What’s it like living in La Mata
Caroline thought she had it figured out. Then Brexit came around and complicated her plans.
All about Caroline’s Brexit story…and why she chose La Mata (right next to Torrevieja) as her base in Spain.
Name: Caroline Green
Country of Origin: UK
Number of years living in Spain: 18 months
Hi Caroline! Thank you very much for doing this interview. Firstly: why Spain?
My idea of buying a house followed a chance conversation I had while in Spain. It got me thinking about a retirement plan. I already knew the area I bought in as my parents had owned there back in 1983.
Why did you end up choosing La Mata as your base? (Prior to this I’ve never heard of La Mata).
I knew Torrevieja and had researched it. Apparently it has amongst the lowest taxes, most temperate weather, not too hilly as I dislike mountain roads. It was within 30 minutes of a budget airline airport and by the beach.
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Prior to choosing La Mata, did you have a look at different towns and cities? What was your criteria in choosing a base?
I’d looked at some gorgeous, old, traditional properties in Lorca, Bullas and the campo, but realised my romantic view of these properties would not actually be practical for me, in terms of access, language and being a single person*.
*I wasn’t actually single at the time, but I knew I would be, so factored that in 😊
You mentioned to me that Brexit really messed up your plans to retire in Spain. Can you explain that? How did you work around the new immigration laws?
Prior to Brexit I was happily living and working in the UK. 3 days a week. The plan was to pay off UK and Spanish mortgages, then rent UK house and live in Spain.
I wasn’t sure I could have met the NLV requirements (€28,000, rising to €56,000 not including living costs).
Luckily a series of events happened that allowed a solution.
In late October 2020 I realised I could apply for Residency under the Brexit withdrawal agreement. I would have to change my schedule so that I spent the required 183 days per year in Spain. The plan would be to return to the UK to work in my salon in alternating months (clients don’t care where I am in between their haircuts). After this realization, I booked my flight and moved to Spain.
Things were decided for me. Salons in the UK were locked down (again) from 26th December 2020 until 12th April 2021. So I did most residency requirement in Spain in one shot.
I returned to the UK end of March 2021 to start my new life.
I’d accrued 5 months of residency so to start with I spent more time in the UK, settling my clients into the future regime.
Come November 2021 my first Residency year was up, so the almost monthly commuting started.
So now I spend 4.5 weeks in Spain, not working. Partly I don’t have to, partly the Autonomo costs are horrendous. Then I return to the UK for 3.5 weeks, but work 5 days a week instead of my previous 3, so my clients have pretty much the same access to me as before.
I now commute with just the small carry on bag, keep things simple. Arrive at the airport with extra time to eat a proper meal. I make it as enjoyable and stress free as possible.
I had never considered this 50/50 lifestyle. It was forced upon me to secure my retirement. The one I’d been planning and paying for since 2005.
But I’m very happy with it. I really do have the best of both worlds. Obviously it’s costly: flights, two cars etc but to me it’s definitely worth it. And my future is now secured.
Despite everything above, you mention that you’re happier now with your new work arrangement which lets you enjoy Spain for longer periods of time. How do you keep busy Caroline? Is La Mata a place with a lot of activities going on?
Well, I’d accrued friends over the years and have made new ones. So we meet for the markets, lunch etc.
I also enjoy my own company so I’m happy if I do things alone.
I have more time to cook, learning how to BBQ – properly, not just throw a burger on!
I’ve started travelling around Spain a bit more now that I’m here longer. I particularly enjoy Mojocar and Seville.
I’ve started writing my book… but get too distracted by other things.
And now I’ve finally got Internet. I love a good Netflix binge day.
What’s the expat/local mix in La Mata? Does La Mata have an active Expat community?
La Mata is a village. Very friendly. Very international. You can get chatting to any nationality here. Still very Spanish though, as it should be. Plenty of English here, which makes for easy chat. The locals seem happy enough for me to practise my Spanish on them.
My actual development I live on has about 170 houses and apartments. I think I’m the only Brit on it. There’s a handful of other nationalities. But very much mostly Spanish, and it appears more than 50 % live here all the time. So a very real, authentic area.
Entertainment wise there’s plenty going on, but obviously dies right down late autumn to early spring.
But I’ve found some bars that keep lots going on as they have a very local all year round clientele.
What do you love most about Spain? What do you like least (I imagine it’s have something to do with bureaucracy…)
Least.. Yes, the bureaucracy, you just have to accept it is how it is. You cannot fight it. Luckily I have the time to go from pillar to post for 1 simple item, or I employ a gestor, luckily my friends of many years recommended an excellent one to me. And they are so cost effective to use.
I hate the really hot days. There is a pool where I am… but that doesn’t help at night. But remember, I’m 50/50 so I’m back in the UK for June and August!
Likes… the very short winter. Usually only 4 weeks.
The brighter skies, even on dull days its never like the UK. Although I do love the electrical storms and massive down pours here. A good excuse for a house day.
I love that most people have time here. There’s less rush. Less aggression. The driving is bad here, but rarely any road rage.
I love the fiestas, the Spanish don’t need an excuse to put one on.
Do you have a car or do you take public transport Caroline? Is La Mata the kind of place where an expat should have a car?
I have a car. Even when I only holidayed here. Its cheaper (was) than a taxi from the airport, plus I like to be able to get around. I used to horse ride a lot here, so definitely needed a car to get to the stables.
I’ve never actually used the bus, even though there’s a stop 50 metres from my house.
I used coach trips for exploring other towns, cities and fiestas though. It makes sense to then.
You don’t need a car here if you live a simple, smaller life. La Mata has pretty well everything you could want/need. Market, fish shop, bakers small to medium supermarkets. Plenty of bars and restaurants.
Easy access to Torrevieja which is larger, with the Habanaras shopping centre.
It depends how you want to live your life.
Personally I’ll always have a car as my friends are spread around in different villages and the campo.
Do you have any tips (do’s and don’ts) for foreigners looking to settle in Spain or, more specifically, in La Mata?
Biggest tip is accept their system! You cannot reason with the bureaucracy.
Learn a bit of Spanish, show willing. And put Google Translate on your phone. Help the locals out a bit. 😊.
Don’t expect an acknowledgement if you’ve let someone cross the road, a car filter in etc. It just doesn’t happen. It’s not rudeness, they just don’t keep saying ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you’ like us Brits do 🤣🤣🤣🤣.
Do you have any regrets at all Caroline? Would you do it all over if you had to do it again? Do you wish you could change anything?
I wouldn’t change a thing.
I’m very relieved I found a solution to my Brexit problem.
I love my new lifestyle. I was ready for a change, but didn’t know it. And couldn’t change my life because I need my UK clientele for my livelihood – except I could change my life this way. Solve a problem and get the best of both worlds.
It also taught me though, as much as I loved my 5 months here getting residency, and my alternate months not working, that I’m not actually ready to retire yet.
Many thanks to Caroline for this interview!
Need a haircut? You’ll need to go to the town of St. Neots about 50 miles from London. But I’m told it’s worth it. Caroline’s Salon FB page.
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