Working and living in Portugal / Italy

This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch)

Life in Portugal

Twenty-five years ago, I moved to Portugal, and I am often asked what it is like to live and work as a foreigner in Portugal…so, let’s talk about that today. You’ve probably gathered by now that I love living in Portugal; from day one, I felt completely in my element and considered this country my home.

Carvoeiro

About 25 years ago, I decided to follow my parents, who moved to the Algarve several years before. I had given myself a year to build a life in the Algarve, and if that didn’t work out, I would return to Holland. So, then the question arises: what are you going to do? In those days, it was certainly not easy to find a job that was reasonably well paid. After a short period of investigation, I decided that I would give it a try with cleaning swimming pools. Yes, a real “pool girl”! And no, there are no pictures from that period, as I didn’t have a mobile phone back then and had never heard of a selfie – yes, indeed…that old!😀

Of course, it was a bit of a challenge to figure out how all those pumps, taps, filters and pH levels worked, but in the end, it was quite a success. It soon became apparent that many homeowners were quite keen on having a “pool girl.” But, I also understood that this was not going to be a career for me until I was 65 (yes, really – at that time, the retirement age was still 65).

I found a solution in managing holiday homes. At that time, my mum and dad were already managing several holiday homes, and we expanded that business considerably. Finally, when it was financially possible, I slowly reduced my swimming pool business to zero. So, you understand, I did stay, and after six months, I had all my stuff brought over from Holland.

The climate and the sea

But what is it really like to live and work in Portugal? Let’s start with the positives. Of course, there is the fantastic climate, with an impressive number of sunny days. This is a very important factor for me, because I dislike the cold (and I’m a real shivery type). The sun makes me very happy and, fortunately, it shines often!

Of course, it is much less hectic here than in Northern Europe. This does not mean that we do not work; on the contrary! It’s just that it’s all a bit less scheduled. Having a leisurely cup of coffee or lunch on a workday is not a problem – we simply make up the time by staying at work later. And, of course, it helps tremendously that in this part of Portugal, there are no traffic jams.   

And that beautiful ocean – that infinite plain in the most beautiful shades of blue – has a very relaxing effect and makes me happy every day. And I can’t get enough of the spectacular sunsets.

 

Food and wine

There is also delicious and healthy food: fresh fish, seafood and tomatoes that do not taste like water( like in some northern countries) are a luxury. Also, the fruit is often of much better quality than in Northern Europe. And last – but not least – there are the delicious Portuguese wines! Every region has its own but I am a real fan of the Alentejo and Douro wines. More information about these wines can be found in my article “Antonia’s Recipe and Excellent Wines from the Alentejo.”  –Antonia’s recipe and excellent wines from the Alentejo – La Dolce Vita (ladolcevita-in-the-south.com)

The friendliness of the Portuguese people is also a big plus for me. When I walk my dog in the morning, almost everyone greets me with a “Bom Dia” and often there is time for a chat. It is also not uncommon for me to come home with, for example, a bag of figs, given to me by that friendly lady who I meet almost every day when I pass her house.

Bureaucracy

So, there are no disadvantages? Yes, for sure there are; the bureaucracy here is something that makes folks unhappy. Every system here only functions with documents, lots of documents, and it is up to you to find out which ones you need and where you can get them. Especially licenses for building work, connections to the water and electricity systems and permits can be a challenge.

Also, you may not always get a friendly reception at certain city/state offices. At first, I thought that these workers were just being unpleasant, but now I know better – their unfriendly attitude is often the result of a kind of insecurity. After talking to them more often I discovered that they often think, maybe I don’t understand “that foreigner” or he/she doesn’t understand me and that makes them nervous. Once my Portuguese improved, a world opened up for me and those same people were suddenly sympathetic!

So, lesson one is learn the language as soon as possible!

Patience

Moving along, lesson 2: patience. Anyone who has read my previous articles will know that this is not exactly my best trait, so it took some time to get used to this. The familiar coffee chat of the cashier with the customer while a whole queue is waiting…the long wait for a bill in the restaurant…and we won’t even say anything about the wait at official authorities. Sometimes, it is very difficult and annoying but, believe me, just take a deep breath and stay friendly – this way you will get much more done

Healthcare

Healthcare 25 years ago was certainly not on the level of Northern Europe, but the Portuguese have been catching up! Now, we are even ahead in some areas. But waiting room times can be a problem, and if the issue is not urgent, it can take a few months before you can even get an appointment. A solution is going to one of the many private hospitals or clinics; however, you need to have the finances for that.

Social safety net

If you ever consider moving to Portugal, be prepared – there is not as good a social safety net as there is in Northern Europe. So, it is very wise to have some savings in hand so that in case of a financial setback, you are not at the mercy of the gods (e.g., COVID-19 crisis,).

Cold

Another frequently asked question is about the weather – is it cold in the winter? That question is not easy to answer. Even in winter, it is not very cold during the day, but the evenings and nights can be quite chilly. The high humidity can also make the temperature less pleasant, especially indoors. In short, when the sun goes down in winter, you will need a nice, warm jumper and, near the sea, in the morning your outfit can even look like this: 😉

Italy

But enough about Portugal. Because I’m also completely obsessed with Italy, I’d like to share some stories.  The magazine The Taste of Italy has already shared some information from their next issue with me, and I will pass it along to you! Unfortunately, this magazine only exists in Dutch, but I still would like to share some of the experiences from Martijn and Tamara in Tuscany and Angelo in Rome.

Martijn and Tamara in Tuscany

After work, a stroll through the vineyards, a quick visit to the Uffizi Museum or a swim in the Mediterranean Sea – for many Northern Europeans, that sounds like an unattainable dream. Yet, some lucky people have Italy as their backyard. Martin Lipsius and Tamara Hosmar, for example, hunt for truffles with their dogs in the Tuscan hills. According to Martin:

The first time our dogs found a truffle was a magical moment. We were walking in the woods near San Miniato, and suddenly they were digging wildly in a hole. The moment you open the ground and that truffle smell is released is amazing. We have five dogs, three of which I worked with in the Netherlands as tracker dogs, tracking down explosives and narcotics. That was my passion, but because I had been doing it for years as a job, I wanted to do something different, but together with the dogs. Tamara and I always loved Tuscany; there was actually no place where we felt happier. Making the switch to truffle hunting, therefore, seemed a logical step. We started to research and learn how we should go about it. Of course, we also had to sell our Dutch house, find a new place in Italy and get our license to become official truffle hunters. For that, you have to fulfill strict conditions and take an official course (including an exam). My Italian was not yet optimal, so that was quite a challenge. Meanwhile, the dogs had to be re-trained, and we had to buy a new puppy. As a registered truffle hunter, you also have to work with a lagotto romagnolo, a traditional breed of dog. In 2020, we moved, first to a rented house and, finally, we found a beautiful place in the woods near San Miniato. It was in the middle of COVID, so it was sometimes quite lonely, just the two of us on our Tuscan mountain. We now sell truffles, make truffle oils and salt and honey (in cooperation with a small company in the area), organise dog holidays and give courses to people who want to teach their dogs to track truffles. Although it is certainly not always easy, we are living our dream.

Angelo van Schaik

Living and working in the country of your dreams?  Moving to Italy can sometimes be disappointing, but where a door closes, a window opens. Emigration is a question of perseverance. Things going wrong? Just think: in the north, it is raining, and I would be working in an office with a suspended ceiling and tube lights….

In 2001, Angelo van Schaik moved with his family to Italy and is the Italy correspondent for various Dutch media in Rome, Lazio, Italy.

Would you like to know more about emigrating to Italy and tips from Dutch people who have gone before you? The extensive living and working special can be found in the latest edition of De Smaak van Italië magazine.  Click here for more info.

I am wildly enthusiastic about this magazine! As soon as you open it, you feel complete – like being in Italy.  Maybe it is time for a magazine The Taste of Portugal??

Ciao !!

 

 

This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch)

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