Tag Archives: Spain

Quality, Bargain Travel within Europe

8 May

Water Wheel: Treviso

While I loved my new life as an ex-pat in the lovely Mediterranean village of Altea, Spain, I relish the opportunity to affordably travel to other destinations. For my most recent trip, I went to Venice, Paris, then back to where I live, with all three flights costing only 150 Euros.

 

There are many low-cost options available for transportation and accommodations. My original plan was to go to central Spain to the historic, beautiful and interesting cities of Salamanca (with arguably the most beautiful plaza in Spain), Segovia (with its intact Roman Aqueduct), and Avila (with its intact medieval city wall), all UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Spain has the second most UNESCO World Heritage Sites, after China.

 

Piazza San Marco

However, getting to those locations from where I live is not easy to do in a timely manner via train or flight. I did not want to rent a car or take ride-sharing Bla Bla Car. As I did not want to spend many hours to get to my destinations, I looked at the direct (non-stop) flights that departed and arrived from the two airports closest to me, Valencia and Alicante. Originally I found direct flights from my preferred airport of Alicante to many destinations, and I decided to go to Venice, then Paris, then home to Alicante airport. I also checked for airlines and hotels that accepted dogs, as I initially planned to take my small dog, Pepper. I subsequently decided not to take him because it would preclude us from going to events like the ballet in Paris, or restaurants which have only indoor seating.

 

Often flight, bus and other transportation schedules within Spain and Europe are not published until a few months before departure. Whereas my initial search found direct flights from Alicante to Venice, when I went to book it, there were no scheduled flights for March, none until July. Being flexible and willing to search for other options can yield reasonable alternatives. I was going to meet my son in Venice on a Sunday in March, and all the flights with more than one leg took a ridiculous length of time. I then found a flight the prior day, a Saturday, to Treviso, which is only a mere 30 minutes train ride to the Venice train terminal for only 3,40 Euros. I decided to get a hotel in Treviso, “The City of Art and Water,” that Saturday and explore the town, which has interesting history and culture. The next day, I strolled around town before heading to Venice. Of course, I had researched, and where necessary, scheduled all the connecting ground transportation for the whole trip. That was not necessary for the train from Treviso to Venice. In Italy, (and some other European countries), after you purchase your ticket, you must validate it in one of the machines on the wall or you risk getting a large fine when they train staff check your ticket.

 

As private water taxis are very expensive in Venice, as are taxies in Paris, I scheduled them on Alilaguna, a group water taxi for about 14 Euros one way and 25 Euros roundtrip, and Blacklane for a roundtrip private transfer from Paris Orly airport to our hotel in the Plaza Vendôme area for about 50 Euros each way.

 

One unexpected issue we had on the flight from Venice to Paris on Transavia was just as we got to the staff to present our boarding passes we were told we could only have one carry-on, and that we would have to put any other items including my purse in my carry-on suitcase, which was already stuffed full. I had to throw out a few items in order for my purse to fit. All three flights were about two hours. It was the first time I had taken low cost airlines, and found them organized, and comfortable enough.

 

We enjoyed stops in historic churches, art museums, live music venues, and public gardens. Included in this article are some of the interesting sites we saw on this trip.

 

For me, one of the many considerations, albeit not the most major, in making a decision to move to Spain was the ease and cost of travelling to relatively nearby European and African countries.

 

 

 

Spain: Residential Visa Renewal

26 Apr

“Come back after 30 days to pick up your new Spanish visa. You don’t need an appointment; you can pick it up between 9:00 and 2:00,” she told me in Spanish. HURRAY! This was my second renewal of non-lucrative (non-working) residential visa/NIE card.

This time the renewal process was surprisingly easier than my initial visa application (the first part done in California and the completion once I arrived in Spain), as well as the first renewal. The best part of this visa renewal process was that I no longer had to travel twice from Altea to the provincial capital of the area, Alicante, which takes about an hour each way by car. Instead, I was able to get my fingerprints “huellas” appointment at nearby Benidorm, and also pick up my visa there.

Part of the reason this application was easier was because the requirements were the same as the first renewal application. I keep a file of each application with copies of all documents including what to submit and the documents I submitted. Before starting, first check the government website to make sure the requirements have not changed. The reapplication can start up to 60 days before the visa expires, and up to 90 days after it expires. For your convenience, I have included the links to the internet sites I used, which I filled out, then saved and printed. I cannot guarantee the accuracy of these links, as they sometimes change or are not working; the latter was the case for the government website when I initially looked for it.

I then proceeded to complete and print EX-01. I then asked my financial adviser to draft a letter regarding my financial status, demonstrating that I met the minimum monthly income requirement. In my case, I used my private retirement account, and also the projection of what I would receive from Social Security once I reach 62. Attached was a recent copy of my retirement account showing its monetary value, and the most recent Social Security Statement, which can be found online. I review the email draft for accuracy, and then have the original (which is required) with an original signature by the document’s author; the signature must be notarized. Once I receive the original and notarization, I take it to an official translation office to have it translated into Spanish by a certified Spanish translator.

I made a copy of my current Spanish medical insurance which shows it is in force and that there is a zero co-pay. Since I did not have a Spanish bank account, I found a local agent who could issue the annual policy with an annual cash payment rather than the standard monthly bank deductions. My annual policy is around $1100 U.S.

I also made a copy of both sides of my current Spanish visa (NIE) card, and all of the pages of my U.S. passport. Since I had just renewed my passport, there weren’t any travel stamps on any of the pages, but one has to copy all of the pages regardless. (I was able to renew my passport by mail by sending it to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid; I received my new passport in less than two weeks, paying the shipping fee to the delivery driver.)

There are additional requirements if you have minor children, which are described on the government website. The instructions are generally in Spanish, another good reason to learn it; the staff at the visa application offices often do not speak English. If you have problems understanding or implementing any of the requirements for the visa, for a fee, you can employ a gestoria, a person who is experienced in dealing with the vagaries of the Spanish bureaucracy.

Next, I went to the local Oficina de Extranjería with all of my documentation to make sure I had everything correct. I had gone online to print Modelo 790 codigo 052 and printed it, but I was told I still needed to go to the bank to pay the 15,76 Euros. Make sure your address on file in Spain agrees with the documents you are submitting.

If there are any problems or missing information, you receive a certified letter. Once all documents were correctly submitted, I received an email with instructions for setting up an appointment for fingerprints. As with the whole process, the instructions are in Spanish. However, they do show photos of which items to click on the website. They also say to leave blank the box entitled “Fecha de Caducidad de su tarjeta actual.” After you select the best appointment time, they email you a paper with the appointment date, which needs to be printed and brought to the appointment, along with printed form Tasa Modelo 790 codigo 012, which has to show paid; my fee was 18,54 Euros. While it did NOT say it on that instruction sheet, you also need to bring your passport, current Spanish visa, and photos, which are described in the visa initial application instructions. I saw numerous people turned away from the office for such things as lack of an appointment; not bringing a valid passport, current Spanish identification card, paper showing you have paid the fee; or one parent bringing a child to register him/her but not having both parents present as required. The varying 790 forms need to be paid in advance, at a bank, where they are stamped.

At the appointed police office, I had an unusually short wait compared to typical wait times at a Spanish government office. They took several fingerprints of each of my index fingers, took the photo I brought to be on my new visa, and reviewed my Spanish visa and US passport, along with the paper showing my appointment date and time. The clerk then gave me a paper designating when I could return to pick up my visa, noting the hours, and that I need to bring that paper, my Spanish visa, and U.S. passport. While the clerk told me to come back to retrieve my visa card after 30 days from the appointment with her, she did not mention that the card must be retrieved before 45 days after the appointment; otherwise, the availability of the picking up the new card expires (which I read on the bottom of the form.) This second visa renewal was completed about three months after first submitting my application, only two months after my visa formally expired, as compared to a prior renewal which took eight months.

Here are links to my prior posts on getting a Spanish residential visa: https://starrtreks.com/2015/07/09/how-to-apply-for-non-lucrative-visa-for-spain-as-us-citizen-bucking-the-trend/; https://starrtreks.com/2015/07/26/patience-and-tenacity-requirements-for-obtaining-a-spanish-residential-visa/; https://starrtreks.com/2015/08/09/you-must-be-kidding-steps-to-get-a-spanish-visa/.

What have been your experiences in getting or renewing a Spanish visa?

Visual Alicante

9 Jan
Ayuntamiento (town hall) with sliver of Santa Barbara castle

Ayuntamiento (town hall) with sliver of Santa Barbara castle

1893 ceramic business sign

1893 ceramic business sign

Ornate door with plays of shadow and light

Ornate door with plays of shadow and light

Statue on top floor of building

Statue on top floor of building

Charming house

Charming house

Old town buildings with original materials and signature blue pots

Old town buildings with original materials and signature blue decorations

Decorative historic door

Decorative historic door

Architecturally interesting building

Architecturally interesting building

Old door

Old door

Inside Secrets to Spain: Top 3 Tips

19 Nov

Here is my article about Spain which was just published in Insiders Abroad:

http://www.insidersabroad.com/spain/blogs/inside-secrets-to-spain/posts/gallery-thumb-thumb-thumb-expat-spotlight-dawns-top-3-tips-for-spain

A Fulfilling, Less Stressful Life Running an Artsy Bar in Idyllic Altea Spain

7 Jun
saraanddavidaltearte

Sara and David at their artsy bar in Altea

In the same week, Sara Wilson lost her job as a staff writer for a major business magazine, and her husband, David Fernandez, lost his position as a private chef for socialites in New York City. They used that as a springboard to “re-examine our careers and quality of life.” They originally met in France, married and moved to California, then to New York to further their careers. Even though they liked certain aspects of living In New York, their lives were stressful, too money driven, and they didn’t get to spend much time together. Sara reflected, “Life gave us solution when we got laid off within a week of each other.” After considering their options, they initially decided to move to more relaxed Spain with the idea of opening a restaurant with David’s father. When that didn’t work out as anticipated, Sara and David started exploring other options, and eventually settled on opening a bar and eatery.

 

Sara reported, “My six years at the magazine job interviewing entrepreneurs helped us in the process of starting our business.” She added, “Ironically, I learned from people’s stories and their tips for success.” David had previously completed culinary training in Paris. She noted, “David is more of a visionary and risk-taker than I am, but it was our joint talents that helped us develop a successful business.”

altea

Picturesque and historic Altea

They spent several months exploring towns in the Costa Blanca area along the Mediterranean. They briefly looked at touristy Benidorm, but it did not possess the attractive and friendly location they were seeking. Then, “Unexpectedly we encountered a village paradise…called Altea,” recalled Sara. “We loved Altea’s stunning coastline, white pebble beaches and inviting and tasty restaurants lining the promenade.” But it was when they entered the old town, once a fortress, that they were really “awestruck. We loved its picturesque, narrow, pedestrian streets, punctuated by small artisan shops, that lead up to the hilltop church plaza.” Thus they set about on finding a place in the old town, known as Casco Antiguo.

 

Not long thereafter, they found an apartment and a place to start their dream business, a café/bar which was promoting various forms of art. “The rent was the cheapest we had found, and was the right size for just the two of us to run.” It consisted of two floors that had been transformed from an old house. We liked the fact that it had a mezzanine, a decent stock room, it was just one street down from the church plaza, and was on one of the most charming streets of Altea.” The business had been operating primarily as a sports bar, with a focus on the arts, as well, hence the name AlteArte. Importantly, “The bar already had a local clientele.”

They bought the business, but not the building. Sara stated, “We had been warned that it was important that the business have an existing business license. Just as we were ready to finalize the purchase, we learned that AlteArte did not have a business license.” The owner had applied for it and it was reportedly in process for a substantial period of time, (not unusual with the Spanish bureaucracy), but it had never been completed. Once the owner was aware that this unresolved issue was holding up the sale, the license was quickly approved. Sara and David speculated that the business license application was likely languishing with the local authorities, and that the owner, who was a local native, got the process completed quickly. Sara said, “It helped to buy a turn-key business, with an established clientele.” The prior owner, who sold them the business, wanted Sara and David to be success, and was supportive in a variety of helpful ways.

alteartegrouppix

Typical evening with friends at AlteArte

Sara and David “wanted to change the ambience to a cozier environment, which we did by adding tables and changing some of the décor.” They later hung their now iconic multi-colored bicycle upside down from the ceiling, and added some other kitschy design elements. They provide Wi-Fi, and show major soccer matches (“fútbol”).   “By changing things, we lost some of the former clients but gained others.” During their first year in business, they were often complimented on their tasty mojitos, so they decided to make that a focus. They setup an increasingly growing mojito menu, and identified AlteArte as a “mojiteria,”which set it apart from the other bars. They also make “nojitos,” alcohol-free mojitos. Adapting to client demonstrated preferences, “We abandoned our early idea of making it a coffee-centric business, instead focusing on our excellent selection and preparation of teas,” in addition to other typical bar beverages. Although their service focus is primarily on beverages, they also have a small selection of tapas and quesadillas, the latter being a popular, but rare item in Altea.

 

alteachurch

Casco Antiguo in Altea

Asked if they have encountered any problems or challenges in setting up their business, they reported initially the neighbors complained about noise and the tables and chairs they had placed on the stairs adjacent to their building. “Eventually, we were able to make peace with the neighbors, after convincing them that we would keep the noise down, and not cause them any problems.” During the slow time of year, they do minor renovations to AlteArte, but they noted it is hard to find qualified people who complete the work in a timely fashion. After deciding to start their business in Altea, Sara quickly began learning Spanish, something she felt essential in running their business.

 

The owner of their building had been renting out the top floor to various people as a shop with touristic and artisan items, but after a series of several failed businesses there, he asked Sara and David if they were interested in adding the top floor to AlteArte. “We decided to take this opportunity to expand. The top floor is primarily for special events and gallery exhibits, as well as weekly intercambio (Spanish English language exchange.)” AlteArte exhibits “one or two artists’ works each month.” The middle floor is an inviting area with pillows and populated with board games.

“The customers, new and old, shaped AlteArte’s atmosphere by natural evolution.” They have about an equal percentage of local and expat customers, with “most ex-pats in this area of the Costa Blanca area of Spain being Scandinavian.” In the beginning, most of their clientele came through word of mouth and Facebook. After opening the gallery on the third level, we reached out to local newspapers and magazines to promote those events.”

After they first opened in February 2010, Sara and David ran the business by themselves. “During our second and third summer, we hired our first employees. In our fourth year of operation, we hired Emily as our first full time employee. She had been a patron, and she had a good work track record of seven years at one local restaurant.” They emphasized it is very important to check out the reliability and work history of potential employees in Spain as there are generous laws favoring them, such as being allowed substantial sick leave just after being hired. A few months later, they hired another young woman, Ampy, full-time. Both employees are friendly, competent, and able to communicate with the clients regardless of what language they speak. “We pay them a little more than the typical local wage, and uncommonly, we also give them one day off a week including during the busy summer months.”

saraanddavidaltearte2.jpg

Sara and David inside AlteArte

When asked about other start-up or ongoing expenses or requirements, “there was an initial food safety course, basic business insurance, and nominal annual taxes.” They have not had any tax liability in the United States based on their Spanish net income. “We recommend using a gestoria,” which is a person whose task is to deal with the idiosyncrasies of Spanish government departments, for paying complex fees and taxes. “We receive an annual visit from the health department to check for correct refrigerator temperature and proper sanitation.” With regard to promoting AlteArte, “We have done some marketing by advertising our business in local tourist maps. Because we are in the Old Town, which is a steep, historically-protected area, we are not required to have handicap accessible facilities.” Sara reported, “AlteArte has allowed us to cover all of our expenses including the luxury of having two employees” which affords Sara the opportunity to spend long visits with her family in California. This year she has had two separate one-month visits with her family. AlteArte has given David, now 40, and Sara, 37, “a more comfortable, and significantly less stressful lifestyle than at our prior high pressure jobs, and the opportunity to spend more quality time together.”

 

When asked what advice they would give to others considering opening a business in Spain, they recommend, “Be patient and committed.” They said, “One cannot expect to open a business just for a summer, and turn a profit.” They also stated it is important to understand the demand for the type of business one is considering, and the required permits if starting from scratch. “It is also essential to have enough capital for start-up costs, slow periods, and unexpected expenses.” Sara said, “I’m kind of glad I didn’t know before we started how many businesses end up closing down.”

Now celebrating over six years of operation, AlteArte, is a favorite with local ex-pats, Spaniards, and international travelers. They feature monthly art exhibits by local artists; a book club for which Sara often arranges for the author to be present in person or remotely; live music; weekly Spanish-English language exchange (intercambio); movie nights, craft, drama and dance workshops, cooking competitions, and many more. Asked about her most cherished memory, Sara quickly reported it was when director Eugenio Mira, an Altean native, chose to premier his movie Grand Piano at AlteArte, and afterwards had a question and answer session.

Quirky and Different Customs in Spain

6 Feb

I love my new life in Altea Spain. However, there are some quirky and unexpected things which I have encountered or needed to adjust to.

 

I recently read that when local children were enacting a bull run using toy wooden bulls that this year they would not be allowed to have the bulls’ horns lit on fire during the run. Apparently this was perfectly fine in prior years.

 

IMG_1053

Tree on which people climb to tie on their t-shirt at the St. John festival

During the many Spanish festivals, people sometimes engage in dangerous behavior. At the local St. John festival, participants carry a tree to the church plaza while encouraging observers to throw water on them. Once in the plaza, they pull the spindly tree to a vertical position and fueled with alcohol attempt to make the perilous climb to the top. What I found particularly interesting was the ambulances that were waiting just a few feet away. One has only to think of the running of the bulls in Pamplona for another example. Or the “baby jumping” festival near Burgos, where people in costumes jump over a mattress on which lie babies born in the prior 12 months. This ritual serves to rid the babies of evil spirits and guard against illness.

 

As I have mentioned in prior posts, dealing with the Spanish bureaucracy is nearly always fraught with difficulties, often because what you are told you need to do changes with successive visits. Similarly, I have had my rental cars towed two of the four times I rented them. In one case, I parked in a handicapped spot and put up my disabled placard. When I returned to retrieve the car, it was gone. When I contacted the local police, they informed me I had parked in a handicap spot reserved for a specific car, as indicated by the numbers on the handicap parking sign. I said I have travelled to and driven in many countries, and have never seen handicap spots for specific vehicles. I received a blank look, and was told I had to fork over around $150 to get the car out of impound.

 

I have also previously mentioned the multiplicity of problems I have had in receiving packages sent from the U.S. One box arrived gaping open, with items missing. Then the postman asked me to help carry it because it weighed a lot. Another box of household items was twice returned to my son, first because I declared there was no monetary value to items which were only sentimental, and the second because they did not see the documentation that I had submitted the nearly 100 Euros customs fee. I have been trying unsuccessfully for more than two months to get a refund for that, and there is no chance of getting a refund on for the hundreds of dollars I spent in having the box mailed here twice.

 

The sidewalks in my village are made of attractive, but incredibly slick tiles, especially when wet. It is so precarious that people typically walk in the road when it rains. I see many more people here with arms and legs in splints or casts, which I would bet is related to the falls people have. I have jokingly suggested that maybe the tile sidewalks were the idea of the local orthopedic physicians.

 

Moros Y Cristianos festival 2015 in Altea

Moros Y Cristianos festival 2015 in Altea

The Spanish definition of opening early means 9 or 10 in the morning. Such opening times are understandable in light of the lengthy afternoon siesta, and businesses and meals occurring late at night. Often when businesses close for several weeks or months, there is no sign informing the would-be patron of the closure. Nor are there websites for businesses which provide that information. Businesses including grocery stores are closed for national and local holidays, which can sometimes last several days. After the several day local Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians) festival, all businesses were closed for the day, not for the holiday but for a day for people to recover from the festival. After four days of festivities and drinking starting at 8 or 9 in the morning, and ending around 4 a.m., they need a recovery day.

 

I find Spanish people generally genial, and polite. They always greet you when you enter their business. In their vehicles, they are very good at stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks. However, when walking, they may suddenly cut right in front of you or stop and block the sidewalk while conversing. When picking up my dog’s excrement from the sidewalk, I have had people step over my head, and roll over my foot with a stroller.

 

Sometimes there are what seem to be arbitrary rules. When we recently went to a high end musical and dance variety show which featured a choice of two dinner menus, we were told everyone in our group had to order the same menu. Otherwise, we would be placed at separate tables based on our dinner choice.

 

Have you ever encountered unexpected behaviors/customs while living in or travelling to a new country?

 

 

Patience and Tenacity: Requirements for Obtaining a Spanish Residential Visa

26 Jul

Get ready to have your patience and tenacity tested if you are planning on applying for a Spanish visa. The application process is like a moving target. This is my second post on my experience in getting a non-lucrative residential visa, sometimes known as a retirement visa, to reside in Spain. In my last post, I discussed my experiences with the sometimes idiosyncratic application process, which can differ depending on which Spanish consulate where one is required to apply.

Once I arrived in Spain in March 2014 with my approval for a Spanish visa, I immediately sought permanent housing which was necessary to complete the requirements to obtain the visa and get my NIE (national identification number.) As I have found with most tasks involving the Spanish bureaucracy, one can expect to have multiple attempts before successful completion. For example, when I went to the local “ayunamiento,” town hall, to register the address where I was living, I was given changing requirements. First, they said the address of my rental I gave them didn’t exist, even though that is the address used by the owners to pay taxes. The owners suggested an alternate address, which was successful, and they provided me with a statement that I was renting from them. Next the ayunamiento worker assigned me the new task of getting a copy of the trash bill which showed the owner’s name, as well as a copy of his identification. After four trips, I was successful for what I initially thought was going to be an easy task. That set the tone, or should I say pace, of the next steps.

Next, I went on the required governmental website to get an appointment to get my fingerprints and submit my paperwork. This appointment had to occur in Alicante, about an hour’s drive from where I live in Altea. Thus I either had to rent a car or take the two hour tram. I chose the former. At the appointment, I brought all of the required documentation. The worker asked why I did not come to the appointment within the required time frame, which I recollect was around 45 days. I explained that the website issued me a specific date over which I had no control, which was almost two months beyond the deadline. Thankfully, that explanation was acceptable. Of interest, the woman who was processing my application turned to her colleague saying, “California dream,” apparently a dream they both shared. She could not understand why I would want to move to Spain from California. I explained my reasons and she was apparently satisfied, but still had difficulty fathoming.

Whereas I was initially informed by local officials in Altea that I would be given my visa at that appointment in Alicante, at the end of it, I was told I needed to return in exactly 30 to 45 days in person, with my U.S. passport. On June 30, with low expectations, I returned to the Alicante National Police. I was pleased and surprised to find my visa card ready. With that, I now had my NIE number, necessary for almost everything, including such things as getting internet at home, receiving shipped packages, etc.

I noticed the expiration date on my newly issued visa was March 11, 2015, the date I initially applied after arriving in Spain. So starting in late January 2015, I began working on the application for the first renewal of my residential visa. Not surprisingly, I encountered more bureaucratic twists and turns, which will be the focus of my next post.