Ho, Ho, Ho in Portugal ~ 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.

Happy holidays! Christmas Eve day marked 12 weeks since I moved to Portugal. Now that I’ve been living in my new home for three months, I’m going to wrap up the Midlife Expat Learning series with:

  • a brief peek at Christmas in Portugal
  • a quick recap of my spending as a new expat
  • a snapshot of food here.

Ho Wow! Christmas in Portugal

I’ve had a wonderful time exploring more of Portugal with friends visiting from Cleveland. They’ve been a joy to host as experienced international travelers and house guests who get it.

In addition to my little beachside village and the nearby town of Lourinha, we visited Lisbon to the south, and then headed north to Costa Nova, Aveiro, Porto, and Coimbra. Portugal’s Christmas markets and displays don’t compare to those in other European cities. I saw little glitz and glam, which I appreciate. Many Portugal towns are conserving energy, opting for minimal lighting displays during limited hours. What a welcome change.

In Lourinha, there were more dinosaurs than people on the streets at night, when simple lighted displays were turned on for a few hours.


Lisbon’s Christmas markets, malls, and squares were alive with holiday spirit.

Nothing says Christmas like a sexy pina colada and a slice of pizza!

In Porto, no holiday display can compete with Livraria Lello, billed as the most beautiful bookstore in the world and an inspiration for the Harry Potter series of books.


Coimbra was Portugal’s capital from 1139 to 1256. The city is famous for its university, which was founded in 1290 and is one of the oldest in Europe. Coimbra also features an aqueduct built in 1570, on the site of an ancient Roman aqueduct.


The colorful striped homes of Costa Nova need no holiday lighting.

The colorful striped painting originated on tiny fishermen cottages along the beach.

Aveiro is called the Venice of Portugal, with its canals and gondolas.

Star displays add a festive touch along the waterfront for Christmas.

Ho What? Spending in Portugal

One of the reasons Portugal is a popular draw for retirees is the low cost of living here. My monthly expenses for housing, food, utilities, transportation, and health insurance total approximately $1,940. I live in a three-bedroom townhouse overlooking the ocean, in a small farming village on the Silver Coast. Living in a larger city is more expensive.

(Note: My expenses for food and utilities are based on a three-month average that reflects hosting houseguests for 21 days. My solo expenses will be lower going forward.)

I wouldn’t trade this for city life for anything!

It’s also important to budget for extras, such as thank-you and holiday gifts for new friends and neighbors. I’ve spent approximately $500 on Christmas gifts, thank-you gifts, and food/drink to show my gratitude to kind people here over the last three months. A small price to pay for such generosity.

I budgeted $3,000 for the initial set-up of my furnished home. This included completely equipping the kitchen; stocking pantry, laundry, and cleaning supplies; buying additional interior furniture and lighting; furnishing two outdoor spaces; and buying bedding, towels, pillows, mattress, electronics, rugs, plants, wall art, and curtains. I also had the existing upholstered sectional sofa professionally cleaned. Because I hosted a visiting friend for two weeks soon after I arrived, my initial set-up expenses were higher and I did go over budget my first month, but the extra purchases would’ve been necessary eventually.

More needs to be done, but for now I’m good with some pictures and plants for a simple, clean aesthetic that reflects my minimalist mindset. Like Portugal’s holiday decorations, less is more.

This guestroom wall hanging is hung with Velcro. Here’s hoping nobody is sleeping there if it falls.
A collection of my photography holds special meaning for me, and was easy to display with inexpensive IKEA frames.
What took me so long to discover artificial plants? Game-changer!

Ho K! Food in Portugal

I’m just going to say it. Cock is big here. Not only is rooster a ubiquitous symbol of Portugal, but phallic cocks seem to be everywhere. In sculpture…and in food.

This bakery in Porto sells penis-shaped pastries. Cream-filled. They also offer vagina-shaped sweets as well. The shop was closed when we visited.

Sweets of every shape, size, and type dominate here in Portugal.

In Portugal there is no such thing as too much coffee. Strong coffee. Any time of day or night. Coffee. Is. King.
The country is known for its egg custard tart pastries, pastel de nata, but I prefer bolo de arroz (rice cake).
Almond cakes

Seafood is another prevalent specialty here.

This seafood and rice stew was chock full of huge prawns and chunks of monkfish. The pot was more than enough for six large servings, and cost 42 euros at a local eatery in Aveiro.
Dried, salted cod is called bacalhau and it’s a national specialty. These large slabs appear to have been marked up to nearly 20 euros each.
Local fish markets sell a large variety of seafood which, to my surprise, is not inexpensive.

I spend about 260 euros a month at the grocery store, which also sells wine and liquor, and delivers to my door for free with orders of 90 euros or more. I spend approximately 130 euros a month on dining out, which is important to do for socializing.

Fruit and vegetable stands are everywhere, with varying quality. I’ve found my local grocery store has comparable prices for quality local produce.
A holiday meal of BBQ ribs, macaroni and cheese, and local mixed greens. Two large racks of pork ribs totaled 15 euros at the butcher counter in the grocery store.
A grocery store take-n-bake fresh pizza, topped with local arugula, and served with a glass of white wine.

Total cost: less than 4 euros
Store-bought fresh ravioli topped with store-bought pasta sauce, served on a bed of local spinach, with a glass of white wine.

Total cost: 4.25 euros

Christmas Eve day at home, with a bottle of Cleveland Whiskey Christmas Bourbon from my hometown in the U.S.

Cost: $35 a bottle

Stay Tuned

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!


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Boas Festas e Feliz Natal. This is the last post for 2022 on The Hot Goddess. Thank you for reading and subscribing all year. I appreciate your support and hope to see you back here in 2023.


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/December: Food, spending, Christmas in Portugal


All images are my own.

The Hot Goddess

Instagram: retired_rewired_inspired


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33 comments

  1. What a great tour! Thank you, Natalie! That bookstore is beautiful – I can see how it got its reputation!! Merry Christmas and I look forward to seeing how you continue the adventure in 2023!! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s amazing how much you’ve done and seen in a short time Natalie! You seem very happy with your new home and life. Kudos! The old-world architecture and coast life appeal to me as well. Happy belated Christmas and New Year. 😊

    Like

  3. Oh Natalie! What a gorgeous post 😍 I love all the pictures but one in the first group (with the Monica store) made me want to walk right into that scene. LOVE.THAT.PIC!!! Something about that street is just calling to me ❤

    The food you shared looks delicious and I’m still chuckling about all the phallic references 😂 It feels so special to have you share all these experiences – I’m definitely living through you!!

    Like

  4. Having visitors from your hometown was perfect for your first Christmas in Portugal. Monthly expenses of less than $2,000 while living in a large oceanfront condo is quite a feat. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    Like

  5. Love it, what a beautiful place and you seem to be doing real well, which is great!!! Wishing you all the very best of everything, happy New Year Natalie, beautiful post xo

    Like

  6. So happy to hear that things are going well your hotness, lol. My thoughts lately have involved possibly relocating.
    Scary for me, but everything keeps pointing to it being time for a change. Thanks for keeping us updated.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m obsessed … I read a recent Condé Nast article on retiring in Portugal and saw your blog referenced. That was early this afternoon. I’m 3 posts in on your blog. LOVE. I’ve been thinking about a move for a few years, as I start to get ready for retirement. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, experiences, and photos.

    Liked by 1 person

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