Preparing for the Move to Portugal

Things to Know Before Moving to Portugal

There are many logistics involved when moving to Portugal.  I identified six categories of things that we must do or bring, so far. There will be more, I’m sure.

Some of these won’t apply to us.  We hope to have our EU passports in hand by the time we move.  But if you only hold a US passport, you need all of this information.

Shipping Your Stuff to Portugal When Moving

The first thing you must identify is what exactly you are taking with you when you move to Portugal. Dan and I decided we are only bringing things that can fit into two suitcases each plus our animals.  

For those who wish to bring many, or larger, household items, you will need to ship your belongings by cargo. You can either rent your own shipping container or rent space on a container that is not full.  Which you choose depends on the number of belongings you plan to bring.

If you plan to bring just a box or two of your belongings with you when moving to Portugal, there are several baggage services that can transport them for you.  If you choose to use them, do not ship in cardboard boxes. They won’t survive the journey very well. 

Regardless of how much you ship, be sure to get a Certificado de Bagagem, a baggage certificate, from the Portuguese consulate that services where you presently live. Without this certificate, you must pay import duties of 23% of the value of your goods. The Certificado shows that these are your household belongings and able to be imported duty-free.

Moving Your Vehicle to Portugal

Just about everyone that I’ve seen on Facebook says do not bring your car. There are a few reasons for this. 

One, you will have to pay a 23% import duty on the value of your car. This can get expensive.

Two, your car will have to be retrofitted to meet European standards for emissions. This can get very expensive.

Three, you may not be able to find parts for your car.  If your particular make and model of vehicle is not made in Europe, you will have to ship in parts from the U.S. You’ll also have to pay 23% duty on the parts.  Then you’ll have to find a technician who knows about your car.  Good luck with that.

Four, European roads are not built for American-sized vehicles.  Your car may not fit in some of the narrower roads and alleyways.  I can just picture a car being wedged into an alley between buildings, like a cork in a bottle of wine.  How would you open the door to get out?

Medical Things Needed Before Moving to Portugal

Dan and I need to collect several years of medical and dental records for each of the six of us.  These will be needed to show our new doctors our medical and surgical history.  Records are especially needed to be sure care continues for chronic conditions.

You’ll need a list of your current prescriptions.  This list needs your full name and address on it.  The name must match your name as it appears in your passport.  This might become problematic for me.  

You see, Italian women do not change their names when they marry. Whatever is on her birth certificate is the name on her passport. This will be true for me. In Portugal/Europe, I will be known as Alecia Chesery, but here I’m known as Alecia Ramsey.  I’ll have to convince my doctor’s office to add my maiden name to my medical records.

Another thing your medication list must include is the Latin and generic names of your medications with their dosages.  It must be dated and signed by your physician.

You will need to have travel insurance.  Your policy must cover at least $30,000 for medical issues. It must also cover the repatriation of your remains if you should pass away in Portugal.

Check on your current immunizations.  Presently, these are the recommended and required immunizations for moving to Portugal:  Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Meningitis, Polio, Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR), Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis/whooping cough), Chickenpox, Shingles, Pneumonia, and Influenza. 

In addition, pets need to be immunized for Rabies.  Bring all of your pet’s medical records. See this post for details.

Financial Needs

Before moving to Portugal, you need to take care of several financial things.

Ensure that your U.S. credit cards have free international ATM withdrawals.  Not all places of business in Portugal accept credit cards, so you will need access to Euros. Fees for frequent withdrawals add up.

Put all of your accounts (banking, credit card, Social Security, and investments) into paperless mode.  You will need to change your address for all of your accounts.  

Due to U.S. banking regulations, brokerages may drop you as a customer if you have a foreign address.  Be sure to keep a U.S. address on file (more on this under Miscellaneous).

Get a Certificate of Importation from your Portuguese consulate for money, especially for large sums, that you bring or transfer from the U.S.  This will cover your a** to prevent any legal issues with the American or Portuguese IRS.

Favorable Tax Regime for New Residents

Portugal has a program called Non-Habitual Residency (NHR).  In 2009, the government decided to make taxation favorable for foreigners to relocate there.  Their goal was to encourage foreigners with high value-added potential, including retirees, skilled employees, and entrepreneurs, to move to Portugal. 

For those enrolled in the NHR program, income tax is only 10% for the first 10 years.  This does include income from Social Security.  As of now, I don’t know what other U.S.-based income is included or excluded. I’ll update this article as I learn more.

As of 2020, residents in Portugal not in the NHR program pay a graduated income tax of 14.5%-48% of worldwide income. Yes, it seems like a lot, but this is what pays for healthcare and other social programs.

To apply for NHR, you will need to bring the last five years’ worth of your IRS records with you.  This will prove that you haven’t been living in Portugal and qualify for NHR.

Dealing With Money

Consider opening an account with Transferwise or Revolut before moving to Portugal. Both of these companies make it easy to transfer your money from your American accounts to your Portuguese ones.  They issue you a debit card so you can access your money at an ATM or pay via card in Euros (or whatever currency is used in the country you happen to be in).

The transfer is done using the exchange rate available to banks on the day of the transfer, saving you money. Transfers typically take up to 2 days.

I recently discovered that Transferwise now acts as an international bank.  They began operations in the U.S. this past summer. People can have money, such as Social Security, directly deposited into the account.  I’ll be looking further into this and will probably open an account with Transferwise.

Legal Issues to Be Aware Of Before You Move to Portugal

Nobody ever wants to get in trouble with the law in a foreign country.  I certainly don’t.  One of the things I’ll be doing before we move is research how the government works in Portugal and their laws.  The U.S. Library of Congress has quite a bit of the info I’ll need to look up before we move.

Something everyone should do before moving to Portugal is to update any Will they may have.  Portugues law recognizes Wills written in foreign countries.

I’ll need to update mine, for sure.  Right now, my mother will become the guardian for Kellie if I should die.  However, I’ll need to change that to my brother before we move.  

In addition, I’ll need to talk to a lawyer here to be sure I remain Kellie’s legal guardian after she turns 18.  She is unable to live on her own or take care of her own affairs due to her autism.  Since she’ll turn 18 several months before we move, I’ll need the ability to handle her medical and financial affairs here to prepare for moving to Portugal.

Getting our tax ID Numbers

Dan and I will take a scouting trip to Portugal a couple of months before we leave the U.S.  We’ll secure housing, open bank accounts, and get our NIF numbers.  

The NIF, or Número de Identificação Fiscal, is kind of like a Social Security number, but it acts as your tax identification number.  Anyone in Portugal needs this number to do any sort of transaction.  This includes buying property, renting property long-term, getting a phone service plan, signing up for utilities, or opening a bank account.  The list goes on and on.

We’ll get our NIF with our U.S. address to start, but after we register as residents, we’ll switch it to our Portuguese address.

What Should We Bring to Portugal?

As I’ve been following the Portugal Facebook groups that I’m a member of, I’ve come up with a list of things we should bring with us when we move.  I also have a shorter list of what not to bring with us.

Some of these I marked with a *. I’ll explain these further after I finish the lists.

Things to Bring

  • Simple household tools
  • Manual can opener
  • Handy kitchen items*
  • Favorite spices*
  • Vanilla extract and vanilla beans*
  • Measuring spoons and cups (for liquid and dry)
  • Originals of Birth and Marriage certificates, with Apostilles*
  • Original licenses and certifications supporting education, training, and degrees
  • Driving record, with Apostille*
  • Current driver’s license, good for at least 4 months after your move
  • Social Security card*
  • All the shoes and socks you’ll need*
  • Clothes*
  • Power converter and adapter*

Things Not to Bring

  • Blankets*
  • Winter clothes*
  • DVDs*

Further Information


*Handy kitchen items – One thing I’m bringing is a silicone square to help me open tight bottles.  I’ll also bring a whetstone and my favorite chef’s knife.  As I go through my drawers to thin out unnecessary things, I’ll find other useful knick-knacks to bring with us.

*Favorite spices – Several people on Facebook have mentioned bringing your favorite spices with you.  This is especially true for any Mexican or exotic spices, I’m told.  Others specifically include red pepper flakes, paprika, and chili pepper.

*Vanilla extract and vanilla beans – Apparently, vanilla extract is difficult to find in Portugal.  Several people mentioned bringing some with you.  Since this will be a forever move, we’ll run out of vanilla extract at some point.  I’m also bringing vanilla beans so I can make my own extract.  I don’t know much about that yet, but I’ll learn.  I know it takes about a year to make.


*Apostille – An apostille is a document that legalizes documents from one country to be used in another country.  After your documents are notarized (and certified by the county in NY state), you send your documents and fee to your state’s Secretary of State to get an Apostille.

*Social Security card – When you move, you must change your address with Social Security.  This is a requirement.  However, once you give them a foreign address, you will be locked out of your Social Security account online.  You’ll need your card to prove your number.


*All the shoes and socks you’ll need – For some reason, it seems that Portuguese all have small feet.  It’s difficult to find shoes and socks to fit anything larger than a U.S. size 8.5 or 9 in women’s or a size 7 or 8 in men’s.  

In addition, many cities and towns have cobblestone streets. They tend to get slippery when wet.  Be sure that your shoes all have rubber bottoms. Please, avoid high heels unless you want to see how the medical system works up close and personal.

*Clothes – Just like with shoes, Portuguese clothes are cut smaller.  If you are a larger person especially, bring all the clothes you think you’ll need there.  Dan, Angie, and I will have a very hard time finding clothes that fit.  Kellie may get lucky and find clothes, but they will be a 2x or 3x there (she’s a 16-18 here).  She doesn’t care much about clothes though, so she won’t be shopping for them often.

We adults are plus-sized here, so finding clothes there will be nearly impossible.  Luckily, Angie knows how to sew. In fact, she once wanted to be a seamstress.  If we need new clothes there, she can make them for us.

For Brad, he may fall into the larger size category, but he may also have issues finding clothes. I haven’t seen him since he was a baby so I don’t know for certain.  Ben should have no problem since he’ll be 6 when we get there and there should be plenty of clothes that fit him.

Wintering in Portugal

*Blankets and winter clothes – Depending on where in Portugal you go, you may not need blankets and heavy winter coats or clothes.  If you move to the Algarve in the southern region, the weather doesn’t usually go below 45-50℉ (7.2-10℃) in the winter. Of course, the further north you go, the colder it is.

Something to consider is most Portuguese homes are made with concrete.  This makes them quite damp.  And when it’s chilly outside, the dampness inside can make your home feel quite cold.  You may want to invest in a dehumidifier.  I read that sometimes it’s colder inside than it is outside in the winter, even in the northern regions.  

I’ll be bringing a fleece jacket to use as my winter coat, but I won’t need anything heavier than that.  We should be able to get blankets there if we need them.


*Power converter and adapter – Electricity here in the U.S. is provided at 110 volts. In Europe, it’s at 220 volts. That means American equipment needs to be converted from 110 volts to 220 volts in order to work.  

In the U.S. the velocity the electricity is passed through the wires is at 60 Hz (Hertz), but in Europe, it’s at 50 Hz.  With the lower Hz in Europe, motors will run slower.  If you bring small kitchen appliances with you, know that they won’t be as effective, and the motors will quickly burn out.  It’s much better to get your small appliances in Portugal.

Whatever you do, do not attempt to bring a hairdryer or curling iron with you.  These are fire hazards.

I remember that when a friend and I went to Europe in the 1990s, she brought her curling iron with her.  After a couple of uses, even with a converter, one day it exploded.  Bits of hot curling iron fell on the carpet in the hotel room and scorched it.

Power plugs in Europe are different than ours in the U.S.  In order for the plug to fit in the outlet, you’ll need to use an adapter.

*DVDs – The DVDs made in the U.S will not fit into a player made in Europe. They use a totally different system there.


Once we move, we’ll have to register with the U.S. embassy in Lisbon.  That helps them to keep track of all Americans in Portugal.  I’ll also need to register us with the Federal BenefitsUunit at the embassy.  Kellie and I get compensation from the VA (Veteran’s Affairs) and from Social Security.  If we have problems with those payments, this is who we contact for help.

Before we move, I’ll have my brother check with the European Employment Services (EURES) website for possible leads on jobs near where we’ll move to.  As an EU citizen, he’ll have an easier time looking for a job than he would as an American.  It would be easier still if he spoke Portuguese, but for now, he’ll have to make do with English.

I’ll need to get an unlocked phone before moving.  Once I get that, I’ll download Google Voice then port my current number to that app.  Once we get to Portugal, I’ll get a Portuguese SIM card and a Portuguese phone number.  I believe there’s a Vodaphone store at the airport in Lisbon that can help me with that.

It will be like having two phone numbers on my cell phone – one for the U.S and one for Portugal.  I’ll need to keep my phone on airplane mode most of the time so it’s not constantly roaming for a U.S. cell tower for the U.S. number.  I can then check my Google Voice for messages once I’m on WiFi to prevent roaming charges.

Get a good VPN (Virtual Private Network) for your devices before you move to Portugal.  This way, you can set it so it looks as if your IP address is in either New York or California (or one of many other cities in the world).  This should allow you to access your financial accounts (such as for banks and credit cards) in the U.S. from Portugal using a U.S. IP address.

The VPN will also allow you to use various streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu, Prime, or any others. These companies require a U.S.-based IP address to use their services.

Finally, you’ll need to set up a U.S mailing service or have family or friends allow you to use their address for your U.S. financial accounts.  Have all of your monthly, quarterly, and yearly notices sent electronically, but you need to have a U.S.-based address to maintain these accounts.  

This is what I learned so far after several months of research.  As I gather more information, I’ll update this article to reflect additional info or changes to the info that is already here.

Moving overseas sure is a time-consuming endeavor.  But it will all be worth it in the end.

Sign up for our Newsletter by filling out the form below.

Contact us if you have any questions about this, or any other, post. We love to hear from our readers.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *