We have had 5 excellent years in Marbella, we made our experiences and got our learning lines.
If you consider moving to the Costa del Sol, and – if you as I – prefer to have things served honestly and directly, you will appreciate these 5 tips, especially over time you will come to realise their value.
The Costa del Sol, especially Marbella, has been the base for our dearly bought experiences, as business and as a family. Although we have traveled a lot around Spain we have had the vast majority of our experiences in Marbella which is an extraordinary place in more than one sense.
Choose wisely the people you surround yourself with to get a good start and a successful long-term stay
Of course it is always important to get a good start when you move to a new country. In this case to Spain, where personal relationships make all the difference. While that is true everywhere, it is even more true when you are moving to Marbella.
Partly because the Spanish system and institutions are not yet fully integrated – bear in mind that it is a young democracy and the procedures must mature; it is therefore time-consuming and at times illogical to navigate when solving various issues.
Partly because Europe’s best climate is attractive to all types, both the reliable and the unreliable ones, regardless of nationality.
It is said that you are the sum of the 5 people you spend most time with. I have experienced that as being true. Friends, partners and employees, all count.
I have heard several friends and acquaintances say that Marbella is the place where they have met the best and the worst people in their lives, and although for me it is not the place where I met all the best, but some of them, it is definitely the place where I met the worst. Therefore the impact of this commonly known truth becomes even more significant.
There is a degree of opportunism and a spontaneous absence of morality that surpasses what I have experienced before. The absence of welfare and support, combined with the fact that people move to Marbella from all over Spain, Europe and the rest of the world to try their luck in life, means that people are also willing to go far to survive themselves.
The fascinating part is that it is the closest you get to a mini-version of experiencing “coming to America” in Europe and with a climate as California. People come with all their talents, families and business backgrounds to live the good life in Marbella. It creates a tremendously interesting cosmopolitan dynamic and obviously opportunistic structures in a disintegrated system, where people and cultures mingle more than most other places you will find.
Greed is everywhere, but certainly not less in Marbella. At the same time it is a social place where it is easy to meet new people and have a great lifestyle if you stick your nose in the track and keep focus on what is important for your family. No one else is going to provide for you and your family.
Often, your family will be back home in Scandinavia, UK or where you originally came from and without friends you will be on your own but after some time with a healthy critical judgement you can find a few real friends which will provide support. You can also choose to stay on the surface of things. Many people choose that as coming in and out of a place makes it possible not to really commit to anyone and anything but the parties and the sun.
Your ability to differentiate will come to a test, and since most newcomers do not know anyone, it can be up to fate what happens as ones assessment skills are always blurred in foreign terrain; who you run into, and the quality of the company will influence your experiences in Marbella, more than you think.
However, no matter what you can always create a new start if the first did not work.
All problems seem to disappear like snow in the sun
You have come to a place where all problems seem to disappear, because the sun is shining from a blue sky more or less constantly all year round and life really feels great. You see happy people on vacation and you yourself will become mesmerised by the euphoria of the sun.
Still you depend more on others than in your home country in the North, where the system makes you more self-reliant. For better and for worse. In the old days, we needed each other in the difficult and in the good times.
This is how it still is here in Marbella and it’s actually wonderful. Of course you can pay for any service to be provided a long way down the road but a permanent residency with more involvement will naturally create the need to help and be helped by others. When the system does not work, you need other people to help.
There is a positivism and optimism which largely comes from the fact that the outdoor lifestyle, the special bright light, the unique micro climate and the ever shinning sun and as basic as it sounds the generous sun is the reason why you no matter what happened the previous day, are instantly happy as you step outside door. Life is lived outside, and it gives a freshness and an openness to everything.
Confidence in each other
In principle “the other” is significant as that man, the other is but many times people are completely indifferent to you; no matter how raw and realistic it sounds to a soft soul who grew up in a society in the North where the welfare states provide for people, especially in Scandinavia where I come from. There everything is thought into the common humane and social model of society to a degree where many individuals also get lost in it.
I am proud of my home country, Denmark and believe that we have proved to be one of the leading countries in the world. It is true that many others are looking at our model of society and thinking that we might be almost perfect, social and aware.
As Danes, I think most of us know what we are good at and where we have something to learn. To me and most other Danes living abroad there are certain social dynamics in Denmark, which can may make it less interesting to live there. The Law of Jante and the distinct feeling that one has the right to influence and control the lives of others, is not among the conditions that I miss. However, all the good things I have to say will be at least an article in itself.
Being Nordic in the South
After 10 years abroad, of which 6 have been in Spain, it becomes less likely to return permanently, whereas in the holidays, especially Christmas and Summer it becomes attractive to visit home and enjoy our traditions in the festive seasons.
Freedom and air under the wings in the big wide world is huge and creates a passion and an exciting sense of adventure that is penetrating every day, despite the obstacle.
It brings you natural interaction with your peers – as a Scandinavian abroad it is most often entrepreneurs or at least open-minded people with the same mentality you meet and become friends with; everything is possible, the world is right in front of our feet, and we will not stop hunting the good life. Why should we?
Go out and take it, let’s get together and laugh together. Helping each other, if we can, but never stand in the way of each other. That is an unwritten code of ethics among the most expatriates. We enjoy each other’s company socially, but we keep focus on our own and respect each other.
I wish that in Denmark we could spent more time together in the same way as abroad. It is another Danish culture we have created in the international culture. There are high ceilings, space and spaciousness. That is what brings us together outside Denmark, in addition to our strong common background. Especially our Danish language makes it relaxing to be together. There are many words and phrases that do not need to be said. The unsaid lies between the lines, and it’s great to be Danish, but without oppression, free sky above and without ceiling.
In this way, we Danes who meet abroad have a lot in common, partly our shared background and culture, partly that we are now playing away with a wealth of other peoples and cultures.
Most other sub-cultures in Marbella would feel something very similar. The French, the Belgians, the Germans, the British, the Russians etc.
140 nationalities are registered in the municipality of Marbella. So it is indeed multi-national, but not in a way that one religion or one political-cultural system terrorises another, as seen particularly in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden and in part in Denmark, Germany and the UK.
Modern individualistic lifestyle in old-fashioned, cosmopolitan Marbella
Modern, individualistic lifestyle also exists in cosmopolitan Marbella which consists of 50% foreigners and 50% traditional Spanish population, which is in very many ways is 20 to 30 years behind, compared to the Nordic societies or the international community in Marbella.
This is really a part of the charm and uniqueness of the place as it is mainly good things we lost in the North during the last 30 years; it is interesting relate to this as a positive paradox. The good and the true which could be called “the old-fashioned” is still alive and well in the sometimes difficult Spanish system.
Marbella is traditional to pre-modern (yet highly cosmopolitan) and it is a good thing since the modern and post-modern has not brought us much value apart from a few benefits of efficiency and individualism.
The latter has its advantages, but it is not always the fascination of life’s unpredictability and the passion and excitement of the moment that lead the way in an over-rational and orderly society. As Nordic ones can be.
The element of daily unpredictability and dealing with the unknown makes life a dance and an adventure here in the South. When it hurts, it really hurt. When the piano plays, and it does most of the time, despite different types of surprises, for the most part, life in Marbella is simply phenomenal and horizon-broadening at several levels, socially and across cultural boundaries.
Fortunately, the cultural borders, we navigate in at this place are still marked by mutual respect. In addition, Marbella is more cosmopolitan than any other village in the world. I could not think of another small village that could compete.
Whether we are friends or acquaintances or simply have seen each other when taking our kids to school or met in the supermarket, there is a knowledge that anyone is doing his own and so it was in the old days up North, where the welfare state the last 20-30 years has brought along good things but in recent years more bad ones. At least viewed from many individual perspectives based on tax and immigration concerns.
There is a tendency that those who can support themselves seek residency where they are inspired to be and those who can not seek towards the welfare states that provide for them what they did not have.
When we foreigners meet local Spaniards as residents and as professionals
One thing is to come to Spain as a tourist. Most people can cope with that by having a credit card and a smile ready.
One thing is to settle in the country but if – in addition – you wish to work, and especially if you want to run a company, it is absolutely crucial to be correctly associated with the most professional and reliable contacts.
The Spanish system is not transparent and is very far from being as effective as our systems in the North. It is divided in a number of bodies and institutions that are not properly integrated.
Therefore, the same piece of paper is very often presented, circulated and stamped in several places. In these institutions, registries, including the tax office, the mayor’s office or other small public entities have short opening hours and generally a poor service in the eyes of foreigners. Part of the reason is obviously that most foreigners do not understand the language and the local habits and procedures.
But again, you can get very far with patience, humility and kindness. Therefore, the relationships you have in advance or form in the early start of your stay often become symptomatic for the outcome of the full stay or a large part of it. Fortunately you can learn and change track later, but it is so much easier and better to start out right.
5 tips for how to get a good start in Marbella
1) Seek advice from trusted people with a similar as yourself and local experience. If you already know someone who have paid the price to attain the valuable knowledge on how to do things, someone who has been through it all, then you will surely be able to avoid many pitfalls by listening and learning from them.
First and foremost, you need to connect with the right people. This will save you much trouble and unnecessary worry later.
2) Ideally, you know a local Spaniard who understands how to navigate in the system at reasonable price level and that you can trust. This is definitely required if you run your own business since the public system is not online or organsised in such a way that you can help yourself as is normal in the North where everything in comparison is very easy because we with our rational thinking are exceptionally good at making systems.
By contrast, we do not always respond as good human beings in all respects, including our emotional side. There we can sometimes learn something.
3) Do not have blind faith in anyone and do not believe that everything runs perfectly just because you pay your bills to those to whom you have delegated work.
There is only one who is responsible, and that is yourself, and you must check up regularly to know exactly where you stand.
4) You need to develop a different kind of patience as some things, especially everything related to the public system, takes longer time than you are use to in your home country but everything in moderation. You must not be too patient as it is when you push to achieve a goal that progress is made.
A small but very useful tip is to discreetly bring a box of chocolates when visiting public institutions. By giving thanks for good and professional service, you usually achieve more than by criticising and arguing that things are not as efficient as home. They are not and they will not be no matter hot frustrated you become.
Spaniards are thin-skinned when it comes to criticism because they receive much of it, especially from foreigners. Therefore, cooperation is always the best way forward.
5) Learn to interact in Spanish. Although you can get very far with English in Marbella and many foreigners therefore never learn Spanish, especially the British who are lucky enough to speak the world language, it will make you much stronger personally, socially and work wise to communicate in Spanish. You will be cheated less, experience more depth and be more respected.