Charting a couple's move from London to Portugal, tales, adventures and moving advice


Easter Break in Portugal 3

Posted on April 22, 2014 by Ben Algarve

As I type today, I’m looking back on a very enjoyable four day weekend in Portugal. When I started work this morning, I paged back through my calendar out of curiosity, and confirmed it’s the first time we’ve had such a long break since Christmas.

An Easter BBQ in Portugal

An Easter BBQ in Portugal

Now I’m pretty sure that when we moved to Portugal we did so in the hope of an improved work / life balance, but it seems we’ve not quite managed it…I think the problem is that now we’re both self employed, we must take a financial hit for every day we take off work. However, the past weekend has shown us that we should perhaps make more effort to step away from our laptops. Who’d have thought that in our “more simple, more laid back” life, we’d have to wait for a bank holiday to get around to changing lightbulbs?!

With this in mind, our whole routine is about to be shattered beyond recognition anyway, because our baby is now due in just two weeks. Needless to say we are both going through distinct phases of excitement, anticipation and blind panic…

Back in the UK, my mother is due to have an operation this week. She’s been on a waiting list and I had really hoped to be able to fly out to be there with her. Unfortunately, the dates have just lined up at the worst possible time. We’ve lived in Portugal for nearly five years, but nothing until now has made me feel the distance between us and some of our loved ones quite so strongly. I hate the thought of my mum being in hospital in one country while we’re having a baby in a hospital in another country – but there’s nothing we can do about it at this late stage.

All being well, however, I fully intend to get myself over to the UK once mother and baby are settled.

That’s all I really have time for today, by way of a quick update, and I should probably say now that my presence here is likely to be somewhat sporadic over the coming weeks for obvious reasons.

Meanwhile, if you want to read more about life in Portugal, why not buy our book? We can put the royalities towards Junior’s college fund 😉

Have a good week.

Our book:

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

US Readers will find it here.

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Living Abroad – Time to Regroup 1

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Ben Algarve

Since long before living abroad, I’ve been rather opposed to the “new year, new start” crap – or at least I thought so. However, I composed this post in my head whilst on an uncharacteristic 5km walk, having cut down on booze and cigarettes. I suppose I’d better accept that I am, quite literally, a walking new-year cliché.

There are far worse places to begin a new year than in Portugal’s Algarve. Today, I took a walk to Cabanas-de-Tavira. To those that don’t know, Cabanas is a small resort village that buzzes in the summer and hits the snooze button from October to April.

Sunshine on the Ria Formosa

Sunshine on the Ria Formosa

It’s bracingly cool outside, but there’s not single cloud in the sky. After walking for a mile or so and warming up, it feels positively glorious. The few tourists I spotted certainly seemed to think so, in their shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops. It tickles me to think that a few years ago, I would probably have worn shorts on a day like today – instead I have joined the locals in quietly giggling about the crazy tourists. After all, it IS winter.

The fuel for my walk was a warming bowl of chicken soup, made by boiling down the carcass from last night’s roast with loads of fresh vegetables. My soup, my walk and my quick stop for cake and espresso on the way home made for a truly life-affirming combination.

We’ve been living abroad in Portugal for over three years now, so we see this coming year as one of consolidation and future planning. For such a long time, our top priority was to move to Portugal and make a success of it. Now we’ve done that, it’s time to decide what we want to do next.

Living abroad - a quick coffee by the sea

Living abroad – a quick coffee by the sea

I should make clear that staying in Portugal is part of it, but it’s time for our next 3-5 year plan. Where exactly do we want to live? Which work and personal projects are going to take priority? What do we want to achieve next?

To help us answer these questions, we’ve decided to step back a few paces. We’ve booked a holiday next month and will be travelling to New York and Florida. This is going to be a proper holiday – not a few days off while people visit us, nor a tagged-on weekend at the end of a work trip to the UK or a stolen few days in nearby Spain – a proper, away-from-it-all, chance to regroup and think kind of holiday. The last time we did that was five years ago – on our honeymoon.

So, in about a month’s time, it will be time to execute a new plan, and what’s so exciting right now is that we don’t know exactly what it will entail. I hope, though, that it involves plenty of days when I make soup, have a long walk and stop for a coffee in the sun. I can’t for the life of me work out why I only ever live like this in January. Did someone say “new year cliché?”

January exercise is a pleasure when living abroad

January exercise is a pleasure when living abroad

PS. We’ve been having a few problems with the “comments” feature on the site. I’m looking into it, but my apologies if you have any problems leaving comments.Living abroad doesn’t make you immune to technical problems!

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Moving Abroad – What I’ve Learned 8

Posted on November 13, 2012 by Ben Algarve

It’s now around six years since my wife and I started thinking about moving abroad, and over three years since we touched down in Portugal on a one-way ticket.

I frequently say it’s the best thing we ever did. But, like so many things in life, not everything has turned out exactly how we thought it would.

I remember the way we used to imagine it, when we were stuck in the UK daydreaming about our future life in the sun whilst stuck on slow, packed underground trains. If you’re contemplating a move of your own, this post may seem as if I’m trying to dissuade you from moving abroad. That’s not my intention at all – but I am going to try to inject your dreams with a healthy dose of realism.

Here are five important lessons I’ve learned since I arrived in Portugal:

1. Research is everything – and nothing

A short while ago, I was on one of the popular expat forums, and a discussion about tax laws in Portugal became slightly heated. An individual had clearly spent plenty of time researching a particular tax incentive, but made the mistake of assuming that qualification for it was certain if certain boxes were ticked.

Research does not teach you everything

Research does not teach you everything

As a couple of us tried to explain, that’s simply not how Portugal works. I know that now, but I could see in the individual exactly the kind of naïve confidence that I myself had on the day I arrived in the Algarve.

The person in question said something along the lines of “it’s the law – they cannot refuse.” This made me giggle. Having spent many hours in official Portuguese government buildings, often walking out deflated and near to tears, I would dearly love to hear someone try to tell a Portuguese official that they “cannot refuse” something. And this, of course, is assuming that they speak the fluent Portuguese that will be insisted on by the officials; whether or not they can actually speak English themselves.

I thought I had researched thoroughly – I DID research thoroughly. But research can only tell you so much about how a country functions. Those of us on the forums who sound tired and cynical are only trying to help.

2. The weather won’t be what you expect

I lose count of the times I have told people back in the UK that it’s “cold and wet today,” only for them to say “yes, but it’s not as bad as England is it?”

We have seasons. It gets cold. Sometimes it floods. Last year we had wind that was strong enough to blow the roof off the airport.

Weather is not always perfect

Weather is not always perfect

There’s an awful lot that a headline temperature doesn’t tell you. Yes, we do get days when it hits 23 degrees in December – and it’s bloody great when it does – but it’s neither normal nor guaranteed – so don’t go relying on it.

3. Stress doesn’t disappear

Yes, moving abroad can undoubtedly remove day-to-day stresses from your life. I don’t commute, I work from a laptop (often reclined on a bed or sofa), and sometimes I don’t get properly dressed until after lunch.

That doesn’t mean there’s no stress in my life. I don’t have such easy access to well-paid work and I certainly don’t have the social safety net that those in the UK can take for granted. I live in a country that, last year, saw the second highest tax increases in the whole world – and next year we can expect to give around 10% more of our entire income to the taxman.

Stress doesnt disappear when moving abroad

Stress doesnt disappear when moving abroad

People still get ill, have disagreements and occasionally get out of bed the wrong side. If you think moving abroad will change your life in this way, you’re going to be awfully disappointed.

4. You won’t become fluent in the language without serious effort

You don’t learn to speak a language simply by being exposed to it – not unless you’re four years old.

Learning a language takes effort when moving abroad

Learning a language takes effort when moving abroad

We’re getting there with Portuguese. I find that I now understand a fair chunk of the conversations I overhear. Day-to-day interactions in shops and cafes are now effortless, and I can get nearly as much entertainment from a Portuguese newspaper as one in English. However, it’s taken three years and I can still only talk at the level of a toddler. I wish I’d learned more before I got here.

5. You never escape the world’s crap

The first few months of moving abroad are months of blissful ignorance. You don’t understand enough of the language to comprehend the gory details of the latest political scandal, and you’re too blinded by the bright sunshine to notice things like poverty and unemployment.

You cant escape the politics

You cant escape the politics

Once you’ve been somewhere a couple of years, you will become familiar with “warts and all” reality. There will be politicians you hate, TV shows that wind you up and government policies that seem like insanity. You can’t avoid reality when you live in it.

It all sounds awfully negative doesn’t it? But, as I said at the start, it’s not designed to put anyone off. If, however, you are considering moving abroad, you really need to know these things. If your dreams are realistic, they really can come true.

As for me, I’m going to upload this article now. Then, as I do every day, I will take time to cook myself a proper lunch with good fresh local ingredients. Then I’m going to hang out the washing, as it’s a bright November day without a cloud in the sky. After a bit more work, I have the family coming over for dinner. As I don’t have to travel, I’ll have a relaxed couple of hours of shopping and cooking before they arrive, probably bringing a couple of good bottles of wine with them. Would I move abroad again – what do you reckon?

Thinking of moving to Portugal? Then please check out my book.

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

US readers can find it here.

Image credits: fotopedia, Dennis Mojado.

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Moving Abroad: Speaking from the Heart 7

Posted on October 22, 2012 by Ben Algarve

We’re so close, I can taste it. A life so sweet, can’t afford to waste it.”
Michael Jackson “We’re Almost There.”

We were rather down in the dumps for much of last week. A combination of the change in seasons, sad / bad news of family and friends, and the sucker punch that was Portugal’s 2013 budget announcement left us feeling rather listless and uninspired.

Yesterday, however, I began to see the wood for the trees.

It’s easy to become so wrapped up in your day-to-day existence that you lose sight of the big picture. When I heard the song quoted above, everything became clear.

It’s a song I’ve quoted before on this blog – just over three years ago, in fact, when we were less than a month away from moving to Portugal from London. I remember the time well. We were working ludicrous hours and trying to fit “moving abroad” into the evenings and weekends. The resulting feeling was somewhere between excited expectation and semi-hysterical exhaustion, and the song always seemed rather poignant.

Moving abroad - not all about the money

Moving abroad - not all about the money

When I heard it yesterday, it wasn’t in some kind of romantic setting. There was neither sand nor sunset in sight. In fact, I was standing on the balcony while rain lashed down, contemplating the fact that the 2013 budget means that we’re looking at yet more years of doing little more than treading water economically.

Hearing that line, and remembering the tremendous sense of anticipation we felt before moving abroad, brought everything into perspective. It’s easy to forget that being here in Portugal is exactly what we worked towards for so much time. We’re no longer “so close we can taste it,” we actually here…we’re doing it….and we’ve made it work for three years in very challenging conditions.

When I wandered back inside, my wife was on the sofa relaxing with a book, the smell of our roast duck had began to waft around the apartment, and a cheap but tasty bottle of red was sitting waiting to be popped. All was well with the world.

We’re all living in a world where just five minutes on a news website can be enough to cause mild despair. But sometimes, you can live in that same world, in exactly the same circumstances, and all it takes is one line of a song to make you shed a tear of happiness. I guess that’s what real life is all about.

Considering moving abroad? I’d recommend it! Please check out our book:

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

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Portugal’s 2013 Budget 17

Posted on October 16, 2012 by Ben Algarve

I love it in Portugal, and often say that moving abroad is the best thing we ever did. However, I’ve always been determined to ensure that my blog tells it like it is. On that basis, right now I’m pissed off, disillusioned and demotivated.

The reason? Portugal’s 2013 state budget.

Portuguese news doesn’t always make it beyond our shores, but the 2013 budget is so hardcore that high-profile news reports have appeared everywhere, from the New York Times to Al-Jazeera. Typical words used include “suffocating,” “harsh,” and “controversial.” The opposition socialists describe the budget as a “fiscal atomic bomb.”

And let’s not forget that even before this budget, Portugal had already, over the past two years, been hit with the second-largest overall tax rises of any country in the world. (For those interested, the only country with larger increases was Argentina).

Portugal -Money's too tight to mention

Portugal -Money's too tight to mention

So, what does it mean to us?

Well, for a start, we’re still smarting from the additional 3.5% extraordinary tax that we paid a couple of months ago on our income from 2011. When this was imposed, it was supposed to be a one-off. Well, that’s not how it turned out, because we now have to pay an extra 4% on everything we earn next year as well.

They’ve also increased the overall income tax rates and reduced the number of bandings in such a way as to push us into a higher bracket. Now, I’m not nearly clever enough to do the sums without a simulation from my accountant, but from a quick glace it looks like the rate we pay on most of our income could be going up by about 7.5%.

Add that on to the extra 4%, and we could be handing the government up to an additional 11.5% of what we earn in 2013.

Just imagine that for a moment. Think about what you earn and imagine getting a bill for 11.5% of it, ON TOP of the tax you already pay.

If you really want to wind me up you can tell me that “things are tough in the UK too.” But they’re not really are they? Without the UK’s generous tax-free allowance on the first £7000 of each person’s earnings, we were already paying more income tax in Portugal before any of these austerity measures.

Let’s put our personal situation in perspective. I can’t deny we are fortunate enough to be relatively high earners by Portuguese standards. It’s tasteless to go into detail, but suffice to say that between the two of us we bring in the same as several people on the Portuguese average wage. However, and this is the important bit, no more than a couple of thousand Euros annually comes from Portugal. My wife is paid by a UK based company, and I have clients everywhere from the US to Australia. But, as fiscal residents, we pay all of our tax to the Portuguese government.

They keep on taking our money!

They keep on taking our money!

If I (or indeed anyone), thought that the tax increases were going to make a blind bit of difference to the economic situation in Portugal (or the world), then I would adopt a more stoical attitude. But these increases are only estimated to bring in €3 billion.

Last year, Portugal borrowed €78 billion from the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank at an interest rate of around 5%. Well, I’m no economist but the €3 billion that comes at the cost of crippling the middle classes (and stopping them spending) isn’t really going to be much help.

Meanwhile, anyone who lives in Portugal is constantly aware of the country’s black economy, estimated to equate to 24.8% of GDP in figures going back as far as 2010. All of this “how much for cash?” business adds up to rather a lot, and in Portugal this culture is endemic.

That all seems rather unfair to a couple like my wife and I who have always felt civically and morally bound to declare and pay. Sadly, when the government has to pick a demographic of people to screw money from, those they know are honest enough to already pay tax are the easiest target. I see the government equally culpable for not doing anything about this as those who haven’t completed an honest tax return in years.

Last night, protesters surrounded parliament in Lisbon. Although the demonstration calmed before they managed to storm the building, the atmosphere was tenser than in previous austerity protests.

Protests are becoming less friendly

Protests are becoming less friendly

Protesting’s not in my nature. I see little point unless you have a better idea of what the government should do. Sadly, the lack of such an idea is what makes this situation so very depressing.

I do have a strategy, however, which alone acts as proof that the government’s plans are misguided. For a start, I’ve stopped spending, as everyone does once a siege mentality kicks in.

Once the new tax bandings are formalized, I will be asking my accountant to do some simulations – comparing our tax liability in Portugal with what it would be in other countries, and also looking at whether it would actually be worth us earning a little less to push us down the tax bandings. Given that there is social security to pay as well, we arrive at a point where we are left with so little of every extra €100 we earn, we’d be better off not doing the work and spending the time picking fruit and making jam and chutney.

I’m not the only “well off,” taxpaying expat considering this strategy either.

So, hats off to Portugal’s finance minister for creating a budget that will either cause us to deliberately earn less and adjust our standard of living, or frighten us off to another country, taking all of our tax revenue with us. Well done, indeed.

After moaning so much, it’s probably not the best time to draw your attention to my book about moving abroad to Portugal, but it’s worth a try – the royalties might help us pay our next tax bill – see below!

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

Image credits: Geograph, Photopedia

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Just Another Day in… Portugal 4

Posted on October 02, 2012 by Ben Algarve

Many times, I have lamented the fact that people widely assume those of us living abroad do nothing all day but float in the pool drinking mojitos.

Even friends who visit us get a false impression, perhaps not realising that we work 12-hour days and see no daylight for at least a week to get ahead and have time to spend with them when they arrive.

Having said that, I would never deny that I now have a far better work / life balance than I had back in the UK. It is, after all, one of the reasons I moved to Portugal in the first place.

London Tube - I Don't Miss this Part of my Day

London Tube - I Don't Miss this Part of my Day

With this in mind, I have decided to detail a typical working day for a freelance writer and IT geek living in Portugal – that person being me.

The day in question is yesterday – a day where that work / life balance was just perfect. It’s not always like that – but it’s what I aim for!

9AM: Woke up, grabbed laptop, and went through my usual morning routine: Cleared the spam from my email accounts, checked the commission earned from my various online endeavors, then browsed quickly through Facebook, Twitter, News (Portugal and UK), weather, and a few forums I frequent.

9.30AM: Checked how many copies of Moving to Portugal – The Book had sold during September (a pleasing number), updated my book sales spreadsheet, then dealt with a few emails, mostly related to book promotion but also a couple of technical bits and bobs from IT clients in London.

9.45AM: Settled down to put the finishing touches to a magazine article about property in Portugal – finalized some text and edited some pictures of houses.

11.30AM: Decided to grab a quick dip in the bath and a read couple of chapters of my book (John Stienbeck’s “East of Eden” – a book that has been frequently passed over for lighter reads, but one I am now forcing myself to persevere with). One of the main benefits of being a self-employed homeworker is the ability to get properly “up” whenever I like – but if I have to actually speak to anyone, I must be properly presentable.

East of Eden - A Highbrow Bath Choice

East of Eden - A Highbrow Bath Choice

12 NOON: Wife popped out to dry cleaners, picked up lovely fresh rolls and made delicious chicken and sweetcorn rolls with Sunday dinner leftovers.

12.30: Sat down to make a few work calls, but made the mistake of trying to contact people in Portugal during the three-hour “lunch window.”

1.00PM: Heard from magazine editor that she is happy with my article, with just a few tweaks to be made. Celebrated by heading off on my moped to get some sunshine.

1.30PM: Stopped at the hamlet of Cacela Velha where I was thwarted from a planned walk due to high tide, but managed to spot birds of prey of some description.

View from Cacela Velha

View from Cacela Velha

1.45PM: Stopped at a small cafe for an espresso. Checked email on my phone and electronically signed a contract to do a batch of six IT articles for a regular client. This ensures extra money but means another venture out on the moped will be unlikely before the weekend. Also confirmed a few of hours of remote IT support with clients for later in the week.

2.00PM: Moved on to Manta Rota and did a swift 5km walk along the shore and back (using the much loved Pedometer app on my phone). Headed home with just a very quick stop for a can of Iced Tea.

Manta Rota Walk

Manta Rota Walk

4.00PM: Back to work. Dealt with new emails, made the last of my calls, completed and sent the final version of my article and sent out a couple of invoices.

5.00PM: Blog stuff: answered comments, removed spam (grr), made a start on this post.

6.00PM: Had a quick look at the titles of the technical articles for the next day (so my subconscious could make a start during the night), and headed to my local for a quick pre-dinner Super Bock.

8.00PM: Settled down for something my wife and I call “picky dinner” – basically composed of whatever we can find in the fridge and cupboards when we don’t want to go to the shop.

Portugal "Picky Dinner"

Portugal "Picky Dinner"

So, with that committed to text, what did I miss out? OK, I’ll be honest: about 15 more checks of Facebook, five of Twitter, several cigarettes and a cheeky couple of Ferrero Rochers…..BUT no cocktails and certainly no floating in the pool!

Even so, yesterday was a good day. Today will be less so, as I have all those IT articles to write. I’d better get on with it.

Thinking of working on your own work / life balance? Please check out our book:

Moving to Portugal

Tube image with thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

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Real Life in Portugal 11

Posted on May 01, 2012 by Ben Algarve

A glance at the date of my last post tells me it’s been over a fortnight since I last blogged.

The last couple of weeks have been hectic and not a tremendous amount of fun. They began with nine days in London, where the balance between work and play was tipped firmly in the direction of work.

After this grueling trip, we returned to Portugal and had one Sunday to clean the apartment before diving into another week of twelve-hour days. It’s fair to say it didn’t exactly feel like “living the dream.”

Sea and Sunshine? Not lately!

Sea and Sunshine? Not lately!

On the bright side, this busy fortnight means we now have enough cash to pay our scary tax bill, complete with the extra 3.5% “extraordinary tax” imposed by the government as part of the bailout.

On the less bright side, within two hours of my body knowing I was going to tick off everything on my list, it rebelled and rewarded my hard work with a nasty dose of man-flu, from which I am still recovering.

Meanwhile, as the UK simultaneously enjoys both a drought and reportedly the wettest month in about 100 years, Portugal is getting some fairly crappy weather too. Coming into May we would usually have enjoyed some weeks of around 25C and consistent sunshine. This year we are frequently seeing temperatures in the mid-teens – frustratingly cooler than it was at Christmas and on some occasions lower even than the temperature in London.

Portugal Weather - Unusually Cool for May

Portugal Weather - Unusually Cool for May

Of course, there is little point in mentioning this to family and friends back in the UK – I’m sure regardless of what we say they are convinced we just sit by the pool sipping caipirinhas!

Anyway, I realise I have now moaned for seven paragraphs so I’ll snap out of it.

We should have some good times ahead with a three day weekend on the horizon and a week off planned for later in May when some family come to visit. We have rented a villa in Lagos together which will give us a change of pace and scenery. Although Lagos is just an hour away, the coastline there is very different. I look forward to exploring, relaxing and, most of all, being able to step away from our laptops for a while.

So, that’s my update for today, which should serve as yet another reminder to potential expats that life abroad can sometimes be awfully similar to life at home – and equally at the mercy of the weatherman.

AT THIS TIME IN MAY 2010…….now this is amusing….I was moaning about popping back to England and fighting off a “nasty bug we caught on the plane!” However, looking back at May 2010’s posts does seem to suggest that the weather was better. Step back in time with me by clicking here.

Moaning in 2010 too!

Moaning in 2010 too!

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Enjoying the Algarve at Easter 7

Posted on April 10, 2012 by Ben Algarve

When blogging about our new life in Portugal, I am always keen to be completely honest and to share the lows as well and the highs. Regular readers will know that I often highlight the fact that life in the sun is far from being one long holiday.

It’s important to mention this to deliver a reality check to those who may have been on holiday in the Algarve, returned home and impulsively typed “moving to Portugal” into Google. Nowhere is a complete paradise and real life follows you everywhere.

Sometimes, however, all the stars come into alignment and everything feels perfect – and last weekend was one of those times.

Sunset over Santa Luzia Algarve Easter 2012

Sunset over Santa Luzia Algarve Easter 2012

It started with a visit from some guests, consisting of one of my wife’s colleagues and her partner. As I have now told them this in person, I can be honest and say I had a mild sense of foreboding about their arrival, as they weren’t people I really knew.

Anyone who has lived in a desirable location for any length of time will know that “guest politics” can be fraught with difficulty. When you live abroad, seeing friends and family usually means spending multiple days and nights under the same roof – doing everything together.

This is not the normal course of events. When you live in your home country, people may stay the night here and there, but they rarely stay multiple days or weeks. These long periods of closeness can either cement true friendship or signal its destruction. While plenty of enjoyable “cementing” has gone on since we arrived in Portugal, there has also been one “destruction” incident, about which I shall say no more at this point! Suffice to say though, that guests who we haven’t lived in close quarters with before now cause me concern!

Algarve Easter - Praia do Barril

Algarve Easter - Praia do Barril

I needn’t have worried. Our guests were a true pleasure to have around and we bonded against a backdrop of good seafood, soul music and Grey Goose vodka. A good time was had by all I think, and despite a grim weather forecast, the sun appeared at least a couple of times each day, allowing for some unexpected beach time and a couple of fun drives on our electric mopeds.

We finished off the Easter weekend with a day of fishing, walking and biking near the coast of Tavira. Our day was complemented perfectly by my mother in law’s homemade pasta salad, plenty of pink wine and a fresh crab that we bought at the supermarket and cracked into on a rock by the shore. If there’s a better way to enjoy shellfish I have yet to find it! Before returning home we stopped for an espresso, caught the last few minutes of the hot sun and felt more relaxed than we had done in some time.

Fishing spot near Tavira Portugal

Fishing spot near Tavira Portugal

All in all, it was a perfect, low-cost, feeling thankful kind of day. The kind I moved here for. Sometimes being here DOES feel like a holiday.

If you’re considering a move to Portugal, take a look at this book:

Buying Property in Portugal (second edition) – insider tips for buying, selling and renting

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A Fresh Outlook – and a Wonderful Book 9

Posted on March 28, 2011 by Ben Algarve

As a regular reader of the blog pointed out, my last post was “uncharacteristically negative,” so I’m pleased to report that last week was a better one! We heard from our Portuguese bank that our paperwork was finally back from London and were invited in to apply for our car finance. We have yet to hear back as to whether or not we can go car shopping, but fingers are firmly crossed. If we are successful, we can go shopping for something with a service history and a warranty, rather than having to take a €5000 gamble!

Just as suddenly as it had arrived, our homesickness vanished, helped by some fine weather and a conscious effort not to allow the slow-turning wheels of bureaucracy to phase us.

I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating: moving to a warm, sunny country does NOT make you immune to life’s crap. Sure, I don’t have to start every Monday on the London underground, wedged cosily against a strangers armpit, but living in Portugal, when you have a living to earn and tax to pay, does not mean 365 days a year of “summer time, and the living is easy.”

Portugal Spring Flowers

Portugal Spring Flowers

However settled we feel here most of the time, decades of conditioning as to how things work in a different culture, and one where you speak the language, don’t just get shaken off after 18 months. I feel I have a duty to people considering a similar move to be completely honest about this. Things that were previously simple—such as making an enquiry to the tax office or seeing a doctor, become vastly complicated.

I sent two very simple questions by email, in perfect Portuguese (translated with the help of a Portuguese friend), to Portugal’s Financas several weeks ago and have received no response.

What would I have done in England? Well, I would have picked up the phone and used my extensive vocabulary to bitch and moan until I got the answers I required. Now here, that’s not an option. Despite my best efforts, my Portuguese vocabulary doesn’t yet stretch to complaining over the phone. Sure, I now know the difference between a dourada and a robalo, but proudly showing off my knowledge of fish is unlikely to get me anywhere with the tax office. It’s an unsettling feeling.

It’s my duty then to warn prospective expats of something the estate agents selling a new life in the sun are unlikely to mention: The language barrier has the potential to turn previously intelligent, articulate people into blathering fools. Stumbling your way through a two week holiday with nothing but “sim” and “obrigado” is one thing, negotiating the realities of life is quite another!

Shellfish on a Trip to Spain

Shellfish on a Trip to Spain

Anyway, as you can probably tell, I’ve now managed to be a lot more philosophical about all this, freeing up my brain to enjoy some of the good things we moved here for. Last week we found time to enjoy the beach, watch sea trout sizzle on our barbecue and venture into Spain for a feast of shellfish at the weekend. Our equilibrium has been restored.

Key to restoring my spirits last week was the arrival of a book called “The Moon, Come to Earth,” by Philip Graham, a series of dispatches from an American author who spent a year living in Lisbon.

I’m always keen to read tales of people integrating into other cultures, and the adventures of Philip and his family have so many parallels to our own experiences that I found the book truly compelling.

Graham has a fantastic gift for analogies. I particularly loved the observation that “making complex financial arrangements in a language one barely understands feels like riding white-water rapids using a teaspoon for an oar.” That sentence alone went a long way to shaking me out of my dark mood last week!

My wife can always judge how much I’m enjoying a book by how often I want to read a section out loud to her. I read her so much of “The Moon, Come to Earth,” that I hardly think it will be worth her reading it herself!

The author skillfully blends his Portuguese discoveries with his personal thoughts and feelings as he watches his daughter’s integration into Portuguese life and schooling, and her poignant last days of childhood as adolescence begins. This book is absolutely essential reading for anyone considering moving abroad with children.

“The Moon, Come to Earth” helped me in another way too. Graham spends a lot of his time in Lisbon sitting and observing – taking it all in. As our work and red-tape stress has increased, we have unconsciously stopped doing this, ending up back on a bit of a hamster wheel, albeit a sunnier hamster wheel with cleaner air. The wonderful observations in the book jolted me back to remembering why we moved here, and the need to slow down, soak up the culture and open our minds to understanding the different way of life. For that, I am very grateful to the author, and heartily recommend the book to anyone with an interest in life in Portugal.

You can find the book here:

The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon

With all that said, however much I remember why we moved here, manage to slow down and soak up the culture and adapt to that different way of life, I have a feeling that the tax office failing to respond to my queries is still going to piss me off.

Have a good week 🙂

Exploring Portugal - Castro Marim from the Castle

Exploring Portugal - Castro Marim from the Castle

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Empty Chairs at Empty Tables 0

Posted on July 06, 2010 by Ben Algarve

Having friends come to visit us here in Portugal is fantastic, especially at this time of year when every day is blazing hot and we are starting to forget what clouds are like, let alone rain.

What isn’t so fantastic is when they have to go home. When people share our new home with us it makes the place full of life, especially as these people are on holiday and bring that happy-holidays vibe with them. When they leave, the house feels oddly empty for a couple of days – and it never helps that there is the inevitable pile of work to catch up on – it tends to go on the back-burner in favour of far more important things – long lunches, swimming and exploring different beaches.

My wife and I have always been very sentimental and are not good at dealing with that “last day of holiday” feeling. We didn’t realise when we moved here was that we would experience that sad feeling second-hand when each of our guests leave!

We are approaching another concentrated period of visits over the next

Sunset Boat Back From Isla de Tavira

Sunset Boat Back From Isla de Tavira

couple of months (only two days, in fact, until the next arrival,) so perhaps by the end of September we may have a slightly different take on this!

The guest who has just left is interested in a possible move abroad in the future, so we obviously did all we could to sell the lifestyle to her. We have asked her to produce a guest post telling readers of this blog of her experiences in Portugal so expect to see that soon.

Summer is well and truly here now, and not a day goes by without a minor panic about how big our next electricity bill will be with the air conditioning on all the time. The Algarve is like a completely different place to even just two weeks ago – every major coastal town is like a party-zone every night of the week. It is quite exciting at the moment to see the contrast but I’m sure it won’t be long before we want all the tourists to go home and give us back our little piece of paradise.

Until then though, we are loving our first Portuguese summer, having an apartment that smells of sun cream and even the constant dry and stingy skin from all the time we are spending in the sea. It’s all rather good.

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