Care for Elderly Expats

In their haste to move to the sun, many expats ignore the facts relating to getting old and the possibility of becoming infirm. There are now several generations of expats, who found themselves in a good financial position following the rapid rise in UK houses prices a decade or so ago, and others who managed to retire early on good pensions. Added to this were the advantages of exchange rates, which worked heavily in favour of British expats, meaning that those fortunate enough to be receiving an early pension, or in receipt of a private income, could maintain a much better standard of living in Spain and France than in the UK.

If we are fortunate, we get old, and for some expats this means returning to their countries of origin where perhaps they have maintained a second home, could be cared for by relatives or return to the UK care system and take advantage of retirement, care homes and sheltered accommodation. Other expats prefer to remain in their chosen country, taking advantage of the warm climate, which for many has eased conditions, such as arthritis, rheumatism and other age related conditions. However, the problems begin once one partner dies, or health issues become serious. What happens next for an elderly or infirm expat living in Spain?

It is still the custom and tradition for many Spanish families to look after their own. In many ways, this is one of the favourable characteristics of Spanish people and their culture. Generalisation is always dangerous, but traditionally the Spanish see it as their duty to look after the elderly and sick members of their families. It is still often the case that upon marriage, the young couple will continue to live in the family home, maybe in an apartment converted from a garage or in a newly built extension. As the family grows, grandparents tend to help to look after their grandchildren. Later in life, it is the young couple, now middle aged, who move into the main dwelling, with the elderly folk moving into the converted apartment built originally for the youngsters. It is a tradition that usually works well, and although this model of care is rapidly changing, particularly in Spanish cities and due to the pressures of modern living, it is still the pattern of life in rural Spain and in the Canary Islands.

As a result of care being provided by the family, unlike in the UK, residential homes for the elderly are largely unnecessary and unavailable. There are very few in the Canary Islands, and the ones that do exist are mostly run by religious orders of nuns, and cater mainly for the local Canarian population and not for elderly expats.

As a newspaper reporter in the Costa Blanca, I remember visiting a new privately built and operated residential home, designed and marketed specifically for the expat population. It offered a high standard of care in several languages. A clever entrepreneur had spotted a market opportunity, which came as a great relief to many of the resident expats that I interviewed at the time. However, such a development was unique in the area at the time and I was aware of a long waiting list for a place.

I am unaware of similar accommodation for the elderly expat being available in the Canary Islands; for example, most care is provided through the islands’ social services, which is now greatly reduced due to budgetary reductions. Other care is provided privately in homes through a variety of carers, registered or otherwise. Sadly, such services are often transitory, and not available on a long-term basis, which is important if the elderly expat comes to rely upon such services in their home. Overall, it is not a good position, and I suspect that this issue will become more serious as the expat population in many countries becomes older and more frail.


  1. I am a 76 year old man (living on his own) who had major heart surgery 9 years ago and decided to come to live on GC for health reasons. I am type 2 diabetic. I also have a pacemaker. Over the past few months visits to my GP seem to be getting more frequent and I have recently been suffering from groin injuries occasionally rendering me immobile till I recover. I am still able to drive without any trouble, but what would happen to me if I were to become housebound? In view of your comments regarding assistance from social services, would there be any chance of some form of help in day to day matters in the future?

  2. Dear Norman

    Thank you for your message. This is an issue which I know is causing concern to many expats who have reached the stage in their lives where mobility and other health issues become more prominent.

    I understand that some limited assistance may be available via your doctor, but would be means tested. Also, please bear in mind that the recession has led to considerable reductions in funding in Spain as elsewhere, and are not as generous as in the UK.

    Have a word with the British Consulate, as they will be able to give you further information, as well as Help the Aged Spain on:

    Kind regards


  3. As a care-home owner forced to close because of changing regulations I am aware that it will become increasingly difficult to run such homes profitably in the UK. Germany is trying to provide continuing care by outsourcing the job to homes in Eastern Europe and I believe an opportunity exists for public and private providers to open homes for expats of all nationalities in the Canary Islands. The islands provide a good climate for elderly all the year round and there are many unfinished developments, from hotels to one-bed apartments in the hands of Spanish banks waiting to be snapped up at rock-bottom prices. Unless the UK leaves the EU, which may cause problems with pension payments I can see such homes being attractive to all EU residents looking for long-term care.

  4. Frances Langston

    May 28, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    I am a live in caregiver and I am attracted by the Canary Islands. I speak only English but I am learning Spanish. If I would like to be a caregiver for Expats would I have to go through a British Agency? I am American also, I am a very good cook

  5. Hi Frances

    Yes, the Canary Islands are certainly a good place to live and work. However, the unemployment rate on the islands is the highest in Europe and so finding jobs is not always easy.

    The Canary Islands are Spanish and so you would need to register with the Spanish authorities as a caregiver.

    Remember too that as a US national, unless you have a European passport, you will have to check out your entitlement to live and work in Spain. You would need to check this with the Spanish Embassy in your country. I hope it works out for you.

  6. Hello I am living in Britain at the moment and shortly training up in end of life care ….looking ahead are there any opportunities in the canaries to put my skills to use.I want to live and work in spain

  7. Hi Julia

    There is certainly a need for this kind of support for many retired and elderly expats in the Canary islands and Spain. There is certainly a lack of end of life care on the islands.

    Maybe the first step would be to contact some of the private hospitals and clinics? Peninsular Spain, such as the Costa Blanca, would give you far more scope, as the expat population on the islands fluctuate considerably.

    Do also remember to do your homework, learn the language and visit a few areas of Spain before you commit. Many don’t do this and regret it afterwards.

    I wish you well.

  8. Hi,I live in spain most of the year in nerja,do you know of any care homes or live in jobs that are available please

  9. i am a 67 yr old woman who had 4 strokes, am type 2 diabetic, w/ vision problems. I live in the us & have medicare. Are there convents that28V take care of the elderly and take them to church?I was looking at cizur mayor – have never been there, but a friend lives there;i don’t speak spanish…is it easy to get help if i move there in a regular home? how much in US$ is cost of help?

  10. GRace Herniak

    July 21, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    I am Polish Canadien in my 50 currently living in Spain. I am in excelent health and I am looking to work as a companion or care giver for an elderly in the region of Elche, HOndon de Los Nieves, Alicante province of Spain.
    I am English speaking and have some understanding of Spanish.

  11. We are a couple and would like to offer our services for retired people abroad.
    We are care givers and have lots of experience of living abroad.

  12. Hi, I am british national currently living in California USA. I am looking to buy in Spain very soon and to begin my process of living there eventually. I have been a registered caregiver for decades and currently on a live in post here in California. Are there any agencies that offer caregiving work for Brits in Spain? I have tried looking on the Internet and have not come up with any Info, was wondering If anyone had any Ideas, or know anything at all. Thanks.

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