kids were going from insane birthday parties to more ludicrous activities, they were becoming very spoilt. Our calendar was filled with commitments for the 3 months ahead, there was no rest.

  • Can you share with us what motivated your decision to leave the UK and move to Spain?

I had been ready to move to Spain for about 3 years but my husband was not. However, one day in January 2022, he came back from work and told me he had enough and that he wanted better for the kids.

We wanted simplicity, community feel, and rest. I wanted to go back to the continent. I’m French but I went on holidays for a month in Spain every year as a child and I just loved it every time. Kids running free until late in the evenings, playing all together in the communal parks or the main plaza while we can enjoy a drink, the loud music in the streets, the fiestas, the food, the reliable summers… None of that was available where we lived and the kids were never able to run free, they were never really welcome either when we went places (and they are relatively good kids), there was always a fear in the back of our mind that they would be abducted or run over by a car.

Of course, it was an easier decision for us to make as I can work from anywhere in Europe and carpenters are in demand in Spain. So we were moving with several safety nets.

  • Why did you choose Galicia and in particular GONDOMAR?

We wanted to be near the ocean rather than the Med or inland, we wanted the kids to learn surfing, and we wanted a place that promotes nature while still being close enough to a biggish town. Bilbao was our first choice until we looked at the price of properties and realised it would also mean having to learn Vasco. My husband being Irish, I think we liked the idea of Galicia too as it has a Celtic history.

So we decided to book a trip to Galicia to check it out. We scrapped enough money to spend a 4-day weekend, it was important to go with the kids and check out areas together so we could project. It had to work out because we couldn’t do this again for probably another year. So we had to plan well: I did lots of research online, then went on Facebook to ask questions to people, and this is where I met Caroline for the first time. She told us to come and check out the Val Miñor, that the kids would love it as it was super kids friendly (Caroline raised 5 kids in Gondomar, so I thought she would know what she was talking about 😉).

Someone else mentioned Pontevedra as a car-free city and as a cyclist I liked that idea. So, we booked 2 days in Sabarís where we could explore the Val Miñor, and 2 days in Pontevedra. Out of the 4 days, Gondomar won our heart: It felt like a small town with a strong community from the get-go, there was a park, a skatepark, a small river, 3 plazas for tapas, and all amenities: Primary and Secondary Schools, a small A&E unit for kids’ big bumps, supermarkets small and bigger, and the beach was super accessible by car or bike. Gondomar is part of the Val Miñor, an agglomeration of 60,000 people over 3 municipalities (Gondomar, Nigrán and Baiona), everything you need is mostly not more than 15 minutes away. Then, Vigo, the largest city in the area is 20 minutes away and Porto just 1 hour and 15 minutes. It ticked all our boxes for us.

  • How did you find the process of transitioning for you and your family from living in the city of Brighton to living in the small village of Gondomar?

It went surprisingly well! We sold our house very quickly (3 months from putting it on the market) and then we organised the move and it went without too much stress and we’re not very organised people! I think the excitement gave us wings.

We chose a house with a swimming pool for the first few months to help the process of acceptance for the kids. It sounds silly and it was more than we had planned to spend on rent, but it was the right move and totally worth it at the end. The kids were excited and that little less sad to leave their friends once they jumped in the pool. But most importantly, we were giving them perspective of our new life.

The hardest was that my cargo bike became useless because it is very hilly and mostly country back roads and one big urban road to go from A to B, so I have given it up. It’s hard to walk anywhere too if you don’t live in the centre as there’s not many pavements and again, it’s very hilly. We take the car a lot more but it’s to go to amazing places so that makes up for it. I did buy an electric bike and it’s perfect when I’m on my own, some insane views are always along the way.

As I said, the Val Miñor has everything we need so it didn’t feel like we were moving from a big city to a small village. It felt more like we were moving to a town and it’s perfect for us.

  • What were some of the biggest challenges you and your family encountered while moving to Galicia, and how did you overcome them?

2 main challenges for us:

First, though myself and my husband are European citizens, the kids were English (they have Irish citizenship now) and that part was super tricky and was an added cost in legal fees that we hadn’t planned and a lengthy process too.

Secondly, day 3 of the kids starting in their new school, my husband happened to drop some paperwork at break time at the school and saw our middle child on his own with no friends around, and that day my husband felt really bad, of course. That was the saddest moment of the move for sure. But then, by day 7 he was flying…

The language was of course a little challenging at first but I have to say that everyone has been so patient with us and making us feel so welcome. All the paperwork needed, because everything is connected: Getting the padrón (registering with your local townhall) first, then bank accounts, then NIE because you cannot have a car without the NIE, which you can’t apply to without the padrón, etc… It was very overwhelming! Thankfully, Caroline was with us all the way for this!

  • Tell us about your children, how old are they and how did they feel about the move?

How did your children adapt to the new school, languages, social and lifestyle in general? Our children were 9,7 and 4 when we moved. We chose to go for public school for two reasons:

  1. The whole point of moving from the UK was to downsize our outgoings and with 3 kids in private school, this would have been very difficult.
  2. We wanted full immersion, our kids will be raised Spanish, end of, and it would help us integrate too.

The school was absolutely amazing. From registration process through to when they felt comfortable, the kids were up to speed academically and with friendships. It took my kids different timings: Our 9yo took longer with language but faster with friendships (figure this one out!), our 7yo and 4yo flew through both Castellano and Gallego but took longer to make strong friendships.

One great thing too was moving to a smaller set up, classes are smaller, made of 17 kids at most. It’s so much calmer, the kids are nowhere near as tired as in the UK after a term.

They also love the summer holidays that go from June 22nd to Sept 7th (11 weeks of summer break that is)!

Currently, after 1 year and half, they are fully adapted, academically on track and we’re back to being invited to too many birthday parties. 😉

  • What do you think have been the best/ worst aspects of moving to Gondomar for your children and family (languages? integration? activities?)

The best part is that after years of wondering where we belonged, my husband and I finally see ourselves settling here. We adore every aspects of our new life and the feel we had when we visited was right. Gondomar is a wonderful town with a community feel, the kids meet their friends in the park or on the plaza at the weekend and we go for a drink and pinxos on the side of the park.

We’ve made a good mix of Spanish and international friends. There’s so many accessible activities for the kids too: Free skateboarding lessons, cheap holiday camps and we’ve started surfing together.

The hardest is that winters are much tougher than in the UK, you really have to hold on tight to the thoughts of spring coming! It’s challenging, everything is humid, your clothes that stay longer in the cupboard get moldy, and it’s hard on the mood at times.

[Editorial Note]: Winters in Galicia typically see abundant rainfall with mild temperatures, especially along the coast. Last winter, however, has been particularly rainy in comparison to previous years.

And finally, public transport is bad, there’s very little option here, a car is needed or at least bikes but even then because it rains a fair bit 6 months of the year, you would need to be well equipped for that.

  • What role did Galicia & Green Spain Property & Relocation Services play in helping you with your relocation journey? Can you tell us about your experience working with them?

Well, Caroline was our rock: From welcoming us when we arrived, to helping us with getting our NIE, checking out and picking the right school, and finally finding us our dream home, she was there all the way… Super personable, she cares about people having the best experience possible and really gets out of her way to make sure the home purchase works out. Everything would have been so messy and stressful without her.

  • Could you share your interactions with the locals/families so far? How have you found the community in Gondomar and surrounding area easy to integrate with?

Soooo easy! We got overwhelmed by their warm welcome actually… I remember the first Friday after the kids started school, we headed to the local park to help the kids integrate and there were about 10 kids screaming their names to ask them to come and play. It felt so lovely that day. Their parents did the same with us.

Another anecdote was when I went to a local shop to purchase 40 € worth of shopping and had forgotten my wallet. I asked the owner of the shop if she could keep it aside until I came back and she answered:” Take it, you might need it tonight, you can come back tomorrow to settle the bill.” There is no way a shop in Brighton would have done that. Similar things have happened since, it was not just a one off. People are just like that here.

  • What do you enjoy most about living in Northern Spain, particularly in Galicia? Are there any aspects of the lifestyle that surprised you?

We love that people don’t plan a month in advance, all gathering tend to be spontaneous, and nothing is super fancy. We do hikes, picnics, a beer on the seafront, comidas at someone’s house, meeting at a park in the mountains and we all chip in something. We love that if someone comes for lunch on a Sunday, they will arrive at 3 pm and leave at 9 pm, that’s lunch here… That was a surprise the first time! We love that they truly care and if they ask you how you are, they actually listen to the answer and engage…

Also, it’s super clean! Of course, the rain washes off a fair bit 😉, but the houses are looked after and the gardens are tidy. Because of the rain/sun combo, we all spend a lot of time cutting grass, you always hear lawn mowers or bush cutters.

The food diversity and quality is unbelievable, I have bread better than in France, the seafood is super fresh, and you can grow so many exotic fruits and veggies, it’s a dream!

The nature is splendid, it’s like a rainforest in Europe… We love that we can drive down to Portugal for the day and come back feeling like we have been on a mini holiday. But mostly, what we love most is that people are humble and kind.

  • Is there anything that you don’t like or find challenging about living in Galicia?

Well, this winter was challenging to say the least. We expected rain but didn’t realise it would be that much!

Also, the administration side of things is a little outdated and often lengthy and energy draining, I still struggle through some of it… Trying to connect our water waste to the main has proven to be challenging even though we’re just 1km away from the city centre of a 15,000 inhabitants’ town.

Social security (NHS type) is not as good as people had told us it was, the waiting list can be very very long. We’re now considering private insurance on top.

Being autónomo (self-employed) turned out to be more expensive that we thought. The first year was great but now we’re being hammered with fees and taxes so we had to review our budget.

  • A new life in a new country is exciting but is there anything you miss from the UK and Brighton in particular?

Yes of course, we miss our friends! Some came to see us, others haven’t, and we miss them dearly. We also miss the English sense of humour at times, it is very different here, less witty and a lot more innocent. We also miss Taskmaster! and the atmosphere of a Sunday pub lunch in the middle of winter…

  • Have you had the opportunity to make friends within the local community or among other international residents?

Yes, to both! We find that we get along best with Spanish that have lived overseas but some of our closest friends have lived in Gondomar or Galicia all their life. It took us about a year to feel like we had settled on that front so a little longer than in the UK I think.

  • How are you adapting to the Spanish language? Are you taking any language courses, and if so, how is the learning process going?

I haven’t taken courses, just practice through the kids’ school WhatsApp groups, kids homework, hardcore administration duties, and chatting to friends. I’d say that I have the opportunity to speak about 4h/5h of Spanish per week on average (I work online in English and French). I understand about 80% and speak a decent level though struggle with tenses but it’s coming along. Being French helps obviously.

My husband who is Irish finds it much harder. He took private classes for a year and he’s definitely improving but nowhere near having a casual conversation yet. It’s tougher for him and he’s quite upset about it.

  • With the knowledge and experience you have gained from your move to Galicia, what would you do differently if you were to move now?

I would allow a budget to outsource all paperwork including driver’s licence swap, even if it meant giving a little extra cash, you will actually save otherways (unnecessary trips to Vigo come to mind). My husband would have started Spanish classes in the UK before we left and probably taken an intensive crash course at the start. I would have probably pushed him to work locally much earlier as there’s no better way to learn a language. As for the kids, I wouldn’t have done anything differently, they are so happy here and adapted so easily!

  • Do you have any tips and advice for all those who are thinking of moving to Northern Spain?

If you work out a budget to actually make the move to Spain, add 50% on top of that budget for unexpected circumstances: i.e. we had to pay extra fees for the kids’ visas, buying a second-hand car was more expensive and took longer than we thought so we had to rent a car longer too. It’s hard to find a property to rent so you might have to pay a little more per month to get what’s right for your family, and as for buying, you don’t know until the end the amount of taxes you are going to pay so assume the worst. I’m pretty good at budgeting but there’s so many things to consider that I still missed the above.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with us about your family’s relocation journey. We hope you will keep us updated about your future adventures as you are settling into your new life in this beautiful corner of the world!


Ready to embark on your adventure and start a new life in Galicia or Asturias? Get in touch with us!

Your Galicia & Green Spain Property & Relocation Team:

 

Southern Galicia 

Caroline Harris @ caroline@galiciagreenspainproperty.com 

Lucie Prokopova @ lucie@galiciagreenspainproperty.com

 

Northern Galicia

Estefania Rua estefania@galiciagreenspainproperty.com

 

Asturias

Donna Gonzalez-Linnitt @ donna@galiciagreenspainproperty.com


How we can help you move to Northern Spain:

Get expert advice from our trusted partners @ Currencies Direct and @ Smart Currency Exchange on all things payment-related in foreign currency.

Secure your well-being with personalized health insurance advice from our trusted partners @ Adeslas, tailored to your unique needs as you transition to your new life abroad.

 

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