Stage One: Andorra is an interesting country that is situated in the Pyrenees, in between France and Spain. Actually it isn’t a country but a principality, something like Monaco, with the princes of Andorra being whoever happens to be the head of France at the time, and the Bishop of Urgell in Spain. It is the sixth smallest nation in Europe, having an area of 500 km2 and a population of only 85,000. The capital, Andorra la Vella, is the highest capital city in Europe at an elevation of 1,023 meters. And that’s the low point of the country; this is a country of mountains and valleys, and very few plateaus. The official language is Catalan, although Spanish, Portuguese, and French are also commonly spoken. Tourism is huge with over 10 million people arriving each year, many for the skiing but many also for the bargains available as taxes are low. In the capital the shopping streets are lined with gadget stores, clothing design, jewelry and watch stores and alcohol and wine. All available at prices less than you’d fine in France or Spain. The big one is gas; we found prices to be a third less than what we were paying in France.
Andorra is a tax haven with no income taxes levied up into 2013. But then, pressured from the European Union, they began to implement a tax on incomes that works out to less than 10%. What is quite remarkable is what this nation has managed to do with only 85,000 people inside a land mass of 500 km2. To put it in perspective, Mexico City is three times the size and has more than 100 times the number of people. After being in Andorra for awhile you realize the system they have in place works. The infrastructure of the country, towns and city (just one city!) is excellent. Unemployment is very low and the tourism numbers are outstanding. And yet you hardly hear anything about this place. They are flying and operating under the radar. Continue reading