Expat Stories – Cathy Arrington

Cathy Arrington is a Cigna Global customer. She moved from the USA to Spain in 2019.

Cathy Arrington

Cathy Arrington moved from the USA to Spain in 2019.

In this interview, Cathy shares her expat story with us.

Can you tell us about your expat move?

I moved from Portland, Oregon to Barcelona, Spain with my husband in February 2019. I retired in the middle of December and in that 6-8 week period, I went from a full-time job, to packing up my home, moving out of it, storing all of our things and getting onto a plane with just suitcases and our dog.

We arrived in Barcelona and initially stayed at an Airbnb, because in Barcelona, you can’t rent ahead of time. You have to do it while you are here and have your bank account set up first. It is very bureaucratic.

There were a lot of changes all at once and I’m a person who really likes to be in control. This was so beyond being in control that it is very unlike me to do something like.

But it has been a terrific experience so far!

How did you end up in Spain?

We narrowed down places that were affordable, had a great culture and all that kind of stuff. We wanted to have easy access to do a lot of international travel. It needed to be warm and sunny since palm trees are one of my favourite things.

We did research on various places and kept narrowing it down. We decided to move here and it was funny because our daughter-in-law said she had never heard of any Barcelona stories.

We looked at her and said “but we’ve never been to Barcelona.” We came for a 2 week visit and on the very first night, I said let’s do this!

I could tell that the city had the right feel and things like that. So we spent those 2 weeks walking around different neighbourhoods, over and over, just to get a feel for the place and for where we wanted to be.

We met with a relocation firm and we then moved within the next year. That was how we got here.

How have you found settling into your new life in Barcelona?

In some ways, it is very easy and very relaxing and we’ve found a fabulous apartment. It has a really large terrace. So that has really helped!

But part of it is very hard. We have not only Spanish to learn, but Catalan too. So it is tricky.

We live right across the street from a public market and they speak primarily Catalan, so I learn the words for fruits and vegetables through that!

It must have been quite challenging this year during the COVID-19 pandemic, but on the flip-side of that, have been some of the biggest highlights from your expat journey so far?

We haven’t been able to travel much because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But one of the smartest things that really helped was, I found several expat groups through Facebook.

I found a social organisation called the Barcelona women’s network. I decided to be really brave and after only a month of being here, I went along to a meeting and I joined the organisation. It is an English speaking based group.

There are women of all ages from all over the world and there are some really fascinating people. A lot of the events and include spouses, partners and all of that.

My husband has been able to come to a few events and meet people too, so we’ve made friends from the group. Making friends has definitely helped. I think so much of getting settled here is just about how relaxing things are.

There is such a lovely culture here, walking around and seeing the beauty of the architecture just reminds you how much of a lovely city Barcelona is. Now we just want to be able to travel more.

It sounds like the women’s group that you mentioned was a great way of making friends then?

Yes definitely! What’s nice about it is, I remember a time last August, I’d only been here about 5 months or so, and my husband was traveling out of the country on business. We had a horrible rainstorm here and our backyard started to flood.

It was almost coming into the house and then the power went out. I told a few people close by that I was signing off because the power was about to go out, and I immediately got a notification on my phone.

It was one of the woman from the group, she said that they still had power and it was fine for me to come over. This was immediately during the power outage when I needed help the most! It took away all of that anxiety about the situation.

It’s that kind of a thing where everybody has each other’s backs because we’re all in it together.

What do you miss about your home country?

I really miss my family and especially during this whole time of the pandemic. We had to cancel a really special trip with our kids in April.

So we haven’t seen them this year and we aren’t sure when we will be able to see them in 2020 at all. That is really hard.

Also, not just our kids, but both my sister’s and their families are also back in the US. I miss my friends too of course.

What advice would you give to those who are considering making an expat move?

I would suggest to really think it through. Think about your budget, there can be surprises, hidden fees or crazy extra rules that are different depending on the country. So I would say try and figure out what some of the local customs are.

Whether it is better to rent or buy, you know things like that. The real estate rules are very different here in Spain for example. I would strongly recommend using a relocation service and make sure they are a good one, check their references and things like that.

Make sure they are the right match for you. I also think visiting the country ahead of time will help. Try to really do your homework before you go.

Think about using Facebook or another tool for expat groups. Try and join something where you can go out and meet new people.

How much would you recommend an expat move?

I mean, if I can do it, then anybody can do it. It’s such an exciting journey.  You have to really think about it for yourself. If you are moving with a partner, really try and make a decision between both of you for it. We made a deal ourselves that I could say I need to go home.

But we don’t call the US our home anymore, our home is now here. I think having a back-up plan or at least home visits built into your budget can be really helpful.

I’m looking forward to doing more trips. Also, it helps that the wine here in Spain is really cheap and really good (laughs).

Finally, how would you describe your expat journey in 10 words or less?

Exciting, healthier living and travel opportunities.

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