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The 10 Most Surprising Things About Living in Portugal (As American Expat)

If you’ve been following our journey at all, you’ll know that our family moved to Portugal in 2019, after Amon and I achieved financial independence and retired early. A lot of people have been curious about our lives in this beautiful country, so I wanted to share some of the things that have surprised us most about living here.

Hopefully, these things will help you understand the country a little better if you are considering moving to or visiting Portugal.

1. The Month Of August

Now, this is a strange one, and it was the first surprising thing we experienced after moving to Portugal. August in Portugal is pretty much a shutdown month. It’s the month when everyone takes time off work to go on vacation, and a lot of places are closed for the duration of the month.

We actually moved here in August, but we were lucky because we had arranged everything ahead of time. But this is a warning if you’re thinking of moving to Portugal in August: if you want to find real estate offices or deal with government agencies you might be surprised to find these places are temporarily closed for business.

Tourist areas on the other hand, such as the Algarve or the Silver Coast, will be absolutely packed with locals! It’s a strange time of the year to be visiting for the first time.

2. Our Children Adapted Quickly

People often ask us how our daughters adapted to living in Portugal since it’s a really important factor you have to consider when relocating overseas with a young family. And we’ve been so pleased, and surprised, to find that our daughters took to this new country without a hitch! They’ve made plenty of friends, have an active life, and are loving living out their teenage years here.

There are plenty of activities for kids - they’ve both joined sports teams, frequently go to the beach or the movies or shopping with their friends, and have assimilated to Portuguese life and culture fantastically well.

3. Lunch Specials

Yes, you read that right! Portuguese lunches are incredible, and lunch at a traditional Portuguese restaurant is basically a four-course meal. But what’s really surprising about these lunches is how reasonably priced they are.

We will often go to a local restaurant and order a lunch special that includes olives, bread, soup, salad, a glass of wine, the main dish, a dessert, and Portuguese coffee. The last lunch special we ordered looked exactly like this and only cost 8 euros each!

4. Churches

Sure, there are churches in America. But in Portugal, every single town, city, or village has at least one church, and all the houses in that area tend to be built in close proximity to it. No matter where you are you’ll hear the church bells on the hour. To me, the sound of church bells adds so much texture and culture to our everyday life here.

That being said, if you’re considering buying or renting a home here in Portugal, you may want to check the proximity of those properties to the local church. I have the luxury of only hearing those hourly bells in the distance, but they can be seriously loud if you’re close enough.

5. Education

The education system in Portugal is very different from the US, especially when it comes to medical school. Students that want to become doctors can actually begin medical school immediately after high school, which is a six-year program that includes a health science degree and a Master’s in medicine. After that, they will complete a one-year residency in a hospital.

Americans reading this are probably wondering - how can they be fully qualified after such a short time? Surely the healthcare system in Portugal is terrible? But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The healthcare system here outranks the US at every turn. In fact, the WHO ranks Portugal's system as the 12th best in the world, compared to the US at #37.

6. ATMs To Pay Bills

Often when you get a bill in Portugal, it comes with a reference number, and you can use that reference number to pay your bills at an ATM machine using your credit card and PIN number. You can use this system to pay for utilities, water, gas, and even taxes!

That means when you’re out and about running errands you can easily pay your bills at an ATM, unlike the US system where people typically pay bills online.

7. The Cobblestone Streets

Particularly how slippery they can be. I know when you look at pictures and postcards of cities and towns in Portugal, the cobblestone streets look so quaint and charming. And they are, but they can also be somewhat dangerous. The streets can get wet and slippery, and you may find yourself falling if you wear the wrong type of shoes. Take this as a word of warning!

8. Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables

Living in the US you get virtually every fruit and vegetable all year round, but not so in Portugal. Here you only get produce that is in season at the time, so you’re always eating fresh fruits and veg, which I personally think is a big reason that Portuguese people are so fit and healthy compared to the average American. So if you’re in Portugal, keep in mind that you’ll only find your favorite fruits when they’re in season.

9. Greeting Kisses

This was a big surprise, but when you greet someone here or say goodbye, there is a chance you might be kissing them too! We were all surprised by the number of kisses we received while settling into life here, and it took some getting used to. Coming from the US, kissing as a greeting is pretty uncommon, but it is likely something that you’ll have to get used to it if you’re planning to settle down here.

10. Sunday Is A Family Day

People often say “Sundays are for families,” but in Portugal they really mean it! On Sundays, you’ll find a ton of restaurants and cafes that are packed with families and not just the immediate members. You’ll often see large extended families that book out multiple tables and spend hours eating lunch together. On Sundays, our neighbors will often have as many as four generations' worths of family visiting! It’s a genuinely wholesome, and something we weren’t expecting (but do love) about this country.

These are just a few of the things that have surprised us about Portugal, that you might want to know before you visit (or even if you plan to move here!). For more articles on moving to or living in Portugal as an ex-pat, check out more of our blog posts at Our Rich Journey.

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Hello, We’re Amon & Christina

We’re former federal government employees that focused on saving, making, and investing money so that we could grow enough wealth in our investments to never have to work again.

And, guess what? We did it! At the age of 39, we reached financial independence, quit our jobs, and . . . we retired!

So, if you’re interested in learning how to save, make and invest money on the road to financial independence and retiring early (i.e., F.I.R.E.) - this site is for you!

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