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Moving to Portugal having never visited before!

Jamie and Constance on beach in Foz

Ellen and Don moved to Porto from Oregon, having never visited Portugal before and having never lived anywhere but the US.  Having always loved travel and adventure, they wanted to experience living abroad. Don had retired shortly before the move, so the timing was right.  The only decision to make was where in the world to move to.

They considered Portugal alongside other places. One of those was Ecuador - a country they’d been able to visit pre-Covid. Their next visit would have been Portugal, but when the pandemic hit, a scouting trip became impossible, and they decided to wait it out.

Having done their research, they knew that Portugal was a viable option. It’s high on the list of desirable European countries for US citizens, due to its simple residency visa requirements.  For Don and Ellen, Portugal could become a great base from which to travel in Europe.

They waited and waited, hoping to be able to visit.  But as the pandemic continued, they decided to forgo the visit, take a chance and make the move to Portugal, having never been there before!

Preparing to move to Portugal with the D7 visa

Don and Ellen didn’t just decide to make the move temporarily, they decided to sell their house in the US and everything they owned, and in a short timescale.  They made the decision to move in the summer of 2020, but waited until early 2021 to start putting their plans into action - selling their home, making the visa application and finding a place to rent in Portugal - before moving to Portugal 6 months later, in the summer of 2021. 

They applied for the D7 visa, which is one of the easier residency visas to obtain in Portugal and is a popular choice for retirees.  Despite that, the list of requirements is quite long, and includes a criminal background check, and the requirement to show proof that you have the financial means to support yourself. 

As part of the D7 visa application process, you also have to organize a Portuguese tax number and Portuguese bank account.  Don and Ellen turned to Bordr to help them with their NIF and their bank account.  

Finding a home in Portugal from the US

The final requirement of the D7 visa was a one-year signed lease for a home in Portugal. Having never visited Portugal before, and unable to visit, finding a home was no mean feat, and certainly not something that everyone would want to do. 

Don and Ellen found a realtor who helped them find a place in Porto and get all the paperwork ready.  They agree that that was one of the hardest parts of the process, especially as they were up against a deadline. The realtor they worked with undertook the searches for apartments that would satisfy their needs, and got pictures and videos of each place, so they could make a decision on where to live.  They then had to get the paperwork in time for the visa interview. 

Rushing is a common mistake people make when emigrating.

Another difficult task was making the decision to sell their house in the US, and sell everything they had built up over the previous 31 years of married life.  Looking back at their timeline, if they were to do it again, they would have given themselves more time, by selling their house first, and then dealing with visa application paperwork.  But, understandably, they didn’t want to have to find a new home in the US and pay rent, when they were focused on finding a new home in Portugal.  It would feel like doing the process twice.

“If I could do it all over again, I would get the house taken care of earlier, which would have given us more time to relax and maybe enjoy our final month or two with friends.  We rushed it and it was extremely stressful!”

Ellen has discovered that many people emigrating make this mistake and wind up feeling exhausted, before they move, because there are a lot of tasks, decisions and moving parts to deal with, within a specific amount of time.

First impressions of Portugal

Having managed to sell or give away almost everything they owned, Don and Ellen jumped on a flight to Portugal in July 2021.  

“The first thing I think I felt was relief!  We had just jumped through a hundred hoops, and when we finally got to Portugal, it was a big relief”, said Ellen.

“And then a whole new adventure started.  We had to get our utilities set up.  Our water got shut off and we had to go to a hotel, because of a mix up with a water bill.  We have learned that bureaucracy and customer service here in Portugal, is not quite the same as the US.  It’s an exercise in patience!”, said Don.

If you’re considering moving country, it’s really important to have a very solid person in the country.  Don and Ellen had their realtor, who had very good English, and helped them not only before they arrived, but also as they were settling in.  They had a lot of questions and there were little issues that were frustrating in getting set up in Portugal, but their realtor was someone trusted who helped them through those difficulties of navigating a new system.

Falling in love with Portugal

Now Don and Ellen have been living in Portugal a while, they have enjoyed making friends in their new country.  Their biggest challenge today is the language barrier. They are taking Portuguese classes, because they realize that speaking the language is important, if they are to develop meaningful friendships with locals and be part of a richer cultural experience in the country. 

They’re learning about the way of life and the culture, and say the positives far outweigh the negatives.  

“In Portugal, people act for the good of the community. It’s not all about the individual.  People are thoughtful of their neighbors and families, and that is really refreshing.  

“There’s also national health care here, so everyone gets healthcare, which is fantastic.  You don’t see as many elderly or homeless people on the street, and certainly you don’t see the homeless encampments that you see in the US.  In Portugal, people can actually get help at a hospital, or they can get into an inexpensive apartment with some government support to help them get back on their feet.

“And people are very tolerant.  Sometimes you have to wait a little longer in line to get something, and the pace of life is different, but you just have to kick back and relax, give each other a little space and time, instead of trying to push your agenda.  Patience is important here.”

“We love Portugal.  The people are very warm, welcoming and helpful.  Of course, the wine is excellent!  And it’s a beautiful country.  We’ve explored a little bit, but we have a lot more to see.  We intended to spend the first year checking out Portugal and finding a spot where we want to settle. We’re not really city people, so it’s interesting that we landed in Porto, and it’s a beautiful city, but we’re going to look to relocate to a quieter location.  In the next few months, we’re going to visit a few places that we’re interested in, stay for a week or so and get a feel for the different places.” 

Don and Ellen's top tips for relocating to Portugal

  • Make sure to spend time with family and friends, before you move to another country.  After all the visa requirements, you’ll need some time to relax. 
  • It helps a lot to have someone you trust in Portugal while you’re making the move – in their case, it was their realtor.  Reach out on Facebook groups before you move, to connect with other people who have moved to Portugal, who you can meet when you are settling in.  
  • Try to learn some basic Portuguese before you move, and find a local teacher when you arrive, so you can really start to connect with the culture and make friends.

Portugal may not always be Don and Ellen’s home. They still have dreams of traveling the globe, and finding a base on another continent, but for now they are very happy in Portugal. Ellen has been writing about their experiences here. Not only do her posts give useful advice for anyone considering making the move to Portugal, it’s a great window into the diversity of places to visit in the country.

Jenny Teasdale
March 24, 2022
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Jenny Teasdale

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