Trading Florida for Mallorca: "I Have Everything I Need"

Calvià Pueblo, Mallorca, Spain
In Calvià, comfortable two-bedroom apartments cost between €315,00–€550,000.|©iStock/Josep Bernat Sànchez Moner

By Megan Ritchie

In 2008, Hilary Wilson, 44, traded her home state of Florida for life on the sea.

She joined the crew of a superyacht, working in locales ranging from luxurious St. Barth’s to the jaw-dropping Galápagos Islands. But still, Hilary couldn’t stop thinking about the first island where she’d docked on her itinerant adventures… Mallorca.

When she met her now-husband, the decision was made. A sun-seeking Brit, he wanted to stay close to his UK-based family, while Hilary wanted a warm climate similar to Florida’s. Mallorca, a two-and-a-half hour flight from Heathrow with a Mediterranean climate, met their needs.

A Village Between Sea and Sierra

Hilary and her husband rented in the residential village of Bendinat and the ritzy, portside Portopí neighborhood in Palma before settling on the quiet village of Calvià to raise their two young daughters.

Calvià is a mere 15 minutes’ drive from Palma, the capital city, just far enough to avoid the rush of seasonal tourism, though its beauty still draws visitors. Its historic buildings—most dating back to the 17th century, with a few Roman outliers—are fodder for history buffs and aesthetes alike. And the surrounding Tramuntana Mountain range, running along Mallorca’s west coast, is popular among hikers and bikers.

"It’s amazing," summarizes Hilary.

Their home is a five-minute walk from the village square, where Hilary picks up groceries at the weekly market. ("We were in Florida in March," says Hilary, "and we were shocked how much food costs in comparison. Here, you can buy fresh, local food for a family for €150 a week.") In a five-minute drive, she can be at the beach. Five minutes in the other direction takes her to the community pool in Es Capdellà, where locals and expats alike gather to cool off in the summer.

We went back to Florida and were shocked at the costs.

"My neighbors are all so friendly," Hilary says. Like her, many community members are expats, and Hilary reports that her kids are in school with peers from the UK, Germany, and Eastern Europe. Her daughters will grow up trilingual, as English, Catalan (a Romance language spoken in northeastern Spain), and Spanish are taught at the local public schools.

"I personally speak enough Spanish to get by," says Hilary, who’s just started another year of Spanish lessons, "but to be honest, a good portion of the people here speak English."

Another perk of living in Spain: healthcare, which she says meets all her needs… and beats out US medicine when it comes to cost and bedside manner.

"We pay €313 ($332) per month for private insurance for all of us," she says. "For some specialists, you may have to wait for an initial appointment, but otherwise you can go straight to urgencias (emergency room) if needed. The wait there is never longer than an hour."

Living Slowly Has Its Challenges

All the same, there are some cultural differences to overcome. The biggest: the siesta.

"Things shut down during the siesta hours on weekdays, close early on Saturdays, and completely close on Sundays," Hilary says.

She once found it inconvenient, but now, she says, "I’ve learned to like it and respect it."

More inconvenient is the paperwork. Immigrating, she says, can be a bureaucratic process, and it helps to have a good immigration lawyer before making the overseas move.

And while Hilary says that buying property is straightforward—she and her husband own their own home—she likewise recommends lawyering up. There are a lot of "illegal" properties on the island, she reports, especially in historic or rural areas. If a house has been renovated or built on too small of a plot (the current requirement is 14,000 square meters), it may be in violation of Mallorca’s strict property regulations… subjecting a buyer to increased taxes, a fine, or—in extreme cases—a demolition order.

"We put an offer on a home that turned out to be illegal," says Hilary, "and without our lawyer having put a ‘get out free’ clause into the option contract, we would have lost the deposit."

They ended up buying a bank-owned property. While Hilary declined to share the cost of their property, Calvià’s housing sells, on average, for €425 ($462) per square foot.

Despite the difficulties, she’d do it all over again.

And other family members have followed her lead. Her sisters-in-law and her brother have already moved to Mallorca with their families… and her parents will join them on the island soon.

The families plan to raise their children together, with the grandparents pitching in where needed.

"I’ve never felt alone here," says Hilary. "I have everything I need."