Pre-COVID Diligence

There’s a lot more that goes into researching somewhere as a place to live, compared to simply as a place to visit.  First, you can’t just show up.  While no visa is required to visit Spain, any visits of over 90 days require a visa.  Many visas are available, and I checked out what the various options were.  The consensus was that the easiest to obtain is a visado de residencia no lucrativa – a non-lucrative tourist visa.  This is for people who don’t want to have a local job in Spain.  From the various websites I looked at, it seemed ambiguous (at best) whether you could work remotely with one of these visas, but we hadn’t made up our mind regarding whether we wanted to work or not.

Second, we’d never traveled anywhere with the dogs before.  Aside from one weekend in Idyllwild a few years back (where the dogs embarrassed themselves, and us, repeatedly), they’d never gone anywhere overnight, ever.  And since they are both bulldogs, we knew that our options would be more limited.  It turns out there are companies that specialize in pet relocations, and I reached out to a couple of them in February 2020.  When they wrote back, we knew it was feasible to move them, although it would not be inexpensive.  They’d require their own crates (a size bigger than normal, for bulldogs), and couldn’t fly during the summer, so that at least gave us a window for when to plan our trip.

Third, you need full-blown health insurance, and travel insurance doesn’t cut it.  The instructions on the websites we checked out all indicated that insurance had to be no-deductible, no co-pay insurance, presumably to make it easier on the hospitals.  Since Spain, like any other (real) first-world country, has nationalized healthcare, people don’t pay anything at the hospitals.  And so the hospitals don’t really deal with collecting payments from the citizens.  So, to make people on insurance be on equal footing to the citizens – relative to treatment at the hospitals – the visas require the insurance to not have deductibles or co-pays.  I reached out to a couple companies in the late winter and was shocked, in a good way, at the pricing.

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Fourth, where you end up residing is much more consequential when you’re planning to be there for a year instead of a week.  Items that are less significant on a trip (proximity to mass transit, proximity to grocery stores, proximity to vet offices, number of bathrooms and amount of closet space) take on much more importance, so getting to know the lay of the land is very important.  We’d walked a good amount of the city and thus I had a decent map in our head of the area.  I checked out several real estate websites and eventually focused on Idealista, which seemed to have a good interface and a substantial number of listings.  Checking out the new listings every day, looking at the respective photos, and looking at where they were on the map (even if approximate in many cases), slowly but surely gave a more complete picture of the city and its various neighborhoods.  The websites all seemed to delineate Puerto into 5 main neighborhoods:

  1. Distrito Playa Jardin – on the west side of town, near the big beach (Playa Jardin) and the big tourist attraction (Loro Parque), but also with some larger homes away from the beach in the middle of banana plantations
  2. Distrito Martianez – the center of town, with Plaza de Charco on the western part and Lago Martianez and a smaller beach (Playa Martianez) on the eastern part.  The district is probably on the order of 100 square blocks, give or take.
  3. Distrito Botanico – on the east side of town, but also at a little higher elevation, near the Botanic Garden.  Just east of Playa Martianez there are large cliffs above the water, and the La Paz neighborhood is above the cliffs.  This neighborhood appeared to have more expats, better views, and more space, but with commensurate higher costs.
  4. Distrito San Fernando– between Distrito Playa Jardin and Distrito Botanico, and to the south of Distrito Martianez.  This district included properties around Parque Taoro and Parque Sortija, some of which had great access and views.
  5. Distrito San Antonio - south of Distrito San Fernando, far away from any touristic items

Fifth, knowing the language is far more important if you’re going to be there for a while, and particularly if you’re going to visit areas outside of the main touristy areas.  So I started taking Spanish lessons online, using Duolingo, in early February.  I should’ve learned more Spanish in high school, but I stopped after 2 years so as to not jeopardize my GPA.  Spanish was easily the toughest class for me in high school, so after I finished my two years, that was good enough.

So, as of late February, we were on our way, and everything was looking promising. We had dinner with my friend Zack and his wife Anna in February, as Anna had retired early, and they'd had practice living on a budget. Everything they said was sensible, and nothing was too surprising, and I felt pretty confident that things would work out. In early March, on 11 March, I had a call with my boss where I told her that we'd likely be leaving by the end of the year, and I wanted to give her a very long runway to work around that I'd probably be quitting - or greatly curtailing my work - sometime before the year end. Later that day we went out to dinner to celebrate my quasi-retirement, and chatted for a long while with another couple and the bartender. My phone kept going off, but I didn't pay any mind until we left for the walk back to our place. I saw that Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID, the NBA season had been suspended, Tom Hanks had contracted COVID, and trans-Atlantic flights to Europe had been suspended. In an instant, everything changed. 

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