“To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture.” – Frantz Fanon
Each year, tens of millions of people move from their home country and set up a new life abroad. For most, the prospect of a better job or retirement are the main factors in making this drastic change. And the story is no different for Americans.
Around 40% of American-born citizens who emigrate to another country end up in central and south America with Mexico, Costa Rica, and Ecuador being among the most popular. A huge number of Americans love these Spanish-speaking countries, and the number moving each year is ever-increasing.
So, why do so many people move to Spanish-speaking countries in the first place?
The High Satisfaction Between Work and Life
The biggest reason why Americans are moving to the central and south American countries in droves is the high satisfaction between work and life. Having the balance between your working life and your personal life is the ultimate goal for most people, so it makes sense that countries which rank highly would be common choices.
In a recent study by InterNations, the top ten countries in the world where expats were happiest in their work/life balance included 3 Spanish-speaking countries - Mexico, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. Added to this, four of the top ten most popular counties for American retirees are also Spanish-speaking - Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, and Colombia.
However, if you plan on having a hassle-free retirement enjoying the climate and beautiful scenery. Or you are desperate to have a stress-free and balanced life in your new country and new job, then there are a few things you’ll need to know before you make the move.
Things You Need to Know Before Moving to a Spanish-Speaking Country
Of course, like with any country, you’ll experience some drastic changes in culture, climate, food, and more. To deal with any situation efficiently and not get overwhelmed by the unexpected, it’s best to learn what you need to know before you get on the plane.
1. Personal Space
While not every culture is going to be the same in every Spanish-speaking country, some aspects are seen throughout. One of the biggest ones is affection and personal space.
Back in America, the idea of a stranger greeting you with anything more than a handshake might strike you as somewhat odd. However, in Latino countries, hugs and kisses are common and expected. You will most likely be greeted by most people with a kiss on both your cheeks - even if you have no idea who they are.
This is a polite and affectionate greeting that you’ll soon get used to. If someone goes to kiss your cheek, don’t step back or you could risk being seen as an ignorant foreigner.
2. Food Choices
In general, food choices will be different from what you’re used to in your country. While there is a lot of Latino influence in American foods and the same in reverse, you will have to adjust to not always be able to get what you want when you want.
Get ready for new dining experiences and you might just find your new favorite foods! You will find some of your favorite American foods in the supermarkets and restaurants as well but don’t expect to find them everywhere you go.
3. Sense of Community
In all Spanish-speaking countries, you will find a strong sense of community. This means that a stranger will think nothing of inviting you and your family round for dinner. Or striking up a conversation in the street or the supermarket. There is often a ‘what’s mine is yours’ attitude that helps bring people closer together.
By contrast, Americans are very used to having their own personal space and privacy where speaking with strangers is awkward and unnecessary
Additionally, if someone is offering to get you a drink or invite you around for lunch, it’s common that your first response might be to feel uneasy. You start wondering if they are trying to trick you or have an agenda.
It’s unfortunate that this is the case and it often makes it hard to get accustomed to strangers going out their way for you just because they want to.
4. Slow Pace
Have you ever heard the, albeit satirical, expression ‘Why do today what you can put off till tomorrow?’. This play on the original expression sums up life in Spanish-speaking countries pretty well. For the most part, people aren’t in a rush. If you need a service such as a plumber, electrician, mechanic, etc, they will help you but perhaps not as quickly as you’re used to.
You’ll find that even in places such as the supermarket and post office, workers go at their own pace. There’s no rush and this is never going to change. Being punctual is no longer important so don’t be offended when everyone and anyone arrives 30 minutes after they said they would.
Admittedly, it can get extremely frustrating to feel like the world is going slower and everything is constantly being put off until the next day - when, inevitably, it’ll be put off until the following day again - but once you accept that this is life, you actually start to enjoy this part of the culture.
5. Festivals and Parties
Spanish-speaking countries love nothing more than a good party. It can seem like they can find any excuse to celebrate. From street parties, festivals, and more, you’ll have to get used to a lot of noise, music, dancing, fireworks, and parades.
National holidays are taken very seriously also, with people marching through the streets playing music even if it’s 5 in the morning. Unless you previously lived in a loud, busy city back home, you might need some time to get accustomed to this frequent level of noise!
6. Direct Speech
Don’t be offended when people speak to you directly or abruptly. Spanish-speaking countries don’t have flowery speech or use please, sorry, and thank you very often. They’re not being rude, they just don't see the need to use them
Spanish-speakers find it odd when foreigners use polite words all the time so don’t feel like you have to end every sentence with a please or thank you.
7. The Language
Spanish is the most popular language taught in American schools. It’s also the second most common language spoken in the country. So, even if you have never actively learned the language in your free time, you should know some basic phrases and vocabulary. This is a great start but to fully integrate into your new life and community, you’ll need to be able to speak the language to a fairly high level.
While you’ll find plenty of people in Spanish-speaking countries that also know bits of English, you can’t rely on this all the time and you should never expect people in their own country to speak a second language just to accommodate you. Especially when it comes to dealing with more serious aspects of life such as bills, contracts, visa applications, legal documents, and other paperwork.
These will be in Spanish and you’ll need to have a good proficiency in the language to get by - or at least hire a translator to help you.
Latin America vs Spain
Each year, more than 400,000 Americans visit Spain for vacation, and a further 30,000 move to Spain while they attend university. That’s a lot of people who are learning and hearing Spanish (Castellano) in a completely different part of the world from South America.
So, will those who learn Spanish in South America be understood in Spain? And will those who learn Spanish in Spain be understood if they eventually move to one of the other 20 Spanish-speaking countries?
Fortunately, the answer is, for the most part, yes. Of course, each of the world’s 21 Spanish-speaking countries has its own slang, pronunciation, dialects, and nuances.
However, in general, these differences can be compared to the differences found between Australia and England, for example, or between the United States and New Zealand.
Talking with other people who come from a different English-speaking country may present a few challenges at first as your ear adjusts to a new accent, you pick up a few previously unknown words, and you may even need the other person to slow down. But, overall, both parties can communicate effectively.
This will be the experience that most people have when using Spanish learned in Spain when they visit Peru, Costa Rica, Chile, etc.
Likewise, since each of the Spanish-speaking countries in South America also has nuances between themselves, you will encounter the same situation when using Spanish learned in Ecuador if you’re visiting Argentina. Or Spanish learned in Chile when you’re visiting Bolivia. Or Spanish learned in Colombia when you’re visiting Panama, and so on.
You won’t always understand what everyone is saying, you may need speakers to slow down or repeat themselves, and you'll learn new words, but you’ll be able to get by pretty easily.
The Unstoppable Language
It may surprise you to learn that after Mandarin, Spanish is the most spoken language in the world in terms of native speakers. When talking about Spanish as a second language, it ranks an impressive fourth with an estimated combined total of 585 million Spanish speakers in the world, both native and second-language speakers. This number is constantly rising by about five million each year.
Add to this that Spanish is the 3rd most popular language used on the internet, and the 2nd most common language used in scientific research papers, and you’ll see why more and more people are studying this language as soon as possible.
Being able to communicate in a second language has always had advantages, but being able to communicate in Spanish is one of the most beneficial of all.
However, while around 43 million Americans speak Spanish, that still leaves roughly 285 million who don’t. So, if you’re heading off to a fresh start in a Spanish-speaking country but don’t yet know the language or aren't confident in your abilities then you’ll need to seek out a professional translation company to help you along the way.
As we mentioned earlier, moving to a Spanish-speaking country involves a lot of paperwork, bureaucracy, and administration that can feel incredibly overwhelming if you don’t understand the papers and forms you are being given.
Not to mention the problems you could encounter if you misread or mistranslated and end up making mistakes. When a life-changing event like moving countries comes along, hiring a reliable and established translation company is the best way to ensure you avoid problems and can start your life as quickly and easily as possible.
The Translation Company
The Translation Company delivers quality, care, and understanding in every project, offering a range of services that are tailor-made and adapted for your needs no matter what they are. The Translation Company guarantees 100% satisfaction on all of their projects and has been in the business for over 15 years - they know exactly how to deliver a fantastic service.
Whether you are looking for that person-to-person translation, typed work - such as moving or legal documentation - or a translation of all the paperwork you need to deal with in your new country, The Translation Company has all the tools you require to make starting your new life as simple and stress-free as possible.
With offices in the US in Frisco, New York, Dallas, and San Francisco and internationally in China and Brazil, they cover a range of areas and time zones. Offering translation services in over 200 languages with a huge range of subject matter experts, they will be able to assist you in all your translation needs with outstanding quality and service. You can contact them here for more information and a friendly member of their team will be in touch with you to discuss what you need in more detail.