I’ve been living in Spain, and consequently Europe now, for about ten months. While I’ve always enjoyed the time I’ve spent in ‘the old world’, I’ve really come to appreciate it much more now than I’m an actual resident here in Spain. So I thought I’d make a post about some of the aspects of living in Europe I really enjoy.
Freedom of Travel
Previously as a Canadian resident I was allowed up to a 90 day visit in a rolling 180 day window in any of the Schengen countries. That may sound like a lot, but there are 26 countries in the region and those 90 days can go by pretty quick if you are bouncing between them. In many countries when your visa expires you can simply leave for a few hours and then come back (popularly called a ‘visa run’ amongst digital nomads), but that’s not possible in the Schengen region due the rolling 180 day window – basically if you are here for 90 days, you have to leave for 90 days in order to be able to come back.
Now I don’t have completely unrestricted travel in Europe compared to an actual EU citizen: while I can stay in Spain indefinitely, the 90 day clock starts ticking when I leave Spain and visit other countries in the Schengen region. But when that time expires I can simply come back to Spain and regroup, since I am a bonafide resident here whereas before I’d have to leave the Schengen region completely. Even still it’s a huge advantage being able to reside where I want in Europe and do various trips from here.
Affordability of Travel
While Valencia does have a pretty decent airport, it certainly isn’t as large a hub as Madrid or Barcelona. That said, I can pretty much get anywhere in Europe from Valencia for less than the cost of a one way ticket to Calgary back in Canada. Back in December I flew to Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands for approximately 27 Euros ($40 CAD) – that’s a three hour flight. So other than the odd road trip to Seattle back in Canada, the options for doing a weekend adventure back home are pretty limited. Whereas here in Valencia I can easily visit other parts of Europe whenever I want.
Of course, many people here in Europe think the low-cost carriers are evil. Some of them probably are. But it’s pretty hard to resist the temptation to visit another part of Europe for €20-€30 Euros, and I’ve taken advantage of it a few times, often with just a carry-on bag.
Prevalence of Trains
For whatever reason train travel isn’t very popular in North America. In fact, other than a few distinct routes along the rocky mountains and to and from Seattle, I don’t know of many passenger routes in Canada – I’m sure they exist, but they certainly aren’t popular. Here in Europe train travel is extremely prevalent, and in many cases the preferred means of travel.
Madrid is about 360km away from Valencia, but thanks to the high speed Ave train that travels at up to 300km/hr, is only takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes. It’s not a super cheap route (about $50 CAD each way), but there’s something to be said for just walking on and off the train without a whole pile of security, and also being able to watch the world casually float by from a window seat.
Whenever I have the chance to visit someone by train here in Spain, I usually jump at it. Usually there is a bar car at the back of the train with drinks and food, Wi-Fi available, and often a table in front of my chair that I can set my laptop on. So I can easily get in a full work day while chatting it up with various other passengers along the way. It’s a very enjoyable experience that I wish we had more of back in Canada.
Ease of Banking
One thing Europeans have figured out is their banking system. After using the banking applications here and also moving money to and from Canada for the last ten months, I can say with certainly just how behind we are on most things in the banking world. While we applaud ourselves in Canada for being able to send a $3,000 transfer using an email address (Interact e-Transfer), I can send money to anyone in the European union, usually instantaneously, using their IBAN number. Sure, it’s a 16-20 digit number which is a bit of a pain to type in, but thanks to internal error checking within the algorithm it’s essentially impossible to make a mistake when typing it. That means once it’s typed in, and accepted, you can be sure it’s valid since there are various check-digits along the way.
For example, to pay the €5,000 Euro deposit on the flat I am going to buy, I simply punched in the seller’s IBAN number into my BBVA (Spanish Bank) application, clicked “Send”, typed in €5,000 for the amount, and boom, it was there pretty much instantaneously. And of course you get detailed receipts of any transaction you do, so you can easily prove receipt of funds for legal purposes and more.
Quality of Life
This isn’t a European benefit per se, but the quality of life I enjoy in Spain is pretty fantastic. First, there are roughly 300 days of sunshine every year in my area (not to be confused with Vancouver’s “300+ days of sunshine per year”, where they count each time the sun peaks out from a cloud for 30 seconds a day to get counted). A day of sunshine here is basically a full day of sunshine, so imagine 300 or more days without any clouds or rain.
In fact when I first arrived it seemed strange to me to go for so long without seeing any rain. It’s amazing how much better your mood and well-being is when the weather is almost always nice.
I also had to make use of the medical system here in Spain a few months ago, and it was a great experience. Of course I have private insurance, and many locals just have public insurance, so my experience likely isn’t the norm. But I was able to get diagnosed by a specialist, complete an MRI on my knee, and have the results back, all within about two weeks. In Canada that would take 3 – 6 months at the minimum, and you’d likely have to fight your doctor along the way just to get you in front of a specialist. I can actually book an appointment myself directly with a specialist here as well – no need to waste my general practitioner’s time if I know exactly who the best person is to deal with the issue is.
So as I sit here in the Valencia airport getting ready to board a flight to Germany (which is essentially a domestic flight since I’m traveling to and from the EU), I can’t help but feel a bit privileged to have spent most of the last ten months living and enjoying Europe. As my cottage back home is rented until at least January at this point, I’ll likely continue staying here for the foreseeable future, and likely will be spending the next few months renovating a flat in Valencia.
But without a doubt I’ve definitely enjoyed my time here, and encourage other people looking to try living in Spain or Europe to jump at the chance.