Top 10 Midlife Firsts for the New Year in a New Country

Happy 2023! Today marks 14 weeks since I moved from the United States to Portugal as a solo midlife retiree, and I’m still experiencing a number of firsts as I continue settling in my new home. Here are the top 10 firsts for the new year:


10.

Being featured in a Conde Nast Traveler article. Chrishan Wright, founder of Blaxit Global, wrote an informative and engaging piece on moving to Portugal, and I am beyond thrilled to have been included along with a shout-out to The Hot Goddess.

Source: Conde Nast Traveler

9.

Counting down to the New Year in Portuguese. Watching fireworks over the ocean with neighbors in their 30s, while other neighbors/vacay renters shot off fireworks dangerously close to our heads. Another shocking midlife first: Staying up until 4AM.

Back to the party after the fireworks.
My New Year’s Day festive attire. Comfy slippers and robe. All day Christmas Day too. I can only take so much excitement.

8.

Hiring a private tutor for Portuguese lessons. If you’ve been following my journey to get here, you know frugality has been key to my retirement and move to Portugal. I’ve been using free and nearly free lessons and learning tools as I try to learn to speak, read, understand, and write European Portuguese, which is more difficult than Brazilian Portuguese. But now I’ve stagnated…regressed even. I’m forgetting words I used to know. To be fair, I’ve been forgetting English words I used to know for years. We call that Midlife. I’m hoping more structured, intensive lessons taught by a professional teacher will jumpstart my learning. I wanted an in-person tutor but there are none near me, so I went with an online tutor on italki. At 22€ an hour, one 60-minute private lesson a week is all I’m squeezing into my monthly budget. That’s 10 bottles of wine per lesson. Forty bottles per month. Definitely worth it, though.


7.

Successfully challenging a utility bill and getting my service contract changed. Dealing with utility company employees in the U.S. can be frustrating, and it’s no different here. I imagine it’s the same anywhere in the world. Here, I’ve had to take many deep breaths and remind myself to smile and be patient as I wade through layers of paperwork and requirements, the likes of which one might expect for…oh…say…a lung transplant. I am an immigrant in a foreign country of my choosing, so this is to be expected.

My contract for electricity service is 42 pages — in Portuguese, as you’d expect — and was emailed to me on my cell phone by an employee as I was standing at her booth setting up my account. When I questioned the instructions in the email, she reached over the counter to my phone screen and pressed a green box in the email. Ta-da! I/she had just signed the contract. When I questioned my need for an add-on SmartHome package for appliance repairs (you do not need this as a renter), she told me the contract was done but I could cancel the add-on package if I decided I didn’t want it. I just succeeded in finally getting it canceled two days ago. I knew from my research that getting utility accounts established as an expat is not easy, and many expats use the services of relocation consultants to get this done. I realize there are things I could’ve done differently, but you better believe I am proud as hell of fixing this one little thing. Celebrate the tiny wins, people!

Cheers to successfully getting a contract changed!

6.

Experiencing an earthquake. No, not really. I slept through the shaking of Lourinha’s tiny 3.4 earthquake, but folks here who felt it were all abuzz.

The day before the tiny 3.4 shake felt in Lourinha.

Source: http://www.volcanodiscovery.com/earthquakes/portugal

5.

Experiencing a hurricane. No, it was not a hurricane! Portugal isn’t plagued by hurricanes like the coastal U.S. I believe it was a wet microburst that sent me to take cover in an interior bathroom as the loudest wind I’ve ever heard pulled at the closed metal shutters and glass doors of my townhouse overlooking the ocean. Power went out briefly, and water poured in under one door but damaged nothing. It was over in less than 10 minutes, if that, and nothing was broken. Locals told me this kind of thing is very rare here.

I didn’t see the microburst coming, unlike this storm in December, which brought rain but no extra-strong wind.

4.

Visiting a hair salon, where nobody speaks or understands English. I know every midlife goddess out there will understand that this is 100 percent on par with going to a surgeon who doesn’t speak your language. Yessiree. I made slides on my phone, with photos and Google-Translated phrases. Google Translate uses Brazilian Portuguese and this was a Brazilian stylist. My hair turned out the way I wanted — straight, so I could cut it myself after watching YouTube pixie haircut tutorials — and the salon visit cost only 15€ for a wash, blow-dry, and flat-iron finish.

What the heck? You should’ve seen me rushing to Google Translate this jar when I realized the non-English-speaking stylist had put this stuff on my hair.
At home, fresh from the salon. Still wearing my prescription shades because I thought I’d left my other glasses at the salon as I was rushing to grab my phone to translate that product jar.

My DIY pixie haircut, on the other hand, did NOT turn out the way I wanted. I’ve booked another visit to the salon. In the meantime, there’s always my peruca.


3.

Starting online dating. Tinder and Bumble are popular here in Portugal, and I was surprised at the large number of over-50, over-60, and over-70 men on these platforms looking for serious relationships. There are Portuguese men, obviously, as well as expats here from all over the world. Chatting with Portuguese men online is a great language-practice tool, by the way. I have too many stories to share here. There are a couple blog posts on midlife expat dating in the works for February, so be sure to check back.

Oh lordy… (city blacked out)
One of my in-person dates included a stroll through this park in Caldas da Rainha.
At first glance, this looked like a beautiful, grand estate.
But when you got up close, it was something else — right out of American Horror Story.
Was this a dating message from the universe?
The building was a long-abandoned school. Bulletin boards still displaying student artwork lay toppled on the floor. The art looked too fresh and new, though. Out of place. Creepy.

2.

Renting a car from a local shop in the village. All cars here have manual transmission and I only know how to drive an automatic. The owner didn’t blink an eye when I told him this, and that a friend would be driving the car. No extra-driver charge or additional paperwork or verification. No contract or reservation number; just, “OK, we’ve got you on the schedule.” Maybe the utility companies should have a talk with him. Cost: 45€ for a 5-passenger car for 24 hours.


1.

Upcoming SEF immigration interview. This is the big one and most important part of the residency process. The D7 Visa is just the first step that gets you into the country, and it’s good for four months. After you arrive, you then must meet with SEF immigration officials in person to obtain your resident card, which now is good for two years and is renewable up to five years. At five years you can take a language test and apply for citizenship.

Most expats have reported long waiting times for getting their SEF interview appointment, which is assigned and stamped on your visa. Other expats I know who came here from the U.S. around the same time I did don’t have their appointments until May or June, long after their visas expire. This is very common, though, and as long as you have a scheduled appointment in the SEF system you’re OK. I am ecstatic to have my appointment this month. Getting my resident card is necessary for enrolling in Portugal’s free healthcare program (as a supplement to SEF-required private health insurance), and for officially changing my address on a number of official platforms. This is huge!

Be sure to check out my first Midlife Expat Learning post of 2023 later this month, when I’ll walk you through my SEF interview prep and experience.

My hair-mishap hat and I will be all smiles after my SEF immigration interview.

I hope the start of 2023 finds you smiling too!

All images are my own except as noted.

The Hot Goddess

Instagram: retired_rewired_inspired


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38 comments

  1. I don’t know where to begin. You covered so much and appear to have been successful at all of them except perhaps the hair, but even that was a well done effort and a great learning experience. There is a good reason I wear my hair long. Congratulations on all your successes including the days in robes and slippers. You know exactly what you need.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I hear you on the ease of keeping longer hair trimmed. I love how you see everything as a learning experience. That’s exactly what they are.
      Happy New Year to you and your family, Jennifer ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I just love this post. 💗

    Congratulations on all the small – and big – milestone successes in making your dreams come true!

    Many of us can take a page from your book of life and be inspired to take a step into making our dreams a reality. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Happy New Year! 🥂

    Claudette

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Congrats Natalie! Being featured and a shout-out from the Conde Nast Traveler is super cool. Brilliant top firsts, overall. LOL about 10 bottles of wine per lesson. 😀 What a brilliant share of your firsts. Thanks for the laughs, and good luck with your SEF immigration interview. All the best for 2023!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Khaya! ❤️ Cheers to the cost of learning🍷😁. Fingers crossed for my interview. I keep reminding myself that everything has turned out great so far so I need to just trust it will continue to. Wishing you a fulfilling and happy 2023! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Natalie! So many great firsts 🙂 Congrats on the Conde Nast article and I had to chuckle about the first date… you are so brave!!! Sorry your hair cut didn’t turn out how you planned but you do look really great in that hat LOL Boa sorte on the SEF interview!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Woohoo! It sounds to me as if you are settling in well! It’s really good to hear.

    I’m having stateside hair adventures. I’ve cut my own, very curly hair for more years than I can remember as a cost cutting measure. Menopause and grey is changing the texture and thinning it out, so my DIY haircuts aren’t coming out as well as they have in the past…time for yet another deep dive into “how to” YouTube videos.

    I’m looking forward to hearing about the dating adventures and your interview!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I am going to meander my way through your post and your featured article today. There is a lot of wonderful things to enjoy! Congratulations on the article! 👏🏻 Thank you for sharing your incredible journey with us. Wishing you a healthy and adventurous year. Love the slippers, Natalie. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

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