The Secrets of Expat Success

17 April 2023

Life always begins with one step outside of your comfort zone. ~ Shannon L. Adler

If you belong to any of the myriad “Expat on Mallorca” groups, you’ll have noticed a virtually never-ending stream of questions posed by people who want to move here and want the skinny on how to do it…the easy way. Interest soon wanes for most when they get batted down by those already having taken the plunge and are told in no uncertain terms that there is no easy way.

Moving abroad is risky business. Some people get super lucky. They land and find a good place to live thanks to already established friends. For the rest of us, it’s hard work to create a whole new life in a place where you have no friends, contacts or even common language to help you get a leg up. Such is the life of expat-dom.

Many of us wouldn’t have it any other way as the thrill of building something where there was once nothing is a lure too good to live without. Relocating takes energy and is an adventure of a lifetime.

We at Affordable Mallorca want to help our readers, both already here and those planning to be here in the future, find realistic ways to not just exist here on the island but to thrive!

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The Hard Truth #

It cannot be repeated often enough how important research is when planning a move - doubly so if your move includes living in a country where you don’t speak the language are unfamiliar with the customs. It doesn’t matter if you’ve spent every summer of your life on Mallorca. Living here is a completely different animal and should be treated as such. Some of the bigger things to consider are housing, work and, if you have children, schooling.

Find housing before you come

Rental properties are in short supply on the island. Coming for a recce before the move and meeting with a few estate agents to show you options is almost imperative. If you find something, take it. Get the paperwork signed and give your deposit. I cannot tell you the number of people I see posting on the social media pages who arrive and find themselves homeless because they didn’t think this through beforehand. Do yourself a favour and find housing before you come. This may cost you a bit of money but at least you won’t be forking over twice the cash for hotels until you come up with something.

AM Tip: Make sure you are dealing with a reputable agent, a legitimate owner and have an attorney who can insure you have a good rental contract. Renting here is not like in the States or the UK. Many properties are illegal so do your homework.

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Decide on Schooling Before You Move #

If you’ve got children, schools are no doubt important to you. There are many options to choose from, from states schools to international and private ones. State schools are free and every village has at least one. They tend to teach in Mallorquin or Catalan as a first language so beware if you prefer your kids to learn Castellano.

The international and private routes are pricier but offer a mix of local and expat student bodies with a better chance of strong bilingual education. If you choose the ones with a British curriculum, it is often reported the kids only come out with so-so Spanish. If your child being fluent in Spanish is a priority, consider other choices. Just think about what you want to get from schooling for your kids before making such a life-changing move.

Secure a Job Before You Move #

This is the most important for many of us yet the one we are least prepared for. So many people think they can rock up on their good looks and charm then score some amazeballs job within a week of landing here. Sweet thought but highly unlikely. The job options here, especially if you don’t speak Spanish, are limited primarily to tourism. And even then, many are seasonal offerings, meaning you won’t get paid through the winter.

Before packing up, do your level best to secure a job. Contact local employment and temp agencies, tour agencies in your home country and here and/or go online and apply for as many jobs as you can. Remember, none of this will help if you don’t have a marketable skill, so unless you are a fantastic chef, teach English as a second language, or the like, you won’t be getting a six-digit salary because you’re so adorable. Even professional vocations don’t always transfer so be prepared for that lawyer, tech and accountant friends. For more on working here, read this article about working as an expat.

AM Tip: Remember that if you are a non-Schegen resident and moving with a non-lucrative visa, you can't legally work unless you own your own enterprise.

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Learn the Language #

Life is so much easier if you can make your own doctor’s appointments and dinner reservations. This cannot be stressed enough. No one is asking you to be fluent from the moment you arrive but at least take some classes before you come.

People will tell you that EVERYONE here speaks English and it's partially true. An incredible number of locals do speak other languages but not EVERYONE does. Be considerate of the native-born Mallorcans and at least try. The Mallorcans are unbelievably generous about poor language skills if you simply make the effort. Remember: they are our hosts and deserve your respect.

Put the shoe on the other foot and remind yourself what it’s like in other countries where people have formed prejudices against foreigners for things less than language skills. YOU are the foreigner here and you’d do well to keep that in mind. No one wants neighbours hating them and not even being able to ask them why!

The other thing is that it severely limits your experiences, job opportunities and friend pool if you cannot communicate in Spanish. Yes, there are those who live their entire lives here in an expat bubble. But it does raise the question, “Why come here at all if you just want to be with your fellow countrymen?”

Being an expat gives you the chance to see and do things most people would never dare to do and the only way to really do that is to immerse yourself. Take full advantage of this extraordinary life choice you’ve made!

AM Tip: Many of us learn languages differently. Check out this article to see how you can learn Spanish on the island.

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The Positive Side #

So now that you’ve heard from Negative Nelly, it’s time for Susie Sunshine. Life here is amazing if expectations are kept in check and you follow a plan. 300 days of sunshine, the nicest people you’d ever hope for and a laid-back lifestyle most people only dream of. How do you get that?

How to work here?

Many people here telecommute or set up their own gigs. This route is for those with serious gumption and who are ok with the fact that they will most likely not earn what they did back home. Check out this piece on Living La Vida Loca, entrepreneurship at its finest for younger and older.

Salaries are less here full stop than in the UK but so is the cost of living (though I hear from many long-term residents that it is super expensive compared to even a decade ago). There are going to be trade-offs and whether they’re worth it to you or not is only for you to decide.

Need an Office? #

Setting up in Spain as your own company or working as a freelancer (called autónomo) is a fairly simple process once you have established residency, which also is a fairly simple process, despite all the horror stories everyone likes to bandy about with regard to Spanish bureaucracy. Yes, it takes a bit of time, yes there is paperwork involved, and yes you will have to get translations made, but do what they ask, and within two to three months EU citizens are in the system.

It is a lengthier process for non-EU citizens but hardly impossible if you have six months or so to get it sorted and meet the requirements you should already have checked out before packing up your life to move here.

An interesting opportunity here for budding entrepreneurs is working in the village markets. If you’re a baker or cook, make clothing and jewelry, create beautiful objets d’art or fancy yourself a creative of any genre, you can set up a market stall and try your hand. It’s an inexpensive way to product test and make some dosh.

Learn more about Co-Working Spaces on the Island. Great options at a reasonable price.

Other Ideas... #

This one may make you chuckle, and I hope it does, but it is something woefully and glaringly lacking on the island…

  • Create a central “hub” for those looking for work and those offering it tailor-made to Mallorca. Set up a website for this and you’d make a killing, and about a zillion grateful new friends!
  • Why not think about being a house sitter? This island has no shortage of homeowners going away on holidays who need a responsible person to look after their pets and make sure the house looks lived in.
  • Or what about offering videography services to estate agents to help get their houses sold faster? With many properties sitting on the market for years, visual aids could make the difference between a quick sale and a dud.
  • These are just a few examples. There are hundreds of holes needing to be plugged by some heroically innovative newbie to the island. You may be just the right person to do it!

Conclusion #

Moving to Mallorca can be a dream or a nightmare. It’s down to you to figure out which it’s going to be. With some planning, a few good ideas and a realistic (financial) plan, setting up here could be just the thing that forever changes your life…for the better!


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17 April, 2023


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