header master


This is a random collection of thoughts based on our experiences over the last 18 years, in no particular order.  Please feel free to ask questions about anything else.


  • searching for an area – we did this by living in a van.  In hindsight a caravan/ car would have given us more comfort and flexibility.  Get a map (Stanford’s) of the area you are interested in.  1:100 000 or more detailed.  Then use this to measure distances.  For example, the nearest big supermarket should be no more than 25kms away, same for: good builders merchants (chains like LEROY MERLIN are crap)/ wood yard/ garage/ vet/ bike shop.  Hospital, is a good idea too, but they are becoming an endangered species outside cities so in this case allow 60km.  Use GOOGLE IMAGES to check out all the villages you are interested in.  Likewise YOUTUBE videos


  • estate agents – since the banking crash of 2008 the number of estate agents in Spain has dropped dramatically (here from 13 to 1). The banks meanwhile have acquired a lot of repossessed property. So in rural areas 90% of sales will be by word of mouth or from the local bank. Rural estate agents also rarely understand English, few have a website, therefore do not rely on being able to do a comprehensive search remotely, nothing beats renting a place, and getting to know the area first-hand


  • rural = cheap + best quality of life – keep away from any city, allow at least a 100km. Avoid any area where there was mining (Wikipedia). A council district with a total population of around 2000 is an ideal (Wikipedia)


  • like minded souls – although I would never have said this until now, you need other Brits nearby.  Folk like me can be found through sites like WWOOF and WORKAWAY.


  • you will need: – an ATM/ farmacia/ post office/ petrol station/ bar/ bakery/ small shop in the village nearest where you live. A house or workshop in the pueblo is the best way to integrate but is extremely noisy and intrusive. If you choose to live outside the pueblo the post will not be delivered, nor will you be able to receive parcels via courier.


  • areas designated as – PARQUE NATURAL are a way of diverting attention from some ecological nightmare nearby.  RESERVA NACIONAL are bonafide protected areas. Both have extreme building regulations


  • gas bottle – this was our first job when we arrived in Spain.  You have to buy one first (refundable) then have it replaced.  You will also need a regulator and length of hose, available in a ferreteria (hardware shop).  They are approximately 65cm high with regulator and hold 12,5 kg of gas (but weighing over 25kg)


  • amount of land you’ll need – to be self-sufficient at least 1.5 hectares per person,  to be sustainable 5 hectares per person


  • physical input required – a minimum of four hours per day for one person to manage one hectare using only hand tools


  • orientation – north facing for annuals/ soft fruit, south for trees, south for passive heating of the house in winter


  • best latitude  – the further south you go the slower trees and shrubs will grow, and the more water is needed between MAY-OCTOBER for annuals


  • flat or sloping? – sloping for clean drinking water/ easy plumbing/ irrigation/ views, and flat for an easier life working the land


  • type of land – avoid anywhere with eucalyptus/ pine/ or monoculture plantations.  Choose land where nearby there is already a wide variety of edible trees, if possible growing without irrigation


  • renewable energy – in Spain solar can only be used if there is no possibility of being grid-tied, otherwise a very large fine, same if you share any


  • water – for drinking you will need a spring or borehole.  Do not rely on a sharing agreement.  For the rest, rainwater harvesting is best.  For this you will need to be in an area with a metre or more of rainfall a year.  And have storage for 70,000+ litres based on the needs of two people and 6om2 of roof


  • access – make sure you chose a site with good all-year-round access, particularly in the winter, and don’t expect the local authority to maintain any part that is off-road.  This is not just for you and your visitors but emergency vehicles too.  4x4s sound like a cheaper compromise but simply tear up unmade tracks faster.  Also bear in mind the distance to frequently used facilities, should you be without transport for any reason


  • weather – in a word all of Spain and Portugal is EXTREME.  Expect very hot summers (30-40C) and very wet/ cold winters (snow and frost even).  Without 24/7 irrigation during JUNE/ JULY/ AUGUST nothing much will grow


  • language – one of you has to be able to speak fluently


  • healthcare – the state (& private) system in both Spain & Portugal ranges from poor to downright dangerous. You also need a chipped health card to access this, available from your local Health Centre


  • education – home-schooling or alternative education is recommended


  • residency – in Spain you have to register first with the local town hall where you are living, then be formally interviewed at your regional police headquarters. This process costs money at both stages, is time-consuming to the point of frustration, and requires a lot of paperwork/ legal documents/ photographs.  You will also be fingerprinted.  If accepted they will issue an identity number, which is required for virtually everything.  In Portugal the process is a lot simpler and only requires a visit to the local town hall to sign a few papers


  • bank account – in Spain you can open a savings account without residency, but only for a short period, then it is mandatory. High street banks with make a quarterly charge on a balance of less than 10,000 euros, but internet banking is still free.  To have a current account you will need a job


  • football – sad but true, if you want to fit in you will have to understand this game and follow a spanish team


  • work – to be legally employed (pay NI and gain entitlement to benefits) you need a social security number, which is available at the local Social Security office


  • driving – in Spain you have to have your Driving Licence changed for a spanish one, at the regional traffic police headquarters.  Vehicles registered in other countries can only be used for up to three months before requiring re-registration.  Vehicles are inspected annually (six monthly after ten years for commercials) through the state ITV system, it is extremely thorough. Insurance is very expensive through a high street agent, cheaper on-line.  Breakdown cover is mandatory (you are not allowed to tow a vehicle or repair punctures).  No claims bonus starts from scratch, taking four years to restore.  Once insured anyone can drive your vehicle.  Car tax is imposed by the local council, some are a lot more expensive than others


  • benefits – in Spain unemployment benefit is only payable for a short period and only after working a specific number of months. Other benefits exist but are rarely actually paid out, corruption in the system is rife.  Temporary employment with the council is possible for periods of several days up to a month, they decide what you will do for this


  • bureaucracy – ENDLESS. Plan on spending at least several days a year chasing and delivering documents that government departments could easy verify for themselves


  • the culture – every country in the world is fundamentally different to the one you have come from, so much so they might as well be on another planet.  To survive and benefit from this unique experience it is best to forget everything you previously knew and start afresh.  And never feel tempted to make comparisons, it just means you aren’t assimilating and it irritates the hell out of your new hosts.  One of the major differences in Iberia it is best to know from the outset is everyone is corrupt.  Don’t let this put you off, it is just the way in this part of the world (Arabic), so in order to survive and not get ripped off you will have to adapt to this, which means never trusting anyone (especially solicitors and the police), cultivating the right friends, and turning a blind eye when required


  • don’t expect too much –when it comes to decent puddings/ bread/ cakes/ or chocolate, they just don’t get it


  • cash income required – living off-grid it should be possible to survive on earning just 2,500 euros per person per year