As I previously mentioned, our goals for our April visit to Lisbon were to ensure we could find what we needed to live safely and comfortably (ie: Kevin’s meds, Thor’s food, workable public transportation, etc.), and to figure out which specific neighborhoods we wanted to reside in.
We stayed in a small townhouse style Air BnB in one of our target neighborhoods, which allowed us to get a feel for how Portuguese homes are constructed. Designed to keep cool in the summer, many older homes lack sufficient insulation, and central heating and air conditioning are rarities. Instead, people rely on room units, fans, and dehumidifiers.
The week of our visit was very gray, though not particularly rainy, so we got a good sense of how living in a traditional apartment during damp, cool weather could feel. (Main takeaway: dehumidifiers are amazing.)
We walked all over the place, checked out our three target neighborhoods – Campo De Ourique, Ajuda, and Alvalade – and tried to do as much as we could to get a sense of life in this picturesque European city.
In actuality, that meant we had a lot of questions to answer.
Were the parks plentiful, beautiful, and green?
Were there places for Thor to socialize, and would he fit in with the locals?
Were there low-key, non-touristy neighborhood spots to enjoy a cup of coffee or a beer?
Was Portuguese wine as inexpensive as we’d heard?
Did they have boxed wine?
Wait…are those boxes on the higher shelves actually priced at less than one euro?? That CAN’T be a good idea.
…or can it????
Did I really need to bring 600 Glide brand dental flossers?
Would we have to live without the delicious flavors of our homeland?
Was the condiment situation acceptable?
How weird would it be to buy eggs from a grocery store shelf rather than the refrigerated section?
Does this cafe actually sell martinis for €1.10?? That can’t be right, can it?
But the martini on this menu is €2.50:
What the hell do the Portuguese consider a martini?
More investigation to come…
Could I buy Jimmy Choo stilettos?
Just kidding, I would never buy Jimmy Choo stilettos.
Or any stilettos for that matter.
In fact, no one who actually intended to walk in Lisbon would buy stilettos because the sidewalks are all made of these hand-laid tiles that would put you directly on your face if you even attempted such foolishness.
Speaking of these decorative sidewalks, some of which create optical illusions:
Would Thor ever forgive us for any of this?
Answer: Yes… as soon as he learned about the “ham stores”
Speaking of the dog, could we look forward to being the most popular residents of our new apartment building?
Would we ever get used to the Portuguese system of parking – also known as “just do whatever the hell you want”?
Would we ever be able to figure out how to operate a European washing machine?
Was the Metro clean, safe, and easy to use?
Were the local food options as good as we’d heard?
All in all, we were able to answer our questions in a positive way. No major stumbling blocks.
Finding a Place to Live
One of the biggest challenges would-be immigrants face when trying to get their visas is securing a place to live – either by finding a rental or by purchasing a home. As part of the visa application, you have to have a place to live (the government wants to make sure you’re serious about living there and you aren’t just going to disappear into some other European country as soon as you get your residency permit), so you actually have to rent or buy a place before the government gives you permission to live in the country. Weird, but true.
Adding to the challenge is the fact that Lisbon is experiencing a housing crunch. The ever increasing popularity of the city coupled with some oddities in Portuguese real estate law have turned house hunting into a kind of blood sport.
Not only is it hard to find a place, but prices have spiraled upward and lease terms have become increasingly onerous (and sometimes, downright ridiculous.) Here’s a representative post from one of the Facebook forums we use:
Add in the presence of a large furry roommate, and finding a place to rent can seem almost impossible.
Recognizing that this was going to be a big problem, we took others’ advice and met with a local consultant who helps people find apartments from afar – identifying potential listings, contacting landlords, doing videotaped walk throughs, and negotiating leases. (There are very few professionally managed properties in Portugal. Each apartment or home is individually owned by a landlord who has wide leeway to determine who lives in their place and under what terms. Each landlord must be contacted individually, usually by phone, and because of prior folks abusing the system, renting as an immigrant has become harder. Having a knowledgeable local as an advocate can be very helpful.)
While in Lisbon, we met with this consultant who was great, but she, too, made clear that finding a place would be a challenge and we would have to be ultra-flexible (read: ready to be disappointed in location, price, and/or condition), and ready to commit almost immediately. We left the meeting optimistic that she could find us something, but realistic that it might not be what we had in mind.
However, before she could even get started working on our behalf, the gods of social media smiled down on us once more and helped us on our way.
Social Media: The Cause Of And Solution To All Of Life’s Problems
Somewhere along the line, while researching Portugal, I ran into a YouTube channel created by a fellow Northern Virginia couple who had moved to Lisbon. They put out high quality videos, appeared to be fun and down to Earth, and shared many of the same interests as us. In fact, the list of things they were looking for in a home base basically mirrored ours.
I also noticed they had a couple dogs, so, last December I wrote them an email asking if they had any tips or resources for finding a dog-friendly apartment. Dianne gave me some good advice and then suggested we all meet up whenever Kevin and I visited the city. So, on the second to last day of our April trip, we headed up to their neighborhood of Ajuda (one of our original target neighborhoods) to have lunch at a local restaurant.
We hit it off immediately and ended up spending several hours after lunch touring their neighborhood and talking about life in Lisbon. We had a great time, and, before parting ways, they mentioned there was a trivia night for expats at a bar downtown the following evening. They were playing with another couple and needed two more for their team. We immediately said yes.
The next night, Guillermo and Dianne introduced us to their friends, Jeff and Kerri – who had also moved to Lisbon from the U.S. the prior year. Between rounds of trivia, we talked about becoming expats, the awesome neighborhood Jeff and Kerri lived in, and we all compared notes about our dogs. Then, almost lost in the din of a busy bar full of happily buzzed expats, Jeff said something along the lines of “we just bought a new apartment that we’re going to renovate. Once it’s ready, we’ll move there and have to find renters for our current apartment.”
“Why do you want to leave your current apartment?”
“Oh, it’s totally fine, it’s just a bit smaller than we’d like and we want some additional outdoor space.”
“When do you think you’ll move?
“Probably the Fall sometime.”
As they continued telling us their plans for the new and old places, what Kevin and I heard was:
Now imagine the globe graphic at the end of the video zeroing in on a beautiful, traditional apartment building in the city center with every single attribute we were looking for and directly within our housing budget.
The tears? The cheering? All accurate portrayals of how it felt to find a reasonably priced, dog friendly apartment in a great neighborhood, owned by nice people during this ridiculous market.
I’m telling you, sometimes fate just walks up to you on a super hot day and hands you a cold frosty beer…
Even better, over the course of just a few days, we’d made a couple friends – who’ve subsequently provided us all kinds of advice and resources to help us with this process. Having just gone through it all themselves, they know exactly what we’re dealing with and have saved us enormous amounts of time and stress by answering our questions, pointing us in the right directions, and – on more than one occasion – reassuring us that things would come together and it would all be worth it in the end.
Next time we all hang out, several rounds will be on us.
Coming up…. No clue. We’re moving to Portugal in about a week and I have no idea what’s going on. In fact, I really probably should be packing right now rather than writing blog posts. #nextlevelprocrastination
Wish us luck. See ya back here in a bit!