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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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