New World to Old World: Why We Moved From Cuenca to Porto

Barbara Wolfe and her husband Bill actually began their expat life in Cuenca, Ecuador. But after four happy years there, the intrepid Minnesota couple moved to Porto, Portugal’s second city, joining the ranks of expats who are “serial relocators:” those who live in turn in more than one overseas location.

“We always had the idea of living in Europe, but we always thought it was inaccessible,” Barbara says. “We were looking for a country with a reasonable visa system.”

But one of their children had recently visited Spain and Portugal. “He said, ‘You know, you should check into Portugal. It was a wonderful country. I’ve heard that their visas are pretty easy.’ So we added that to our list.

“We hadn’t even planned to go to Portugal or to Spain. I told our son, ‘You should be careful what you tell us!’ We spent a month in Portugal and thought it could be doable.”

They visited several destinations before deciding on Porto, in northern Portugal. “We went to the Algarve. We were there in the summer, and it was extremely hot there. We’re from Minnesota, and we’ve been in Cuenca, and we were dying. We aren’t really beach people,” says Barbara. “We like cities more. We liked Lisbon, but it is huge. Then we went to Porto. And it had everything that we really like in a city, and yet you could learn the city and walk it. We also liked living at sea level.”

Porto—home of the fortified wine, port—sits at the mouth of the Douro River, right where it flows into the Atlantic. The city therefore has plenty of riverfront, as well as ocean beaches.

“But we kept hearing from people that the weather was horrible,” says Barbara. “We were getting kind of discouraged, then suddenly Bill said, ‘Let’s just check and see what people mean by ‘horrible.’ And we found out that the weather is similar to Portland, Oregon. And for somebody from Minnesota, that’s the epitome of a perfect climate. We were dealing with -30 F [in Minnesota]!”

As they were already living abroad, the Wolfes applied for their Portuguese visa in Ecuador. “The [Portuguese] visa process was easier than Ecuador,” says Bill. “What I liked about the Portuguese is that the visa lady said we needed 12 things. We got those 12 things and it was fine.”

As to visa requirements, “they wanted proof of income, a marriage certificate, and proof of health insurance,” says Barbara.

Some documents needed to be notarized by a U.S. notary. “We just went to the Embassy in Quito,” says Barbara. U.S. consulates and embassies keep a notary on staff for just such occasions. “We paid $200,” she says—far cheaper than an airline ticket back to the U.S. for notarial services.

After an initial stay in a short-term rental, the couple rented an unfurnished apartment in Boavista, an upscale neighborhood not far from central Porto. “We actually found a brand-new apartment that’s never been lived in,” says Barbara. “We first thought we’d get a furnished apartment, but we got here and realized very quickly that that probably wouldn’t happen.”

The couple signed a year’s lease, at a rent of about $1,000 a month, for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with 1,184 square feet. This is about double what they paid in Ecuador. “But I think we’ll find that the apartment here is very, very nice,” says Bill.

And overall, they’ve been pleased with the cost of living in Porto. “Rent is more [than Ecuador], but other costs aren’t,” says Bill.

“To be honest, I would say the food cost here is on a par with Cuenca, and we love the variety…the food here is phenomenal,” says Bill. “The prices are very on par with Cuenca.

“Overall, we anticipate that costs here will be about 15% more than Ecuador.”

Though it’s fairly easy to get by in English throughout Portugal, the couple is looking into taking Portuguese classes. “We have heard about a free language class,” says Bill. “That would be perfect.”

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