It is not just the seagulls flocking to Portugal! 2,000 people a day are requesting residency here. Yes, two thousand! And why not? The Portuguese people have a well-deserved reputation for their friendliness. Sun shines most of the year, even in the north; more so, the further south you go. The cuisine is fresh and delicious, especially if you like seafood. And if you like good wine, Portugal not only produces some of the finest wine in the world, it is incredibly inexpensive.
What is the motivation behind the desire to become an expat? Before my wife and I took the plunge, we spoke with many other folks along the path of relocation. One’s desire to move outside of the United States can come down to a variety of reasons. The primary reasons seem to be quality of life and affordability. Healthcare, safety and politics are topics that also come up regularly. But those could be subheadings of the primary reasons.
Before deciding on Portugal, we researched Mexico, Ecuador, Thailand and Costa Rica. Portugal was the first country both of us agreed on after our first visit. However, during that visit, we thought that Lagos would become our new home. The beaches in this lovely, historic town were the most beautiful we had ever seen. And that was after spending more than twenty years in Hawaii before moving to the Pacific Northwest.
After returning home and weighing the pros and cons of Lagos, we decided to take a second tour of Portugal. As much as we loved Lagos, it was not conveniently located for our future travel plans. The closest airport was Faro, which was about an hour away by car and wasn’t as well-connected to the rest of the world as are the Lisbon and Porto airports. Besides, Lagos gets very crowded with tourists in the summer and is a little too hot for our comfort.
During our second trip to Portugal, we focused on finding our perfect retirement spot. We searched from Setubal and Cascais, just south of Lisbon, up to Porto, about three hours north. We settled on the once-sleepy fishing village (but now-trendy surfing reserve) of Ericeira.
Only a half-hour northwest of Lisbon, Ericeira offered everything we had wanted. It sits on a cliff above the ocean, with a lovely town square and lots of shops and restaurants. It is also conveniently located to many appealing and historic towns, such as Caldas da Rainha, Coimbra and Nazare. Nazare has some of the biggest waves in the world.
We made a contract on an apartment under construction. It is only a ten-minute walk to the center of the village and the beach. It has an ocean view, which was important to us after giving up our Mt. Hood view when selling our house in Washougal, Washington.
Cost of living is almost always near the top of the list when considering an expat move. Wine is not the only inexpensive item in Portugal. We estimate that groceries are costing us approximately half of what they were in the U.S. Eating out is about a third less.
Real estate is always about location, location, location. That is no different here in Portugal. Lagos, Lisbon, Cascais and Porto are comparable to the Portland area. Ericeira is about 30% less than Lisbon even though it is on the ocean. That may be because it does not have a train depot. It does have many bus routes, though.
The cost of automobiles, and the cost of operating them, is higher than in the U.S. Gasoline prices are about double the U.S. prices. Diesel is a bit cheaper, and diesel vehicles tend to get better mileage. We bought a diesel car which gets 40mpg, so it works out about the same for us overall.
Oh, then there are the tolls. Tolls on the highways can get pricey but the highways are amazing. Unless you are driving in one of the bigger cities, driving is a breeze. Nobody drives in the left lanes unless they are passing, which is a great concept when put in action. But please study the rules of the roundabouts before attempting to drive in Portugal. The Portuguese love their roundabouts!
If you have a Via Verde (Green Lane) pass in Portugal, you can drive through the tollbooths without stopping. I highly recommend this even if you are renting a car on vacation. You will get it deducted from either your credit card or your bank account later.
As of this writing, one euro costs about $1.10. While that is not the lowest it has ever been, it is still historically low. As an expat, the exchange rate can greatly affect your spending power. There is no way to accurately predict which direction it is going but you need to be prepared for fluctuations. Especially when you are depending on Social Security and pensions from back in the U.S.
Politics is another factor when considering a move out of one country and into another. American expats in Portugal, and I suspect across most of Europe, are overwhelmingly liberal. There have been studies done that show that people with passports tend to be much more liberal-minded than those without.
Portugal leans democratic-socialist. The government tends to look out for the little guy here. It is an ongoing balancing act to get it just right. Whether it is between consumers and merchandisers or renters and landlords, there is never 100% satisfaction on either side. But to Portugal’s credit, they are constantly adjusting and trying to strike the right balance.
Right now the big debate in Portugal is over the proliferation of Airbnbs. One side argues that Airbnbs provide jobs for the local service industry, make it easier for tourists, and encourage investing in Portugal. BUT (notice the caps), wherever Airbnbs thrive, rents and housing rise beyond reach for average working men and women. That is a BIG problem, which represents the other side of the argument. So Portugal is trying to balance the two sides by putting certain restrictions on unbridled short-term rentals.
It should be noted that Portugal is about the same size and population of Pennsylvania. Portugal is easier to manage and tweak than is a country of 327 million people spread out over fifty states.
To sum it all up, moving to Portugal was one of the best decisions we have ever made. There are so many subjects to elaborate on with regards to becoming an expat in Portugal. I have only skimmed the surface here. I do elaborate more in my blog. I hope to see you there, and maybe eventually in Portugal!
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