I can’t believe it has already been two years since Allison and I first met through Instagram. Back then, she was in the middle of planning her move to Portugal and was excited to start a new life with her family.
Now, two years later, the whole family has settled in nicely, and Allison is organizing a virtual summit to inspire and help others to realize their dream move to Portugal. In short, many reasons for us to catch up and talk about her experience of moving to Portugal and how this ex-New Yorker is dealing with the slower pace in the south of Europe.
Hey Allison, It’s almost two years since we last spoke and when you and your family moved to Portugal. Tell me, how are you?
We’re doing great! It definitely took a solid six months to settle in and another six months to fully feel at home, but wow, the first year absolutely flew by.
For anyone planning to move here permanently, they should know that it takes time to feel comfortable in the day-to-day. Sure, going to the grocery store gets easier by the week, and it’s fun exploring new neighbourhoods, new beaches, and new restaurants. But for life to feel like second nature and to feel like you’re living like a “local” takes a lot more time than you think.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since moving to Portugal, and how have you overcome them?
Honestly, things have gone fairly smoothly for us, which is not always the case. There were some health issues early on that required figuring out how to tap into the national health system sooner than we’d have liked, but thank goodness the Portugal health system is amazing.
I think what wears people down when they move to a new place are the little challenges they face on a daily basis. Figuring out the post office, handling bureaucracy, scheduling appointments, daily “lost in translation” moments, having to shop for much-needed household goods and not knowing where to find them, etc. These moments stacked up over time, a day, a month, or six months, can make it feel challenging to live in a new place, sometimes even more than the BIG challenges that can occasionally come up.
The key is to take each day anew and, with patience and a positive attitude, try to learn the language so that the language barrier doesn’t add to the frustrations. Just power through because you know it will get easier over time.
Are there things you would have done differently?
We had hoped to find a furnished home so that we didn’t have to start from scratch in an empty place. The reality is there aren’t that many furnished housing options. Moving into a large unfurnished house was not ideal, as we were constantly shopping and spending money for the first 6 months or so, which wore us and our bank account down. But once we were able to feel cosy and at home in our new house, it was well worth it.
What was easier than you anticipated beforehand?
Finding community. We love our friends here. We were very lucky to find several amazing families with kids the same age as ours who were all new to Portugal and starting at the same school that we chose. And amazingly, we all got along really well.
They have become like family and make life easier every single day, whether it’s being able to vent about the same frustrations we are all going through around the same time, helping out with childcare or school pickup when someone suddenly gets sick, or simply having backyard barbecues that we were never able to have in Brooklyn, we are so incredibly happy to have found our tribe here so quickly.
I talk in my book about the importance of managing your expectations. What were your first impressions of Portugal, and how did they differ from your expectations? (and how did you deal with situations that didn’t meet your expectations?)
Everything here happens much, much slower than we were used to in the States, and in particular, New York City. The pace of life is very relaxed—one of the big reasons we chose Portugal in the first place—but sometimes it can be unbearably slow. The slowness seeps into every aspect of life here in Portugal, except the roadways!
Things that would normally be a few clicks of a mouse can take multiple phone calls, emails, and in-person visits to accomplish. Getting the check at a restaurant can take several requests. And don’t even ask about how long it took to exchange my driver’s license. I never expected things to be the same, but sometimes I wish things weren’t always so difficult.
Best practice is patience.
Moving with your whole family requires a lot of planning – what are things you have learned from moving to Portugal specifically?
Kids are extremely resilient. Throughout all the change and uncertainty and settling in, they have thrived. And learning the language for them has been an absolute joy to witness. It’s everything we wanted for them and more. I was worried, particularly living in Cascais, that we may be surrounded by too many expats, and my expectation of expats was Americans. But our circle of friends, however expat heavy it is, is a mix of people from all over the world.
So not only are our kids learning about Portuguese culture, they are exposed to the cultures of a multitude of countries and people. They have international days and clubs at school and do projects to learn about other nations. My daughter started learning French on Duolingo so she could say things in French to a classmate in their native language. I can see the beginnings of the global citizens they are becoming, and it’s amazing to watch.
How have you and your family adjusted to the culture and lifestyle in Portugal?
We spent the first year exploring different areas of Portugal, from Porto down to the Algarve. I think having kids actually makes it a little easier to adjust to cultural differences. When you see the differences through the eyes of a child, or you have to explain a difference to a child, you’re forced to break it down into simple terms. When you do that, it can be much easier to understand that different doesn’t mean bad. It’s just different.
What are some of the things you love most about living in Portugal, and what are some things you miss about living in the US?
I’ll be very honest, I miss very little about living in the US. The things I do miss are quite trivial… twist-off wine bottles 😂, massage pedicure chairs, and ranch dressing. I mean, come on, those things are nothing in the grand scheme of things. I can tell you some things I don’t miss…gun violence, the hustle and bustle of city life, living over an hour away from a beach.
Life in Portugal has so many things to love about it! We are so used to sunshine, and the rainy days sometimes come as a nice reprieve from such happy weather. I love putting on a movie on a rainy day every once in a while.
There are so many amazing areas to explore, and you really don’t have to go far to be amazed. Even driving from one place to another, you may get a glimpse of a palace on a hill or a row of grapevines from a winery. The surroundings everywhere you go are awe-inspiring. We particularly love the view when you arrive in Cascais from the waterfront road. It never gets old.
We love that we are able to explore Europe and further so much easier than when we lived in the States. The first year we focused on exploring Portugal, but since moving to Portugal, we have visited over ten different countries.
More than anything, we love the freedom we have gained by living here. Sounds weird, right? An American talking about gaining freedom by moving away from America. But the freedom of time is something you do not really have in America. The work-hard culture in America was something we definitely wanted to extricate ourselves from, and while we still work pretty hard here, we have the freedom to do it from home and more on our own terms than we used to.
Workwise, you are currently working on hosting a digital summit for people who want to move to Portugal. Tell me more about that.
Back in January, I attended a virtual summit for bloggers and was really inspired by how much I was able to learn and gain from just a few days of sessions. I immediately thought about how beneficial a similar online event would be for people who were moving to Portugal and how I’d never seen anything of the kind.
I’ve seen webinars covering a single topic and in-person conferences that are limited to those who can attend in Portugal and have only recently expanded to virtual, but nothing that covered so many topics and brought together so many experts.
So, I decided to host my own virtual summit to help people understand the ins and outs of moving to Portugal. It’s called The Portugal Plan Virtual Summit and kicks off May 15. It’s 5 days of information-packed sessions that will help anyone thinking of or planning a move to Portugal escape the internet search overwhelm and start putting their plan into action.
I’ve gathered 45+ speakers to speak on a multitude of topics related to moving to Portugal. There are tax lawyers and specialists, real estate agents and buyers agents, other expats sharing their experiences, school experts for public and international schools and alternative schooling options, life and move abroad coaches and, Portugal healthcare experts, visa and logistics experts, and much more.
Anyone who attends will leave The Portugal Plan Virtual Summit with a new wealth of knowledge and feel confident to start planning their own journey to Portugal.
Of course, anyone who is interested in moving to Portugal should join your summit to learn everything about visa’s etc. But what advice would you give to someone who is considering moving to Portugal, especially with a family?
By far, the best thing you can do to make your move easier is to find your people. Find the right helpers, the right friends, and the right tribe. Having people you can trust for the right information that you can call on when you need help, a glass of wine with a friend, or just a listening ear is priceless and goes a long way toward making you feel at home.
Move-wise, if you’re considering a move…just do it! Nothing is permanent, and you can always make a next move, but if you’re considering it, then you already have the right mindset. Go for it! Nothing changes your life for the better, like a move abroad.
Finally, do you see yourselves staying in Portugal for the long term, or do you think you might eventually move back to the US or somewhere else?
We are definitely here for the long term. We would like to stay at least long enough to get European passports, as we believe that is the key to our future, whether it is here in Portugal or not. We do not have any plans of returning to the US, so for us to have freedom, we believe Portugal is our answer. We love it here and plan to be here a long time. We love adventure and exploring, so another international move is never off the table, but maybe after the kids are a little older or off to uni, then we can think about somewhere else.
Are you planning to move abroad or thinking of moving to Portugal? Make sure to join Allison’s virtual summit with over 45 experienced expats and advisors. Click here to sign up and save your spot.
Feel inspired by Allison’s story, but unsure where to start? Turn your dream into a reality with the Let’s Move Abroad book.
Psst! Just between us, some of the links in my blog post might be affiliates. But don’t sweat it; you won’t be charged extra! If you happen to make a purchase, I might earn a small commission. It’s just my way of keeping the content coming and the dog food stocked. Thanks for stopping by to read my post!