Saturday, August 9, 2008


I am a retired Cathay Pacific Airways pilot. I retired in 1987 with the intention of living in Hawaii, where my wife and I had built a house in 1982.

In 1984 we decided to buy a pied-a-terre somewhere in Europe. We purchased the smallest reasonable apartment in Andorra after a quick exploration of accommodation in France, Switzerland and Italy.

Two years into retirement we found that we were in Andorra most of the time and decided to take out residency, build a larger house, and plant our feet firmly in the Principality, and, would you believe it, I think we get more sunshine here than we did in Hawaii.

Although I was educated in the UK, I have lived abroad for most of my life, in Canada, Germany, Hawaii, and Hong Kong and expect to enjoy the remainder of my dotage in Andorra, where we have an international group of friends and little interference from a benign government.

advertisementIn the 19 years since we owned property here we have met with every level of the eclectic and polyglot society, and we do feel that we know the place well.

I have built two 2-seater aircraft in my retirement, but while they still fly, I find that my eyesight and reflexes indicate that I should give them up to the active syndicates that have helped me to build them, and returning to writing seems a good next step.

I am happy to answer any questions, I love Andorra and I am happy to share it with others.

Andorra: There is a simple dichotomy in the attitudes of people visiting or staying in Andorra; they either like it a lot, or they don’t like it at all.

To examine the negative vote; I remember asking a real estate broker who was naturally enthusiastic about the Principality, what was wrong with it? “Getting here” was her only comment and she referred to the three hour journey from either Toulouse or Barcelona where airline connections are available.

Those arriving by car from the UK are liable to find themselves caught up, at the end of a two-day journey, in a mind-numbing crawl of French or Spanish holiday shoppers, loading up with cigarettes and alcohol.

Geography Andorra with an area of 175 square miles, is about the same size as the Isle of Wight or two and a half times the area of Washington D.C. The population in 2001 was 67,159 and their life expectancy was a healthy 83.49 years.

Steeply sloped valleys present attractive scenery but sometimes a pressing sense of closeness for the claustrophobic. Most people like it, though some who have surrendered their pulmonary fitness to inactivity or tobacco, find that the mountain air, at 4000 to 7000 feet, is not sufficient for an energetic life.

Basically the country consists of a major road, 20 miles long, that connects the French border at Pas de la Casa with the Spanish border at Farga de Moles with numerous spur roads running into smaller valleys totalling 170 miles. It is not a big place.

The capitol, Andorra la Vella (Andorra the old) has merged with Escaldes-Engordany to form the civic centre where the shops are sufficient to cater to the 11,500,000 annual visitors, who arrive in the winter for skiing in Europe’s largest network of ski-runs, or in summer for shopping or hiking in the well tended network of trails.

Language and Culture: There is a vigorous expatriate society centred either within the La Massana Comu, which is built on a confluence of two river valleys without a through road, hence ignored by the shopping frenzy, or in the numerous villages in the mountains above St Julia towards the Spanish border.

The expats of both these communities are English speaking. French influence increases as one nears the northeastern border.

The national language is Catalan, and while it is politically beneficial to speak it to an Andorran, they all understand Spanish, which they refer to as Castilian, and most know French. English is a poor third language, except among the expatriates of any country.

There are signs of human occupation from the Neolithic era 6000 years ago, and while there is some evidence of internal struggle in the 13th century, and a visit by Charlemagne in the 9th, it is a country that has never been at war, nor occupied by a foreign power throughout the history of mankind.

Andorra joined the United Nations in 1993 and raised its flag, which incidentally is the same as the flags of Chad and Romania.

Taxes: The belief that Andorra is a tax haven is not totally correct, as 50.55% of government revenue is derived from taxes in a total budget (2001) of 350,468,240 Euros.

It is true that Income Taxes, Capital Gains and Death Duties are absent, as are Sales Taxes, but there is an Import Tax, usually 2% to 5%, and there are taxes on business which does not effect the expatriates, who are, in most cases prevented from working by restrictions on their residencia.

Government and People: Perhaps the following items illustrate the Government’s attitude to its public. All internal mail is delivered post-free. Stamps are only required on foreign mail, though it’s true that the post office is a bit slow.

Government car parks all give free parking for the first hour to facilitate quick errands, and, with the parking meters, from one o’clock until three to assist lunchtime diners, and evenings and Sundays to help everybody, which clearly illustrates that the modest fees are there only to control parking and not boost the exchequer.

I have received two parking tickets in the last 15 years. They were polite messages asking me not to park illegally. There was no demand for money, though fines are not unheard of.

When we decided to apply for permanent residence, which necessitated a lot of form filling, one of which was a statement from the mayor saying that we did live in the area. The town clerk asked me if I had paid the tax on the purchase of our apartment. I replied that I had given the lawyer a lot of money and I did not know how it was dispersed.

She checked with the computer and found that I hadn’t. I had to return on the morrow to collect my signed statement and said I would attend to it then, and returning to consult my neighbours about the tax I’d never heard of. They both said, "Don’t pay it. We’ve never paid it. Just keep quiet about it.”

I pondered over the success of a residency application from an applicant who started off saying he wouldn’t abide by the regulations, versus an unnecessary payment of an un-enforced tax and on returning to collect the letter from the mayor said that I couldn’t afford the tax, which was an outright lie.

“All right” said the clerk and that was that, until two years later I received a letter from the Town Clerk noting that I had never paid, and if I wanted to do so, the office was open from nine to five each week day, and that was all. No threats. No surcharges. No offer of jail or deportation, No deadline.

I was thoroughly ashamed of myself and hurried down to settle the bill that was less than 1% of the purchase price. And have paid anything else requested ever since.

Like any other contented resident I’ve come to terms with the drawbacks of living in Andorra. Not every expected deliveryman nor repairman seems to use a watch, and sometimes not even a calendar, but when they do arrive they are usually efficient and not too expensive.

Crime: There is no sign of poverty in the Principality and there is no record of unemployment, although the building trade among others, governs foreigners, mostly Portuguese, by issuing or withdrawing work permits.

Crime is low. I’ve never heard of a mugging on the street or a car theft. The banks removed all the barriers between the cash and the customers 10 years ago and had a bank robbery shortly afterwards, by two teenagers who made their get-away in a taxi and were caught within 90 minutes.

Any robber planning a serious crime is faced with the escape route, which can be instantly blocked at either border crossing.

Health care: There is a good medical service, voted number four in the world by the World Health Organisation and, when needed, patients are referred to France or Spain for more serious care.

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