Moving to Portugal: how to prepare and what to do once you get here (personal experience)
This is a guest article from Zoë Hooper from Fixando, sharing her personal experience of moving to Portugal.
Living in a different country is an extremely enriching, but a very big decision to make. I’m sure that if you’re considering moving to Portugal, you’ve probably got a few worries or doubts, but are also pretty excited by the prospect. I moved to Lisbon in January 2020 after 2 years of working in London, it was a very measured decision and I spent close to 6 months making sure I’d found the right city and right job. 8 months after taking the plunge, I’m really glad I did it (even if I’ve spent more time in my flat than out in the city!) I’m Zoë, a Brit who’s currently living and remote-working in Lisbon – here’s a bit about my experience moving here, working through a global pandemic, and some tips for life in Portugal.
Where to go if Moving to Portugal?
First things first, you need to decide if Portugal is really for you before you do anything serious – do some research on the country, its cities, the culture, and the climate. This might not be so easy right now, what with travel restrictions, but I also definitely recommend visiting before you make any decisions – I would probably have moved to Porto if I hadn’t visited and decided that another rainy city wasn’t for me. Lisbon, however, is a great fit for me: it’s near the sea, the weather is beautiful 90% of the time, cost of living is low, and it’s a startup hub.
Moving to Portugal: Preparation phase
In preparation for the move, despite Portugal being a much cheaper place to live than a lot of other European countries, make sure you have some savings to dip into. Although my rent is way lower than it was in London, I had some big deposits to pay in my first month, I stayed in an Airbnb before finding a flat, and I also ended up spending more on travel – little expenses like getting Ubers more frequently and paying for single trips on the metro instead of a monthly pass added up quickly.
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Living in Portugal: recommendations
If you can, I also heavily recommend learning some Portuguese before you get here. The locals will thank you for it, and it will come in handy knowing some basic words and phrases. I have to say, most Portuguese people speak amazing English, but they definitely appreciate it when you make the effort to speak in their language. It’s a great skill to have, and if you’re going to be living here then it’s completely worth it. You can find Portuguese teachers at Fixando for online or in-person classes – Duolingo is good to get some basics, but it’s all in Brazilian Portuguese so will only get you so far. I’ve been learning languages for 10+ years, and although going out and meeting people is great practice, having proper sit-down lessons will improve your skills a lot more sustainably!
There are some important things, regarding language, to know if you’re spending a lot of time here – firstly, don’t speak Spanish to the locals, they’ll take offence! My Portuguese friends have assured me that almost any Portuguese person will prefer for you to speak English to them, or in an ideal world, Portuguese. The education system here is incredibly well set up for language learning, and most Portuguese children start learning English in kindergarten. This means that if you’re learning Portuguese, don’t be disheartened if everyone prefers to speak to you in English!
Food & Habits in Portugal
If you’re a coffee lover then you’re in luck, the coffee here is brilliant. If you want to fit in with the locals then you should ditch the cappuccinos and lattes and choose an espresso (bica/café) or meia de leite, which is a bit like a cortado, instead. Portugal is full of little cafés, so if you move here I fully recommend you suss out the local ones and figure out which cakes you like. The pastel de nata is the most famous sweet treat, but I’m also a big fan of salame – named as it looks like a chocolate salami, and bolas de berlim, which are kind of like a doughnut. Prices are lower here, so a coffee and cake shouldn’t cost more than €2. If you see an espresso costing more than €1.50 then you’re being ripped off! There are also more brunchy cafés where you can set up your laptop for a day and drink a flat white, ideal for those of you working remotely.
Now onto the admin: what to do once you arrive. Some things you can get started with before you arrive, like flat-hunting, but others need to be done once you’re here, like registering as a resident. When it comes to finding accommodation, NomadX is a great place to start, and I recommend you get to know the city a little before you decide where to live. One thing that you’ll likely hear a lot is that Portuguese bureaucracy is a nightmare. I can confirm that it isn’t fun, but have to say that nearly everything worked out very easily for me. I won’t go into the details of how to get the different documents, but the things I had to do when I got here were: getting a tax number, sorting out my social security (this was a huge ordeal for me, I tried to get it on 6 different occasions and may have cried more than once), setting up a bank account, setting up water, electricity and WiFi, and finally sorting out my residency.
My best advice with this is to make sure you have every official document photocopied a few times, and also bring the originals with you. You’ll want to find out where your closest Loja da Cidadão is (this is kind of like your one-stop shop for anything important, like taxes, water, gas, etc) and try to always get there in the morning before 9am. Again, some Portuguese will be helpful here, but you’ll likely be able to get by with English as well.
How is Portugal dealing with Covid-19?
I got here a few months before the pandemic began, and have been working remotely since March. I have to say that the government response to the crisis was brilliant – everything got locked down very early, so the spread was minimal and very controlled. If you’re going into a shop then you need to disinfect your hands and wear a mask, and capacity is tightly controlled. Bars are currently stopping serving drinks at 8pm unless you’re also eating, and closing at 11pm. Apart from that most things are back up and running, and you can still go out to most cafés, restaurants, and beaches. In terms of admin, I got my residency in July without any problems. I just had to email or phone ahead to make a booking instead of just turning up on the day, which was far more convenient than the previous system!
Social life in Portugal
Meeting people and making friends is a little trickier, especially if you’re a remote worker who isn’t joining a local company. Lisbon has a lot of Facebook groups, at least one of which is specifically for Digital Nomads. These groups are really helpful if you have any questions, want to buy or sell anything, or just want to meet some people. I found that Bumble BFF was a great way to meet people, as well as language meetups where you can meet locals and other incomers to the city.
The beauty of living in Portugal
All in all, I can’t recommend living in Portugal enough. The climate is amazing, although I’m still getting used to working in 30+ degrees heat every day! The people are wonderful and very welcoming, the food is really good (perfect if you like fish, I’m vegetarian/vegan and have had very few problems with food in Lisbon) and the bar culture is fantastic. Living in Lisbon, I get to work during the week and go to the beach on the weekend, or I can get to a different city via train in an hour or two. It’s a great country, and a great place to live and work – hopefully I’ll see you here soon!
Zoë Hooper, Fixando
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Matilde & Miguel are a Portuguese couple who combined the passion for traveling with entrepreneurship and became Digital Nomads. They created the TravelB4Settle brand in late 2017 and since then they focused on Content Creation and Digital Marketing. Their main goal is to inspire and educate others to become Digital Nomads and help businesses all around the world to grow their presence online.