If I haven’t made it clear before, Kevin and I decided to move to Portugal having never previously visited the country.
It’s true: We started the process of immigrating – obtaining our Tax ID numbers, opening our Portuguese bank accounts, and telling our friends and family we were moving – before we’d even set foot in the country.
And if you’re thinking: “Holy crap, these people are insane,” I really can’t argue with you all that much.
By all objective measures, this whole undertaking is kinda nuts.
But…no one wants to read a blog about prudent people doing thoughtful things, so, here we are.
What’s a Scouting Trip?
Pre-Covid, most would-be immigrants would fly to Portugal for several weeks or months to explore the country and decide a) if they wanted to move there; and b) in what particular city, town, or region they wanted to reside.
Portugal is a very diverse country. Akin to California, it’s got a bit of everything – from lush, mountainous terrain in the north, to wine country, small villages, and coastal beach communities in the center, to sun drenched resort towns in the south. And just as life in northeast California bears little resemblance to life in southwest California, climate, prices, resources, and lifestyles differ significantly depending on one’s location. So, pre-pandemic, people would travel all over trying to find a city or town that felt right before applying for their residency visa. And during that trip, many would open their bank accounts, seek housing, and do all the other things necessary to apply for their visa.
When the world shut down due to Covid, all these exploratory trips stopped, but people still wanted to immigrate – some more than ever before. That led to an explosion of resources designed to help people immigrate from afar. Banks made it easier to open accounts from outside the country, immigration consultants focused on helping would-be immigrants rent and buy real estate online instead of in-person, and expat-focused Facebook and YouTube channels proliferated.
This meant by the time we started researching, we had access to numerous resources to help us figure things out and get things done, and because discretionary travel was shut down for so long, by the time we were actually permitted to visit, we’d already made the decision to move.
Another thing that made our trip a bit different than a lot of other people’s is we knew we wanted to live in Lisbon (at least initially), so, rather than trekking all over the country trying to find the right city, we only needed to trek around one city trying to find the right neighborhood.
But that was a very important objective of our visit. One of our goals with this move is to live car-free. We kinda feel like we owe it to the environment after 40,000+ miles at 7-8 mpg, plus car ownership is a huge expense and, in a city like Lisbon, a giant headache. So, we’re looking forward to freeing ourselves of the whole thing. But that meant we had to find a neighborhood where we could meet our daily needs using only our feet and public transportation.
Beyond getting a general feel for the city (read: making sure we weren’t making a terrible mistake), and exploring neighborhood options, our other intention was to triple check that we could find everything else we need – Kevin’s heart medications, Thor’s prescription food, Laura’s egg noodles, etc. Based on our research, we were pretty confident we’d be OK, but we wanted to make absolutely sure before moving on to the next parts of the visa process.
Thor Goes to Camp While we go to Europe
Prior to planning anything, we’d asked our D.C. based friends, Mike and Kathie, if they could take care of Thor for a week. It’s not like we even had to ask, though. If Thor ever leaves us, it will be for Kathie. And if Kathie ever disappears into the dead of night to begin life as a fugitive, it will be because she kidnapped Thor.
Happily, in addition to having good friends we could trust to manage our hardheaded dog, United Airlines flies direct to Lisbon from D.C.’s Dulles Airport.
And that flight is what gave rise to the second aspect of our trip – the “moving” part.
When I booked our flight using our credit card miles platform, the website gave me the standard economy price, followed by several options for upgrades that didn’t really sound like upgrades: “Oh, you want TIRES on the plane? Well, aren’t you fancy?? That’s gonna cost ya!”
By the time I had clicked the options for things that would make the flight bearable, we had a different type of ticket (‘Peasant Plus’ or whatever), so I didn’t think much of it when I saw an additional benefit on the confirmation:
That’s right – two free checked bags (each).
Well, apparently, not United Airlines because, as it turns out, our tickets weren’t supposed to include two checked bags.
That was some computer glitch.
But computer glitch or not, we immediately decided to make the most of it.
Deciding What to Bring
When it comes to moving overseas, there are as many different options for what to bring as there are people making decisions. At one end of the spectrum, you’ve got people moving entire 40 foot containers full of furniture, artwork, and household goods. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got people who sell or donate everything from their prior homes, pack a suitcase or two with clothing and essentials, and plan to buy everything new when they arrive in Portugal. They’re keen on the idea of truly ‘starting over’ and are happy to arrive with almost nothing.
As I mentioned previously, we got rid of most of our furniture when we moved into the RV, so we knew we wouldn’t be shipping anything significant, however, we also didn’t want to arrive with nothing. Back when we moved into the motorhome, we bought new “RV-friendly” versions of a lot of our things – dishes, storage containers, kitchen appliances, etc. So, when it came time to consider this move, we decided to bring what we could. (There are only so many times we want to buy dishes, ya know?)
Additionally, we’d learned that, while you can get most things in Portugal, certain products like sunscreen, cosmetics, and vitamins tend to be more expensive than in the U.S., and we were told that if we were particularly fond of certain brands, we should bring them with us to ease the adjustment.
Anyway, once we realized we could take four bags with us on our April flight, I found a storage company in Lisbon that offers small, inexpensive storage units and reserved one. Even paying the monthly storage fee for a couple months would cost a fraction of what we’d pay to carry those bags on our eventual “moving to Portugal” flight (Airlines typically charge $100 – $150 per bag), plus it would be nice to break things up into multiple trips rather than move everything all at once.
Once we’d secured the storage unit, we turned our attention to assessing what, specifically, to take with us and how to get it there.
Most of what we ended up bringing was offseason clothing and shoes, kitchen stuff (excluding appliances since Europe’s electric is different than ours), and dental flossers.
When we arrived at the airport and went to check in for our flight, the United agent assured us that our class of tickets did not include two free bags each. So, we showed her the screencap above – which she then showed her supervisor, who, reluctantly, approved our mischief-making.
Of course, United got its revenge when, after starting the safety video on our flight, the Captain announced that basically everything on the plane was broken and we’d have to sit at the gate while the maintenance crews did their best to duct tape it all back together.
3.5 hours later – just shy of the time they would have had to compensate the passengers for making us sit at the gate – they finally sent us off, making what would have been a rather reasonable flight into a very long one.
Well played, United. Well played.
Once on the ground in Lisbon, our very first stop was our storage facility.
And while some folks will tell you to take your time, be objective, and don’t rush into things like international moves, we…well, we did the opposite – signing a rental contract for our storage unit, complete with direct debit payments from our Portuguese bank account, and leaving half our worldly possessions in that closet.
Let’s hope this all works out.