Every morning I go to our veranda and make sure that the sea is still there. When I see it, I smile and say yep it’s there. The knowledge that we moved to Portugal six months ago seems so surreal at times. I’ll be going about my business. Doing simple things like cleaning up the kitchen or playing with the cats and it dawns on me. I’m in Portugal. Wait, I’m living in Portugal. I’m actually living in Portugal. I have to pinch myself to assure myself it’s not a dream.
The last three months have been filled with more paperwork, house hunting, shopping (so much shopping), and settling in (again). Keep reading to learn all about it.
We Moved Again
This may throw some people for a loop. “Didn’t you just move there?” you might ask. Yes, we did. You may recall that we are living in Portugal because we qualified for a D7 visa. Part of the process was a financial commitment shown by a signed lease for at least six months (please note that if you’re considering moving to Portugal on a D7 now the requirements have changed. You will need to have a signed 12-month lease to qualify. Visa requirements change frequently so be sure to do your homework). We were lucky to secure a lease for six months back in 2020 while we were still in Wisconsin. Diana negotiated the lease and managed to get us a 30 day out clause and an option to renew for another six months if it took us longer to find another place.
Where Should We Live In Portugal Next?
Since our arrival, we have been exploring various areas of Portugal to discover where we wanted to live. Especially around the coastal region between Cascais and Lisbon. We found our new place in an area called Monte Estoril. It’s only 10 minutes east of where we were in Alcabideche. It’s still about a twenty-minute walk to the beach or train station and a forty-minute walk to downtown Cascais. Both walks are very doable because going up and down the hill of our street is not nearly as steep as the last place.
Our Flat In Monte Estoril
After looking at a lot of places, we settled on a newish apartment with a lot of pluses. It’s a much larger flat with a great working kitchen for Diana. The extra bedroom we use for our office/guest room is big enough to hold everything with room to spare. We have two bathrooms and two balconies, which here we call verandas. The glass doors and windows provide lots of light. The flat has typical American amenities like central air conditioning/heat and a clothes washer AND dryer. Dryers are very uncommon in Europe so we were thrilled by an amenity most Americans take for granted.
Our flat has an East-West orientation. That means we can see the sunrise through the front of the place and the sunset in the back – that’s my favorite thing. As a special bonus prize for sports fans, we have a skybox view of the Estoril Praia futebol pitch from both of our verandas. This makes for great futebol parties and is a great excuse to get folks together, now that Portugal is one of the safest countries on the planet as far as COVID (and everything else, we think).
A Room With A View…Or Two
Diana loves the fact that when you look to the south on the veranda you have a view of the sea. And, when you face north, you can still see the lovely Sintra mountains, of which we had a view at our previous flat. We also have a huge storage room downstairs and covered parking in the garage for two cars. And, to top it all off, a brand new expanded version of Pingo Doce, a major local grocery store chain, is about 100 steps away. We think we got lucky. We now have plenty of room to live and for entertaining too.
Settling Into Life In Portugal
When we moved to Portugal we gave away all of our furniture, all our appliances and electrical items, and most of everything else that we didn’t deem to be essential. I have to admit to getting a bit obsessive when we were packing. We gave away a lot of things we hadn’t used in a while or things we thought we could easily replace once we were here.
That was a mistake. Yes, I said it. Some of the things that we thought would be so easy and affordable here simply are not. Diana gave up her cookware thinking she could use some new pots and pans and quickly learned she should have kept hers. She gave up lots of kitchen tools that made her life easier (I’m talking about you Parmesan cheese grater and old beloved garlic press) that we could have easily added to our overseas shipment.
A Lesson In Shipping
We learned the hard way that the price of our shipment overseas wasn’t based on how much the cargo weighed. It was based on how many cubic feet of space it used. When you factor in the odd sizes of things that stick out wide but not tall, or tall but not wide, we paid for more space than we used. We could have taken that beautiful French country piece that we used for a bar for years. Or my favorite chair. Frankly, the list could go on and on. Thankfully, nothing is irreplaceable. We’ve replaced most of the things we need – even a new comfy chair for me. But we could have saved money, time, and aggravation if we had thought a little harder on what we were keeping and what we were ditching. Lesson learned.
You Do You
This falls under the category of doing what’s best for you. We read so many posts in Facebook groups created for expats in Portugal that said things like “get rid of everything,” or “I only came with two suitcases and my cat.” We thought this was a good opportunity to streamline our stuff, which it was, so we really, truly got rid of most of our belongings.
And, while that is great in theory, you need to take into account how you live your daily life. You will not (hopefully) stop doing things you like to do. If you like to cook, you will cook in Portugal. If you like to read in a comfy chair, you will want to do the same in Portugal. While dumping everything for a minimalist life may work for some, I would really caution you to think about how YOU live, what YOU need and want to have around you. Minimalism isn’t suffering. It’s having just what you need and not a lot of crap. Get rid of the crap. But don’t get rid of the things that help you do you. You’ll thank me later.
Queen of Ikea
Since we did give away all our furniture, and our first apartment was fully decorated, we needed to furnish our new flat. We wanted practical, reasonably priced furniture so our first stop, like many people living in Portugal, was IKEA. The last time we went to an IKEA store was shortly after we bought our house in Chicago. We were looking for bookcases. I got so overwhelmed by the enormity of the store and the process that we left with nothing and ended up buying bookcases online. They are beautiful bookcases though. I know my niece and her family in Chicago are enjoying them now, so that makes me feel good about it.
Needless to say, I wasn’t anxious to go shopping. I generally loathe shopping. I’m the type to run in get what I need and leave. No browsing, no fun. I knew this trip was going to be painful and long. We made our list and off we went. Fortunately, we discovered a selection much better than either of us remembered. On our first trip (yes, there were several) we secured our bed, couch, dining table and chairs, a cabinet for the TV, and sofa bed. Pretty good, for a start.
Back For More
We ended up returning to get the bed frame and a few other odds and ends. I became an expert at the ways of IKEA. When another friend moving to Portugal needed to furnish her apartment, I accompanied her and think I made her experience less painful.
I put together a lot of the pieces myself. I grew up learning how to build things from my Dad so I couldn’t help but try to do as much as I could. Some of the pieces were just too heavy for us to manage to build ourselves. Thankfully, IKEA works with Task Rabbit here in Portugal so very affordable help was on the way typically the next day.
Day To Day Life In Portugal
We’ve pretty much settled into our version of the Portuguese way of life now. This includes a time adjustment. Not just the time difference between Portugal and the United States, but also the difference of light. During the time we have been here, The sun comes up later, rising around 8:00 am and then sets around 6:30 pm. Daylight Savings Time ends on October 31st, a week earlier than in the United States. That change may help us get a more familiar sense of time. Since we arrived, we find ourselves staying up later than we typically would and waking up later as well. Because typical dinnertime in Portugal is usually around 8 pm, our internal clocks may not change again. Practically, by the time you finish the Portuguese way of relaxed dining, unwind, and call it a day it’s around midnight or so.
Seize The Day
I have always been an early riser but now we get up between 7:30 and 8:00 am. Which most days feels like I’m seriously sleeping in. We go for our morning walks exploring our new neighborhood, do our work in the morning, have lunch on the veranda, and then work for a few more hours. We tend to have meetings with folks in the U.S. later, during our afternoon or evening. The shift hasn’t made that much of a difference in terms of getting things done. The good news is that we can get stuff done in the morning while the other side of the world is sleeping!
Eating And Exploring
We even celebrated our 10th anniversary with a spectacular seaside dinner at Restaurante Furnas do Guincho. We’ll be talking about my golden bream, fileted tableside, and Diana’s tenderloin smothered in mushroom sauce for years to come.
Diana has adjusted to grocery shopping here. She buys smaller quantities but shops more often. The fresh food here has no preservatives (yay!) so you need to eat what you buy within in a day or two or it goes bad. We’re trying out our new local tascas (small, local, often family-run, restaurants) and churrascarias. So far we’ve loved all of them. They are a good value because they are where the people in a neighborhood eat, away from tourist areas, and the food is fantastic and fresh. They always greet you warmly and share recommendations, jokes, and stories with you. Like everywhere else in the world, the restaurant industry here was hit hard during the pandemic. Many places closed for good and some squeaked by on takeaway menus. We’re happy to visit and help them out. Every Thursday we try a new place to eat. It’s a wonderful way to get to know the food, the people, and the area.
Paperwork Paperwork Paperwork
There are still administrative items we need to take care of and things we need to stay on top of. We’ve made our physical move so that process in and of itself was fairly simple. We didn’t have much to move. However, while in the U.S. it’s pretty easy to go online to change your address and your mail will go on uninterrupted. That’s not the case here. Because we’re immigrants we need to let EVERYONE know we’ve moved. This requires phone calls, emails, and pin numbers exchanged.
With A Little Help From Our Friends
That’s not so easy but thankfully we know others who have been through the same process and give us helpful pointers and tell us to be patient. That is definitely a recurring theme here in Portugal. We have figured out that when you think you’ve reached your wit’s end and need an answer or response to tell you what’s going on just wait one more day and that email, text, or piece of mail often finds its way to you. Just like the Wilson Phillips song, “One More Day.” Hang on for more day and things will go your way. It makes us laugh every time. When we say to each other we should call so and so the other will say – wait one more day.
Drive You Crazy
Part of this process is also securing a Portuguese driver’s license. Let’s just say there’s a lot that goes into that and you really need to get your official driving record from your state before you leave otherwise it becomes even more complicated. It needs to be authenticated in the U.S. too. Once you get here you need to have a “health exam” before you can really begin the exchange process. We had to make our first visit to the CUF, the private healthcare hospital here in Portugal. We have private health insurance as well as a health number in the public system. When you don’t speak Portuguese (we’re working on it, but it’s only been six months!) the idea of navigating a required health exam appointment was a little nerve-wracking. But we want to be able to drive in Portugal, and exchanging your driver’s license for a Portuguese one is a requirement if you’re going to be living in Portugal.
The Healthcare System
Thankfully, we have friends here who could recommend an English-speaking doctor for this process. We simply called made the appointment and went in. We were surprised that we called in the morning and got an appointment for that afternoon. Quick turn around! The appointments consisted of an eye exam and a few general health questions. The doctor gave us the signed document we needed and we were on our way post-haste! I even asked the doctor how to refill the one prescription I take and she said, “You just ask me for it.” She wrote out a 6-month prescription and I was on my way. Easy peasy.
I’ve been back since for trouble with my hand and it’s all been equally easy. Everyone I have dealt with has been friendly, speaks great English and has helped me in every way they could.
Difficulties, What Difficulties?
People frequently ask us what has been the most difficult part of moving to another country. Both of us would respond with learning the language. We are very spoiled here in the Cascais area because most people speak English. We have taken lessons with a tutor but honestly, we stopped when we were moving because we just didn’t have the time to fit it in along with everything going on. Now that we’re settled, that will once again become a priority. There are a lot of resources available but you have to make the time. We have learned a lot by reading the local grocery ads, watching kids’ cartoons, and talking with rideshare drivers and everyone we can. But, there’s no way around it. We have to take lessons to get the proper grounding that we need. So, let’s connect a year from now and we’ll write you a paragraph in our new language!
We’ve set up our utilities, pay bills, pay our rent, and taken care of all the little things you need to do in normal life. Some take a little bit longer than usual but there is always someone available to help you make your way. Most bills are paid at the ATM here. It’s a versatile and secure system where they send you a code by text or email and you go to the ATM, enter the code and information and pay. I had particular trouble with one bill and I felt like everyone in the store came over to help me. Turns out the code wasn’t activated until the next day. It always helps to read the entire email, right? We even get spam likely calls on our Portuguese numbers. It’s fun to be called Mrs. Susan by the very sweet salesperson. They are also very nice and wish you well even after you say, “Não, Obrigada.”
More Good News
Thankfully, after a very difficult start to year, Portugal has managed COVID very well since then. We have the highest rate of vaccination in the EU with more than 86% of the population fully vaccinated. The only people left to vaccinate are the children. We still have to wear masks on public transit, in stores, and when we can’t socially distance ourselves from people. We are happy to comply as are the Portuguese as a whole. Here, people care about each other and the greater community. They do not want to return to the disaster that happened after the holidays. Most families lost loved ones and friends and the healthcare system was overrun. They don’t want a repeat of that so with an efficient distribution system and a willing population, Portugal has proven to be a good model for the world.
If you’re planning a trip to Portugal please be sure to check out the official guidelines for everything that you’ll need to know.
We’ve also started to venture out and go to a few small local industry events. We’re hoping to be able to travel safely around Europe again soon.
What About the Food?
We thought you’d never ask? In between all the running around getting settled and going about our daily chores we squeezed in some time to try new tasty spots in our new neighborhood and back in Cascais. That alone will take a separate post but I’ll tempt you with just a few new favorites.
We tried some more Portuguese favorites like duck rice, tuna salads, more fresh fish, and of course more octopus. We found a terrific pizza place with real Italian sausage (which had been very elusive) Pizzeria il Siciliano in Cascais. And delicious Italian handmade pasta at La Massa in Estoril. Don’t pass up the burrata ravioli.
We satisfied our hunger for an American-style burger at many different restaurants in the area but our favorite seems to be Dream Burger which is luckily a 15-minute walk from our place. We’ve been checking out more local grocery stores and have found lots of goodies at the SuperCor. Chicago’s own Vienna Beef New York-style pastrami, in Portugal? Fabulous. Fresh cranberries and Chambord liqueur at the gourmet revelation Quinta do Saloio tucked away near the Estoril Casino. We’re in foodie heaven!
The Portugal Expats Community
Saving the best for last. We’ve met so many like-minded people here in Portugal. It’s been wonderful to make so many friends here so quickly. This was certainly unexpected and truly a blessing. We are never short on things to do in fact we often have to decline invitations to get together because of our nutty work schedules. We’ve found our tribe of folks who appreciate food, wine, travel, and culture. We all love sharing our latest food finds and recipes. The Portugal expats are also a huge help in solving the day-to-day issues that arise from time to time.
A Great Social Circle
We do take the time to get together whenever we can and have already hosted small dinner parties and even a larger 25-person futebol party when one of Portugal’s top soccer teams Benfica played our hometown team right across the street. It was such a fun party with plenty of beer, wine, and tasty food made by Diana and many of our new friends. Truly a feast and a great game as it ended in a 1-1 tie, which is considered a win for our can-do Estoril Praia team, newly minted into the premier league here. It was pouring rain almost the entire game but that didn’t put a damper on the team spirit or our festivities.
Expanding The Circle
Of course, it’s great to connect with people with who you share a common cultural background with such as ex-pats. But we don’t plan to stop there. As our Portuguese language skills improve and our circle of friends widens, we plan to expand our social activities to include many more interactions with Portuguese locals. We have made some local friends already through our everyday life. We welcome the opportunity to spend more time conversing with Portuguese people, learning more about their lives, and sharing many happy times and meals together.
We’re Happy We Moved To Portugal
In short, we love it here. Life in Portugal is good. We are glad that we moved and chose Portugal for our new home. The days fly by with fabulous sunrises and beautiful sunsets. We still love exploring and tasting all the wonderfully delicious foods and meeting exceptionally friendly people. Though our experience here so far is just a drop in the proverbial bucket, we can say confidently that this is just the beginning of a long-lasting love affair with a country we once dreamed about but now we call home.
Stay tuned for more detailed food and restaurant posts, insights into Portugal culture and attractions, recipes, and travel tips as we share our experiences and our recommendations.