Each year as my wife Cathy and I got closer to retirement age, I contemplated moving to another country more and more. I had been reading International Living articles for years and had a long list of possible countries to live in retirement. Cathy, however, was not gung-ho about any of them.
We visited Portugal in October of 2018. Sitting in an outdoor café in Lagos, I was eating piri-piri chicken and drinking a cold beer (I judge my beer by how cold it is). Cathy was having a chicken salad and a local red wine. A glass of house wine here is the price of water, sometimes less, and always delicious.
Cathy looked up from her salad and said, “You know, I could do this.” That was all I needed to hear. It might have been the wine talking, but there was no turning back now. She will be the first to admit that there were times that she regretted having uttered those words. But not since we moved here.
We arrived here for good after Cathy’s 68th and my 69th rotation around the sun, leaving our beloved Pacific Northwest behind. It was October 2019, exactly one year after our initial visit.
Leaving the grandkids behind was hard, but I assured Cathy that we would go back once a year and help them come out to visit us in Portugal once a year. And with today’s technology, there would be plenty of FaceTime. (Besides, the older they got, the less we were seeing them. Their lives were filled with new friends and activities.)
Of course, plans have been altered temporarily with the coronavirus outbreak. Our grandkids had to cancel their visit to Portugal, and we had to cancel our trip back to the U.S. But this too shall pass.
Lying on the beach in Lagos in October was the closest thing to heaven I can remember. The sun was shining, the temperature was perfect, and the water was cool but not too cold to swim in. That sealed the deal for us. Portugal is where we wanted to be.
As much as we loved Lagos, during our next trip to Portugal in March of 2019, we chose to purchase a place in Ericeira instead. We sacrificed $300 in cancelation fees on our Lagos Airbnb to check out other locations on the Silver Coast of Portugal. We settled on Ericeira because it is an ancient fishing village, newly designated as a world surfing reserve. And it’s only a half-hour northwest of Lisbon.
Without a doubt, Portugal and the warm-hearted Portuguese people had stolen our hearts. But another plus point that needs to be emphasized is the cost of living here. Cathy and I retired mainly on Social Security and pensions. We cashed in our equity on our home in the U.S. to purchase a place here. We couldn’t have retired in the U.S. nearly as comfortably as we have here.
Although we spent a little more on a property to be near the beach, you don’t need to go too far inland to find places so cheap that you have to wonder if they left out a zero. You can get a smallish, older house inland for around €70,000 (around $80,000). We paid about five times that for new construction in Ericeira. It is the top two floors of a six-unit apartment building with an ocean view and a 10-minute walk from the beach.
Our new apartment is about 1,500 square feet, with three bedrooms and four bathrooms. It’s currently still under construction but we are hoping to get in by the end of this year. We are renting nearby in Mafra in the meantime. Construction moves slower here than in the U.S. Everything is brick by brick.
Rentals are hard to find in popular locations. In winter it isn’t a problem but they get top-dollar in the summer, rented as Airbnbs. You can find a place in more remote parts of Portugal for about $285 a month, but Lisbon could cost you up to 10 times that.
Grocery shopping was a big shock. The first few times at the market, we had to double-check our receipts, certain that they had made a mistake somewhere (in our favor). Even good wine is not hard to find at only $3 to $4 per bottle.
Typically, a large bag of groceries will run us about $12. It is unusual for us to spend more than $35 on a grocery run, which we do two to three times a week. Vegetables are very cheap so I juice every morning. I have eliminated my expensive vitamin regimen altogether.
We pay $23 each for a good cellphone plan. Utilities run us about the same as in the States, maybe a little higher. Older houses are often poorly insulated, and cost a lot to heat in the winter, which was one of the reasons why we decided to purchase a new-build. I hate being cold!
Suffice it to say, Cathy and I are happy campers here. We are constantly impressed with the kindness of strangers and there is no shortage of good restaurants and fascinating places to visit.
Yes, we still miss the grandkids. Even more so now that there are so many travel restrictions. But we know that we will be seeing them soon. We are glad that we got our visas before all the government offices shut down. Others we know haven’t been as lucky. They have been caught on the other side of the equation while in the process of relocating. Still, we feel confident that their efforts will be rewarded in time.
The process for getting a visa and subsequent residency here is a bureaucratic labyrinth. There is a long list of paperwork required. And the requirements can change often, and sometimes depend on which office you are assigned to. But it is all doable and the financial requirements are not stringent. Mainly, they want to make sure that you won’t be a drain on their economy or services. Our process took about a year (four months while in the U.S. and another eight months here), before we received our legal residency.
I would encourage anyone who is contemplating Portugal, and this lifestyle, to start the process now rather than waiting for everything to return to normal. You can at least start practicing your Portuguese (European, not Brazilian). I promise you that all your efforts in starting the legal process (and learning a bit of the language) will be well worth it.