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Rachel: From Peru to Portugal — My Expat Journey

When I left a management position at a global company and sold my condo in San Francisco to move to Peru, people said a lot of things. Many said I was courageous. Several said they wished they could do the same. One accused me of going through a midlife crisis — if that’s what it was, I wish it had happened a lot earlier.

I never considered myself courageous. I was unhappy, not living the life I was meant to be living, and staying stuck was no longer an option. I had to make some major life changes.

I’d lived abroad before, four times, during college and shortly afterward. Twice in countries where English was barely spoken — Russia and Austria in the late 1980s. I’d also traveled extensively throughout several parts of the world. Peru was a great starting point for several reasons, so I found a place to stay for the first two months and knew I’d figure out the rest when I got there.

As it turns out, I stayed in Peru for four months and then moved to a small village in the Ecuadorean Andes, where I put a lot of time and effort into getting permanent residency. I learned Spanish. I bought a little adobe house and had furniture made. I planned to stay for a while.

Until it was time to go. Which happened sooner than I’d expected, because of some safety and security issues in the village and the realization that I needed some things in my life that rural Ecuador couldn’t offer. So, I did some research and decided to move to Portugal.

I spent a little time exploring different parts of the country, and decided I wanted to be in the north. I got temporary residency, found a terrific Portuguese teacher, and bought a little apartment by the ocean in a smallish town in a wonderful location. The apartment needed a lot of work, and I had to hire a contractor and deal with local shops and utilities and technicians. I bought a car and got my Portuguese driving license. I registered in the healthcare, social security and tax systems. Almost entirely in Portuguese.

Almost three years — and three countries — after I left the US, I can imagine what my journey must look like from an outside perspective — possibly slightly nuts. And I might be moving countries again: while all my original reasons for coming here are still valid, it’s been a harder cultural adjustment than I’d expected, and I’d like to do a little course-correcting.

But every step of the way has been amazing, educational, and right. I’ve learned and grown, met wonderful people, made new friends, and seen incredible places. Yeah, there’ve been some challenging, scary, and downright crappy parts, but I can’t even imagine what my life would be like now if I hadn’t taken the chance. Looking back on it all — and forward on what’s to come — I’ll take courageous, and own it.


Rachel left her stable life in San Francisco to move first to South American and then to Porto, Portugal. Starting over in a place where many people have lived their whole life has been a challenge, but she has met many wonderful people along the way. Living abroad has reminded her that we all have choices and there are many different ways to live a happy life.

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