From Alexandria to Coimbra: A retired expat couple's adventure

Expat interviews
  • Coimbra
Published on 2022-10-12 at 10:00 by Francesca
Carla and Walter are an Italian expat couple who now live in Portugal. Retired, they left the gray of Alexandria to settle in Coimbra. They talk to about what makes their new home a great place to live in.

Can you please introduce yourselves?

We are a so-called "retired couple"; Carla is 67 and Walter (Arturo for everyone) is 69, but we consider ourselves to be still young and quite active.

What made you want to move to Portugal? 

We were living in Piedmont, in the Monferrato region, where it is cold in winter, hot, and infested with mosquitoes in summer. We had a big house there, which was complicated to run, and our only daughter lives in Canada, where it is very difficult to get permanent residence permits, even on the grounds of family reunification. And here we are.

We love the natural landscapes, the immensity of the ocean, the natural beauty of this country, its historical cities, etc. We got everything organized in two months. We did some research via online groups and managed to sell our house. Actually, we got in touch with a very good guy from Porto who arranged different appointments for us to visit some recommended houses, and we left.

We then visited various places in north-central Portugal within five days and decided that we would lay our hats in Coimbra. We found a house there, came back after about 20 days, signed the rental contract, loaded a truck with our furniture and Walter's plants, and ended up here.

Coimbra - Carla

Why did you choose Coimbra?

We live in a suburb 15 minutes away from Coimbra's city center. We picked this location because it is a beautiful region, on the Mondego River, 40 km from the sea, with a rich historic city that has a university that dates back to 1200. It is a lively and well-organized place, bustling with young people and a lot of clubs, but at the same time, it remains very much livable, very green, and not chaotic, with easy access to all basic services, including hospitals. We highly recommend a visit to the Botanical Garden and the Park on the Mondego. 

We used to live in the countryside, and the nearest city was Alexandria, a gray, dirty, worthless, and also one of the ugliest cities in Italy. This is how we value the chance of being here even more.

Did you find it hard to adjust to the lifestyle in Coimbra?

At first, we felt a tad out of place, the house was a mess, but we gradually sorted everything out. Now the place feels like it is "our own" and within two months, we became acquainted with other Italians living nearby. So we do not feel lonely anymore. 

We already have several invitations to reciprocate. In addition to that, the pastor of our parish is of Italian descent, an exceptional person with whom it is pleasant to converse.

How do you guys like to spend your days? 

Until now, we've only had a little leisure time. But we like to walk, get "lost" in the alleys of the old town, uncovering spots one wouldn't normally notice by car. We would go out for a couple of errands and come back hours later!

We have two E-bikes that we ride down the bike path that leads to the sea, along the banks of the Mondego River. There are also many other bike paths in the surrounding area.

When we have time, we go to discover beaches and villages by the sea. It's just wonderful! There are also endless beaches where walking is a dream. Then we plan to visit all the countries we haven't seen yet, provided we find the time to do so.

How much of a budget does it take per month to live in Coimbra? Can you give us a rough idea for rent, bills, food, and transportation?

I think that with 1,000-1,200 euros at most, one can live well without restrictions. Then it depends on the type and size of the house one wants. For us two, between bills and expenses, 600-700 euros seem to be enough. Actually, we don't really count because we were used to living in a very large house and opted for a 160 m² house with a garden. It must be said the rent is not exaggerated. 

The bills definitely have less of an impact than in Italy. The heating bill is paid along with the electricity bill, and the garbage tax along with the water bill. For the sake of getting an idea, in one month, we used the washing machine, the dryer and the dishwasher a lot. This was because after we moved in, we washed everything again. Our water bill and garbage tax came down to 25 euros, and 59 euros for electricity and heating. As for TV with unlimited Internet, a landline phone and a cell phone card, the monthly cost is 45 euros.

Here the climate is mild; it is never very cold. We have a wood-burning fireplace and use electric radiators in the bathrooms. We will put in more electric radiators if there is a need for that, but the expenses will never be as high as in Italy! Moreover, we recently received a text message saying that there would be a discount on the "Tarifa Social ne Eletricidade" (electricity bill) so... In Italy, we were paying very high bills, 400 euros only for garbage tax yearly, not to mention gas, electricity, and water. They are even talking about more incoming increases.

Grocery shopping here is far cheaper. The little stores close to the city center may definitely be more expensive, but if one goes to the worthwhile and beautiful “Mercado Municipal”, one can expect to find fresh and delicious fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. Then you have the supermarkets, where you have to be on the alert to snatch the best deals. However, everything is cheaper than in Italy, and there are always good bargain prices.

You can afford to eat at restaurants where you would spend 15 to 30 euros per person at most all-inclusive, and depending on the place, this can include eating fresh fish. A coffee with a dessert in one of the best pastry shops in Coimbra will cost between 1.60 and 1.80 euros per person.

Then, for us retirees, after 6 months, we will be eligible for tax relief which means that we will be paying only 10% taxes over the gross pension. What's more, we will also benefit from additional tax refunds on some specific purchase receipts, going from bread to medicals.

We haven't needed it yet, but they say healthcare works well here.

Beach in Coimbra - Carla

Do you speak some Portuguese? Are you taking any courses to improve your proficiency in the local language?

Language is the most challenging thing, but we manage to get understood and can understand enough to communicate. Many here know some English, certainly better than we do. We are slowly studying from an Audiobook, but we will soon start on free Portuguese lessons. These courses are organized by the “Freguesia in Figueira da Foz” where some people we met live. It will be a way to learn to speak the language and socialize without a barrier.

A few months after moving to Portugal, are you satisfied with your decision?

We are very satisfied and do not at all regret the choice we made. We went back to Italy for 4 days for some formalities, and, in fact, we couldn't wait to come back here.

Of course, we must always keep in mind that we brought significant changes to our life. Furthermore, we don't have to worry about the ties with children in Italy. Otherwise, it would have been more difficult. 

Nowadays, with technology, it is really easy to stay in touch with family and friends. You are not at the end of the world! All you need is either one plane or one car trip to get anywhere.

Life is short; you have to live it to the fullest. Besides, it is never too late to get back into the game and discover new possibilities. If we had been told we were coming to live in Coimbra, we might not have believed it.

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