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By Samantha Rockel as told to Diana Price


I know exactly what you’re thinking. You’re thinking you’ve spent your whole life in the country where you were born — this is your home. You can’t possibly move to another country, right? You probably have a whole host of reasons: I don’t want to go alone, I don’t want to leave my kids, I don’t know the language, what if I get sick, and yes, the old “I’m too old.”


Think again.


Right now, I’m writing this article from sunny Algarve, Portugal, where I decided to settle after achieving some financial independence and retiring in the US. But it’s no surprise that so many people ask — why Portugal? 


Why not Portugal?


The Unique Advantages of Living in Portugal


Imagine spending your retirement years in a rich, historic culture while basking in the abundant sunshine and stunning landscapes, dining on delicious (inexpensive) food, and experiencing life at a more leisurely pace. All at a much more affordable cost of living.  


It doesn’t have to be a dream you live for a week or two out of the year. You can live it every day, like me. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our time here is precious; don’t waste time procrastinating about the things that matter. Now is the time to start over and create a new life.


Many places could be your new home, but I chose Portugal. It’s no wonder Portugal slid into the number one spot of International Living’s 2023 Annual Global Retirement Index. For me, Portugal is the closest thing to the lifestyle I envisioned for my retirement, and I am thrilled I discovered this gem of Western Europe.


Turning Around a Global Crisis


I had just retired before the pandemic and I was staying in Portugal on holiday. Then we got locked down during Covid-19 and every time I tried to book a flight home, it was cancelled. If you’ve experienced airport delays and cancellations, you know how frustrating that can be. Yet this was on a whole new level.

 

We’re taught to make lemonade from lemons, but being stranded in a foreign country, alone, in the middle of a deadly pandemic was a challenge I wasn’t expecting. Not to mention having no access to my regular doctors, and with an expired travel health insurance policy, having no medical emergency protection. But then, in the midst of my fear and anxiety, a sudden thought occurred to me — “Why am I so keen to go back to the US?”

 

Most of us know that feeling at the end of a vacation when we don’t want to go home. I began thinking that maybe I didn’t have to. At first, I stayed locked down here for three months, which is not ideal in any country, but that allowed me to begin adjusting to the idea I might be able to turn this temporary home into a permanent one. I might not need to return to the US for good, and more importantly, I might not want to.

 

That temporary travel ban allowed me a little more time to think. I mean really think, and think outside the box, as they say. On another planet even.


Portugal Bound!

 

That was when I decided to go for it and take the plunge. Friends and family probably thought I had lost my mind. Truthfully, I wasn’t so sure I hadn’t! Moving to another country isn’t the easiest thing between culture shock and the logistics of moving.

 

I mean, I’ve never spent more than two weeks here, but it’s a whole different story when you come to live here permanently. It’s not an endless vacation — you may go out on the weekend, but you live a normal life during the week like anywhere else. You aren’t lying on the beach every day sipping a fancy cocktail at sunset like a postcard in a tourist shop.

 

As an audit & assurance professional, my international employer offered me a transfer to the fast-paced culture of New York City 20 years ago. At one time I believed that New York City was the gateway to the life I dreamed of living: full of cosmopolitan friends, weekends busy with brunches and museums and orchestral concerts, and a job that was challenging-but-fulfilling. But in retirement New York City, quickly lost its glamour. The fast-paced, crowded, and challenging concrete jungle is not a gentle place to grow old. I wasn’t running away from something as much as running toward something else — a simpler and more joy-filled life. I was tired of the long cold winters, lanes of honking traffic (none moving), and the incredible high cost of living.


Should You Keep Your House?


While I sold my apartment in New York City shortly after I decided to move to Portugal, others have preferred to keep a home waiting for them back in the US, despite the costs. In this ever-changing world, you never know what will happen down the road, so some prefer to keep one foot out the door, just in case.


One of my new friends, Cynthia, who is originally from Massachusetts, moved to Portugal after she retired in 2017 and said she has chosen to keep her family home in Newton, MA. She rents the main house which earns her extra income and uses the guest house when she visits.


“It’s only a 7-hour flight from Lisbon to Boston,” she said. “It’s almost like flying cross country from Boston to Los Angeles. You don’t have to worry about schlepping too much luggage, so check-in is quick – you just get on a plane and it’s a direct flight there. I can visit with my kids and grandkids whenever I want, and for as long as I want, without bothering anybody.


If maintaining a home in the US makes you more comfortable and you can afford it, that’s certainly an option. I was more confident this was the right decision for me.

 

Why I Love Portugal


When I first visited Portugal, it stole my heart. The welcoming nature of the people, with their laidback warmth, honesty, integrity, and sheer friendliness were a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of living in a large city. I saw this was the kind of place where strangers connect and help each other.


Sure, I was worried about the language, but in major cities and the surrounding coastline, most Portuguese citizens know at least some English. Learning a few phrases in Portuguese doesn’t hurt but it’s not exactly necessary. There is a huge expat community, and you get lots of different nationalities, which is a nice thing. You get the Americans, Brits, French, Dutch, Swedes — I am learning more about Europe and other parts of the US than I ever did in the US. Being part of the local community here was a big factor in my successful move to Portugal and I have both Portuguese and expat friends.


Portugal is one of the safest countries in the world and regarded as the safest in Europe. Generally, the biggest crime people face is the occasional pickpocketing. The safety factor alone was a big driver for me to retire in Portugal. (Having said that, it's important to note that it's always advisable to exercise caution, be aware of your surroundings, and follow standard safety practices wherever in the world you are.)

 

The much lower cost of living was another key attraction for me. When I go to a restaurant, I have an appetizer, a main course, a dessert, and a glass of wine, all for usually around 25 Euros. Where can you eat like that in New York for $30?


Important Details of Moving Overseas


Of course, you have to go through the logistics of gaining residency in another country and depending on the country, that can be quite difficult. Thankfully, Portugal is not one of those harder countries!

 

Having an easy route to residency certainly made my relocation process easier, and the D7 Visa — also referred to as the Retirement Visa — was the perfect option for me. In Europe, visas are required for non-EU citizens to gain temporary or permanent residency, such as pensioners, retirees, and those with passive income financially able to make the move. In Portugal, a long stay D7 Visa allows you to live in Portugal for two years and makes an excellent option for retirees, but also for anyone with a passive income looking to relocate. It’s even renewable for three more years!

 

Please note: If you live outside the EU, you must apply for your visa in your home country.

 

Don’t forget healthcare, as your US plans won’t cover you and you’ll need local insurance. Portugal provides an exceptional subsidized (or free) healthcare system (https://www.internations.org/portugal-expats/guide/healthcare) funded by the National Health Service for permanent residents. However, many Portuguese and expats choose to take out private health insurance as well. It may also be a requirement for your residency visa, as it was for me moving to Portugal on the D7 Visa.


Regulations change frequently, so always check the latest requirements from official agencies.


Building My New Life in Portugal


Did I leave all my worries and challenges behind by picking up and moving? Certainly not. Moving to another country won’t just make all your problems suddenly disappear. Accruing emotional baggage is a pretty normal part of the human experience. The key is lightening our load as we move forward in life. Having lived in multiple countries in my lifetime, I know firsthand that no country is perfect or magically transforms every problem in your life, but a change of scenery and lifestyle might shift your outlook and can help you feel invigorated. 


Warning: It may not happen right away, or at least it didn’t for me. I soon learned that my beautiful new home is not without its own little quirks, to put it politely. Portugal is known for its bureaucratic processes, which can be frustrating for both locals and foreigners. Obtaining residency, registering a business, opening a bank account, and dealing with government agencies can all be time-consuming and require a lot of paperwork.


While the relaxed attitude in Portugal is often seen as a positive aspect of the culture, it can also have some disadvantages. Customer service is slow and tricky. But If I wanted everything to be exactly the way it is “back home,” then I should have stayed home.


No, thanks. Sometimes you realize it’s time to move out of that familiar bubble and try something new. A new adventure broadened my horizons and fed my soul.


Home at Last — in Portugal!

 

Once I committed to the move, perhaps the hardest decision was deciding which part of the country was right for me. What did I want in an ideal situation? I was looking for beachside living on the coast, but tacky tourist traps make me want to run screaming to the countryside.


After endless hours traveling along the Silver Coast and the Algarve, I finally found my new home — Tavira, a fairly large town but not a huge city. Thankfully, Tavira has managed to avoid such touristy horrors despite being in the Algarve. Tavira is rich in history and culture, and less than two hours’ drive to Seville, my favorite city in Spain.


At first, I was scared of diving into the unknown, full of uncertainty, unfamiliarity, and no guarantees. I was scared of being alone, that things could go wrong with my health and who would be there to help me? I was afraid things would be uncomfortable, and that things might not go as expected. But taking a leap of faith and throwing myself into the unknown was very rewarding. So far, there is no major downside to my life in Portugal. I paint, hike, shop for antiques, socialize with new friends, take cooking classes, attend festivals – I love it here.  


Now you know why I chose to make this country my new home for this chapter in my life. It’s okay to be afraid, but think about whether this may be right for you, too. Give it a try! Who knows, we may be basking in the sun side by side someday, or you may find another country that calls to you. As Rosalind Russell said in the film “Auntie Mame,” “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving!”

 

Aren’t you hungry? What are you waiting for? 


Diane Price has 25 years of experience as a registered nurse. She also holds a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Ball State University. In her free time she works as a tarot reader and astrologer.

 


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