Costa Women – Connecting Expats in Spain

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Ali Meehan is the founder of Costa Women, an online social and business group dedicated to connecting women who live in Spain, or are planning on moving to Spain. The group has the purpose of helping women in Spain (whatever nationality and culture) connect, make lasting friendships, share their stories, support businesses, experience fun events, and enjoy their lives in Spain. The Costa Women community has welcomed over 12,000 members since it was launched in 2010. 

CostaWomen.com is an Affiliate Partner of SaveSavvi.com, helping women in Spain choose the most suitable insurance plan for their needs. 

We sat down with Ali to discuss life as a woman abroad…

  1. You moved from the UK and lived in several countries before settling down in Spain. How is moving to another country seen through the eyes of a woman? 

Each country is different and brings different challenges. However, I think to have a mindset that ‘it’s not wrong – it just is’ when making the move helps with the challenges. Each country has its own culture, its own way of its bureaucracy working (or not, depending on the country!) and you as a foreigner have to accept that only you are usually the one getting stressed about it. You can’t change what has been in place for 100s of years. Some of the countries I have lived in have a very different attitude to women working, whether it was Australia, the Middle East, Asia and Spain. In the 2000s whilst on a plane to Qatar I was asked what I thought I was doing going there for work by the gentleman in the next seat!  

  1. What are the hardest and the easiest things about it? 

Hard would be that, sometimes, even to this day, there is a negative male attitude in Spain.  It’s only been in the last few decades that women have been working in Spain, so this is still relatively new. It could be the reason why so many women are solopreneurs and creating their own futures and successes, rather than working for a company.

The hardest parts of having a business in Spain are the costs and the bureaucracy. The expense of being self-employed (you have to pay monthly your ‘automono’ or self-employment fee even if you don’t earn any income. Plus IVA – VAT – is due from day one with no breaks as they have in other countries. We live in hope that these rules and the business expenses will be revised, but learn to work with them in the meantime.

The easiest thing is the community of support you get. Unlike other countries, I get the feeling that we are all rooting for each other to succeed as we are foreigners in a foreign land and work together to collaborate rather than compete.   

  1. What are the biggest challenges women face when moving to another country (especially to Spain)? 

Not doing enough research. Every country is different when you are on holiday to when you are living/working there. Before you move, do lots of research about how life will be for you there. What are your daily and life needs? Do you have children? What are your hobbies and interests? What are your work requirements? What lifestyle do you want to have? Does the country meet those needs? What are the costs of making the move? How easy is it to find property to rent or buy in the area you are looking at living in? I always recommend renting first in an area as these can change dramatically during the seasons.

Another challenge, which affects people making the move with a business, is the lack of a network when they first arrive. I would start networking before you arrive as many of the groups now have online events and meetups. And use Facebook to find local groups in the areas you are researching and start asking the questions. 

You also need to research if you are thinking of starting a business from scratch. Is your product, or service limited to foreigners, or will Spanish people want to buy? If so there are differences in how you market to the local population as opposed to foreigners. Also don’t assume it’s not already in Spain! As part of our SpainExpo.org online information platform we shared some of the challenges, ways to overcome them and the different ways you will need to do your marketing to a Spanish market.

  1. For non-EU nationals, what are the restrictions for you working?   

Post Brexit, we now have different types of Visas. This video from Legal Services in Spain helps to differentiate between them. https://youtu.be/whk6Lz69oLQ

  1. How would you describe the Costa Women community? 

In essence it’s a space for women to start making friends, share their businesses and grow their network of friends, contacts and potential client base.  

  1. How do you see its evolution, looking back on how it started? 

When I started the community (initially as only an online platform) my husband said you have either created something beautiful or a monster! I prefer the beautiful option! Quite quickly we started to host in-person events and now I have a wonderful group of volunteers who organise all sorts of events in different parts of Spain. The membership has grown massively since we started with over 12,000 members joining us since 2010! Fortunately we have had to do very little advertising as the word has been spread meaning we have grown organically. Women members have willingly recommended the community to their other female friends and our events have attracted a lot of interest over the years. 

  1. Tell us about a time when the community was supportive of its members and why this type of community is helpful for them. 

Whether it has been raising money for charities, or helping victims of domestic violence, being that friend, or listening ear; the women in the community have made a huge difference to our lives in Spain. For instance, the Lady who attended one of our in-person events hadn’t seen anyone for weeks (only her dog), or the Lady who was moving back to the UK because she was lonely and stayed – it was wonderful for them to find new friends. In 2019 when the virus hit, we started hosting very regular online events (in total 230 that year) to keep the Women motivated, working towards their goals and to know there was always someone there for them.  

I am also very much a believer in collaboration, rather than competition; we are all unique women and have our own story to tell. I really enjoy our collaborations with other Women’s networks in Spain and globally, whether that’s as part of the International Women’s Day events which we were hosting with 1230, The Women’s Company, or Believe Inspire Grow with whom we hold monthly events, or the adhoc events we do with Sue France and other Women’s groups. 

  1. In your opinion, why is insurance important for expat women and why would you recommend them to take out protection? 

It’s not just important, it’s essential to have peace of mind when you live in another country.  None of us plan to have an accident, or lose your home to a fire, or get sick. What you can’t plan for, you can at least mitigate by making sure you have insurance when you most need it. 

  1. What’s next for Ali Meehan and Costa Women?

Lots! Costa Women will be moving to a new web platform at the start of 2022 to increase engagement and connections. I have just launched the 2022 Planner and Diary (in its 4th edition) and am getting great feedback. International Women’s Day 2022 is in the planning stages; and business coaching will keep me busy too! Whatever 2022 throws at us, we won’t be idle!

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