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Moving to Portugal from South America

Jamie and Constance on beach in Foz

Jhoani and Luis are Venezuelans who never expected to be living in Portugal, or even Europe.  Their original plan was to live in the USA or Chile, but the pandemic changed everything. The result - living in Portugal - has been one of the best decisions they’ve ever made together. 

Before the move to Portugal

Jhoani and Luis met through a mutual friend when they were living in Chile.  They have been married for three years and were living in Santiago de Chile during the pandemic.  After the pandemic, life in Chile was harder economically, so the couple wanted to earn some extra money to help them set up a business. 

Luckily, Luis had a US visa, so went to Atlanta to work and save some money. The plan had been that they would both live in the US. But they discovered that getting a visa for Jhoani for the USA was close to impossible, because since the pandemic, the delays for visas to the US are really long.

Researching where to move in Europe

Knowing that the US wasn’t a possibility and without great options in Latin America, they started to investigate Europe.  Their research led them to evaluate Croatia, Malta, Latvia,  Serbia, Spain and Portugal.  Spain was an obvious choice, because of the language, but for Spain, they would have had to apply as asylum seekers, or have money to enter as students.

Neither of them knew anything about Portugal.  Luis speaks good English, and had found some YouTube channels, which helped him to understand more about each country.  One of those channels was Expats Everywhere.  They recommended Portugal. Luis’ investigation continued, and having watched over 20 videos, he decided that Portugal was the best bet. 

They found out there were two ways they could move - either by applying for a visa remotely, or arriving as a tourist, finding work, and then applying for temporal residence.

Despite Portugal having one of the lowest minimum wages in Europe, they decided that economically, it still made sense, and that they could learn the language pretty quickly.

Deciding where to live in Portugal

Neither Luis nor Jhoani really knew anything about what Portugal was like, and neither of them spoke Portuguese.  

Luis did the research to decide which city in Portugal they would go to.  Having already migrated to the capital of Chile, they knew that big capital cities tend to be more expensive than the smaller ones, but it’s often easier to find a job in a large city.  They researched Lisbon and Porto and could see that both were expensive places.  

So Luis started to research smaller cities.  He found Aveiro, Coimbra, Viana de Castelo and Braga, and could see that there were jobs and that the rent was better value.  They were down to 3 cities - Aveiro, Braga and Coimbra.  Jhoani decided on Braga. 

How life in Portugal is different to the USA or Latin America

When they arrived in Portugal, they fell in love with it, despite never having visited before.    They both love how different life is in Portugal in comparison to the US and to Chile - from a work opportunity and safety perspective.

Economically, they are doing well and they realized that you don’t need a huge amount of money to enjoy the important things in life – like free time.   

For Luis, Portugal is far safer than the USA. At no point in Portugal has he felt like he might be robbed, but this was a feeling he had in the USA, despite having more money in the USA.  He said he was fearful in the USA, because so often he saw shooting incidents happening in shopping centers when he watched the news and he knew how many people have guns. 

In comparison to the US, he has loved having free time, instead of constantly working just to pay the rent. Having worked in the USA, where a typical vacation allowance is just 10 days a year, Luis said, “What is the point of working 80 hour weeks if you never get to enjoy time with your family?”  In the USA, people just don’t take holidays, but in Europe, they really do take it seriously. 

Work conditions in Portugal are different. They can enjoy a good amount of paid vacation time per year.  Jhoani commented on how different that was from Chile, where she worked without paid vacation.  In Portugal, within six months, she was able to take vacation and enjoy Christmas.

For Jhoani, the difference between life in Portugal and life in Chile is enormous.  In Portugal, she also feels safer.  But in addition, she has a better quality of life from a time perspective. In Chile, she would have to commute an hour to work and an hour back.  In Portugal, it’s 5 minutes.  She says life is far less stressful.  There’s time for lunch. There’s time to enjoy yourself at home after work.  

The quality of life feels better. They have time. The standards of living are better, health, education and so on. 

Life in Portugal

They both arrived in Portugal as tourists, and started searching for work. As soon as they found work, they were able to apply for permission to stay and their temporary residence card. That was a long process - over a year - but despite that, the system means they are able to work.  

They found Bordr during their research, when they were trying to get documentation organized.  They got their NIF numbers using the Bordr service.  It took just a couple of weeks to get everything set up. 

Jhoani says that when she first arrived, she was really nervous, especially because she had never spoken Portuguese or studied Portuguese before.  Portuguese and Spanish have similar language roots, and so after a little time, they have been able to understand Portuguese.  But speaking the language, especially for Jhoani has been hard. She says she was embarrassed and fearful of pronouncing words the wrong way at first.

Leaving Latin America has been hard, because it’s so far away.  Portuguese people are interested to hear why the couple want to live there. Many people from Portugal are emigrating out of Europe, or to other countries like France and Holland, where salaries tend to be higher. 

I love the quality of life in Portugal. It is one of the safest countries in the world.

Jhoani loves how people are in Portugal. People say hello, they’re polite.  When they arrived, they were welcomed.  Luis has been able to speak in English, which has helped him because many people, especially younger people speak English well.  Luis agrees that Portguese people are open and welcoming.  Neither of them have suffered discrimination. 

Cost of living in Portugal

Right now the couple live in Braga - a city with 40 churches, which is fairly conservative and quiet overall.  It’s very different from Lisbon.  

They have seen prices rise a little bit, but not too much.  Much of the inflation is down to the conflicts happening in the world right now. It’s still economically stable to live in Portugal, and accessible for two people like Jhoani and Luis who earn a minimum wage.  They have enough to pay for their rent, water, electricity and shopping, and a little left, so they can go to the beach or go on vacation.

Learning the language

Jhoani was looking for a job in a factory when she first arrived in Portugal, which she got, but she also found a job working in a shop in a mall selling Spanish jewelry.  She was working split shifts to begin with, but more difficult than that was the language.  She hated not being able to communicate with anyone.  And so she struggled selling, because of the language.  But despite her nerves, she started to try to use the language. She listened to everyone and had a friend who taught her the basics, and pretty quickly, she was selling and chatting to people. 

Next Steps in Portugal

They love Portugal because they have peace and quiet.  They can live easily and work, and still have time to enjoy themselves.  

They plan to move a little further out to one of the villages on the edge of the city.  Still, their commute will be short and it’s a little cheaper in terms of rent.  Then, they hope to travel a little and see more of Europe and Portugal.  They’re looking forward to visiting some of Europe – France, Italy and Greece are at the top of their list!

Recommendations

Jhoani and Luis feel very lucky to have moved to Portugal. Here are their top tips and thoughts if you’re struggling to decide if Portugal is right for you.

  • If you’re looking for peace of mind, time to enjoy with your family, Portugal is perfect.
  • Portugal is very safe, so it’s the ideal place to come with family. 
  • They both stress that you do have to do your research, and be determined to get work.  
  • Don’t be afraid to try Portugal.  Of course, you have to get organized, and be open to learning the language and adapting to the culture, but Portugal is worth it.

See more of Luis and Jhoani’s story on their YouTube channel, where they have been sharing their experiences of life in Portugal. 

Jenny Teasdale
August 20, 2022
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Jenny Teasdale

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