Meet the intrepid expats living the dream
Roo and Pete Lucas and their teenage children Jago and Chloe are, by their own admission, living the expat dream. From a pretty green-shuttered fisherman’s townhouse in the old town of Port de Sóller, on the west coast of Majorca, they run a boat charter business. That means no commuting, just days spent on their converted classic wooden fishing boat, cruising the crystal-clear waters of the secluded bays and mooring up near restaurants perched on the cliffs.
Roo, now 42, was never going to settle down into a desk job after a peripatetic life spent on boats. She was nearly born on one, as her parents both lived on boats in Brixham, Devon, and the family spent a year sailing around the Caribbean when she was 10.
Now she and Pete, 39, have dropped anchor and settled down in Sóller to grow their business, Bonnie Lass Charters. Three years on, and with tourism booming on Majorca, the couple are acquiring a second boat.
“It’s incredibly rewarding, making sure people enjoy themselves on holiday, whether they’re a Saudi princess or a Grimsby plumber,” says Roo. “People come out on the boat and get a taste of our life and say, ‘If you ever want to sell up, let us know’. Maybe we might in 10 years if it becomes an asset, but the early stages of building a business are hard and you need to subsidise yourselves for the first two years.”
It is a far cry from office life in rainy England. “Pete and I are enjoying it more than we imagined. It’s great being able to combine work with something you love doing.”
Many of the 1.3million British citizens living in other EU countries run small businesses, often in growing tourism sectors such as extreme sports.
Another of these intrepid entrepreneurs is John Taylor, a keen climber from Somerset. He turned his passion into a business when he swapped programming in the City to become a fulltime mountain guide on Mont Blanc in the French Alps. “It took me 10 years to get my mountain guide qualification and then I began to spend more time in Chamonix,” says Taylor, 51.
He bought a chalet in Les Houches and started his company, Mont Blanc Guides, in 2004.
“I do about 250300 climbs each season, taking groups of people – mainly Britons, South Africans and Australians – up the mountain. I love the psychology aspect as well as doing something I love in stunning scenery.
“Each time I meet a new group of people, whether they are brain surgeons, rugby players or street cleaners, I need to get them safely up and down the mountain.”
He also works as a ski guide in the winter. “It’s definitely a lifestyle business, but I love the freedom of it... I still do a bit of programming for extra income, but the business is going well so I don’t have to work all the time.” This means that he can spend more time with his family – his wife Claire and their two children – and they have moved down to Annecy, in the valley, so there is more separation between work and play.
As Taylor found out by tapping into the market for middle-aged “fit oldies”, who are testing their endurance, the key to running a lucrative business is identifying an opening. That may be opening an Indian restaurant in rural France or a yoga retreat in Tuscany – whatever it is that you can add your expertise to in a market that needs serving.
Donna Saunders found a rather different niche that needed to be filled. “I could see that Spain was 10 years behind the UK in the treatment of pets and there was a real need for a goodquality kennels,” she says.
A dog lover from Hertfordshire, she quit her office job to move to Andalusia and opened In The Dog House, a training centre/dog hotel set around a twobedroom finca among the stunning peaks of the campo behind Málaga where professional cyclists train (inthedoghousedtc.com).
“I built up the school and am now rushed off my feet with the demand for troubleshooting behavioural issues or dog-sitting services,” adds Saunders. “I pick up the dogs arriving on flights from Dubai and Australia for their owners and care for them, train the locals’ dogs, and I have one lady who travels from Madrid because I am the only one she will trust with her dog.”
With 300 clients, it is a pretty full-on job that leaves her precious little time to sit by her swimming pool to admire the spectacular views, so after eight years Saunders is now selling her business for €495,000 (£433,000) through businessesforsale.com. “It’s got all the licences in place, a great reputation and it brings in a net profit of €50,000 to €100,000 per year. But I would advise anyone to get themselves a good accountant to advise them if they are buying a business in Spain,” she says.
Another growing trend is that of coworking spaces serving an increasingly mobile remote working population that is hungry to travel. The number of people embarking on this lifestyle increased by 41 per cent during 2017, according to Deskmag, a co-working magazine. Rural examples of shared work spaces for rent are also appearing, drawing on the appetite of global nomads to de-stress at a slower pace of life.
British couple Patricia Malaga and Brett Thomas were fed up with “earning decent money” as contractors in London, yet not having much left to enjoy life there. So last year they set up a co-working space, Verdigris, in the picturesque town of Olvera, a traditional pueblo blanco in the Cádiz mountains.
“The location was important as it is only 80 minutes from Málaga, and Brett still travels across Europe with his work for an American publishing house,” says Malaga, 51, who was born in Peru. “Olvera is an authentic Spanish town, with a year-round vibrancy that is very different to the Costa del Sol.” They spotted a demand for co-working in this area and set to work. “We saw examples of people running co-working spaces elsewhere in Spain, but there wasn’t one in Andalusia. Here people can cycle, paraglide and hike,” she says. “We have so far had users from the UK and Holland.”
They charge €12 per day for a workstation with office facilities and chill-out areas, and have plans to run events based around the local traditions, such as jamon-cutting workshops, sherry tastings and olive harvesting.
“The Andalusian government is supportive of people setting up such businesses and we got a low-interest loan to renovate the office space,” Malaga adds. “Here, our mortgage payments are the same as our council tax was in London, but I also work as a virtual assistant to clients in London while we become established.”
If you are interested in buying a business abroad, you can find dozens to purchase that are already up and running. The average purchase is a “lifestyle” business such as a b&b or boutique hotel worth around €250,000, says Rufus Bazley of businessesforsale.com.
“British people still dominate the site, both buying and selling,” he says. If you are planning to start a business beyond British shores, carry out research. “Make sure you do your due diligence on a business, using a local legal expert,” adds Bazley. “Lexoo.com is a good place to find one.”
It is a challenge navigating other countries’ bureaucracies, says Roo Lucas. “One of the hardest things is knowing what to ask for – no one will necessarily volunteer the information. But setting up a business in Spain is itself not too complicated.”
John Taylor’s tour on Mont Blanc, main and below; Donna Saunders, left
Patricia Malaga and Brett Thomas, above; Roo and Pete Lucas, left