The Fabulous, Wonderful, So Good, Very Awesome Day (and Weekend) in Portugal

Nothing could beat the day I made it to the SEF office in Espinho, Portugal, and finally retrieved my resident card — on International Women’s Day no less! But then, this happened.

One day after returning from the Algarve Smooth Jazz Festival in southern Portugal with a grown-folks hangover, I walked 5 km to town to take care of three items of business:

  • Opening an account at a new bank
  • Changing to a new cell phone plan with my same provider
  • Signing up for Portugal’s free public healthcare system, Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS).

Two of these — bank and healthcare — required the resident card that had been the highlight of my previous best-day ever.


Bank. I had to open a bank account in Portugal from the U.S. before I could even submit my Residency Visa application last year. All Portuguese banks charge monthly fees, and now that I’m here and have my resident card, I wanted to switch to a different bank with (slightly) lower fees and better customer service. I was paying 8€ a month in maintenance fees. I wanted 5€ or less. I’d put this off long enough.

A nice breeze was a bonus that kept me cool as I walked down the soil and sand cliff path and through farm fields in the bright midday sun to reach the bank. When I entered the building I found there was hardly any wait. Another bonus. I answered questions displayed on a tablet in the lobby, describing why I was there, and then another machine spat out a numbered ticket. In less than 10 minutes a bank representative came and took me back to his desk. Awesome. Except…

I was there for two full hours. Two hours and five minutes, to be exact. The bank representative who helped me spoke some English, but not enough to adequately explain all the banking plan options and requirements. Apparently, the bank no longer offered a special, low-cost account for senior citizens. The fact that I thought this was bullshit facilitated by a language barrier admittedly tacked on an extra 20 or so minutes as I tried to argue, politely and respectfully, in Portuguese without sounding too much like the vexpat I was becoming. I used Google Translate’s camera to translate some documents. I spoke Portuguese, read Portuguese, and wrote a few words in Portuguese to confirm I understood what the bank employee told me. He smiled and chuckled a bit as I mangled my sentences, but he understood me. This bank offers a 5€ a month option that adds on fees every time you touch your money, or breathe. A 6€ a month account does away with the added fees but requires a ridiculous minimum balance. They have an €8 a month option — the same as my first bank — that frees you from add-on fees and balance requirements. The process went relatively smoothly, if not quickly. Imagine, oh, getting approval to fly a space shuttle. Or requesting a face transplant. Yeah, like that.


Phone. After leaving the bank, I only had to cross the street to go to my mobile phone provider. Again, a machine printed a numbered ticket for me. Only one person was ahead of me. After a brief wait, I was summoned by a representative. He spoke English, and I simply showed him a screenshot from the company’s website of the plan I wanted. Because I’m an existing customer I didn’t have to show any documents. After waiting for the system to reboot, there was more, lots more, paperwork to sign. Then, additional paperwork to switch autopayment of my bill to my new bank account. Here again, donating bone marrow may involve slightly less paperwork.

Mobile phone companies here lock you into two-year contracts for their advertised rates. But the consumer is the only one locked in. The companies can raise the contracted rate by a certain percentage, and there’s nothing the consumer can do about it. Because I didn’t  want a two-year contract when I arrived last year, I paid more for fewer services but was still locked into a one-year contract, for which the company increased the rate by 7.8 percent this year. Now that I know I’m staying put, I switched to a cheaper, two-year plan that now includes faster Internet, cable television service, and a landline with free international calling on weekends. It also includes unlimited MMS texting. My former plan only included SMS texting. This is a critical point that I failed to realize when I signed the contract. SMS is plain text. An emoji is MMS, as is any photo, GIF, meme, or avatar. MMS texts are 25 cents. 🤬 That’s why nearly every Portuguese person I know uses WhatsApp to text. For now, my new plan costs 74.99€ a month for unlimited mobile calling, texting, data, Internet/Wi-Fi, 140 TV stations, and a landline if I want it. That’s up from a 60€ a month promo they were running when I got here last October. Oh well.


Centro de Saúde (Health Center). Shocker: What I expected to be the longest, most complicated process turned out to be the easiest and fastest of all, with only one form. This cannot be done online. You must visit a local public health center to get your SNS number. I walked into my village’s health center, took a number, and waited less than five minutes for one person ahead of me. The woman behind the counter did not speak English. I told her, “Queria fazer um aplicação para um número SNS, por favor.” She asked me for my resident card, passport, phone number, and email address. She typed the information into a computer, getting my address and NIF tax number from my resident card. She photocopied my resident card and passport, then returned them to me with a stamped printout of my information and new SNS number. That was it. I was enrolled in Portugal’s free public healthcare in under 20 minutes. I also have private health insurance that’s required by SEF to get a resident card. Having both is recommended and gives me many options for care. For example, should I ever need it, all cancer treatment is free under Portugal’s public health system.

Ta-da! I’m now in the public health system.

Getting these little — and not so little — things done by myself in a foreign country is a real confidence-booster. Once you know where to go and what to bring, it’s fairly easy.

I left home walking to town before noon that day and got back home at 5PM, having accomplished everything I’d set out to do. I ended up taking a taxi home from the village center because I was too lazy tired to walk another 5 km — this time uphill. Once I was back home, I made a platter of oven-baked-instead-of-fried bacalhau pastéis (salted cod pastries) from the freezer, served on an Asian hot chili sauce with a garlic aioli drizzle. Two glasses of sangria rounded out the celebratory lunch/dinner meal. Another sunset viewing from my backyard was later followed by a warm shower, and then bedtime with the balcony door open to the sounds of the ocean (and, I hope, no spiders). My truly fantastic day came to a delightful close. Life is good.

I love everything bacalhau. I didn’t make these from scratch, but I always put my own spin on prepared foods. They are supposed to be deep-fried, but I just rubbed them with a bit of olive oil and baked them in the oven. Loved the chili and garlic sauces. Cost for 12 of these cod pastries (enough for two meals) was about 4€. Bags of arugula and baby spinach for salads are about 1€ each.

The preceding weekend was an absolute blast! I was thrilled to see my smooth jazz faves from back in the day jamming in a beautiful, intimate venue. I met many Americans who had flown to Portugal for this signature event — one of Europe’s top jazz festivals. Here’s a little snapshot of the weekend in Albufeira, part of Portugal’s popular Algarve region. The jazz festival venue was on the massive grounds of swanky Pine Cliffs Resort.

I call this my goddess-pretending-she’s-staying-at-this-fancy-expensive-AF-resort-when-she’s-really-staying-at-a-cheap-Airbnb look.


All images are my own, except as noted.

The Hot Goddess

Instagram: retired_rewired_inspired

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  1. You deserve to feel accomplished. What a great post. I hate doing that sort of administrative stuff in my own language, you managed it all in a foreign language and only need a little sangria afterwards. Oh an that jazz festival… I am so jealous.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Finding my keys or speaking English calmly when dealing with this kind of stuff is a challenge for me these days .. You’re amazing and made it through to the magical part of the day! No pretending here .. you ARE a goddess in that beautiful photo!! ❤️happy weekend Natalie! Xo

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds like you managed through a very frustrating set of tasks (except for the SNS#) At least that’s behind you now!! Hopefully you’re all set and won’t need to deal with any other ‘big’ tasks for quite some time🥳 Your jazz weekend looks like a blast!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Man i don’t i could ever be an expat in a country that doesn’t primarily use English. All the power to you Nat, my head spins when I read what you have with for this entire process.

    Liked by 1 person

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