Tropical climate, sunny beaches all year round, good food… if you are thinking of moving to one of the islands of the Canary archipelago, this article could be very useful.
I will tell you about all the necessary documentation, the steps to take before departure and remember that if at the end of the reading you still have doubts … do not hesitate to contact me! I will answer to all your questions.
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Five things to know before moving to the Canary Islands
It is commonplace to think that a small investment and to pack two swimsuits in a suitcase are enough to make the dream of “drop everything and go live in the Canary Islands” into reality.
But are we really sure that this is the case? Is the tax system so much more advantageous than that of Italy or Spain? What are the pros and cons of living in an archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? Let’s find out together!
Where are they located and how many are the Canary Islands
1 First of all, let’s start by geolocating the archipelago and getting to know the islands that compose it.
Surely, you have happened to wonder how many Canary Islands are there. There are eight islands (there were seven until June 2018 when “La Graciosa” was also declared an official island) located off the African coast, facing Morocco, slightly higher than the Tropic of Cancer.
Going from the East (closest island to Africa) to West (the most offshore island in the Atlantic Ocean), we find:
- La Graciosa;
- Gran Canaria;
- La Gomera;
- La Palma;
- El Hierro.
The region has two capitals: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (which groups the island of Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and La Graciosa) and Santa Cruz de Tenerife (province of Tenerife, La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro).
What are the main islands and work activities
2 The largest islands in the archipelago, and the center of economic, financial and bureaucratic activities, are Tenerife and Gran Canaria.
Here, the most widespread work activities are those of the tertiary sector, which represents 75% of the economy, and in particular the tourist field , being the third most visited destination in Spain.
Obviously, the tourism sector carries with it the activities related to it, such as: construction , retail and real estate market .
For this reason, it goes without saying that the islands’ economy has suffered sharp losses as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Especially islands such as Fuerteventura , Lanzarote and the other smaller islands, which have more than 80% of their economy based on tourism, have experienced heavy economic losses, with the closure and bankruptcy of almost 60% of the companies.
Other widespread and developing sectors
As for the industrial sector , it represents only 7-8% of the GDP of the autonomous community. It is mostly an industry for agri-food processing and the production of electricity .
On the other hand, the primary sector (agriculture) is more developed. Although only 10% of the islands’ surface is cultivated, one of the main activities is the production and export of bananas (followed by tomatoes and cucumbers). In recent years, the cultivation of tropical fruits such as avocado, pineapple (almost all grown in the Hierro) and mangoes is also spreading.
The cultivation of bananas, on the other hand, is fundamental for the economy of the island of La Palma and important in Gran Canaria and La Gomera .
A sector in strong development, thanks to the particular composition of the land of a part of the island of Gran Canaria, known as the Agaete Valley , is that of quality coffee .
It is in fact the only coffee plantation in Europe. Typica , an Arabica variety of Ethiopian origin is grown here. If you want to know more, read this article where I will take you on a tour of Finca de los Castaños.
Finally, another emerging activity in the islands is that of Freelancers . In recent years, more and more so-called ” digital nomads ” decided to establish in one of the islands of the archipelago (in particular, Tenerife and Gran Canaria).
Among the main reasons for this new phenomenon there are certainly the good climate all year round, a facilitated taxation system and the spread of modern coworking spaces. But I will tell you about this more in depth in this article .
Documentation needed to move to the Canary Islands
3 To move to the Canary Islands from a European Union country, you don’t need any special documentation: your passport or electronic ID card and European Health Card (to access Emergency services such as First Aid – Primer Auxilio – or call an ambulance) is enough.
On the other hand, if you have British citizenship and plan to move to the Canary Islands after Brexit…the situation becomes a bit more complicated. If you have never lived and / or worked in Spain (and therefore do not have the NIE, which I will talk about in the next paragraph), you can only stay for a maximum of three months without the need for a visa.
The first steps to be able to work in the Canary Islands
4 The first thing you will need to be able to work in the Canary Islands (and in Spain in general) is an identification number for foreigners (known as NIE blanco) which will allow you to register with the Spanish welfare.
This number is issued by the Police, through an appointment, and only against a pre-employment contract. Through this link you can access the procedure for booking an appointment to obtain the NIE . on the island of Gran Canaria (the website is in Spanish only).
Similarly, if you want to open your own business, you will first need the white NIE, which they will give you after you have submitted a self-declaration in which you will state that you require it, in fact, to open a VAT number (darse de alta, in Spanish).
On the other hand, in order to obtain the so-called green N.I.E., which is a foreign resident card that will give you access to discounts and benefits as a Canarian resident, you will need other requirements:
- A permanent employment contract, stipulated for at least three months; or
- Having opened a VAT number and been in business for at least three months; or
- Receive a pension and be in possession of private medical insurance stipulated in Spain; or
- Be in possession of private medical insurance, stipulated in Spain, paid in advance for one year, and have sufficient funds (over € 8,000.00) in a Spanish current account.
The NIE will be your identification number, which you will not be able to do without in order to carry out any economic activity (or not) such as: opening a bank account, buying a telephone card, proceeding to the “e mpadronamiento ” (ie the registration of the domicile) , etc…
P.s. as a result of the pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, the timelines and procedures for obtaining N.I.E. have lengthened and it is no longer so obvious to obtain it.
Pros and Cons of living in the Canaries
5 Tropical climate, golden beaches, good food… what could be the negative aspects of living in a place like this?
Indeed, residents often boast that they live in a paradise, which is not far from reality. The point is that it all depends on our priorities and expectations in life. Having also lived in London, diametrically opposed in so many ways, I thought I would make a list of what are the positive and negative aspects of living on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
- Climate : as already mentioned, it is almost a tropical climate, with 3-4 ° of temperature range between day and night, with minimum and maximum temperatures that are around 18-22 ° in winter and 22-27 ° during summer season;
- Quality and lifestyle : one of the ways in which the inhabitants of the peninsula refer to the Canaries is with the term ” aplatanados “, which literally means ” indolent, inactive “, but refers more metaphorically to the relaxed lifestyle of the inhabitants of the archipelago. Commercial activities, in most cases, do not open until 10 am and there is always an atmosphere of calm and relaxation. In any area you would settle in, you will never be too far from the sea and even in the main towns, traffic is never too excessive.
- Good nutrition : as already mentioned, after tourism, the most developed sector is the agricultural one. Whether it is seasonal or greenhouse products, the island is quite self-sufficient in terms of primary products: fruit, vegetables, eggs, local cheeses, potatoes… are the basis of the islands’ diet.
- Tax breaks: precisely because of its location and a number of other factors, the statute that gave birth to the Autonomous Community of the Canary Islands provided for such facilities as tax relief, a Lower cost of goods and services for residents and theVAT almost absent (VAT is actually not paid, but is replaced by IGIC which is 7% for ordinary goods and services).
- Isolation / distances : yes! Living on an island is perceived! After the first months, in which everything is new and you soend time exploring and getting to know the place, you’ll realise that everything is “contained” within a strip of land and every time you want to reach “the continent” you have to face a flight of at least 3-4 hours (which usually represent only the stopover in the main cities in Spain and Europe to get to your final destination);
- Higher prices and customs : if you are an online shopping lover or Amazon “addicted” this is not the place for you. Delivery times are much longer, many companies do not deliver to the islands and shipping costs are often higher (and you may never receive your package as it is stopped at customs controls).
- Limitation in travel: the most convenient way to get around is definitely by car. There are buses that connect all the municipalities within the islands, but remember that the rail system is completely absent!
- Limited job market : as already mentioned, these are islands based mainly on the tourism sector, so unless you are specialised in this area, you will not have many alternatives or opportunities to make a career in other sectors.