A Writer’s Lifestyle Is Richer in Low-Cost Spain

When Elyn Aviva did her PhD in anthropology on the Camino de Santiago back in 1982, she never imagined that she’d end up living in Spain. But now, along with her husband, Gary White, she’s been calling Spain home for almost 10 years.

They began their life in Spain in the city of Girona, which they loved, but as summers grew hotter, they decided to move to Oviedo, the capital of the province of Asturias in northern Spain, where the climate is cooler. The city of 200,000 offers art, music, theater, opera, a symphony, and an English-language film series at the local cinema, as well as an Apple store and repair center.

In the Old Town, where they live, everything is within walking distance—a requirement, since they haven’t had a car the whole time they’ve been in Spain. “We rent a car if we need one, and take taxis, buses, and trains,” says Elyn.

They rent a recently remodeled three-bedroom apartment on the seventh floor of a building with an elevator and doorman, on a pedestrian street, for $875 a month, including heat and water. “It has lots of storage space, which is unusual in European apartments,” Elyn says. The apartment has a view of the cathedral a block away, and of hills, mountains, and surrounding countryside.”

Their apartment serves as both home and writing studio. As co-authors of a series of travel guides called Powerful Places Guidebooks, they visit sacred sites in Spain, France, England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland to do research. After they return, they write the book, and Gary works on production and layout. Elyn has also just published a novel, The Question: A Magical Fable.

“It’s less expensive to live here than anywhere comparable in the U.S.,” says Elyn. “We can have a three-course lunch at a restaurant, including wine, bread, and coffee, for $14. And it’s not fast food—it’s excellent quality. Groceries are also cheaper. I can find red-leaf lettuce, fresh from the farm, for $1.15, as well as local cheeses, local grass-fed beef, and organic vegetables.”

Medical treatment is much less expensive and high quality. To qualify for a long- term visa in Spain, you need to show proof of healthcare coverage. Elyn pays $175 a month for private healthcare, purchased through their local bank; Gary’s healthcare, through a U.S. insurer, is more expensive because he didn’t get it before he turned 75, the cut-off date for most insurance plans. “Make sure you have health coverage before age 75,” says Elyn. Their occasional surgeries, EKGs, and dental care always cost less than in the U.S.

The quality of life is better than their experience in the U.S. Life in Oviedo is lived on the street. People sit on benches, drink coffee at sidewalk cafés, and walk to buy groceries with a little wheelie cart. And the city is surrounded by natural beauty and ancient history. “Being able to visit sites that are 30,000 years old only two hours away is amazing,” says Elyn, “as is having two ninth-century buildings a few miles away on a hillside.”

“It’s less hectic, less fear-based here,” Elyn says. “People take it easier. We often hear, ‘No pasa nada’ when something doesn’t work out or we’re late. It means, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ Something got screwed up at our bank when we transferred our account to Oviedo, and our rent wasn’t paid for two months. The owner stopped by to ask me about it. I was horrified. But his reaction was, ‘No pasa nada.’”

Back in the States, they lived in popular, sought-after communities like Boulder, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico. But for them, there’s no comparison. “Why would we ever return to the U.S.? Life is so much better here,” says Elyn.

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