Karen McCann - Expat in Seville, Spain
We’ve had the chance to talk to Karen McCann, 65, an American expat who has moved to Spain with her husband. Mrs. McCann who has been living there for 12 years, now works as a travel writer.
Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.
Q: Where are you from originally?
A: California, although I was living in Cleveland, Ohio when I moved abroad.
Q: What made you move out of the USA?
A: It was time to add a dash more adventure to my daily life.
Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?
A: Seville, Spain. In 2001, my husband and I spent a week’s vacation in southern Spain and loved it. We went back several times, fell in love with Seville, and eventually moved there “for a year.” And now it’s our home.
Q: How long have you been living in Spain?
A: Since 2004.
Q: How is your husband adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?
A: Rich loves Seville, especially the vibrant international atmosphere and the ease of travel to other parts of Europe. We enjoy taking long train journeys, sometimes for three months at a time, and we are both delighted that we can walk out our front door, stroll to the train station with our little roll-aboard bags, and go just about anywhere on the continent.
Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?
A: I visit the USA twice a year, and friends and family come to Seville often. So while I miss particular people, places, and conveniences that aren’t part of my daily life right now, I never feel homesick.
Q: What do you think about the locals?
A: They’re wonderful — smart, funny, quirky, and fully engaged in living a good life. My Spanish friends give their social life the same all-out energy as Americans devote to their careers. Spaniards don’t fit family and friends into the margins of their week; they make sure to spend time with the people they love. I deeply admire that.
Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Spain? How did you manage to find a social circle there?
A: I was lucky to make a few Spanish friends at the outset, and for a dozen years they have been introducing me to more and more of their family and friends. It wasn’t easy at first when I didn’t know much Spanish, and what little I had would sometimes disappear during late night parties, leaving me floundering! But I never gave up, and people were wonderful about helping me figure out how to communicate. I also joined a couple of expat organizations — InterNations and the American Women’s Club — where I met not only expats but their local spouses and friends. Seville is a very social town, so over time I’ve gotten to know many great people from all over the world.
Q: How does the cost of living in Spain compare to your home?
A: It’s definitely less expensive in Spain than in the USA, and the difference is even more marked between economically depressed Seville and the booming Bay Area of California.
- Q: How much is a cup of coffee
A: In Seville, coffee is €1.20 ($1.25) compared to an average of $3.00 in CA.
- Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?
A: A casual lunch in Seville for two, with tapas and beer or wine, might run €15 ($16) total for both people; in California, sandwiches or pizza and beer for two people can run $35 to $50.
- Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?
A: Dinner out in a nice place in Seville might run €25 ($26) per person; in California, it often hits $100.
- Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?
A: Two weeks ago I was in a nice but not spectacular restaurant in Berkeley, CA that charged $16 a glass for chardonnay, about eight times what I’d pay in Seville. Buying everyday table wine in a shop, I usually pay about €8 ($8.50) a bottle in Seville and $15 to $20 in CA. For good wine to take to a friend’s home, I’d still pay €8 in Seville, or maybe a few euros more; in CA it’s common to spend $40 to $60 on a good wine for your hostess. I don’t have any idea what cigarettes cost.
Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Spain?
A: Research your options carefully. Most banks in Seville are geared to locals depositing a paycheck or pension, and for a while, we paid premiums because we didn’t have that kind of regular deposit. Eventually, we found a bank (ING Direct) that had a more flexible plan and saved us plenty in transaction fees.
Q: How would you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits?
A: I’ve never applied for a work permit, but I can tell you that obtaining a residency visa in Seville is an exercise in patience and perseverance. The first year, it took many months and reams of documents, and when the process was finally complete, it was just about time to start over again to begin filing for the next year. As long term residents, we now file every five years, and the process is much more streamlined.
Q: Would you say that healthcare in Spain is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?
A: As expats, we’re required to have private insurance, which is far more affordable than health insurance in the USA. This insurance lets us go to private clinics, which aren’t fancy but provide good quality of care. And if necessary doctors will make house calls; I don’t think that’s happened in the USA since the 1950s. I return regularly to California and get my routine health care there because it’s always easier in your own language and within a familiar system. But when I go to Spanish doctors, usually for minor illnesses, the service is prompt, and I am happy with the care I receive.
Q: Did you secure a health insurance in the US or Spain? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?
A: I have insurance in both places, as I still spend about four months a year in the USA. In Spain, we found a good private insurance package designed for expats from Sanitas, at a fraction of what we’d pay for comparable coverage in California. I originally signed up for full inpatient and outpatient coverage, but later I reduced it to outpatient only, when I realized that my US insurance will cover hospitalization costs. So be sure to check the details of your coverage. And if you happen to be an American over 65, be aware that Medicare does NOT cover you overseas.
Q: What was the most memorable about the process of packing and moving to Spain? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?
A: We found it was easier and less expensive to buy low-cost furnishings (yes, there’s an Ikea near Seville) than to ship a houseful of furniture from the States. To make the place feel homey, we brought a few cartons and suitcases of personal stuff with us on the plane, plus one big old favorite rug, and that was it. We had a great time decorating from scratch.
Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?
A: Saying goodbye to so many expat friends who move away. The expat community tends to be transient; people often decide to seek jobs or life adventures elsewhere. It is hard to lose so many friends every year. Of course, newbies arrive all the time, so the social circle expands as often as it contracts.
Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Spain?
A: Living abroad is always complicated. Becoming part of the Spanish community, especially in an old-school town like Seville, is nearly impossible. Sevillanos like to hang around with people they’ve known since baptism, and an outsider can never make it to that inner circle. But just having a seat at the table, enjoying the warmth, humor, and charm of Spanish friends, has been tremendously enriching to my life.
Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?
A: Seville’s food scene is exploding right now. When I first visited the city in 2001, virtually every restaurant and café served the same classic dishes — great food, but utterly lacking in variety. And now you can find all sorts of ethnic and fusion restaurants, with great food and chic décor. You can have a lot of fun just going out to dinner in this town. Don't ignore local schedules; you’ll find it lots more congenial to dine at nine or ten at night, when everyone is out enjoying themselves, and to do that you’ll want an afternoon siesta. Adapting to the rhythm of the town will make your time there much more enjoyable.
Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?
A: Right now, I’m just enjoying Seville, my frequent visits to California, and occasional European railway journeys. I don’t know where the future will take me. But then, does anyone?
Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?
A: Learn the language. I’ve met lots of expats, especially those living in Spain’s beach towns, who manage with English alone. You will have SO much more fun if you can speak to locals and participate in the life of the community.
Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Spain?
A: My own website and blog, EnjoyLivingAbroad.com, has lots of detailed information about living in Spain and traveling through Europe. And my book Dancing in the Fountain chronicles the story of our move to Seville. Among the best online resources I’ve found are The Spain Scoop, an expat site offering fun, expert advice for traveling and living in Spain; Scribbler in Seville which keeps us all up to date on the local scene; and Sunshine and Siestas, a quirky take on the good, the bad, and the just plain weird aspects of living in this nutty country. The Spanish edition of The Local is a great resource for learning about local traditions, culture, and current events.