Expats say it a lot, but they say it because it’s true: moving somewhere is nothing like going there on holiday. When you move to Portugal (or any other country) you will experience a mixture of excitement, joy, fear and culture shock. Here are ten tips to help you through the first few months.
Give yourself some time
When you make your plans, try to build in a couple of weeks to just do nothing. Treat this period as a bit of a holiday and take time to explore your new surroundings. This will fortify you for when things inevitably get harder further along the road!
Learn some Portuguese
Hopefully you made some effort to learn some Portuguese before you moved? Regardless, now’s the time to step up your efforts - all you now have plenty of people to practise on. It’s perfectly natural to feel nervous and flustered when you make your first attempts at speaking the language, but the Portuguese are patient and appreciative when you try. If you’re particularly shy with it, wine helps considerably!
Get ready for the red tape
Portuguese bureaucracy can be slow, hateful and inconsistent. Make your peace with it NOW. If you’ve come from northern Europe or the USA, there’s simply no point in expecting things to work in the same way, nor as quickly, and aggression and insistence will get you nowhere. Get used to it.
Get your communications sorted out
Arranging a mobile phone and an Internet connection should be one of your first priorities, and it helps if you research exactly what you want online before visiting the relevant shops. Many people cannot live without the Internet for even a day. If this applies to you, a 3G/4G hotspot can get you immediately up and running until you get a fixed home connection organised.
Try all your local shops
While you’ve got a bit of spare time, take some leisurely walks around your local shops and supermarkets, and get a feel for what to buy where. Don’t forget your local market either - there’s sure to be one near to you and it’s the perfect place to mingle with some locals and try your Portuguese. Even if you’ve done so in the past, don’t turn your nose up at Lidl and Aldi - they’re not really seen as budget options in Portugal, and may well be the only places you can find certain items you miss from home.
Connect with other expats
Many people move to Portugal with no intention of mixing with the expat community, but most inevitably end up as part of it to some degree. Choose your friends wisely, but don’t miss out on the support network and source of local knowledge that your fellow expats can be. You’ll find them on Web forums, Facebook, and in the local bar!
Make a “paperwork plan”
Once your honeymoon period is over, you’ll have to do various things: organise residency, sign up at the doctor’s surgery, perhaps register for self-employment - the list is endless. Make a plan for what you need to do, and in what order, then get researching on the procedures. Most importantly, expect everything to take twice as long as anticipated.
Find your takeaways
No doubt you plan to spend all your time eating “local food” and enjoying the “Mediterranean Diet?” Everybody does, but everybody also ends up having days when they just want to take to the sofa with a comforting takeaway - especially days when they’ve spend hours queuing in a government building (see above). Look out for “pronto a comer” takeaways that will provide you with inexpensive meals at the last minute. However, don’t expect delivery services outside of busy city areas - you’re going to have to pick your food up yourself in most of Portugal!
Make sure you tie the loose ends “back home”
Presumably you’ve set up a redirection service for your mail That’s probably the most important thing. However, once you’re settled, it’s time to check things like all of your online accounts, and update your addresses. The UK tax office also needs to know you have moved.
Be careful of your budget
For many, a move to Portugal represents the start of a simpler, more rustic life, often working to a smaller budget than before the move. However, it can prove hard to break old habits - so don’t spend like you still have your old income level, and certainly don’t spend as if you’re on holiday. Plenty of expats (including the one writing this article) did that, and have the credit card bills to prove it!