Welcome to the smart relocation guide!
As you’re here there’s a good chance you’re looking to move abroad and are trying to find as much information as possible to help you move forward and make decisions. The aim of Smart Relocation Guide is to provide you with moving abroad information, resources and real life experiences to help you understand what’s involved and how you can make it as successful as possible.
What’s this information based on?
I started this site off the back of a turbulent relocation from the UK to Spain, which was cut short after 6 months due to a whole heap of challenges. To make the best of a bad situation I wanted to share the lessons I learnt with you, with the goal of helping future expats move abroad with as higher chance as possible of succeeding.
Since moving back to the UK I’ve spent a lot more time researching and talking to other expats/expat companies and I know there are things I could have done differently that would have helped change our situation. That’s what I’m going to share with you.
Smart Relocation Guide will also feature stories from expats around the world, products and services that could help with your move abroad and research and resources to support you.
A quick bit about me and the family
I’m Al Bryant and I’ve lived in England all my life (until July 2012), that’s 30 years. It’s actually been in the same town too, which isn’t something I’m proud to admit. I have an amazing wife and two beautiful daughters who, at the time of writing this page, are almost 4 years and 9 weeks! We have a lot of fun and all enjoy making the most of being outside as much as possible. My wife is a stay at home Mum and takes great care of the little ladies and I work in the online/eCommerce market. I’ve worked for some of the biggest brands in the UK (The AA, Vodafone, Capita, B&Q etc) which has given me the opportunity to meet a load of talented and interesting people. And this leads nicely into the start of my relocation story.
My relocation story
January 2012 – Scene setting
If you live in the UK then you’ll know that when it’s cold, it’s really cold! And January 2012 was no exception. We were living in a 4 bed detached house in Hampshire which was a bit of a nightmare to heat and we were feeling the chill. Things were ok, I was getting to that point I always get to in my career where I was considering a move to something new. This normally happens every 2 or 3 years and I start to just test the market to see what’s out there. We were experiencing the comedown from Christmas a little bit so there was a slight feeling of ‘what do we aim for next’. And then I get the message on Facebook…
The message said – ‘Call me asap’, and that was all! It came from a guy I’d worked with who, a few months before, had relocated to Barcelona with his wife and children. Both of them had taken offers at a business in Barcelona and were doing well in Spain. I knew them both well so I was intrigued by the message and wanted to know more. I’d already passed my CV to them both and asked them to let me know whether there was anything relevant available but I never thought anything would actually come of it. So I waited all day until I got home and told my wife, who reacted in much the same way as I did. I made the call.
It was as I expected, there was a potential opportunity coming up in the Barcelona office as part of a re-structure and I was right at the front of the queue. Wow. I was excited. It offered a great salary, great benefits, supposedly great company and an all round great opportunity for me and the family. Where do I sign! I came off the call knowing that the role was coming, and that I would be contacted by the recruitment team to go through the necessary recruitment process at some point in the near future.
My wife and I sat down that night and talked through some of the positives and negatives, but we both agreed it was worth pursuing for the time being to see where things ended up. I’ll add a post on here with more specifics on our initial reactions, our fears, hopes, dreams and all that jazz. Needless to say though, I was excited. The next few weeks were difficult as I could hardly focus at work and just wanted to get the email arranging my first call with the recruitment team. On reflection, I think my wife was less excited as she’s much more grounded than me. She was already thinking about the potential challenges and downsides, where I was already sipping San Miguel on a sun lounger by my own pool in a playboy style villa. Think big eh!
What took you so long
It took what felt like an age for the recruitment team to get in touch with me. They contacted me by email sometime in late February/Early March and we arranged a phone interview. Great! Things were moving. I found myself looking at people in the office and thinking ‘I won’t be here for much longer, I’m moving to Spain!’. If I’m honest, I was a little bit arrogant about it and I hadn’t even passed the first stage yet. I had a few days to prepare so I crammed in as much information as I could. I researched the company, the directors, the history, the website and everything else I could. I had it all sitting in front of me when I had the call.
It went really well. I got on ok with the recruiter (internal) and she knew I’d done my homework. She totally sold me the company and the benefits, as well as the lifestyle. One thing I would say though is that I don’t think there was enough due diligence in terms of whether someone is the right fit for a relocation, as well as for the role and company. It’s obviously a big undertaking and can put a huge amount of pressure on you and those around you. Anyway, that’s for another blog post at some point. I came off the call feeling even more pumped about the whole thing. I convinced myself that I had to do this (yes, I said I, and not we). And everyone else was coming along for the ride!
In the mean time…
Whilst waiting for the feedback from my phone interview there was a whole lot going on at home. My wife was worrying more and more about the implications of moving abroad and, quite rightly so, she wanted to talk about these worries. She was concerned about being away from her family, as they’re close and my eldest daughter has a great relationship with everyone. She was worried about our support network, our friends, the language barrier, health, social events, birthdays and everything else you can think of (again, I’ll be including posts that cover these in more detail and will update links here). I listened to her concerns, but I didn’t hear them. I was feeling too positive and I didn’t pay enough attention to the genuine fears that she had. We had some conversations about it and in the end I decided that I couldn’t take the constant worrying so suggested we forget the whole idea. This was received with a bit of relief I think, but I was hugely disappointed. I wanted to go, and didn’t want to turn down what I thought was the opportunity of a lifetime. We went to sleep back to back :-).
Next morning I was miserable. I felt like someone had punched me in the gut and stolen my valuables. This was obviously noticeable and my wife questioned my mood. I told her that inevitably I was going to be a bit down about missing out on such a life changing event and that I couldn’t help it. And then came the game changer. She was disappointed too, and felt down that we’d canned the idea. We talked about options and came up with a game plan. If she could travel back once a month and stay with her parents then we were back on and heading for the San Miguel and the sun lounger. The excitement was back, the dream was in sight. We spoke to her parents and they were on board, although her Mum had always been reluctant and, deep down, was no fan of the idea (understandably so). We would be taking her only Grandchild away and I would be taking her daughter away, double whammy. Not to mention the fact that she thinks I’m amazing too (thanks shorty :-)).
Face to face interviews + Barcelona scouting party
Having received positive feedback from my phone call they were keen to get me out for interviews in April. We decided that it was impossible to make any decision without going as a family and seeing what was on offer as a team. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean we interviewed as a team too. We needed to see whether we felt like we could live in one of the areas we had researched as well as get the interviewing done and dusted.
I had my flights and hotel for the night before the interview covered by the company. It made me feel hugely valued and important! We then bolted on an additional 3/4 days in a holiday rental near a town we’d looked at and liked (Sitges, south of Barcelona). It’s a great place and I’m desperate to go back there for a holiday in the future but I’ll talk more about it in a future post! You’ll love what goes on there.
So off we went to Barcelona. We were all excited now and I felt like my wife was coming round to the opportunity more and more each day. We settled in the hotel and I headed off to the bar to ‘research’ and prepare. I genuinely did do this, but I also had a couple of beers in the process. Next morning I chucked on my suit and the most creased shirt you’ve ever seen and headed off to the office for a day of interviews. I stood out like a sore thumb as everyone else in the office had shorts and flip flops on. Never mind, I felt smart and professional (and hot).
I went through a series of interviews and a very interesting case study and came out the other end looking forward to a few days in the sun relaxing and contemplating life in Barcelona. It still felt like a holiday so it was really difficult to ever truly imagine how life would have been when actually living there.
We settled in our holiday let, viewed some properties and enjoyed some time on the beach. We were feeling good and could see the potential. Next step, interviews feedback.
To relocate, or not to relocate (you know the rest)
I had the offer pretty much the day after we returned to the UK. I was blown away by the speed on this bit of the process and I wanted to get things tied off quickly. My wife and I spoke and I worked out the financials. I needed more money. I rejected the offer and was asked to speak with the recruitment person leading the process. I stood my ground and they agreed to pay the extra I wanted to make the move abroad worth while. My wife and I agreed that with the pay rise I was getting and what we had seen so far it would have been silly to turn it down. I accepted the job around mid April. That’s when things went into fast motion!
Here’s a bit of a taster of what follows the moment where you definitely decide you’re going:
- Break the news to your loved ones, which can be really hard
- Tell work, and drop the bomb that you’re leaving the country
- Sell your cars / larger assets
- Cancel all your contracts, including phone, utilities, insurances, lottery, TV licence and more (I’m sure you get the picture)
- Work out how you carry on paying loans, credit cards and store cards that you can’t clear
- Manage everyone’s emotions and, if you’re the one driving the move, take on the mental responsibility of the whole thing
That’s just the start. Then there’s all the stuff you need to do for the other end – find a property, find a car/transport, work out commute times and therefore where’s best to live, understand the costs of utilities and phones and food and internet and more (so many varying views on the net!), think about the language barrier, re-evaluate your entire wardrobe, plan for your new job in a different culture and just generally worry about whether you’re making the right choice and whether you’re going to end up with a whole bunch of regrets. This’ll all be covered in a post where I want to detail how much we paid for everything, info on public transport and various other stuff.
In summary, there’s a huge amount going through your mind. Luckily we did get some help in the form of a relocation agency in Barcelona and lots of support from friends and family in the UK.
The countdown was on and, with my negotiations at work being successful, my start day in Barcelona was going to be 2nd July. Crazy!
Logistics, property and planning
It worked out due to various factors that I would go out in July and would be in Barcelona for the first month without my ladies. They would follow in August. Luckily I had a place to stay for that month so I wasn’t technically on my own. Sorting your current house out when you’re moving abroad isn’t like doing it for a same country move. You have to be a bit more ruthless and you also need to find a lot of people with a lot of loft space! I did what I could whilst I was still in the UK but a lot of the house stuff had to be done closer to the time that the shipping company would be picking it up. My ladies would still be living there after all so we couldn’t just box everything up.
We arranged for my wife to head over to Spain to look at properties to rent in and around Barcelona. The relocation agency set up a number of viewings in locations we had specified and they would accompany my wife to the viewings to help with any questions. On this they were really helpful and really pulled their weight. They stuck to what we asked and kept the lettings agents in their boxes!
Originally we wanted a detached property with its own pool (we wanted the lifestyle we had seen others living). Luckily we saw sense and settled on a town house with a communal pool. The cost of keeping a pool filled up in the summer (and maintained) is extremely high and the cost of cooling/heating a detached place can be as scary, particularly the heating part in the winter (remember these houses aren’t built to hold heat!). I’ll write a post covering Spanish property and the pros and cons of different aspects so watch this space. I’ll link to it once I’ve written it.
We received advice on commutes from the relocation agency on the property we were interested in, which was that it took just over 30 minutes to get into Barcelona on the Train. Great, my commute time probably wasn’t going to be more than 50 minutes to an hour, which was OK with us. And the landlords were English – happy days. We sorted out our deposit (can be up to 6 months rent for some places, we negotiated it from two months to 1.5 months) and had to account for the agency fees. I’ll write more about this in a future post but in Spain tenants have to pay agency fees, which can be up to 15% in some cases. Worth checking, as it can hit you hard if you’re not expecting it.
Our landlords had a car and moped for sale and, as we were seriously struggling to find transport, we snapped them up. The car ownership transfer process in Spain is a minefield. You can’t do it online and you have to pay for the privilege of buying someone else’s car. There are agencies that can help with this, which I’ll cover soon.
We were set for a move in date of 1st August, when our shipping would arrive and my little family would arrive. We would then start our adventure properly together.
B Day (B is for Barcelona)
Sunday 1st July came, and it was my time to board a plane and leave my loved ones behind for a month. Little did I realise that this would be the second hardest thing I would have to do in my life (so far). The first will follow in about 5 months time…
The night before had been an emotional one and I felt for my wife. She was very worried about whether it was the right thing to do and she had the rest of the house to pack up on her own whilst caring for a 2 year old. A mammoth task at the best of times! If I could go back I would handle the logistics very differently and would make sure we all went together as a family, rather than let the company put pressure on me to be there asap. What was right for the company could have been one of the things that contributed to additional stress for me and my family.
Back to the Sunday – My wife and daughter took me to the airport. All along I’d thought I was strong and that I could easily cope with the separation. Oh how wrong I was. I said my good byes and wandered to passport control. I was just about to hand over my passport and walk through when I heard my daughter crying her heart out. I ran over and cuddled her. It was sole destroying. We managed to calm her down and they headed off without the tears. I went through into the departure lounge and felt sick with sadness and emptiness. It was horrible.
I went to buy a webcam so that I could skype my ladies from Spain and my daughter’s favourite song came on in the store. I almost cried on the shop assistant. I wasn’t prepared for this, it was tough! I got on the plane and was glad to arrive at the other side and get to the place I was staying with friends. My wife and I talked on WhatsApp and both agreed that we felt horrible! Then we went to bed.
First week in Barcelona
I experienced a lot of stuff in my first month in Barcelona but the first week holds some of the key things that led to our return (in my opinion).
The first of these fundamental issues relates to money. I had researched this to the Nth degree. I’d asked about tax, and had been told on numerous occasions by my company that expats pay the standard 25% for 5 years. That was all I was told and nothing else ever came up in my research. So, like anyone would, I did all my budgeting based on my gross salary minus 25%. Everything was calculated and organised based on these basic bits of info. On my first day in the office I attended an induction program for the business and literally within an hour or two the first grenade was thrown, which was along the following lines:
Along with the 25% tax that expats pay, there’s also another 5%(ish) for social security…
WHAT! Day 1 in the job and I find out I’m going to be a couple of hundred euros down a month. Basically my backup money for any problems or extreme bills etc. Talk about panic stations. I told my wife and she panicked too. It was gut wrenching. What had I done! I mentioned it to my boss and, although supportive, there weren’t really any solutions like – as we didn’t give you all the information you needed we’ll make up the difference. It’s not like I’d just moved 10 minutes down the road for the job. I had to make some extreme alterations to our budgets, which had an impact on a variety of things, particularly our ability to travel home and the options we had to put my daughter into a half decent school. This wasn’t a good way to start off.
I won’t go into too much detail on the specifics of my role but I relocated to Barcelona to do a particular kind of role. It was a good move for me and I saw it as a great career progression, particularly at this innovative company that’s at the forefront of technology and culture. In reality, I was doing something totally different. It didn’t align to my skill set and, over time, made me feel useless and unskilled. I tried my best but I didn’t have the right knowledge or experience to do what I was being asked.
Our Spanish/English landlords
Our landlords had been in Spain for so long that they may as well have been Spanish. One of the key benefits of this property was that it had a water filter that provided drinking water. So rather than having to buy bottles we had a tap we could use in the house. Amazing – we thought! That coupled with the fact that water was included in the rent was a huge result. We signed agreements on the basis that we would pay x amount of monthly rent and that was that.
I went to view the property in this first week and the landlords thought they would spring a little surprise on me. First thing was that they had decided we would have to pay the maintenance for the drinking water system. Not something we signed up to, but not something we could avoid. If we didn’t pay it we just wouldn’t be able to use it as the landlords could just not bother.
The second gem was that they wanted us to pay for the salt for the water softener. The system that made sure all their white goods didn’t fall apart from the hard horrible water in the area. Again, not in the contract but I was in a foreign country and was like a rabbit in headlights. I felt like we had been fooled into the agreement under false information. More negative feeling.
The long commute home
It was in this first week that I got a feel for what my commute would be and, much to my surprise, it was less like 50 minutes and more like 90 minutes each way. The relocation agency were right when they said it was around 30 minutes into Barcelona, but they failed to mention this was to the first station, and that I needed to go to the last station. The fact that they knew where the office was should have meant they gave us accurate information on the door to door commute time but it was just bare minimum support.
So where did this put us
There were many other things I could add to this list but these are the key problems we faced that really started eating away at our ability to have the lifestyle we thought we would have and the experience that we wanted when relocating to Barcelona. My wife and daughter moved out in August along with all our stuff and her parents came along to help. Things were good for a time and we pushed through the struggles we were facing as best we could. We were surviving, rather than living though.
We did have some great times and created some amazing memories I’ll never forget. But there was no hiding the fact that none of us were happy. I was unhappy at work, with my commute, with our finances and our inability to enjoy ourselves properly. My wife missed home and didn’t have a fun and exciting environment/husband to really take her mind off it and get her engaged in things. And my poor old daughter was stuck in the middle of it all. She was attending a pre-school (first time ever) and was unhappy there, and she had two unhappy parents. On top of that, our Spanish neighbours were waking us up early in the morning most days and keeping our daughter awake late at night.
After a few months of pushing through there was a final factor that made the decision for us. We found out we were due a second baby. We were excited and petrified. We all had private medical insurance but the process for labour in Spain is a clinical and cold one. They don’t have midwives and they’re big fans of C Sections and getting things done efficiently. There’s non of the ‘softly softly catch a monkey’. That’s fine if you’re used to it, but not so great when you want a warm, supportive and natural labour. We did our research, we attended sessions with the doctor and got our scans (just about) and we plotted our options. It didn’t look good.
One day in October, after an argument at home, I went into work and told them I was going. I felt hugely better, but also totally embarrassed that I couldn’t make it work. I now know that it wasn’t my fault, and there were too many factors against us.
My wife was due to travel back to the UK in November for two weeks and I was going back for the second week of that. She was really struggling with being tired all the time from the early stages of pregnancy and having no support at all to rely on. I was out of the house most of the time other than weekends so I couldn’t help as much as I should have done. When she went back to the UK we made the decision that she would stay permanently at her parents and get our daughter settled and into a pre-school. And so onto the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life so far – Return to our house in Spain alone for the 5 weeks before Christmas. It was the worst journey of my life. I was crying to myself on the plane and was on the verge of a panic attack (never had one in my life!). It was terrible. When I finally got back to the house it was easier. I put the English TV on, sat down and started to plan my return.
Relocating back from Barcelona
The 5 weeks were tough but I had the packing up of the house to keep me busy, and I played football in Barcelona on a Sunday night. It only took me an hour and a half to get there and then the same to get home!
I had a few challenges:
- Find a job in the UK
- Work out how I get out of paying back my relocation costs (pro-rated if you leave in the first year)
- Work out how we get all our stuff back to the UK
- Work out where we put it all whilst we have no house
- Sort out transportation for Hayley and Grace, as they had no car
- Be proactive and keep busy!
I won’t go into too much detail on these points as I’ll cover them in separate posts but we got through each of the challenges. My boss helped me get out of the relocation payback the week before Christmas and got me an arrangement that meant I didn’t have to return to the business in the new year. When I left in December, that was it. A huge relief for us but also a big challenge as I had no job.
I returned to the UK 3 days before Christmas and didn’t come back to Barcelona until the end of January to pack up the house for the shippers. I had three months to find a job before we ran out of money and we had to break the news to our landlords that we would be breaking our rental agreement. In Spain you’re generally signed in to a minimum 12 month contract and if you break it the landlord has the right to seek payment for the rest of the agreement. We would have owed about £6000ish, and we were on the verge of broke. We had a series of heated conversations with the landlords over the whole thing.
Our position was that we had been shafted in more ways than one (including by them) and we had little control over the way events had panned out. We could have run from the property in October when we didn’t need it any more but we carried on paying rent to try and do the right thing. In the end a persuasive (angry) email from my wife settled things but I had to suffer the consequences in a confrontation with the one of the landlords when I returned to Spain. Not good. I’ll tell you more about this in a dedicated blog post later on.
Luckily on the job side of things I found a great role in a great location and I was able to start at the end of February. This meant we had a bit of money to put towards a deposit on a rental property in the UK and we could move out sooner than expected from Hayley’s parents. All of us living together was obviously a challenge in itself (for all parties involved). I’ll talk more about this separately as it forms part of a backup plan. Finding a job was difficult though. It felt like I had a ton of conversations on the go but nothing much happening. The companies obviously didn’t have the tight deadline that I had so we were miss-aligned.
We bought a couple of cars using the trusty medium of credit cards and finally we were back on track. All of this was going on whilst our new little lady was steadily developing so we were always on tight timescales from a finance and a child birth perspective. We moved into our house during the last week of March and baby number two was born a month and a half later. Thank god we got it all sorted!
So why am I telling you?
I appreciate that I’ve covered a fair amount here but haven’t gone into the detail of a lot of the areas. For example, I haven’t talked about the cost of transport or the impact the relocation had on the family in detail. The reason for this is that I want to cover each specific area in detail and with the right focus.
The above is just an overview of my story and hopefully it gives you some level of insight of what we went through as a family and how, knowing some of the things I now know, you might be able to avoid some of the same issues. The better you can plan and the more you know about something, the less likely you are to get surprises that you don’t want. There are always challenges and problems but I feel I could have avoided a lot of the above if I had asked the right questions and been giving the right information at the beginning.
I’m going to write about as many areas as I can to help you get the information that could help you be better prepared and to make a more rounded decision. I’m going to talk more about finances, costs, transport, emotions, impacts, work, law, citizenship, day to day life, friendships, support networks and more. I’m also happy to answer any specific questions you have (if I have the answer). Feel free to contact me with your questions.
I hope you enjoy the posts on here. I’m going to try and keep it light hearted but I also want to get the raw messages in there for you to take away. My story doesn’t have to be your story. I don’t regret relocating to Barcelona as I personally have learnt so much from the experience and it’s pushed me out the other side a stronger person. I would have liked it to work but everyone’s experience is different. I hope that, if you’re considering Relocating, you can make it work for you and your family.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more!