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


Reverse Culture Shock – In Reverse 6

Posted on June 23, 2015 by Ben Algarve

Much is said about “reverse culture shock” when expats move back to their former countries.

As I said in my last post, my wife and I have spent plenty of time missing Portugal after our return to England, sometimes to the point of feeling truly homesick.

So, with this is mind, it was perhaps a little foolhardy for me to book a trip back to Portugal as soon as we had really started to feel settled back in the UK.

The trip back was all rather sudden and unplanned. A good friend had a birthday coming up and my wife unexpectedly asked if I fancied going. I headed for my laptop and booked some flights before she had a chance to change her mind!

I travelled to Portugal alone on this occasion. A recent train trip to London with our now extremely mobile and inquisitive toddler has put us right off attempting to drag him onto a plane until such time as we can reason with him about social norms! While I felt a tad guilty about my wife missing out, we both agreed it was actually quite a good plan, as we didn’t want to find ourselves back in Portugal all together, desperately wishing we’d never moved back to England.

Reverse culture shock - it is not sand but it is home

Reverse culture shock – it is not sand but it is home

Onwards then, to the reverse culture shock. Well, to be frank I’m not sure whether I experienced it back in Portugal or whether I’m still experiencing it here in the UK!

The biggest surprise was how…unsurprising everything was. A friend picked me up from the airport, and heading back to my old stomping ground didn’t feel strange, it just felt…normal. Things don’t change very fast in small Portuguese towns and I was up to speed on the local goings on by the time I’d checked into my apartment and hurriedly changed into some shorts. (One thing I had forgotten after a few sunny English days is that there is actually a very distinct difference between warm and HOT!)

While I was in the Algarve, I wasn’t entirely on holiday; Us freelancers don’t truly get those, so I was having to do some work each day. This contributed a little to the headspin factor, as I essentially just walked straight back into my old life, albeit looking rather more pale, as all my local friends took great pleasure in telling me…

Reverse Culture Shock: So how did it feel?

One way to sum it all up is that it all fell dead centre between “familiarity breeds contempt” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Trips to the beach and on a boat along the Ria Formosa were enjoyable and memorable, and served to make me really rather mad at myself for not taking more advantage of what was on my doorstep for all those years.

Rediscovering my old stomping ground

Rediscovering my old stomping ground

On the flipside, traipsing around three different supermarkets in the heat to find an edible potato to bake one evening didn’t feel quaint and quirky, it just felt really bloody irritating like it did when I lived there. I’ve compared (somewhat controversially) the food options between Portugal and the UK before on this blog, but I stand by the fact that in terms of variety, the UK wins hands down, and not just for convenience food. I should follow this up by saying that this situation is both manageable and enjoyable if you have the time to shop around in Portugal, but for a busy working family, it’s easier to fill the cupboards and remain inspired in the kitchen when you live in the UK. I shall await the backlash on that once again.

Anyway, once I’d relaxed back to the Portuguese pace, I was sad to leave, but not as sad as I’d been missing my wife and son while I was there. On my last evening, one of my UK friends asked me online how the trip had felt. With some consideration, my answer was “transformative.”

The fact was, I felt homesick. Just the way I’d felt homesick for Portugal a couple of weeks previously. Now I know this was exacerbated by the fact I didn’t have my family with me, but somehow it felt like affirmation – and in a good way. However, at the same time I felt like I was finally mourning a closed chapter.

Ironically, I felt homesick for Portugal again today, and seeing my friends there again has definitely made me miss them afresh. I’ll be back to that town very frequently, all being well, with the confidence that it seems to remain reassuringly frozen in time.

But, all in all, I’m happy where I live now. The day after I got back was gloriously sunny, and I visited Whitstable on the Kent coast. I ate lobster and chips, and the best oysters I’ve ever tasted. I paddled in the chilly sea with my son, and I took more pictures during that afternoon than I did during five days in The Algarve.

Shellfish back in the UK

Shellfish back in the UK

Sometimes, to avoid that “reverse culture shock” you have to convince yourself you’ve done the right thing – just in order to stay sane. My trip to Portugal was a lot of fun, and I look forward to going again, but most of all it reassured me that I’m not telling myself any lies. For now, this is where I want to be – but feel free to ask me again once winter sets in 😉

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Car Insurance After Returning to the UK – A Moan! 2

Posted on March 30, 2015 by Ben Algarve

One rather bitter lesson we learned from living abroad is that the universe doesn’t really seem to reward honesty and doing the right thing.

I’m one of those people (many would call me a mug), who likes to do things by the rules. This sometimes attracts incredulity – from clients who can’t believe I want to give them a proper invoice for a small piece of work, or from accountants who can’t understand why anyone would want to move to Portugal and do things right, rather than staying “under the radar.”

As part of our quest to do things right, one early issue for us (going back many years now), related to driving licences.

A Driving licence - The EU flag is meaningless

A Driving licence – The EU flag is meaningless

The laws around UK licences in Portugal will have expats arguing themselves in circles until they’re dizzy, but the basic facts are quite simple: If you have a UK photo card licence, and you no longer live at the address printed on it, the licence is technically invalid. This is partially due to a British law around not producing UK licences with foreign addresses on them.

The simple way around this is to visit your local IMTT in Portugal, who provide you with a supplementary piece of paper to go with your licence that makes it valid in Portugal. This is actually one bit of Portuguese bureaucracy that’s usually very easy to sort out.

A bigger problem occurs if your UK photocard expires, as happened to my wife. At this point, assuming you still live in Portugal, you have to go through the process of exchanging your licence for a Portuguese one.



The exchange took over a year for us, during which time we had to return to the IMTT three times to have a temporary form stamped (that’s a whole other story). But eventually Louise received a shiny Portuguese licence.

At that point we didn’t know we were going to move back to the UK. Nor did we know how much hassle this long-awaited licence would cause us.

Back in Britain, we purchased a cheap car from a friend, while we wait for someone to make a sensible offer for our car in Portugal. We thought sorting the insurance out would be a doddle. Not so.

The trouble is that car insurance decisions are pretty much all made by a computer, and that computer asks certain questions. If you don’t tick the right boxes, everything gets confusing.

For example:

“How long have you been resident in the UK?”

Erm…two weeks.

“Do you hold a full UK driving licence?”

Shit, no, it’s a Portuguese one.

Computer says no

Computer says no

The computer then assumes you’re a brand new Portuguese arrival who has never before driven on English roads, and goes on to quote you more for a year’s insurance than you paid for the car itself!

After sending one big firm packing, who thought the difference between a UK and Portuguese licence warranted a loading of £1400 on our policy, we finally found an acceptable deal, albeit one at nearly three times the price we were paying for insurance on a far more valuable car before we left for Portugal.

The lesson learned is a depressing one. None of the “under the radar” types who ignore all the rules would have had this hassle, or had to pay as much as us. Things like this seem to happen a lot.

We’ll never turn into different people. The fact we play by the rules is part of who we are. But it turns out there’s a hell of a price premium on doing things properly to sleep soundly at night. And that doesn’t seem at all fair somehow.


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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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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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Moving Abroad – Quality of Life 0

Posted on January 21, 2013 by Ben Algarve

Moving abroad is something that everyone does for their own personal reasons. For us, quality of life and better weather were two key reasons behind our decision to move to Portugal (it’s Lou here, by the way).

While sunshine and high temperatures aren’t guaranteed in Portugal in the winter, it’s fair to say that overall the weather here is a vast improvement on that in England. We’ve had a wonderful December, full of bright, sunny days, albeit turning cold the moment the sun goes down. January has been more of a mixed bag, with rain showers and cloudy days reminding us that it is still winter after all. This weekend, high winds have deterred us from venturing too far, so we’ve made the most of relaxing and appreciating the quiet life of the Algarve.

Moving abroad - where will your journey lead you?

Moving abroad – where will your journey lead you?

After a wonderful meal of fresh fish at Vela 2 in Santa Margarida on Friday night, we battened down the hatches and spent the weekend indoors, hiding from the wind. Although some chores did intrude on our relaxation (our oven is now sparklingly clean!) I was able to indulge in some Portuguese cooking, finish knitting two scarves that I started before Christmas and bake banana bread with a chocolate spread centre.

One of the things that I love about the Algarve in winter – and the reason I can relax so thoroughly when the weather is bad – is that there simply isn’t that much to do here when it’s not sunny. In our local area, poor weather means that our choices are limited to the cinema or shopping. Although there are occasions when we do yearn for a little more, it generally means that we can spend the winter months hibernating and relaxing, saving up our energy for the frenetic life of Portuguese summertime.

Moving abroad - a new dawn

Moving abroad – a new dawn

Of course winter doesn’t mean that we don’t have to work. Come rain or shine, my working day begins at 8.30 am. On days like today, when I have a huge ‘to do’ list, the day began even earlier. I got up and opened the shutters to see what the day was like, only to realise that it was still dark. It came as quite a surprise – my lack of a commute to work means that those weeks on end of getting up while it’s still dark (and getting home while it’s dark) during the English winter are a thing of the past. It’s something that I have almost, after more than three years in Portugal, come to take for granted.

This morning served as a wonderful reminder of how much our quality of life has improved, in subtle ways as well as obvious ones. We still have to deal with the pressures of work and the endless chores and trips to the supermarket, but we’re more relaxed while we’re doing it now. Instead of a hellish commute to work through London traffic in the dark, I drank my tea this morning while typing and watching the sun come up over our balcony. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer start to the week – it reminded me all over again how lucky we are to be living in Portugal and how much our life has improved since moving abroad.

Want to hear more about how our life has changed since moving abroad? Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same reveals it all.

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Top 10 Tips For Moving to Portugal 0

Posted on January 18, 2013 by Ben Algarve

A quick guest post for you today, with some back to basics advice on moving to Portugal that all makes good sense!

Moving abroad and becoming an expat in a foreign country is a choice made by thousands of individuals, couples and families every year. Some of those decide to make the leap to Portugal, where the sun (almost) always shines! We have produced these top ten tips for someone looking to move to Portugal from abroad.

Moving to Portugal is stressful but worth it!

Moving to Portugal is stressful but worth it!

1. Attending school is compulsory in Portugal from the ages of six to fifteen. This is known as Ensino Básico (basic education). Education can either be state or private. Despite education being free in the state system, you will be expected to purchase books and other equipment.

2. Before the age of six, your child can attend a pre-school (kindergarten) if you so wish. There are a variety of types of pre-school, including state, private, charitable and cooperatives. Registration occurs during June and July. Requirements are typically a medical check, birth certificate, health card showing vaccinations and an inscription form.

3. There are also private schools teaching the Portuguese national curriculum and others that teach an international curriculum in various foreign languages. However, only some of these schools will go up to the secondary level. The schools should be registered with the Portuguese Ministry of Education. Note that an international curriculum is not automatically accepted by the Portuguese education system and so this should be considered when you are selecting a school and curriculum.

4. Once you have your health card, you are usually assigned a Médico de Família (family doctor/GP) at your local health centre. You should take your health card or the Número Utente (patient number) when registering at a health centre for the first time and also when seeing a doctor other than the one you have been assigned. Although health care is funded via taxation, you will still need to pay a small fee at each visit.

5. Farmácias (chemists) are open in every town during normal shopping hours, which are typically 9 A.M. to 1 P.M. and 3 P.M. to 7 P.M. Outside of these hours there is a Farmácia de Serviço (duty chemist) available. Every chemist should have a list of the duty chemists in the area on its door. A chemist can also usually offer advice when you are unable to get to your health centre or family doctor.

6. If you need emergency treatment, you should dial 112 (free). This number also covers fire and police.

7. Check that all utility bills are paid in full before buying or renting a property or you could become liable for any debts. Take readings from the meters so that you can check any bills you later receive.

8. Many motorways in Portugal have tolls. Some have tollbooths, but others only have an electronic system for paying, which is operated by Via Verde Portugal. Toll machines can be hired or bought in special Via Verde shops or at Portuguese post offices. If you end up on a Via Verde without a toll machine, you will need to pay the toll charge within five days or you will earn a fine on top of the toll fee. However, you have to wait 48 hours after driving on the road before you can pay, in order for your journey to be registered on the system.

9. Relocating on a permanent basis to another country, especially one which has a different language and culture, needs thorough planning. If you have children and need to work, this is even more crucial.

10. As with all big decisions in life, research is the key and one must always remember that living somewhere is completely different to holidaying there.

A big thank you to Armishaws for this guest post. Armishaws are experts in removals to Portugal, removals to Germany and to the rest of Europe. Visit them to obtain a free quote. 

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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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