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Mum Abroad Interview

Posted by 
Michelle Hughes
23rd October 2018

Whereabouts do you live and what is the area like?

I live in Javea on the Costa Blanca North – Javea is about an hour’s drive north of Alicante airport, and around an hour south of Valencia airport. It is a lovely town that has three different areas – the Arenal with the sandy beach which is popular with tourists, the Port overlooked by the cape of San Antonio and the lighthouse. Then there is the Old Town with its historical buildings, cobbled streets full of traditional bars and restaurants – it’s a great place for trying different tapas and sampling the local seafood. All these areas are within a 10 minutes drive of each other. There really is something for everyone and there is a good mix of nationalities living here. Also Javea is well located because Benidorm is only half an hour away where there are several theme parks. We can buy annual passes to these parks including TerraMitica and MundoMar.

How long have you lived in Javea?

It will be 5 years in April 2014

Why did you decide to move there?

I wanted a better quality of life for my son who is now 13 - I used to work full time and drop him off first thing to a childminder and collect him in the evening. Even from a young age, I’m not sure why, but I always wanted to live in Spain but thought I would be a lot older before I would have the opportunity. It’s a bit strange as my Mum and sisters have never even been abroad – not even to visit me!

What was your experience of relocating to the region with your son?

To start with it was a little difficult to meet new friends so it did take about a year for us to feel settled. We have a large family and initially Ethan missed his cousins. However, now he prefers Spain and is so lucky with the experiences he has had from learning water polo and horse riding to jet skiing and school ski holidays. I only knew one person living here when I relocated but I joined a gym and got involved in different activities to try and meet new people. I think for anyone you have to give it time and not make a decision in the first year.

I also think it helps that with internet you can easily stay in touch with friends and family back home and you can get English TV if you want to, so I’m afraid I still watch Coronation Street and Eastenders. I thought driving on the left side of the road would be difficult, as I had never done it before, but within a day I was fine and soon driving mad like the Spanish!

You own a business called Villamia – Specialists in Long Term Rentals. Can you tell us a bit about it?

I was lucky enough that the previous owner was moving back to the UK so I bought it just over 2 years ago. We are the main rental agency in the area specialising in long term rentals – mainly 11 month contracts. VillaMia has an excellent reputation and has been operating for around 9 years now. There are many agents in the area but we are number one on major search engines such as google. Many of our clients return to us each time they are looking for a different rental or their tenancies expire. It is great to have such loyal clients.

We also offer a Property Management Service where we take responsibility for a property in the absence of the owners. Ensuring maintenance work is completed, utility bills are paid, tenants are monitored and we are the first point of contact for their tenants, giving the owners the security that their property is being well looked after. At the moment we need more properties to rent out!

There has been a significant increase in the number of people moving into this area. We have several excellent International Schools in and around Javea that are attracting more families. The amazing clarity of air and the great record Javea holds for its healthy environment attracts clients who looking to retire or simply live in a really healthy environment.

The hardest part for us at the moment is finding more properties. I have now set up a microsite to encourage and attract new owners. Many home owners are trying to rent out their properties themselves but by doing this, the owners can be left quite vulnerable, plus their property may remain empty for some time before a prospective tenant finds out it is available to rent. Our Finders Fee is very reasonable and our services are paid for only when we have secured a tenant and a rental income is guaranteed.

How easy was it to buy the business when you did?

It was all very easy and straightforward. My gestor did all the paperwork and set up my social security payments. He deals with all the accounts side of my business. My background is PR and Marketing so I think that helped as I’m organized and used to working under pressure and to deadlines. VillaMia is consistently achieving but I am always looking to develop the business and make it even more successful. I’m glad that many of the skills I learnt in my old career can be used now. So I am developing a new website, VillaMia has a facebook page, we have had leaflets created and distributed, plus VillaMia supports many of the local fund raising events and charity organisations.. I am very proactive when it comes to the marketing side.

One thing people need to be aware of is that if they set up as a sole trader (autonomo) they will need to pay around 250 euros a month social security whether they make any profit at first or not.

How easy is it being a single mum and working full time?

To be honest I don’t know any different as it has been like that from the beginning. I had no choice but to return to work when Ethan was 3 months old. I just get on with it but it can be hard finding the right balance. I used to sit in front of a laptop in the evenings when I first took over the business but now try and switch off during the evenings and keep weekends as free as possible. I haven’t had a proper holiday since I took over the business as we tend to have weekends away but one day I would love a fortnight off to go to Disney World. I don’t have anyone else to help with the business when I’m away so it would be impossible at the moment. The school holidays over here are around 13 weeks but I take in exchange students for around 5 weeks to break it up and give Ethan company on the evenings and weekend. During the holidays I still work but finish earlier whenever I can.

How well integrated would you say you and your son are?

The area has a high level of expats – we are very happy and settled but don’t have many Spanish friends. Now we have a great selection of close friends met through school and work, so Ethan usually has a friend over to stay on a weekend night or he will visit a friend´s house. I know if I needed anyone to look after Ethan it wouldn’t be a problem.

What language do you speak with your son?


Do you think it essential to speak Spanish where you live? How good was your knowledge of Spanish before you moved to Javea?

I know it is awful but you can get by with a really limited knowledge of Spanish. I knew very little of the language when I moved over and despite lessons, I’m still not very good. Even in work you can contact the utility companies via email in English and they reply in English. My son attends an International school and they have Spanish lessons almost every day so his Spanish is very good. I would like to improve my Spanish though and I’m still plodding along with my books, Spanish phone apps and listening to Spanish radio.

Do you rent or own a property and how did you find the renting/buying process?

I own a property in Wales but I rent in Spain. Again, a rental contract is easy – you just need an address, even one in the UK is fine, and a passport. The deposit is usually 2 months and you pay the first month’s rent in advance. I live in a 4 bed townhouse within walking distance to everything and love it. Renting is great because if anything goes wrong, such as the oven breaks or there is a leak, it is the owners responsibility. I think renting is much easier than people expect and I have managed to do viewings and have people move in to a property within two days.

How welcoming have the locals been towards you and your family? How would you describe a typical local?

Everyone is really friendly. There are many women here on their own much of the time with their partners working off shore so there are always plenty of friends that you can meet for a coffee or night out. It is quite a small town so you always bump into people you know.

What is your impression of childcare and education where you live?

There is a good selection of state and international schools and I think the education seems very good. Although, we have the added ´complication´ of Valenciano as a dialect taught in some schools, Casteliano is still the primary language spoken and taught at most local schools.

What school does your son go to?

He attends the Laude Lady Elizabeth School – he has been there since we arrived and is now in the senior school. He was 8 when I moved over so I didn’t think it would be fair to put him into the Spanish education system especially when at the time I didn’t know how long I would stay in Spain. For anyone wanting information they can go to www.laudeladyelizabeth.com

Why did you choose this school and are you happy with your choice?

Yes I am happy with my choice. I think Spanish schools have a lot of time off and half days so it would have been very difficult to work. I went to the school beforehand for a look around and liked the facilities and the headmaster, Richard Wijeratne, is very approachable and helpful. They also offer a lot of activities outside the classroom so Ethan did piano lessons, football and water polo after school.

Are there any services, activities for kids, day-trips for kids, family-friendly restaurants or kids’ shops you’d like to recommend?

There is everything from dance and drama clubs to kids golf lessons and tennis coaching. In school holidays there are also various football and general clubs. Ethan used to attend Benitachell Arts Centre in some of the summer holidays. The majority of restaurants are child friendly – there is also play equipment on the Arenal beach so many families meet down there and can have a drink and watch the children. Carnaval is one of my favourite places on the Arenal

What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in the region?

The advantage is that there are a lot of people in the same shoes as you and you will support each other. For the children, rather than play dates they tend to have more sleep-overs in Spain

The disadvantage for me is through working I miss so many of the social events. Many mums around here go to zumba, the gym, if they have preschool children there are 'mothers and toddler' groups and they can meet up for lunch and coffees but this is more difficult for me as a working mum

Is there anything you think would improve children's lives where you live?

The Mayor seems to be doing good work and making many improvements. The skate park is very run down and could do with some investment.

What advice would you give for anyone thinking of relocating to Javea with children?

Just do it, don’t over complicate things. Yes it will be hard at first but it is a fantastic place to live. The main thing is income as it is hard to make a living here and there are tons of gardeners, poolman, cleaners and beauticians for example but if you have an income you shouldn’t have any problems

What couldn't you live without in Javea?

The beach – it is so lovely to have a walk down there and a coffee looking out at the Montgo mountain or the sea.

What could you live without in Javea?

Tourists in August – the area gets so busy and you can’t park and the restaurants are full. It is much nicer out of season when the restaurants do a ‘menu del dia’ which are much better value.

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03730 Javea (Alicante), 

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