British people started to move to Spain’s coasts looking for a better way of life during the 1970s. This triggered something of a mass movement during the 1980s and 1990s and by 2010 there were almost a million British living in Spain. They were (and perhaps still are) Spain largest migrant group. British live in all areas of Spain, but the coastal migration is a special phenomenon. It was triggered by a combination of things, especially package tourism, followed by cheap airlines, a well-developed infrastructure, and in time better and better technological links to the UK. These changes, combined with high disposable incomes, longer holidays, and the opportunity for early retirement led to the development of second home ownership, followed by people moving there permanently. While many of the first migrants were retired, people setting up businesses to serve the many tourists and the settled community soon followed them. British in Spain are very innovative; they run bars and restaurants, they work in estate agencies, in timeshare, in property maintenance; they clean pools, cut hair, take care of dogs. In fact anywhere there is a need an entrepreneurial Brit will arise to make a small living out of it that in turn will fund their new life in the sun. Despite impressions to the contrary, the British in Spain are not all old or retired. There are many families and young children. This is not (only) retirement or elderly migration.
I have been studying this phenomenon on and off, using ethnographic methods, since the early 1990s. I have also been a peripatetic migrant to Spain myself, having lived there for over four years, and I owned a second home there for over ten years. I will not try to summarize here all my work on this topic, but there are a few things the study of British migration to Spain has taught us that I summarise briefly under other headings.
I have not continued to research British migration to Spain since the global financial crisis and recession, but there are many other academics now doing research in this area and we know that there are still many British living in Spain very happily, but a lot have come back home, and many are struggling to survive there and would like to come home but cannot afford to See The Lifestyle Migration Hub. Whether it ever picks up again as a major destination for British abroad remains to be seen.