I stumbled upon my new home town by pure chance. And it’s perfect. For me.
People like to say that everything happens for a reason (and the voice in my head responds, ‘yes and sometimes that reason is that you are stupid and make bad decisions’). I ended up in Portugal partly because Italy made it harder for people to become residents and partly by chance—enough people suggested Portugal that I looked into it and thought, “Why not?”
Since making that decision, so many things have worked out that I am at times embarrassed to mention my experiences in the expat groups. People tell horror stories of government clerks being rude and unhelpful. That it has taken them weeks and months to navigate the bureaucracy that is necessary to become a resident. That hasn’t been my experience. While some things seem strange (having to physically go into a government office to make an appointment and then return a few days or a week later just to change your address), I have had the nicest people help me out—at the local Finanças office, the hospital to get my Utente (health) number, my SEF appointment. Expats complain that they can’t find an annual lease. Or the landlord wants six months in advance. Or they’ve been given “the runaround.” Maybe I’m just better prepared to roll with the punches.
Maybe It’s Better to Be Lucky Than Good
It’s better to be lucky than good is another expression which certainly seems to define my experience since moving here. I was incredibly unprepared for my SEF (immigration) appointment that was set for April 2021. I didn’t have a permanent address; my passport needed to be renewed. I didn’t have a tax ID number. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
The appointment was postponed to September due to COVID closings and that gave me the time I needed to 1) realize I had really dropped the ball and had no idea what I was supposed to be doing once I got here(!) and 2) get all my ducks in a row. My passport renewal, which would have taken a minimum of 12 weeks in the US (and would have delayed my move), took exactly three weeks from the time I mailed it to the Embassy in Lisbon to having it returned in the mail. My tax number was done in a week, using an online company (handy during the time of COVID closings).
I found a great apartment with an annual lease. I only looked at three places and it was the second one I looked at. The landlord asked for one month deposit—I was expecting at least three months (first, last, and security). I was worried that is was a scam BECAUSE he didn’t ask for a lot up front. I kept waiting for the real landlord to knock on my door and kick me out. Nope. I do know I am paying a higher rent than he would charge a Portuguese national and he’s probably making it up there, but I don’t care. It’s affordable for me, he’s happy, and I have a view that would cost me triple if I were in the States.
After getting my residency card, I was able to obtain my national health number. Even though I have private insurance, you need the national health number for things like COVID vaccine notices and if you have an emergency and can’t get to a private hospital. I had heard horror stories of the receptionist at the local Saude (health center) being rude, not speaking English, and basically saying “No soup for you” (Nenhuma sopa para você). I walked in, had what I needed written out in Portuguese. She didn’t make fun of my pronunciation, asked me for paperwork with a little English mixed in, and I had my number emailed to me in seven hours. The same thing happened when I needed to change my address at the local Finanças office. Made my appointment, showed up on time, I was processed in under 15 minutes. Neither woman was warm, but they did their job professionally, were helpful, and certainly weren’t rude or mean.
Even my entry into the country timed out perfectly. I somehow slipped in between lockdowns and that was a matter of me taking a leap of faith. I left the US not sure if I could enter Portugal. I **thought** I could because I had a residency visa, but I wasn’t confident in any way, shape, or form. The British Airways ticket agent at Heathrow didn’t want to let me on the flight into Portugal until I showed both the visa and—get this—my business card. When I finally arrived in Faro, the Portuguese customs and immigration agent was welcoming and funny and downright charming.
My next “challenge” is to transfer my driver’s license over. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew I had to do this within 90 days of getting my residency permit, but I lost track of the days slipping away until a couple of weeks ago. I coordinated with a friend in the States (Thanks, Red!) who hooked me up with an online notary company and sent all my paperwork off to the Portuguese Embassy in Washington, DC. My paperwork is expected to arrive via DHL this week, I have my doctor’s appointment set for this week, and I can start the process in time to avoid extra bureaucracy in the process.
You Can Make Things Happen THEN Make Up a Reason
In spite of my ignorance, things have fallen into place for me here. So much so that, even though I am NOT a woo person, I feel like being here was somehow predestined. (It turns out that even my name is considered a “Portuguese name.”) Portugal fits me. I have just spent ten days in Italy and, while it’s beautiful and I know I want to go back and visit, it’s not the right country for me.
Not everything happens for a reason. But you can make things happen then make up a reason if it makes you feel better. Why not?
We are born in a country by virtue of our parents’ choices. Or lack of choice. But if something inside you is causing discomfort, if you’re getting signals that maybe you should look elsewhere, listen to them. The world is a big and wonderful place. As things open back up (and it will probably be at least another year), take that trip you always wanted to take. You have time to save and plan and do your research. I don’t recommend moving to a new country sight unseen—again, I was stupid lucky—but give yourself the option of finding your place of contentment in the world.