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


New Year, New Horizons – Portugal 2014 4

Posted on January 12, 2014 by Ben Algarve

(Lou) Having lived in Portugal for over four years now, it’s fair to say that some aspects of daily life in our new country have become routine. Certain interactions that would have invoked serious anxiety (mixed with excitement, of course) when we first arrived are now carried out without a moment’s thought.

A new era begins

A new era begins

2014, though, is going to be a year that is in many ways as nerve-wracking as our first months in Portugal – if not more so! It will be a year of firsts for us, as we navigate the unknown seas of having our first child and of yet more Portuguese bureaucracy as we go through the process of sorting out all of his paperwork.

With the news a few months ago that we were expecting a baby, we began our journey through the Portuguese state healthcare system. After a very bumpy start (numerous fruitless trips to the local Centro do Saude and being reduced to sobbing in frustration in the car park), I finally got to see my GP. From that point onward, things began looking up in terms of my experience of the medical profession.

Though the administration side of seeing the doctor still fills me with dread as each appointment approaches, the care that the bump and I have received from the medical staff has been truly excellent. Waiting times can be lengthy, but this is understandable once you get as far as the doctor. At each appointment so far, I have spent time with both the nurse and the doctor, with my face to face time with them ranging from 15 to 30 minutes.

New footsteps in the sand are eagerly/nervously awaited

New footsteps in the sand are eagerly/nervously awaited

It is a far cry from the five minute turnaround time I was used to in the UK. I’m still in two minds as to which system is better – one where you have fast access to the doctor but where your time with her is limited (as in the UK) or one where access is slow but you have as long as you need with the doctor, to ask as many questions as you feel you need to (as in Portugal).

Seeing the nurse has been an excellent experience for me personally, as she doesn’t speak any English. This forced me to learn a great many medical/birth-related Portuguese terms very quickly in order to communicate fully with her, which was excellent practice for when the big day arrives, as I have no reason to think that the midwife who eventually deals with me will happen to be fluent in English.

Portuguese language learning - all sorts of new words are now needed

Portuguese language learning – all sorts of new words are now needed

We still have four months to go, during which time we will no doubt experience many Portuguese ‘firsts,’ just as we did when we originally moved here. Many of those moments will be daunting, others will bring a sense of triumph, while yet more will no doubt result in a few more tears of frustration. I, for one, can’t wait.

If you would like to know more about our experiences of moving to Portugal, feel free to 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

US readers can find it here: Moving to Portugal – the book.

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The Soundtrack to our Move to Portugal 0

Posted on January 24, 2013 by Ben Algarve

I have something a little different for you today – a musical post.

For a while now, I’ve been intending to put together a list of the songs we’ve come to associate with our move to Portugal.

Most of the time, our home runs on music. Sometimes many days can pass without the TV being switched on, but the iPod dock is in constant use.

Some of this music isn’t necessarily to our normal taste, but certain songs have become intrinsically linked with our move to Portugal – to leave them out would mean failing to tell the whole story – so don’t judge us on all of them!

Emma Bunton – “Free Me” (Album)

Yeah, yeah, let’s get all the “Ben loves the Spice Girls” giggling out the way. As my closest friends will know, I’ve always had a soft spot for a little girl power.

All joking aside, if I had to choose one album that makes me think of our early weeks in Portugal, it would be this. It may seem odd that someone who knows about all kinds of obscure house, soul and hip-hop places this in his top ten albums of all time, but it’s true.

It’s a beautiful chunk of Motown-tinged pop that never gets dull. It reminds me of sunny afternoons driving around the Algarve, and long days of cooking in our first house in Tavira, where over a decade of London tension first began to thaw away.

Marvin Gaye – “I wanna be where you are”

OK, I’d better find something a little more highbrow and credible for my next choice, so here we have Marvin Gaye.

This is from a quite obscure B-sides album, and is a simple groove as much as a song – but what a groove it is, with strings and brass that I could, quite literally listen to all day long.

This is my “work done, wine poured, time to peel the prawns” tune. My wife, who doesn’t really do soul music, merely tolerates it.

Odyssey – “Native New Yorker”

My life would be incomplete without this track. I associate it with having visitors staying in Portugal with us and have been surprised by how many friends were already familiar with it.

I also (girly moment) remember shedding a tear upon hearing the line “where did all those yesterdays go” in the hours after my mum had left to return to England after her first Christmas visit to Portugal. Hearing it now, I’m reminded that this time next week I will actually be on my way to New York!

Mambana – “Libre”

I could easily write a separate post listing all the Latin house tunes that I associate with our life in Portugal, but that would bore everyone to death, so I consulted my wife as to which to include.

To me this song is all about driving down the Algarve’s N125 road on the way to a beach, often with a couple of mates in the back of the car. Hearing it now is enough to give me goose bumps in advance of this summer.

Thick Dick – “Insatiable”

This is a house tune that I remember from my clubbing days. A couple of years ago this Balearic-tinged version appeared, complete with its laid-back Spanish guitar sounds.

It’s a track that’s equally as perfect through the headphones by the pool as it is blasting in the car on the way to a night out. It featured heavily in our summer last year. It’s basically summer distilled into five minutes – which is a good thing.

The Milk – “B Roads”

Right, time to man up with something a little more guitar-based. The Milk’s album, “Tales from a Thames Delta” was one of my highlights of last year and our car soundtrack for several months.

It’s a track that tends to come out when we’ve got too much to do and feel a bit up against it: “you gotta live on the run, or you’ll die young” is quite an inspirational message!

Jay-Z and Kayne West – “Clique”

This tune makes me think of my young mates in our local town, and of a few mad nights out. Lou (my wife) loves it too, earning it a place on this list.

Over-the-top swag hip-hop, complete with lots of sweary lyrics. Parental discretion is advised.

Oddisee – “Hustle Off”

Oddisee is a hip-hop artist I discovered last year. His album “People Hear What They See,” was the iTunes hip-hop album of the year for 2012.

This track isn’t actually on the album, it’s more of an obscurity, but the “sometimes you just gotta turn your hustle off” message is very resonant for those of us who’ve decided to slow down our pace of life.

The Nextmen – “Whisper Up”

A list of songs related to our move to Portugal wouldn’t be complete without some poolside reggae. “Whisper Up” is a quirky little number that I doubt many people are familiar with – but it’s instantly appealing and often causes people to ask “what’s this?”

Fierce Collective – “Baker Street”

This is Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” turned into shameless handbag-house. I was never a massive fan of the original (other than always whistling it whilst walking through Baker Street tube station).

This version, however, I discovered during a particularly crappy week of work in London, and it came on my iPod while I was on the Gatwick Express en route back home to Portugal. I’d never previously realised the lyrics were all about swapping city life for something rather more like ours. By the time I pulled into Gatwick train station and reached the “you’re going home” line, I was nearly crying for joy with the certainty that we’d done the right thing by moving to Portugal.

Michel Telo – “Ai Se Eu Te Pego”

You may know this one. It’s a Portuguese (Brazillian) song that has reached number one in 16 European countries. However, it’s not so well known in the UK, where, as recent events prove, they don’t really like joining in with everyone else.

This song reminds me of summer days and nights out, and it always delights me when I hear English expats sing it…in Portuguese.

The Quiet Boys – “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”

I had to include this song. The dilemma was which version, as I seem to uncover a different one every couple of months. Any one of them is perfect for playing quietly in the background whilst floating in the swimming pool (made from a converted irrigation tank) at our family’s place nearby.

I’ve gone for this acid jazz flavoured version, but I apologize to Roy Ayers for not choosing his. I have, however put the Roy Ayers version here as my choice is the one item on this list too obscure to find on YouTube.

Compiling this list of twelve songs has been a really enjoyable (and at times emotional) experience. I have no doubt that over the coming days I’ll think of countless other tunes I should have included. But I still feel that this list provides a good representation of the soundtrack of our life in Portugal. I hope you enjoy it.

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Finding Work in Portugal 29

Posted on November 04, 2010 by Ben Algarve

The sure-fire way to get short shrift as a new member of any of the expat forums is to make your first post read something like this:

“Hi, I’ve been to Albufaira couple of times and think I want to move to Portugal. Can ne1 tell me how to find work in Portugal. I am a secretary and my hubbie is a plasterer. We dnt speak any Portugese but are happy to lern.” (sic.)

You see this kind of post a lot, and the people posting them do tend to get savaged a little bit! The fact is, the employment situation is the main reason why expats who fancy a life in the sunshine can’t just pack their things and get on the next Easyjet flight.

In this, the second of my series of articles about the costs and realities of moving to Portugal, I explore the situation with regards to finding employment in Portugal……

Work in Portugal

If you only spoke Portuguese, Russian or Mandarin, would you expect to be able to arrive in England or the USA and quickly find a job in your chosen field? Of course not! So let’s start off there.

If you cannot speak Portuguese, your employment prospects are not exactly zero, but they ARE crap. Let’s be honest about that. Although I’m not looking for a job, I have done a lot of

Working in Portugal - the commute for some Lisbon residents

Working in Portugal – the commute for some Lisbon residents

research in terms of the kind of jobs I COULD do and all I have really seen in a year in Portugal is very low paid seasonal bar and restaurant work and jobs selling property which are invariably commission only.

So, if you happen to be 18 years old, with a free room in your parents villa, fancying a summer of sand, sangria and Sagres, you might find what you are looking for. Fancy a permanent move? Not so much.

When I say “very low paid,” I do MEAN very, especially by British or American standards. Legal minimum wage here is 450 euros per month BEFORE tax and social security, and a lot of workers are on this wage. Note that I said “legal” minimum wage. If you don’t speak Portuguese and are after casual catering work, being offered €12 plus tips for a 6/7 hour cash-in-hand shift is quite possible – I’ve spoken to youngsters getting this much.

If you can speak good Portuguese, obviously you have more options and the combination of fluency in Portuguese and English is quite desirable. The wages are still scarily low compared to “back home” though. 8500 euros is the average annual Portuguese wage. Obviously people do earn a lot more than this, but it depends on the field you are in—and consider as well the fact that the highly paid jobs are not down here in the sunny Algarve, but more likely in the main cities of Lisbon and Porto.

Before I descend too far into doom and gloom though, all is not necessarily lost. If you are of an entrepreneurial persuasion there’s no real reason why a good business idea cannot succeed in Portugal, although the language barrier could affect both the ease of setting up and your ability to attract local customers as well as fellow expats. The tax and social security implications are also very important here, and beyond the scope of this article.

Starting a business is an option though, and you are likely to find SOME of the start-up costs lower than back home, especially if you are thinking of renting a cafe or bar.

Finally, be sure to remember that in the case of ANY service business, you will be competing with local companies and therefore have to pitch your pricing realistically. Also, some trade qualifications won’t be valid here, so don’t assume you can come here and be an electrician or plumber, without retaking your exams… Portuguese.

So, there’s the slightly off-silver lining in what seems to be a sizeable cloud. There are however a couple of other options open to you that could rescue your Portuguese dream:

Working Remotely from Abroad

Depending on what you do for a living, your existing employer may be convinced to let you become a remote worker. You will need a progressive, modern-thinking boss for this to be an option, but there are benefits to your company as well as to you. Remote access technologies, Skype and cheap broadband mean that other than our physical presence, there is little you can’t do sitting in your living room in Portugal that you can do in the office.

Try to sell your boss on a higher level of productivity, less interruptions, higher morale, more time for actual work, less time commuting and a reduction in office costs. If you currently work in the UK there isn’t even a time difference to worry about.

Old-school bosses, jealous fellow employees and having a job which requires your physical presence can all serve to prevent this from being an option, but it’s worth considering. The Internet has made a “global workforce,” a reality, and if you are a valued employee working for a forward thinking employer, they may be more open to suggestions than you would expect.

If you are interested in this option and for some tips to help convince your employer, have a read of “The Four Hour Work Week,” by Tim Ferriss.

Working Online

Whatever you do, don’t just open Google and type “make money online.” 99% of the things that come up will be scams. There are, however, some online work options that are a reality, as long as you accept that nothing is instant and all require you to put in hard graft.

If you can write and have experience you can sign up to online content providers such as Brighthub and Demand Media. Using the latter, you can genuinely make a full time income, if your writing skills are up-to-par and you have sufficient knowledge of some of the topics.

Online work providers such as Elance and ODesk are possibilities too. These marketplaces allow you to bid for contracts to provide a huge range of services: secretarial work, virtual assistance, proof reading, customer service – the list is endless.

Sounds good doesn’t it? If you have the relevant skills, it can be – but there is a “but,” as there always is. You are competing for these jobs with providers in India and the Philippines who are bidding to work for $2 per hour. There are however, people out there happy to pay fairly for your skills, you just have to put a lot of time into finding them, and accept you may have to do some low paid tasks to build up strong feedback to allow you to get a look in with the decent employers.

If you can do IT work and / or web design, you should be able to find work to do remotely, especially if you already have clients from “back home.” IT brings me tidily onto IT skills in general, which are essential for any online working opportunity – if you can’t get quickly and proficiently around a computer, online working is probably not for you!

I’ve recently started a project called which may well help if you’re in the market for remote working options.

Working in Portugal - the trade off

Working in Portugal – the trade off

Well, there you have it. A summing up of your work options if you wish to pursue the dream of a life in Portugal. How realistic it is really depends on your skills and how far you are willing to take a risk. Working for yourself brings with it no sick pay, holiday pay , pension, free training or any of the other trappings of “working for the man” – so it’s not for everyone. Similarly, working remotely can bring with it a feeling of isolation and being out of the loop.

Nothing’s perfect or simple, but one or a combination of these options may bring you sufficient income to live in the sun. We left behind a lot of security and ready cash in order to live here – and no amount of money would drag us back.

If you missed the previous part of this series, you can find it here: Cost of living in Portugal.

If you are serious about moving to Portugal, then I am equally serious in recommending our essential book!

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

The book is also available in the USA and Canada via this link.

Image credits: JSome1 and Tourshelp

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