Planning is the key to a less-stressed move to Portugal. It’s the key to the most stressful situations in life. This article will focus on an international move to Portugal, specifically the most recent tips I came up with for my family as we plan our move.
Much like a dog with a bone, I gnaw on the minutiae until I’m satisfied that I’ve planned every detail. You could even say I’m rather anal-retentive. I hate surprises when planning something as important as our move to Portugal.
Let’s dive into the subjects I’m presently working on so you, too, can be less-stressed when planning your move to Portugal.
1. Cell Phones
First, let’s discuss how cell phones work in layman’s terms. Then I’ll explain what I plan to do and talk about the services available in Portugal. For a less-stressed move, figure out what you want in a cell service, research what’s best for you, and know that you won’t be stuck with a plan that doesn’t work for your needs.
How Cell Phones Work
Cell phones use towers to transmit conversations between phones. Towers are owned by different wireless providers. Here in the U.S., those include companies like Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and others. The same is true in Portugal, but those providers include Vodaphone, Altice, and NOS.
Inside a cell phone is a SIM card that allows you to connect to the network. Many phones are network-specific. That means that a Verizon phone and card will only work with a Verizon network. The same is true for all network-specific phones and SIM cards. They essentially lock your phone into one network.
You cannot just switch SIM cards to move to another network when using a locked phone. A locked phone has a software code on it to prevent it from being used on a different network.
There are unlocked phones available which allow you to choose which SIM card and service you want to use. You will either need to buy an unlocked phone in the U.S. before your move or buy a cell phone with a service in Portugal. The much cheaper option is to buy an unlocked phone in the U.S.
What I Plan to Do About Cell Service
Like most of you, I have a cell phone and a lot of contacts. I’d like to be able to keep my phone number to make it easier for my contacts to reach me. I also will need my U.S. number for two-step authentication for banking and other services like Social Security and the IRS. But my phone number isn’t convenient to use in Portugal.
So how does someone keep a U.S. number and have a Portuguese number? The answer is by getting a cell phone with a dual SIM. That could mean a cell phone with two SIM card slots or a phone with one SIM card slot and an eSIM, a digital SIM that doesn’t use a physical card. It also means getting an unlocked phone.
For me specifically, I presently have a Verizon phone. I just ordered an unlocked, dual-SIM phone from Amazon. After reading comments on the various expat Facebook groups I’m in, I’m choosing to switch to Google Fi. This service allows will allow me to use that SIM to make calls and texts from Portugal to the U.S. using wireless rather than a provider’s tower. You may choose to do something different.
The phone I ordered, a Samsung Galaxy S plus, is compatible with Google Fi. Not all phones are, so if you choose this service, check to see if the phone is compatible with Google Fi. All Google phones are, of course, but only some Android phones are. Apple phones are still in beta testing.
Phone Service in Portugal
According to Manuel, my friend in Portugal, not all cell phone providers, Vodaphone, Altice, and NOS work in all towns. However, they all work equally well in the larger cities. Since we’re moving to Coimbra, all of the providers will work there for cell service.
Manuel told me he uses NOS. That company also supplies his home internet, phone, and cable. The entire package costs him €39 ($47) per month. It’s a similar cost to the other companies. The package includes 140 channels of TV, some in English, and fiber optic service at 100 Mbps although he gets 110-120 Mbps. Fiber optic at 500 Mbps is also available.
For cell service, prices vary depending on what services you want. I use a pre-paid Verizon card here. I like the freedom of canceling my service whenever I want without penalty. I’ll probably get a pre-paid SIM card in Portugal for the same reason, especially since I haven’t figured out which company will be best for me yet. I can top off the card as needed. Then, when I know which company best serves my needs, I can contract with them.
Buying or renting a place sight unseen is a very stressful experience. I rented the place I’m in now in upstate NY like that, so I can tell you that research is key here. By the time we move, we will have been here for 10 years. Without research, I couldn’t have chosen such a great place. The same will be true for a less-stressed move to Portugal, too.
Location, Location, Location
When choosing to live in Portugal, I had no idea what area I wanted to live in. Every region I looked at seemed wonderful to me and the options were limitless. But having all those options comes with stress. Not knowing where the best place for us to be was filled my head with so many “what-ifs.” That hurt my mental health.
Once I decided things would be much easier on the planning process if I just settled on a location, I talked with my brother about our choices.
We want a place with good public transportation, plenty of things to do, ease of shopping, and decent housing. We also decided that we don’t want to be in an area with a huge amount of expats. This will be our home for what we hope will be the rest of our lives so we want to immerse ourselves in Portuguese culture and adopt the lifestyle.
A larger city suits our current needs. Lisbon and Porto are the two largest cities, but they are also among the most expensive places. The Algarve, the region along the southern coast, is one of the most popular places for expats to live and is the third most expensive area.
Coimbra seems to fit our requirements right now. Once we settled on a location, I have been able to focus on the details of moving. As I mentioned above, this is where I excel.
Rent vs. Buy
Because we don’t know for sure if Coimbra will be our final destination, we decided to rent a place at first. To give us time to explore the area, travel around the country, and see what we like and don’t like about the area, we are planning to stay there for one year. That may change. We may hate our specific housing situation, may find a better unit in another part of the city, or whatever. That’s the beauty of an adventure like ours. We are not obligated to stay in any one place.
As I mentioned in another post, I’ve been looking at various real estate websites – Idealista, Casa-Sapo, and Immovirtual. We need a place with four bedrooms, minimum, but would like to be able to host friends and family when they come to visit. A five-bedroom place would be ideal.
From my understanding, rooms are smaller in Portugal than in the U.S. That isn’t a big deal to us because we don’t plan on bringing any furniture, over-sized or not. We will move with only what will fit in a bunch of suitcases. Many suitcases. Probably too many, but I digress.
Since we will not have furniture, we’ll probably prefer to get a furnished place at first. We can always get furniture once we decide to put down roots somewhere or add to what’s provided.
One thing that’s very important when renting or buying a place in Portugal, especially if you are not familiar with the process there, is to get yourself a buyer’s broker. The buyer’s broker will assist with finding housing (they have access to all sorts of places not found online in a search), work with a notary and/or lawyer on your behalf, and negotiate with the seller or landlord for you.
If you build a friendly relationship with your broker, they may even help you to set up power, internet, etc. The best part is that a buyer’s broker is paid for by the seller/landlord, so there is no reason not to hire one.
I’ve already decided who I want to work with. He is based in Coimbra, is a member of several of the expat Facebook groups I’m in, and he has been very helpful with free advice for people. I chatted with Tiago once or twice already, but it’s still too soon to hire him to find us a place.
Something I’ve alluded to in the prior two tips is speaking with people who are already in Portugal. To help you manage a less-stressed move to Portugal, build online relationships with people who have already gone through the process. They can give you advice, offer their services, introduce you to people who may be helpful for you to know, and be a friendly face for meet-ups once you make the move.
I met Manuel online several years ago. He and I have been building our friendship since then. He has been an invaluable part of my Portuguese planning, and he and his family will be an important part of our lives once we get there.
I’ve heard it said that if you have a Portuguese friend, you have a friend for life. I certainly hope so.
Online special interest groups are a great way to meet people with similar interests and/or experiences. There are lots of expat groups on Facebook, my main social media place. I’m sure there are groups on other social media sites as well.
I’ve also found people who offer services that I know we’ll need, especially when we first get to Portugal. We’ll need to get us, all our luggage, and our animals from Lisbon to Coimbra. More than likely, because we are five people, one dog, two cats, and close to 15 pieces of luggage in total, we’ll need to hire two people. I’ve already found the people I want.
Nuno and Luis are people I’ve talked to in Facebook groups, and they have transport businesses. Nuno also offers tours around Portugal, so we will be using his services a lot. He also seems like he would be a good friend.
Making friends has not been easy for me since I was a kid. But having begun conversations with people online, I think I’ll have friends from Day One in Portugal.
4. Medical Issues
Your health is important. Making the transition to providers in another city letting alone in a foreign country can be very stressful. I’ve researched this topic extensively to make for a less-stressed move to Portugal.
Several immunizations are recommended before moving to Portugal. These include –
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR)
- Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis/Whooping Cough (TDaP)
- Chicken Pox
- Not listed online yet but probably will be is COVID
Other than COVID, Shingles, and Pneumonia, my daughter is caught up on hers. She’s too young for those three. I need a couple of them myself. I’m due for my second COVID shot in a couple of weeks, I’ll get Hepatitis A and Pneumonia next month. My doctor will also check my blood titer levels of immunization against Hepatitis B and MMR then and schedule me for shots if needed.
Any doctor you see in Portugal will need to know what your medical problems are and what treatment you’re on. Before you move, either arrange to get digital copies downloaded on a thumb drive or something or get print copies of your problem list and treatments.
These records include ones from your primary care provider, any specialty provider(s), and your dentist. At the very least, bring along a few copies of the forms giving your new provider permission to request and receive those records. Without permission, your new provider cannot access your records.
Not all medications we have available in the U.S. are available in Portugal. You can find out which ones are available in any country online through a website called pillintrip.com.
Most of my medications are available in Portugal, but my psychiatric meds are not. I let my doctor know and told her which ones are available, so she is in the process of weaning me off my current meds and starting me on ones available in Portugal. If you need to change some of your medications, I suggest starting that process well in advance of your move so you can know if the new meds work well for you. If not, you’ll have time to try a different medication.
Getting a doctor in Portugal can take a couple of months. It’s best to have your U.S. doctor write prescriptions for a 6-month fill of your meds if at all possible. If that isn’t possible with your particular doctor, be sure to bring a printout of all of your medications. The local pharmacist may be able to fill your meds once without a Portuguese prescription.
If there’s one thing that can cause unnecessary stress when you move, it’s medical issues. The key to a less-stressed move here is preparation before you move.
Dan, Angie, and I plan to make an exploratory visit before we move so we can see some rentals that Tiago shows us and so we can get some necessary services started. The main thing we’ll need to do is open bank accounts on that trip.
If we find a rental that we like, we’ll need to put down a deposit and a couple of months’ rent to hold the unit. To do that, we’ll need at least one bank account, probably my account. And to have money in the account available immediately, I’ll have to deposit cash. A lot of it to cover the several thousand Euros I’ll need for our deposit and other expenses.
I’ll contact my bank a week or two before our trip to be able to purchase about $1,000 worth of Euros. That way, I can open an account right away once we arrive. There are several banks to choose from, but I believe I’ll work with the one that Manuel recommends. I’ll have to see which one he suggests.
I’ll also need to open a Transferwise or Revolut account to make transferring money between my U.S. bank and my Portuguese back easy. Before we make the exploratory trip, I’ll get that opened and attached to my U.S. bank. Then all I’ll have to do is attach my Portuguese account once that’s opened.
A Portuguese account will make it tons easier to pay bills and services once we move. We can also get health insurance through a Portuguese bank.
I’ll choose a bank before we take that trip next year and set it up during that trip to help make a less-stressed move once we’re ready to go. If you don’t have friends already in Portugal, you can hire an accountant to open an account for you. You will also need a NIF number before opening an account, and the accountant can help with that, as well.
As a bonus, if you hire an accountant to help with opening an account, you will then have an accountant to help with filing your taxes. Oh, joys.
Because we are only moving with our belongings that fit in luggage, paring down our belongings will be necessary. I’ve already begun the process of selling some of our things even though we’re not moving until the summer of 2022. I don’t want to get overwhelmed with getting rid of stuff on top of everything else once we get closer to our moving date.
One trick I’m going to follow for a less-stress move is to set a limit of stuff. I’ve already bought our luggage. Kellie and I are limited to 3 checked suitcases each.
The airline ticket we plan to get allows 2 pieces of checked luggage per ticket, but I’m buying an extra seat for comfort. My big butt won’t fit comfortably in an economy seat. That extra seat will allow us to bring 2 extra checked bags for a total of 6 bags.
We’ll also have 3 carry-ons plus our two cats. That extra seat is going to be useful not only for our comfort but also for the extra luggage we’ll have.
I spoke with Manuel a month or two ago. He agreed that he would store a couple of suitcases for us if we bring them on the exploratory trip. That will cut down on the number of bags to wrangle at the airport when going through customs with the animals. That little bit of help from my friend will be much appreciated in the craziness of the move during the heat of summer.
Finally, let’s talk about moving with pets. It’s imperative to the health and safety of your animals to have the minimum amount of stress put on them that you can.
I previously wrote a post about traveling to Portugal with a pet. You can access it here. That article covers the procedures and logistics of preparing your pet for the move.
Stressful situations can be harmful to your pet. They may have behavioral, digestive, or health problems, so the more you can do to make a less-stressful move for them will be very beneficial to them and you.
My cats, ages 17 and 12 by the time we move, are strictly indoor cats. They are not used to large crowds, lots of noise, or being in a harness or carrier. Because of their background, I know that the move will be very stressful for them.
To help acclimate them to the move, I’ve already bought their carriers. I’d like to have them in harnesses as well because they will have to be removed from the carriers when we go through security, and I don’t want them to escape. With their heightened fear, they will be unpredictable.
They hate the harnesses. At least they did the day I got them. My goal is to start getting them acclimated to the harnesses starting about 4-6 weeks before our flight. I’ll start with putting them on and taking them off right away for a day or two, then gradually increase the time they have them on.
The same will be true for their carriers. Eventually, I want those carriers to feel like safe spaces for them. A safe space gives comfort to an animal, especially when that animal is stressed.
Once they are used to the harnesses and carriers, we’ll start bringing them to strange places, like a friend’s house or a park. At first, they will stay in the carriers far from strangers, but eventually, I’ll get them closer to people and loud noises.
Another trick I’ll use is putting a favorite toy or object in there with them. The older cat loves her brush, so I’ll keep that in there with her. The younger one has a small stuffed toy she likes. Catnip helps cats relax, so I’ll use that in their carriers as well.
Take care of yourself and your animals when moving to a new place. Moving is a very stressful endeavor for everyone, so whatever you can do to make for a less-stress move can only help.
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