Lots of people may dream of moving and living abroad. We did it. One year ago we became residents in Portugal. Living in Portugal as an American results from a lengthy process that we have talked about many times here on Food Travelist.
Over the last twelve months, we have jumped over a lot of hurdles and stumbled on a few others, but all and all we have found Portugal to be as we expected. The kind people here have welcomed us, made us feel at home, and helped us whenever they could. From silly things like helping us figure out how to use the fresh-squeezed orange juice machine in the supermarket that kept spinning (an orange was stuck) to important things like how to get our national health numbers and VPN set up. It’s been a year of triumphs, learning, and making new traditions.
We’d like to share just some of the lessons that we’ve learned over the last year since moving to Portugal.
1. Be Patient
This is definitely the number one lesson. As Americans we often expect everything to be easy. We think a quick call, email, or conversation can fix most problems and then we move on to the next thing. Here in Europe, the pace is much different, especially in Portugal. Things that you think might take one trip or appointment might take several, and often these trips are fruitless meaning you need to come back again. Granted COVID added unexpected time to many administrative tasks like getting a driver’s license or setting up health accounts but typically everything runs a bit slower.
Pro Tip: Don’t go expecting to meet with anyone from noon to 1, 2, or even 3 pm. Many businesses, including banks and some healthcare facilities, close for lunch and no one will be there to answer any questions.
2. Your Social Life Can Be As Busy As You Like
We were so lucky to meet a few folks who were already in Portugal before we moved. We had dinner with new friends in the first week we arrived and they in turn introduced us to many of their friends. Those original people we met are now our Portuguese family and we cherish our time together.
It’s important to take the time to go out and meet new people. Frankly, it’s easier to meet people in a new country than it is to meet people in a new town in the country you live in. The people you meet abroad have all made the same choice to move. You already have that in common. As a dear friend told us before we moved, you’ll meet a lot of people – some will become great friends, some will be acquaintances, and some just won’t be a fit. You gotta put yourself out there and start to create your new community.
Pro Tip: Join lots of Facebook groups that cater to your new location. Look for Meet Ups and local events that interest you and you’ll likely meet like-minded people with similar hobbies and interests.
3. The Language is Hard, But…
Learning a new language where ever you move is not easy. Portuguese is said to be one of the toughest. One of the other challenges is that if you live in a more metropolitan area like Lisbon, Cascais, or part of the Algarve most people speak English.
Pro Tip: We have found the program Portuguese with Carla to be a great resource for us. It uses a fun treasure hunt type movie broken into chapters and covers all the bases and teaches you via videos, reading, repetition, and patience. They are also quick to answer any questions you may have along the way.
4. Be Prepared
We can’t stress this point enough. Moving to another country is exciting, adventurous, and full of paperwork. Be sure to check the requirements along the way. Things change quickly, especially in the world of COVID-19. Read and follow resources that can help you but do your own homework and be sure that what you’re gathering is right for what you want to do. To get residency in Portugal you need to do a lot of legwork. We arrived in Portugal on a D7 visa. There are different types of visas with varying requirements. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself – hire someone.
Pro Tip: There are a lot of people and companies that can help you with various parts of the process of moving to Portugal. We think NIF NOW is one of the best in the business for getting your NIF (Portuguese tax ID number) and bank account set up quickly, easily, and without hassle. Their advice and knowledge has been invaluable.
Pro Tip: If you’re visiting to check out Portugal as a potential new home or are already here check out Allianz for health insurance. We used them for our first year and recently re-upped with them for 2022.
5. Slow Down
Most of us are used to going at breakneck speed and getting things done quickly and moving on. This is simply not the case in Portugal. We’ve said time and time again that you need to pack your patience when you start this process and that continues once you’ve set up your home here too.
This is one of the primary reasons that we wanted to move here. We wanted a less hectic, more centered lifestyle. It takes a fair amount of adjustment not to race around trying to make things happen (when sometimes you just can’t). Taking the time to slow down and enjoy life is worth every single moment.
6. Embrace New Traditions
Residency in Portugal means some things change. We spent the last year creating new traditions for holidays and learning the traditions that have been in Portugal for centuries. From experiencing our first Sao Martinho day to going to Lisbon to enjoy the holiday lights and even recreating “Thanksgiving” here with friends. We found ways to celebrate life and enjoy the company of others whenever we could.
Living across from the Estoril Praia futebol pitch had us learning to love a sport we didn’t know much about. We now hoot and holler for our guys in yellow and blue right along with the rest of the crowd.
7. Explore When & Where You Can
For us, life is a balance of work and fun. We’ll be the first to admit that sometimes we have a tendency to work more and turn down walks on the beach or lunch with the ladies to make sure we meet a deadline or have that call with a student in Chicago. However, that doesn’t mean we haven’t taken the time to explore some places around our new home.
We’ve gone to visit friends in Setúbal, stayed at a wine hotel in the Douro, and enjoyed drives along the Silver Coast. And we have toured friends and fellow writers around Cascais and Estoril. There’s so much more for us to discover and experience. This summer in Portugal we’re going to history-filled Évora in the Alentejo, we plan to do more exploring along the Linha de Cascais, that beautiful area between Lisbon and Cascais, and we’ll get to the Azores, too.
Now that we’re in Europe, we’re also planning to go back to France and Germany and hopefully get to Italy and Greece too. It’s now so easy and much more affordable to reach all these wonderful places from Portugal.
Pro Tip: Moving to Portugal means lower fares within Europe and super low train fares within Portugal. You can get to major cities throughout Portugal for under 10 euros. That’s pretty amazing. Momondo is one of our favorite resources for finding out when we can go somewhere fabulous at a great price.
8. What To Bring With/What Not To Bring
Even after being here for a year we still bemoan things we left behind. We downsized our “stuff” twice. First with our big move from a 4000 square foot house in Chicago to a 1500 square foot apartment in Madison, Wisconsin. Then, to Portugal. Both were difficult and emotional events. We gave away a lot to family and friends and donated a lot more.
When we were doing our final pass of what to take with us and what to ship we took the advice of many who had already made the trip. We got rid of just about everything. We shipped about 50 boxes of personal items most of which were artwork, books, and kitchen items. As long-time readers know, Diana is a fantastic home cook. She took the unique odds and ends she uses a lot in the kitchen but didn’t take pots, pans, knives, and other things that we now sorely miss.
We didn’t take any of our entertaining dishes (every time we have people over I lament the loss of these cute little white appetizer plates, I know, I know we can replace them here but I’ve yet to see anything like them in Portugal). One friend here asked, “Did you think you’d stop entertaining?”. I guess we didn’t think we’d make so many great friends so fast and want to share our home with them. Go figure.
Not to mention the expense of replacing everything. Our advice to anyone considering a major move. What works well for someone else may not be the same for you. Some people arrive here with two suitcases and are just fine. We are not those people.
Pro Tip: Take your time and really think about what should come with you.
9. Ask For Help
Even after doing all the research and having the best plans in place things sometimes just go sideways. We’re still working on getting our driver’s licenses here in Portugal. It’s a long and boring process that often gets stuck along the way. You will get tired of hearing the word, “não” (no) from underpaid government workers who are not swayed by the fact that you waited for two hours. Getting angry or raising your voice will not help, in fact, just the opposite.
The best option is to find someone who speaks fluent Portuguese to go with you or to hire a professional to help with the process. Administrative functions can be incredibly tiresome, so pack your patience or find someone to help you rather than spinning your wheels and getting frustrated.
10. Be Part of The Community, Become A Local
We moved to Portugal because we love this country and its diverse people. While we love all our friends that are Portugal expats we want to meet more Portuguese and really embed ourselves into the culture. Learning more of the language will certainly help but volunteering and showing up at local events is also a great way to show support and meet new people.
We are still working on our language skills and are constantly thankful for the locals who apologize to us for not speaking more English. We always ask them to speak Portuguese to us. It’s our job to learn their language, not the other way around.
We often write about having local experiences when we travel. It’s no different when moving to a new country. It makes no sense to do the same things the same way we did before. This is the chance to begin again and really embrace this new place and lifestyle.
11. Shop Local, Support Neighborhood Business
Part of being part of this new community means supporting local businesses. We frequent all the little shops in our neighborhood. The churrasqueria down the street knows us very well and the servers wave to us when we walk by heading to the sea for our daily trek. Hilda, the lady who runs our neighborhood florist shop smiled and said “I like you” in broken English (way better than our broken Portuguese) as we left the store last week. We joke and laugh and she helps us find the best plants for our veranda.
Our hairdresser, Anabella, often shares her favorite places to eat and travel to in Portugal her advice is invaluable.
Life isn’t easy here for small business owners so we go to those instead of the big hypermarkets whenever we can. We always know we’ll be treated well and walk away with a new friend.
Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to walk into the small shops and restaurants in your new neighborhood. This is where you’ll find the real treasures. The Portuguese people.
12. Enjoy The Differences
Portugal is not like the United States. That’s one of the reasons we moved here. We love the vibrant culture and welcoming people here. Learning the history and getting familiar with the traditions and their place in Europe has been a really rich learning experience.
You can’t get all the same foods you got in the U.S.? That’s ok! Try some of the unique cheese, sausages, and wine in Portugal and you’ll find yourself missing just about nothing. Seafood is fresh, abundant, and affordable. We love to order the special of the day when we go to new spots. It’s always a great value and you get to try traditional Portuguese dishes.
13. Have A Sense of Humor
When things go off the rails (and they will) if you can smile and know that this too shall pass you will save yourself a lot of heartache and blood pressure problems. Most issues that we’ve encountered here are not insurmountable. Just annoyances or mild setbacks. See #5 and understand that if you just slow down, things typically work themselves out.
Put a smile on your face and start every interaction with Olá, Bom Dia/Boa Tarde/Boa Noite (hello, good morning, good afternoon, good night). Being polite and having manners will always be welcome and remembered. The Portuguese people are generally good natured, friendly, and love to chat. The other day we were walking through the park and a groundskeeper smiled as we smelled the flowers on a tree trying to identify it. He shared the name of the bloom, then stuck his nose in the air and sniffed loudly, smiled, and giggled, saying how beautiful it was to smell the flowers. Encounters like these are not unusual and it’s infectious to share the good cheer of just being able to smell the flowers.
14. Be A Little Bit Braver
One of the challenges of moving is meeting new people. You may get nervous and wonder if people will like you or if you’ll “fit in.” As someone who was painfully shy as a child, I can tell you that going to my first meet-up alone was intimidating for me. Some of you may laugh at this as I have spoken in front of hundreds of people, I’ve taught dozens of classes, and feel very comfortable talking to new people. Honestly, meeting new people in a new country threw me off my game a little. It’s one thing to walk into a room knowing you have a big job or a big title or run a company and it’s another thing completely to just go somewhere and be yourself.
To my surprise when I met people early on the conversation quickly moves to why did you move here, where do you live, and what do you love best about Portugal. For the most part, no one cares where you worked or what you did. They want to know who you are now and what you’re doing. You just have to be brave and put yourself out there.
The truth is that most people who move here to Portugal are like-minded. They love Portugal and they love being here. The more you put yourself out there and meet more people the more comfortable you’ll become. Don’t like big groups? Start with an individual or small groups of 2-4 people. That way you can get to know each other and see where the conversation takes you. Love big groups? There are plenty of those too.
15. Surprise Yourself
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what being creative means to me. I’ve even spent time again with Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way books to help inspire myself and get back to doing some painting and drawing. Lots of things have stopped me. I make excuses. I just don’t get started. I’m proud to say that I finally found a way to begin.
Like many others, I wanted to show my support for Ukraine. Living in Europe seems to make the whole thing so much more difficult to watch. I’ve admired Chef José Andrés of World Central Kitchen and his outreach to feed people all over the world who are experiencing trauma. When he and his team headed to Ukraine we immediately made a donation. Somehow that didn’t seem to be enough. My idea was to hand-painted bottles with blue and yellow sunflowers and swallows (a symbol of hope in Portugal). I sold them here in Portugal and so far we’ve raised 600 euros for World Central Kitchen. There we no excuses. I had to do them once people started ordering them and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it.
I’m already pondering what I can do next.
Pro Tip: Check out the documentary “We Feed People” streaming on Disney+. You’ll be amazed by Chef Andrés and his team. If you are able please make a donation to World Central Kitchen.
Can I Live In Portugal For A Year?
Moving to another country can be stressful but it can also be rewarding. We would say wholeheartedly that we’re glad that we made the move to Portugal. Not every day has been perfect but it is the life we were looking for. Living as a resident in Portugal – you can live in a beautiful place with kind people and enjoy a slower pace. If you are considering a move to another country we hope you find our tips helpful. We’ll be writing more about our move, settling in, and more things to do in Portugal in upcoming posts.
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If you’d like more information about relocating to Portugal check out our ebook “101 Tips For Moving To Portugal (And Once You Arrive)”.