11 pros and cons of retiring in the Canary Islands

The Canary Islands are an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean west of the African continent. At their closest point, they float just 62 miles west of Morocco. The eight main islands are Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa. There are also many smaller islets and islands that form the island group. Together they constitute the southernmost of the autonomous communities of Spain.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria are jointly the capitals of the islands, informally known as “the Canaries”. Although the islands are all of volcanic origin, their landscapes, flora and fauna are very different, ranging from near-rainforest to desert and vast beaches. Let’s first look at some statistics to see why retiring to these islands might be a desirable option.

1. Wonderful weather in the Canary Islands

The first favorable factor that attracts around 12 million visitors to the Canary Islands every year is undoubtedly the weather. An average of 2,800 hours of sunshine per year, with July being the sunniest month at 308 hours and December at 181 hours, tells its own story of good weather. Winters are generally warm enough to enjoy the fabulous beaches you will find on all the islands, while summers can be quite hot, especially in the desert parts like Mas Palomas in Gran Canaria, where you will find vast dunes.

2. Ease of access

There are of course many other factors to consider when considering the best place to retire. Looking at the statistics, that around 200,000 people have chosen one or the other of the Canary Islands as their retirement home, it is obvious that there must be quite a few pros. We will address them in turn. An important fact is that it is easy to get there. Each of the islands has an airport with the exception of Tenerife which has two, one to the north and one to the south, both international. Additionally, many cruise ship lines reach the Canaries, as do inter-island ferries.

3. A diverse retiree population

This survey gives an interesting insight into the countries where retirees in the Canary Islands come from and what their reasons are. It shows that many retirees come from cold European countries such as Norway, Germany, Finland, the United Kingdom and Ireland as well as Austria, among other things to escape the cold winters.

It’s not just Europeans who retire here; there are also many North and South Americans who make their retirement home in these blessed islands.

Pro tip: Deciding where to make your retirement home is a complex decision. Even more so if you are moving to another continent, as would be the case if you are an American considering leaving the United States to move to Spain. A different culture, a different way of life, a different language and more will affect your retirement life – and might even be a bit of a culture shock. Read on for the additional pros and cons of the Canary Islands retreat, which I share with Americans in mind.

4. Advantages and disadvantages of the Canary Islands lifestyle

Life in the Canary Islands moves at a leisurely pace; no one is particularly in a hurry. In fact, one of the first words you need to learn is mananawhich means “tomorrow”.

Does your plumber promise to be home at 11 a.m.? Don’t bet on it. It could be several hours later or, in fact, the next day. The same goes for punctuality. Have you been invited to a meal or a party? Do not show up at the agreed time. You will only confuse your host.

Speaking of meal times, Spaniards eat much later than Americans or other Europeans. That said, South Americans will have no difficulty adapting.

  • Breakfast usually consists of coffee and a pastry, followed by a snack around 11am.
  • Lunch takes place between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. and can last for several hours due to the habit of entremeseswhen people sit long after the food has been eaten, they chat and drink cognac or appetizers.
  • Dinner is even later and rarely starts before 9 p.m.

Another thing you have to get used to is the siesta. Office workers go home for lunch and do not return to work until 5:00 p.m. and then work until 8 or 9 p.m. With the exception of supermarkets, shops also close between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., but reopen until 9 p.m. or later. This custom will require adjustments and planning by expatriate retirees.

Pro tip: Note that magazines, newspapers and tobacco are only sold in state-controlled stores called estancos.

5. Conditions of residence in the Canary Islands

As a non-EU resident, you can only stay in Spain (remember that the Canary Islands are part of Spain) for a maximum of 90 days without a visa. If you want to live there longer, and whether you want to live and work there or retire on passive income, you need to apply for residency, and there are several ways and types of visas to consider.

Generally, all involve a lot of paperwork, time and money, and you are well advised to start the process well in advance of your planned retirement date – and by contacting your nearest Spanish consulate or embassy.

On the ground in Spain, you will need to contract the services of an English-speaking lawyer (abogado) and one administrator. This person is a professional who manages and administers your paperwork, which is abundant. In fact, you need both, as one takes care of the legalities and the other the paperwork. Not bad budget for fees, not only for professionals but also for authorities.

6. Social life in the Canary Islands

People retiring on the islands tend to cluster together. Depending on the nationalities and the size of the respective islands, they will form communities where, for example, Swedes, Britons or Americans will meet regularly to exchange opinions, experiences or simply socialize. This can obviously be an advantage but also a disadvantage as it can become claustrophobic or restrictive. It’s entirely up to you what you want to do.

Culture vultures will also find the islands a bit set back. Don’t look for operas, shows or big theatrical productions. There are cinemas and of course, many local fiestas (festivals) where you can watch dance performances and learn about local customs. There are also historical sites and, for astronomers, several top-notch observatories.

Generally speaking, the locals are welcoming to foreigners and you would do well to learn at least the basics of Spanish. Not only will it make everyday life easier, but it will also open doors and bring out big smiles.

7. Taxes of the Canary Islands

Regardless of your status, as an expat you must pay taxes in Spain. The tax office is called Hacienda and you certainly don’t want any trouble with them. One of your first visits should therefore be to your gestor. Don’t forget that you will probably also have to pay US taxes.

Pro tip: One of the first documents you need is the tax identification number (TIN), without which you cannot buy a car or property or open a bank account.

8. Food in the Canary Islands

The Canary Islands, in particular the Orotava Valley, are very fertile, which allows for fresh and healthy food. Sitting in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean there is plenty of fish and seafood too. Food is cheaper than in many northern European countries, and outside of the supermarkets it is a joy to d Explore the many local markets for the freshest seasonal produce.

9. Healthcare in the Canary Islands

One of the most important considerations for retirees is health. Fortunately, the healthcare system for expatriates in Spain is excellent. Thanks to your residence, once obtained, you have access to the social security system and can obtain your SIP card, and with it, free health care.

There are many public hospitals with specialists for just about everything. Of course, if you wish, you can also, like me, take out private health insurance, but retirees must consider that there are age limits (different from company to company), but generally, you will need to be 60 or younger to be accepted.

10. Obtain a driver’s license

If you are American and want to drive a motor vehicle in Spain, which you will certainly do at some point as a retiree, you will need your US driver’s license as well as an International Driving Permit (IDP ). Here is how to get the IDP.

The con is that this American-driver’s-licence-plus-IDP bliss doesn’t last forever. Long-term American residents for more than 6 months must exchange their American license for a Spanish one.

Unfortunately, that means going through the whole process, not just an exchange of documents. Get ready for medical tests, driving lessons, driving tests and high fees. The minimum age to obtain a license in Spain is 18 and the minimum age to rent a car is 21.

11. Cost of living in the Canary Islands

It is difficult to give an accurate estimate of the cost of living because it depends on many factors. Tourist centers are more expensive than remote areas, and this also applies to the Canary Islands. It also depends on the number of dependents in your family and whether you plan to rent a property or buy one. Renting is more common in Spain, but, given that it’s such a beautiful and healthy destination, people might want to retire to a permanent home (apart from the one they might want keep in their country of origin).

Here’s a good look at the cost of living, from food and clothing to amenities like electricity and telephone. Note that internet in the Canary Islands is quite expensive.

If you are thinking of buying, according to idealista, the cheapest islands to buy are Gran Canaria and Tenerife.

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