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!”

Yeah.

About that.

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:

M.C. Escher

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?

  1. 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.

Portuguese building tiles with an intricate blue and yellow pattern
To use a more Portuguese metaphor, take one tile and turn it 90 degrees, and the whole effect is lost.

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.

Kevin opening a box of dog treats and toys with Thor looking on
Even things as simple as eating are more complicated. Kevin and I can grab a bite to eat anywhere, anytime. In order for Thor to get his normal (prescription) food, we’ll need to get an appointment with a veterinarian as soon as we arrive. (And no, he shouldn’t have his paws up on the counter, but whatever. He’s adorable.)

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.

Colorful residential buildings in Lisbon with a sign that says "Yes, life is good."

“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.

Portuguese plaza with fountains, sculptures, and ornate buildings in the background

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.

Colorful umbrellas hung overhead
Always gotta prepare for a rainy day…

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.

3 Global Entry kiosks
With Global Entry, we can use these machines rather than stand in line waiting for an immigration officer

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.

Large restaurant menu with descriptions in Portuguese and English, as well as photographs of the food.
Hang out in the more touristy areas, and they’ll make it incredibly easy for you to get by with only English.

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,

Thor walking down a trail in a pine forest

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.

49 COMMENTS

  1. Just keep thinking about those €1.10 glasses of wine and that will calm you, too!! I’ll be busy stressing about Thor’s paws on the counter! 😂🤣😂

    • Those amazing drink specials are absolutely sustaining me these days!!! And don’t worry, I go through gallons of 409 in this place! 🙂

  2. Woah, take about a lot of moving parts! Where do you even begin?

    It appears you have a detailed and well thought out plan, we are looking forward to reading about your journey!

  3. Someday, you’ll look back on all these moving parts, sip your wine and laugh. Bureaucracy is always a web. Wishing you a smooth transition when the timing is right!

    • Thank you, Laura. Bureaucracy is always exhausting and, from what we understand, Portuguese bureaucracy puts all the other forms to shame. So, I think we’ll have our hands full, but you’re right about that wine. We just gotta give it time and things will settle down.

  4. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Paul and Nina’s move to France with sweet Polly, I knew just a little about what complications Portugal might mean for you — but OMG — that paragraph about “withdraw all your money and set it on fire!” Nearly spit out my morning coffee I was laughing so hard — my 6 month puppy came running over to me (distracted from chewing up his little crate towel) and was very concerned due to all the laughter and commotion. Well, of course Thor is worth it and you wouldn’t do anything else BUT what diffences in options we face with our dogs present! Yes, keep looking at those pretty little Lisbon pictures — I think it will all work out but hang on for the ride, right? I’ll certainly be along for the “vicarious” ride.

    • Thank you, Cindy. I, too, have been following Nina and Paul for years, and immediately went and reviewed her “moving to Europe” series when we got this Portugal idea. You’re so right about the pets issue. Once you add them to the mix, they complicate everything, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We do, however, routinely turn to Thor and say “You are expensive!” He just stares at us like he owns the place. Which he basically does.

      Anyway, I’m sure a 6 month old puppy is keeping you busy! They’re so much fun but they’ll keep you on your toes! Enjoy every minute!

  5. And here I am stressing about a 4 1/2 month road trip., LOL. Thanks for the reality check! Seriously, that is a LOT of moving parts, and trying to coordinate all of the parts so that everything fits together at the right time sounds complicated and stressful. This is a huge life change and an enormous project, and you guys have made a lot of progress. Thanks for giving us some insight into what you’re going through. Should we ever decide to follow in your footsteps, we’ve already gathered up our money and set it on fire in the form of a house renovation. Does that count? And hey! Thor looks adorable checking out the Chewy box! It’s his stuff and he knows it. Big hugs to you three.

    • Thanks, Laurel. It’s nice to write these things out to organize my own thoughts and, honestly, it’s kinda therapeutic to vent a bit. It’s definitely a lot to think through and a lot to handle. Any big transition is, as you well know, and taking on any of these kinds of projects from an already nomadic existence really adds to the complexity. But, we know our strengths and weaknesses as a couple and I think it’s been good for Kevin and I to kind of “divide and conquer” the tasks based on what we’re each good at (and willing to put up with.) And then there’s Thor… who really needs to start pulling his weight around here. 🙂

  6. Wow lots of parts. My daughter in law is from Spain she probably had to do similar things to get to the USA. But it was only her. Good luck. Bon voyage

    • Thanks, Cathy. Yes, as I understand it, immigrating into the U.S. is no picnic. Lots of hoops to jump through and bureaucratic aggravations. Plus, plenty of waiting. Moving overseas, no matter what directions you’re going, is stressful for sure, but we’re reasonably optimistic it will all be worth it in the end. Stay well!

  7. Hey, nobody ever said moving to Portugal was easy (except maybe those 1 million dumb personal finance articles about seamlessly retiring to low-cost Portugal). But you’re tackling everything very methodically so you know it’s eventually going to be done and it will be done right. I think it’s particularly good to get a head start on the language learning since it’s easy to skip over that closer to the move date when you are in the midst of packing, buying plane tickets, etc. I will just reiterate the (unsolicited) advice we already gave you guys: spend your first 6 months in Portugal unwinding, trying ALL the tapas bars, finding good parks for Thor to terrorize the squirrels, and soaking in the scenery. You will very much deserve a break after all the hassle of moving.

    • I still just can’t believe those CNBC/USAToday/People articles lied to us. I was so sure we’d be able to just show up, rent a 4 bedroom beachside villa for $8.00 per month and live happily ever after. Dammit!

      Yep, it’s a lot of work and a lot of stress and a lot of money, which makes your advice even more sound. Once we get settled in – just chillax for a bit. No travels, no guests, no running around. Just live life and enjoy. We will most certainly do our best to do exactly that.

  8. Thanks guys…per usual, love, love your posts!! 👏👏. Thanks for the Fb lead for Portugal info…we have talked about this same move for many years. Little easier for us…retired and no pets. We love Thor and get your caution to have everything lined up for him. Looking forward to your next installment 🍾😄

    • Oh wow, I didn’t know this was something you guys might be interested in! That’s great! At some point, when things settle down, I intend to redesign this website and put some of the other resources we’ve found in an easy to access place. Hopefully it will come in handy. In the meantime, that Facebook group is the best place to get started. And I’ll be sure to document all the good and bad as we go through the process. We do enjoy being a cautionary tale. Ha!

  9. Dang….do we have to wait a WHOLE month to get the next chapter?

    I/We wait with bated breath!

    It’s clear you and Kevin have project management experience. Just keep your eye on the success criteria…it’ll pay off!

    Best!

    • Haha… I know, I know… my blogging has gone to hell in a handbasket the last couple months. We’ve been kind of busy, you know. 🙂 But I will get back to it. I swear!! Hope you’re doing well, Lisa!

  10. Ummm, I did wonder how complicated it would be for Thor. I’m sure you will work it all out. As for burning that money pile all at once, I personally think you should spread it out a little. 🙂 Best wishes as always, and keep us groupies updated!

    • Yep, Thor is absolutely making this tough. Of course, if he had his way, we’d be moving to a farm in Vermont, so I guess it’s only fair that we have to deal with some aggravation too. Thanks for your support, Tami!

  11. Well, that was a story! Wow, and just think, you have just started the process. LOL. So much more to come. Love hearing from you and keeping up with your upcoming (or is that current) adventure. I thought preparing for a few months in Mexico was complicated, but moving to Portugal has that beat by miles. Carmen and I are watching your move since someday we hope to stop traveling via our Airstream and spend a few years overseas at various places, maybe a month or three at a time at a location. Thanks for continuing to share your life with us. Jim

    • Thanks, Jim. If you’re interested in the shorter term international living, you might want to check out the blogger/author Lynne Martin. Her blog is Home Free Adventures, and her book is Home Sweet Anywhere. They chronicle her and her husband’s travels overseas – staying in Air BnBs for a couple months at a time. He has since passed away and I think she’s settled down in the U.S., but their form of traveling was really appealing for a lot of reasons, and they explored some really stellar places. Definitely worth a read when you get some time…

  12. That Portuguese food looks reasonably priced, but NO JALAPENOS! When I see Thor with his Chewy box, all I hear in my head is “The peanut butter box is heeeere, the peanut butter box is heeeeere” from one of their latest commercials. I wholly appreciate a mountain of self-inflicted stress from past shared experiences and present circumstances, but also know the goal can be rewarding. I don’t know if you’ll actually look back someday and laugh, but surely, someday you’ll be able to enjoy your new home and not look back at all!

    • It’s funny – those Chewy boxes definitely have a smell to them. We got one yesterday with his normal flea and tick meds in it, and he immediately started sniffing around like crazy – even though there were no fun treats in it. He knows good stuff comes from that place!

      Anyway, I know you know all about the joys of dealing with these many moving parts all at once, and I am hopeful we’ll both be able to look back in a few months and appreciate just how far we’ve come. It would be nice to hit the fast forward button, but hopefully it will all be worth it in the end.

  13. There’s so many retire abroad articles on the travel blogs that make it seem so easy to just pack up and move … and enjoy! You really bring to life the reality of the process.
    My brother has a home in Mazatlan. Altho there are some hoops to jump through his FM3 resident process was really pretty straight forward.
    I sure hope your puzzle of paperwork comes together soon, you really seem to have an organized approach.

    • Thanks, Jeff. It’s definitely not as easy as those blogs and magazines make it out to be. That being said, the visa process itself hasn’t been THAT bad. It can be opaque and we’ll be stressing out while we await their decision, but at least gathering the documents we’ve needed hasn’t been too terrible. It’s more the complications with the dog and doing all of this from an RV – not knowing how long to hold onto the RV, having interim accommodations, etc. that has really added to the mix. But, we’re trying to stay organized and methodical and using professionals where it makes sense, so… one day at a time…

  14. Well, all I can say it, glad you guys have “law” backgrounds. Once done with the prerequisites, it will be smooth sailing (oops-flying). Is Thor learning Portuguese also?

    • Haha, of course! So far, I’ve taught him: “Stop digging!” “Stop eating that!” “Leave the poor squirrel/rabbit/cat alone”, and “Thor, you’re driving me crazy” all in Portuguese.

      He’s gonna do great! 🙂

  15. Oh, man, I didn’t realize it was sooooo complicated! But, now you’ve got me thinking about a month in Lisbon next Spring, trying to get the heck out of the USA for the first time since, uh, 2016 (Canada doesn’t count). Maybe you’ll be there by then :-). Are you doing the non-resident “living there for a few years” permit thing,?

    • Hey Annie,

      If all goes well, we’re gonna be there this September. (Cue slight panic attack.) Yep, this is happening very soon. So, if you do come visit in the Spring, we’ll be there and we’d love to show you around (as much as we’ve figured out anyway. 🙂 )

      As for the visa, yes, it’s a D7 residency visa. Assuming we are approved, that will get us a 2 year residence permit which is then renewable. After 5 years, we can apply for permanent residency or citizenship. They’ve got a tax regime that covers several of these visas called the “Non Habitual Resident” system – which basically allows us to avoid double taxation for the first 10 years we live there. We’ll still be subject to U.S. income taxes, but the NHR system exempts us from having to pay PT taxes on top. It’s another way they attract people to come live there. (There are exceptions depending on the types of income you rely on (pensions/dividends/cap gains, etc.), but that’s the general idea.

  16. This is a big ordeal. I actually think life transitions like these (and the one we are going through) are easier when you have a house or when you can use a friend’s house for a while. Living in an RV that you are going to sell causes complications. Being a nomad is all great until there are some changes in the agenda, the mind, or the circumstances!

    All your preparations sound similar to ours in a way, as we plan a “move” to explore the South American continent, hopefully this fall. I haven’t even gotten into researching the details and paperwork yet, as we still have a camper to fix and renovate. First things first. But I already know that Maya will be the biggest problem. We don’t have a crate. She has separation anxiety and allergies (she needs specific food as well), and who knows how much it costs to fly a dog internationally? Or if she’ll survive that trauma.

    Good for you studying Portuguese. I assume you are aware of the (free or paid) language program DuoLingo as well? It is helping me heaps to learn Spanish, daily. Friends of mine invited me on their paid “family plan,” so no more ads. It’s good to have friends. 🙂

    I’m sure there’s a lot of excitement in your world right now as well. Wishing you speedy progress with the prep work and move!

    • You understand completely, Liesbet. The transition from the RV is extremely complicated. We’re trying to live in it, while also preparing to sell it, and we don’t know how long that will take, and we don’t want to waste a ton of money on Air BnB’s while waiting to leave. And the dog definitely makes things much more difficult. Thor is pretty easy going, but this is going to freak him out and we don’t want to traumatize him unnecessarily and start him off on a bad foot (er, paw?), so we’re doing everything we can to reduce the stress.

      As for Duolingo, sadly, that program only offers Brazilian Portuguese which is different than European Portuguese. There are several apps though, that teach the European version and this program we’ve enrolled in is quite good. A couple years ago, we would have had very few options, so we’re happy to have what we have.

      I hope things are settling down for you guys a bit. I know it’s been a rough road recently.

  17. We are so excited for you guys. Just stumbled across your IG post and read your latest blogs and am jealous! We love Portugal, especially the Azores (go there when you can, they are amazing!). And like so many other full timers, also thought we would stumble upon the perfect place to live and haven’t. We talk about doing something similar… but a new grandchild has so far stalled us. So we will stay on the road for now and follow along on your adventures.

    • Hey Darlene,

      Thanks for stopping by! The Azores and Madeira are high on our list once we settle in and rebuild the smoking embers of our bank accounts. LOL. I was actually just thinking about how weird travel like that is going to be once we settle down. After all these years of constant motion, taking a trip away from “home” and staying in hotels and renting cars is going to feel very strange – but also kind of freeing.

      I totally hear you on the pull to stay close to family. It’s something we’ve struggled with as well, but I think when the time is right, you just know and you figure out a way to make things work. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy every minute with the little one and if you find yourself in Lisbon, look us up!

  18. Laura you lost me after the first “Hey.” That is quite the juggling act you have there. I’m lucky to get up and get my butt in gear for a trip to the grocery store. But like a previous caller mentioned one step at a time, one day at a time. You will get there eventually. I hope it all works out for you. I am sure it will. Be careful out there and Happy Travels!!

    • Thank you so much, anonymous friend. 🙂 We are doing our best to keep in mind that we’ve been through crazy life changes before and it’s all worked out. The key really is to be methodical and approach things one step at a time. And worst case scenario, if it all goes to hell, just enjoy the ride with a sense of humor.

      We appreciate your good wishes!!

  19. Okay, you sold me…never moving to another country! Wow! So many balls to juggle. Sounds like you have a good grip at this point. I just hope all goes smoothly for Thor. He is the most important part after all. Good luck with your next steps! Thanks for the detailed update.

    • Oh, don’t worry about Thor, Pam. Trust me when I say he is the “most complicated and most expensive” part of this whole undertaking. By a long shot. I’ll fill you in on the details in a couple posts, but you can rest assured Captain Furball will be well taken care of. 🙂

  20. Sometimes when a blogger writes about a topic that has nothing to do with me (for instance, I have no plans to move abroad), I skip reading it. But your writing is so engaging I read it every time. And not just because I have three fuzzy babies (two cats and a house rabbit), I’ll leave the moving abroad to you and just watch in awe and horror from the sidelines. Bon chance and buena suerte (I don’t know how to say “good luck” in Portuguese)!

    • Oh, thank you so much! Long ago, I gave up the idea of trying to actually be helpful and just decided to be completely honest about our experiences since people seem to really appreciate hearing the good, the bad, and the ugly of all these things. So, rest assured, you will always have plenty to sit back in horror and watch. LOL. 🙂

      Thank you again for your kind words. I truly appreciate it.

      (PS: It’s “Boa Sorte!”) 🙂

  21. What a huge learning curve moving to a different country. 😳 I would be way stressed too. What we don’t do for our fur babies, right?! You got this and it will be worth it in the end!!

    • Thank you, Jennifer. It is pretty nuts what we are willing to do for this 75 pound ball of fur, but he’s worth it (usually.) 🙂 Thanks for your encouragement. We keep plugging away and knocking things off the to-do list, so we’re making progress. Hope you’re doing well!

  22. (Jumping up and down that you’re that much closer to realizing ex-pat status!) I’m super excited for you, as always. Are dog paws on the counter a bad thing? (Asks a former type-A neat freak who gave that up after getting a shedful, rambunctious lab.) Can’t wait for the next post! xoxo

    • Thanks, Shelby! I’m excited to claim expat status AND I’m excited that you guys might come visit us! How cool would that be?? As for the dog, yeah… you just gotta give up that dream of a clean house. At this point, we’re surprised when anything we own ISN’T covered in dog hair. 🙂 But you know Ziggy is amazing and the snuggles are worth it. XOXO

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