I Wish I Had Known That …

Apart from all the major stuff we need to know about moving to and living in Portugal — visas, residence, rules of the road, buying or renting property, etc. — there’s a bunch of little things that we learn as we deal with the days of our lives in Portugal.

For instance, unlike most places in the USA, making right turns on red aren’t allowed here.

We’ve compiled a list of random factoids and routine happenstance that’s worth a read.

For instance, the Portuguese tend to be passive-aggressive drivers. Either they take their sweet time, driving 20-40 kms below the speed limit on streets, highways, and byways (begging you to pass them, where possible) … or they’re aggressive speed demons who don’t drive the required two car lengths behind you, sticking, instead, on your tail until they can hop-scotch vehicle after vehicle. Similarly, always be careful to look in all directions — and then look, again — when walking around the area you live. (Too) many streets have neither yield nor stop signs, and some Portuguese drivers barrel down the roads without even slightly slowing down.

Here are some other things you might not have heard about the ins and outs of Portugal living:

Parking lots are good news and bad. The good news is that shopping carts often require a deposit of a 50 cent coin or a euro one to ensure that carts are returned to their corrals, rather than left wherever in the parking not. The bad news? Portuguese drivers often don’t take the time to straighten their vehicles and park within the lines, rather than helter-skelter, diagonally, across two or more spaces. Including parking spots reserved for the handicapped!

Watch where you step while walking around your area. Many dogs are allowed to roam and run through the streets where they take care of their “business.” More often than not, it’s not picked up. Pedestrians beware!

It’s illegal to use the outside lane of a roundabout to travel straight through unless you are exiting the roundabout.

Speed limits in Portugal depend on the both the type of road and vehicle. In “built-up” areas, for instance, the speed limit is 50 kph–approximately 31 mph.

Pets must wear special seat belts when out with you in the car. It’s the law!

A good rule of thumb is to remember that 80 kms is the equivalent of 50 miles–whether in distance or speed. Similarly, 80ºF is midpoint between 26-27º measured in Celsius.

You are be required to exchange your driving license within 185 days of getting a residence certificate in Portugal. Woe to you if you don’t! You’ll be required to suffer through Portuguese driving school which includes learning to use a driver’s school vehicle with manual transmission, being tested on all the rules — and signs — of the road, and demonstrating your ability to understand the mechanics of how vehicles operate by changing a tire, draining and adding fluids, and troubleshooting minor mechanical problems.

Plan on filing your annual Portuguese income tax returns first, and then filing those with your home country. Typically, you’ll need two accountants: one to file your Portuguese taxes, the other to file what’s due elsewhere. Most accountants filing USA taxes for foreigners in Portugal, for instance, automatically request an extension until October, so that Portuguese taxes can be taken into account when preparing client tax returns for Uncle Sam.

Forget about personal checks in Portugal and most EU countries. They’re a relic of the past. Most people use plastic these days. Checks sent from stateside to Portugal for special occasions and gifts won’t be accepted for deposit by Portuguese banks. Even if you have an app from your USA bank to conduct your banking online, you will also need an American sim card or chip.

When cashiers ask you for our “número contribuinte,” they’re asking if you want to provide your fiscal number (NIF). That way, the money you’ve spent on purchases will be reported to the tax authorities and you’ll receive (income) tax credits for your spending.

Offered the option of paying in dollars or euros with a credit or debit card? Always choose euros. You’ll be shown the exchange rate–how much in dollars you’ll pay for your currency exchange from euros. From time to time, write down that amount. Then, when you’re in a more personal space, check to see how much actually was charged to your credit or debit card. Invariably, you’ll find that you get a much better deal by opting for your transaction to be in euros.

Tips aren’t expected, but they are very much appreciated. Especially in restaurants, snack bars, and cafés. Most people leave the loose change on the table when ordering coffee or a tinto. Some Americans used to tipping 20% or more are astonished that 5% is the general going rate for tips in Portugal–especially for tabs up to 20€.

Municipalities in Portugal are measured from small to large. The smallest is the aldea (village), followed by vila (town) and cidade (city). Towns and cities are governed by juntas and cámaras (councils), while official business in villages is overseen by their fregusías (parishes).

Speaking of sizes, don’t forget to bring some of the smallest things with you–especially pharmaceuticals, like aspirin or eye drops. They can be hard to find in some parts of Portugal and much more costly than you’ve been used to paying.

Certainly, there are more things you may have wished you’d known before putting boots on the ground here in Portugal. Can you think of others, besides what we’ve posted here?

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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