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Interview with Joanna – a Polish expat living in Portugal

Updated 13 May 2021

Joanna is a nomad, an online teacher and a blogger. She left her home country, Poland, almost 20 years ago. Since then, she's lived in the UK, Thailand, Vietnam, Germany, and now in Portugal. She runs her own business, OK English, where, along with seven other teachers, she teaches Polish people to speak English with confidence. On her blog, The Blond Travels, you'll find posts about living abroad, working online and travelling. She can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.

About JoannaJoanna Horanin

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I'm from a beautiful coastal town, Łeba, in the north of Poland.

Q: Where are you currently living?
A: Lisbon, Portugal.

Q: When did you move here?
A: Four years ago.

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: No, I've lived in the UK, Thailand, Vietnam and Germany before.

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved with my boyfriend.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I moved because my boyfriend found a job here.

Living in Portugal

Q: How would you rate the quality of life compared to Poland?
A: I think the quality of life is different and yet the same. I'd say that economically the country is less developed than Poland. You can see clearly that people here struggle more. However, there is more sun here, and everyone is more laid back than in my country.

Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: The winter here is terrible. The buildings don't have proper insulation, and there is no heating. So, during the winter, it's very cold inside when the temperatures drop to 5 degrees in January. I miss having heating and walking in a T-shirt around the flat in the winter.

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here?
A: I came to Portugal from Thailand, where the quality of life is so much better than in Europe. So, to me, adjusting to prices and the quality of accommodation was tough.

Q: What's the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Portugal or Poland?
A: Quite honestly, I don't know what the cost of living in Poland is, as I only go there for holiday and have never properly worked there. I moved out straight after uni. From what I can tell, life in Portugal is more expensive than in Poland.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Portugal?
A: It's OK. Lisbon has quite a good system. People that come here from London complain that the metro only goes every 10 minutes, and it's true, it's not as frequent, but it's pretty reliable. Buses are a different story. They go as they want, and there is never a proper schedule.

If you want to see the other parts of the country, it's better to have your own car because it's hard to get to the smaller places on public transport.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Portugal? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals?
A: I have private medical insurance from Cigna, and my experiences have been very good. I've only been for a check-up, and it was great. I don't know much about public healthcare here.

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Portugal?
A: Lisbon is a safe city. The areas where expats live are really safe. I haven't heard about any problems with safety.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Portugal?
A: This is my biggest problem here. As I mentioned, houses here don't have insulation and heating. Accommodation is very expensive. If you want to live in a nice flat in the centre of Lisbon, you need to pay around 1,000 euros for a one-bedroom apartment. Prices in other places are a bit lower, but the quality of these flats is often quite bad. There is a lot of humidity, and the houses here have problems with mould.

Q: Any cities, areas or suburbs you'd recommend for expats to live in?
A: Lisbon, Porto, Algarve (avoid Albufeira), Nazare and surrounds.

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 Portugal?
A: In general, Portuguese people are very open and tolerant. There is no obvious discrimination. I've only heard that Brazilian people and people from the east of Europe are discriminated against in the workplaces. They get paid less and are less often chosen for managerial positions.

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Quite easy, yes. Most of the people I know I met through Facebook groups, Meetups and Instagram.

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: Most of my friends are not Portuguese, but I do have a few Portuguese friends. I think it's good to learn some Portuguese first and be open to chatting to people. The locals here love talking to others.

Working in Portugal

Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process?
A: As Poland is a part of EU, I didn't need any of it. I only had to get the tax number and an address confirmation. That was quite easy. I wrote about it all on my blog.

Q: What is the economic climate in Portugal like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job?
A: The situation here is tough. Unemployment is still very high, and it will get worse now, after the pandemic. Many people look for work before they come here. If you are a programmer or work in marketing, you have chances of getting a job in one of the startups. Check LinkedIn. For other positions, you need to know Portuguese and be prepared for a low salary.

Final thoughts

Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Lisbon or Portugal?
A: Portugal is a lovely country with some challenges. I'd say, be ready for some obstacles, but open up to people and a new culture. Learn a bit of the language, as it always helps.

►Interviewed in May 2021

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