Who Knew?

Portugal and Spain, we believe, offer something for every person, family, lifestyle, orientation, age group, budget, and taste.

There are those who choose to cultivate culture, teas, restaurants, and museum outings while living in major cities or their suburbs nearby … while others have come here to dig in the dirt, retrenching their roots.

Whether – like Eva Gabor in Green Acres – you prefer big city bustle, or an area with expats and river beaches, historic surroundings, life in a typical village, or living on lots of land, they’re all here.

But along with “location, location, location,” comes the price …

… particularly in a world that is discovering Portugal’s beauty and bounty, gobbling up properties primarily for investment purposes.

Not everyone buying, of course, is affluent or big bucks investors. Plenty of people are attracted to Iberia because of its surplus of “habitable” properties in the €40K-€75K price range. You’ll find plenty of them in Portugal’s central regions and along its Spanish border.

Spanish and Portuguese people refer to their age-old properties on the market for €25K-€40K as “antigas”; but Americans partial to this style of antiquities consider them “primitives.”

For even less than €25K, you can find and rebuild a “ruina.” or even a “quinta” (farm).

But not near Lisbon, Algarve, or Porto. Or Coimbra, for that matter.

One reason the visa application process can be so exasperating is the need to find suitable housing. That’s the beginning of your challenges. Once you arrive and set about daily living with all of its obligations and commitments, you begin to realize the vital importance of a resourceful online community such as this one. After all, into each life, some rain will fall.

For us, the rains related to our location.

Who knew about home inspections, often referred to as “surveys?” Not us. Had we been cautioned to arrange for a professional appraisal of our property, we surely would have done so. Property inspections, surveys, and appraisals may be commonplace in more upscale markets; but in Castelo Branco and Elvas, you’d probably end up relying on your local handyman or a neighbor’s friend (who works in construction) for an assessment. Again, that’s if you even knew to ask for one.

Then, there’s something most people do ask about: health care!

Just because you purchase the best insurance available, doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily have access to quality health care when and where you need it. Your insurance coverage is only as good as the physicians in its local network. Despite being metropolitan areas, few (if any) English-speaking doctors practice in Castelo Branco or Elvas … let alone Olvera, Spain. So, to discuss what’s hurting you with words that are understood, forget about family doctors, general practitioners, and internal medicine specialists.

They’re few and far between in the heart of these cities.

Our health insurance company sent us a list of thirteen providers. We discovered that three no longer are here … three are dentists, not doctors … four are laboratories, not doctors … and one single doctor is listed four separate times: as a generalist, family physician, internal medicine specialist, and gastroenterologist. He’s the one we saw … but he was often inaccessible: never available when we needed him, his staff referring us, instead, to the public hospital’s emergency room.

(Or, we could wait, with an appointment to see him eight days later.)

On another front, who knew what role an attorney should play in one’s move from the USA to Portugal? Along with all the legal work involved in your property’s transfer, should she serve as a surrogate, obtaining your NIF? Be there with you to open a bank account … arrange to have the utilities put in your name … and help you decide which level or type of service will best serve your needs and purposes? Do you expect her to order, organize, and oversee property inspections for you? Or, for that matter, defend you and your interests if what you get isn’t what you’d seen and agreed to in the contract?

Definitely, these are questions that require counsel and consultation.

Those with more disposable income (than ours, at least) may seek to benefit from customized services that handle everything for them. Good for them! If we had had the wherewithal, we would have taken advantage of such turnkey services, too (although I’m reminded that responsible people often urge us to do whatever we can personally, employing the “professionals” only when categorically necessary).

There are limitations to living in a “small” town, village, or area—even one as big as Castelo Branco (Lousa), Elvas (Vila Boim), and Olvera (Spain).

All things considered, there’s good news and bad.

The cost of living here is lower here. There’s less of a wait, swifter service, friendlier bureaucrats, and quicker turnaround times for all those vital services handled by SEF, IMT, and Finanças in the smaller towns and cities within the interior regions of Spain and Portugal.

Along with advocates, specialists, and property inspectors, the expert medical care we couldn’t find in our immediately vicinity is available just 30 minutes or so away.

The bad news is that the quantity and quality of professional services are still sadly lacking. But, who’s going to tell you that before buying?

Through my personal “stories,” I have tried to recount what we experienced in our move from the USA and transition to life here in Portugal and Spain. Some, more experienced and wiser at international maneuvers such as ours, may feel as though I’ve been overly dramatic, too often prone (perhaps) to problems, hardships, and misfortunes.

Maybe so. We’ve had our measure of dangling dilemmas.

What I share here with you isn’t published as “tales of woe,” but recaps of experiences that really happened to us.

Sometimes, because we didn’t know how to navigate, manipulate, and/or play the “system” … and other times, simply because of bad luck. Or, because where we live, options – even foods! –elsewhere available, just aren’t here (yet).

I’m not complaining or questioning our decision to buy in Castelo Branco or Elvas, with their easier access to our home away from home in Spain. We’ve made friends with many other expats and local Portuguese here.

No … it’s more of that wistful, yearning emotion the Portuguese know so well as “saudade.”

All those “who knew” questions? More important is learning how to anticipate and resolve these matters in advance. How do we effectively prepare for life’s (trivial) pursuits in a welcoming but “foreign” land?

It boils down to knowing what we don’t know – but need to – in terms of unfounded or unrealistic expectations and the real facts of life here. For better and/or worse, you then deal with the outcomes.

Especially if you‘re charmed where you live, despite its shortcomings.

That’s one of the beauties and benefits of Facebook communities like this one. Yes, with so many “newcomers,” it’s sometimes frustrating for long-timers to see the same posts, comments, questions and answers published over and again.

By sharing this series of anecdotes, we hope that you can avoid some of the pitfalls which have tripped and frustrated us. We’re not seeking sympathy (empathy, perhaps). But I do hope to avoid snarky smugness from those lurking, eager to snarl and pounce.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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