Real Life Stories: Alyson Sheldrake

Alyson Sheldrake paintings

Real-life stories of moving to Portugal

Read our real-life stories and experiences from foreigners now living in Portugal as an expat. If you have your own story to share, feel free to contact us to get involved.

Alyson SheldrakeName:

Alyson Sheldrake

Where are you originally from?

I am originally from Birmingham, UK, and lived and worked mainly in the south west.

What year did you move to Portugal?


Where do you currently live in Portugal?

We live in Aljezur, on the western Algarve.


Tell us about your journey to living in Portugal as an expat…

My husband Dave and I moved here permanently in 2011, having holidayed here for many years. We bought our house in 2006, and then it was just a case of waiting until we could finally move out here to live.

I had always dreamed about taking my hobby as an artist and turning into my profession, and nine years, and over 200 paintings later (all sold!) that dream has certainly come true. You can see my work on my website and I am available for commissions too.

Art by Alyson Sheldrake

Dave had always dreamed about being a professional photographer, and his business has also thrived out here. You can view his work here

Dave Sheldrake Photographer

Together we have run our own pop-up art and photography exhibitions and have been lucky enough to meet and work with so many fantastic people and clients over the years. We also started a blog when we moved here, and this year I fulfilled another dream with the publication of my first book entitled ‘Living the Dream – in the Algarve, Portugal’ which is a part guidebook and mostly a memoir about our life here. I am currently busy writing the sequel and have more book ideas planned for the future too. Find out more about my book, which is available on Amazon via this link:

Why did you choose Portugal? Did you consider other countries?

We had always said that we would travel to new places each year and ‘never go back to the same place twice’. Then we fell in love with the little fishing village of Ferragudo when we holidayed there almost twenty years ago.

A one-week holiday and we were smitten. We revisited Ferragudo a total of seven times in the subsequent two years, and then we eventually bought a house in the village. There are so many things that we love about Portugal and the Algarve. The people are friendly, the food is good, the sun shines for most of the year, and there is a gentle, relaxed way of life here that is so special. The beaches, river walks, countryside, and nature are all around us, nothing is too far away, and every day brings new things to enjoy.

What were the major challenges you faced in relocating to Portugal and how did you overcome these?

Our biggest challenge was buying a house here and then having to go back to the UK and continue working for almost five years before we could move out here to live permanently.

The bureaucracy takes some getting used to, but we always joke about it. We have a rule: ‘one thing – one day’ and if you manage to achieve what you need to do by lunchtime – take the afternoon off to celebrate! It is just the way things are done here – everywhere requires you to take a ticket from a machine, have everything photocopied in triplicate and stapled in the top left corner. Nothing else really fazes us, we are happy to take things in our stride, learn the Portuguese way of doing things, and drink plenty of coffee (uma bica faz favor!)

What are the pros and cons of living in Portugal as an expat, from your perspective?

A mild, almost Mediterranean climate, with more than 300 days of sunshine a year, a beautiful coastline with over 150 great sandy beaches, situated in one of the safest countries in the world, with friendly local people, good cuisine, fresh fish and local fruit and vegetables from the market, fine local wines and a low cost of living – what is not to like?!

I am seriously struggling to think of any real negative things to say here! I have only been back to the UK once in the last nine years and have no intention of leaving Portugal or ever going back to the UK to live. I love it here.

What do you like to do in your leisure time while living in Portugal?

We have a rescued Spanish Water Dog called Kat, she is an absolute delight and such a character, and I spend many happy hours walking her around the village and along the river. Everyone knows her and loves her, so it can take quite a while to walk anywhere as we stop to chat to so many local people that we know.

Aljezur has a different, slower, more rural pace of life than Ferragudo, and we are delighted that we moved here to live two years ago. I spend my days painting in my home studio or writing at the computer. I set up the Algarve Society of Artists almost four years ago, and it is now run by friends. It has been lovely to work with and encourage other artists out here. You can find out more via the website

How are your Portuguese skills?

Moving to Aljezur meant that I really had to get better at Portuguese. All of our neighbours are local people, very few of them speak any English at all, and they have been very patient with me! I am now reasonably ok, and can usually understand what is being said, and can reply quite confidently. I have had a few lessons and have used lots of online tools and programmes, but nothing really beats just going out there and talking to people every day.

Describe how easy or difficult it has been to make friends in Portugal.

We have been very fortunate, our work has meant that we have met people from all walks of life and all nationalities. We have purposefully always lived amongst local Portuguese people and find they are amazingly generous and friendly neighbours. I have painted commissions for people all around the world, and love meeting new people and finding out about them. We have a few close friends, of all different nationalities, although we find that as we are both working, albeit on a more ad-hoc part-time basis, our few close friendships here mean a lot to us even if we don’t get together with them every week.

What do you miss the most from your home country?

Oh dear! Is it ok to just put ‘nothing’ as my reply here and move on to the next question?! Seriously, I love living here, we have friends still in the UK but with Messenger and Skype and they have holidays out here, so we keep in touch with them. There is nothing about the UK that would entice me back there, I’m afraid.

What 3 pieces of advice would you give someone who is thinking about moving to Portugal?

  1. Do your homework. Come out here for six months minimum and rent first if you can before you commit to buying somewhere. Try to come out of the peak season and experience a winter here before you decide where to live. And remember that most resorts get very busy in the summer, so think twice before you buy a property next to a ‘quiet little bar’.
  2. The best advice we were given was ‘If you are going to do it – then do it. If you wait too long there will always be ‘something else’ to do or pay off before you can make the move. Just go for it.’
  3. Try and adopt the Portuguese way of life, and don’t get too worked up about the bureaucracy and paperwork. Things have a way of sorting themselves out eventually out here.

Got questions for Alyson? You can find her in the forum, username: @alyson

Alyson Sheldrake Photographer

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