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Why This Southern European Country is a Hot Place to Live
There is something to be said for working in paradise.
(CNN) – With “work to live” rather than “live to work” as the unofficial lifestyle mantra, more than 1,100 miles of coastline to explore and delicious pastéis de nata all over the place, putting down roots in Portugal sounds pretty appealing.
And for anyone who dreams of packing up their life (or putting their house on the market, along with everything inside it) for sunnier shores, jetting off to live in Portugal may be more of a possibility than you realize.
The country has long been one of Europe’s most accessible options when it comes to seeking residency, thanks to several visa programs offered to foreigners who are non-EU citizens (and also not from the European Economic Area, called the EEA, and Switzerland). And with a new temporary-stay visa geared toward digital nomads, remote workers are more welcome in the country than ever.
Some Americans who’ve made the leap say they’re seeking more affordable healthcare and a haven from gun violence in addition to the lifestyle perks of the southern European country, including a slower pace, mild weather, and tempting travel options throughout Europe.
One way in: The D7 visa
Grace Veach, who teaches virtually at a Florida university from her new home outside the riverfront city of Coimbra in central Portugal, says she first became serious about leaving the United States after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.
“I knew I wanted to live somewhere that gun violence wasn’t a daily threat,” says Veach, 59.
But making the move happen took some time due to life circumstances. Together with her husband, her now 27-year-old son and the family dog, Veach moved to Portugal in 2021.
Nobody in the family had ever stepped foot in the country before they arrived, she says, with scouting trips they’d planned canceled during the pandemic.
The family applied for Portugal’s D7 visa together, Veach says. It’s a visa option popular with retirees since passive income sources can be used to meet the required earnings – 705 euros per month (about $705) for first adult applicants plus lesser amounts for additional family members. Applicants can also benefit from the same health care benefits as Portuguese residents and citizens through the country’s National Health Service.
The D7 visa requires visa holders spend 182 days of the year in Portugal and grants them the right to work in the country. They can also apply for Portuguese citizenship after five years. The D7 visa application process usually takes roughly six months.
Other ways to live in Portugal
The D7 is just one of just several visa options that can facilitate a move to Portugal right now.
Since launching in 2012, Portugal’s investment visa program, the Golden Visa, has offered a pathway to Portuguese residency through investments in the country that can be acquired through real estate purchases of more than 500,000 euros (about $500,000), among other investment options.
For people who don’t actually want to spend a lot of time in Portugal, the Golden Visa only requires holders spend seven to 14 days of the year residing in Portugal while also offering them access to the National Health Service benefits and a path to citizenship after five years. But restrictions that came into effect into 2022 limited the locations in Portugal where property investments can be made, making the prospect less appealing for some.
And Portugal’s latest temporary-stay visa, which launched on October 30 and is also being called the “digital nomad” visa, is making it easier for remote workers to relocate on a temporary basis to Portugal. It grants them the right to stay for one year/12 months as long as they can prove earnings of at least 2,820 euros (roughly the same amount in dollars right now) per month working for a company outside Portugal.
“There is great excitement around this visa in the nomad community,” says Danish Soomro, founder of Visadb, a visa database that indexes more than 800 residency visas around the world.
Also the founder of a private digital nomad community on Facebook with more than 155,000 members, Soomro says Portugal is one of the most popular countries for remote workers (along with places like Greece, Spain, Croatia and Cyprus) thanks to factors that include “warm weather, good internet connection, and community.”
“Before, other Portugal visas were used as a workaround by digital nomads,” he says, as the D7 visa was primarily targeted to pensioners with passive income sources.
The D7 also requires applicants to register for a Portuguese tax identification number, while the digital nomad visa does not.
Holders of the digital nomad visa, however, cannot benefit from Portugal’s healthcare system and must show they have their own insurance as part of the application process. The visa does not offer a pathway to Portuguese citizenship on its own, either.
Navigating the application process
Veach says that for her D7 application she used her retirement savings, pensions, and social security to meet the visa’s minimum income requirements.
She could have muddled through the application process on her own, she says, but hired an immigration assistant from Porto-based firm Relocate to Portugal to help with the process.
Veach also credits Deborah Dahab’s Master Your Move coaching program and ExpaCity, an online community focused on moving to Portugal, with helping to ease the application process and transition to life in Portugal.
She joined Facebook groups such as Americans & FriendsPT as well as local expat groups in Coimbra for advice, too. With nearly 35,000 members, the private group allows members to share their successes and stumbles along the path to moving to Portugal as well as tips and advice.
Bill Mauro, 58, and his husband, Marcus Lawrence, 51, both took early retirement from jobs in insurance and healthcare sales and left their home in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, to move to Lisbon in 2019.
The couple applied for the D7 visa and completed the entire application process by themselves, using documentation from the Americans & FriendsPT Facebook group.
“We followed the documentation to the letter, and it took six months from the time we made the decision to move to get our visa and arrive in Portugal in October 2019,” Mauro says. The couple sold everything they owned in the US and arrived in Portugal with just six suitcases.
Mauro cites affordable, quality healthcare, safety, recognition of their marriage and LGBTQ+ rights, and the country’s more than 300 annual days of sunshine as among Portugal’s selling factors.
They’ve since decamped from Portugal’s largest city and capital to their “dream home,” a schist stone house in the mountaintop central Portugal village of Salgueiro da Lomba. They purchased it for 165,000 euros in 2021 and are currently renovating.
Mauro says the pair live comfortably in their new home for just over $1,800 per month, which is what they would have been paying for health insurance alone had they remained in the US.
‘We couldn’t afford health insurance’
Glen Cook, a retired high school music and drama teacher, also cites the “exorbitant cost of healthcare in the US” among the biggest motivations for moving.
Cook, 59, moved to Portugal on the D7 visa in 2018 with his husband, Todd Doleshall (also retired) and their then-teenage son.
“We had reached a point where we had adequate means to retire, but not being old enough to qualify for Medicare, we couldn’t afford health insurance,” says Cook
The couple considered Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Italy, and Ireland among options for a move abroad, but decided Portugal most closely aligned with what they were looking for.
Not long after they’d moved to the country, they had the chance to experience first-hand what their benefits from Portugal’s National Health Service would be.
“We experienced a catastrophic medical situation which would have likely bankrupted us in the US,” Cook wrote CNN Travel in an email.
“Here, everything was completely covered. I’m still dumbfounded by the fact that we were never billed a cent for any of the care, which included a month in ICU and more than four months of inpatient rehab.”
Cook says he hired an immigration assistant to help with the application process and recommends others who feel bogged down by all the details do the same.
For visa assistance services, business is booming
While it’s entirely possible to apply for visas on your own, navigating the paperwork and bureaucracy in Portugal can be eased with the help of a visa application service.
Sara Galis of Welcome To Portugal, a Lisbon-based company that facilitates the visa application process by helping with everything from advising on the paperwork needed in your home country to setting up a bank account in Portugal and acting as an applicant’s fiscal representative there – says visa demand from Americans is booming.
Galis says 60% of her clients are from the United States, and most are applying for the D7 visa.
“For Americans, our currencies are almost at a par, which makes Europe even more attractive right now,” says Galis, who launched her business in 2021.
“They want to put one foot here and one foot there. And they see Portugal as a very safe country to live in.”
Gail Aguiar of Relocate to Portugal says she has seen increased interest from Canadian and British citizens looking to move to Portugal, too.
Aguiar points to global events, starting with the 2016 presidential election in the US as well as economic recession in Brazil and political scandals in that country, as being linked to historical upticks in interest in her firm’s services.
She says Brazilians account for most of the migration to Portugal, by far, although her clients are primarily American. According to the country’s 2021 immigration report, Americans represented just 6,885 people among Portugal’s 698,887 official immigrant arrivals that year. By comparison, 204,694 Brazilians immigrated and 22,782 Chinese.
Settling in might take some time and patience
Even when you’ve managed to secure a visa, settling into a new country and way of life can come with its own challenges.
Mauro says learning Portuguese has been the hardest thing about the move – even after taking the 150-hour government-sponsored language course offered to foreigners.
“Occasionally, we miss the familiarity of living in the country we grew up in,” he says. “Learning about cultural differences when it comes to house projects and healthcare can be challenging, but we try to look at these challenges as learning experiences and an opportunity to grow.”
Contrary to what you might see on some social media feeds, he says, “Portugal is not a magical place that solves all your problems.”
“When thinking of how we manage the ongoing transition, two important words come to mind,” he says. “Appreciate and assimilate. We appreciate everything that Portugal has offered us as immigrants by welcoming us with open arms in their beautiful country. We have also tried to assimilate by learning the language, culture, and history.”
Veach says making connections has been critical to settling into her life in Portugal, and she’s met several people through the various Facebook groups and networking groups she joined in real life.
“I’m an introvert, but I’ve been very intentional about participating in group gatherings in order to get to know some people here,” she says. “It doesn’t happen organically when you don’t speak the language of most of the people you live with.”
Challenges aside, Veach says she loves the feeling of safety in Portugal and being away from the “toxic political climate in the US” as well as having the opportunity to travel so much around Europe in her free time.
The slower pace of life that many people come to Portugal in search of does have its down sides, says Cook.
“One of the first words we learn is amanha, which translates to ‘tomorrow,’” he says. “But in practice, it doesn’t mean tomorrow. It means ‘When I get around to it.’”
And Portugal’s bureaucracy is “rampant.”
“There are more forms and processes and permits and licenses than you can imagine,” Cook says.
As far as things Cook misses from the US, however, those become fewer all the time and are generally outweighed by the things he appreciates about life in Portugal, he says.
“But I would kill for some good Mexican food.”
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