Joch first came to Portugal in 1979 as part of a U.S. State Department trade mission. He worked in the hospitality industry, so for two weeks, he participated in meetings and discussions about developing a tourism industry in the young democracy.
At the final dinner of his inaugural trip, during closing remarks, he emotionally blurted out that his dream was to return and retire in this awesome country…
Fast forward to 2019.
Joch was turning 70, so we decided to go to Portugal for his birthday. We spent two weeks in the Algarve, exploring cities and villages, beaches and markets, apartments and churches, supermarkets, and restaurants. We traveled by train to Lisbon for a three-day visit and also spent a day in Sintra.
By the time Joch retired in May 2019, it was clear that his dream from 40 years earlier was anything but an emotional outburst. We both wanted to retire in Portugal.
We attended the Live And Invest Overseas Conference scheduled for September 2019 in Houston. We figured the conference would support the dream and clarify our plans.
We compared Portugal to other retirement destinations, and it came out as our number one.
We met Live And Invest Overseas’ recommended attorney on the ground and their local real estate partner. We also met other couples who were considering retirement overseas. These couples became friends and sounding boards. We remain connected via social media and postcards.
How We Ended Up In Braga, Portugal
Flying back to California from Houston, we agreed that living in Portugal was our retirement goal, but we weren’t sure where.
We knew we liked the Algarve. Lisbon was too large a city for our comfort. Our nephew told us that Porto was his favorite spot in Europe and urged us to experience it.
In November 2019, we put our home up for sale. Jeff took early retirement from the state of California.
In January 2020, we went to San Francisco for our visa application appointments at Visa Facilitation Services.
LIOS’ recommended attorney supported our application preparation, including securing a Portuguese bank account, establishing our Portuguese tax identity, arranging a rental contract, and securing private medical insurance.
While waiting for our visas, LIOS’ real estate partner connected us with an associate in the north of Portugal who prepared a discovery tour of Porto and the Silver Coast to help us decide where we wanted to settle down.
The plan was in place, and everything was moving along well. We sold our car at the end of February 2020. Our passports arrived on March 5, 2020, with the visas inside.
We were set—our Portugal retirement dream would begin on March 30th with a non-stop flight from San Francisco to Lisbon.
But on March 11 at 5 p.m., we watched the breaking news that the U.S. borders were closing at midnight on March 13 because of COVID-19. We looked at each other in stunned silence…
What did this mean for us and our flight plan on March 30? Would the flight be cancelled?
We had visas, so we could go if we could get our flight changed. Joch started calling TAP Air Portugal flight reservations. After 125 calls with busy signals, he finally got through and changed the departure to March 13.
That evening, we caught the last flight out of San Francisco to begin our adventure…
We received urgent messages to secure an apartment in some city before the country was completely locked down.
We had no concept of what a country in lockdown was like.
Taking our nephew’s advice, we focused on Porto and rushed there the next day. We feverishly looked at vacant apartments as Portugal locked down, closed businesses, and implemented stay-at-home orders for all but essential workers.
Thanks to LIOS’ contacts, by the following Monday we were safe and secure in a studio apartment to wait out the pandemic in Porto.
By June 2020, regulated businesses began to reopen, and we ventured out into Porto. Our Portuguese Immigration and Border Service appointment was scheduled for early August 2020.
The new friends we were making recommended realtors who could help us find a forever home. Our main criterion was proximity to the ocean.
We ultimately found the perfect spot: a condo that was under construction just two and a half blocks from the beach in the small village of Perafita, part of Matosinhos, a popular northern suburb of Porto. The condo is also a five-minute car ride from Porto’s international airport.
But the condo would not be finished for another 24 months. We needed an apartment rental. A friend suggested we check Braga out; it’s an hour’s train ride from Porto.
There’s much we love about Braga. It’s well-known for its religious heritage, cultural offerings, and numerous festivals.
Braga dates to a thriving ancient Roman metropolis, as evidenced by the many archeological artifacts that are found throughout the area. The medieval center of the city is a large pedestrian district filled with wonderful shops, restaurants, museums, theaters, and galleries.
Braga has weeklong festivals nearly every month of the year, a vibrant university, and large public gardens.
On Sundays, it’s wonderful to hear concertinas playing in the central plaza.
Yes, Braga has given us wonderful reasons to love Portugal as we prepare to move into our condo. Braga captured our hearts. We might just end up having a city house and a beach house…
Joch and Jeff Woodruff
Full-Time Portugal Expats