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Interview with Bob – an American expat living in Portugal

Updated 5 Mar 2020

As a lifelong entrepreneur, most of what Bob Burrows has done in the past has had a profit motive. He's now writing for fun and he hopes that feeling is conveyed in his blogs. Prioritising quality of life over profit seems to be the theme in Portugal, and he's trying to follow suit. He and his wife shocked their friends and family by choosing to become expats in a foreign country. Feel free to follow along with their adventures and experiences and see if this lifestyle might be appealing to you also.

Read more about expat life in Portugal in our Expat Arrivals Portugal country guide.

About BobBob Portugal

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Born in Massachusetts, grew up in Miami, went to school in Boulder, Colorado, lived in Hawaii for 28 years and in Guam for over a year, then near Portland, Oregon (Washington side) for 20 years before moving to Portugal.

Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Ericeira, Portugal

Q: When did you move here?
A: October 1, 2019

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: Yes, although I did spend some time in Thailand. Too hot to live there year-round, though. And the air is cleaner in Portugal.

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: My wife, although a tad reluctant at first, has been by my side in this adventure.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: We moved for many reasons. I wanted shorter, less dreary winters. Cost of living in Portugal is much better than in the US. Healthcare is based on people's needs, not a constant battle with insurance companies. Also, no high co-pays or deductibles. Politics is sane here, not radical left or right, a reasonable democratic-socialist government. We are retired, so we aren't competing for jobs here in our host country.

Living in Ericeira

Q: What do you enjoy most about Ericeira? How would you rate the quality of life compared to the US?
A: While I had no serious complaints about the quality of life in the US, people here prioritise quality of life. It is not an afterthought. The profit motive is secondary. We chose Ericeira to be near the beach and close to Lisbon and a major airport.

Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: We have experienced no real negatives here. Sometimes it's hard to find certain things that we are accustomed to at the grocery stores, but that's to be expected. Miss the grandkids back home, but we will visit once a year, and we will help them visit us here as often as possible. Technology has made facetime and communication rather easy.

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: No real culture shock. People are super friendly and welcoming here. Most people speak some English, especially young people. We are taking Portuguese lessons, but it's rather difficult. We'll get there, though!

Q: What's the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Portugal?
A: On average, I estimate that we spend about one-third less here. Groceries are incredibly cheap, probably half of what we used to spend. Fuel is expensive, but we purchased a fuel-efficient vehicle, and public transportation is excellent.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Ericeira?
A: Public transport is superb. We don't have a train station in Ericeira, but we do have an excellent bus system. Also, the highways are amazing and seem never to be crowded. The tolls are a bit on the high side, but it's worth it to us.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Ericeira? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals?
A: We haven't been to a doctor or hospital yet, although we hear wonderful things from our expat friends. We did have a good experience at the dentist's. Also went to an ophthalmologist shop to get my glasses fixed and they fixed them for free. We pay less than $100 a month each for excellent health insurance. We pay more than average because of our age bracket!

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Ericeira or Portugal? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Portugal is one of the safest countries in the world. Guns are banned in most situations. You might want to avoid bars in touristy areas late at night because drunk tourists are probably the biggest safety issue and annoyance.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in the city? What different options are available for expats?
A: We decided to buy new construction. The older places tend to not be well-insulated, and it can get cold and mouldy inside. Expats complain that it's often colder inside than outside, and heating bills can get rather high.

Q: Any areas or suburbs you'd recommend for expats to live in?
A: There are so many great spots! You can get super cheap properties the farther you get from the ocean. We chose to pay more to be within walking distance from the beach and only a half hour northwest of Lisbon. I recommend touring the country and experiencing as many places as you can. Ericeira called to us, but we have friends in Setubal, Obidos and Caldas da Rainha. We also enjoyed Nazare, which has great restaurants and the biggest surfable waves in the world!

Meeting people and making friends

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Ericeira?
A: The locals are incredibly tolerant. Unfortunately, the influx of foreigners has made housing more expensive for locals, and that is a problem. We have experienced no discrimination. The Portuguese people have gone out of their way to help us.

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: We have made friends very easily. Guilty to say that it has been mostly among expats, but I suppose that is to be expected.

Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: We have made a few local friends but, naturally, cultural differences and language barriers make that more difficult than making friends among expats. My advice to make new friends among the locals is to get familiar with local foods, attend cultural events and learn Portuguese. Fluency is not required, but the effort is important.

Working in Ericeira

Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: We didn't need a work permit because we are retired. There was a lot of paperwork and documentation required. There's also a minimum income level required, but it is not excessive. I would suggest joining expat groups to learn from other people's mistakes. Requirements do change often, so you need to keep current. But mainly, you just need to take it step by step and put one foot in front of the other.

Q: What is the economic climate in the city like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: If you are needing a job in Portugal, you may have an uphill struggle. Wages are relatively low compared to what you will find in the US. However, there are a lot of digital nomads here. If you can figure out an online business, you can live anywhere!

Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in the city or country? Did you have any particularly difficult experiences adapting to local business culture?
A: Portugal tends to be somewhat bureaucratic, so I could see where running a business could be a challenge. There is always a lot of paperwork. Also, there is a tendency for appointment times to be more of a suggestion. On the consumer side, it took me a while to get used to businesses closing for an hour or two in the early afternoon.

Family and children

Q: How has your spouse or partner adjusted to your new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: Wives tend to want to make a house a home right off the bat. I notice that our cushions seem to be procreating like rabbits. Also, my wife is more adventurous than me, and that is a good thing. We get out and do more things than I would if I was alone. No sense in moving somewhere and not experiencing all the wonders that a new place with old history has to offer.

Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for them during the move?
A: Our children are grown, but our grandchildren are excited to be coming out to visit later this month! And we are excited to see them. Speaking with younger couples who have kids, it is amazing how easily children adapt.

Q: What are your attractions and activities in the city?
A: Even though we bought a car, we also recently bought a monthly transport pass. This allows us to hop on trains and buses and trolleys without digging for change. We are starting to take advantage of it by exploring more of Lisbon and Sintra and Cascais, all fun and interesting places. So many things to do and see!

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: We met another expat couple while hiking a trail up from a beautiful beach. They moved here two and a half years ago when their son was nine years old. He has made many Portuguese friends in school and speaks fluent Portuguese without even an accent. The schools are good. Bullying is more of a rarity here. Children are incredibly adaptable, probably more so than adults.

Final thoughts

Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Ericeira or Portugal?
A: Start learning Portuguese as soon as possible. Make sure it is Portugal Portuguese and not Brazilian Portuguese. Also, make sure your passports are up to date. Join as many expat groups as you can to learn from others' experiences (mistakes). Get your finances sorted out. We sold everything to make this move. We didn't ship anything here because we figured we could replace everything once we got here.

We did bring our computers, however. For most of you, I would recommend not buying fancy camera equipment. They are cumbersome and unnecessary in most cases. Unless you are a professional, the camera on your phone should be more than sufficient.

We were attached to some of our artwork. We got rid of the frames, rolled them up and got them reframed here. Cheaper that way! Above all, when you arrive, please respect the Portuguese people and their culture. You are a guest here, and the Portuguese people have big hearts.

►Interviewed March 2020

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