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


Portugal and the Euro Crisis 6

Posted on November 23, 2011 by Ben Algarve

I’m always in two minds as to whether to post on Moving to Portugal when I’m in a bad mood, but it’s good to drive home the point that life “in the sun” isn’t always perfect. So, here follows a cathartic, self-indulgent, and possibly slightly controversial rant.

First off, I’m going to talk a bit about austerity. The media has been very quiet about Portugal recently. The main reason for this is that the country has, so far, met all its agreed bail-out conditions and targets.

Portugal has done so by implementing some serious spending cuts and tax increases. Largely, the population has accepted this quietly and stoically, as is the Portuguese way.

How has the austerity affected us? Well, being told half way through the year that you are going to have to pay an extra 3.5% tax on nearly all of your income, while utility bills have in some cases nearly doubled, stings quite badly. After all, our tax liability was already significantly more than it was in the UK, as was our petrol bill.

We’ve accepted it quietly though, in the same way as every Portuguese employee has had to accept their Christmas pay packet being taxed at a rate of 50%.

With this in mind, I am finding it very hard to reconcile my status as both a British citizen and a Portuguese resident, when a media-driven trend seems to be leading some members of the UK population towards casual xenophobia and Europe-bashing.

Since when did it become acceptable for moderated forums to allow comments about “work-shy southern Europeans,” and “lazy salt cod munchers?”

How many people in Britain really have the first idea of what life in these countries is like for normal people? Not for the political elite, the business leaders, the civil servants with good salaries and retirement packages – the normal people. Perhaps, to coin a phrase, “the 99%” (or more realistically in some countries, the 90%!) The fact is, the knowledge people have of these places, in the main, comes from one place: the media. Is the media known to work with honesty, integrity and no political bias?

People whose entire opinion is formed by what they have read in one country’s media will be ill-informed at best. From my position here in Portugal, I can see plenty of non work-shy people grafting very hard for very little money, in a country with no way to print cash, devalue currency, and pull themselves out of trouble.

Let’s not forget that the ability to do this is the main reason that Britain isn’t on the same list as Portugal, Greece, Italy and Spain. In fact, if you look at the raw figures, Britain is actually a good deal more screwed than some of the aforementioned. Right now, the media and markets are concentrating on (and profiting from) Southern Europe—but no one should be naïve enough to think they won’t head north once they are done with their current feeding frenzy.

The popular arguments about why the “PIIGS” countries need bailing out only wash to a certain point. If it is due to a select few creaming off the bulk of the money for themselves, along with an over privileged public sector….well that’s the same in Britain too isn’t it? Ah, no, it’s because big swathes of people don’t pay the tax they should in these southern European countries. Ah, OK, just like big corporations shirk most of their tax in the UK.

The “Euro crisis” term has provided Britain with a wonderful scapegoat. Unfortunately the media perpetuation of this is leading the less intelligent to think that Britain is going through hard times and that it is entirely Europe’s fault. This then leads to the xenophobic and slightly tragic little-Englander mentality all over the forums. It is easy to throw stones around a glass house with a good minimum wage, generous tax allowances and a benefit system that will always keep the most work-shy of all in beer, fags and fried chicken.

As an example from today, the Daily Mail speaks of “Plans to funnel British taxpayers’ cash to Italy’s stricken economy.” This really refers to a global IMF fund to which Britain is only being asked to contribute 4.5% This is the same IMF that Britain itself was bailed out by in 1976, and may well need to borrow from again in the near future.

I’m no rabid Europhile, but, the way I see it, a broad sense of unity between countries is always better than the alternative. Stirring up hatred and discontentment sells newspapers, and too many people are being taken in by the UK media’s current brand of bullshit.

The simple fact is that all the countries have spent beyond their means for many years, and the bankers and politicians have watched it happen whilst building up a sizeable rainy-day fund for themselves. As a result, we are all screwed. It is surely more grown-up and sensible to accept this and pull together than to fall out amongst ourselves. Pride comes before a fall, and I fear it is only a matter of time before fate conspires to make this xenophobic breed of little-Englanders realise just how little they really are.

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Living Abroad – Dispelling the Myths 14

Posted on July 26, 2011 by Ben Algarve

Living in Portugal is great, and I’d be the first person to support and encourage anyone thinking of making the move themselves. Having said that, a dose of realism is required. Every week, someone new pops up on the expat forums stating their intentions to move here, and you can detect a level of naivety and lack of research that is only going to end in tears.

So, for this week´s post, the time has come to dispel some myths about life in the sunshine.

First off, living somewhere is NOTHING LIKE being on holiday there. Being on holiday in London is nothing like working in London, and it’s no different in Portugal.

Tourists enjoy the beach in Portugal while we work indoors

Tourists enjoy the beach in Portugal while we work indoors

For a start, unless you have retired, you actually have to work, and trying to be productive when it’s 32C outside is vastly different to reading a book on the beach when it’s 32C outside. Just because it’s hot and sunny every day, it doesn’t mean you have time to sit out in it and get a tan. By the time our work is done for the day, the sun has lost much of its strength, and it can be rather frustrating finding yourself half way through the summer with less of a tan that a tourist who has only been here five days! Looking over the top of a laptop at people swimming in the pool all day sucks too.

We have also been a little bit surprised that we still frequently find ourselves desperately short of time at some points. Once the working week is out of the way, the house tends to need cleaning, and shopping and other errands need to be sorted out-in the blazing heat. So, that’s Saturday gone. Then it’s Sunday, and then, shit, it’s Monday again. Much like real life in any other place!

Driving back to Portugal from Spain

Driving back to Portugal from Spain

And don’t expect anyone “back home” to believe you or offer any sympathy. Whatever you say, they will assume that you spend at least half of every day drinking pina coladas whilst floating in the pool. There is nothing you can say to convince them otherwise.

Next up, finding work. We spent three years designing a way to earn money remotely. So when the forum newbies say “what kind of work will I get, I can’t speak any Portuguese yet?” What do they really expect the answer to be? Why not ask a different question: “I’m Portuguese and moving to England, I can’t speak any English yet, what kind of work will I get?” Does that help to answer the original question?

Portugal is going through hard times economically. There’s a fair bit about it on the news. The ground-level reality of the situation bears no resemblance to the situation in England. The UK has a fair minimum wage, and there IS still work for those willing to do it. There are people in this country working very hard for a level of income that a UK benefits claimant would turn their nose up at…and the cost of living isn’t THAT much different.

For those of us lucky enough to have income, we have just been told there is a new extraordinary tax for 2011, meaning we have to give the government an extra 3.5% of what we earn. It IS hot, it IS sunny, but it’s not always easy.

Portugal - cost of living is fairly high, but sunsets are free

Portugal - cost of living is fairly high, but sunsets are free

Now, I know all of that sounds like a rant, which is why I preceded it all with “living in Portugal is great.” It truly is. But you have to work and research to make it that way. Which is why, when people come to the forums expecting to be able to have a life which is like their summer holiday, and arrive here and walk into an English-speaking job, they need to realize that life isn’t like that.

Youngsters in their teens and twenties CAN just get on a plane, find seasonal work in bars and restaurants, and have a damn good time in the sun until the work dries up, and I admire their guts for doing it. But, it is different for people with families, and the thought of people coming out here without doing their research when it involves taking children away from their schools and friends frightens me a bit.

For those with serious intentions of moving, there is a wealth of existing information to help, on the forums and on blogs like this one. The people who dedicate days, weeks and months of their lives getting familiar with it develop realistic and achievable dreams, and they end up being the people we walk past looking happy at local beaches and markets. The others are the ones who have their dreams dashed by the time they’ve read the first three replies to their first post on a forum.

I highly recommend this book to anyone seriously considering a move, it contains lots of interesting information and case studies from people already living here, including (shameless plug) a bit that I wrote!

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

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Economy of Portugal & the General Strike 3

Posted on November 24, 2010 by Ben Algarve

Whenever I speak to friends and relatives in the UK at the moment, I am asked about the Portugal economy. Usually what is said is something along the lines of “oooh, isn’t Portugal in trouble at the moment?”

Given that Portugal is staging a nationwide general strike today, I thought it appropriate to add a quick post about the economy of Portugal.

Portugal Economy - A General Strike is Taking Place

Portugal Economy - A General Strike is Taking Place

Workers all over the country are striking in protest about spending cuts. As I have spent the whole day working indoors, I can’t tell you first-hand about the ground-level impact, but I have noticed that the bells on the nearby level crossing haven’t been ringing very much, with I guess means the trains aren’t running, and a quick check of the website for Faro airport indicates that most flights have been cancelled.

I only take a passing interest in politics, but from what I understand, the strikes seem rather futile, as the cuts and budget the ruling socialist government is proposing is not going to be blocked by the opposition anyway, when the vote takes place this Friday.

In terms of how Portugal feels on a day to day basis, the impact of the recession, as far as I can see, hasn’t been felt quite as hard as it had when we lived in the UK. The simple fact is there has never been a vast amount of money around in the Portugal economy at the best of times, and masses of citizens were already migrating to other countries in order to find work.

Where you can see the direct impact of the recession is in the vast quantities of unsold apartments and unfinished developments. My (admittedly uneducated) view is that something has to give in this respect, and all that can happen is that prices will eventually have to be lowered to more realistic levels. There is only so long developers can sit on unsold properties whilst struggling to pay electricity bills for common areas and lifts in apartment blocks—something that you hear about all the time.

So for us, all of this drama has a (thankfully) limited impact, aside from the fact that the constantly fluctuating exchange rate means it’s hard to predict what our English income is going to be worth each month.

Will Portugal end up going cap-in-hand for a bail-out? I don’t understand nearly enough about the economy in Portugal to even guess. The media here seem to view it as less likely that the English press, but then only weeks ago people were convinced it wouldn’t happen to Ireland. We just have to wait and see.

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