I rarely trust statistics, and particularly those in articles in the press that begin with “According to the latest statistics…”. I know far too much about how ‘flexible’ statistics can be, and how they can be twisted and manipulated to match the political arguments and headline grabbing deceptions of the day.
Recent headlines in the UK press screaming “One in five British Expats in Spain returning home” and “End to the Mediterranean Dream for British Expats”, and “Has the Sun Set on the Expat Dream in Spain?” caught my attention recently. They were an amusing read, but I felt that they required rather more clarification.
Distrustful as I am of UK statistics, I am equally cynical about Spanish data. In the case of Brits returning home, the statistics came directly from Spanish Town Halls, which are not exactly renowned as being at the pinnacle of statistical efficiency. This data comes, of course, from British expats taking the trouble to register with the authorities and entering their names on the register; many do not, and particularly those who have holiday or rental homes, and intend to live in Spain for less than six months each year.
Back to the headline grabbing horrors, “One in five British expats in Spain returning home”. What the article doesn’t mention, of course, is that four out of every five expats still choose to live in Spain, and are very happy about it. This is merely a different interpretation of exactly the same set of statistics, but it doesn’t make such a good headline, does it?
It is true, of course, that the recession and reduction in job opportunities have led to serious financial difficulties for many expats who have decided to return to their countries of origin. However, suggestions that sun seeking retired expats now prefer to give up on the traditional retirement hotspots of Spain, France and Portugal in order to live in Dubai, the Caribbean, Thailand or even Switzerland are simply ridiculous.
Since I moved to Spain, there has always been movement of those who longed for a new life in the sun, only to find that it was not for them. Many were unwilling or unable to learn the language, appreciate the culture, missed British TV, or continually complained about an exchange rate that was lower than expected. These expats quickly returned to their home countries, realizing that life as an expat was not for them. Others faced the hardships of death of a partner, family problems, serious illness or breakdown in relationships, making a return to the UK inevitable.
Statistics aside, my own contacts in the removals business in the Costa Blanca, Costa del Sol and the Canary Islands confirm that there is by no means a one-way exodus to the UK. Retired expats, seeing the property bargains to be had in Spain, France and Portugal are heading out to pick up a dream property at a good price. Prices in favorite retirement destinations, such as the Balearics and the Canary Islands, remain buoyant, because of considerable interest from Scandinavian, German, Russian and even Chinese buyers.
I also know of many expats who have returned to the UK, mainly for financial or health reasons. In many cases, the returned expats have not settled well in their home country, and their one aim is to return to Spain at the earliest possible opportunity, and when their personal circumstances improve.
So, for those who have deserted a gentler and more relaxed life in the sun to return to the cold, damp UK, I raise a glass and wish you well. However, the use of flawed statistics by the press do not tell the true story, which is that most of us are very content with our lives in the sun!