One thing, one day.
If you get one thing accomplished in a day… you’ve won.
That’s the best piece of advice I can offer to anyone considering to launch a new life in Portugal where I’ve been a full-time expat for the past 10 years.
The Portuguese have one pace, one way of doing things. That’s just how it is. You really just need to go with it and accept it.
And the Portuguese love their paperwork… anyone here will tell you that.
That’s why my next piece of from-the-trenches wisdom is this:
Find a good accountant and solicitor but don’t pay a fortune for them.
I’ve found someone who is able to handle all my accounting and legal paperwork for me, so I have only one fee to pay. The total cost is 300 euros a year, and it’s a great value… well worth it.
You need this help, whether you think you do or not. They know the system; you don’t. You need to find local resources you trust and then let them do their job for you.
Here are a few more practical tips and insights for the would-be Portugal expat… all the things I wish someone had told me before I made my move a decade ago:
You need to understand that there will always be unexpected and hidden costs and things you can’t plan for. Exchange rates will change, for example.
So, while you want to feel comfortable that you’re financially stable enough to make this kind of a move, if you wait until you have “enough” money, you’ll never go anywhere.
Follow your heart and have confidence in yourself. Then muster some courage and just do it. Trust that you’ll be OK no matter what surprises lie ahead.
Open a bank account locally. Of course you can keep your accounts back home, but transfers and exchange rates will end up costing you a small fortune if you try to operate your new life in Portugal using your old bank account from back home.
Also note that banks in Portugal open at 9 or 9:30 in the morning and close at 3 p.m.
3. Becoming Legal
Do it. You have lots of good options, including one that allows you to live here 10 years tax-free. Once you have been a legal resident for six years, you can apply for Portuguese citizenship.
Among the great benefits of obtaining residency in this country is the fact that it means you have access to local public schools, health care, and social security.
4. Buying Real Estate
You’ll hear in Portugal that you have to sell your house through a real estate agent, but that’s not true. You can sell your house privately.
I know this from firsthand experience. I’ve sold a home here agent-free.
In England, I was a cop. Security is a concern for me. That’s one reason I’m as happy in the Algarve as I am. This is a very safe place to be and a great choice for a single woman.
I have never felt unsafe or even uncomfortable… not once in the 10 years we’ve been living here… and I’m out alone on the beach at 6 a.m. most mornings walking my dog.
6. Swimming Pools
They’re enticing but a lot of work. Many homes in Portugal have them, but I recommend you don’t commit to owning one yourself until you’ve thought through how much work and expense it will be to maintain it.
7. Utilities and Bills
The important practical point to remember here is that the voltage is different than in North America.
I recommend that you not bring your white goods with you. Much easier and safer to buy new here.
8. Telephone and Internet
If good internet is important to you, do some research about the service available in different areas of the country before committing to a region. You’ll find great internet in a lot of places but not in the most remote spots.
Ten years ago, when we first began spending time here, it was a struggle to find good internet in most of Portugal. Today you can access high-speed internet in 90% of the country, including 4G service.
The Portuguese love to shop, but, when they shop, they don’t buy anything. It’s a social occasion. They grab a coffee and meet their friends and make it an event.
There are four or five big shopping centers across the Algarve, plus markets. The Portuguese can make amazing things out of cork (shoes, purses… everything), and they are rightly proud of their pottery and ceramics.
10. Food Quality
The produce is fresh and organic, naturally, without the premium you pay for organic in other countries. All produce is labeled to tell you where it’s from. Most of the time it’s very local. The farthest it may have traveled might be from Spain.
11. Owning and Driving a Car
The first thing you need to know about driving in Portugal is that you need to be aggressive.
The second thing to know is that you need to carry a stack of paperwork with you in your car whenever you drive, including a valid license, vehicle registration, and current IPO inspection… plus headlight converters, reflective jackets for every person in the car (within reach of the driver), spare glasses or contacts if you have an eye prescription, spare bulbs, first aid kit, and on and on.
The police can stop and ask for documents at will. If you’re stopped, you must show everything on the list of requirements. If you’re missing anything, even your spare pair of contacts, you’ll be liable for a fine payable on the spot.
Not to worry if you don’t have cash on you to cover the fine. The police have electronic cash machines in their cars.
12. Health Care
Some time ago, I was bitten by two feral cats. I needed antibiotics and a tetanus shot. Because I’m a resident and have the utility card for my local health center, even though I had never been through the system, I was in and out of the clinic in about an hour.
The total cost was a whopping 4.50 euros for the visit and 3.57 euros for the antibiotics.
This is one of the many reasons I’m so happy to be a legal resident.
13. Learning the Language
Everyone knows that Portuguese is just plain hard to learn. But when you try to speak even a little Portuguese, the locals love it.
Even if you get it horribly wrong, they appreciate the effort. Then, when they recognize you’re not from Portugal, they respond in English.
Full-time Portugal Expat