Who are you?
My name is Ali Meehan, I live on the Costa del Sol and I am a serial expatiate keen to integrate and enjoy the culture of my wonderful new home country. As the founder of Costa Women, I am a social entrepreneur with the largest social networking community for women living in, or planning on relocating to Spain.
Costa Women won Best of British Social Club by The Telegraph and Expat Stars award from MyCurrencyTransfer.We were included in Top 101 Feisty, Fun And Fabulous Women Bloggers To Follow in 2014 by Birds on the Blog.
My Twitter account @costawomen was highlighted as being a top Twitter account for expat advice by ‘The Telegraph’. My own personal social media reach is above 15,000. I’m also a founding member of Typical Non-Spanish; a group which celebrates all that is good about life in Spain from a non-Spanish perspective.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
My parents had lived in the Middle East in the 1950s and our home was always filled with stories about different cultures and experiences and our walls and surfaces were full of momentoes. In the 1990s I lived and worked in Australia, but had to return to the UK for family reasons. Meeting my husband in 2002 who was already living and work in Spain was the start of a decade of travel and life in Spain, the Middle East and then Asia.
What challenges did you face during the move?
Apart from learning the language, the biggest challenge I would say was making friends. This was part of the reason why I launched costawomen.com at the end of 2010. Costa Women is a free and friendly site for women with the idea behind the group to connect, inspire, enable and support women in their journey to and in Spain. It provides an essential connection point for women, along with space for them to join in and get real life tips and advice during their journey.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Yes lots, and inpats (people who want to integrate with their new home and culture). Where I live in Fuengirola has a very large Scandinavian population as well as being a Spanish working town. And whilst English is the main language of the costawomen.com website, we have over 58 different countries represented (including our Spanish hosts).
What do you like about life where you are?
Lots! Sunshine, fiestas, flamenco, tapas, lifestyle, the fact that it is so multicultural. Being welcomed by the Spanish community.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
The bureaucracy can be a challenge, but you need to approach each challenge in a different way. Your new country will never be the same as where you have come from. You need to relax, take a breath and realise that they may not be wrong in how they do something – just different!
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
The openness of life. We know all our neighbours personally. A trip down our street usually involves many stops to speak and catch up with local shopkeepers and friends. A visit to a waiting room will find you speaking to a complete stranger in the queue and making a new friend instantly!
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Research, research, research using hindsight, insight and foresight to help your decision making.
1. Hindsight – join groups on Facebook for the area you are thinking about moving to. Ask for advice from the veterans of expat life.
2. Insight – what are your top 3 requirements for your home in the sun? These may not be very different to what you enjoy doing at home – for instance, is golf high on your agenda, or gardening? What clubs, or communities are there in Spain near where you want to live? If you have children, where are the best local schools? Do you need to work? What jobs are available, especially if you don’t speak the language (yet) of your new home? If you actively want work over the internet, probably living in the country might cause you some challenges, rather than living in town where we (for instance) have a 300MB fibre optic access.
3. Foresight – Visiting a place on holiday is never the same as living somewhere. Whereever you choose to move to, visit at different times of the year – in some places the restaurants close in the winter so it can change from being a vibrant summer town, to a quiet backwater in the winter. Do you drive? If not, what are the public transport connections near you?
What are your plans for the future?
For Costa Women, we are rapidly inching towards 5,000 members which will be a milestone in our journey. We are organising an event for Global Entrepreneur’s Week in November in association with ExpatsinBiz and Mumpreneur Networking Club and planning our International Women’s Day Conference on 11th March 2016 in Malaga with 1230 The Women’s Company from the UK. Our 17 Costa Women groups around Spain will be celebrating the end of 2015 and start of 2016 with very social meet ups and get togethers – hope you can join us?