Gail at Large

Expat of the month
  • Gail at Large
Published on 2016-09-01 at 00:00 by team
My name is Gail, I was born in the Philippines but immigrated to Canada as a young child with my family. I currently live in Porto, Portugal's second-largest metropolitan area, located in the north on the Atlantic coast. Spain is an hour to the north and about two hours to the east.

When and how did you decide to move to Portugal? Is it complicated to settle down there?

I decided at the end of 2012 to move to Portugal about a year later, the timing due to logistics (my work, projects, events) and bureaucracy (documentation from several countries).
Settling down can be described in two parts: bureaucracy and integration. It's easier if you're from an EU country (which I'm not), if you know the language (which I don't), if you have experience with the scope and process of immigration so that expectations are realistic (I do).

Have you ever lived abroad before? How many countries have you visited?

Yes, I also lived in Australia (13 months), Scotland (2 years), and the USA (about 1.5 years). As of now, Portugal has been the longest expatriation and I have no plans to move back to Canada or relocate anywhere else. I've visited 35 countries so far, about half of them multiple times.

What do you like the most about Portugal?

Portuguese society is family and community-oriented, with a great deal of solidarity. People have a “live and let live” attitude in most areas of life, and I would place Portuguese attitudes towards foreigners at the welcoming end of the spectrum.

Portugal is a relatively small country, especially compared to Canada, so it's easier to travel around and the landscape changes quickly. It's also easy and affordable to visit other countries in Europe. The weather varies, but overall it's very pleasant. The temperature range isn't too extreme between seasons, which makes it easy to enjoy the outdoors in any month.

The favourable weather also gives great produce, all year round. You don't even really need a green thumb, Portugal has excellent conditions for growing most anything.

How is/was the cultural shock? What are the main differences with your home country?

Portugal is a European country, so nothing shock-level to an immigrant Canadian with an ethnic background like mine (especially food-wise). If I were a vegan or had a very restricted diet I'd be missing out on a lot of Portuguese dishes, though, especially dining outside the home. Traditional Portuguese food is nose-to-tail eating, tends to be low on spice, and stingy with vegetables apart from soup. To compensate, I use seasonings liberally and eat more veggies at home.

Do you miss anything from your homeland?

I miss multiculturalism as the norm, and everything that comes with that: a wide range of ethnicities, religions, food, products, ideologies, traditions, and stories. To live in a more homogenous culture is its own kind of adjustment. I love Portuguese food and I can easily live on it, but I like a lot of other food, too.

Any 'memories of an expat' you would like to share with us? Your best souvenir? Or maybe your worst experience?

Not my worst experience, but I was told off by a priest once for not being a Portuguese speaker yet. I wanted to ask him if telling people off made him feel better -- and when was shaming a person EVER an effective motivator? Instead I informed him that I can read Portuguese much better than I speak it, and I'm working on improving. Thankfully, that was a very isolated incident.

What does your typical day as an expat in Portugal look like?

I don't have a traditional job in a workplace, so every day is different. The only constant from week to week is that I volunteer on Wednesdays, plus every other Sunday, at a migrant detention centre in Porto. Apart from that, I can be showing visitors around the city (either friends or people staying with us via a hospitality exchange network), taking photographs for a blog post or social media, or in front of my computer editing images and writing.

When did you start your blog? For what reasons?

I started my blog on July 28, 2002, soon after I started taking university classes at night on top of my full-time day job. Essentially, I wanted a place to write (read: rant) freely. I'd been publishing on the web before that, but not with this frequency. I soon learned that free platforms either get discontinued or are rife with advertising - the latter of which prompted me to migrate to a self-hosted site in December 2005 to guarantee full control over my content.

Did you make new friends with your blog?

Yes. I've stopped counting how many people I've met through it over the 14 years since I started it. The blog has sent a lot of good karma my way.

Why did you register on and what do you think of the website?

I registered with expat directories in order to get my blog listed and add my voice to the mix of expat experiences. has changed since I first started using it, mostly for the better (re: interface) but there are some things about the old version that I liked better.

Which advice would you give to the other members who would like to settle in Portugal?

Get comfortable with European Portuguese (it's quite different from Brazilian Portuguese). If you are settling independently, you'll need to do lots of research and get your paperwork in order. Join some forums and contact recent expats to get the latest information. Make some local contacts, people who can help you to deal with the institutions - not just government, but all kinds of services. If in doubt, invest in an immigration lawyer who will help you (they get priority at the government offices). It's worth the money, especially if you don't know anyone, or speak Portuguese, or come from a country outside the EU.

Gail at Large