The winter sun is toasty warm at the bayside outdoor café. Fisherman bring in the morning catch as steaming cups of coffee arrive, along with custard tarts known as pasteis de nata. “I love the food here,” says expat Annette Ford Rio. She nods in the direction of the nearby station. “And the trains, trams, and ferries. The public transportation system is great. Where I came from, we didn’t have the pleasure of these amenities.”
The Portuguese resort town of Cascais is a far cry from the small town of Opelika, Alabama, where Annette was born. Living most of her life in Atlanta, Georgia, she is Southern to the core. “People here tell me I speak funny. My reply is, I don’t, but you do,” she says with a grin. That spunkiness served her well in her professional life. She was Area Vice President for a multi-million-dollar company, Post Properties, Inc. in Atlanta. “And,” she adds, “in a man’s world.”
When asked why she retired to Portugal, Annette answers with humor. “The decision was more or less made for me. My husband, José, is Portuguese. He wanted to get back to his roots, and I rather like being married to him.”
She turns more serious when discussing financial and social reasons for expatriating. “The economic forecast didn’t look good for a soon-to-be-retired couple. The U.S. was full of tension then as it is now, and the pace, rushed. Peaceful Portugal was the likely choice. I’ve never looked back.”
One plus for the couple is how affordable everything is. “We’re never surprised by costs, other than to realize how richly we can live on our retirement income, beyond all of our expectations.” Areas like Cascais and Lisbon require a monthly budget of roughly $2,500 to $3,000, but move a half-hour away to a suburb, and that figure drops to around $2,000.
She is happy about healthcare here, too. “We’re very pleased with the system, ranked among the best in the world. We were paying more than $2,000 a month for insurance before. Now we have a private policy that costs roughly $235 a month.”
Annette and her husband rent an apartment, having opted not to be tied down by ownership. “Thus far, no regrets. We can easily move from one place to another without a glitch. Of course, it’s wonderful not to pay property taxes or insurance.” In Atlanta, the couple owned a five-bedroom home with swimming pool, located on an acre of land. “I could put our charming apartment on one level of the home we owned there.”
Keeping busy has been easy. “I’ve always wanted to write a book, and finally did. We Did It Our Way is my autobiography, and has received great reviews. In addition, I just completed a second book, Destiny Awakened, scheduled for publication this year.”
Annette also founded an organization based in Cascais called Americans Living in Portugal, aimed at not only Americans but any expats needing help with transition after relocation. “We have a current membership of about 550 people,” she says proudly.
Annette has advice for those contemplating a move overseas. “Get your ducks in a row and do much of the paperwork before leaving the States. Be patient: things don’t happen overnight here. Sometimes a process seems endless, but once completed, the results are more than worth it.” She sighs contentedly, taking a final sip of coffee. “I do love the U.S., but my choice to call ‘home’ is now Portugal.”