Posted in Spain, Spanish life

Transferring money from Canada to Europe

I did a lot of research when it was time to transfer a lot of money to buy our dream house in Spain.  It can be overwhelming to find the best way to move large sums of money in a timely manner at the best possible currency exchange rate.

The first step will be to open a Spanish bank account.  I will have a separate post on the subject of opening a bank account and why it is a good idea to get a mortgage even if you don’t need one when buying a property.  The actual opening of an account is relatively easy if you already have an NIE identification number which you obtain when you apply for the long-stay Visa. You can read the past blog here.

I read countless articles and blogs online to find the best and easiest way to transfer money.  I checked the currency rates daily and made comparisons  using different companies.  The two best companies to move money from Canada to Europe were Transferwise and Currencies Direct. 

I made several transfers with the two companies. Transferwise is my favorite way. There is a smart phone application which makes the process seamless. You can also use the website online access.  With Currencies Direct, you can do it online for amounts of less then 25,000 British Pounds but must speak to someone on the phone for larger amounts. In both cases, you must have a bank account in Canada and Europe. 

The exchange rate is about the same. When you compare online, the Currencies Direct rate will appear superior for amounts of more than $60,000.  They also say there are no fees but don’t be fooled.  When it was time to actually do the transfer, the rate was inferior and I had to negotiate with them to get the equivalent transfer amount as Transferwise.  For the big transfer, I preferred to use Currencies Direct because I felt more secure with speaking to a human instead of using the smartphone application.

You can use this website to compare rates by companies but this is only an indication, not a guaranteed rate. These are posted rates for large amounts. Transferwise uses the mid-market rate which is more accurate. Only the application will give you a guaranteed rate at the time of initiating the transfer. Cuex website link here.

There are several choices when making a transfer.  With Transferwise, on the smartphone application, I choose “pay an invoice”, it’s fast and has no additional costs. You then need to go to your bank’s internet bank site and pay the invoice in the name of Transferwise with your account number.  You get notifications at every step.  It takes about 3 business days to complete the transfer.  It is very efficient and painless.

With Currencies Direct, you must first make a wire transfer in the Currencies Direct bank account in the country of origin; in Canada, they use Bank of Montreal.  This requires you to fill out a wire transfer form with your own bank and pay a fee.  With our bank, Vancity, based in Vancouver, we paid $20 per wire transfer.  Vancity called us to verify our identity and then wired the funds to Currencies Direct.  It takes only one or two business days to transfer the funds to Currencies Direct’s bank account. Someone from their UK office contacts you when the funds have reached their account.  You then need to decide whether you want to make an immediate transfer to your Spain bank account or delay to a future date.  You can also decide to transfer only when you get the currency exchange rate you want.  The rate is somewhat negotiable as well if you can clearly demonstrate that you would have done better with Transferwise.  Since I was making big transfers, I would “squeeze” them a bit. For those who know me well, know that I can be very well prepared and persuasive!  It is worth asking. 

It definitely takes more steps with Currencies Direct but you have more flexibility in when to actually do the transfer if you have time to wait for the best rate.  Of course, waiting can also work against you.  It can be stressful to exchange large sums of money.  I did several transfers over several days to hedge my bets.  Our timing was very poor with a low Canadian dollar this past December and January.

Now that our large transfers are done, I will use Transferwise for our regular money transfers.  Their rate is highly competitive and there is no need to contact my bank or talk to anyone. It’s direct and super easy with the app.

Here are the two websites link. I do not get any compensation whatsoever and these are not formal recommendations. I merely share my own personal experiences on this blog.


Currencies Direct

Posted in Spain, Spanish life, Travelling with a dog

The single most question I am asked is: What to wear in winter on the costa del sol?

We have been in the south of Spain since October 28 and the weather has just been fantastic. We only had a handful of overcast days and hardly any rain. Temperature ranged from 18 to 24C on average. Quite pleasant for walking, hiking, biking and sitting on a terrace, sipping wine and watching the world go by. It gets much cooler at night however or on cloudy days. So, even in the fall, you will need a warm sweater at night.

It is noticeably cooler this week in Nerja officially the start of winter my Spanish professor said today. For a Canadian it feels much more like a sunny day in October however.

Early mornings and evenings are cool, sometimes going down as much as 4C, in January, February and early March, so you will definitely need a jacket for going out at night but in the mid-day sun, it is still very warm and you will be happy to be in a t-shirt and even having a hat if you are sensitive to sunlight.

So the best thing you can do, is wear layers. T-shirt, sweater and a scarf is my daily attire in January. That is the way I start the day and as soon as I am walking in the sun, the layers come off. The sun is incredibly strong here and when it comes out, it is hot! In the shade however, you will want to put back your sweater or cardigan. On cloudy days, you may need a fall jacket. I have a short leather jacket which I find perfect for evenings and on cloudy days.

Jeans or a dress with tights works best for me. Terry wears his shorts everyday and jeans at night. I have a paid of boots as well for evenings but you can do without that if you wear closed shoes or runnings.

As far as Amy lou, the fashionista is concerned, she wears a “cooling” dress on really hot days and a fleece on especially overcast days. Rarely do we need to put on her rain coat, although, February is coming and it is known as the rainiest and coolest month of the year!

To summarize, t-shirts, shorts, jeans, sweaters, wrap or scarf and a light fall coat for evenings is what you will need during winter months on the costa del sol and a fleece for your small dog!

Here are a few pictures of daytime activities this month with friends visiting and with my wonderful weekly hiking group.

Posted in Spanish life

Life in Spain: why the Spaniards live longer


A new study came out this week from the Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle USA which forecasts that people in Spain are predicted to have the longest life expectancy in the world by 2040 beating Japan into second place.  The comprehensive study finds that much of the reason is to do with the way they eat.  There is very little high blood pressure and blood sugar here and drinking is reasonable. The Mediterranean diet is also known to be promoting health.  They eat a lot of healthy olive oil, fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish and wine, all in moderation.  The current life expectancy is 85.8 years.



I have also observed a way of life that may also be part of the reason for a longer lifespan.  The spaniards I met, seem more relaxed and don’t seem too concerned about accumulating material things which is a lifestyle that may be contributing to stress. 

Spaniards live the simple life.  The majority of them earn little and are perfectly happy with that. They appear to be putting a lot more emphasis on relationships, a long lunch, and frequent chats with friends than owning a big house or going on an expansive vacation. I am certainly oversimplifying here but I think it is fair to say that time with family and friends is important in Spain more than time in front of the TV like my North American culture for example.  The sense of community has time and time again been discussed as an important contributor of happiness and longevity. 

So, since I want to live a long and happy life, I am glad to be here and be able to rub shoulders with Spaniards practicing the simple life of good food and good times with friends. 




La vie en Espagne: pourquoi les Espagnols vivent plus longtemps

Une nouvelle étude publiée cette semaine par le Health Metrics and Evaluation de Seattle, aux États-Unis, prévoit que l’espérance de vie des Espagnols devrait être la plus longue du monde d’ici 2040, devant le Japon à la deuxième place. L’étude approfondie montre qu’une grande partie de la raison est liée à la façon dont ils mangent. Il y a très peu d’hypertension et de sucre dans le sang ici et ils boivent raisonnablement. Le régime méditerranéen est également connu pour promouvoir la santé. Ils se nourrissent surtout d’huile d’olive, de fruits et de légumes, de poisson et de vin, le tout avec modération. L’espérance de vie actuelle est de 85,8 ans.  Voici le lien pour en savoir plus sur l’étude.

J’ai également observé un mode de vie qui pourrait également faire partie d’une plus longue durée de vie. Les Espagnols que j’ai rencontrés semblent plus détendus et ne semblent pas trop soucieux d’accumuler des objets matériels qui peut contribuer au stress.

Les Espagnols mènent une vie simple. La majorité d’entre eux gagnent peu et en sont parfaitement satisfaits. Ils semblent mettre beaucoup plus l’accent sur les relations, un long repas et des conversations fréquentes avec des amis que de posséder une grande maison ou de passer des vacances inoubliables. Je simplifie certes trop, mais je pense qu’il est juste de dire que passer du temps avec sa famille et ses amis est plus important en Espagne que devant la télévision, comme dans ma culture nord-américaine par exemple. Le sens de la communauté a été maintes fois discuté en tant que contributeur important au bonheur et à la longévité.

Donc, puisque je veux vivre une vie longue et heureuse, je suis heureuse d’être ici et de pouvoir côtoyer des Espagnols qui pratiquent une vie simple, qui consiste à bien manger et à passer de bons moments avec des amis.

Posted in Spanish life

My first full text in Spanish (translated as well)

As you know, Terry and I are learning Spanish. We have a weekly class with a private tutor every Thursday and we will go back to school in January. Our tutor, Patricia, asked us to write a one page text on the differences between where we live and Spain. Here is my text before being corrected by the tutor. I only had to look for two words. I did not use Google. Don’t be too critical, I’m still a very beginner Spanish student. See the translation below in English and in French!!

La vida en Nerja es muy diferente que en Vancouver

La vida en España es muy maravillosa especialmente para nosotros en la costa del sol. Como la palabra lo dice, hay mucho sol en la costa del sol. En Canada, hay bastante sol en el verano pero no mucho en el reste del año. Hay mucho lluvia en invierno y a menudo nubes.

Vancouver es una ciudad muy grande similarmente a Malaga. Hay muchas playas en Vancouver y parques con grande árboles. Esta una ciudad muy verde. Podemos caminar y ir en bicicleta todos los partes en la ciudad. La planificación urbana estaba muy bien hecha. La vista en Vancouver es muy hermosa con los montañas y el mar. Nuestro barrio es cerca del centro y los playas. Hay muchos restaurantes, bars y tiendas. Los supermercados en Vancouver son muy buenos con muchos alimentos y cosas del mundo por que es una ciudad muy international. (Foto a la derecha de Vancouver Tourism)

Nerja es muy diferente. Esta una mucho mas pequeña ciudad que esta llama pueblo tambien. Nerja es muy bonita. Me gusta los casas blancos y los pequeñas tiendas. La vista del mar es espectacular y los playas son lindas. El Balcón de Europa es el corazón de Nerja. Me encanta caminar en el centro todos los días para un café cortado y comprar los frutas, verduras y pan en unas pequeñas tiendas del centro. Los tiendas cierran de 2.00 a 5.00 de la tarde.  En Vancouver, los tiendas no cierran en la tarde.  Hay más tiempo para la familia y la comida en España que en Canada.  (Foto a la derecha de Hotel Los Arcos, Nerja)



La vida es muy simple y simpática en Nerja. Es más tranquilo aquí. Vancouver es un poco más impersonal y mucho mas ocupado.

La vida en España es más barata. Los alimentos, restaurantes y el alcohol son económicos. Los apartamentos y casas también son muchos más baratos.

Nos encanta la vida en España y en Nerja. Nos sentimos como en casa aquí. Los españoles son similares que los Canadienses. Ellos son muy amables, gentiles y respetuosos.

Esperamos de pasar mucho tiempo en Nerja en los próximos años!!

_________________Translation in English _______________________

Life in Nerja is very different than in Vancouver

Life in Spain is very wonderful especially for us on the Costa del Sol. As the word says, there is a lot of sun on the “Coast of the sun”. In Canada, there is enough sun in the summer but not much in the rest of the year. There is a lot of rain in winter and often days are overcast.

Vancouver is a very large city similar to Malaga. There are many beaches in Vancouver and parks with large trees. It is a very green city. We can walk and bike everywhere in the city. Urban planning was very well done. The views in Vancouver are very beautiful with the mountains and the sea. Our neighborhood is near the city center and the beaches. There are many restaurants, bars and shops. The supermarkets in Vancouver are very good with many foods and things of the world because it is a very international city.

Nerja is very different. This is a much smaller city that is called “Pueblo”. Nerja is very beautiful. I like the white houses and small shops. The view of the sea is spectacular and the beaches are beautiful. The Balcony of Europe is the heart of Nerja. I love walking downtown every day for a coffee and buy fruits, vegetables and bread in the small downtown stores. The shops closes from 2pm to 5pm here in Spain which gives you more time for meeting friends, spending time with family or to have a long lunch and rest.

Life is very simple and friendly in Nerja. It’s quieter here. Vancouver is a little more impersonal and much busier.

Life in Spain is cheaper. Food, restaurants and alcohol are cheap. The apartments and houses are also more economical.

We love life in Spain and in Nerja. We feel at home here. Spaniards are similar to Canadians. They are very kind, gentle and respectful.

We hope to spend a lot of time in Nerja in the years ahead!

_________________________ Traduction en Français __________________________

La vie à Nerja est très différente de celle de Vancouver

La vie en Espagne est très merveilleuse, spécialement pour nous sur la Costa del Sol. Comme le mot le dit, il y a beaucoup de soleil sur la côte du soleil. Au Canada, il y a assez de soleil en été, mais pas beaucoup le reste de l’année. Il y a beaucoup de pluie en hiver et souvent des nuages.

Vancouver est une très grande ville similaire à Malaga. Il existe de nombreuses plages à Vancouver et des parcs avec de grands arbres. C’est une ville très verte. Nous pouvons marcher et faire du vélo partout dans la ville. La planification urbaine est excellente. Le panorama de la ville de Vancouver est très beau avec les montagnes et la mer. Notre quartier est proche du centre de la ville et des plages. Il y a de nombreux restaurants, bars et magasins. Les supermarchés à Vancouver sont très bons avec de nombreux aliments et choses du monde parce que c’est une ville très internationale.

Nerja est très différente. C’est une ville beaucoup plus petite qui s’appelle aussi un Pueblo. Nerja est très belle. J’aime les maisons blanches et les petits magasins. La vue sur la mer est spectaculaire et les plages sont belles. Le balcon de l’Europe est le coeur de Nerja. J’adore marcher tous les jours en ville pour prendre un café dans la bars et acheter des fruits, des légumes et du pain dans les petits magasins du centre-ville.

La vie est très simple et conviviale à Nerja. C’est plus calme ici. Vancouver est un peu plus impersonnel et beaucoup plus occupé.

La vie en Espagne est moins chère. La nourriture, les restaurants et l’alcool ne sont pas chers. Les appartements et les maisons sont aussi beaucoup moins chers.

Nous aimons la vie en Espagne et à Nerja. Nous nous sentons chez nous ici. Les Espagnols ressemblent aux Canadiens. Ils sont très gentils, doux et respectueux.

Nous espérons passer beaucoup de temps à Nerja dans les années à venir!!

Posted in Spain, Spanish life, Travelling with a dog

Last post about our six month experience in Spain.

Photo: Nerja, Spain

Six months away from home is a long time, but for us, it felt like we actually were home in Spain. It is easy for a Canadian to feel at home in Spain because it is very easy going and the people are similar to Canadians in many ways. Here are the things we loved about Spain and things we liked less which are very few.

Starting with the positives:

More Sunshine: There is a lot more sunshine in Spain than in Vancouver. Even if it was the rainiest and coldest winter in 50 years we were told, we found the winter here like a sunnier version of May or June in Vancouver. The sunshine usually comes out at some point even on forecasted rainy days.

Longer days: In the depth of winter in December, the sun comes up at 8am and goes down at 6pm. Compare this to Vancouver winters where the sun comes up at 8:30am and goes down at 4:15pm, that is a major improvement for your mental health.

Milder winter: November and April are like summer in Vancouver at about 18 to 24 Celcius with slightly cooler evenings in November. You can still have 20 Celcius days in December and January but it generally hovers between 12C and 16C. February is the most unsettled month with a mix of overcast, rain and sunshine,  usually all in the same day. March is usually nice we are told but we experienced torrential rain and downpours like I have never seen, even in Vancouver. Everyone here kept saying, “no es normal”. Unfortunately, most of our guests came in March.

More outdoor living: you spend tons more time outdoors. Long lunches in the sunshine are a way of life in Spain. We loved our lunches sitting outside basting in the sun and watching people go by.

Dogs anywhere on terraces: For a dog owner, this is such a welcome change from Vancouver where you can’t have your dog on any terrace or café. We could have Amy Lou with us everywhere and she was a big hit for waiters and passerbys.

Cheaper food: Our grocery bill was 40%-50% cheaper than in Vancouver.

Cheaper booze: Beer and Wine is incredibly inexpensive here. Even fine wines are more affordable and there is plenty of good wine to have even in grocery stores.

Cheaper restaurants:  Spaniards go out to eat A LOT! And that is reflected in the restaurant prices. There are restaurants everywhere filled with people especially for lunch everyday and dinners on weekends. The big cities have the most excellent fine dining and international restaurants. But the small cities or pueblos also have amazing selections, all at discounted prices compared to what we pay in Vancouver. We found restaurant prices to be about 40%-50% cheaper than in Canada or the States. Also, you don’t see much fast food here. People prefer their privately owned restaurants to food chains which is so much more authentic to me!

Cheaper mobile phone service: Our cell phones plans in Canada cost us $140 per month with tax. In Spain, we pay 20 Euros or $30 Canadian.  WHY are Canadian mobile phone plans so expensive? This is a ridiculous difference.

No cable need w antenna: If you have a house, you can have perfect TV reception with an antenna. If you don’t care about cable, that is a clear perk.

Cheaper real estate: House prices are not cheap on the costa del sol but significantly less expensive than Vancouver. A nice 3-4 bedroom house and 2-3 bathrooms with a pool will cost about 600,000 to 800,000 Euros or $1m to $1.2 million. The same house in Vancouver would be 2 or 3 million if you could find it. A 2 bedroom condo would be about 300,000-500,000 euros compared to $700,000-$1.5million in Vancouver. This is oversimplified of course but it give you an idea. There are also more affordable detached homes with a view.

Cheaper rent: if you prefer to rent, a two bedroom apartment would be approximately 400 to 600 euros per month or the equivalent of $600 to $900 per month. Short term rentals cater to tourists and are more expensive of course. Apartments go for $75 to $150 per night in high season or $250 to $350 per night for a house. We rented in the winter months and paid $2000 per month which was a very good deal for a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom house with a pool and view of the Mediterranean.

Grow your own fruits & veggies year-round: the weather is conducive to gardening and growing your own fruits and veggies year round.

Fast and inexpensive travel in Europe: You can easily and affordably travel everywhere in Europe for weekends or longer getaways. Think about spending a weekend in Paris one month and Berlin the next! What a pleasure without the long flights and expensive tickets.

Here quickly are more positive to travelling or living in Spain:

Very good medical access and quality care

Easier to meet people

You will never get the restaurant bill until you ask for it.

Spaniards are clean people; Garbage collection daily, Beaches swept daily, Sparking clean toilets, alley way, etc

You can drink beer on the beach

Less rules and regulations about everything

No obnoxious drunks

The best thing we liked about Spain is the Spaniards! They are chilled, polite, friendly, and happy people!!

Here are the things we liked less:

More expensive energy

More expensive cars

Not as good grocery stores

No shoppers drug mart, I miss our SDM!!

Not as good restaurants in Nerja but great in Malaga

Some owners leave their dog poo on the street but this is about to change with new regulations and DNA poo testing to fine the ones who don’t pick up after their pets! Wow!!

That’s it…we could not find more things we like less. As you can see, we loved Spain and can’t wait to go back for another winter in the sun!

Posted in Spain, Spanish life

Spain’s Semana Santa is all about tradition and devotion.

Semana Santa is Holy Week in Spain, the week which leads to Easter. This is a BIG event for Spaniards. Some say that it has been celebrated since the 12th century, for certain since the 16th century, in Sevilla.

At first, you might be surprised by such a display of religion but Semana Santa in Spain can truly be enjoyed for what it is. A wonderful tradition and display of devotion. Please take a minute to read on to find out what it is all about and why this tradition is an important one in Spain.

Photo credit:

My photo taken in Sevilla this weekend.


My photo taken in Sevilla this weekend.

From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, huge statues carried on floats called “Pasos”, some as old as 300 years, representing various images from the Passion of Jesus Christ take to the streets in processions that last up to 12 hours almost every day during that week and on the “Madrugá”, the Holy Thursday night, the processions run all night long through to the next day!

The people who carry the floats are devoted locals, performing an act of penance, repenting their sins. They are called Costaleros and wear a protective garment on their head to take the weight off the float. There are 20 to 40 costaleros per float and they practice all year long even in 40C August! That is devotion. Some of the floats weight a ton and costaleros can switch out every hour or two to take a break. I have read that each year a special section of the hospital opens up to treat costalero injuries.

Photo credit: Tío Spanish

My photo taken this Holy Thursday in Nerja.

The cone like head dress you see in all the processions are worn by “Nazarenos”. No, they are not members of the Ku Klux Klan. The attire is born from a desire to repent sins without revealing the identity of the person. There can be up to 3,000 nazarenos participating in some of the bigger processions in Sevilla. Kind Nazarenos will carry bags of sweets and give them to kids as they go by so they know they’re friendly!

Photo credit:

We are in Sevilla now for 3 days and could not be happier to have been here to experience the tradition, pride and solidarity this annual event is all about. Come to Spain during Semana Santa and feel the passion!

Some of photos were taken in Nerja on Holy Thursday, a smaller and more intimate event where you see the floats up-close. The others were taken by myself in Sevilla this weekend.

Posted in Spain, Spanish life

What happened to sunny everyday Spain?

Look at this Vancouver Canada style of rain we are having today!  As I have reported before, rainy days in Spain are rare. We have been here for 4 months now and only had a few days of rain. It rarely last a full day or 2 days at most before the warm sun returns. January and February are however cooler with more overcast days and showers. But again, this rarely last more than a day or two, until now.

A powerful late-winter storm, given the name Storm Emma, is bringing rounds of heavy rain in all of Spain, Portugal and France. Total rainfall through the weekend could reach 250 mm (10 inches) in the hardest hit locations of northern Portugal and western Spain. We are in the south, thank God!

The bad news is that as Emma lifts northward toward the British Isles on Friday, another storm will target the Iberian Peninsula with more rainfall and believe it or now, a third storm will then arrive early next week, bringing additional downpours and gusty winds.

I feel sorry for the visitors who are currently in Spain working their way to us in Nerja. It is always sad to leave rain or snow at home to come to a sunny destination and find bad weather instead. We are hopeful that things will turn around for your arrival next week.

One thing is for sure, the sun here is never far and when it comes out, it is incredibly warm and lovely even in winter months!!