A Better Life for Less in Old-World Portugal

A herd of goats files into the pasture below my patio. The flock leaps over the stream, threading its way through the field. They butt each other in exuberance as I savor my morning coffee and fresh rolls with creamy butter.

It’s 10.00 a.m. but I only know that because that’s when the milking finishes in the animals’ ancient stone quarters across the road. Distant bells from the village church are also a clue. Like the goats, I’m exuberant: after years of visiting Europe, I’m now living here.

Although my husband, Keith, and I considered moving abroad in the past, it wasn’t until I lost my job as assistant to an attorney that we began to look seriously. My Social Security and Keith’s income were fine, but not enough to continue to pay the mortgage and living expenses back home.

We rented a furnished two-bedroom, two-bathroom cottage with fireplace and a swimming pool in northern Portugal.

That was two years ago and we’re still here. If I had to choose one word to describe the difference between life here and in the States, it would be “relaxed.” Much of this country is filled with gently rolling hills and terraced farm land, and with pine trees, palm trees, and water (on every road trip, you’re guaranteed to cross a river or two—or three). Our locale is no exception.

Vila Nova de Famalicao, with a population of 132,000, is the nearest city to us—a mere seven minutes’ drive—with just the right mix of urban amenities and small-town feel. There are roundabouts with statues and fountains, cobblestoned tree-lined streets, parks, boutiques, gyms, hair salons, and outdoor cafes to suit everyone’s taste.

A typical day involves coffee and email catch-up, outdoors if possible, and at least one walk and a drive, perhaps to a neighboring town to view its castle or cathedral. At home, I write (I’m working on my third book), and Keith attends to his financial-management job working remotely. When we want a break, we need only walk a few minutes from the farm into Cruz, where there’s a church, two cafes, a convenience store, and an open green with stone picnic benches where villagers gather to play chess, enjoy coffee, and catch up on neighborhood news.

We pay $825 a month to rent our cottage. That includes utilities, weekly linen and maid service, and firewood. Portugal’s third-largest city, Braga, is 20 minutes away by car, and rentals there can be found for less than $520. Electricity and water are included in our deal and Internet and cable costs $40. Health insurance varies from expat international programs to in-country programs and is very inexpensive by U.S. standards with reasonable care available. We pay $250 a month.

As life here is so affordable we can eat out often. Lunch, including soup, main course, dessert, wine or beer and coffee generally runs around $9. A complete dinner for two at a high-end place will run about $40. If you want a sandwich or slice of pizza and a drink at a cafe/snack bar, expect to pay about $4. A cup of good espresso is 80 cents.

We applied for a long-stay visa at the Portuguese Consulate in San Francisco. (Under the Schengen Agreement, Americans can remain in participating countries of the European Union 90 days out of any given 180, but since our rental was for six months with an option to renew, we needed more time.) Necessary items were a signed lease, proof of sufficient funds with which to support ourselves, and a Portuguese bank account. Once there, we established a banking connection, and in less than two months had renewable residence cards.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about Portugal and other countries in IL’s daily postcard e-letter. Sign up for these free daily postcards here and we’ll send you a FREE REPORT – Portugal—The Jewel of Southwest Europe.

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