Real Life Stories: Paula

Paula Dreyfess

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.

Paula Dreyfess
Paula Dreyfess

Where are you originally from?

Austin, Texas (35 years in Southern California)

What year did you move to Portugal?


Where do you currently live in Portugal?

Porto (Cedofeita area/downtown)


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

I grew up in Austin, Texas and lived most of my adult life in S. California.

I have a son and daughter who are both in their 30’s and looking forward to visiting me in Portugal.

After 20 years in corporate finance/accounting and 20+ years teaching (English, Literature, Economics, Non-native English speakers), I decided to retire and move to Europe so I can afford to travel extensively.

Fortunately, Covid speeded up my decision as well as the political and social unrest in the US.

Making the decision to leave my friends and family as well as giving up most of my personal belongings was a difficult decision. I have traveled in Europe but I had never been to Portugal so I did a LOT of research and joined It was this group’s many Zoom presentations that convinced me Portugal was where I wanted to live.

In May, 2020 I adopted Charlie, a Chihuahua mix and trained him daily. Because of Covid, my planned scouting trip in summer of 2020 was not possible, so I began trying to get an appointment with VFS. Once I got my appointment (Jan 29, 2021), Cristina at Ei! Emigrante quickly set in motion the things I needed to do to get my D7.

My appointment went pretty smoothly and on March 7 2021, my passport and D7 arrived by FedEX. I started selling and giving away everything that did not fit in 4 suitcases and a pallet and planned to move mid-May.

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

Portugal had everything I was looking for; healthcare, reasonable cost of living, somewhat easy Visa and residency program, access to Europe, less social unrest than the US and many other European countries.

The cool weather of the north coast appealed to me because I had been interested in the US Pacific Northwest with mild summers. I dislike hot weather very much, meaning anything over 27C.

I considered many other countries over the years, but most required more money to emigrate, didn’t meet my weather requirements, or were less safe and less affordable.

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

Getting my D7 Visa, although after researching a number of countries, Portugal is among the easiest.

Getting the veterinarian paperwork and USDA certification for my 4.5 kg dog was a bit challenging and more expensive than I expected.

Getting rid of my belongings was difficult, because after decades of accumulating things, I wanted some special things to have good homes.

I had to get 2 Covid tests a day apart because the time for results was 48 hours, yet the expiration for results was 72 hours.

I flew Air France with a layover in Paris the day following my departure from Los Angeles, so I needed 2 tests just to be sure I got them in time for my LAX departure and still have a valid one for the next day in Paris. That went smoothly.

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

There are many pros and few cons to living in Portugal.

Pros: People are nice and can have civil discourse about things including politics and it is easier to avoid politics. People are warm and nice and sooo helpful. Every time I have felt helpless, someone helped me if I asked or often they just offered. Most dogs are friendly and my pup has made friends for both of us. The wine and coffee are great, easy to get and inexpensive. Outstanding healthcare and education. Transportation is fairly easy without a car.

Cons: There are still homeless people, although not as many. There are a few things that are more difficult to buy but having moved for change in my life, this is very unimportant.

Dog Charlie
Charlie and his friend Roscoe

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

Most of my leisure time will be spent traveling around Portugal at first, and then more of Europe. This will be easier once I have my Utente card and can get my vaccinations from the US transferred to the EU electronic system.

Currently, I have enjoyed exploring Porto and short trips around Porto. I am visiting museums, art, crafts and music festivals, restaurants and shopping areas. I attended a free Blues Festival in Porto and was blown away by the professionalism and amazing talent.

I have found places to practice Yoga and Pilates and walking everywhere is healthy as well.

How are your Portuguese skills?

My language skills are very basic. I am taking classes, and practicing with friends, but I need to find a more serious way to study to learn at a faster pace. Fortunately, most people in Porto speak some English and Google translate helps also.

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

Making friends in Porto has been quite easy. I had a few friends from ExPats Portugal and FaceBook that I met before moving from the US. I am not extremely outgoing, but people here are so friendly, it is easier to make friends even with the language barrier. My dog makes friends quite quickly which helps me too.

What do you miss the most from your home country?

I miss my two adult children very much. I miss my friends, (some have been friends for 20-30 years) but expect them to visit and I will see them on trips to visit the US.

I often miss my car and just hopping in and going somewhere, but that is part of what I wanted to change both for myself and the environment.

I miss some foods that are difficult to get in Portugal or do not taste quite the same and just the familiarity of everything.

Things are beginning to be more familiar here in Portugal and I hope that soon those longings will be less noticeable.

Learning my way around without Maps has been one way I have begun to feel more at home.

Street Art Porto
Amazing street art

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

  1. Be sure to have all business in order before leaving the home country especially if it is not in the EU. ie, banking, investments, wills (Portugal has a very different system of inheritance), address changes. I set up Chas Schwab as my liaison so I can wire money to myself as needed.
  2. Phone – You will need a way to get text messages from your banks, etc. I plan to keep my T-Mobile account for about a year then re-evaluate. I have a phone with 2 SIMS, one for US and one for Portuguese numbers. Very important: Set up WhatsApp because that is how everyone in Portugal communicates.
  3. Portugal is a first world country and everything needed to live is here. Literally, a person could come with a small suitcase and get everything once they arrive. If there are small mementos and things that make one more comfortable, that is what to bring.

Got questions for Paula? You can find her in the forum, username: @Longhornlady

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