Seduced By Sunshine, Tapas and Life in Southern Spain

Lying at the heart of sunny Andalucia, Seville is one of southern Spain’s most beautiful cities. Waves of conquerors, from the Romans to the Moors, have left their stamp on its spectacular architecture. Thousands of tapas bars line the streets, and the warm Spanish sun nurtures parks full of palm trees. With such beauty all around, it’s easy to see what drew expats Karen and Rich McCann to Seville, where they now enjoy fine dining, a great social scene and terrific, inexpensive healthcare.

“I always wanted to live abroad,” says Karen. “In fact, we talked about it on our first date. Rich had travelled in Asia, and was talking about Singapore, and I thought, ‘Okay, as long as it’s abroad!’”

The couple were asked to join friends for a holiday in southern Spain and they fell immediately in love with the place. Karen says, “The weather, the Spanish speakers, the palm trees. We were comfortable with the whole atmosphere.

“We kept our place back home and told people we were going for a year…but six months in, we looked at each other and said, ‘We don’t want to go back.’”

So the couple sold their large home, cleared out 20 years’ worth of possessions and planted themselves permanently on Spanish soil. They renewed their year-long visas for a second year, then a third, and eventually got permanent residence cards that they only have to renew every five years.

Seville is known for its mild winter weather (temperatures never drop to freezing, while summers rarely dip below the high-20s C), large old town with three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and flamenco music.

“I think the first thing that struck me was the vibrancy of street life here. Everybody dines out. Tapas, drinks…there are allegedly 3,000 little bars in the city. People here take their social lives seriously.

They have a strong understanding that family, friends and personal life are important and meant to be front and centre. “Seville has an amazing food scene. There’s still a lot of classic fare, usually cooked by somebody’s grandmother out back in the kitchen. The trendy new spots are serving traditional dishes with a twist, such as carriadas (stewed pig cheeks) with an added, fancy dollop of cream sauce and a sprig of parsley.

“Costs vary widely, but typically we spend under $40 per person for a good meal with wine. A lot of the bars have supercheap beer. The cheapest in town is just 40 céntimos (about 60 cents) and the average is about $2.80 for a beer and $2.80 for a tapa. You don’t have to spend a lot to enjoy the street life.

“Overall, our cost of living is about the same. We spend more on travel and a lot less on food, going out and entertainment. We don’t have a car here, so we save on that, because in Seville we can walk everywhere… And our rental is a fabulous deal. We pay far less than we’d pay in any city back home.

“My Spanish friends pay about €500 or €600 ($770 to $930) a month for modest places on the outskirts. The normal cost is €800 to €1,000 a month ($1,200 to $1,500) in a more central location,” says Karen.

Another great deal is private health insurance. Not only is it affordable, but the quality is good, especially for primary and secondary care.

Karen says, “My doctor back home told me my cholesterol was high. I wanted a second opinion, so I went to a private clinic here in Seville. The doctor took my records himself… And then told me my cholesterol is a little high, but we can make a few dietary changes…basically, drink more red wine, eat more dark chocolate.”

The couple’s private insurance, through Sanitas, a subsidiary of the global provider Bupa, costs them just €500 (around $770) a quarter. (Their coverage is a bit higher than average because of Rich’s age.) Private health insurance valid in Spain is required of non-EU citizens applying for a residence visa.

The couple also loves Seville’s relaxed pace of life. An average day includes time for writing, photography, morning yoga or Pilates classes, siestas, shopping, meeting friends for coffee, tapas and exploring.

“Seville is a very old city,” she says. “I pick a neighbourhood, photograph it, pop into shops, meet people, chat with everyone…it’s an interesting way to spend my time.”

The couple are also learning more Spanish. “Moving here has revitalised my life in a way I didn’t expect. I feel like a new person.”

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