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The Why and How of Moving to Portugal
Before moving to Portugal this question drove me insane. People, few of them supportive, asked me so often that I made a list which I copied and pasted into every text, email and DM.
Here it is, word for freaking word.
I chose Portugal because:
I’m a Europhile.
I qualify for a residency visa there.
It has the same weather as California.
It’s the most affordable country in Western Europe.
It’s the 3rd safest country in the World.
They have a very good and affordable healthcare system. (A friend paid 12€ for an MRI. Yup, you read that correctly, $13 for an MRI.)
I’ve been living in Portugal for one year at the time of this writing, and all of those reasons still stand. I have more reasons now that I’ve been here for a year, many more. But we don’t know what we don’t know.
I’ll expound on each of my reasons above after I answer the questions I know you want to ask.
Q: Now that you’re there, was it worth it?
Q: Any regrets?
Q: Do you love it?
A: I really do.
Q: Have you run into difficulties?
A: No more than I ran into living in the US. They may be different difficulties, but life is life and difficulties are a part of it. Would I rather have them here than in the US? Abso-fing-lutely!
And now the delving…
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1. I’m a Europhile.
I love to travel. But not just any travel, I’ve been obsessed with Europe since I was nine years old. It’s my parent’s fault, my sister’s really. She is seven years older than me and was studying French. My sister later ended up living in France for twenty years (thus paving my way, thank you sis!) and marrying a lovely French man, YES there are many!!
After the initial family trip, my dream was to take a gap year and travel through Europe. My sister did this too, for which I am still, forty years later, jealous as F. However, I couldn’t make it work. So I did the next best thing. I saved every penny and went for a month as soon as I graduated from college. And that laid out my future. I worked, I traveled... rinse and repeat.
But it wasn’t enough for me, ever. In 2009 I spent six weeks in China. In 2019 I spent six weeks in Europe. I didn’t know if I could emotionally leave the US for longer than six weeks but I was determined to find out. This brings me to bullet number two.
2. I qualify for a residency visa there (here).
Portugal, and several other countries offer visas to entice people to move there/here. I won’t go into the other countries and their visa programs because I’m not an expert on them but I will link to the few resources I have below. When I heard about the D7 visa for Portugal (a passive income visa) and I looked into it quickly, I found I qualified for it...
3. Portugal has the same weather as California.
I’m a born and raised Californian. And until now, I had never lived outside of California. I moved to Portugal at age fifty-six and while I don’t truly have any regrets about this, if I did, it would be that I didn’t move sooner. But... I wasn’t ready sooner and we can’t do things before we’re ready.
Back to the weather. It’s simple, it’s what I’m used to. Could I live somewhere warmer or colder and adapt? Yes. But I like the California weather!
And while I read in the forums (from people who moved here) that while the temperature is similar, the humidity is not, I chose not to believe them. They were right.
California is a desert and I didn’t fully understand that until I moved here. This means that when it’s cold in California, it’s also dry. In Portugal, not so much. It’s humid. Not all the time and not unbearably so, but it is.
They often say (in those forums) not to visit or move to a northern country like Porto in the summer because you will mistakenly think the weather is mild here. Well, for those of you who live on the East Coast of the US, in many places in England, or on the North Coast of the US or Canada, the winters are mild here. But for a Californian, they’re a little cold.
And “luckily” I traveled a bit through Portugal before settling in Porto in mid-December, so I found out rather quickly.
It’s also said that it can feel damper and colder inside your apartment or house in the winter than outside. This is easily explained = the sun!
Fortunately, my apartment gets direct sunlight during the winter but in the summer I have mostly indirect sunlight. So unless it’s overcast in the winter (which it often is in Porto) or blazing in the summer (which happens as well), my apartment remains temperate. That’s not to say I don’t use heaters in the winter and fans in the summer, I do.
And... a word on that. Old apartments and housing here are not equipped with AC or heat. New apartments are. Energy is expensive. I was told this and this, I believed.
But where I lived in California I had a hot water leak under my apartment and the lovely (sarcasm) government entity that was responsible refused to fix it. My landlord tried to fix it but for whatever reason, it was never truly “fixed”. Thus, I regularly paid over $300 a month in energy for a one-bedroom apartment that cost me $30 to $100 a month when I first moved in.
Here in Portugal I have a three-bedroom apartment and while there is no central heating, I use two heaters during the winter and my highest bill was €130. But there are also options here. I was with the major energy company and recently switched, saving €20 a month. There is also the option of propane heating here via a moveable device on wheels.
4. It’s the most affordable country in Western Europe.
Okay, while this is true, it’s not the only option in Western Europe for affordability. There are plenty of places in Spain that are as, if not more, affordable. But as an entire country, Portugal is it. There are also many countries in Eastern Europe that are far more affordable than Portugal.
It’s true that the prices here are increasing, but it’s also true that the prices everywhere are increasing. There are several pro and con debates about how expats are increasing the costs (everywhere). I’ve heard these same debates for rich Californians moving to Oregon, for rich Chinese business-people buying up property in San Francisco, and so on.
On the pros side, expats are bringing money into the country. I met a woman recently who makes sustainable clothing. She told me that most Portuguese can’t afford her clothing, but the expats can, and do.
While this is a longer discussion, I will mention here that most Portuguese earn €750 a month for full-time work and yes, they are being priced out of the cities. They must increase minimum wage along with rising costs.
Lisbon is expensive. No matter how you slice it. It’s also the biggest city in Portugal and the capital. For the price I pay for my three bedroom, two bath apartment in Porto I could afford a studio in Lisbon. But there are solutions for this too. A person can still get a three bedroom for the price I’m paying in Porto, right outside Lisbon, across the river in Almada. Almada is a fifteen minute drive or thirty-minute subway ride to Lisbon. And it’s adorable.
Another important factor is where you’re moving from. I remember once when I was coming home from Venice, Italy. I met a couple in the airport who were complaining about the prices in Venice. Venice is a tourist destination, one of the most well-known places in the world and it’s not cheap. But compared to where I lived in California, it was. A cup of coffee in my hometown costs more than a cup of coffee in Venice, Italy. This couple was from Oklahoma and before I learned that, I argued Venice was cheap.
I had to earn well over $130,000 a year just to afford a moderate life in California. A life where I had to watch my spending. Though this also had to do with lifestyle inflation; a concept I did not learn until having to live on $2,000 a month instead of $10,000 a month. In my defense, I was running two full-time businesses, including a brick and mortar, on that amount. But still...
And I could never afford to buy a house. In my area they sold for several million though I saw an offer for an affordable studio selling for 1.5M about ten years ago. (eye-roll)
It’s also important to mention here that there are many other affordable places to live, other than the US. I will delve into this further in the future, but quickly, here are just a few. And I know people living in most of these locations, so I have some insight.
Parts of Spain
5. Portugal is the 3rd safest country in the World.
This is not completely true. I did my due diligence before quoting this to friends and family but it depends on the year and who is reporting. In 2019 they purported it to be the 3rd safest but when I looked it up again just now, it shows as number four. Number one was Iceland, then Switzerland, Finland and Portugal.
If you’re coming from the US, South America, and many other places I won’t list, Portugal is still safer. Mostly because it’s small and there are no guns here. But I know of two men in the past six months who were attacked here. One was robbed and other was stoned (he’s still not fully recovered as he sustained severe brain injuries)! The first person was in Lisbon, walking alone late at night. The other was in Lisbon in front of a stadium. I suspect the latter was a case of mistaken identity.
The fact is that it’s not just Americans moving there. Portugal has a long and sordid history of being the oppressor and conqueror. Because of this, people from all the countries they previously conquered and enslaved may live here. Some of those countries are not as peaceful as the Portuguese from Portugal. Some come from areas of gangs and violence.
That said... I don’t fear for my life walking down the streets (even in the dark) here like I did in the US. In the US I carried a stun gun in one hand (at all times after dark) and pepper spray in the other. I thought this was a normal way of life. It doesn’t have to be.
6. Portugal has a very good and affordable healthcare system.
I can now attest to this firsthand, though I wish I couldn’t. I will write, in detail, what it was like to navigate the emergency rooms and hospitals in a foreign country, all alone, without speaking the language in a future post.
For now: I broke two of my fingers, had two surgeries, and stayed overnight in a private hospital room that was nicer than many hotel rooms I’ve stayed in.
I paid €400 (€200 co-pay per surgery). If I had my surgeries at the public hospital they would have been free.
This was a long post but I had a lot to cover. I’ve linked some resources below and I look forward to seeing you all again! Thank you so much for being a reader!
Visa (in other countries) resources:
Safety in Portugal: