Living in Andorra
Living in Andorra
With a GDP per capita at $46.700, the twelfth highest in the world, tax-friendly Andorra has a very sophisticated standard of living. International statistics say that residents' income per head is higher than in any EU country, 10% higher than in Switzerland, more than 35% higher than in the United Kingdom and, astoundingly (although perhaps not entirely accurately) almost 50% higher than in Monaco.
There is also a notable lack of formality in everyday life, with less intrusive rules and regulations than appear to be the norm in other sophisticated economies. The general cost of living in terms of everyday shopping is on a par with France and Spain, from where most of the goods in the shops are imported, but in terms of luxury goods, such as jewellery and high fashion brands, and other ranges such as sports goods, perfumes, electronics, car accessories, fuel, tobacco and spirits, the price differentials are striking, which is why Andorra continues to attract millions of visitors every year.
Despite this influx, getting around the country on a daily basis is easy, with journey times to the capital even from the highest valleys popular with the expatriate community, of around 15-20 minutes.
Surprisingly, the one constant feature that stands out from every survey of Andorra - and almost always near the top of every resident's list of the advantages of living in the country - has nothing at all to do with tax. It is the sense of total security that attracts the most favourable comments. According to one database, Andorra has the lowest crime rate in the world , which is astounding if you also take into account that Andorra has 10 million visitors a year (roughly 125 foreign visitors per head!). Hand guns are banned except under lock and key for target practice in clubs and even sporting shotguns are heavily controlled and for use only during one single hunting week in the autumn. Bag snatching, mugging and random aggression are absolutely unheard of and (rare) burglaries make headlines. Banks have no bullet-proof glass and young girls hitchhike without fear. One of the best casual entertainments in Andorra is to walk down your local high street and note how many cars are parked with the keys in the ignition. Drop a wallet in the street and you have a better than 90% chance that someone will hand it in, intact. Not surprisingly, citizen vigilance is high, because no-one wants things to change.
Others from less fortunate countries are also stunned by the lack of petty corruption in daily life. It just does not happen - and woe betide anyone trying to bribe a civil servant or a policeman because one is likely to end up in Andorra's thoroughly un-recommendable gaol.
The lack of crime may also help to explain that Andorra has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world. In its 2011 figures, the CIA World Factbook puts Andorra in 4th place, above even Japan.
Andorra was the first country in Europe to have every address in the country wired up with fibre-optic broadband internet connexions. Over 100 free-to-air television channels also come as standard as part of the various packages offered by Andorra Telecom, with the facility to switch easily to the original soundtracks (predominantly in English).
Additional satellite connexions are also widely used by expatriates to watch their favourite programmes from home country broadcasters.
Schooling is free for all resident children, with primary schools in every parish and secondary schools in most. Students also study for the Andorran equivalent of the bacalauréat (Higher School Certificate) which opens entry to universities in both France and Spain.
There are actually three main school systems: the French, the Spanish and the Andorran. The first two, although still well-attended, are symptomatic of the fact that in years past all education was provided by France and Spain, with teachers from each country seconded to Andorra. These two systems follow their home-country syllabus in their respective languages and are generally favoured by families originating in those two countries. The Andorran system, which started in 1982, along with the first phase of self-government, has proved to be most popular with the international community, with instruction in English featuring from any early age. All systems have classes in all four languages (Catalan, French, Spanish and English) and students of the Andorran system appear to be the most comfortable in all those languages. Not only that, but there is no doubt that the major investment in education goes to the Andorran system and facilities these days are superb.
There is also a fee-paying International school in the parish of La Massana which draws many of its pupils from expatriate families, with the medium of instruction slanted more towards Spanish and English and there are also schools run by the Catholic church, which have a very high reputation for examination results.
Free creches are also available in every parish, in addition to many privately-run nursery schools.
Sports and Leisure
The national sport is skiing and all school children are taught to ski as part of the general curriculum. Apart from that, there are a bewildering number of outdoor sports available and there are indoor leisure facilities throughout the country. Every small town in Andorra has its own public sports centre and swimming pool with very low entry fees, plus a government-funded sports complex in the capital.
Each parish has a multi-cultural centre with theatre and concert facilities and hardly a day goes by without there being some type of entertainment or production. Andorra also gets rather more than its fair share of international productions passing through with big name artistes and companies performing in the country with sell-out shows at astoundingly reasonable ticket prices.
There is also a world-class private sports club facility in La Massana parish with annual fees of about 500€ at which many new residents take up membership. In general, new residents are amazed by all the facilities available, with children especially well served. The current agenda of all cultural events in Andorra can be found by clicking on the English version here.
Andorra is reputed to have more than 285 days of sunshine per year. In summer, it is normally as warm as in Spain during the day time, but humidity is extremely low and it is always cool at night. During the winter it is mostly quite cold and clear. The snows fall at regular intervals interspersed with a lot of sunny days, so one must be careful not to get sunburn whilst skiing. Again, because of the lack of humidity, the wind chill factor is much less than at the coast, so it is not unusual to see people wearing relatively light clothing at temperatures well below freezing.
Most newcomers imagine that, being small, Andorra is predominantly urban and for many day-visitors anxious to shop until they drop, that is indeed all they see of Andorra.
It therefore comes as a huge surprise to most that within a few minutes' drive of the capital valley, one can find oneself in a small, sleepy village or in a mountain pasture where the only sounds are from the birds, the streams and the occasional tinkling of a cow bell. Walking the mountains in meadows carpeted with wild flowers is one of the many joys of living in Andorra.