InterNations Featured Blog
Ben: Moving to Portugal
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Portugal, etc.
I’m Ben. I’m an IT consultant and freelance writer and I moved to Portugal with my wife in 2009 after twelve years of living and working in London.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I actually started blogging about six months before I set off, as I figured it would be great to have a record of such a life changing experience. It was intended as a personal project really and I never expected so many people to start reading it. I kept the blog a secret from my friends until after I had moved.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Well, some of the most popular posts are practical ones such as my entries on the cost of living in Portugal and finding work in the country. Having said that, my personal favourites are the ones I write when I am really loving life here, such as this recent one.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Portugal differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I find the culture shock now hits me more when I go back to the UK for a visit! Life here is more slow paced, which took some getting used to in the early days, especially when waiting for the slow wheels of bureaucracy to turn. Nowadays though, here feels normal. We’re still very busy people and sometimes life is stressful, but we’re busy being productive, not busy sitting in traffic and cramming onto London public transport. When I find myself back there I wonder how I put up with it for so long.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Portugal? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I researched everything to death before I left, but certain things you have to live to properly experience. We knew red tape and paperwork would be “a nightmare,” but that nightmare was an abstract concept until we were actually here having sleepless nights over things not getting done.
If I could change one thing, I would have put more effort into learning the language before getting here. Although we are way ahead of many expats who don’t make any effort to speak Portuguese, we are still playing catch-up years on.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
We visited the city of Evora for a weekend trip and ate in a tiny pesticos bar (the Portuguese equivalent to tapas). A few glasses of wine gave my wife extra confidence in speaking Portuguese and she tried to order the same dish as a woman sitting at the end of the bar because it looked appealing. Laughter built around the bar as she repeated her Portuguese question louder and louder. It turned out she had been asking to buy the woman, rather than a plate of the food she was eating.
We have several language related tales like that, some of which aren’t suitable for a family audience.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Portugal?
- Don’t assume it’s easy or even possible to find any work.
- Learn the language – you’ll never properly integrate if you don’t.
- Don’t think that living in a country is anything like being on holiday there. It’s been glorious weather outside for two days and my wife and I haven’t had a chance to go near the sun – we’ve both been indoors working. Real life continues when you live abroad.
How is the expat community in Portugal? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Fellow expats are easy to find, like-minded expats perhaps less so. It’s easy to find expats who frequent English bars and only know the words for “large” and “beer.” The others can be harder to locate. Quality not quantity is the rule of the day!
How would you summarize your expat life in Portugal in a single, catchy sentence?
“Not always easy, but vastly preferable to the life I left behind.” Sorry, that’s not very catchy is it?