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Moving to Spain – Tips and Lessons Learned

We were internet marketers that needed a break…so we started a tapas restaurant in Spain! Some said we were crazy, some said we were brave. We say we are a little bit of both. Read our story, the lessons we learned and our tips…

It has been almost three years since we moved to Spain and finding our way around has been fun and sometimes a struggle. When you move abroad you realize that you are giving up your career, your house, the lease car and all. But in return, there is a romantic future lying ahead of you; a future without stress, traffic jams, thousands of emails a day, dark clouds, rain. An exiting future with new possibilities, new people and new habits.

Our romantic and exciting idea of the future was setting up a tapas restaurant in a pretty little village on the Costa Blanca. We would only open for a few hours per day, run it together, and cook all kinds of delicious tapas for our guests.We were able to rent a location close to a very busy weekly market. Definitely a hotspot. As the unit was completely empty when we rented it, we were able to build it up from scratch. Setting up something new is almost everybody’s dream. And yes, it is a lot of fun. However, with only a little experience in the catering industry (but not being completely brainless), a little knowledge of the Spanish language, no knowledge of the Spanish culture or business attitude whatsoever, we were bound to get into a lot of trouble.

But, somehow, we didn’t (even though it took seemingly endless discussions, brainstorming sessions, continuous questioning and numerous drives along the Costa to find the right suppliers and equipment).

Some examples:

BUYING KITCHEN STUFF. If you want to buy kitchen stuff in Holland, you go to a wholesaler. There you will find all the equipment neatly arranged with prices and product details. In Spain only a few items are on display and they show no prices at all. We first had to go home to look up all the words in the Spanish dictionary (so we could at least ask what we wanted to have). Furthermore, they gave all prices in Pesetas – on purpose I’m sure – although they kept smiling!

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BUILDING THE BAR was something else as well, because we wanted a non-Spanish bar set-up. That made the beer people, the wine people, and all other suppliers freak and run out immediately with the words ‘ai hombre, problema!’ – probably catching a beer in the bar next door – and not show their face for a couple of days.

In order to get ICE-CREAM, we had to stand in the middle of the street to stop the sales rep and ask him to come in. He delivered once, came for a refill and then never showed up again. Hence, we had to change brands in the middle of summer.

It took us 2 years to finalize the paperwork for the LICENSE. It took numerous visits from the ‘ajuntamento’ and the health inspector before they finally approved it. Each time they came, they brought a new list with rules and regulations, ensuring us this was the final version.

However, once set up, the restaurant worked really well. Some people said we were crazy starting a tapas restaurant in Spain, but we managed to serve both foreigners and Spaniards, which made us very proud.

After 2 years we sold the restaurant to start a new adventure. Because we had such a hard time finding the right stuff at a reasonable price for the restaurant, but also for stuff at home, we set up www.CostaMarket.com, a marketplace for people living on the Costa or with plans moving there. We have just started, which is both exciting and scary, but again I’m sure we will manage somehow…


Running a bar/restaurant is probably one of the most effective ways of learning Spanish, Spanish culture, the local way of doing things (probably different for every part of Spain), their rules and regulations, their business culture etc. Plus, you hear A LOT.

ASK! In Holland everything is arranged. Information is brought to you whether you want it or not. The Dutch are great at logistics. In Spain you ask for it – always, in every situation, anytime…ask. Even if it seems the most silly question in the world, there’s a good chance they will answer with ‘Hombre, claro que si!’ Of course we have/do it!

ASK AGAIN. Chase, call, visit. If they don’t hear from you, it is obviously not important to you.

TWICE. Never ever think you get anything done in ONE go. There is no way. Plan two to three visits/attempts for anything you need to arrange. Knowing this in advance will save you a lot of stress.

SMILE. But that is probably a universal tip.

RELAX. You want to move to Spain (or just did) because you wanted more time etc. Go with the flow!

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