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Expat Focus International News Update November 2023

Helsinki Named ‘Best City’ in Europe

Conde Nast Traveller magazine has named the Finnish capital of Helsinki as the best city in Europe for British expats to move to in 2023. Safe, clean and friendly, Helsinki scores highly in terms of walkability, too. Back in March, defying its stereotypical reputation for national gloom, Finland also attained the top spot in the World Happiness Report (followed by Denmark, Iceland, Israel, and the Netherlands and other European capitals). In the latest listing from CN Traveller, Helsinki scored higher than Stuttgart, Zurich and Prague.

What is it about Helsinki that makes it so appealing? CN Traveller rates the city for food, although it places it below Copenhagen when it comes to restaurants. The guide says that, when it comes to Scandinavian capitals, the city has a ‘gentler beat’ than Stockholm and is more ‘under the radar’ than Reykjavik. Walking is the best way to explore – Helsinki isn’t big and it takes under an hour to cross the city on foot. Its famous market is by the harbour, and boat trips are a pleasant way to get to know the 300 islands nearby. Art and design museums, including the new Guggenheim, provide a dose of culture, and there’s some attractive Finnish designer labels, stationery and textile stores when it comes to shopping.

Finland has a reputation for being expensive, like its Scandinavian neighbours, yet renting is more reasonable than in the other capitals on the Conde Nast list, with an average cost of around £860 per month for a one-bedroom flat. The average monthly cost of living is around £2,309. However, taxes are steep – with approximately a 35% income tax and 34% VAT.

Population statistics are an indicator of Finland’s popularity with expats; out of its 631,000 or so inhabitants, over 100,000 are expats. It has a number of English-language international schools and, as with other Scandinavian nations, a good reputation for education. The country is liberal, with strong social services and an excellent standard of healthcare. 

If you can cope with high taxes, the cold (Finland can reach well into the minus 20s and even 30s), and dark winters, Helsinki might be a good choice. And every modern flat has a sauna, so if winter living is your thing, the Finnish capital is well worth consideration. 

Malaga Top Destination for Expat Retirees

Malaga has been ranked as the top city in Spain for the over 60s, in a new listing by Forbes magazine. Climate, walkability and public transport, safety and low crime rates all contribute to Forbes’ ranking, along with the city’s strong cultural and artistic pulls. It’s also affordable, both in terms of renting and buying, and has a good reputation for food. 

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Malaga has been a favourite destination for British expats for many years, and the new report suggests that, even post-Brexit, the city still holds a considerable appeal for retirees in search of sun, safety and a decent cost of living. It has the second largest British expat community in Spain, after Alicante, with around 56,000 Brits resident in the city. 

Spain and the 90-Day Rule

Over the past year, there have been indications that Spain is considering abolishing the 90-day residency rule for Brits following Brexit. Fernando Valdés, the Spanish Tourism Secretary, has been vocal about this since November 2022. Spain has committed €200 million to enhance ‘sun and sea’ destinations, aiming to elevate the quality of the tourist experience. Valdés also observed that senior citizens from countries like Switzerland and Germany have been spending the winter months in Spain to evade the high energy costs back home, with Brits following suit. Valdés expressed his desire for Spain to become a year-round destination for tourists.

Speculation about the repeal of the residency restriction gained momentum this October, following local media reports that Spanish officials plan to urge Brussels to amend the legislation. Tourism accounts for 12% of Spain’s GDP, and as seen in Malaga, there is a substantial British expatriate community in Spain. These residents significantly bolster the economy, with many also owning property. Previous reports have highlighted the challenges faced by British homeowners due to the enforcement of the 90-day rule.

The Spanish authorities have already removed restrictions on visas for British Touring Performers, but the residency issue is more complex. The Spanish government has stated:

Unfortunately, (the rule) is not something Spain has established by itself or can get rid of. It is in our interest to lobby and convince (the EU) we can try to work an exception with them. But the solution must come from them.

Portugal Highly Rated in Wine Tourism Survey

Bounce Luggage Storage has released its latest Wine Lover’s Index, revealing that Portugal is the highest-ranking contender in the survey. The nation was awarded 8.83 points out of 10 by the Index, followed by Moldova at 8.16 and Italy at 7.86. The Index says that over 2% of Portugal is covered by vineyards, and on average 58 litres are consumed annually by residents. Moldova has a higher percentage of vineyards, however – around 3% of the country is occupied by viticulture, particularly in the Codru region and the network of underground wine cellars, such as the Mileștii Mici. The full ranking is:

  • Portugal
  • Moldova
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • Georgia
  • France
  • Hungary
  • New Zealand
  • Greece
  • Chile

The Portuguese are also the biggest consumers of wine per capita. On the other hand, Italy, followed by Spain and France, are the biggest exporters of wine in the world.  And where’s the cheapest place to buy a bottle of wine? That would be Argentina, where wine costs on average USD$3 per bottle.

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