Living Abroad – Dispelling the Myths

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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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15 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. I couldn’t have said it better myself!
    and I probably know which post where prompted it too!)

    I really don’t have anything else to add – which is unusual for me 🙂

  2. Yes, agree with Tracey. Very well put, as usual Ben.

    All I can add, is that it is bad enough working in an office in London on a hot sunny day (today not being one of them – its really miserable outside !) so I can imagine how tough and horrid it would be to be inside working on a blue cloudless sky day in Cabanas . . . At least you dont have the sweaty tube workers 🙂

    Enjoy the rest of the summer (when you can) Saz

  3. Hi Tracey and Saz,

    When I read it back I thought it may have sounded a tad harsh, but my wife thought it was worth saying regardless! Hope you both have great and sunny week 🙂

  4. Hi, well put.

    My husband(who is portuguese) and I are moving out to Portugal later this year. We completely understand the risks and financial situation and are currently squirling away money to make the first few months as easy as possible for us and our family.

    I really enjoyed reading your rant. :0)

  5. harsh – but fair!
    forums can be quite an annoying place to visit – I tend to go there infrequently! we made a big decision to give up a lot when we moved here (especially a very high salary!) and we are now living (just about!) on one pension…..and so far (early days) we are fine…but we researched a lot first, bought a house here some years ago and holidayed a lot… and then took a big leap! and it is so hard when you read a forum post like the ones you describe – surely it’s better to be honest with people and give them a ‘heads up’ early on before they start giving up their job and moving their kids as well??
    I’m sure your post will generate more comments….
    oh … and we’ve found the sun tan thing to be true as well! I’m happily spending hours in my studio painting and then suddenly look up to see the sun is about to set! 🙁 at least I don’t get sunburn!

  6. Very well said! And so true, I totally agree with you.

    Even my friends back home thought we’re all just lying lazily around and having great sunny vacation the whole year round!

    Well, life goes on..

  7. Hello all,

    Sorry for slow replies, have been in Lisbon as you will see from my next post. Glad people agree with the sentiment, at worst, I am only being “cruel to be kind”….

    and Aly….as I sit here I am frantically trying to get enough done to get a couple of hours out in the sun, I have to go to London on Friday and have no tan whatsoever to show off – not good!

    Best wishes

  8. I am currently looking into the pros and cons of possibly moving to the Lisbon area of Portugal. I am a trained chef, have worked in everything from pubs, hotels, restaurants to schools, homes etc. I would imagine that work is less seasonal the farther north you look, as the local population are there all year round.
    My family have a property in Vilamoura, and i have holidayed there many times since 1982. As Portugal is the ONLY place i have ever felt remotely comfortable, and i now have a friend over there (she is Portuguese) i have decided that if i don’t go before 40 (currently 38) then i will never do it! I have no kids, no long term partner and no responsibilities, so now is the time!

  9. Hi Steve,

    As long as you have some “rainy day” money then I’d say go for it. Jobs for chefs are one of the few things you DO see advertised down here in the Algarve – possibly seasonal though. Not sure about in Lisbon, potentially more jobs but language more likely to be an issue perhaps….

    Good luck!

  10. My girl friend and I started thinking about living abroad many months ago, as she gets ill in the winter in the uk, she was raised in very hot country we both like to ride bikes for hours and walk in the country explore different place, she is a teacher and I am a qualified plumber. I my self have been to Portugal for a holiday and loved it! we have discuses moving to Italy
    America, Australia but have set our dreams on Portugal many times, a very good friends of mind comes from Portugal he has advised us on many things and his family still live in Lisbon they own a construction company.

    We are in to grow your own veg, is this possible and can one put solar panels both for gas and electric on the roofs also what is the water supply like do they have water hose pipe bands, if you want to create your own sprinkler system? from reading your helpful tips I get the impression that they like people to buy home produce rather than imports which make sense! We would be hopefully retiring there for half the year but that will not be for many years! Using it as a holiday home for our selves, friends and family if we decided to go ahead!



  11. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for reading and sorry for my slow response.

    I’m not sure about whether you need planning permission for solar panels – I’m sure someone on one of the expat forums could tell you. However, I see no issues with sprinklers and think that Portugal would suit your lifestyle very well.

    The only thing I would say is that work is very hard to come by, but if you have contacts in a construction company that could help.

    I imagine you will find plenty of interest in our new book (shameless plug!)

    Best wishes,


  12. I have lived in Oporto, Portugal for the past 8 years. Each área of Portugal is so diferente! Yes, it is very sunny in Algarve, but Oporto is not. In fact, with the exception of 4 monthsm we have horrible rain most of the time. On top of the horrible rain, the people in Oporto are closed to foreigners. In addition, they are extremely rude. No, I don’t like it in Oporto at all, and most of the foreigners I speak to agree with my perception of this área of the country. Some áreas of Oporto are scenic and pretty, but most of the áreas are filled with nothing more than unpainted abandoned buildings with for rent or for sale signs. Oporto is not a place I would advise a foreigner to move to.

  13. Hi Eileen,

    Thank you for your comment. I agree that every area of Portugal is very different. I haven’t been to Oporto yet, but it sounds worlds away from life in the Algarve – and the weather sounds more like it is in England!

    Best wishes, Lou 🙂

  14. Hi Ben,

    Enjoyed the article.

    We’ve been here for 4 years and you’re right nobody ever believes if you say you’re busy working!

    Best regards


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