How much does it cost to live there?

March 26, 2019

One of the most common questions by people in the earliest stage of considering living in Portugal is about the cost of living. They’re usually sent to I’ll be able to estimate my cost of living after a few months here. Until then, and because this blog needs photos, the details of my visit to the market yesterday, converted from Euros and metric.


Sandwich Ham – 7 oz @ $.84
FRESH, juicy Strawberries – 1 lb 2 oz @ $1.80
Broccoli – 15 oz @ $1.42
Tangerines – 1 lb 3 oz @ $1.12
100% OJ – 1 qt 2 oz @ $1.51


Took this photo after the strawberries reminded me of Jar Jar Binks. Seriously.

Unexpected Risk of Liquid Bath Soap

March 18, 2019

I had life in Thailand pretty well figured out, so this is the first ‘unexpected risk’ post since 2012. New country, new unexpected risks. To explain the liquid soap risk requires understanding the combined effects of building materials and cost of electricity in Portugal.

Before applying for a visa I knew:
– Portugal has either the highest or one of the highest electricity prices in the EU.
– Older buildings have little or no insulation.
– My apartment is in an older building.
– Many expats who first try living in other provinces post online about relocating to the Algarve (southernmost, warmest, too bleeping hot in the summer for me) because their homes were either too bleeping cold or the cost of heating them was too bleeping high.
– For many expats ‘too cold’ meant having to wear more clothes indoors than they wanted to.
– The lowest cost heating method is a  pellet stove . “A pellet stove is a stove that burns compressed wood or biomass pellets to create a source of heat for residential and sometimes industrial spaces. By steadily feeding fuel from a storage container (hopper) into a burn pot area, it produces a constant flame that requires little to no physical adjustments.”.

The pellet stove is in the living room. It has been running 24 hrs a day. Its fan pushes warm air into the room, after that the temperature falls off with distance. Temps in the apartment are consistent: 21C (70F) in the living room near the stove, 20C (68F) in the Kitchen, 19C (66F) in the bedroom and bathroom, and 17C (62.5F) in the unused and closed door second bedroom.

My low cost shower technique is wait for ‘warm enough’ water, get wet, then turn the water off. The unexpected risk was squeezing 19C soap into my palm, then realizing how cold that was going to feel on the rest of my body. I had no other choice, so after remembering a saying* I first heard when rock climbing in the early ’80s, I found out just how cold it was. As I type this a small plastic squeeze bottle with enough soap for 2 showers is sitting on a table in the living room. 21C liquid soap is not a problem.

*They say falling from a great height is like taking a cold shower. As long as you keep screaming, it’s not too bad.

The Path to a Portugal Residence Visa Part 4: Success

February 14, 2019

Yesterday I received a phone call from Bangkok. Lisbon agreed with the assessment of their Bangkok embassy. Two thumbs up means I have a Residence visa. Who hoo!

Now it’s time to buy a one way ticket, prune my possessions, then head to Caldas da Rainha. I think I’m going to buy a ticket for 4 or 5 weeks from now. No doubt I could get ready faster, but doing it in low stress mode is more appealing.

First round of pruning happened last month. It was easy because I know useless junk when I see it. Actually, I knew potentially useful stuff when I originally decided to keep it, and every subsequent time I stumbled across it. Now it’s easy to see it as useless junk. Second round will be going through everything to decide in which of 4 categories to place it: Junk, Donate, Portugal Maybe, and Portugal Yes. Focus will be on Junk and Donate at first. That way as I remove those items from the apartment, it will free up storage space to physically separate the Maybe from the Yes.


The Path to a Portugal Residence Visa Part 3: The Waiting

January 29, 2019

I submitted a visa request on 4 Jan. Was told the response from Lisbon should take 6 – 8 weeks. Tom Petty once sang about how ‘The waiting is the hardest part’. I’m OK with waiting – as if I had a choice. Maybe that’s why I’m OK with it. Actually I think that having far fewer stressors now is making the waiting easy. There are only 3 stressors that matter.

Learning Portuguese is a stressor when I let it be. Mostly it’s progress with a few bumps. Developed ways to deal with those bumps when learning Spanish. Just have to remember to use them when I get frustrated.

Evaluating Portuguese banks is no fun. Using Google Translate on their pdf documents is tedious. The one saving grace is the bank I thought would be the best for me was the first one I examined. Comparing the others to it reveals their shortcomings. That’s taking less time with each successive bank as I learn what to look for first.

Lastly, evaluating private health insurance is frustrating. Maximum age for enrolling is both the first info I look for and usually the hardest to find. Like banks, insurance company sites have side by side comparisons of their various offerings. Unlike banks, too many of the insurance ones are images. Can’t copy and paste from an image into Google Translate. Given it will be 4 (at best) to 8 (I hope) weeks or more before arriving in Portugal, I reduce the stress by working on it a bit each day.

The Path to a Portugal Residence Visa Part 2: The Lease

October 28, 2018

In February I wrote my plan was to “Go without a visa, stay up to 90 days. Visit a few (currently 4 possible) towns that look good on paper. Look at apartments. Form an impression.” and “Lease something in the most promising town.”

That happened, but it took 2 trips. In the spring I checked out 6 towns. The one visited last was Caldas da Rainha. I liked it the most. Couldn’t find an apartment in the remaining 2 weeks. Returned in mid Sept, found a place 4 weeks later. It’s 50 EUR more than I’d hoped to pay, but it’s much better in many ways than I expected to find .

I fly home in 3 days. Can’t request a visa until I get new versions of 2 government documents, one from the US and one from Thailand. I got both before the spring trip. However, both must be less than 90 days old when requesting a visa. So it goes.

The Path to a Portugal Residence Visa

February 21, 2018

The story til now, but first a rant.

Gathering info about a Portuguese residence visa has had me frustrated several times an hour. Ever try to find info beyond the official offering for a visa and other essentials of a non-English speaking country? One where there are different rules for EU and non-EU citizens? One where few English speaking non-EU citizens have figured it out and left detailed notes? Where people post ‘answers’ based on how things were when they did it years ago and don’t have a clue laws have changed? Or they post ‘answers’ based entirely what they remember from other posts? I verify the important stuff because almost nobody links to authoritative sources. For what I consider critical, about half the time the conventional wisdom is wrong, at least in part.

But What About Thailand?

Been here, done that. Bored because there is nothing new. Can handle the heat but would have a better quality of life with not so hot. I can afford better or at least different. The jet lag returning from travel in Europe seemingly gets worse every time.

Why Portugal?

Friendly people. The climate of their central coast is similar to the central coast of California. Considerable cultural, geographical, climate, etc differences in a small country. Good base for exploring Europe. Less expensive then most other European countries. Seafood, Black Pork and Arabica blends of coffee beans from Brazil and former Portuguese African colonies that are to. die. for.

Bad Timing

I became aware of Portugal at the wrong time. I knew it was one of the warmer, poorer European countries. Knew I’d get around to visiting. Then the travel and expat press began promoting it as the Next Great Place. The latter no doubt was aided no doubt by an earlier decision by the Portuguese government to entice both high value workers and pensioners with no income taxes for their first 10 years.

More expats increased demand for rental housing in the Lisbon area and others to a lesser degree. The immigration service and consulates grew backlogs. Someone decided this couldn’t go on – or something like that.

Now we have to do what?!

When I began looking into getting a visa, the application required hotel reservations or an Airbnb for a month or so. Now you need a 6 month lease. That’s a tad difficult as you must apply for the visa in your country of residence. On you own, you’d have to arrange a lease using email and Skype in a language you don’t speak. For a country where most rental properties are not listed because of the high cost. For an apartment you’ve never seen. Paid for by wiring a deposit to a person you’ve never met – who might not be a landlord. No. Hell, no.

One solution is to hire an English speaking property agent who farms out part of the work to a lawyer. Or hire a law firm with English speakers who farms out part of the work to a property agent. Add money. Lots of money. Thousands of Euros. You end up with a lease, a NIF (financial number required to do just about anything involving money changing hands that isn’t at retail), probably a bank account in your name, and some other stuff that don’t matter here. Such firms seem to exist only where expats congregate: Lisbon and the Algarve region. Two of the areas where I don’t want to live. And you still haven’t seen the property or it’s surroundings.

Plan B – The TL;DR version

Go without a visa, stay up to 90 days. Visit a few (currently 4 possible) towns that look good on paper. Look at apartments. Form an impression.

Usually takes about a year to get a residence permit after entering on a residence visa. Can’t imagine buying a car before that. Compare each town’s walk-ability to my walking ability, verify the relatively flat terrain seen on maps and photos, try the tiny bus systems, and decide if riding a bicycle would be advantageous, necessary or suicidal

Business is personal in Portugal, so in each town introduce myself to property agents and whomever a law firm decides is appropriate. Lease something in the most promising town. Before my return flight make an appointment by email with the Portuguese embassy in Bangkok. Start today with something I should have started in December: learning survival level Portuguese.

Moving Slow (pun intended)

This plan means I’d still have my apartment when given the visa. Then I’d have to decide whether to keep the Hua Hin apartment for a while.  My apartment costs ~$155 a month. I wouldn’t be the only tenant who pays all year while only occupying during high season. Right now I’m thinking I’d keep it for a while. On reason is it would be nice to leave Portugal during the wettest and coldest 2 months of the first winter. Also, if living in Portugal soon turns out not to be for me, returning to Hua Hin would be my Plan B.