Key Thoughts

Moving to Portugal


Back in March of 2020, I wrote a column here called “Moving to Reduce Medical Expenses” where I stated that my wife and I were going to be moving to Portugal, the cost of medical bills being paramount in that decision. Despite having insurance through my job, we had been at the receiving end of a huge bill when my wife got ulcerative colitis a few years back.

I knew the worry of something like that or worse happening again would rob us of any peace we might have about our ability to retire with enough money. Currently, more than half of all bankruptcies in America are due to medical bills. We had to find an alternative.

We landed in Lisbon Aug. 4.

The Portuguese healthcare system has both public and private options and the standard of care is high but inexpensive. Now that we are here, we only have traveler’s insurance but will be buying private health insurance for a fraction of what it cost us in the United States when we are eligible. The quality of the health care in Portugal was rated as the 12th best in the world by World Population Review in 2021. The U.S. was 37th.

To move to Portugal you need to show sufficient income to live here in the form of a remote job, savings, investments or something similar; you need to open a bank account with at least $1,500 for a couple; you need to get a financial number called an NIF that you must provide for any and all major purchases; you need proof of residency in the form of a rental contract for at least six months; you must have booked a flight to Portugal for no later than three months after you apply; and you need an FBI background check still in its sealed envelope.

Once you’ve done all this, you go in-person to your local visa facilitation office. The closest for us was in San Francisco at VFS, a company that many governments use to outsource visa applications.

Then comes the waiting. We felt pretty sure we were going to be approved, so proceeded to give away or sell everything we owned, including our vehicles, our home and everything in it except six suitcases of clothing and mementos.

Selling the house and the vehicles wasn’t much of a problem but getting rid of everything else was going to be a challenge. We found an estate sale company that sells your stuff in lots. If a buyer wants a particular item, they must take everything in that lot. About 98% of what we owned was gone in six hours.

We have been in Aveiro for a little over a month and a half now. Our first weeks were spent getting everything we needed for the apartment, getting our phones operational, and getting our banking and money transfer worked out. Our place is in an older section of the city, which we love. Most of the sidewalks and streets are cobblestone. There is a monastery we can see from our back balcony. We love hearing the bells ring out on the hour during the day and as we lie in bed in the evening. We are about six miles from the beach, a 10-minute walk to the fish market, a five-minute walk to the farmer’s market, and no more than a 20-minute walk from most everything else in this city of 78,000 people.

As beautiful as the Key Peninsula is and as much as we miss our friends back home (shout out to all the Blenders), we love being here and are confident we made the right move. As my boss told me when I asked if I could work remotely from Portugal for a couple of years before retiring, “Your life is divided into three sections: the go-go years, the slow-go years, and the no-go years, and you never know when the no-go years are going to hit so get going while you can.”

The people we have met so far have all been extremely kind and welcoming (our neighbor and her three children brought over a plate of cookies when we arrived). They are flattered that we have chosen their country to retire in and are eager to help. They are proud of their country and what it has to offer and anxious to share it with others. My wife was standing with a suitcase on the street the other day, waiting for me to lock the car and a young woman in her twenties offered to help her. This is the norm, not the exception.

Portugal may not be for you but living an adventure, regardless of how old you are, should be. Be bold, be adventurous, and live your life fully before the no-go years are here.

Rob Vajko, formerly of Wauna, lives in Aveiro, Portugal.