The Arrival

The last few weeks were such a flurry of activity that leaving for Portugal was actually rather anti-climactic. It was a relief to finally be able to sit still on the plane and know that anything forgotten could be simply forgotten now. The peace didn’t last long, neither of the girls were able to sleep much on the plane and Genevieve started vomiting with a couple of hours to go. We’re not sure if it was something she ate or motion sickness but she was miserable. We had a 4 hour layover then another flight, then an hour’s drive and she was a trooper. The only bright spot was that the Lisbon airport has wheelchairs that you can simply take and use rather than the usual airport system where you have to call for one.  One can get through Portuguese passport control spectacularly fast when one is pushing a wheelchair containing a young child clutching a barf bag.

Genevieve in the Lisbon Airport wheelchair

The airport personnel also offered to get us into the on site clinic during our layover. One thing I notice traveling from the US to Portugal (and many other countries) is how much kinder airport security and personnel is. In the US it seems the system is meant to intimidate you and reinforce a culture of fear. In Portugal all the same measures are in place but the attitude is kind, human, there are gentle reminders of procedures but they don’t bark “laptops out!!” at the top of their lungs. If you make a mistake you aren’t harangued but consoled “that’s OK, there a lot of rules.” The immigration officials wear normal uniforms and seem to not be allowed paramilitary style accoutrements. Whereas my entry to Miami a few weeks ago was greeted by a surly man whose outfit looked more suited to a SWAT van than sitting at a passport control counter. I was scared even though I was doing nothing wrong or even remotely suspicious.

Anyway we’ve now settled into our first Airbnb, a short one week rental in Lagos. We have a laundry list of errands but are also trying to get over jet lag and get the girls into some kind of daily rhythm. The first errand was a trip to Vodafone to get Portuguese phone numbers. Without a local call back number we really couldn’t get any other business done. As I walked into the store I silently rehearsed my Portuguese “I don’t speak Portuguese, I speak English” line. I confidently presented myself to a young man at the counter then proceeded to struggle with the phrase for a full 30 seconds. Once the last of the jumbled and mispronounced words tumbled out of my mouth he responded that English was no problem, in a native speaker’s British accent. We were in and out of the store in 10 minutes and I was all set to write high praise for Vodafone until I tried to make my first local phone call and it didn’t work. Perhaps having to contain his laughter over my linguistic prowess distracted him from some of the setup. Today we made another stop and everything is in working order. A 1 month pre-paid SIM with 3GB of data and 500 minutes/texts was €9.90 (~$11) then there is a special to get another 4GB of data free. After the first month it goes to €17.49 (~$19.50) a month. So even with the hiccup I’m pretty happy, on Verizon we shared 4GB of data (Heather .2GB and Chris 3.8GB) and paid $145 a month with a contract. Sure we had unlimited minutes/texts but I don’t really use my phone as a phone anymore and the only person I know to text in the whole country is Chris and we use WhatsApp.

The next order of business is figuring out our immigration status. I’ll eventually write a whole post, or perhaps a book, on this topic. But the short version is the Residency Visa that is supposed to be issued by the Consulate in the US was not approved by the Portuguese immigration authorities in time for our travel. So we are currently here as US tourists who can stay for 90 days without a visa. We are going to head to the immigration office tomorrow to try to find out the Residency Visa status. Wish us luck!

Girls walking in Lagos

Why Portugal?

I’d never really thought much about Portugal until last year. My Mom visited a few years ago and had a good time. But she was there during the recession and things were looking pretty bleak, her experience didn’t make me think “I wanna move there!” As I mentioned in my last post I’ve always wanted to move abroad, during my daily news scans I always read the “best of” travel and expat articles. In the past couple of years Portugal has made it into many “best of” lists and it was one of those articles that I stumbled upon. The media attention is probably based more on having good PR people in the office of tourism than on anything else, but what can I say, advertising works.

Whenever I find an article talking about a great place to live the first step in the construction of my internet based fantasy is to look for an elementary school. Our girls attend Waldorf Schools here in Gainesville and they have been wonderful. So I searched for Waldorf Schools in Portugal, I found schools near Lisbon and Lagos. As early retirees on a tight budget my first inclination was to avoid the big city and check out the school in Lagos. Escola Livre do Algarve looked perfect so then I moved onto the real estate market, grocery stores, climate, and cost of living to get an idea of the overall quality of life. A lot of boxes were getting ticked, the only negative I ran into is needing a car. The area is spotted with gorgeous villages but bus service is sporadic and wouldn’t work for shuttling the kids to and from school. In Florida we use a Madsen cargo bike for the school runs but the roads between villages are not bike friendly for someone who doesn’t like to ride in traffic. Nothing is ever perfect but Lagos seemed pretty close, at least from online research.

The next step was a visit, we were planning a vacation anyway so I bought tickets to Lisbon. While planning the trip to Portugal we started to get more serious about early retirement and we started to be tempted by France. Ahhh France. I found Waldorf Schools in Lyon and Colmar and arranged our trip to be 3 days in Lyon, 3 days in Colmar and 5 days in the western Algarve. At the time of the trip we were both hoping we’d decide on France. We speak a little French, we like French food, we’d be close to skiing/snowboarding, it would be perfect.

I can’t find the words to express the difference in how I felt in each place so I’ll try images.


So, yeah, I picked deliberately misleading photos to make a point. All three places are great and I would love to live in any of them. Lyon is a big city, not much green space, true urban living. All kinds of museums and cultural events as well as being the gastronomic center of France. Also the most expensive place we visited.

I liked Colmar much better for a family. A small pedestrian center surrounded by nice residential neighborhoods and the Christmas markets are like something from a fairy tale. Both Lyon and Colmar were cold in November, this was something as a Michigander I didn’t think would bother me. Apparently after 17 years in Florida I am no longer tolerant of cold weather. Colmar was my preferred French destination but didn’t immediately grab me as “home.”

Then we arrived in the Algarve, we landed in Faro and air felt like the Mediterranean. It wasn’t warm by Florida standards but with lows in the 50s and highs in the 60s we could put away the winter coats. The prices for everything were much, much lower than France or the US. But most of all it felt wild and open, everywhere we went there was somewhere for the kids the run. This felt more like home.


You’re doing what?

I’m not sure when exactly we seriously started considering moving abroad. I’ve always wanted to live in another country long enough to feel like it is home. I lived in France for a semester during college and in Russia for about a month one summer, those trips made clear to me that at least a year or two is necessary to start to assimilate. While Chris has always shared my enthusiasm for travel he wasn’t always sold on the idea of actually moving somewhere. Every year or two I would cook up an expat scheme and try to sell him on it but he was never very tempted.

So when I started reading articles on Portugal being a great expat destination in winter 2016 I wasn’t really expecting we’d be preparing to move a year later. Doing internet research on random subjects is one of my favorite time wasters so I kept myself busy finding schools for the kids, scoping out the housing market and trying to figure out how taxation treaties work.

By spring I was pretty sold on Portugal, I thought maybe we could move there after the kids were grown (~2030). I had recently gone back to work full time and was putting money aside for a family vacation. I started planning a trip to Portugal for November. I booked tickets and started happily planning our trip. At some point after that Chris started to consider moving instead of just visiting. I keep trying to remember when he started to soften on the idea and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

During the summer we had a slight mental detour, Chris was born in France and we both have studied French. Would France be a better home for us? I again consulted the internet to see what part of France would work best for us. I reworked the November trip to include visits to Lyon and Colmar as well as the already planned Lagos and Lisbon. We love France, but in the end we decided Portugal was a better fit. I’ll explain more as to why in a separate post.

Since our scouting trip we’ve spent our spare time figuring out all the details of moving a family across the Atlantic. I found it very difficult to find information on all the things we needed to do. One of my reasons for starting was to write about the logistics of moving a family to another country. We’ll also be posting other random thoughts and lots of pictures.