Often we hear expats saying that Valencia is surprisingly similar to different parts of California, USA. Unfortunately no one from YES Valencia team has had the opportunity to confirm or deny this rumor. To put an end to this debate and get some clarity on the matter we had to investigate. This is the first part of two article series where we ask our former clients – three amazing couples who now live in Valencia, but who also in different periods of their lives have lived in California.
California – the state that offers a wide range of diversity – from the hottest deserts to the ice-cold Death Valley and somewhere between that all, there are these beautiful places with the Mediterranean climate. They have had their life experiences in Santa Barbara, San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles and now they share one common passion – their pure excitement about living in Valencia, Spain.
Some say it could be their last stop and they aim to settle down, for others it is a milestone in their life journey. They all agree that although the climate where they lived is similar and pleasant in both places, Europe seems more affordable and accessible if you love to travel and if you are foodie or seek cultural explosions.
Let´s meet them!
Jana and Tony
Tony and Jana arrived in Valencia in 2016 straight from Germany where they spent last years before moving to Valencia and they carry some good years living in US before that. They are lovely retirees and passionate travelers who have an open view on different cultures and have witnessed developments of historical events. They are open minded and kind.
They were the very first clients of YES Valencia (operating under “Moving to Valencia” back then). Over the years we have developed a dear friendship and they have accompanied us in our development and growth as we have followed their unstoppable seeking for culture and excitement. Their passion for traveling has brought many stories to us. And we want more. This time about California and their home city – Valencia.
“We love to talk about our wonderful home – and we don’t want to see it get too big or too touristy. That is definitely a conundrum. Also, I would add a comment about the amount of time (and effort) it takes to deal with bureaucratic / governmental processes. And I would encourage people up front to learn as much as possible BEFORE they start planning a move here”, says Tony.
Jana starts: “Two urban places where I have lived in my life, I never tire of their beauty.
1) The San Francisco Bay Area in California. The whole circle of the Bay Area is dynamic, diverse, endlessly fascinating and a lovely atmosphere to live in. While it is not my place of birth or native attachment, it is the place I called “home” for the longest period of time ~ 17 years (3 years in graduate school in upscale and trendy Marin County and 14 years in Marina Bay/Richmond, on the Berkeley, east side). We bought a condo on the marina. California is a complex car culture with vast highway systems crisscrossing the state. As of 2020, 356 miles (573 km) of the Bay Trail for cyclists and pedestrians has been completed.
2) Valencia, Spain. Amazing that my first visit to Spain was in 2012, when I was 57 years old – to VALENCIA only. I felt an immediate affinity here with this beautiful coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea. We prefer urban life, apartment living where necessities are close at hand. The HUGE difference here is that it is easy to live without a car. Walking, traveling by bus or train is possible within the state. The International Airport is very convenient by Metro and taxi, making easy connections everywhere throughout Europe. Phenomenal opportunities for travel exist here!
There are some similarities for weather. Both are known for sunshine and outdoor living. The much warmer summer temperatures in Spain make it not so relaxed, however. And that affects dining/cooking options, too. In the Bay Area we took barbecuing at home or with friends for granted. It was easy to have picnics and dine casually at home. Eating out was usually expensive – especially in San Francisco itself.”
Both of them commuted to work while in the Bay Area. Tony carpooled for 8 years to Marin County and 6 years by mass transit into San Francisco. Jana had to drive solo for most of her career, largely due to home visitations to people/families in Hospice care (but could often travel during non-commute hours).
“Driving into San Francisco was nerve-racking. There was never a time when I did not think about earthquakes occurring while driving. That was, in fact the case in 1989,” adds Jana and Tony continues about adapting in Valencia- “We had already been living in Europe (5-1/2 years in Germany) before we moved here. And we came here in part because of the weather and the proximity to the sea – more like California than Germany. Life without an automobile is also a plus – in the Bay Area, we spent endless hours in the car, getting to and from work, shopping, and visiting friends.”
When talking about the general scene, Jana continues: “The vegetation and scenery are vastly different, both quite beautiful. Evergreen trees are my favorite! The well established landscapes in Valencia are a major part of its beauty, especially the palm-tree lined boulevards along residential streets. Turia Park is unmatched to anything we have ever had close at hand. Other significant factors regarding quality of life that we prefer in Valencia: The arts and their affordability. We average concerts or music events twice a week in Valencia.”
Tony agrees: “The arts are much more accessible in Valencia. In the San Francisco Bay area (where we lived for 14 years), the cost of symphony and concert tickets was prohibitive. Comparable events in Valencia are 1/3 the price. Even better, there is so much available for free through the music programs of the various universities here. The same for museums – free or nominal ticket prices. The basic difference is that California and the USA in general provide little or no financial support for the arts. Here in Spain (as in most of Europe) it is a priority.”
Jana continues: “A great walking city, especially after dark. When daytime temperatures are friendly, we enjoy walking all over Valencia.” Tony also mentions the moving around options. “Public transportation in Valencia is easy and available (although I wish the buses ran later at night). Trains are affordable and efficient, much faster than driving in most cases. Taxis are clean, dependable, and inexpensive. We have no intention of having a car here – we rent one on the few occasions we need one (usually when traveling somewhere else).”
Safety is one of the words that comes up when talking about Valencia.
“Personal Safety – the streets are clean, no threats of violence exist in Valencia. The great exception is the prevalence of smoking, however. It is impossible to escape the unhealthy nuisance of tobacco smoke while walking down the city streets. Cigarette butts are littered everywhere and sidewalk dining makes fumes even more omnipresent. That is the single greatest detraction to enjoying life in Valencia (most of Spain). We would dine out a lot more if smoking was curtailed. The absence of real violence from guns is life-changing and liberating. It is impossible to grasp the addiction to guns that the US suffers and the availability of automatic weapons for private citizens. It is insane.” says Jana. When asking about the things they couldn´t live without if they went back to US, also Tony highlights: “A sense of safety (no one is going to shoot me in a supermarket or a church)”
Many of our clients move to Valencia with children, so it is important to know what to expect regarding the school’s system. Tony jumps in: “ Public schools in California and throughout the USA are overcrowded and underfunded. There are some good schools, but the competition for them in fierce. Hence many parents spend exorbitant amounts of money to send their children to private schools. It can easily cost $20,000 or more a year for tuition” and Jana continues: “Family-friendly culture. In the San Francisco area the cost of living is prohibitive. Home-ownership is about 25% of the population and public education is marginal in a lot of areas. Fast food culture, family work schedules (little vacation time or benefits), lack of funding for the arts or affordable health care and transit all make day to day living expensive and a challenge. Extended family bonds and preference for family time together seems to make for happier lives here where there isn’t so much private ownership (accumulation of “things“ and property). Communal, social life is important in Spain”
When mentioning social life, Tony admits: “ We have made a few friends among the locals; often it has been easier because they speak English (but not always). Conversations here are much more relational than transactional – lots of time talking about family, friends, etc. before you get down to business. The good news is that people here have and take more time with each other; in California (Bay Area) it seemed as though everyone was in a hurry to be someplace else.”
When moving abroad you have to take into account what are the expenses to expect and if you plan to seek for a business opportunity here in Valencia.
Jana and Tony have no worries: “for us – we moved here in retirement and are happy to remain in that situation”, Tony adds: “Life in the Bay Area was very expensive: mortgage, groceries, transportation, health care. Life here is about 1/3 the cost.”
Talking about health care, Tony comments: “ San Francisco has some of the best medical facilities in the country. But the health-care system across the US is insane – horribly expensive, difficult to access. Here it is affordable and accessible. We could not afford the same level of care if we moved back to the US”
Do you miss anything?
“I do miss American baseball. The Bay Area has two teams – San Francisco and Oakland – and we could afford to go once in a while. We haven’t yet been to a football game here”, says Tony and continues about his realizations of what they lack on:” A few favorite eating places; knowing instinctively where and how to find something when you go shopping (it was several years before I learned that white vinegar is in the cleaning supplies section of the Mercado).” Although Tony knows where he eats better: “Definitely here in Valencia. We had several favorite restaurants in the Bay Area; all of them were excellent. But the quality here is just as high – and the meals here are much more affordable. The most expensive eatery here (we have been to a few) has much lower prices than its California comparables. The variety of ethnic restaurants is not as good here – perhaps Valencians don’t go for other cuisines as much.”
They agree that Valencia has fulfilled their expectations. It is their home and they expect to live out the rest of their days here.
“We anticipate that VALENCIA will be our home for the duration of our lives, which hopefully, will make it our longest place of residence. ?? ~ thanks in large part to YES Valencia!” with warmest regards wraps up Jana.
And we can´t be happier for them! We all wish for Tony and Jana and their fury family many more adventures and many more years to come!