Moving to Portugal - Thomas' Story | Expats Portugal
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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.

Name: Thomas

Where are you originally from?

London and Kent, UK

What year did you move to Portugal?

2018

Where do you currently live in Portugal?

Santarém, capital of the Ribatejo, about 45 minutes from Lisbon

 

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

Some of my earliest and happiest memories are of Portugal, as I came once or twice a year with my parents from 1979 to the early 1990s. I started to come back in the mid-200s, exploring more of the country, discovering places that still had the charm which (to my mind) the Algarve had largely lost by then. 

In the meantime, I studied languages (though not Portuguese!) at university, never intending to spend my entire life in the UK. I embarked on a career in European project management, and transformation and change, and 18 years later was still in the same country.

Brexit was the push we needed – we woke up to the news, and said “right, we’re putting the house on the market”… and so the countdown began!

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

My early experiences, coupled with the more recent exploration, meant it was the obvious choice for me. Not only was Portugal already indelibly in my heart, but it had the balance we sought – not so completely consumed by hamster-wheel consumer capitalism, and fairly safe in a precarious world.

(My partner did his best to tempt me with Romania – an underrated, wonderful place – but the balance didn’t come close enough to what Portugal can offer.

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

The first barrier was the rapidly increasing price of property, notably in the more obvious areas. By the time we had the capital to invest, the kind of places we’d hoped for a couple of years earlier were beyond our reach. This meant numerous house-hunting visits, and settling for an initial short-term base whilst we found something more to our liking for the longer term.

Removals were a cause of stress – I don’t think the movers or us had anticipated what an unhelpful balance it is to have dozens of boxes of books but very little furniture! Inevitably, we went round in circles with paperwork, but rapidly learned a new level of patience, and that appearing frustrated does nothing to improve a situation here!

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

We came here for a change, perhaps a challenge, and with the intention to become part of Portugal, and work here for probably another 20 years. As a result, we weren’t looking to replicate a UK lifestyle.

So, we found few cons beyond the need to accept that things take time (and then some more time); that bureaucracy is both rigid and subject to the interpretation of the person behind the desk; and that good contractors are hard to find and very busy.

Pros are a wonderfully enriching experience in terms of language, culture, food, wildlife… Every day brings us something new.

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

Starting and building our business (helping people restore/improve traditional Portuguese properties) has taken over most of our leisure time, but we try to take at least one day a week, most weeks, to garden, explore the countryside, discover little villages (inevitably with properties we’d love the chance to rescue and bring back to life), find new restaurants and local specialities, and delve further into the wonderful world of Portuguese wine.

How are your Portuguese skills?

Improving, thanks to a wonderful online teacher (and a background in languages helped). Taking every opportunity speak to neighbours and whomever I come across, and to read the paper and listen to the radio, has made a real difference – and it helps immeasurably with understanding how things work, and how to get things done.

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

We’re not used to a large social circle, but we’ve made a small number of good friends so far – mostly Portuguese, but also a few other immigrants from a variety of countries of origin. 

What do you miss the most from your home country?

There are friends and family we’d love to see a bit more of, but otherwise, nothing of note.

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

  1. Pick one country to be your legal and tax residence – dividing your time, energy, legal responsibilities, etc. can be endlessly stressful;
  2. However much planning you do, assume the first place you rent/buy won’t be “it” – what’s important to you is likely to change, once you’ve got used to a new country;
  3. Give yourself time to understand how things are done here, and be prepared to adapt your style – you won’t change the culture, but you can work with it.

Got questions for Thomas? You can find him in the forum, username: @ThomasRibatejo

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