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‘We moved to Spain on a UK state pension

A British pensioner who has lived in Spain for two decades told i her “retirement adventure” would be unaffordable for most people from the UK today.

In 2004, Sally Holloway, 76, and her husband Ken left the Isle of Wight, where they owned three flats, to move to a three-bedroom apartment with a roof terrace between Gibraltar and Marbella in the south of Spain, which they rent for £760 per month.

Under post-Brexit rules, British pensioners must have €16,000 (£13,600) per year to qualify for a non-lucrative visa, and state pensioners do not always meet this threshold.

There are now three types of visa in Spain – the digital nomad, the entrepreneur, and the non-lucrative, under which UK citizens must show they have savings and pay for private health insurance.

Before Brexit, UK citizens like Sally and Ken Holloway could be treated for free and did not need to demonstrate they had savings.

Ms Holloway told i she resents the fact that her son cannot come and join her in Spain, as she knows he would also want to move his family abroad.

Sally and Ken Holloway pay £760 per month in rent for a three-bedroom apartment with a roof terrace in the south of Spain (Photo: supplied)

She told i: “We moved for the weather, and the prices, but also for a sense of adventure. It’s a totally different experience for you if you’ve been working in regular jobs and you can then go and retire somewhere abroad.

“It’s sad that that sort of experience is only available to the rich and has been taken away from normal people. To move now, you would have to prove their level of income and have private healthcare, which we couldn’t afford.

“I know my son would like to bring his family to live abroad, but he can’t.”

Ms Holloway is part of the campaign group Bremain in Spain, which aims to “protect the rights of British migrants living in Spain and across Europe”.

The former language teacher told i she “doubts” she would be able to afford the “wonderful life” she experiences in Spain on her and her husband’s combined income of about £2,500 per month, or £625 a week.

The 76-year-old explained there is a control on gas prices in Spain, and regulated rent means prices can only rise for them by 1 per cent a year. Ms Holloway said these aspects contribute to a sense of security in their day-to-day lifestyle.

“We have a wonderful apartment here with three bedrooms, fantastic views, a roof terrace with loads of outside space, so we’re really very fortunate, as I know rental prices have gone up tremendously in the UK,” she told i.

“I very much doubt we would be comfortable on our income in UK. I get the impression when we visit that general expenses are higher. Even going out or having a coffee seems much more expensive.”

Ms Holloway said she and her husband can enjoy a meal out in southern Spain for €25 and a coffee and something to eat for €6.

She allows €150 a week for food and expenses, and spends €17 a month on gas and €55 on electricity. “One thing that is very different in Spain is we spend very little on heating,” she said.

According to the comparison website Uswitch, the average electricity bill in the UK as of 8 March 2024 is £772.74 per year (without factoring in the annual electricity standing charge).

The couple told i they value the Spanish healthcare system, as NHS waiting lists continue to soar across the UK.

However, Ms Holloway said they have faced paying for her husband to undergo surgery in Spain through private healthcare, as the health system is still subject to waitlists.

The couple also value the amount of “cultural outdoor activities” offered in Spain in contrast to the UK – Ms Holloway pays €25 to use the local sports centre, which has a pool and a variety of activities.

“A lot is going on around here,” she said. “The town hall organises things, a lot of outdoor events, cultural festivals, things that don’t exist in the UK.

“The biggest downside is the distance from family but with modern technology, you can chat and have video calls, so the downside is not as negative as it might have been in the past.”

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