Hey – Remember that time like a month ago when I was all: “we’re already in good shape to move abroad and it should be smooooooooooth sailing!”
It’s not that any of this is particularly hard. And it’s certainly easier for us than most of our fellow soon-to-be expats. Those folks have to do all the emotionally exhausting things we did back in 2016 – quit the job, sell the house, get rid of the stuff, leave the friends, etc. – before they can even start the to-do list we’re buried in right now.
But, inasmuch as our nomadic life has us well prepared for this next chapter, it also adds additional complexities to an already large puzzle. And this puzzle isn’t like a normal puzzle. This puzzle has a ton of pieces that randomly appear and disappear, a rule book that changes from day to day, and a tendency for people or events to come along, Real Housewives style, and flip the whole table over.
Indeed, sometimes it all feels a bit like this:
And no, I don’t think I’m “being just a little dramatic.”
Ok… maybe a tiny bit.
3 Major Goals
The way I see it, we have 3 major goals we need to complete. Within each goal are a multitude of smaller, interlinked tasks, and our progress on each affects the timing and execution of the others. So, what are the 3 main goals?
- Get our Visas;
2. Figure out how to move ourselves, our dog, and our stuff to Portugal; and
3. Sell our motorhome
Oddly, while we started work on all three of these very early, we’ve come to realize that this is one of the rare times that starting early doesn’t necessarily help. In fact, coordinating the timing of all this stuff has been the single most stressful part of the whole process – and why I keep referring to it as ‘a million moving parts.’ If you time everything right, it all works like a well-oiled machine. But if you’re off by just a tiny bit – by virtue of your own negligence, some bureaucratic snafu, or an event beyond anyone’s control – the engine seizes up and nothing works.
And the reality that things beyond our control might screw up our plans doesn’t even take into account all the things we’ve changed ourselves. Over the past six months, we’ve revised our plans with regard to when we’re going to leave, where we’re going to stay while we wait to leave, when we’ll list the RV for sale, and where we’ll live once we arrive in Portugal. And each one of these changes has had a significant impact on everything else.
Speaking of things that have a significant impact, the dog is – by far – the most complicated and expensive part of this whole undertaking. The truth is, there are so many parts of this process that, if it were just the two of us, would be no problem, but the minute you add in a 4 legged, fur covered, bed-stealing roommate, it makes things so much more difficult.
Examples? Kevin and I can walk into any hotel or Air BnB on planet Earth and stay the night. Thor cannot. Kevin and I can fly across the Atlantic Ocean on any plane that is convenient. Thor cannot. Kevin and I are generally welcome to rent any apartment in Lisbon. Thor will be excluded from the great majority of them. Kevin’s and my initial visa paperwork will allow us 90 days in which to move to Portugal. Thor’s veterinary paperwork will only be good for 10 days.
So, at every turn, we pile on complexity and we pile on costs.
Which brings me to an important – and hopefully time saving – tip for anyone thinking about doing something like this: When you decide you’re ready to move overseas, go down to your bank, withdraw all your money, pile the money on a table in front of you, and light it on fire.
It’s gonna happen anyway, so you may as well just cut to the chase.
Do I sound stressed? I sound stressed. Let’s look at a pretty picture from Lisbon to calm our nerves.
“Yes, life is good,” you are correct, Lisbon. It will all be fine.
First Things First
Anyway, before getting into our 3 big goals, I wanted to talk about a couple unrelated things we did that don’t fit into any of these categories but we thought were important.
First, we joined the “Americans & Friends PT” Facebook Group. This is THE go-to resource for all things moving to Portugal. The group is heavily moderated and offers an extensive files section that covers every aspect of moving to and living in Portugal. Of course, it’s Facebook, so the comments section can run the gamut from “extremely helpful” to “toxic waste dump of nonsense,” but as a general rule, people are helpful, all the information is there, and if you spend enough time poking around, you can find all the resources you need to get through the process.
Second, while we were in Florida, we met with an attorney to update our estate planning documents (wills, advanced directives, POA’s, etc.) and appointed his firm to handle the probate of our estate. Why? Because we are now going to have assets and obligations in two different countries, and if we both kick the bucket at the same time, whoever gets stuck dealing with our will is gonna be glad we’re dead when they find out they have to navigate the Portuguese legal system to deal with our crap.
Once we get settled in Portugal, we’ll find a Portuguese estate attorney and have her draw up appropriate Portuguese documents. I’m not sure how much the healthcare system there utilizes things like advanced directives and healthcare POAs, but whatever we’re able to do in that regard, we’ll want to do.
Third, we applied for and enrolled in Global Entry. Global Entry is a program run by the Department of Homeland Security which allows fine upstanding citizens like ourselves to bypass long immigration lines when we arrive at U.S. airports.
In order to qualify, you have to submit to a comprehensive background check and an in-person interview but assuming you’re approved, you’ll not only have Global Entry for five years (which is then renewable) but TSA Precheck for domestic flights.
Since we’ve already undergone multiple background checks over the years, we happily handed over all our information to the government once more and gave them explicit permission to go rooting around in our existence. Whereas some people defiantly fly their “Don’t tread on me” flag, Kevin and I proudly hoist our “Whatever. Just don’t make me stand in that godforesaken line” flag.
Finally, we started our language learning program. While it is true that many Portuguese people speak English, many do not, and I dread the idea of needing emergency services or medical care or some such thing and not being able to effectively communicate. Plus, if we’re moving to another country, we need to at least try to learn the language. It’s just the right thing to do.
The vast majority of expats agree with these points, however, we have spoken to many who’ve said they’ve had a hard time focusing on their studies. Turns out it’s easy to get stuck in the ‘fase de procrastinação’ once you realize you really can get by with English. And even when you try to speak Portuguese there, as soon as natives hear your accent, they usually just reply in English – which, to be honest, can be kind of demoralizing.
I know myself well enough to know if I didn’t get started far in advance, I would likely never get started at all. So, back in late Summer/early Fall I started working through the Practice Portuguese online learning platform and have continued working on it on a daily basis.
Obviously, everyone is different. Some people like high intensity, immersive classes, some like small group sessions, while some enjoy working through things independently. Fortunately, there are options for every kind of learner. While it will obviously take years to reach any level of proficiency, I’m glad I started working on it well before our move.
Back to Florida and the Beginning of our Visa Process
When I left off on our travelogue, we were just leaving our friends’ homes on the panhandle of Florida. From there, we drove to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park – a particularly beautiful state park near Destin, Florida.
While Thor enjoyed hitting the trails,
Kevin and I turned our attention to Goal #1 – Getting our visas.
Two of the big things you have to do in order to move to Portugal are obtain a NIF and set up a Portuguese bank account.
Think of a NIF as a tax ID number. It’s basically a government identification number that you use for pretty much everything in Portugal. You want to sign a lease for an apartment? You need a NIF. You want to pay your electric bill? Key in your NIF. You want to buy something in a store? “What’s your NIF?” It’s not as confidential as a social security number, but it’s a vital piece of your identification.
As for the bank account, you need one in order to show you’re serious about moving to Portugal and, when you apply for your visa, you need to have enough money in it that the government will trust you can support yourself.
In the olden days, people would go over to Portugal to get their NIF and open their bank account in person. Thanks to Covid, there are now numerous ways to do these things remotely and on any budget. These include online services, full service relocation companies, immigration attorneys, and bank apps and portals.
We chose to go the attorney route because we wanted to establish a relationship with someone who could help us with other parts of the immigration process. We’ve subsequently asked her to review our lease, and we know that if we run into any unexpected issues with our visa, we have a competent, trustworthy, and responsive professional who can help us.
Both projects were painless – A couple emails, transmission of several identifying documents, a bunch of paperwork, a pile of signatures, and “voila!” – NIFs and bank accounts were done.
Upon leaving Florida, we aimed toward Red Bay, Alabama to start tackling goal #3 – selling the RV. Barney needed some TLC.
More on that next.