Moving to Another Country During a Pandemic

Not surprisingly it adds another layer of difficulty…

Anyone who has ever moved as an adult knows how disruptive it can be. In addition to unpacking, you also have to find a new doctor, dentist and dry cleaner. Find and memorize a new grocery store and optimal traffic route to work/school. Rearrange your kitchen six times before you know everything is in the right spot (or, is that only me?). Search out and establish new hangouts for eating, playing and simply enjoying life. I think we can all agree that the list goes on and on. And, it gets bit longer when you move to another country when you have to do all that plus learn a new culture, become familiar with a new language, understand and navigate a completely new governing model and system, learn important laws, and figure out where to buy dill (ha! inside joke for everyone who’s been with me from the beginning). But, one of the most important aspects in helping you feel settled and connected is meeting people and making friends. Toss in a pandemic and everything becomes just that much more “fun.”

When Won and I moved to Portugal we really didn’t know anyone other than Paulo and Marta, our real estate agent. Nine and a half weeks after we got here, Portugal went into its first total lockdown due to COVID-19. During that two month period, we really didn’t mind being restricted because it gave us time to catch our breath and put a plan of action together on what we wanted to do once we were free to move about again. Even though we hardly knew anyone we never felt isolated or lonely because we had the chance to get out and see Portugal and our workout sessions gave us the opportunity to see and talk to people.

The great thing is, you never know when or where you might meet people and staying open to the possibility ensures you don’t miss out. This is how we met Mark and Jennifer. We were out walking Sweet Pea on the beach when Jennifer spotted my Pepperdine baseball cap (it’s where I got my MBA). Turns out they are originally from Northern California. At the time we met, Jennifer and Mark had been far more active than we had been and recommended loads of restaurants and places to see (they were the ones that tipped us off to the Mafra and Queluz palaces). Since that time we’ve managed to safely get together on many occasions.

In November, Won joined Penha Longa Golf Club and was paired with another Mark who has become a great golf buddy. We had the chance to squeeze in lunch with Mark and his wife, Tracey, in between curfews and other restrictions before the end of the year and have remained in touch via WhatsApp.

Yay! We were beginning to make some progress on the friends front!

A few months ago I joined a Facebook group for expats living in Cascais. It has been an interesting experience for several reasons. The first is that it has afforded me a chance to learn more about this area from other expats proactively sharing suggestions and advice. I have learned about great hiking, biking and walking paths and social groups dedicated to specific activities or interests. I’ve learned tips on how to navigate local municipal and government agencies along with the latest information on COVID-19 restrictions. All this has been great, however, I’m glad I didn’t find it sooner because I might have been negatively influenced reading about some of the challenges people have had. The fact that Won and I successfully figured it out all on our own gives me a sense of confidence that I might not have had if I had joined before (or immediately after) our move. I think I might have been intimidated or concerned when I really didn’t need to be.

But, the group has lived into its core mission – to connect people. I met Joy through comments we both were making on a recent post. That prompted me to contact her directly, which enabled us to further connect through my blog. Turns out we live within walking distance of each other.

Currently, Portugal is in a second very restrictive lockdown which includes limitations on movement outside your municipality. As you may have heard, Portugal – after having been praised last year for its successful response to containing and limiting the virus – allowed families to travel and get together over Christmas. This fateful decision tragically resulted in shooting Portugal to the top of the list for the highest numbers of infection and deaths per capita in the world. I’m happy to report that the numbers are beginning to fall and things are looking better, but the lockdown remains in effect until at least March 1 when the government will consider extending it again (this is done in two week increments).

Compounding the doldrums of lockdown, the weather has been rainy and cool; winter weather here in Portugal. I had been messaging with Joy and we both decided we needed a break from both the lockdown and the weather. We agreed that as soon as the sun came out – even if it was only for a few hours, we’d grab our husbands and meet up at a local park for a safe, socially distanced visit since we had not yet met face to face!

I am happy to report that we were finally able to do that this past Monday. It was so nice to meet Joy and Kirk in person. They are lovely people. During our chat we learned that, like us, they are both retired and wanted an adventure. They arrived in September of last year from Alabama. Their original plan was to move in March of that year, but their visas were delayed due to the first lockdown. Once they got their visas, they didn’t have a choice and had to move or let the visas expire and go through it all again. Unfortunately it was right in the middle of this awful pandemic. They were sharing how difficult it has been to make social connections due to the strict curfews that went into effect shortly after they arrived followed by a complete lockdown in the new year. The last five months have been particularly difficult because they’ve felt somewhat isolated and are beginning to second-guess their decision. We implored them to hang in there and promised that once the lockdown has been lifted (and vaccines administered, allowing us all to circulate safely and freely) the country will unfold before them and they will be able to discover and experience all its magic.

After chatting with Joy and Kirk, I thought about Mark and Tracey who moved here from Texas the month before Joy and Kirk did. They have had a similar experience in terms of not having had the chance to really explore the country and might be feeling a bit lonely too. I’ve made it a priority to reach out and check in with them and as well as our friends Mark and Jennifer, to see how everyone is doing. Since it’s still OK to be outside for some exercise, I’m waiting for another break in the weather when we can all meet up at the local park for a bit of sunshine, masked interaction, and a safe, socially distanced walk.

As you can see, a pandemic and the associated restrictions on movement have added an extra layer of difficulty to what is already a life-changing experience – moving to another country. Recent news reports are saying that this lockdown will likely be in place until after Easter (April 4) in order to avoid repeating the “Christmas” mistake. That’s six weeks away…sigh… On the bright side, my plan is to introduce all of these couples to each other during our upcoming walks. It will help break the tedium if we can all connect and get to know each other in the coming weeks. Something I think we’ll all enjoy.

For all my friends in Texas – I’m keeping you warm and safe in my thoughts and prayers. I hope you and your families get through this horrible disaster as quickly as possible. I can relate to your pain and suffering. Won and I experienced something similar when we lived in New Jersey. We lost power one February for four days. The temp in our home dropped below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, plus we were on a septic system – no electricity, no flushing toilets…groan. Needless to say, we bought a generator the following week. Sending you my love.

Everyone, please stay safe, stay healthy, and be sure to stay in touch.

From Portugal with love,


Published by Beth Thomas-Kim

After working in corporate America for companies like Mattel, Nestlé, and Johnson & Johnson, I retired and moved to Portugal in January of 2020 with my husband Won and our 12-year old wire fox terrier, Sweet Pea. We now live in Monte Estoril, a lovely seaside town just outside Lisbon. We spend our days happily exploring this beautiful country and learning about its fascinating history, engaging culture, warm and welcoming people, delicious food and wine, and stunning architecture. This blog was started primarily as a way to keep family and friends updated on our transition from the US to Portugal. Now, my subscribers include people from all over the world. Enjoy!

16 thoughts on “Moving to Another Country During a Pandemic

  1. Always enjoy reading these, Beth. What’s the situation with vaccine eligibility and availability there? Just got mine through an organization I volunteer with—what a relief!


    1. I’m so happy to know you are still enjoying my posts (positive reinforcement goes a long way!! LOL!!) I’m so happy to hear you got the vaccine – that’s such great news! It’s one more step to normalizing the world. It’s interesting that you are curious about the status of vaccines here, someone else I know asked the same thing today. I wasn’t sure anyone would be interested, but since you are the second, I will assume there are more. I’ll make that next week’s topic, so stay tuned!


    1. Awww…thanks, Christy, but I think you and Chris will have a much easier time of it when you move to Australia. My only wish is that we could divert you to Portugal for a year before you disappear down under. 😁😘 Love you both. ❤️


  2. Hi Beth,
    Reading your blog is a highlight every Friday morning for this Los Angeles guy. Keep em coming and stay safe!
    All the best,


  3. I am glad you have been able to meet some people that you have things in common with. I only moved to another state and meeting people has been challenging, but not having any problem finding things to do! One of my sisters is fully vaccinated and just came for a visit. Still just doing age 65+ in general population here.


    1. Lucky you that you were able to see your sister!! I’d give anything to see my sisters right now (we were supposed to meet up in Sicily last June, but that trip was canceled for obvious reasons). Knowing how active you are, I figure it’s only a matter of time before you find that one person you can form a friendship with who will then introduce you to their friends and it will snowball from there. Much like it did for me when I met Susan. I’m still grateful for her friendship and kindness in welcoming me into her social circle and the book club. Hang in there. Sending you loads of hugs.


  4. Hi Beth,
    So glad you’re meeting new friends to hang with.
    I didn’t realize Portugal had done a back slide with COVID. Good to know things are beginning to improve again.
    Great to read your Blog.


    1. Thanks, Jeanne. Yeah…the rise in transmission rate, hospitalizations, and deaths were a really unfortunate result of the government responding to the overwhelming desire of the people to be together at Christmas. This is why they aren’t going to let it happen this Easter. The world will collectively sigh when we have this pandemic under control and it can’t come soon enough. I’m pretty sure you’re missing the little family – and they are missing YOU – now that they’ve moved to Colorado. 😦 Sending you loads of love and hugs.


  5. Beth,
    I hope you & Won and the rest of Portugal soon have access to a COVID-19 vaccine. While the world may be forever changed by this pandemic and we may have to learn to adjust to endemic vs pandemic, we all hope to return to a version of normality. It just goes to show us, we all long for connections, social interaction that no amount of digital technology is a replacement.
    Em paz,


    1. Hi Leslie – totally agree. Next week’s blog post is an update on how the vaccine rollout is going here. I think the only thing holding the world back now is the speed at which the vaccines can be manufactured and distributed – most countries have figured out how to get them into people’s arms and are highly incentivized to complete that step so people can get back to work and economies rejuvenated.


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