Planning a move abroad is not easy. You have to think about a lot of things and plan a lot in advance, especially when it comes to a visa. But how do you actually go from a dream to planning a move abroad?
This month we talked to Allison, who started her moving abroad journey at the beginning of this year and who is currently waiting for the visa approvals to come through.
Allison shares everything from planning a move abroad, to how she made sure she knew all the ins and outs of living in Portugal, making sure she and her family can start their exciting new life, in the best way possible.
Hey Allison, you and your partner decided to move abroad about a year ago. Can you tell us about what sparked that interest? Was moving abroad always a dream, or did it only recently become one?
Before having kids, we’d had the unique opportunity to live abroad several times while my husband, Dustin, worked on movies like Noah and Monuments Men. We knew we wanted to continue that pattern after having kids, but as many people know, life has a way of getting in its own way.
Right before COVID hit, we were prepping for a 1-year move to Budapest for his next project. Unfortunately, our move was suspended indefinitely, and suddenly, our lives had been turned upside down. As we figured out how to live through a pandemic, we had a change of heart. Rather than wait for the next international opportunity to come to us, we would create it ourselves.
After some soul searching and research, we knew Portugal was where we wanted to be. We continued our research and talked things through, and after the new year, we took the first steps to planning our international move.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your research phase? How did you (and your partner) move from a dream to taking more serious action?
I had done some preliminary research about moving to and living in Portugal with a Google search here and there. I also read a couple of books about opening and running a B&B, which we originally planned to do in Portugal. That plan has since changed, and we will decide more on this, once we settle into our new Portuguese lives.
My husband and I talked a lot about different possibilities, logistics, and timing. To be honest, the jump from idea to a plan was really quick. We had already mentally prepared for an overseas move, so really it was more about how to do it ourselves versus having an employer take care of the details. We’re like that. Once we have an idea, we just know we’re going to make it happen.
What steps did you take after your initial (Google) research?
After a few rudimentary Google searches, I decided to turn to Facebook to see if there were any groups for people who live in Portugal. When we were planning our move to Budapest (which never happened), I got a great tip from a friend. She advised me to join an expat Facebook group to answer all the myriad of questions that come up when you’re living in a place you’re unfamiliar with. So that’s where I started. I found a great group called Americans & Friends in PT that offered tons of advice and insight.
But after realizing I couldn’t find a website with ALL the information I needed, I decided to create one. That was the inspiration behind my blog, RenovatingLife.com. A central place where someone like me could find all the relevant information about moving to Portugal. Creating the site has helped me understand the steps to emigration better and has allowed me to help others on their journey as well.
You decided to move to Portugal. Can you take us through the reasons why? Were other countries a serious candidate too? And if so, why did you land on Portugal in the end?
Our retirement dream has long been to open a bed & breakfast on an island in Thailand or somewhere else exotic. So when we decided to move abroad, our minds immediately went there. New Zealand was kicking COVID’s tail, so we considered there as well. But In the end, the other countries were just too far from family. Plus, we just love Europe and the laid-back European lifestyle, and New Zealand has too many creepy crawlers.
With those two locations off the table, we thought to ourselves, “If we could live anywhere, where would we want to be?” We had visited Portugal a few times and absolutely loved it, and that was it. We had decided!
The labor market is known to be tricky in Portugal. Have you and your partner already secured work? And if so, could you take us through the steps you took to land a job in Portugal? (could you share tips for others?)
The job market is notoriously difficult in Portugal. It was never really our plan to find jobs in Portugal. My husband will finish his current TV project in Portugal and will continue to consult on TV and film projects remotely in the future. I’m a freelance creative director in the advertising and design sector, so I can work remotely there and also focus on growing my blog. We do have plans to follow a passion of ours after we’ve settled in Portugal for a while. Our dream is to invest in real estate and provide exceptional vacation rental experiences.
In your journey planning your move to Portugal, what are some great resources you came across?
Portugal is one of the easiest European countries to move to as an expat, as far as the requirements go. Compared to Spain, for example, the process is much quicker and easier. We used an immigration lawyer to help us assemble our application packet, but it’s not totally necessary. However, there is one resource I highly recommend to help people get started quickly.
The first tangible step to putting your application together is getting a NIF, a Portugal tax number. You will need this for several things along the way, but most importantly to open and fund a Portuguese bank account, which is now a requirement for the application and can take a long time to accomplish from outside Portugal.
I cannot recommend highly enough working with a company called Bordr. Founded by two American expats in Portugal, they started this business to help people like themselves get these two steps accomplished easier than they had it. They help you get a NIF in one week and a bank account without the need for notaries and apostilles which take a long time.
USE CODE “RENOVATINGLIFE” FOR $10 OFF EACH ORDER FOR A NIF AND/OR BANK ACCOUNT!
I also highly recommend working with a real estate agent, especially if you’re like us and need to sign a 6-12 month lease remotely. We worked with a Coldwell Banker agent in Portugal named Lee Ann Mumford and she was amazing. She visited multiple properties for us, video chatted with us to conduct remote viewings, and sent us full video walk-throughs of each property. She helped with negotiations and her legal team helped review the contract. There are ways to secure properties without an agent, but they are free to you (seller/owner pays the fees) and work solely in your interest, so it’s a valuable asset to have on your side.
I have a ton of other helpful information and resources on my blog, RenovatingLife.com, including a free printable checklist for the D7 visa application. After we make the move, I hope to continue sharing details about day-to-day life in Portugal and traveling around Portugal and Europe. I hope you come along for the ride!
You are moving with your two kids. How did/do you involve them in this journey?
They’re both so young (daughter is 5.5 and son is 2) that we haven’t explicitly outlined what this means for them yet. We’re focused on finishing my daughter’s kindergarten year and then will get her more involved. But she hears us talking about a big adventure and gets excited when we dangle ideas like a “new big house” or “living by the beach.”
She’s a sensitive soul, so we’re doing our best to handle the transition as best we can with her. Kids are so adaptable and resilient. We know they will adjust quickly once we’re there, but a big change is scary, so we’re treading lightly for now.
You are planning to move at the end of July, assuming that the visa paperwork is approved on time. Do you feel anxious? And if so, how are you (and your family) dealing with this uncertain period while waiting for the approvals?
There were so many details to work out just to submit our visa applications, so we’ve been in a bit of a lull for the last few weeks while we wait. We’re slowly gearing up to start purging our belongings, we have a last trip home to Texas planned to visit the grandparents, and we’re keeping busy with work, school, and the blog. We have about two months left, and they will go quickly, so we’re just savoring our last few weeks in Brooklyn for now. The thing we’re most anxious about is timing. It will all work out in the end, no doubt, but whether it will work out on “our” timeline remains to be seen.
How did your family and friends respond when you informed them about your plans to move abroad? Did they share concerns or doubts, and if so, how did you deal with their emotions?
The overwhelming response from those we’ve told we’re moving to Portugal is shock, excitement, and maybe a hint of jealousy. Of course, family and close friends are sad to see us move so far away, but they are all making plans to visit us as soon as possible. We’ve always had a tendency to make big moves—London for study abroad during college, Texas to Chicago after graduation, back to Austin for two years, and then off to NYC. During our last 11 years in NYC, we’ve gone abroad for work several times—a summer in Iceland, six months in Berlin, and three months back in London.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is they’re used to our shenanigans! It’s always hard to tell our loved ones we’re leaving, but in the end, we have to make the best decision for our family, and we know they’ll love us no matter what.
What are your expectations for your life in Portugal? What are the things you look most forward to? And what do you think you will struggle with?
On my blog, I refer to our move as a quality-of-life improvement project. After having two kids, both parents working full-time in the rat race that is NYC, we’re ready to slow down. We want to enjoy every day and not feel like we’re working for someday in the future. We also hope to expand our children’s understanding of the world and grow them into global citizens by exposing them to new people, places, and experiences. We’re looking forward to having more space, more time, and more opportunities to travel the world. The language will definitely be a struggle.
Luckily, Portugal is a very English-friendly country, but we want to integrate as quickly as possible, which means learning Portuguese! When you live in an unfamiliar place, everyday tasks that should be easy, like shopping for groceries or getting money out of an ATM, can be exhausting. It’ll be important to celebrate all the small victories and roll with the punches.
Many people dream of living abroad, but sadly a lot of people never move past the dreaming phase. How did you motivate yourself (and your partner), to act on your dream? And how did you stay motivated?
Yes, unfortunately, too many people say they’d love to live abroad but think they could never actually do it. I say just go for it! Everything is temporary if you think about it. You can always change your mind and move “home” if you want. Once we have an idea to do something, there’s very little that will get in our way. In this particular case, the pandemic definitely changed the way we looked at life, and it just made sense for us to make a change while the kids were still young and enjoy it!
Last but certainly not least, what is your advice for people out there who are thinking of moving abroad?
Do it! It will change your life in ways you’ll never know until you do it. It’s not always easy, but it’s so worth it.
Feel inspired by Allison’s story, but unsure where to start? Take your dream and turn it into a reality with the Let’s Move Abroad book.