There’s been a real boom when it comes to the number of Britons looking to bid a fond farewell to life in Blighty and head off to the continent for a new life. It’s a dream many people have in the back of their mind as a long-term ambition but it appears that increasing numbers of people are choosing the present moment as the ideal time to finally take the plunge.
The Observer recently reported how Rightmove Overseas’ website saw a 72% month-on-month increase in unique visitors in January, not a typically busy month for overseas property shopping. The traffic was up 33% year-on-year.
The surge in interest has coincided with a big increase in the number of mortgages approved in the traditionally popular British getaway spots of southern Spain, France and Portugal as well as Ireland and Greece, where there are plenty of picturesque bargains waiting to be snapped up. About one in six properties sold in Spain have been going to foreign buyers.
It’s said that as many as six million Brits would like to retire abroad – with European countries a common choice. Those property hunters are keen to take advantage of a favourable exchange rate. British buyers are now able to get almost 1.40€ for £1 – a figure that is almost back at the levels seen in the years after the launch of the currency in 2004.
When it comes to relocating abroad, changes in the exchange rate can have a big bearing on a decision. A 15% rise in the spending power of the pound, as experienced since the end of 2013, can save buyers thousands of pounds – freeing up the cash to spend on the rest of the cost of relocating.
Property firm Lucas Fox certainly suggests 2015 could be the best year to take advantage of the market. Co-founder Alexander Vaughan said: “With unemployment falling, the economy growing faster than predicted and property reaching the bottom, 2015 is set to be a pivotal year for Spain’s property market. Prices are on average 40% below what they were since the start of the crisis in 2007 and we predict a slow and steady recovery. This is an opportune time to invest.”
The financial position does appear to show that now is a good time to set the wheels in motion but, clearly, cash to fund the property of your dreams is not the only consideration.
Relocating is about taking yourself off into a new culture, not solely about finding a ‘bargain’ property that will help you get lots for your money, so it is important to find out everything you can about your destination – the roads, transport, jobs, shops, entertainment and how easy it is to pop back on a flight to the relatives.
You have to be able to picture yourself fitting into your new location, making friends and forging a new life for yourself. Our ‘Moving to… Guides’ can help you find out about the county you are hoping to move to.
This is something the government is keen to stress. James Duddridge, minister for consular affairs, told A Place in the Sun: “Moving abroad can be a wonderful experience, but living somewhere new is very different to your average holiday. It’s crucial to think about the future and allow plenty of time to do your research.
“A permanent or semi-permanent move overseas involves many practical and social changes. We would advise British nationals to take their time to research all aspects required for a successful move, such as the laws and customs of your future home country, the long-term financial implications for you and your family, any legal issues requiring independent advice and your current and future health needs. Remember, relocating is about more than bricks and mortar.”
The property of your dreams will suddenly seem less of a bargain if it’s in the wrong location.
Are moving abroad alone or are you relocating your entire family overseas? If your children are going with you then you’ll need to find out everything you can about education arrangements. This may be slightly different depending on the age of your child and how long you plan to stay abroad.
There are international schools available but if you want to fully integrate into your new community it may be worth letting your child go to a regular state school. They’ll pick things up much quicker than you realise – especially if they’re young but the key, just as in the UK, is selecting a school that they will benefit most from.
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which is used to get cut-price healthcare by tourists, will not cover you in the long-term if you relocate. As a resident you’ll need to comply with the rules of the host nation to ensure you can receive healthcare should you require it. The NHS has a handy country-by-country guide explaining the rules for each Eurozone country.
Kim Brown, author of the Emigration Guide, told overseasliving.co.uk: “I recommend that even within the EU you look very carefully into the level of medical care compared to the NHS before you move. Don’t move and/or buy a property abroad and later find that there isn’t a doctor or hospital within miles, for instance.
“There are many English-speaking and foreign doctors in resort areas and major cities of many countries but not necessarily so in the more rural areas.
“Find out if there are expats living nearby and try to find out what they think of the local medical facilities – or maybe your estate agent can help here?”
You really shouldn’t allow yourself to get ‘lost in translation’ when you relocate. You may be able to hold your own in the language – you’ve probably been visiting as a tourist for a number of years – but it is important to not get ahead of yourself.
The documentation required in making your move will involve complex legal language. Think about what it’s like buying a house in the UK – it’s hard enough trying to understand half the paperwork involved when it’s in English, let alone in a language you’re less comfortable with.
Invest in a firm that can translate any documents you need to read through. You’ll also find their services useful when submitting letters or documents, as you’ll be able to draft those in English and get them translated.
Most people usually don’t fully understand the tax rules and regulations in their own country. The same sort of translation services used in your move are vital for this but it’s also worth getting yourself up to speed on the basics so you’re not hit with an unexpected bill.
There are all sorts of issues to consider – are you keeping hold of your UK home? Do you plan on selling or renting this out? What about your pension or investments? What are the best options when searching for a current account in your new location? All these are issues you need to look at. Plan far enough ahead and you’ll find it much simpler to tick this to-do list off.
It’s also worth remembering that you may well still have tax to pay in the UK. Website expertsforexpats.com says it’s worth calling on the services of an expert to avoid a hefty bill, stating: “The common theme is that most, if not all, tax mistakes made by British expats and non-UK residents can be avoided simply by seeking advice from a qualified tax adviser who is skilled in assisting non-UK residents with their UK tax affairs.
“If you’re concerned that you may have made a mistake with your tax, or you may be exposed to a future tax bill which could be avoided, request advice from the experts.”
If your whole household is relocating abroad then that may well include the treasured family pet. There’s plenty that you need to consider before you send your precious pooch or marvellous moggy off to your new home. The Government has a handy guide on what to do if you can’t live without your pet.
Carole Hallett Mobbs, of the website Expat Child, recommends using a specialist pet relocation agent to ensure this moves smoothly. She advises: “They are the experts and know all the rules and regulations relating to the different countries and it is well worth spending the money to ensure your pet is in good hands.
“The advice and assistance you receive from a good pet relocation company eases so much stress at this difficult time. They can liaise with airlines on your behalf and some even deliver your pet to the door of your new home.
“I’ve moved across the world and back with pets, and each time the assistance I’ve received from these professionals has been invaluable.”
You’ll need to find a removal company that handles international tasks. There’s plenty out there and most of these will run a road service to Europe on a weekly basis.
If your items will fill a whole vehicle you can load it in the UK and get it driven straight to your new home in Europe, arriving a few days later. Smaller loads are cheaper to transport but also take longer as they are taken as part of scheduled road services. This could take up to five weeks so you’ll need to bear that in mind when planning ahead.
Save the Rate
Don’t forget too, just because the exchange rate is right for you now it may not stay that way forever. You could speak to a currency specialist to help you decide when to transfer your money and to get the best rate.
One way to ensure you get the money you need is to set up a forward contract. That way you can ‘lock in’ at the current rate and save your price for up to two years. That’ll give you plenty of time to sort out the rest of your relocation plan and will prevent regular nervous looks at the latest rates.
page last updated April 2015