Choosing the Ex-Pat Life

Portugal West Coast. Photo: ddzphoto

The ex-pat life. What makes someone pick up stakes and go live somewhere new, somewhere foreign?

Many people have a bucket list, whether it is written down or just wandering around in their heads. I’m a writer so my list has been in written form for decades. It changes as things get checked off or new ideas come my way.

One of the items that has been on that list for too long is to live in Europe for at least a year so I can experience it first hand, not on a two-week guided tour.

And… frankly, at a certain age, things on your bucket list become much less possible and (ahem) I might be getting perilously close to that certain age. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that life doesn’t care how old you are when it slams the door.

It was time to move my ass off the couch.

A Little History:

Moving has been a constant in my life. My parents moved us to at least five different houses in the same town when I was growing up, each one better than the last. I think my oldest siblings got to live in seven different houses.

I moved from Massachusetts to Georgia to Florida to San Francisco to Hawaii back to Florida as an adult. I like warm weather. Any place I move has to have mild winters. I am a wuss.

I can work from anywhere. My clients are (mostly) business authors and we connect over the internet. I have met very few of my clients in person. Where I live is not important to them.

Why Be an Ex-Pat in Portugal?

There are tons of ex-pat and digital nomad strongholds around the world. My friend Kellie, who you most likely will hear more about over the next few months, lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand for a couple of years before settling in Merida, Mexico. My friend Dan goes back and forth between the US and his parent’s home country of Serbia. My friends Maryhelen and Steve have been planning their retirement in Costa Rica, which may be my Plan B. In fact, Costa Rica, Belize, and Mexico are retirement meccas for Americans because of the weather, lifestyle, and cost of living. I was also told to check out Panama and Ecuador. And Portugal.

My goal was to experience Europe first hand. So, while I may not end up in Europe forever, I knew it would be my starting point.

I initially looked at Italy because I’m about half Italian. I wanted someplace warm with beaches. I wanted a base of operations where I could travel throughout Europe fairly easily. The cost of living in Italy can be lower than the US, depending on where you choose to live. From my research, it was mostly comparable, but then, I live fairly cheaply to begin with. I don’t have kids, pets, a spouse, or a fancy car. I’m not a foodie (though I’m willing to expand my horizons) and if you’ve ever seen me dress, you know my money does NOT go into the latest fashion trends. (I’m hoping to improve on that, too.)

Then someone else said, “Check out Portugal. It has a thriving ex-pat community.” Probably four different people recommended it to me. So I took a look and I liked what I saw.

  • The country is small, with about 10 million people, and it hosts around a half million ex-pats. I figure that until I learn the language, I just need to put myself in a group of nine other people and the odds are good that one will speak English.
  • Actually, because of tourism, many Portuguese speak English and frankly, while I can’t and won’t depend on that, it will be helpful.
  • They like Americans. That’s really nice, because we have not been the best citizens of the world lately. I appreciate that and I will do my best to be a good guest.
  • The cost of living IS low, especially compared to major American cities. This is good for me because it will allow me to have a relatively inexpensive base of operations while I explore Portugal and the rest of Europe.
  • It’s developed. By that I mean access to wifi, which is important for my work. But it also has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, which becomes more important with each passing year.
  • Portugal has a mild climate and gorgeous beaches. It has a rich culture and history which makes it a perfect place to start my European experience.
  • Why not Portugal?

Flying Blind into the Ex-Pat Life

I had planned to visit Portugal over the summer of 2020 to check out some of the regions, perhaps decide on an area to settle, and figure out if I would actually like it. But Covid.

So, I’m going in blind. I’ve never been there. I don’t know anyone there. I’m on Lesson Six of my Portuguese language course. (And it ain’t pretty.)

Covid has made the move a bit trickier. There are more hoops to jump through; more precautions to take. But I have my visa, I have accommodations lined up for the next six months, and I just bought new luggage. I’m ready. I think. Yikes!

Coming posts will include the visa process, what I’m taking with me, what’s going into storage, and all the preliminary work I have had to do to make this come about. Stay tuned.

This post originally appeared on Barbara Grassey’s ExPat Life blog at

Barbara is a writer, speaker, and marketing consultant. She specializes in helping business authors leverage their books. Learn how:

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