Perfect Landing ~ Midlife Expat Learning

Portugal continues to be at the top of best-places-to-retire-abroad lists. This got my attention when I retired three years ago as a midlife woman of 59. I was intrigued by the thought of lowering my living expenses, and the possibility of being able to afford to live on the ocean as a single retiree. The month I spent living in Portugal in 2019 convinced me it’s the country for me to move to in retirement. After returning home, I planned to save money and move to Portugal at 65. But when my house sold unexpectedly late last year, I realized I could move this fall, three years ahead of plan. Each month I will share a Midlife Expat Learning post here as I navigate the complex process of immigrating to Portugal.

Whether or not you believe in signs from the universe or alignment of the stars, there are times when you just know something was meant to be. Everything goes right, or better than expected, and things just seem to flow without effort or worry. There’s a calm assurance that everything will work out just fine. You’ve got this, and you know it. Know what I mean? My recent move to Portugal as a solo midlife woman is one of those times.

Life is good.
Farm and sea. Home doesn’t get better than this.


The day I left home was…brutal. My 28-year-old son took off work to be there to say goodbye. I love my only child more than life, and yet I was leaving him. Our last embrace that day ripped something in me. I didn’t want to let go of my tall boy. My 90-year-old mother didn’t want to let go of me, either. Her jagged wails were the same as when I woke her to tell her I’d found my 94-year-old father dead in bed. My brother, who’d flown in from New York for the occasion, had to gently pry my mother’s thin but surprisingly strong arms from around my neck, where she hung on, crying out with such anguish that my friend who’d come to drive me to the airport had to walk outside to avoid crying herself. I cried silently in her car as we drove to the airport. I was rifling through my purse looking for tissues when I looked up at a stoplight. We’d stopped at the intersection of Opportunity Corridor (a recently renamed stretch of road) and Lisbon Road – a road I never knew existed in Cleveland. As I was leaving my home to fly to Lisbon, I stopped at the intersection of Opportunity and Lisbon. I couldn’t get to my phone fast enough to snap a photo of the street sign, but here it is on a map. You cannot make this up.

At the airport in Boston I had to take a shuttle to the international terminal where I’d board my flight to Lisbon’s airport. Two Delta employees at the shuttle station were women from Lisbon. One of them helped me practice Portuguese as I waited for the shuttle.

When I boarded the Delta flight bound for Lisbon, I sat next to a woman from Connecticut. She’d grown up in Ohio, not far from my home. She was also moving to Portugal that day. She’s north of where I am here, but we chat nearly every day and plan to connect again in person soon. Everything went smoothly on my flights. I’d read so much about airline travel issues, delays, and lost luggage. My trip was perfect. Delta was even handing out full-size Snickers candy bars in Cleveland, just because. I love Snickers.


I’d worried about the lack of diversity in the small Portuguese beachtown I now call home. There are no Black folks around here, but I need not have worried. The locals here have amazed me with their kindness and generosity. My first day here I tried to find the local market. I got lost on my walk into “town,” and stopped to ask a frowning older man sitting on his front porch if he could help me. He squinted at me. I smiled. He did not smile back. Oh boy, here we go, I thought.

“Com licenca, fala ingles?,” I asked anyway.


“Falo um pouco de portuguese, mais nao muito bem. Onde esta um mercado, por favor?”

The man stood and walked away. What the…?

He went nextdoor and returned with a woman who spoke English. She gave me directions to the market, telling me I could get the essentials there. “Bread, butter, milk,” she said. “E vinho!,” I added. The man laughed. Later, when I walked back up the hill with my bags of “essentials,” he and the neighbor woman saw me, smiled, and waved. I felt a great sense of accomplishment – and gratitude.

My townhouse neighbors embraced me like family. Many live in Lisbon and own condos here as weekend homes. A family nextdoor is one of a few who live here full time. The wife invited me into their home my first day to show me how to work the central vacuum system. Their 6-year-old daughter lent me some of her children’s books to practice my Portuguese. I read the books aloud to her and she corrects my pronunciation, and acts out the meaning of words I don’t know. She doesn’t speak any English…yet.

My little professora made this bracelet as a gift for me.
“Ga-too, nao ga-toe!”

Another neighbor offered to drive me into the neighboring town to set up cell phone and internet service, and switch over utilities to my name. She spent four hours escorting me from place to place, translating for me. Two days later, as I was still waiting for service activation, she stopped by to give me her WiFi password and tell me she’d left her door open for me to go inside to use the WiFi. No way can I imagine that ever happening in the U.S. Later that night she drove me back into town to buy staples and supplies I couldn’t get at our local market, and then came over with dishes and utensils for me to borrow. My landing would not have been as smooth had it not been for this lovely woman.

A minha amiga nova.

A Brazilian neighbor took me out to dinner to a renowned beachside pizza restaurant, and he’s offered to take me and my bestie sightseeing when she’s visiting from the U.S. this month. I also met a Portuguese woman who used to live in this complex when she moved here from South Africa years ago. She eventually built a stunning home about 10 minutes away on foot. We exchanged cell numbers when I met her while she was visiting a resident here, and she promptly texted me that she goes grocery shopping every Tuesday and would be happy to pick me up to shop too. Sim! Muita obrigada!

Pizza on the beach

And then there are my other nextdoor neighbors. He is 90, speaks English, and is a retired engineer. He reminds me of my father. His wife speaks no English, but her grown son does. They are native Lisboans. These sweet people invited me over to give me their WiFi password, which I was able to use from my own home since they’re right nextdoor. That weekend, they drove me to a plant nursery to buy plants and pots for my neglected patio. When we returned home, I went inside to change into cooler clothes, as the sun was hot. Before I knew it, they were on my patio with brooms, bleach, and a hose, scrubbing the patio clean!

I really did help!

After “we” finished, they invited me over for a traditional Portuguese almoco (lunch) of grao e maos da vaca (a chickpea stew with chorizo and cow hooves), crusty pao com manteiga (bread with butter), and vinho tinto (red wine). Cafe and pastelaria com molho de chocolate (pastries with chocolate sauce) was sobremesa (dessert).

Third helping

I adore this cute couple, and get a kick out of him quizzing me out of the blue. “Tell me the days of the week in Portuguese,” he’ll call out. “What time is it?,” or, “What does ‘alugar’ mean?” When he told me, “You have the love of learning!” I almost teared up. So like my dad.


I’m learning a lot – not just the language. There are things I now know I’d do differently.

I worried needlessly about clearing Customs at the airport in Lisbon with all my stuff. Obsessed like a crazy person. I unpacked a certain, potentially embarrassing, battery-operated, um, “massager” at the last minute, in case a Customs agent went through my bag and mistook it for a weapon or questioned the rechargeable lithium battery. I threw it away in a random gas station trash can. I worried about all the batteries I’d packed. Worried about my shooting range target flagging a concern. In the end, no one opened my bags upon entry. Customs was no problem entering the country. No one pulled me aside. No one was even manning the Customs entry line, where everyone just walked through the side marked “Nothing to Declare.” My passport was checked by a very friendly agent and that was it. No questions about my visa and move. No questions about what I was bringing into the country. No forms to fill out on arrival. Nothing. A lot of wasted worry time. Not to mention a needlessly trashed vibrator massager.

I didn’t need a year of travel medical insurance, and ended up getting a refund for 9 of the 12 months. My SEF immigration appointment is in January, so I changed my travel policy to a December end date and have contracted for a Jan. 1 start of Portuguese private health insurance, required for my meeting with SEF. I was refunded $1,300, so the cost I reported here came down to only $500 – high only because I’m over 60. My Portuguese private health plan is $150 a month with no deductible – again, “high” because I’m 62. This compares with my U.S. Medical Mutual plan that had a $700 a month price tag and a high deductible.

Online ordering with my Portuguese bank card was an issue due to my U.S. billing address not matching my Portuguese shipping address. In-store shopping with the card is no problem. My Portuguese bank account, which had to be opened in the U.S. before I could submit my Residency Visa application (a newer requirement), still is linked to my U.S. address. I can’t change my official address until I meet with SEF and get my residency permit/citizenship card. I was able to use my U.S. credit card for Amazon Spain, IKEA, and a local online grocery store delivery, though I had to call IKEA so they could manually input the U.S. billing address because the online form wouldn’t accept it. All my planning in the U.S., prepping my online shopping carts so I could just press Comprar and schedule delivery as soon as I touched down in Lisbon, should have included researching payment methods.

About my address… I found out my home address goes by different names — and postal codes. How is that even possible?There’s the address on my lease, the one that shows up on Google Maps when some delivery people search for me (don’t know what’s up with that), and the one that locals use. This was an issue with the cell/internet provider. They kept rejecting my order, causing further delays in my online connectivity. A real estate agent said it’s best to “just use the GPS coordinates.” Yeah. That’s not going to cut it with the post office and everyone else requiring a physical address. I’m especially concerned about receiving my U.S. absentee ballot. But I’ll get it worked out. People will help me. All will be well.

The cell phone and internet service deals I’d read about, of only 60 euros per month for mobile/internet/TV, come with a two-year contract. I don’t want that since it might not transfer to a new address in Portugal if I decide to move to a different city in a year. Here, internet must be installed (in the U.S., Spectrum just had me pick up the equipment and watch a DIY install video at home), and activation of cell service isn’t instant. Once my order was finally accepted, it took three days to be able to use my Portuguese mobile number, and four days for the internet installation. The two installers spoke no English, which I expected, and when they started asking me questions I had to go get a neighbor to help. Neither Google Translate (Brazilian Portuguese) nor DeepL (European Portuguese) could tell me where the telecommunications box was located in my home. Signal strength is wonky in my townhouse, and one of my neighbors reports the same while others say they have no problem. As dear Anand, a fellow blogger, commented on this post, lack of internet and cell service can be a blessing. Yes. Truly a good thing. I’ve learned to be patient, and to embrace all the interacting IRL instead of on a screen.

Being patient…

Speaking of translating, be aware the apps don’t always get it right. I clearly need to work on the accuracy of my translated search terms. I searched for “shower curtain rings” using the Portuguese translation from DeepL. I got these results:

Is this the universe having my back, so to speak, due to the trashed “massager?”

And then there’s the need to remember to switch the translation language from Portuguese to Spanish when I’m trying to decode messages from Amazon Spain. This is what happens when you forget:

Fortunately, my order was delivered Monday, not to the moon.

I don’t have a car, and all the locals laugh when I say I will walk everywhere. I have stopped walking to the market, however, due to the many stray, large dogs. I love small dogs. Big dogs, not as much. Big, growling, mangy, menacing ones even less. I wrote here about my irrational fear of wild dogs chasing me while I walked around my new town. I knew stray dogs are a problem here, as in many countries. Turns out my crazy fear wasn’t so crazy. I’m ordering pointy trekking poles and will carry one, and a bottle of water to throw (water, not the bottle), as a deterrent. Maybe pepper spray, too. Please, oh please, don’t make me have to go there. “Nice doggy.”

My town – and all of Portugal, I believe – shuts down from 1PM-3PM every day for lunch. Utility offices shut down. Municipal offices shut down. Cell phone stores shut down. Appliance stores shut down. Business ceases for two hours every day so employees can enjoy an unhurried lunch or perhaps go home and take a nap. While this may be inconvenient for impatient expats, it sends a strong message about priorities. I love it, and learned quickly to plan my errands accordingly. Don’t worry if you forget. Here, a church bell rings at 1 (only at 1, not every hour) to remind you.


Make meeting people the number-one priority. Take the initiative. Walk up to folks. Smile! Try the language, even just a greeting in Portuguese. None of my neighbors approached me first. I approached them first with a hello. “Ola! Boa tarde. Sou a Natalie. Mudei-me dos Estados Unidos para aqui hoje. Prazer. Estou muito feliz ser aqui!”

Remember to reciprocate every kindness. I treated thoughtful neighbors to dinner, lunch, or cocktails, and bought gifts of plants or candy. Every act of kindness is a gift. Be sure to return the generosity.

Your circle of new acquaintances will expand quickly, as people then introduce you to their friends and family. My 90-year-old neighbor and his wife introduced me to a friend who lives in the neighboring town. One afternoon this friend, who doesn’t speak English, rang my buzzer to give me a dish of baked apples she’d made. She also introduced me to her cousin, a retired man who now does handyman work. He speaks Portuguese, French, and English, having lived in New York City decades ago. I got both of their phone numbers. Don’t be shy about asking for phone numbers. I offer my number first. As a sozinha (solo) midlife woman, I find these connections are critical for my peace of mind. I know people here now. I can, and do, call someone if I need help. I am not alone.

Bring essential items with you in case you can’t get to a store immediately. There were things I didn’t want to wait to shop for, so I brought them with me to hit the ground ready to go in my furnished rental. Magnetic door screens, Clorox wipes, roll of toilet paper, quick-dry towel and washcloth, sheets and mattress cover, travel pillow (if not a standard bed pillow), Swiss army knife, nuts and granola bars, and an insulated water bottle. All my neighbors wanted to know where to buy the magnetic screens I brought and installed ASAP. Homes here and throughout Europe don’t have screens on windows or doors. I hate bugs, so that’s an issue for me. My magnetic screens work like a charm and I highly recommend them!

As a solo female traveler, I also always travel with a bunch of old-school rubber wedge door stops. They’re an effective extra security measure for hotel/rental unit doors. Turns out I didn’t need the door stops here. The townhouses all are equipped with automatic exterior metal shutters on all doors and windows. I love these! Not only for security, but for privacy and temperature control.

Security and privacy

I brought two checked bags and one carryon with me on the plane. The carryon and first checked bag were free. The second checked bag was $100. Not bad. After that, however, additional bags were $285 each. Instead of paying those high airline fees, I recommend ShipGo door-to-door service for shipping bags or smaller boxes. Such a convenience! Large suitcases are $240 each, and they come to your home to pick them up. They handle Customs clearance, and then deliver the bags to your door. No lugging a bunch of heavy bags through the airport. Customer service was outstanding. I shipped five additional bags, and used a first-time order discount of 15 percent. Well worth the cost!

Delivered to my door, right on time.

Finally, the most important recommendation is to keep an open mind, be patient and courteous, and remember you are in a different country. Things are not going to be the same as they were in the U.S. That’s why you left, remember? Go with the flow and keep smiling.


Moving to another country is a complex process, and information can change quickly without notice. Everyone’s experience can be different. I’m remembering to take it all in stride, stay flexible, prepared, pivot-ready, and positive. Stay tuned. Thank you for reading!

Midlife Expat Learning Posts

February: Residency visa requirements

March: Finding housing in Portugal

April: Taxes & money in Portugal

May: World Portuguese Language Day

June: Healthcare in Portugal (postponed). See Cutting expenses to move abroad

July: Voting as an expat

August: Visa application timeline and expenses

September/October: Moving, meeting folks, making friends

November: Food, shopping in Portugal

December: Christmas in Portugal

All images are my own.

The Hot Goddess

Instagram: retired_rewired_inspired

If you enjoyed this please remember to Share, Like, Follow, Comment, Subscribe. (This is my “call to action” I’m supposed to include in every post. Thanks so much for your support!)

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  1. I love how you pay attention to the universe and its fascinating synchronicities. And how you faced fear and did it anyway. You are inspiring and this post is so incredibly helpful!

    I wanna move now… 🙄

    Thank you for sharing. The pictures and accompanying stories are stunning. 💟

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much, Claudette ❤️
      I never imagined things would go like this. Never expected this generosity. I’m thrilled you found this helpful, and knew you’d relate to the universe’s messages. Mind-blowing for me. Hugs 💜

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Natalie! The signs!! Wow, I love it. It feels so good when the universe supports your decisions 💖 You’ve met so many good, generous people already; I’m so happy for you!! Staying flexible and positive is a life lesson many people need to learn 😉 I’m so invested in your journey, is that wrong? LOL I must be living my dreams through you 😍

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your support means so much! Thank you, Sharon 💜 I do feel as if I’m becoming a better person — more flexible and trusting — since starting this journey. I’m grateful for every kindness, including yours. Hugs ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Woohoo! It does sound like you made a perfect landing, Natalie! Very happy for you!!!!

    Leaving loved ones can be so difficult. When my daughter and future son-in-law left me behind to relocate to Vancouver Island, I was gutted. Little did I know then that I would end up relocating there myself, in a few years, and causing similar pain for the son I left behind. I wish he would join us here and I keep hoping that someday he will. Meanwhile, we each have to make the choices that work best for us in our own lives, right?

    Thank you for sharing 💕


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for this, Deb. Especially for sharing your story of relocating and leaving your son. You are exactly right. We all must make the decisions that work best for us. Thank you for your encouragement and inspiration. 💜

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The beginning of this post was gut wrenching especially in regards to your Mom. But the rest was a joy to read. I am so happy that things are working out for you and looking forward to reading all about your transition. 😁👍🤗🥂❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Patient, wise, adventurous, open, smart, interested in learning, funny – clearly all the things you need to be to move countries and make it work. And clearly all the things you are!!

    The tearful good-bye sounds so hard but I love the street coincidence. Yes, this adventure was in the stars for you. Love, love, love it!

    So glad to be seeing you again! XOXO!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wynne, thank you! ❤️ I have missed reading your wise and beautifully written posts. You always share a message the world needs to hear. I’m sorry I haven’t had reliable access to the internet, so am way behind on reading blogs. But looking forward to catching up and connecting again. I loved your post about waking your lucky children to gaze at the night sky together. Perfect, perfect, perfect! Hugs 🤗🥰

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I hung on to your every word Natalie ! I’m so happy for you ! Your smile is as bright as the sunshine of beautiful Portugal! You indeed belong there. Xoxo !!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hot Goddess, you look fabulous and the pics are amazing. Lisbon and Opportunity Corridor was definitely a confirmation. I call them “God Winks”! I love that you have connected with amazing people and neighbors who are taking you under their wing and being so helpful. I call these “destiny helpers”. You are blessed to have begun collecting your Portugal family and I am so happy for you! Oh yeah, it is absolutely precious that the little girl is helping you with her books. That is just pure sweetness. May the blessings and favor keep flowing over you. Best Wishes! Leigh

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Leigh! 💜 I am very appreciative of the winks and helpers! Such a wonderful feeling to be taken care of by good people. And yes, I love my little teacher and new buddy! Thank you for your kind words 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Natalie!! This all sounds so amazing. And I can’t even with the Opportunity + Lisbon intersection, that’s insanely magical! I agree too it sounds like the universe is sooooo supportive of this move, even though I’m sure it’s still so heartbreakingly painful to leave your family. But that’s what planes are for right?!?! This all just sounds so amazing and I’m so happy for you 🥰 I can’t wait to hear more, truly!! xoxoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As you described your adventure, I was there with you. I saw what you saw, ate what you ate and I could hear your voice so clearly. I love your Blogs almost as much as I love you. The photos are phenomenal and your message really made it clear that when God gives you the “green light” its meant to be. There is an Opportunity Corridor for all of us. A road paved for you, there just for you to travel down, at the perfect right time in life. I just adore how you keep your eyes wide open for all the little signs that speak to your soul and whisper…this is for you, you are enough and its okay to love yourself more than anything else. You inspire me and stir up my soul Hot Goddess. Thank you for allowing me to stay with you in Portugal. Awaken me for the next adventure. With gratitude and love ~Drea

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Congratulations on making it to Portugal!!
    As far as the stray dogs are concerned, sometimes a little piece of cheese works wonders. 😉
    Wishing you all the best as you continue to settle in to your new home.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh my goodness, Natalie! How awesome and amazing! I am so glad that you are off to such a momentous start. You are such a positive, caring person and obviously that attracts like minded people to you. ❤ I love your idea about reciprocating kindness. I try to do that as well. I love all your photos and am so happy to see you so happy. My life continue to be a wonderful adventure for you. I'm looking forward to following along! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You are a brave woman, and your courage is taking you to wonderful adventures and experiences. Hooray for you. A(retired) college friend and her husband moved from Texas to Portugal almost two years ago and they love living there.

    Liked by 1 person

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