LIVING IN PORTUGAL | THE PROS, THE CONS & THE HONEST TRUTH
Its been a while since I’ve written a personal post but last week marked 3 years since we made the move from Cornwall, UK to Algarve, Portugal and I have been reflecting over the process and journey we have been on.
Firstly I just want to say I was really naive when I moved to Portugal. I genuinely expected it to be easy especially because the country is in Europe and is so close to the UK. I wasn’t scared or apprehensive in any way – just majorly excited. The decision to move to Portugal wasn’t a particularly hard one and for the first year it did feel very easy. However when we actually moved into a house and started to settle the challenging aspects became much more obvious.
I often get asked questions such as :
Why did you choose Portugal?
What is the hardest thing about living in Portugal?
Is it easy to meet people?
I’ll try my best to answer these questions from a personal perspective throughout this post.
Although this is a personal account of moving to Portugal and some parts of this journey are unique to me I hope it may help others who are thinking of making the move too. There is loads of information online about the physical process of moving abroad but it is pretty difficult to find personal experiences that take into account emotional factors too.
If you have any questions on the physical process of moving to Portugal I am probably not the best person to help but i’ll give it a crack. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any specific questions.
Warning… i’m about to give a bit (a lot) of background story on how I ended up living in Portugal. This is not particularly relevant to ‘moving to and living in Portugal’ but it does give a bit of insight into how I make decisions- mainly that I follow my heart and not my head.
If you want to get straight to the Pros + Cons of living in Portugal just scroll down.
A little background story…
I grew up in south Wales and went to Uni in Swansea. In the middle of my second year studying graphic design I suddenly had a niggle, I needed a new challenge. I can’t describe the feeling other than the need to be somewhere else pursuing something different.
After a bit of research I found a surf lifesaving course that would potentially enable me to work on the beach as a lifeguard in the future. I grew up competitive swimming and had recently learnt to surf so this seemed like a fitting challenge. Before I took this course I had no real idea of what it entailed and absolutely no idea exactly what went into training to be a lifeguard – I just wanted to do it.
My lack of knowledge was confirmed when I booked the course for the coldest time of year and rocked up in a summer wetsuit. I was totally unprepared. That course was one of the toughest physical things I’ve ever done but when I passed the course at the end of the week my life path took a whole new direction.
It sounds dramatic but it was this single event that skyrocketed me into the future I’m living now.
When I got back to Wales I broke up with my long term boyfriend and the day I passed my driving test I moved to Cornwall. I spent the summer working as a pool lifeguard and volunteering on the beach as much as humanly possible. I had a taste of the beach lifestyle and loved it.
When September came I was devastated I had to go back to Uni but I knew I couldn’t throw my degree away after two years of hard work. I begrudgingly powered on through and managed to pass. The same day I completed my end of year exhibition I drove to Cornwall. I always describe this day as the first day of the rest of my life.
I passed my lifeguard interview and fitness test and spent the next 7 years working as a lifeguard and surf coach. Every year in-between April and October I worked on the beach 5 days a week and fit in as many other jobs as I could on the side. I worked all summer so that I could surf in the tropics all winter.
It was a dream life for a few years and without a doubt and some of my best memories ever are from this time.
WHY DID YOU WANT TO LEAVE CORNWALL?
But when 2015 came some familiar feelings bubbled up. I started feeling the need for a change. I wasn’t unhappy but I wasn’t bursting with life either. I wasn’t progressing and I knew I had to find a new direction.
My boyfriend could already work remotely and I wanted to find a way I could do the same.
I took a ‘happiness mission’ to Thailand and Indonesia which is where and when Soi 55 was born. After that trip I quit my job and started Soi 55 full time. At the time I still worked part time as a surf coach and was able to live with family in Cornwall while I built the business. This was key to getting me off the ground.
In 2016 my boyfriend and I decided to try living and working abroad.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE PORTUGAL?
Before we moved we spent my 27th birthday in Algarve. We spent 4 days wild camping, surfing and drinking cheap beer in the sunshine. The blue sky, warmth and simple living filled me with happiness and I wanted more. We had also both visited Portugal before this trip and loved it. My 27th birthday trip confirmed the fact we were ready for a change and that Portugal might be just the change we were looking for.
We decided on the Algarve region because (like most people) one of the biggest reasons we wanted to move to Portugal was the weather. The summers are hot, the winters are warm and vitamin D is available in abundance. Something I cannot live without.
We chose Lagos to base ourselves as we wanted to be close to a town with enough going on to keep us busy whilst remaining close to some of the surf beaches.
Plus flights from Portugal are around 2.5-3 hours to the UK and usually very cheap. Portugal just made sense.
HOW DID YOU MOVE TO PORTUGAL?
We booked an apartment for 7 months to test the waters but within a few weeks I knew we would stay for years. When we first moved it didn’t feel like a big deal for me at all. The first 7months felt like a holiday even though I was working on Soi 55 full time. I loved discovering a new culture, new food, new beaches. It was my first real experience of working from home and I loved it. I felt very free and I was absolutely buzzing.
When we moved into the house the time had come to settle into actually living in Portugal. The first year was extremely busy and hectic. We adopted a stray (crazy) german shepherd and had builders around us 12 hours a day. During this time I applied for a start up business loan and started trying to grow Soi 55. To be honest that year was a massive blur and I was pretty dishevelled at the end of it.
This past year (year 3) has been much more settled but probably the hardest for me personally.
House work slowed down and Zavi (the crazy German shepherd) became less crazy but my work became tougher. Alongside this my boyfriend had to start traveling away for work regularly meaning I was suddenly on my own a lot more than usual. This was when the realisation of what it really means to live abroad came into play fully.
WHATS IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT MOVING TO PORTUGAL?
This took me almost three years to realise but the hardest thing about moving to Portugal (especially when working from home) is making friends. I’m an only child so have always been comfortable to spend time and do things my own. I grew up able to move between many different friendship groups but when it came to close friends I only kept a few close by.
For the first few years not knowing many people here didn’t matter; everything was new and exciting and I was lucky to be able to share it all with my partner. As we started to settle into life here the lack of additional personal relationships became an obvious problem.
The fact that I work for myself from home has been the biggest reason why meeting people and making friends has been difficult but there are a few other factors involved too. We live in a seasonal location so finding people who are here for a long time not just a good time can be difficult. Algarve is also a popular place for retirees which means it can be difficult to meet people our own age.
What I am learning is you have to put yourself out there and make an effort to meet people; when you do this more opportunities are presented. It has taken three years but we are now starting to form friendship groups and find our groove here in the Algarve. Some days are still tough but I do feel like we’re overcoming this challenge.
At the risk of sounding like over negative I want to share some other downsides of moving to Portugal now so that I can end with all the amazing benefits of living here.
CONS OF LIVING IN PORTUGAL
BUREAUCRACY EVERYWHERE – One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the bureaucracy in Portugal. In fact as bad as it sounds I didn’t really understand what bureaucracy actually meant until we moved here. Well now I know. Basically to do even the simplest of tasks here can take many steps. There is A LOT of paperwork and your patience will be tested.
THE POSTAL SYSTEM – The postal system (and couriers) in Portugal has/have many flaws. It is super expensive to bring anything in from outside the EU and post goes missing far too regularly for a developed country. Since we have been here I have noticed some things improving but it is still far from the standard of the UK.
LEARNING THE LANGUAGE IS HARD – As much as a love learning a new language and have enjoyed the challenge of learning Portuguese some situations are still incredibly difficult. Scenarios like taking cars to local garages, dealing with police and talking with couriers have caused more than a few headaches and tears. Over the past few years I have nailed basic sentences, can order anything in a restaurant and chat all day about our pet chickens but ask me to name car parts in Portuguese? Not a clue, sorry.
Before learning some basic but essential phrases my boyfriend somehow negotiated the sale of our car for €400 and 4 ducks. We’ve found ourselves in scenarios like this on more than one occasion due to the language barrier. The real truth is that is is our responsibility to learn the language of the country we have moved to and it is that fact that has me motivated to keep learning. When I actually manage to have a simple conversation with a local I am ecstatic.
HOUSES ARE COLD – Portugal, especially Algarve is hot (or at least) warm most of the year so it is easy to spend lots of time outdoors. What you don’t hear about is how cold the houses get in the winter. I’ll give you a clue . . . it starts with FREE and ends in ZING. The houses here are built for hot weather so they are designed to stay cool. This means in those few cold months during the winter it can be colder inside the house than out. We’ve learnt that when a cold snap does come you need to get the fire on all day everyday.
PORTUGAL IS MORE EXPENSIVE THAN YOU THINK – If you are anything like I was you believe that Portugal is one of the cheapest places in Western Europe. Nope not the case. In many ways Portugal is cheap. Local produce (fruit, veggies, meat, dairy etc) here is cheap and very good. Eating out at local restaurants in cheap, you can get a lunch with soup, wine, dessert and coffee for €7 or €8. Beer and wine is also very cheap; a very decent bottle for €3-4? hell yes!
However even some of the most basic household items are expensive here. White goods can be crazy pricey and electricity bills in the winter are sky high. Cars are amongst the most expensive necessities in Portugal and you can expect to pay 4 times or more than you would in the UK. Want to import a car from another country? That’ll be a couple of grand please.
So these are a few niggles we have come up against since moving to Portugal but the reality is I love living here. I enjoy the fact that many aspects are different from the UK – thats why we moved in the first place. Once you get your head around some of the differences I mentioned above there is a tonne of benefits to living in Portugal.
PROS OF LIVING IN PORTUGAL?
BLUE SKIES (ALMOST) EVERY DAY – I mentioned it earlier but I can’t explain enough about how much of a difference sun makes to my mental health. I often forget how good it makes me feel until I go back to the UK and realise the air and light is completely different over there. We wake up to blue skies for more than 3/4 of the year and we can plan a BBQ weeks in advance without having to worry what the weather might be doing. For me this is the biggest benefit of living in Algarve.
NEW EXPERIENCES – I love discovering culture and taking part in new experiences and even after three years I am still able to do this in Portugal. Although we live in Algarve (which is notorious for being touristy) we chose to live in a rural village that has very little outside influence. There is a local market selling fruit, veggies and fresh fish; traditional snack bars and an old windmill. I’m sure many who live in central Portugal may disagree with me but the streets here feel very Portuguese and I enjoy soaking it all up.
TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES ON YOUR DOORSTEP – Living in continental Europe has its benefits when it comes to travel. Flights, trains and buses are generally cheap and easy. Since living in Portugal I have ticked off Lisbon,Porto, Douro Valley, Barcelona, Seville, Granada, Sierra Nevada plus Fes and Marrakesh in Morocco. Our proximity to Lisbon in particular means we can pop up for a day or two and come back feeling like we have has a mini break. We are also just a 2-3 hour flight from UK making the hop home to friends and family much easier.
SEASONAL PRODUCE – Imported food can be more expensive in Portugal but the local produce is cheap, fresh and tasty. Farmer’s markets are a regular thing in most towns/villages and you can pick up fresh fruit, veg, bread and eggs that have potentially traveled from less than a couple of km away.
Some particularly good things to look out for in Portugal are
Figos (Figs) – During a good fig year pick up a kilo for a couple of euros in July/August
Laranjas (Oranges) – Very good year round but especially during first few months on the year
Melancia (Melons )- Best in summer when they are sweet, juicy and less than €2 a pop
Quejo Mistura (Sheep and goats cheese) – Creamy and delicious. I had never eaten sheep’s cheese before moving to Portugal and now i love it.
Sardinhas (sardines) – Ok I still haven’t got my head around these yet but I’m trying. If Portugal has a ‘smell’ it would be sardines cooking on a BBQ. These aren’t available year round because of fishing restrictions so best to get them in summer.
Tomates (Tomatoes obvs) – Don’t even try and entertain me with your perfectly round and shiny tomatoes in the UK because they don’t have a touch on Portugal’s wonky but ridiculously tasty tomates.
Pasteis de Natas – It feels like these custard tarts are currently basking in worldwide fame but let me tell you this. Unless you have eaten one fresh from a Pastelaria in Portugal you’ve haven’t eaten one.
Oh and did I mention the wine?
NATURE ALL AROUND – Portugal is a wildly diverse country but what is overwhelming is the amount of natural spaces there are across all it’s regions. Even here in the Algarve you have remote stretches of beaches, thick forests and sprawling countryside. I moved to Cornwall for the beach life and priorities didn’t change when we moved to Portugal. I love having this huge coast to explore.
MONEY: Although some bar, restaurants and shops do take card many of the smaller places do not so it is wise to carry cash on you. There are plenty of ATM’s in Lagos and at the Marina.
I‘ve been using WISE since we moved to Portugal and I have saved hundreds (if not thousands) of pounds over the last 5 years compared to using my UK bank account.
So there we have it. A list of pros and cons of living in Portugal that are linked with my personal experiences.
There has been a whole range of highs and lows over the last three years. Some of them I was expecting and some creeped up on me out of nowhere. It certainly hasn’t been easy moving to Portugal but I have grown in a huge way and most importantly – I have no regrets.
Would you live in a different country? If so where would you go?
Did you also make the move to a new place? What did you find the hardest?