Expat entrepreneurs come and go in Spain
Like in any country setting up your own business is not easy. Setting up a business in a foreign country adds a few extra difficulties. Not knowing the local language, local customs and the level of bureaucracy you will have to deal with can make your start-up fail very quickly.
Having set up a company in Spain myself* I know how hard it can be and how much perseverance and patience it takes to get a business off the ground in Spain. But, if you get through all of that and manage to build a name for yourself you end up with a great lifestyle in a beautiful country with a good quality of life.
Two interviews with expat entrepreneurs in Spain
1. Calpe Mountain: a B&B in the mountains and a coffee shop in Calpe
I could have picked many success stories and probably greater successes, but the business and life Craig and Wendy have created for themselves to me proves that the dream of “packing up everything and starting a new life” is very possible no matter what stage of your life you are in.
Craig and Wendy moved to Spain 11 years ago with their two kids. They found a place to live, a new school for the kids and work for themselves.
Our love of the UK and a traditional family life with a house, two cars, two children and a dog still left us questioning what was missing. We found ourselves annually pacing the beach on holidays abroad discussing what new challenges lay ahead. Despite a busy professional life as London Metropolitan Police officers as well as being “hands-on” parents for all hours off-duty, we still felt there was more to life and new adventures to experience.
A move abroad, literally to expand all our horizons and the welcome promise of more sunshine, seemed to be the answer. So we then had the task of deciding where to go. For many reasons Spain came to the top of the list because of its world location, climate, school choice, language, scenery and coast line.
Our love of country life meant that a simple house in a straight forward street was never going to satisfy our sense of adventure. So, to make things even more challenging, we decided on a traditional, stone-built, mountain farmhouse that was badly in need of rescuing. Its lack of easy access and no utility services did not present defects in our eyes. All we could see was the total beauty of its unique surroundings.
They completely renovated the farmhouse, added a swimming pool and eventually started their Bed & Breakfast. I’m sure it hasn’t always been easy and of course every business comes with its ups and downs, but they did do it: they decided to leave, they decided to follow their dream and they made it work.
That does not mean a person then stops dreaming though… Craig and Wendy got restless again. They started looking for a new business to set up. That’s how, barely six months ago, The Coffee Box opened: a small coffee bar just meters from Calpe’s beautiful beach. And with The Coffee Box opening the Costa Blanca now finally has a place offering good quality coffee! The Coffee Box opens 6 days a week and is quickly becoming a successful little business.
Their story proves to me that there really is no excuse: do you want to start a new life abroad? Don’t let fear hold you back. Go for it and keep in mind that you can always move back!
2. La Bodega del Garroferal: a vineyard in the Jalon Valley
Unfortunately there are also plenty of examples of expat start-ups failing. Not too long ago I spoke to Peter and Helen, a South African couple who started the vineyard La Bodega del Garroferal in the Jalon Valley on the Costa Blanca.
Helen and I established the Bodega in 2002 when we relocated to Spain from South Africa. We had both been employed in the wine industry in South Africa for many years and it was our dream to start our own small winery. We chose this particular corner of Spain as we believe it offered a yet undiscovered potential for the production of top quality wines. This region has been growing grapes to make wine since Roman times!
And they were successful for a while. They were quickly becoming a well known vineyard when things went wrong.
Officials have informed us that we are no longer allowed to continue making & selling wine in our present location. They said we have to move to industrial premises in an industrial area! As you can imagine, it is not very easy to move a working wine cellar – let alone all our vineyards! Also, part of the charm for people visiting us was to be in the countryside and see the vineyards! Obviously we have tried to fight this but everything we do is met with the same negative response.
Their lawyer did whatever he could but eventually they had to give up. Unfair? Of course. But unfortunately stories of Spanish bureaucracy and corruption are still heard often…
Peter and Helen decided to leave. But, they didn’t give up on their dream of having a successful vineyard. They are busy relocating to Bensheim in Germany and I wish them the best of luck there!
So starting a new business in a foreign country doesn’t always work. In fact, there are probably more businesses that fail than businesses that succeed. But does that mean it’s not worth trying? I don’t think it does. I believe failure is part of life. And moving abroad, especially moving to a less developed country also offers many opportunities that have long disappeared in your own country. And, whether you eventually fail or succeed, the journey will be an adventure!
*In 2006 me and a friend started Mar y San Design, a marketing and (web)design company that led to me eventually setting up my own company A to Z Marketing in Holland. Mar y San Design still exists and is one of the main reasons, or excuses, for me to come back to Spain on a regular basis.