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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.
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!
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.
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!