Here is some helpful advice…
Over the last year or so, my blogs have offered periodic advice and helpful tips incorporated into stories based on our experiences moving to Portugal. Now that we’ve been here for over a year, I thought it might be a good time to consolidate that advice and include some new tips into a single post for easy reference. I will be linking to some of those past posts to provide more context and narrative on a particular topic or experience if you haven’t already read them or if you would like a refresher.
Since my experience involves moving from the US to Portugal, it will naturally have a bias from that perspective, but I’m hoping the majority of this information will still be useful to anyone thinking of moving here.
PRIOR TO MOVING
One of the things that keeps me up at night – literally – is the storage unit we have back in New Jersey. We rent a temperature- and humidity-controlled 10’x20’x10′ (2000 ft3 or 56.63 m3) storage unit filled to the brim with boxes of household goods, furniture pieces, rugs, lamps, memorabilia, original artwork, decorative items, outdoor furniture, small kitchen appliances and equipment, even a barbeque grill! These are all items that we didn’t sell, give away, or throw out before we left the States. Some are personally important to us and others were simply too new to sell knowing we would not get the value of our investment back. Even if we had put what was left in a shipping container and moved it here we wouldn’t have space for the majority of it. Compounding my anxiety is the fact that the storage company is increasing the monthly storage fee on a regular basis. I feel like we are stuck. The longer we are here, the more I want to purge items, but the pandemic has created a barrier to us flying back to do that and it will be a logistical challenge to coordinate once we do. Our non-habitual residence permit allows us to stay in Portugal for another nine years. From a cost benefit analysis, if we stayed that long we would most likely be able to replace all the furniture and household goods with what we will end up spending to store it. It’s maddening.
Best advice – Think carefully, dispassionately, and strategically about what you own. And give yourself time to go through this process. I realize it is hard to know the future, but if I knew then, what I know now, I would have sold every last item I could with the exception of only the most cherished, irreplaceable items and then found a way to bring them here or leave them in storage at a much reduced monthly cost.
A note about cookware – Something that was important to me, oddly enough, was my All-Clad cookware. It was an investment purchase and I’ve expanded my collection over time so I have a lot of great pieces. I learned before I left that most cooktops in Portugal are induction. I did a lot of research and then double-checked the results of that research multiple times to confirm that I could use the All-Clad cookware I own on an induction cooktop (not all All-Clad can be used so if you have this brand and want to bring it, check carefully). Once I confirmed we could use it here, we put most of it in the car when we shipped it to ourselves and I’m glad we did. We like to cook and are happy to have these items with us. I was really dreading having to replace them with something inferior or spend the money to buy replacement pots and pans (and then own duplicates). The only thing I regret is not bringing the larger pieces. I thought they might be impractical, but now know we could use them. I also regret not bringing my 5.5 qt (5,3 ltrs) Le Creuset Dutch Oven. Our plan is to retrieve these items from storage and bring them back with us on our next visit. Note: it is much easier, more timely, and less expensive to pay a fee to the airline to check a box at the airport (like luggage) than it is to ship it to yourself, assuming you are traveling already.
A note about blow dryers or any heat-generating personal care appliances – Unless they have the ability to switch between US and EU voltages, leave them behind. Voltage converters don’t work well and you may end up frying your blow dryer. It is better and safer to buy replacement haircare tools once you are here.
Important Documents and Physical Photographs
Living light is one of the joys of this adventure. That means not being weighed down by having to lug items around with you. However, some things are really important to have like tax returns, utility bills, insurance documents, pay stubs, special paper-based recipes, non-digitized wedding photographs, etc. This is where technology is your friend. When Won and I were registering the car, we didn’t have access to critical documents that were in storage back in New Jersey. And there are times when I wish I could see photographs from my wedding or when Matthew was a baby. Memories are important and finding a way to keep them with you is comforting. While we haven’t needed them, our marriage certificate, birth certificates, and social security cards are all back in storage.
Best Advice – Spend the time to sort, scan and upload photographs and important documents to cloud storage. Anything you believe would be important to protect and enable you to have easy access should be digitized.
Credit Card Information on Retail Sites
Ordering and paying for services online is a significant benefit of modern life. However, after you move, you won’t be in a position to use these online retail sites (assuming you are not moving within the EU). My best recommendation is to keep the account if you want, but remove your credit card information. This will ensure no one can charge against your account or use the account as a phishing scam. Won received a call just this week asking him if a $750 charge on his US Amazon account was valid (press 1 for yes, 2 for no). He didn’t reply to avoid inadvertently agreeing to the charge by responding to either option just in case it was a phishing scam. He then logged on and removed his credit card information and monitored our credit card activity to ensure nothing was charged (it wasn’t). We kept the account, but now no one can use it for fraudulent purchases.
Just as an FYI – there is no Amazon Portugal. The closest Amazon operations are in Spain, Germany and France. Amazon UK used to be a great option, but now that the UK is no longer a part of the EU, it is possible Portugal will apply customs duties and import fees on orders.
Best Advice – Delete credit card information from all online retail accounts and stop any automatic payments for services you will no longer need.
Clothes, Purses, Shoes, Handbags, Jewelry, Perfume
Ladies, I did my best to purge my closet before I left, but I still ended up with more than I needed. I went directly from working in corporate America to retirement in Portugal which meant my closet hadn’t gone through much of an adjustment. I had no difficulties going through my clothes – I was happy to donate most of my work clothes and pared down the casual to what I liked and thought I might need. Where I struggled was with my collection of Kate Spade, Coach and Furla handbags and my beautiful Coach, Kate Spade, and Stewart Weisman high-heeled shoes. In the end, I only got rid of a few old ones, but kept the majority because they were gifts from Won or they were my favorites. I also pared down my jewelry and perfumes, but I still feel like I ended up with too much. Now, I find that I rarely put on jewelry or use perfume and I have all those handbags and shoes taking up space in a much smaller bedroom and closet. Because of the cobblestone walkways, which can be a nightmare to walk on with high-heels and slippery when wet, I wear one of several pair of Sketchers every day and often walk out of the house with only the house key and phone in my pocket (Won does the driving when we’re together). That’s it. I don’t even carry a wallet with me. If I unexpectedly want to buy something, I use Google Pay on my phone. (After writing this, I realize I should have some form of identification on me…sigh…I guess I should reassess). And, before it slips my mind, we also brought our winter clothes with us including my expensive long, black dressy coat, reasoning that when we travel to colder locations we won’t have to buy new. The casual items will be useful, but the dressier items likely will just end up taking up precious space.
Best Advice – This is a tough one because these are very personal decisions. The best advice I can give is to bring only what you feel is absolutely necessary for your comfort and happiness. The weather in Portugal can be cool and wet in the winter so a lightweight coat and a raincoat are useful, but beyond that, it was even too hot to wear my cashmere sweaters most of the time this past winter.
Won and I brought both our Amazon Echo devices, Google Home (virtual assistant like Amazon Echo), Google router, wi-fi signal booster, and our Google Chromecast device in addition to our cell phones, iPads, and laptops. All of these devices have been useful and we’re glad we have them. Since that time we’ve learned that electronic devices are generally more expensive in Portugal than in the US (click here to learn more) and not all brands are available (i.e. Google Pixels are not available in Portugal). Upon arrival, Won bought an inexpensive cell phone to secure a local number, which has been very useful. However, we quickly learned that we rely more on that number than his US number so he recently upgraded to an iPhone 12 to get more capabilities and faster bandwidth. We’re happy to have our virtual assistant devices for sheer convenience purposes and the wi-fi signal booster has proved very critical since the concrete block walls used to construct our building (a typical method here) create challenges for wi-fi signals in our apartment. The biggest challenge with bringing electronic devices from the US to Portugal is the plug configuration. You don’t need a voltage converter, but you do need a plug adapter. We have six adapters but could probably use one or two more.
Best Advice – If you want to keep a US number and your current cell phone is more than two or three years old, I recommend you replace it before you leave the US. However, keep in mind that you will need a local Portuguese mobile number once you get here. I suggest you buy a second, unlocked phone and bring it with you (you will use it frequently so think about the bandwidth capability and features that are important to you). If you end up bringing a lot of devices like we did, make sure you have a sufficient number of plug adapters. There are two plug types in Portugal, they are C and F. Plug type C is the plug which has two round pins and type F has two round pins with two earth clips on the side. Portugal operates on 230V supply voltage and 50Hz.
Medication and Skin Care Products
We were unsure about our ability to refill Won’s prescription medications before we left the US so he asked his doctor for a six-month supply of both. Turns out, that was completely unnecessary and more expensive (click here to learn more). As for skin care; I had been using the same brand in the US for 20 years. I stocked up before I left and I’m glad I did. I can’t find it here (yet…I’m still looking). I ran out of my supply a few months back and have been using a French brand recommended to me by my esthetician. It has taken just a bit to adapt, but I’ve got it sorted out now.
Best Advice – Bring at least a three-month supply of prescription medications, which should give you sufficient time to get settled and set up an appointment with a local physician. As for skin care products, I suggest bringing enough for three to six months just in case you have to switch brands.
A Place to Live
Won and I had been looking at real estate sites for months prior to our move. It helped us prepare by setting expectations on what types of places we might be able to rent (we knew we were not going to buy a place immediately). We arrived with a list of apartments and townhomes that we felt would meet our needs and personal preferences. In the end, we saw none of them; they were either no longer available because they were off the market, but the agent had not removed the listing or the landlord would not accept a dog. Our agent, Marta Alegria of Keller Williams (an absolute gem!) found us a great place, but it required us to make some critical compromises (click here to learn more about that and click here to see pictures of where we live). We moved in to our place at the end of January 2020. At the time we were told that air conditioning isn’t really necessary because it doesn’t get that hot in Monte Estoril (we are a 15 minute walk to the sea). However, that is not quite true. It can get very hot in our apartment in the late summer, and we have really good cross flow. Unfortunately, fans don’t really cool our place down when it’s really hot because they are just circulating hot air. Not having a heat source didn’t turn out to be a big deal, though. We have several space heaters which do the trick. And we’ve gotten used to hanging our laundry out to dry.
Best Advice – If I were you, I would find a place with air conditioning (especially with climate change heating up the world). No heat is easier to resolve than no A/C. For sheer convenience, definitely get a place with a washing machine. A dryer is a nice convenience, but not necessary. If you are going to have a car think about parking. We don’t have a private parking space where we live and it can be a pain in the *ss to find parking sometimes.
Medical Insurance and Dental Services
Won and I didn’t know the difference between medical plans offered by utilities, banks and other commercial businesses, which is quite common here, and typical health insurance offered by a global provider like Allianz. When we set up service with the electric company, we also bought a medical plan they offered for only 8,50€ per month. It seemed like a great deal so we canceled our US based health insurance coverage. Not the best idea. We ultimately learned the difference between the type of services offered in those inexpensive plans and a comprehensive health insurance plan, and while it wasn’t the end of the world, it did cause us to scramble to address the problem when we met with an insurance broker to sign up. Plus, we weren’t able to cancel the coverage we had initially signed up for with the electric company which meant we were charged monthly for one full year.
Best Advice – Keep your current health insurance coverage until you can buy proper coverage here. Alternately, you could go without coverage until you get your residence permit and then sign up for public healthcare through the National Health Service, but I think most expats prefer to have traditional insurance coverage. Even if you have health insurance coverage you should get an “utente” number with the National Health Service. To understand the costs of health care and the difference between the plans offered through commercial entities or public utilities and standard health insurance providers, click here. To learn more about our personal experiences with the healthcare system, click here. To learn more about dental services and associated costs, which are not typically covered by insurance plans, click here.
Shipping a Car
We did. Would we do it again? No.
Best Advice – I would not recommend shipping a car here, but if you are committed to the idea, know what you are getting yourself into. Click here, here, here, here, here, and here to learn more about our experience including the cost and time associated with bringing a car to Portugal.
Practical Tips and Information to Make Life Easier
Language – English is widely spoken in and around large populated areas, but learning and using a few Portuguese words and phrases are always much appreciated. Take the time to understand pronunciation differences between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese and don’t default to using Spanish, it isn’t appreciated as much as you might think. The Portuguese prefer you default to English.
Transportation – If you plan to use ride sharing to get around – and they are great, affordable and convenient to use – I suggest you download the Bolt app vs Uber. Bolt is more widely used. If you plan to use the Lisbon Metro system frequently, you should look into getting a Lisboa Viva card.
Message Apps – If you haven’t already done so, download WhatsApp. It is the free and ubiquitous messaging app everyone uses to stay in touch.
Navigation Apps – We have learned that Waze is a better navigation app than Google Maps in Portugal. This has been confirmed by every Portuguese we’ve talked to.
Roadside Service – The Automobile Club of Portugal (ACP) is just like AAA in the US. ACP provides many types of services – we used them to help us register our car. Won and I both signed up, but since we only have one car, we learned after the fact that we didn’t need two accounts.
Supermarket Loyalty Programs – We highly recommend you sign up for them. We have learned that Pingo Doce offers superb discounts on fuel (gasoline) which is a high cost item here. Continente, Lidl, Aldi, Auchan, and Intermarché also offer discount loyalty programs, but based on our experience, not as good as Pingo Doce on fuel. Regardless, sign up whenever you get the chance. The savings are always worth it. To learn more about our average monthly costs and how we save money, click here.
Setting Up a Household – Even though we were fortunate enough to rent an apartment with all new furniture, there were many things we still needed to buy like a vacuum cleaner, broom, coffee maker, toaster, etc. Won and I made two mistakes; we bought a cheap vacuum cleaner and an iron and ironing board. We have since upgraded the vacuum and have used the iron and ironing board only once in over a year.
Mobile Payment App – Once you have a bank account be sure to download the Multibanco app (click the link to learn more about what it is and what it does). This is another great convenience that is used all over the country.
Via Verde – Once you are settled in your home I recommend that you sign up for Via Verde. To learn more about what it is and why it is useful click here and here. One benefit we are looking forward to is the ability to pay for, and extend the time on, a parking meter through the app once our car is finally registered.
The Number One and Number Seven – Be careful how you write these numbers. The number one is written with a hook facing left. In some cases the hook is so pronounced it can look like an inverted ‘v’. The number seven is written with a slash through the center so it isn’t confused with the number one. You will be filling out a lot of forms upon arrival, so begin practicing now.
Address and Phone Number Formats – The name of the street comes first, followed by the number of the house or apartment building, which can sometimes have two numbers and/or a name. Our building has one entrance in the front and one in the back, which can complicate things for us. Be sure to get – and fully understand – the correct format of your home address from your real estate agent to avoid problems when you set up utilities or initiate deliveries. The country code for Portugal is 351. Portugal uses a nine-digit format for landlines and mobile numbers. If you include the country code the format will be +351-xxx-xxx-xxx.
Food Delivery – The following food delivery apps are the most common: Glovo, TakeAway, and Uber Eats. Not every restaurant uses all three so you need to log on to the restaurant website you are interested in or log on to one of the apps I shared to see which restaurants they support. FYI – You can use your Multibanco app to pay for the order or a credit card.
Automobile Fuel – At the gas pump you will see two options that seem very similar but are very different. Gasóleo is diesel fuel and gasolina is unleaded fuel. Do not get them mixed up.
Buying Produce – Most large supermarkets require you to weigh and tag your produce. The check out person does not have the ability to do this for you. If you forget how it is done, just watch other shoppers as a refresher or ask someone. We have found that everyone is generally super helpful. I covered how this is done in a past blog post. To read about it, click here.
Community – There are many Facebook groups for expats with subgroups based on shared interests (just do a quick search to find one). When you are out and about don’t be afraid to introduce yourself when the opportunity presents itself (that’s how we met our friends, Jennifer and Mark). Establish a go-to hang out place and become a regular. Once you begin to make connections you will build a wonderful support system and social group that will enrich your daily life. I also highly recommend the Fever app which will inform you of events taking place near you. We have used it several times and found it very fun and useful.
COVID-19 – Even though the world is beginning the vaccination process it may still be months before we are all safe from this scourge. I highly recommend you download the STAYAWAY COVID app when you arrive. This is a widely used resource to help trace cases and proactively notify residents of potential exposure. To learn more about what it is and how it works click here. To learn more about Portugal’s response to the virus, its vaccination plan, and links to data on transmission rates, hospitalizations, deaths, vaccination numbers, etc. click here.
Patience, Perspective, Preparedness, and Perseverance – Moving to another country, while exciting and stimulating, can also be frustrating and overwhelming. Everything seems new and unfamiliar initially. Won and I have learned that being as prepared as possible helped us handle unexpected situations. Being patient and flexible enabled us to keep our cool and pivot quickly when necessary. Keeping the right perspective in mind enabled us to balance expectations and kept our assumptions in check. Perseverance and persistence were the most important because they kept us moving forward.
For anyone planning to move to Portugal, I hope you have found this to be useful. Personally, I would have loved to have had something like this before we moved. Is it everything you need to know? Not by a long shot, but it is a start. If there is something specific that I missed, please let me know. I’d be happy to modify this post and include it.
Until next time, I hope you stay healthy, stay safe, and as always, please stay in touch.
From Portugal with love,