Learning Experiences in Portugal

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Last Saturday, I asked my wife if we had any butter left in the fridge. Her reply was, “we only have butter without salt.”

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering where on earth I’m going with this post, so let me explain. If we still lived in England, her answer would have been, “we only have unsalted.”

Learning Portuguese - Unsalted Butter
Learning Portuguese - Unsalted Butter

In Portuguese though, it’s not called unsalted butter, it’s called “mantiega sem sal.” Butter without salt. My wife was translating Portuguese into English and not the other way round.

This rather dull dairy-related anecdote is actually really huge to us. It’s like the next significant stage in our integration into Portugal. We are finally, if only very rarely, starting to think in Portuguese.

After this happened, we started to weigh up our progress learning Portuguese, as we approach the 18 month point in our Portuguese adventure. My wife recalled that the butter incident wasn’t the first time she had thought in Portuguese – a couple of weeks previously she had been unable to remember the English word for chives, only recalling the Portuguese.

Don’t for one moment think that this means we are approaching fluency, or even competence, in speaking Portuguese. However….it is surprising how much has gone in subconsciously. Sometimes the radio will come on in the morning, I will listen to an advert and think to myself “hang on, I understood that.”

Even stranger was the other day when I found myself singing a tune to myself that I had heard. It was a Portuguese song called “O Que Faz Falta.” It hadn’t really occurred to me that what I was singing was Portuguese. Doesn’t mean I understood what I was singing but still!

Whilst the language learning is progressing, wading through the cross-border bureaucracy is still a hateful nightmare. Never be fooled into thinking that if you live in the European “Union” that all European nations sing from the same hymn sheet.

I appreciate that our exact situation of working in one country and living in another is unusual, but from the reactions we get from official bodies you would think it is the first time anybody has ever done it.

We have just had to force ourselves to sit back and let the situation unfold at its own pace. Back at the start of January we had to send a form to HM Revenue and Customs in the UK. HMRC are so behind that we were told that it would take them six week before they had time to OPEN our letter. At the time, that meant we expected a response in mid-February. When we called back at the end of February we were told their “target date” for opening our letter was now mid-March.

Our Portuguese accountant shrugs a lot and constantly says reassuring things like “it’s not your problem.” Yet somehow it feels like it is! I’m starting to realise that my fondness for a slower pace of life has limits.

Danger: European Red Tape
Danger: European Red Tape

When you have to wait three months for a response to a letter you have to learn patience. On this occasion it is England slowing things down and not Portugal, but the way European freedom of movement and employment law works in practice is a cruel joke, with all of the countries seemingly free to interpret legislation in their own way.

If we were actually trying to claim ANY kind of benefit, I could understand all the delays, but all we are actually trying to do is work hard and pay tax on the money – I can’t believe how hard it is proving to be! If sitting on our butts claiming benefits was our plan, then we hardly would have left England now would we?

I’m starting to rant so I’m going to sign off now. To sum up, I now know my first song in Portuguese but still haven’t got to the bottom of my tax situation. It would be kind of useful if it were the other way around.

PS. One thing that has been helping with our language learning is a new “Portuguese Language Lessons” page we recently “liked” on Facebook. If you do the Facebook thing, check it out!

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13 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. I have been following your blog for many months and it has been a great resource for my family and I. I am intrigued/concerned by your recent post regarding your tax situation as I am relocating from uk to algarve later this year but will still work in uk earning sterling. I am unsure why my/ your tax situation would change? Could you elaborate further?

  2. Hi Ian,

    Thanks for reading.

    Basically, once you are resident here you become obliged to do a tax return and, technically, pay tax here on your worldwide income. In some circumstances you can continue to pay in the UK if you can prove fiscal residency and use a dual-taxation agreement, but you then have to get documentation from HMRC…and the fact the tax years are different (Jan-Dec, instead of April-Mar in UK) makes this really complicated.

    Nothing’s impossible, and in all honesty a lot of people do nothing and just do their best to stay under the radar in Portugal, but we are the kind of people who like to do things completely by the book and legally and it’s harder than you would think!

    If your work in the UK is for your own business then it is easier as you have more options. My wife, however, works for a UK company and is paid in sterling, yet resident here – that’s the thing accountants here are struggling to get their head around, more than my self-employed situation.

    The hardest part is finding a UK accountant who understands Portugal and a Portuguese accountant who understands the UK. We have even paid (a lot) for advice from one of the expensive expat “specialists” and were surprised that their pricey advice basically amounted to “just stay under the radar.”

    It’s maddening!


  3. Ahhhh yes. We are in the same place. Living in PT, working in UK. It does make you think we are the only ones ever to consider doing such a thing!

  4. Hi Tracey – I don’t suppose you’ve managed to find an accountant who can make sense of it have you?

  5. I think when you have mastered the ‘folk’ dance that all Portuguese, whatever their age, seem to do faultlessly . . . then and only then, will you be fully integrated 🙂 We have tried and are officially useless.

    Talking of dancing, did you ever get manage to get a Zumba group in Tavira going?

    Congrats on the language – you will start dreaming in Portuguese soon !


  6. Hi Saz,

    I put a notice on one of the forums about Zumba and got a grand total of ZERO responses…so it looks like we’ll have to keep going to Albufeira. My wife is going tonight, as Tuesdays was cancelled due to Carnaval bank holiday, but I’m having a week off this week 🙂


  7. Hi Admin

    I am a portuguese guy from Lisbon, who lived for many years in the Algarve, in Vilamoura,and now I am living in London.
    I am really jealous of you, because you can actually do exactly what i am aiming to do maybe in 10 years time.
    I can have an idea how difficult it is for you to try to learn a language like mine.
    First of all they do not pronounce the sentences correctly and you can find 3 or 4 different words meaning the same.
    I’ve been in London for over 6 years, and i still can’t write properly without mistakes and obviously my english doesn’t sound that good because I didn’t attended to an english school.
    I work near trafalgar Square as a hotel manager(not the GM,unfortunately), but I have to say that London it’s something amazing with no life quality. In the Algarve although it’s the country side with lot’s of people in Easter,Carnaval, and between the 16 of July and 15 of September….and it is really crazy in August… By the way, how did you describe the portuguese drivers comparing with the UK drivers? Are you brave enough to drive in Lisbon? There is no congestion charge and the underground fees cost around 1 euro instead of £4.00 single ticket.
    I wish you luck and if you decide to answer me I am more than happy to contribute with any information that you need. I’ve been in Tourism industry for over 22 years although I am 39.
    I found your story very interesting and once you learn portuguese,I am sure that you can take several advantages and learn spanish cause it;s much easier and italian very similar.
    I am sorry about my english and thanks for reading me

    Kindest regards

  8. Thanks for your reply. Please keep us posted if you do find a good accountant.

  9. Yes, I hate all the red tape that comes with living in another country too! It saps your engergy sometimes. (I’m a Brit in the USA) At least my language problems aren’t as serious as yours! 🙂


  10. Hi Nuno,

    Welcome to the blog and thank you for getting in touch. Apologies for my slow response.

    I can assure you that your English is far superior to our Portuguese.

    In answer to you question, yes we have driven in Lisboa – the A5 was rather terrifying! Driving in general here is different, and people drive too close, but there is so much less traffic than London that my wife probably prefers driving here.

    Please keep in touch

    Best wishes

  11. Hi B.,

    “O que faz falta” is very important song due to historical and political reasons.

    the origibal version is from José Afonso which created this song during the dictature times.

  12. Hello..
    I came across your blog completely by accident when I was looking on property websites about moving to Portugal and what house prices are going for. My husband and I and our 2 year old son live in France. We have been here now for nearly 3 years. We love France but are seriously looking at the possibility of moving to Portugal, property appears to much cheaper and you seem to get a lot more for your money. From what I have read from your blogs, it seems to be a better lifestyle than here. I know we have to do a lot more research and visit to really make the right decision. We would like to set up our own business out there, all being well. I would appreciate if you could just give us an answer as to how you find life out there. We would possibly to look to move to areas more towards Central or North Portugal. I look forward to hearing from in due course……Kind Regards Jeannine.

  13. Hi Jeannine

    Welcome to the blog – I hope you find it useful. Sorry for my slow response – I have been very busy in recent weeks!

    I’m not sure what to say to the question of “how you find life out there” other than to say that it’s not all a dream but it is much better than life was in the UK. Perhaps arrange an extended stay and see for yourself?

    You may also be interested to read our book, which is available in France 🙂


    best wishes

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