Ten Highs and Lows of Living on Tenerife

After 13 years of living on Tenerife, it’s fair to say that the highs have outweighed the lows by quite some considerable margin, otherwise we wouldn’t still be living here. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

For anyone thinking of making a new life for themselves in Tenerife, some of our experiences might be of interest, particularly if you’re not coming out for a sunshine retirement but rather in the hope of making a living. This is a purely personal point of view and one based on being self employed and living in the north of the island. My opinions may not reflect those of others, they’re not meant to, they’re mine 🙂

Downside of living on Tenerife:

Tenerife South Airport

Distance from the EU mainland
Sooner or later, the claustrophobia of small island living gets to everyone and when that happens, the need to escape to somewhere different is hampered by the distance from mainland Europe. Wherever we want to go, unless it’s one of the other islands or to the African continent, it’s a 3hr to 4hr flight away. We’re also restricted as to where we can fly direct, particularly in summer when the number and range of flights diminishes.

And it isn’t just travel that makes our remote location challenging. Trying to buy things online is more restricted with many places not delivering to the Canary Islands, or if they do, at inflated p&p costs. Those postal costs apply both ways. We had to stop selling printed books of one of our guides when the cost of postage doubled overnight, completely wiping out any profit.

Lack of business acumen
When it comes to trying to run a business or being self-employed, Tenerife would try the patience of a Saint. It’s hard to credit in this day and age but many businesses still do not have a website. Some think having a Facebook page is enough, and some don’t have any web presence at all. Trying to get an email answered on this island is like waiting for the first snowfall on Teide, it may or may not happen. Communications here are still primarily undertaken face to face or over the phone, and if your Spanish (or rather, Canario) isn’t top notch, you’ll struggle with phone conversations.

If you do persevere and get a business together, you’ll find the tax and national insurance systems baffling at best and economically crippling at worst and you’ll spend half your precious productivity time chasing invoices from people who may never pay.

The yin and yang of this state of affairs is that there are lots of opportunities to fill gaps in the market, to provide a better service than already exists or to launch new concepts.

Broaadband router

Broadband is rubbish
Considering Tenerife promotes itself as the IT hub between Europe, Africa and the Americas, you’ll find yourself paying more, for less, than anywhere else in Europe. Broadband speeds in the home are adequate at best with the advertised speed of 6MB being standard although you rarely find that speed actually getting streamed. At weekends the broadband gets inexplicably even slower. Perhaps all the engineers are at the beach.

Everything takes time
Nothing happens fast here. The mañana culture is alive and well in the Canary Islands and coupled with a love of bureaucracy means sometimes, just living here is a full time job.

The lack of IT know-how means that the online facilities you take for granted in other countries, like notifying a change of circumstances, have to be done in person. At the Correos (Post Office), everything except postcards has to be weighed and stamped. As lots of people go to the Correos to pay their bills, that means posting something can take anything up to 40 minutes waiting to be served.

If you have to go to the bank for any reason (usually to pay a tax bill) it’s another long wait. Although online banking is common, few people use it and prefer to stand in line to deal with a person.

New trends pass us by
Depending on whether or not you buy into UK TV when you’re here, and we don’t, you might find yourself in a cultural Black Hole. And whilst I’m perfectly happy that I wouldn’t recognise most so-called celebs if they sat next to me on the bus (who is Kim Kardashian?), and have no idea who’s in the finals of The Great British Bake-Off or Strictly Come Dancing, I am bothered about missing cultural, music and foodie trends, and we have to rely on research, family and friends to keep us in the cultural loop.

 

Best bits of living on Tenerife

Lago Martianez, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

The weather
Coming from the UK, you never really get used to knowing you are going to have at least six months of summer heat and probably more like eight. Here in the north we’re lucky enough to also get a half decent amount of rain a couple of months a year, so we get the best of all worlds, great summers, spring-like winters and lush landscapes.

It rarely gets really cold, even in winter. You’ll never see a ground frost at coastal level, and even in January and February, we still have mainly sunny, sunbathing days. What that also means is that you have almost zero heating bills which makes a huge difference to the cost of living here.

Space
You don’t have to travel far on Tenerife to find yourself in the midst of stunning landscapes with wide open spaces all around you. We complain constantly that Tenerife is allowing itself to become over developed but there is still lots of room to breathe and vast areas where you can walk for hours without seeing another soul or hearing the sound of a road.

When screen time has been clocking up, the only salvation for us is to pull on the hiking boots and head for the hills to remind ourselves that there’s still a lot of unspoilt beauty on this island…for now.

Banana plantation, Tenerife

Safety
I don’t think you can put too high a price on being able to walk down the street and feel completely safe, regardless of whether you’re a woman on her own, you’re in the middle of the town or the middle of nowhere, and no matter what time of day or night it is. I have never felt anything other than completely safe on this island.

Crime is not non-existent but it’s mainly petty theft, and the closest we’ve ever seen to civil unrest (not wishing to tempt providence in any way!) was at the Tenerife vs Las Palmas football fixture and involved a cuddly toy being set alight. Long may it continue to be so.

Friendly
Tenerife Amable may have been a marketing campaign but it also happens to be true. No matter how annoying the Tinerfeños can be (and they can be annoying, like when they’re cutting you up in the car, or taking forever to complete the most minor transaction at the Correos or the supermarket, or talking incessantly on the phone when they’re supposed to be serving you) one flash of that genuine smile and you’re completely disarmed. Smiling is their default expression and it’s a lovely thing to have around you.

Exotic fruits

Fresh produce
Supermarket shelves are brimming with loose fruit and vegetables, a tide of varying sizes, colours and shapes that ebbs and flows with different varieties according to the season.

The range of tropical fruits is giddy-inducing at times and we have fresh, exotic varieties at our fingertips for very little money. Every decent supermarket also has a comprehensive fishmongers with a bewildering assortment of freshly caught fish and seafood. The meat counters have entire skinned rabbits and piglets alongside more familiar cuts of beef, pork and lamb. To sanitized UK shopper eyes, it’s not always what you want to see but it’s honest and real and fresh and local.

Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, Wizz, DK Guides, you can read her latest content on Google+

About Andy 48 Articles
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites and travel guides. Andy is the Tenerife Expert for The Telegraph and Tenerife Insider for tenerife.co.uk. As well as her online work, she is regularly published in Thomas Cook Travel Magazine and EasyJet Traveller Magazine and has been published in The Independent, Wexas Traveller and Vueling Airlines 'Ling' magazine. You can read her latest content on Google+

9 Comments

  1. Your articles always give a real insight to life on the islands. Your book is great as it does reveal the true Tenerife. Our friends from England bought a copy and when we went to take them out and show them the “real” Tenerife, they had already been to all the places we thought of, we then found they had read your book!!! ?

  2. I love your site and have been visiting Tenerife since my parents first took me there in the early 80’s, there were only a handful of hotels in Americas then and a large open area separated them from Torres Del Sol on the edge of Cristianos.

    I noted your comments regarding language, did you guys have a grasp of Spanish before you moved there? How much does Canario differ?

    • Thanks Adrian. For a year before moving we took Spanish lessons once a week at the Cervantes Institute in Manchester; a great place as it was also a centre for Spanish residents in the city. We were taught by a woman from Barcelona and then another from Madrid, learning to lisp our words. Then we arrived in Tenerife (we’d only visited once previously and not for very long) to find the local language sounded quite different from the one we’d been taught the basics of. The first request for a Therbetha was met with a loud “QUE?”. Simplistically put, Canarian Spanish is more like South American Spanish than Castilian. Learning some Spanish beforehand definitely helped us get by though.

  3. Hi Andy, interesting read. I currently live in Barcelona and things are not much different here (in terms of getting replies to emails or bank/postal queues). I think Spanish people simply do not like online, period. Recently I had to change address and I needed a cita previa in some places (like the car rego place) to do so. Amazing.
    Although I have lived here for 8 years, I am thinking to leave as I am getting increasingly fed up with the local nationalism and institutionalised discrimination of the Spanish language. Would you say this is better on Tenerife or are people and the ayuntamiento also reluctant to speak Spanish there? How about integration into the local community? In Barcelona they just treat you as one of many foreigners and mostly ignore you (despite living here for 8 years I only have non-Catalan friends). Is this better on Tenerife? I am autonomo so can work and live anywhere and Northern Tenerife was one of the candidates. After your pro/con list would you recommend it? As far as culture goes, Barcelona also feels pretty lame (only artists who write or perform in Catalan get subsidies) and in terms of music they are decades behind London or Berlin it seems. I do not expect this to be better on Tenerife but how about other events like talks, exhibitions, perhaps the odd classical concert? Thanks.

  4. Hi Oliver, that’s an interesting and challenging set of questions you pose 🙂 Bear in mind I can only answer from my personal experience but that said…
    Living in the north of Tenerife, we could not have got by if we didn’t speak Spanish. The ayuntamiento, banks, medical centre etc all speak only Spanish. Our experience in the tourist resorts of the south is very different – there, when we speak Spanish they respond in English. However, even in the south, head away from the coast and into the hills and again, you’ll mainly find only Spanish spoken.
    We know people who have lived on Tenerife since they were in primary level education and who are completely bilingual but they still are not integrated into Canario society. We do have Canarian friends but apart from one, I wouldn’t say we were fully integrated into their lives, on the other hand, they don’t treat us as just another couple of extranjeros so maybe you will find it better.
    Tenerife actually does okay in terms of exhibitions and talks and we do have the Tenerife Auditorium (https://auditoriodetenerife.com/es/) which stages a full programme of concerts ranging from classical to rock.
    Finally – would I recommend it? Yes, for all the reasons I outlined above but with the strong proviso of the negatives for self-employed. As you undoubtedly already know, the Spanish tax system is prohibitive towards self-employment and you’ll find little difference between Barcelona and Tenerife in that respect. With hindsight, I would also recommend limiting the time you stay on the island; it’s very easy to live in that eternal sunshine and get sucked into the easy lifestyle but I think that unless you’re retiring there, the rest of the world will pass you by while you do 🙂

    • Thanks very much for this quick reply. So if everything happens in Spanish on Tenerife then that is already a step up from Barcelona 😉 Here, the local CAP only answers the phone in Catalan, work contracts are only issued in Catalan (even from government research institutes), tax forms are usually only obtainable in Catalan as the Spanish ones are “out of print”, etc. So being able to just focus on Spanish will be a relief. I am just worried that life may be a little too slow for me on Tenerife. Might just give it a try for a few months and see. Surely it is also a matter of habit. I was thinking about the Tacoronte/El Sausal area as I have seen some nice places there. Would you say that it has mostly local residents in that area or is it more touristic/seasonal?
      As far as autonomos go, I think Spain is better than its reputation. It is true that it used to be hard in the beginning when your income was low and you had to pay 250 Euros in social security. But with the new €50 flat fee in the first year (which I am still in), it is much easier and certainly better than most countries in Europe. Of course, once you pass the 2 year initial period you have to pay the full fee of €270 which can be steep but hopefully the income will have gone up a bit after 2 years.
      I used to work in France for a while and there the social security was much more expensive. Of course you also do get something in return but still …
      Anyway, thanks again and maybe we’ll meet one day on Tenerife, not that big a place it seems.

  5. hi Andy – great article, thank you. i am looking to make the gradual transition from Jersey in the channel islands to Tenerife, where i bought a studio several years ago. Im looking to nip across and start building a client base maybe one week a month and gradually phase across as finances allow. Do you know how easy it is for a local to offer me temporary employment? im a therapist, specialising in medically undiagnosable pain syndromes. Thx for your time, and hope to be joining you in the sun shortly! My place is in Costa adeje down south. take care, chris

    • Hi Chris – I’m afraid I’m not qualified to offer advice on employment prospects or the legalities of temporary contracts having only ever been self-employed. My advice would be to go to an official source for an answer. Perhaps on your next visit you can seek out an abogado (lawyer) locally – someone who specialises in employment law and can give you accurate advice. It’s not as expensive as you might expect and it’s an investment worth making if you’re planning your new life on the island. It certainly sounds like you’ve got a plan and I wish you every success and happiness in your new life.
      Andy 🙂

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