If 100 Americans were polled, at least 70 of them would have never heard of the Algarve, Portugal.
And, when we tell our friends in the United States where we bought a house, they respond, “Carvo-Where-O?!”
In early 2017, we were executives for a non-profit organization based in South Florida. We were mentoring teenagers and training police officers, teachers, and politicians to be effective mentors to kids. It was exciting and rewarding, but we were constantly hitting roadblocks and facing challenges and complications.
Suffice to say, “politics” and some unsavory behavior on the part of our colleagues left us scratching our heads and wondering what to do next.
This moment coincided with a boom in the global Bitcoin/cryptocurrency market, and we were in position to take advantage.
It was through our Bitcoin experiences that we met a kind Portuguese gentleman, who would rave to us about how clean, peaceful, inexpensive, and beautiful his home country is. We decided to visit.
We have been yoga teachers for a decade, and many of our friends are, too. A group of about 20 of us all went to Bali, Indonesia, together for a two-week New Year’s yoga retreat to ring in 2018. We sent our (then) 2-year-old daughter with my sister to visit “Abu” and “Taia” (grandma and grandpa) who live in Majorca, Spain, and asked them to meet us in Portugal two weeks later.
A friend in the business offered to put us up in a timeshare of our choice but then came back to explain that, for the dates we wanted, only one resort was available in all of Portugal, in a tiny coastal town called Carvoeiro.
Knowing almost nothing of the country or the region, save for what we’d read online, we said, “We’ll take it!”
We spent one week here in January 2018. Carvoeiro is a seasonal beach town. Visiting in January, it felt like we were the only people on the coast.
The land and the sea resonated with us. The food was fresh and affordable, the town cute, walkable, and modest. Not a single Starbucks or McDonald’s anywhere to be seen.
We decided to view properties for sale, mostly because there wasn’t much else to do here in the winter! At first, none of the listings were of interest to us… some one-bedrooms… some five-bedrooms out of our price range…
Then, upon second glance, one place stuck out. We decided to view it, and then, within days, had a Portuguese lawyer, accountant, real estate agent, and fiscal representative all working to make the little slice of ocean-view paradise our own.
Eight weeks later, we returned to Portugal and signed the closing documents. We had officially taken a bold and exciting, risky but hugely rewarding step.
Ahead of us lie a mountain of challenges, paperwork, and financial planning to do. Looking back now, we can see that, pursuing this opportunity, we stretched ourselves to become more resourceful, patient, open-minded and focused, as well as growth-minded, especially regarding how to raise our daughter.
What have we learned?
Lesson #1: Portugal is not America. To think that things get done in Portugal the way they are done in America is wrong, dangerous, and exhausting. Surrender to “The Portuguese Way” and everything will get done… albeit slowly.
Lesson #2: Being persistent is not the same as being pushy. Pushy people get ignored and bad-mouthed in a language they don’t understand. Persistent people get results by patiently fostering relationships with people who are happy to help and expect nothing in return.
In 15 months, we have yet to have an experience with any Portuguese person that left us feeling taken advantage of. There have been some missteps, but none resulting from malicious or disrespectful behavior.
Lesson #3: Our dollars buy us so much more here than they did back home… and not only because of the favorable exchange rate.
The Portuguese people are hardworking, humble, and generous, despite the majority of them living on 600 to 1,200 euros per month. We have discovered that by eating, drinking, shopping and playing where the Portuguese do, our money goes a lot further.
For example, we recently had a Sunday afternoon lunch consisting of carne de cabra grillhado com vegetais e rizo e dois cervejas (grilled goat meat with vegetables and rice and two beers), at an outdoor garden with a live band, for 6.50 euros each. That’s the kind of experience you have when you follow the locals.
We call our house The Birdhouse because, when we sit on our ocean-view patio, the only sounds we hear are the dozens of varieties of birds chirping and soaring through cloudless Atlantic skies.
Our daughter attends a lovely escolinha overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, where she learns Portuguese and has friends from all over Europe. When we walk her to school each morning, she picks berries and flowers to share with her teacher.
It’s a standard of living that’d be not only hard to afford but also (and more so) hard to recreate back in the States.
During the summer season, when we travel, we rent our house on Airbnb. We’re fully booked for the current season, despite having raised our rates by 30% over those of last year.
Meantime, we had our house appraised after having made some upgrades, and the valuation came back at 140% of what we paid for the property.
Despite the challenges—the language barrier, “The Portuguese Way,” and the taxes (oh, my, the taxes!)—we would not trade this experience for anything.
We are delighted to be planting seeds for our future in this beautiful place. Every day the feeling we have of our life here is more precious, more priceless, more rewarding.
Jamie and Nicole Harris