Author: Peter Walton

Commuting across the continent

Updated Thursday, 22nd February 2007
Cheap air fares and bargain property prices make commuting within the EU a feasible proposition. But the price differentials may not last and there are pitfalls to avoid.

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At The Open University I have a colleague whose costs for taking the train from home in Manchester to the office in Milton Keynes are not a lot different from mine, flying from Andalucia. I'm sure Mancunians would understand why I prefer the sun and blue skies of the Mediterranean (not to mention the good red wine at £2 a bottle). The chance to do this is part of the gain that comes from the occasional pain of being part of the European Union, and it is a very attractive proposition, given the right kind of work. Granada airport Not a bad place to start or end a commute...

Even so, there are a number of things that you should be aware of when assessing whether it is a practical proposition in your case. The opportunity exists because of cheap air fares and cheap property outside the UK. However, in effect it is there because the market is slow to adjust, and over the medium term house prices will probably rise to reflect the price differential between the costs of commuting internationally and locally.

The same equation includes cheap air fares, and here there is a risk that the airline will reduce its services or put prices up. The cheap British airline operating into my local airport (Granada) dropped from seven flights a week to four last year, meaning that now I have sometimes to drive for two hours to Malaga, or buy more expensive tickets from a regular airline.

The housing is cheap, but getting any work done on a house is a nightmare. If you just want to replace a leaky roof, you need planning permission. The Spanish building culture is such that no job is refused. The builder says they will start at once, they arrive, remove the window you wanted replaced, and if you don’t badger them constantly, it could then be six months or more before they turn up with the new window.

Of course, you have to speak Spanish to be able to handle all that, so a lot of time and effort has to go into that. If you do not speak enough Spanish, you’re forced into the hands of expat builders, who may or may not know much about building, and are quite likely to get you into trouble with the town hall as well.

You need to be clear whether you are going to aim to work in the UK (or elsewhere) or create a business locally at the same time. Around where we live there are lots of expats who have decided to set up a business locally. This is sometimes disastrous, often not only for them but for their clients as well. Often they are realising a dream, but have neither training nor experience for their new work, such as the hairdresser who bought a bar, or the insurance agent running an unlicensed taxi service. Expat businesses are rarely efficient and often illegal. People significantly underestimate the cost of being properly registered to trade in Spain, where the red in the national flag reflects the red tape which is everywhere. Most of these businesses fail or bump along at subsistence level, until the town hall or the tax office catch up with them.

Being a Euro-commuter can be lots of fun, and you can have a great life. But you need to be prepared to work hard to get it set up, and spend a lot on professional advice – only after that can you sit on your sundeck with a glass in your hand. Cheers!

Further reading

  • 24 hour working – discover what’s driving our long hours culture, and how it impacts our health
  • Dream Commuters – The Money Programme investigates the British workers who are moving to other countries, but keeping their jobs in the UK



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