Updated August 2022
It’s now been almost 6 years since I made the move from UK to Portugal and I have been reflecting over the process and journey I have been on. When I first wrote this post I was living in a little town close to Lagos in the Algarve but I now live in Cascais, Lisbon. I had only been living in Portugal for 3 years at that point. I’ve grown and learnt so much more in the last 3 years.
I was really naive when I first 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 plenty 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.
Why I left the UK.
I was living in Cornwall working as a beach lifeguard and surf instructor and traveling for a few months every winter for about 7 years. 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 partner at the time 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 we decided to try living and working abroad.
Before we moved my partner and I 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 on the west coast. We ended up settling in a small local village 10 minute drive from Lagos called Odiáxere. It had a very authentic feel and I still miss it now that I live in bigger and busier Cascais.
Plus flights from Portugal are around 2.5-3 hours to the UK and usually very cheap. Portugal just made sense.
My story of moving to and living in Portugal
We booked an apartment for 7 months to test the waters but within a few weeks I knew we would stay. 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.
Year 3 was much more settled but probably the hardest (up until that point) 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.
In 2020 I went through a big life change and ended up moving to Cascais on my own. It was the middle of a pandemic and after the initial novelty of being in a new place things got difficult.
What are the hardest parts of 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 always had friends around in Wales and Cornwall but I have definitely found it more difficult to establish a friendship group here.
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. In Algarve we lived in a seasonal location so finding people who are here for a long time not just a good time can be difficult.
One of the reasons I moved to Lisbon was the form more connections. It is definitely easier to do that in the city but the pandemic lockdowns and personal health problems got in the way. Which brings me to the next point.
Facing an Emergency in Portugal
I’m a resident and have a numero de utente (healthcare number) so I have access to public healthcare, most of which is free or heavily subsidised, but I never thought I would have to use it. Unfortunately just after I moved to Cascais (in the middle of a lockdown) I was diagnosed with advanced glaucoma, and for a short period of time the doctors thought I was going to go blind. After two operations and a lot of medication we finally got the glaucoma under control, but fast forward to the beginning of this year (2022) and I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
I wanted to include this story here because it shows the importance of having a healthcare plan before moving to Portugal (or anywhere!). I never expected something like this to happen at my age but it did, and I wans’t prepared. The healthcare I have received here has been brilliant. At no point have a felt like my treatment would have been better in the UK, in fact I’m pretty sure my treatment has been much quicker here. I am lucky that my local hospital in Portugal happens to be a very good public hospital. This is only my experience but I’ve had almost 100 hospital visits in 18 months and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I am so grateful and it has truly made me form deeper connection and appreciation for Portugal.
However it’s also important to share that, navigating the public healthcare system without fluent Portuguese can be stressful and doing it without a solid support system is difficult. So make sure you fully consider what your healthcare options are before you move. Even if you are young think about getting health insurance and/or have a back up plan for if something goes wrong. I had nothing in place and I’ve had to learn very quickly how to do this on my own.
OK so that’s my story so far. I hope that gives you a little background and also makes you think about whats important when making the move. Now let’s do the pro’s and con’s.
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
The Bureaucracy – One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the bureaucracy in Portugal. Until I moved here I didn’t even understand the full meaning of bureaucracy. Well now I know. Basically to do even the simplest of tasks here can take many steps. Paperwork is never ending and your patience will be tested, over and over again.
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. I regularly joke that my least favourite thing about living in Portugal is CTT.
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 partner at the time 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.
To add to this – you should not expect the locals to speak English to you, even if you’re in Lisbon. It is our responsibility to learn the language, especially if you want to live here. Equally, don’t get put off trying when people just talk back to you in English. Keep practicing.
The 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 baltic the houses get in the winter. They are built for hot weather so they are designed to stay cool. Central heating isn’t really a thing unless you have an extremely new build. 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.
It’s not as cheap as you think living in Portugal – If you are anything like I was you believe that Portugal is one of the cheapest places to live in Western Europe. Unfortunately that is 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 generally cheap, you can get a lunch with soup, wine, dessert and coffee for €10. 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. Taxes are ridiculous (but we’ll save that for another post!).
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?
The Ever Changing Landscape – The scenery is always changing here in Portugal, you only have to drive an hour and you’ll find yourself in a completely different landscape with different history, food, people and culture. For a relatively small country it is so diverse.
Blue Sky (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. I’ve lived in both Algarve and Lisbon. Algarve does have slightly better temps year round but both places get plenty of sun year round.
Culture and Experiences – I love discovering culture and taking part in new experiences and even after all these years travelling around I am still finding them.
Great Transport Links – 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 traveled extensively round the country and also taken several trips to Spain, Italy and Morocco. Being a short hop back to the UK is also useful.
The Freshest, Tastiest Produce Ever – 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.
A few to add to your shopping list…
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?
Outdoor Lifestyle– Probably my number one favourite thing about living in Portugal is the lifestyle it allows me to have. I’m active and I love being outdoor in nature. The weather is obviously a huge factor in making this possible but I also wanted to point out how easy it is to access nature here. Even in Lisbon or Porto you are only a short distance from the beach. In Alentejo you are surrounded by farmland and cork forests. In the north you can find mountains. Nature is everywhere and if you like being active there is no shortage of activities.
So there we have it. A list of pros and cons of living in Portugal that are linked with my personal experiences.
If you are interested in seeing more day-to-day living in Portugal you can follow @soi55lifsyle on Instagram where I share my daily adventures!
There has been a whole range of highs and lows over the last six years. Some of them I was expecting and some crept up 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.