Looking Back … and Thinking Ahead
As the first-anniversary approaches of our initial residency permits being issued at the SEF (immigration) office in Castelo Branco and we prepare for returning to request our two-year extensions, I can’t help but reminisce and ask myself what – if anything – we would (or should) have done differently?
What nuggets of knowledge or wisdom might have made the transition from our lives as U.S. citizens in the states to Americans abroad easier, quicker, cheaper, more convenient, and purposeful?
Some things we wouldn’t change or do differently.
Like shipping our furniture, household items, and personal belongings, many people leave them behind; we didn’t and wouldn’t.
Clothing, furniture, textiles, and other cherished items collected over the years are often more expensive, even if they can be “replaced.” Not only does furniture – especially “good” furniture – cost more in Portugal and Spain than in the USA, but much of what’s for sale isn’t as well constructed.
Construction brings up the matter of housing and accommodations: Where do you want to live? In a big city? On the coast? A small town or village in the country’s interior? Along the border? Surrounded by other expats who speak your language or as a stranger in a strange land?
While we love the charm of our little village, it lacks life’s provisions, only available at stores, shopping centers, and supermarkets. Louisa also comes up short in life’s conveniences: a pharmacy, restaurant, hardware store, and lots of other shops.
We find ourselves several times a week in Alcains, a larger town only seven kilometers (not even five miles) away. These niceties and necessities – including our bank and others – are readily available.
It would help if you did your homework online and then here in person. Spend time in Facebook groups. Follow the posts, reactions, and responses carefully. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You will want to be part of an allied community, and it’s easier to network online.
Some other suggestions:
• Spend as much time (and make as many trips) as possible considering locations and looking at properties. Don’t let a property agent sell you on the electricity being off and using a cell phone flashlight to show you around. There’s too much hiding in the dark or lurking on the roof and inside the walls that you’ll regret later if you don’t see them clearly and carefully before buying (or renting).
• If you find a property that you like, before making an offer – or signing a contract – be sure to arrange for a “survey” to be done. That’s what property inspections are referred to here: surveys. And always engage an excellent lawyer to handle the purchasing process for you.
• Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Think twice about buying a used vehicle rather than a new one. Dealers are legally required to provide one-year guarantees on previously-owned cars, but you never know how they’ll respond should a problem arise … especially when that “great deal” came from a place not nearby. If the fuel injectors should go kaput where you live, how will you get that van back to the dealer for repairs?
• Consider buying new. Good deals can be found even in Portugal, where vehicles are somewhat pricier. Our brand-new Ford Tourneo Courier, for instance, came fully equipped – even with rear parking sensors – and included a seven-year worldwide warranty for just about €15,000. Similar deals are offered by other brands, too.
• Some specialties and items aren’t as cheap or readily available on this side of the ocean as in the USA. Look around at things you use regularly and take for granted. Stock up and bring with you small but vital items that don’t take up much luggage space but will make a significant difference in the quality of your lives. Example? Aspirin! Walmart sells 500 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin for just $5.97. In Portugal and Spain, you’ll get a box of only 30 for about the same price!
• Similarly, we wish we’d brought more pharmaceuticals with us. Equate’s 0.5 fluid ounce Restore Tears Lubricant Eye Drops are $1.99 at Walmart. Available only at pharmacies in Portugal and Spain, “artificial tears” costs about five bucks for a smaller size. Prilosec – or its generic, Omeprazole – isn’t available in Spain or Portugal without a doctor’s prescription, but you can buy 42 tablets at Costco for $13.49.
• Plastic lids (can covers or tops) preserve freshness after opening a can. They’re universally a standard size … but we can’t find them anywhere in Spain or Portugal. Sure, you could use aluminum foil or plastic wrap, but there’s something uncanny and indispensable about secure lids.
• Nutritional supplements like garlic pills and Red Yeast Rice to reduce cholesterol are also expensive. A bottle of garlic pills runs €12 for 90 at the shopping center’s health store vs. $5.94 at Walmart for 200 “softgels,” while Red Yeast Rice will set you back €18.27 ($21) online.
• After a good deal of hide-and-seek, we’ve managed to find most of the grocery items and foodstuffs we use and prefer … but not crushed red pepper. Nowhere. Had we known, a few bottles would discretely have been stuffed in our baggage between our other belongings, along with some natural vanilla extract.
• Don’t forget that the move will also impact your pets. A change in diet and environment is bound to affect them. We have found that adding boiled chicken breast (minced) with lots of steamed orzo along with tablespoons of freshly stewed squash to their dry and moist dog food helps them achieve a more consistent and productive output.
Much will be different over here than back there.
But that’s why you’re moving.
Trust me: You will adapt to many things you thought you couldn’t … and you’ll even develop a taste for the more robust, more full-bodied coffee beloved by the Spanish and Portuguese!
From my new book, EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good
I’d be willing to send you some items if you want. Just let me know.
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