Moving from California to Porto to retire with a little adventure!

Jamie and Constance made the move to Portugal to retire, seeking adventure and a place from which they could explore Europe. Here, they give their tips on timescales for relocation to Portugal from the US, and how to decide if Portugal is really right for you.

Jamie and Constance on beach in Foz

Jamie and Constance had been living in California with their two daughters.  When they became empty nesters and without living parents to look after, they decided to leave the USA for retirement and adventure.  Here, they tell us a little about how they planned, and the scientific approach they took before making the decision to relocate to Portugal. 

How they approached the move

“We had been considering making a move for five years, and evaluated a number of different places in both Europe and Latin America”, said Jamie. The list featured Ecuador, Mexico and Portugal as possible destinations and Jamie and Constance visited them all.  Constance was immediately taken with Porto, a coastal city in northwest Portugal, but it took two visits before Jamie really started to like it. 

Jamie and Constance on Porto bridge

A scientific approach

Moving to another country is a significant life change, and for Jamie and Constance, the decision had to be taken as a family.  They set up a spreadsheet of possible locations with weighted scores based on what was important for each of them - Jamie, Constance, and their two daughters.  

Elements that were considered included, proximity to an airport, safety, health, weather.  Even wine was on the list!  They ranked the criteria separately, and then voted on the locations.  Portugal came out at the top, especially as their two daughters were moving to the UK and Germany, so the whole family would be Europe-based.

How long did the process take?

“Some people make the move in three months, but I don’t know how,” Jamie told us.  “Even though Portugal is considered an easy place to move to, we started about 8 months ahead of time, and then I really dedicated my time to it for 6 months. I was retired by this point and preparing for the move really did feel like a full-time job at times.  There are a lot of things that you have to do in a specific order, and finding out what that sequence is can be a challenge!”

Constance and daughters on duoro river

Getting reliable information

Having someone on the ground in Portugal to help with the process of relocating was important for Jamie and Constance, but they warn that you need to be careful choosing.

Some lawyers will charge $8,000 - $10,000 US dollars to help with a visa application.  In Jamie’s opinion, this isn’t worthwhile, because so much of the information gathering has to be done by the applicant.  Essentially, the lawyer is a guide, who checks that information is in the right place and in the right order and nothing is missing. 

In the end, they paid around $1,200 for legal advice for the two of them. They also recommended Bordr (thank you!), who can help with elements of the process, like setting up a NIF or opening a bank account. 

In addition to working with a lawyer, the couple joined a lot of groups online and read a lot of blog posts.  Their situation was further complicated by Covid, so processes were changed temporarily due to the pandemic.  But they warned that finding reliable information can sometimes be a challenge, because no two people’s experiences are the same, and different offices both in the US and in Portugal have different staff, and sometimes different levels of service.

Overlooking Porto city Jamie and family

What’s it like living in Portugal?

The change has been significant for Jamie and Constance, having sold their 5-bedroom California home to rent a one-bedroom apartment in the center of Porto.  But having rented for a few months, they’re now in the process of buying a slightly larger Porto property.

Jamie told us, “I was in my comfort zone in the US and on autopilot. Now life is a little more challenging and everything is an adventure, which is great.  Even simple things like buying dental floss can be an experience when you’re still learning the language!”

There are many things that are different from the US. Constance said, “The laundry is very different here. People dry their clothes on a line, because they don’t have dryers like you do in the US. That has taken some getting used to.  And now we don’t own a car - we don’t need one, whereas in California, as a family, we used to have four cars!”

Overall, they’re enjoying life in Portugal, commenting on how friendly and peaceful the people are, with crime very low, and they’re enjoying the weather which is way better than they’d expected it to be.

Jamie and Constance's top tips for relocating to Portugal

  • Decide on what it is you want, before you decide where you want to relocate to. Do you want to live in a big town or a small town, coastal or rural, hot and dry weather or a more temperate climate? Will you have a car or not?  Do you want to be able to enjoy nightlife or have a quieter life?
  • Be patient with the application process. It can take some time and be tough to navigate at times, because there’s a lot of information out there and some of it is subjective.
  • Visit first if you can. It’s a small country, but very varied, and you can see a lot in a week or two, to help you decide which town is right for you.
  • Join the Facebook groups. People who have already made the move can be a great help in understanding what life is really like as a foreigner.  And then when you move, you can connect with them for a coffee and meet new people and make friends.
Jenny Teasdale
February 10, 2022
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Jenny Teasdale

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