How These Expats Are Funding Their Dream Lives On Portugal’s Glorious Coast
The advantage of making my living as a writer, journalist, and translator is that I can work from anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately, my computer doesn’t like being covered in sand, and the screen becomes unreadable in bright sunlight… so “anywhere” doesn’t include the beach… as I hoped it would when I made my move to Portugal’s Algarve coast.
Alas, I’ve resigned myself to enjoying the beautiful Algarve beaches and landscapes from the window by my desk… at least while I’m working. And I comfort myself with the constant thought that they’re just steps away when my work is done.
I could ditch the writing and sell ice cream or rent out sun loungers on the beach, but those kinds of pursuits have lost their appeal now that I’m in my 30s.
Having spent several summers as a club rep in Spain and a receptionist in France and winters as a ski teacher in Austria before getting a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism, I’ve always connected working in a popular holiday destination with a job in the tourism sector. So, when my boyfriend Kyle and I first arrived in Portugal, we decided to try to earn our income cleaning and managing holiday cottages.
The advantage of this was that we got to stay in one of the cottages free.
The disadvantage? We were staying in one of the cottages, which happened to be on the same piece of land as all the other cottages. As a result, we had holiday-makers knocking on our door at all times, asking for laundry detergent, directions to the nearest beach, or the weather forecast.
We even had people come in without knocking, search through our drawers for a potato peeler, for example, while I stood in the shower listening, too stupefied to do or say anything.
Basically, we never had any time off. Which is fine when you’re doing what you love. It’s not fine when your passion is writing, but you’re spending your time cleaning toilets and replacing gas bottles.
Finally, Kyle and I decided to follow our passions and set up our own online magazine, “Enjoy the Algarve.” We had both worked for a digital magazine in the U.K. Plus, I have the journalism background, and Kyle is into all things technical and has an excellent eye for photography.
That was two years ago. The magazine continues today. It’s great fun to produce and has created a great opportunity for getting to know this region. In the short time we’ve been here, we’ve seen and experienced more of the Algarve than other expats who’ve lived here for over a decade.
I’ve tried crazy sports like fly-boarding, learned how to make carob liquor, and soaked in a muddy salt pan. I now know loads about cork, olive oil, and porco preto. I’ve spoken to marine biologists about the ins and outs of breeding seahorses in captivity, and Portuguese 70-somethings living in forgotten villages have shown me how they still plough their fields every day with the help of a donkey.
The only downside? “Enjoy the Algarve” doesn’t make any money yet, so, in addition to writing a magazine every month, I’m spending more time than ever behind my computer, writing freelance for Dutch- and English-language publications (including this one!) to pay the bills. I’m definitely working more now than I ever did back in Holland or the U.K., but, when you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t feel so much like work.
And the good news is that I don’t have to earn a lot to live well here.
In Portugal, the minimum monthly wage is 650 euros. That puts things into context. Rent, groceries… everything, really, is very affordable.
However, if you aren’t making the move with retirement income or a nest egg, you will have to make a living. This is a bargain place to live… still, everything comes at a cost, of course. If you aren’t fluent in Portuguese, setting up your own business can be the answer. Plus, running your own business allows you to do what you love.
That’s what the many expats I’ve spoken with for “Enjoy the Algarve” magazine have in common. They’ve started their own businesses, doing things they like to do… everything from photography and teaching yoga to managing a bed and breakfast or developing an app.
One Dutch writer was so inspired by the beautiful Algarve countryside that she’s decided to run writing retreats from her home. A Belgian guy who’s crazy about surfing and has over a decade of experience as a surf coach has opened his own surf shop in a location that’s at the center of some of Europe’s best surf beaches.
Other expats have started a gardening company (plants grow well in this Mediterranean climate), an English news website (for the region’s many English-speaking expats), a land-sailing center (in the windiest corner of the Algarve!), and a film production company (the scenery here is stunning).
Cooks sell delicacies from their home countries—Dutch poffertjes and German bratwurst, for example—at the Portuguese markets.
All these people are earning enough to support themselves. They aren’t eating out every day or spending hundreds of euros on new clothes or thousands on fancy cars… but they are living comfortable lives in this beautiful place.
Am I envious of friends back home who have high-earning jobs, good careers, and can afford to stay in five-star hotels whenever they go on holiday? Sometimes, yes.
But when I look up from my computer at the view outside my window over the Serra do Caldeirão, I’m happy with my life.
Comparing the weather forecast for the next few days between Holland (rain, more rain, 18 degrees) and Portugal (sun, more sun, 30 degrees) also helps.
Then, of course, there’s the freedom and flexibility that I’m enjoying. I’m working hard, but I choose my “office” hours. And, when I do shut down my computer, I’m just a step away from sunshine.
Back in Holland and the U.K., wintertime sometimes meant going days without seeing the sun. The office I worked in had a window, but it looked out on a concrete wall.
Now I’m able to eat my lunch in the sun nearly every day. Then, after my midday break, I go back inside and close the curtains to keep the sun’s glare off my computer screen.
When I’m finished for the day, I know the sun is still out there… shining for me.
Yayeri van Baarsen