Although retiring to Gran Canaria might sound like a good plan, don’t start packing your bags just yet. When you choose where to retire, you are making a decision for life. You are going to buy a home and spend the rest of your days in the location of your choice, which means it is crucial to choose the right location for you.
If you have visited Gran Canaria many times on holiday and fallen in love with it, you should bear in mind that retiring and living somewhere is very different from visiting there as a tourist. Here are 7 cons to weigh in with your pros:
1) YOU’LL BE FAR FROM HOME
Retire to the coast and you can get home (if there is an emergency or if your friends or family need you) in an hour. Retire to mainland Spain and you can be home in 2 hours. Retire to the Canaries, which are located just off the north coast of Africa, and the flight alone is 4 hours.
When my Dad had an accident I discovered there was just one flight a week from Gran Canaria to Exeter. If your children visit you often (or vice versa) that won’t be happening after you retire to Gran Canaria. Can you really bear to swap your weekly visits for a one-week holiday in the summer and a few phone calls? You will be far from home and you will feel like you are.
2) SUMMER CAN BE UNBEARABLY HOT
Visit Gran Canaria in different seasons to make sure you can cope with the sometimes extreme weather. If you usually spend the winter in Gran Canaria and the summer in the UK (I know a few couples who do this) the summer might come as a shock. 40 C is not unheard of during August. 50 C can happen during a sirocco. I even suffered 60 C during one sirocco (calima).
If you can afford air conditioning (a fan is useless during sirocco) at least you can stay indoors. If not, your usually cool swimming pool will be hot, the “cold” water coming out of your shower will be hot and popping to the shop to pick up more ice and bottled water will be an ordeal. Likewise, when it’s 13 C in the winter and you don’t have central heating or double glazing you might dream of being next to an open fire back in the UK. You will miss the seasons, you’ll miss the “fresh” weather, you will miss the rain, you will miss the Autumn colours. You will miss the summer nights being light until 10pm. This far south it’s dark by 8pm even in the summer. Maybe you don’t believe such things are miss-able but just wait and see.
3) THE CULTURE IS VERY DIFFERENT
Canarians are nothing like the Brits or Irish (or any other nationality I know) and I’m saying that after 12 years of living here. Some things that seem normal to you seem strange to them, and vice versa. The Canarians like different food and different entertainment. They hold different values and have different hobbies. They even speak a different language! Canarians don’t understand sarcasm. They don’t get British humour. They don’t identify with British customs or etiquette.
They don’t know what’s going on in EastEnders or Coronation Street, they don’t know anything about the UK (apart from the absolute basics) and they don’t want to know either. You will find the odd exception but prepare for the worst. I’ve been here for 12 years and, although I have plenty of friends, I don’t have one Canarian friend. We’re just too different, I guess. I’m not anti-Canarian but I have 50 non-Canarian friends and no Canarian ones. Fact.
4) WHAT WILL YOU MISS?
Think about this one. What will you really miss? What do you like to do at the moment? What makes up the larger part of your day? Do you have a local pub where everyone knows you? Do you like to visit your children or grandchildren? Do you like High Street shopping? Do you enjoy eating out at good restaurants? Do you like British food and drinks at reasonable prices? You can forget most of that when you retire to Gran Canaria.
You can find a new local pub but that will take time. You won’t find as many shops as in the typical UK shopping centre or High Street. You can get imported British food and drink at super-inflated prices or learn to like Canarian food. You will miss your children and grandchildren. Spending an hour on Skype or MSN Messenger is not the same as living a 10 minute drive away. Your grandchildren will visit you in the summer and you will be shocked to see they’re a foot taller.
5) INTEGRATION CAN BE HARD
Living in a place where they speak a different language, have different beliefs, customs and more can be difficult. Moving from the North of England to the South can be hard enough but moving from the UK or Ireland to the Canaries can present even more problems.
Not only do you have to deal with all the day-to-day things but you will also need to open a bank account, buy a house, work out how to get your UK pension, buy a car and more. You will need to learn the language or afford an English-speaking lawyer. There will be misunderstandings, delays (what is important to you will be “yeah, manana, whatever” in Gran Canaria). Half my mail doesn’t arrive. Half of what I send doesn’t arrive either. The shops close for “siesta” from 1pm until 4pm or 5pm. The locals like to stay up until 2am (with their kids) and make as much noise as they can (or at least our neighbours do and so did the last ones and the ones before them).
6) THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
I’m not saying you can’t learn Spanish because of course you can if you want to. You cannot learn it overnight though. If you are determined to retire to Gran Canaria you will want to learn Spanish in the UK or wherever you are from before you come over. Some Canarians speak English but don’t expect it to be spoken outside the resorts. Don’t expect your doctor to speak English. Don’t expect your waiter to speak English (unless you’re in one of the resorts).
And don’t forget that Canarian Spanish bears very little resemblance to classic Spanish. They have different words and they pronounce things lazily, leaving off letters and sometimes omitting entire syllables. I have an A level in Spanish but it took me months to get used to the Canarian drawl. Sometimes I still can’t keep up.
7) GRAN CANARIA IS FOR TOURISTS
The island is full of tourists. If you’re on holiday you expect to hear drunk people singing outside your window at 3am. You expect the local shop to be packed with sweaty tourists in bikinis and Bermuda shorts. You might even expect to be hassled every single day by timeshare touts, reps from bars and restaurants trying to drag you in (because they’re on commission, not because the place is any good) and by other people trying to con you or sell you things you don’t want. Having to say “no thank you” every day becomes tedious.
So now what are you thinking…?
If you live in one of the main resorts, it will be like being on holiday for a few weeks and that will be fun. After that it depends whether you can put up with the endless hordes of tourists and everything that goes with tourism. It is very expensive to find a house, villa or bungalow in the tourist area besides, and the shops in the tourist resorts are really expensive. Do you really want to pay one pound fifty for a half-litre of milk or eighty pence for a peach? If you plan to live outside the tourist resorts, your neighbours will only speak Spanish and you will be totally away from any other Brits or Irish.
So you have a choice to make. I strongly suggest you read the above advice and bear it in mind. There are enough articles on the internet about how great Gran Canaria is and how wonderful it is to retire somewhere sunny but you might end up thinking the sun is the only good thing about the island. And once you realise what you miss, it might be too late.
My objective with this post is to give you the flip-side. Every cloud might have a silver lining but that means every silver lining has a cloud.
Weigh up the pros and cons. Visit the island during different seasons. Spend 3 months there and see how you feel.
Perhaps retiring to Gran Canaria would suit you perfectly. Or perhaps it would be the biggest mistake of your life.