Sara Wilson is an American expat living in Altea, a picturesque town on the Costa Blanca. After leaving New York City in 2009, her and her Spanish husband have been enjoying the quiet life, temperate weather and natural beauty along the Spanish Coast. She currently runs Alte Arte, a mojito and art lounge, with her husband. Learn more about her adventures at www.sarawilson.wordpress.com
A: Altea, Spain
A: November 2009
A: With my husband
A: My husband and I were living in NYC. In 2009, the economy took a downturn, and we both lost our jobs within one week of each other. At the same exact time, my father-in-law was starting a restaurant in Torrevieja, Spain. My husband is a trained chef and the timing was too uncanny to ignore so, with 22 boxes and our cat in tow, we decided to move to Spain to help out. We stayed in Torrevieja for about four months before we set out to find our own business. On a whim, we visited Altea, fell head-over-heels in love with it and, since February 2010, we are the owners of a mojito and art lounge in Altea's Old Town.
A: The views are spectacular. Surrounded by mountains and sea, no matter which way you turn, the scenery is breathtaking. Also, life is simpler and quieter here – not so much noise created by propaganda and advertising. The quality of life is much higher than in California. Here, you can walk everywhere and don't need to be reliant on transportation. It's quite the opposite in Southern California. Here, people don't judge you by your house or your car. And the cost of housing is much cheaper.
A: Fortunately, I have not really been in need of healthcare while living here, so I'm not to familiar with the ins and outs of the system. I have visited the doctor a couple of times for simple things and have had long waits, but I presented my health card and didn't have to pay a dime, so that was nice. But I have heard that there are some very nice hospitals nearby.
A: Unfortunately, there are quite a few pickpockets here, and, nearly every time that I have family members come to visit, they always lose something - a camera, a wallet, a kindle. The outdoor markets are prime areas for pickpockets. Also, even in Altea where it seems totally safe, I've heard quite a few accounts of houses being broken into. The economic crisis in Spain doesn't help, and people are desperate.
A: The standard of housing is great. Beautiful houses with amazing views. But the houses are old and damp and require regular maintenance. It is fairly easy to find something – either through an agency or on your own by talking to the locals.
A: Altea is hands down my top recommendation. You can't find a more beautiful place. Plus, it has a microclimate, so we enjoy fantastic weather nearly year round.
Meeting people and making friends
A: I must say that owning a bar in Altea put us right into the middle of the social scene, and it's thanks to our business, AlteArte, that we are as integrated as we are. We have had the opportunity to meet so many amazing people. For those who are just moving here, Altea is small, so it's easy to meet people quickly, and there are a lot of groups geared toward outdoor activities, so, with a little bit of effort, you can meet a lot of people.
A: Again, thanks to AlteArte, I have had the chance to get to know quite a lot of the locals. But, perhaps due to the language barrier or shared experiences, the majority of my friends are fellow expats. My advice is to just put yourself out there. Visit the local businesses, get information about events sponsored by the city, look up Facebook groups or expat-related sites. There are so many outlets to meet others.
About working in Spain
A: It greatly helped that I am married to a Spaniard, so even though the process took time, was a bit tedious, and required long waits in long lines, it was fairly straightforward, and I was able to get my five year residency card in less than a year. We tackled the process ourselves, but my husband was a huge help in making sense of all the forms that we had to fill out and the steps that we had to take.
A: At home, work is extremely important and can, at times, be even more important than family. It's quite the opposite here. Things move slowly, work hours are respected, and it can be frustrating if you want something done quickly. If an expat shows the desire to work hard, go the extra mile, and be committed to the job, that can be seen as a huge asset.
Family and children
A: I was the one who was trailing and the one who needed to adjust the most, but my husband helped a lot in being patient with me and trying to help me adjust. I think that it can be equally hard on both parties and patience and trust is essential.
A: Be open for anything and everything! Moving abroad is truly an adventure, and even the cons can make for good laughs and amusing memories later. Try to not have any particular expectations so that you can fully absorb what your new country and your new surroundings have to offer. And try to put yourself out there even if it requires moving out of your comfort zone, for that's when the most personal growth happens, which, in the end, is what will be most rewarding.
~Interviewed May 2014
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