‘Health care will keep us from going back to the U.S.,’ says Texas couple who retired to Spain on about $2,000 a month

Call ‘em Texpats.

Kevin and Susan Bryant, 55 and 48, spent most of their lives in Texas, recently in retiree hot spot Austin. But “when Austin became a mini Silicon Valley, we were priced out,” Kevin, a now-retired history teacher and principal, tells MarketWatch.

History buff Kevin says he’d always wanted to live in Europe — “in a castle, specifically, but I let that part go,” he jokes — and began hunting for where the couple might retire on his educator’s pension. They considered more than a dozen countries, finally settling on Spain for a variety of reasons, including its relative affordability, good health care, and that his teacher’s pension could qualify as income to help him get residency there.

To find the right spot, they toured Spain, rejecting Barcelona because it was too big; Tarragona because it was too far north (they wanted somewhere a little warmer); and Peñiscola, because, though they liked it, Susan jokes, “I could never tell my mother I lived in a town with that name.”

They found Denia, a coastal town where they now live, by accident: “Looking at the map one morning, I noticed that a ferry from Ibiza docks at a place called Denia. I immediately thought that very interesting people go to Ibiza, and many must go by that route, so we should check out this place,” Kevin, who has one grown child, explains.

They loved Denia for a number of reasons, including its historic architecture (there’s even an ancient Moorish castle for Kevin to visit), great food (Unesco named it a Creative City of Gastronomy), four-season climate and coastal location. Plus, Susan adds: “It’s a very family-oriented city with lots of celebrations.”

They moved to Denia in 2016. Here’s what their lives are like now, from costs, to health care to residency and downsides.

The cost: The Bryants say they live on Kevin’s pension from being a teacher, and say they “live very well on $2,000 per month.” They spend about $665 on rent (they live in a two-bedroom apartment near the beach with a shared pool), $82 on electricity, $33 on water, $33 on internet, $44 on phone, $90 on gym, $130 on health insurance, $490 on food each month, they tell MarketWatch.

The Bryants save money by not owning a car. They live on the bus line and say they spend about $30 a month taking the bus to and from town. (They note that a taxi home from a dinner out might cost them $12.)

They spend most of their extra money on travel, having recently hit up the Greek Isles and enjoyed many short trips through Spain. They point out that travel within Europe often isn’t that pricey because flights are short and low-cost via regional carriers. And mostly they take bus trips to nearby towns like Valencia (about a $13 ride) and Benidorm ($5).

Health care: The Bryants say they spend roughly $130 for both of them for private health insurance each month — and they’ve been very pleased with the quality of their care. “I go to the freaking doctor here. I grew up male in Texas — we don’t go to the doctor unless something is dangling off or broken,” he jokes. “Any time we need something now we go to see the doctor, we get in in a day or two,” he adds, noting that “our doctor is Dutch and speaks five languages — cool guy, too.” Some expats may be able to qualify for the free state health-care system in Spain (here are the guidelines); expats who don’t qualify for that — or who want to forgo the sometimes long waits that come with the public system — can buy private insurance to cover themselves. (You can read about the different health-care systems here).

He credits his great relationship with the doctor, and excellent experience with the Spanish health system, with catching the cancer spots on his face and head early and offering a treatment that was less than $100. “If I was still in the U.S., the cancer spots would still be growing because I wouldn’t know it was there,” he says.

Spain is known for having quality health care: A study published in The Lancet on quality and access to health care puts Spain in the top 20 countries, above the United States, which was ranked 29th.

The Bryants are so pleased with the low cost and quality of health care in Spain that they say it’s a major reason they’ll never leave. “Health care is the thing that will keep us from going back to the U.S. We can afford to grow old gracefully and see doctors here. It will not break us.” He adds: “As things stand, and as I see them standing into the future, health care costs in the U.S. completely preclude our ever returning to live there. It would be wonderful to have the option, but we don’t.”

Residency: The process of getting visas to move to — and now stay in — the country hasn’t been smooth at all. When they initially went into the consulate in Houston in the hopes of moving, they came armed with all the paperwork they were told on the website that they needed — only to be informed that those papers weren’t enough.

“People from Spain were in there and heard the whole thing. I asked them, ‘Is this the way it always is?’ And they all started laughing and saying yes,” Kevin says. It took them three trips to the Houston consulate to get their visas.

Now they must get their visas renewed to stay in Spain, and Kevin says it has been “a real hassle,” adding that: “We eventually had to hire a lawyer and our case is in progress. Given another chance, I’d hire the lawyer straight off and let them do all the work.” Here is an overview of getting visas to stay in Spain.

The cons: The hardest thing for both Kevin and Susan has been missing their family stateside.

“After that, lack of instant taste gratification. In a major U.S. city, almost any food craving can be satisfied at any time of day or night,” Kevin says, adding that there is an upside to the lack of options in Denia though: That has “made me a much better cook as I attempt to replicate some tastes.” But he jokes: “I have failed to replicate one of my favorite dishes, cheese enchiladas in chile gravy.”

Plus, the language has been “an amusing challenge” for the Bryants. Kevin studied Spanish in school and “even remembered some of it,” he says. “I expected to be fluent fairly quickly, but we moved to a place where many speak Valencian rather than Castilian, so my progress is slower than expected.” Susan didn’t have any Spanish language background, but she’s taking classes and now says that while she can’t converse that well, she can understand and read things better.

Bottom line: “It’s a lot more laid back here, people look out for one another,” Susan says. But she adds: “I love America and always will.”

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