Moving is a major life transition and one that makes the top ten list of anxiety triggers. Now imagine that instead of moving to a new town or new state, you’re leaving your home country. Feel a slight uptick in blood pressure? Welcome to the expat life.
It’s downright scary moving to a new country and frankly, I don’t think people talk about this enough. You have just walked away from everything you know (and possibly own), leaving behind family and friends and a way of life to start a new life where you are going to have to learn new things every day, from finding groceries, to driving rules (if you’re not from Boston, roundabouts can be treacherous!), healthcare system… well, everything.
But the first thing is getting off that airplane and getting to your new place, whether it’s a rented apartment, temporary hotel or Airbnb, or a house that you bought and haven’t yet lived in.
The very, very best thing that I did (and I thank my friend’s mom for her advice and worry) is hired a driver to pick me up at the airport and take me to my Airbnb. DO THIS! Get a driver. Make sure there’s enough room for you and all your luggage. Do not say, “Oh, I can get a taxi or an Uber,” “I’ll rent a car at the airport,” or worse, take the bus or train. Yes, of course you can. But you’re not going to be in any shape to deal with that. You can take the bus or train once you know your way around and you’re not carrying all your earthly goods with you.
You’ve just been in airports and on planes for the better part of 24 hours. (Some a little more; some a little less.) You haven’t really slept. You’ve eaten over-priced, poorly prepared airport food. You’re dehydrated even if you’ve been drinking water. In short, you’re tired and disoriented. And if you’re anything like me, more than a little cranky. You’re not sure if your luggage made it and the more you brought, the more likely that something won’t show up. It will be found. Maybe not right away, but eventually.
When you land, you go through customs and immigration. I had never been in the Faro airport and while there are signs, I mostly just followed the people getting off the plane with me. I figured they had to get to baggage claim and customs, too. We hit customs and immigration first. Sometimes this process is easy; sometimes it is an ordeal. I made sure I was last in line because I was afraid I’d be turned back (did I mention that moving to a new country was anxiety-inducing?) and I didn’t want to hold up the line. My customs and immigration agent was—no lie—an absolute doll. Friendly and helpful. Your results may vary. And, he pointed the way to the baggage claim, which was just outside the door.
Once you’ve gathered your luggage (with or without finding a helpful cart), you get to work your way towards the exit. If you’re not familiar with the airport, it’s one more set of things you need to work your way through. Faro is a smallish airport, and I still managed to turn the wrong way after collecting my bags. I attempted to call my driver but my phone didn’t work in Portugal. A security person told me I was in the wrong area and sent me in the right direction. There were very few people in the area he sent me. Fortunately, one of those people was my driver who did a much better job of finding me than I did finding him.
I’m going to make a huge generalization here, but I’m not going to be wrong by much: The drivers who pick you up at the airport are awesome. They look at your huge stack of luggage and your bedraggled selves and your pets and kids and then volunteer to take a selfie with you. (The airport arrival selfie is HUGE in the expat groups. I don’t know; it’s just a thing.) Then they load up you and your luggage and take you to your new digs.
Is that easier than trying to tell a taxi driver where you are going in Portuguese? Is that easier than finding out your phone doesn’t work in Portugal and you can’t reach an Uber? Yes. Does it cost much more than a taxi or an Uber? Not really and especially when you consider peace of mind.
Look, I know it sounds dumb to make a big thing out of an airport pickup, but you will thank me. Unless you are a seasoned traveler who knows your destination well, you are going to be—at best—out of sorts when you land. You’re going to have dozens of worries on your mind, from the possibility of lost luggage, visa issues, your lodgings not having electricity, whatever other problems your mind can conjure up. Hiring a driver to pick you up is going to take one worry off your plate.
How do you find a driver? Do a search in your local expat group. If you’re moving to Porto, look for recommended drivers in Porto. If you’re flying into Faro and going to Silves, look in your local Silves expat group. When I first flew over, I was in one expat group and didn’t understand the depth of resources many of these groups have. I Googled “airport transportation” and my destination airport (Faro) and ended up getting a driver from the Viator.com website. It’s basically a tour company but they have transportation services. My driver was a godsend and frankly, I think I would have ended up at an airport hotel if not for him.
Make it easy on yourself. Know ahead of time that you’re going to be tired and disoriented and plan for that. Hire a driver to get you home that first day or night. You’ll thank me.