Life in Lisbon according to an English expat

  • Kev in Portugal
Published 2017-12-06 12:26

Kev is an English teacher hailing from England, but has lived in many countries prior to moving to Portugal in 2014. He is thoroughly enjoying his life in Lisbon, given the quality of life, sunny days year-round, excellent food, and low cost of living. Aside from spending time with his wife and cat, he enjoys writing and traveling.

Hi Kev, can you please introduce yourself. Where are you from, what are you doing in Portugal, and what were you doing before?

I grew up in the south east of England, but I lived in about 9 different locations until I was 30. I teach English at one of the best renowned schools in Portugal. I’m also a blogger and write fiction, having a fair number of stories published in anthologies over the last year. Before Portugal, I was teaching English in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

What brought you to Portugal? How long have you been in the country?

I came here because it was near impossible to make a decent living in Poland. No-one teaches English for the money, but it was impossible to have any savings or to travel, and both of those things are important to me. I've been here since September 2014.

What is the process of moving to Portugal?

In my case, I researched the school(s) I’d like to work for and sent them an email with my CV, asking if they had any positions available. I flew into Lisbon for an interview, was offered a job, and the rest is history. As an EU citizen, the process of moving here is fairly easy if you have a job offer.

What is your favourite thing about Portugal, and what is your least favourite thing?

My favourite thing is the quality of life. Excellent weather means I can spend more time outside than ever before, food is abundant, cheap, and of high quality (and often locally produced!), and the level of crime is extremely low. My least favourite thing is bureaucracy. It’s slow and inefficient.

What has surprised you the most about Portugal?

This is a boring, work-related answer, but I’m going to say the average level of English. I expected the level to be higher than in Poland but in the cities, it’s incredibly difficult to find someone who speaks English.

What are the features of today’s expat job market in Portugal?

Increasingly there are start-ups and IT firms in Portugal. The abundance of high quality talent with low living costs makes that easier. There are also an increasing amount of people who work here remotely, because of the high quality of life and low cost of living.

How easy or difficult it is to find accommodation in Portugal, and what type of accommodation is available for expats?

When I moved here it was relatively easy, if a bit slow. People are really bad at getting back to you, even when you want to give them money! Nowadays it’s a lot more difficult and expensive. The tourism boom here has seen to that!

What are the year’s biggest holidays in Portugal? What are some essential etiquettes?

I guess the standard religious holidays are Christmas and Easter, though nothing much happens at that time. It’s more a quiet, family-orientated experience here. The biggest holiday in terms of activity are the popular saints festivals in June. Each city celebrates its patron saint (for Lisbon it’s Santo Antonio). The etiquette is to hit the streets, dance, drink sangria, eat sardines, and buy a lucky miniature basil plant with a proverb attached. It’s great fun, but very noisy if you live downtown!

How do you find the lifestyle in Portugal?

Everything is very relaxed, generally speaking. This suits me really well, apart from the fact that everyone is always late. It can be a bit annoying when it goes to 45 minutes or an hour at a time.

How is the transportation system? How do you move around?

In Lisbon there is a cheap and efficient metro system. The locals complain about the price and quality but if you compare it to somewhere like London where there are seemingly endless delays and high prices, it's relatively affordable, and for me it works really well here.

Have you been able to adapt to the society?

I have mostly adapted to the culture here. As I mentioned above, the lack of punctuality is at times frustrating. The other thing I’ve found difficult is the position of family. In England, though families are often close, it is quite common that we don’t see each other for months at a time. Here, that is unthinkable. Now I am married into a Portuguese family, I have to think about that when I plan my routine.

What do you do in your free time?

I write fiction, I blog, I work out at the gym and go running on the beach close to where I live. I’m also a big fan of food and I enjoy craft beer, both of which are increasingly well represented in Lisbon. When I have weekends free (a rarity!) I like to explore different cities in Portugal. It’s a small country, but there is so much packed into it, and lots to explore!

In which city do you live? Are there activities for people who enjoy nightlife?

I live in Lisbon. It’s an extremely lively city at night. I’m old enough that I don’t indulge in it so often, but it’s nice to have live music, clubs, and bars when you want them.

What new habits have you developed in Portugal? And what old habits have you quit?

I drink FAR more coffee than tea these days – I would never have thought that possible, growing up in the UK. I also walk more for pleasure. When the sun shines 250 days a year, you have to get out and enjoy it.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Portugal?

It’s increased a fair amount lately, because of the increase in tourism, but still remains very low. The important things, like food and drinks are wonderfully cheap, leading to a much more vibrant restaurant, café, and bar scene.

What is something that you would like to do in Portugal, but haven’t had the opportunity to do yet?

There is a national park in the north of the city, called Geres, that I would absolutely LOVE to visit. But you need to take several days to visit it. I’m thinking of going for Easter next year. I’d also like to try surfing, even if I swim very badly.

Share your most memorable experience in Portugal.

I got married in September. It was truly an amazing day and one that will live in my memory forever.

If you could do the move to Portugal over, what would you do differently?

I think it’s all worked out so well, I wouldn’t change anything. Even the mistakes I’ve made have been great lessons.

What do you think of the local cuisine? What are your favourite dishes?

I love the food here. I love the fish. They do so little with it, and let the quality speak for itself. I also really enjoy the mountain cuisine. Roast goat with potatoes and roasted vegetables. The best thing about winter.

What do you miss the most about your home country or Poland where you spent three years?

I miss real pies from England, the enormous range of beer in Poland, and my friends from both countries, of course.

Give us some useful tips that expats-to-be in Portugal will benefit from.

Try to find work before you arrive or as soon as possible once you arrive. It makes the nightmarish bureaucracy somewhat less painful.

If you had to advise an expat on five items to bring with them to Portugal, which would that be?

Sunglasses, sensible shoes (the hills are unreal!), a healthy appetite, patience, and good humour.

What are your plans for the future?

Well I just got married, so I’m going to enjoy married life with my lady and my cat for a year or so. In that time I plan to get a novel finished and hopefully published. Then we’ll think about a child. Workwise, I’ll stay in the same place. They treat me well and I like my schedule. Finally, explore more of this diverse, fascinating country!

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The Editorial Team