Monthly Archives: November 2016

Emigrating, Immigrating and Celebrating Our First Year in Portugal

Countryside in Central Algarve, Portugal

Countryside in Central Algarve, Portugal

We don’t usually think of ourselves as trend-setters.  We left the US in 2012 with the plan to travel slowly and see where the road took us.  We’d concluded the year before, in 2011, that the only way early retirement would be possible for us was to look at moving to another country where the cost of living was cheaper and the health care more affordable.  We weren’t making any political statements as we traveled slowly from Mexico to Central and then South America with a couple of island nations thrown in for good measure.  And how we ended up in Portugal wasn’t because we were disaffected with the US.   However, judging from the dramatic increase in Americans inquiring as to how to move to other countries like Canada, (so many that the immigration website repeatedly crashed the night of the election of Donald Trump as the future President) we may well be ahead of a rising number of US expatriates seeking new lives elsewhere.

Along the cliffs between Lagos and Luz.

Along the cliffs between Lagos and Luz.

Coincidentally, the increased interest in moving abroad has occurred on our first anniversary as Portuguese residents, living quite happily in the Algarve area of Portugal.  It’s been awhile since we’ve talked about our lives in the small city of Lagos, what we’ve learned as we’ve coped with the cultural differences and figured out how, where and when to get things done.

One of the most important things we did, after consulting our lawyer and giving our landlord the required 60-days’ notice, was to move.  Turns out there’s a H-U-U-U-G-E difference in living out of a suitcase for three years and viewing each home as temporary versus renting a place with the plan to stay for a year or longer.  Our small apartment at the Lagos Marina was iffy from the start and, over the five months we lived there, doable slowly changed to irritation, changed to the old movie line from Network, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Heaters were replaced and light fixtures repaired but we were still left with broken down, uncomfortable and stained furniture, the sound of late-night partygoers holding loud conversations outside our windows and the fact that we had about a foot of counterspace to prepare meals in our “efficiency” kitchen.  And once we rented and later bought a car, the walkable location and proximity to the grocery store, city center, bus and train stations became much less important.

View from our balcony

View from our balcony

Finding a rental in Portugal.  Unlike the US where rental companies and realtors share multi-listing services, it takes a little more effort and diligence to find a rental here.  It’s not that there aren’t property managers, rentals or sellers out there – it’s just that their listings are exclusive.  A renter or buyer goes from one representative to another and views different properties with different agents until they find what they want.  Another wrinkle in the Algarve and especially in Lagos, is finding a long-term rental versus a short-term rental (called a “holiday let” here) because this is a popular tourist area.  The rents double and triple in June, July and August and many owners have a good income as well as the option of using their property as a vacation home.  We’d made friends with one realtor during our time in Lagos and a new friend recommended another property manager so, in a classic case of the right time-right place circumstances and in the space of a week, we had two great places to choose between.  One was a 2-story, 3-bedroom, 2-bath townhouse/condo for €900 in the nearby town of Luz and the second choice was a very modern second floor apartment, 2-beds, 2-baths with a sea view on the outskirts of Lagos for €800.  Both were furnished nicely right down to pans, plates, sheets and towels, had gated access with parking for our car and lovely pools.  We opted for the second apartment with its granite countertops and dishwasher (only €50 more per month than our original rental) and, giddy with the feeling that we had a most excellent abode, forked over without any hesitation our first and last months’ rent.  We’d moved to Portugal with three medium-sized suitcases, two carry-ons and two small backpacks.  This time it took two car trips to schlepp our stuff, mostly kitchen items, a bulky printer-scanner, pillows and off-season clothing, Beverly Hillbillies style.

What we learned.  We should have rented a place month-to-month (Air BnB has some great choices) for the first one to three months while we looked for a good rental that better suited our taste and budget.  It takes a bit of work to wriggle out of a long term lease.

Other things to consider:

*If you’re thinking about the Algarve, start your search during the shoulder or off-seasons, September through May.  You’ll save money and there will be more choices available.  Keep in mind that living along the coast will be more expensive as is living in a popular tourist town like Lagos.

*Rent a car by the day, week or month (the rates go down during low season) even if your plan is to be auto-free and pedestrian once you settle in.  This will give you a chance, in your quest to find the right place, to explore the small villages scattered along the coast and inland which all have unique personalities and characteristics.

*Don’t buy a property right away if that’s what your long term plan is. There’s a lot to choose from and no reason to rush. And, if we haven’t made it clear by now, our plan is to keep renting for the foreseeable future. We’ve been there – done that as far as owning property and we much prefer to keep our options open.  In fact, we really can’t see too many reasons to buy property in a foreign country since the rents are so reasonable.

Coastline near our apartment

Coastline near our apartment

Changing your address.  Since we’d traveled for several years we’d gotten out of the habit of a having either a phone (when you’re new in town who are you going to call?) and mailbox.  The ease of doing everything online and staying in touch by email is a no-brainer.

*However, now we had a phone and internet/cable contract so we walked over to our service provider, MEO, to advise them that we were changing addresses and needed to have the cable moved to our new apartment. The new installation cost a whopping €100.

Consider: In a foreign country, we always try to do things face-to-face to make sure we understand and are understood!

Consider: If you’re going to rent short term, find a place that has wi-fi and cable TV (almost every apartment but the one we rented!) to avoid a package contract.  Our new apartment had public Wi-Fi and cable so now our services are duplicated. On the upside, our total bill is only €54/month and our internet is private.  Still, if you only have a phone contract, it’s much easier to update the address and pay the bill as an auto deduction from your bank.

*We took photos of the water, electricity and gas meters of our old apartment on the day we moved out to give to our former landlord to change the utilities back to his name.  The whole process of changing the utilities took a lot of patience and ended up with us feeling frustrated as well as feeling like we’d (most probably) been ripped off.

Lesson Learned.  Our new property managers gave us the option to keep the utilities in the owner’s name and we pay the bills online as we receive them which is much easier and more straightforward.

ruins near Porto de Mos, Lagos

ruins near Porto de Mos, Lagos

As foreign residents, the most important people to tell about an address change is the SEF, Service de Estrangeiros e Frontiers aka the Foreigners and Borders Service –  in short, the immigration authorities.   We stopped by the nearest SEF office in the city of Portimao where we showed them our new lease and address, forked over €40 each and had new photos (hurray, the new photos make us look less like fugitives but one of us is lacking a chin!) and fingerprints taken since SEF would issue a new resident card with our updated information.

Another lesson learned.  Make sure your address is complete.  While our address was correct the original information we’d been given lacked our apartment number which meant the postman couldn’t deliver it.  We waited and waited for our new resident cards to come, checked at the post office where they shrugged their shoulders in a polite but unhelpful way and finally went back to the SEF office to find out the cards had been returned.  We picked them up and, next time, will make sure our new cards have the apartment number on them when we renew our resident visas.

Car Taxes and Road Inspections.  We’d bought our spiffy little car, a used, low-mileage, 2012 Skoda, from a reputable dealer for €7500.  In Portugal, the license plates come with the car and a road tax is paid annually at the Finanças office.  Our cost was about €120.  Once a car reaches the grand old age of four, it also needs to be inspected either annually or biannually depending on its age. Using a hand-drawn map, we headed out of Lagos toward the town of Sagres for a few kilometers, past the campground, around a few roundabouts until we saw a furniture store and, next to it, our target, the Inspecção Automóvel.  We paid the inspection fee of €33 and watched as our baby was poked and prodded, the brakes stomped on repeatedly until we thought we’d have to buy new tires and then shaken, over and over which had us thinking, “This can’t be good.” And it wasn’t … We were given a temporary pass, told to have our shocks replaced and headlights adjusted (€300) and instructed by the unsmiling technician to return within the 30-day grace period. A final re-inspection fee of €8 (and a smile at last) confirmed our car’s continued road worthiness for another two years.car inspection

Portuguese Driver’s License. We haven’t quite figured out what to do here. As residents, we’re supposed to have a Portuguese driver’s license but we understand that we have to exchange our US licenses.  In the US, a license is necessary for many day-to-day transactions. Since we travel to the US and also drive, we don’t want to surrender our licenses.  We’ve talked to several Brits who have lived here for years and have yet to find anyone who has exchanged their licenses.  So, for now, this issue is unresolved.

Lastly, and thanks to our lawyer, we recently received our registration as Non-Habitual Residents (NHR) which exempts our foreign income (like social security) from being taxed twice, once by the US and again by Portugal, for ten years.  We’ve included a link here which will explain this difficult concept much better than us since our understanding is, “WTH?” at best!  Taxes for Non-Habitual Residents

Looking back at this lengthy tome we’ve written has us thinking “We should have done this months ago” in more manageable posts!  For those of you with questions about becoming a resident in Portugal, hopefully this provides more information and didn’t induce too many yawns.  For those of you happy where you are, we hope we’ve impressed you with our dogged determination to master our lives in a foreign country.  Every day we’re reminded in many small ways that, “We ain’t in Kansas anymore.” Things are done differently here in Portugal but the extra effort is definitely worth it.

A cairn along the cliff path near Lagos

A cairn along the cliff path near Lagos

By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash

Next Post:  Continuing with the “We ain’t in Kansas anymore” theme, we’ll talk about some of the things, for better or not, that are different here in Portugal.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Days in July, A Cyclorama and the Enduring Symbolism of Gettysburg

Gettysburg Battlefield, Pennsylvania. Photo by No Particular Place To GoIt was hard to imagine the brutality of war as we drove through the Pennsylvania countryside.   The landscape was fifty shades of green with rolling hills, great rock outcroppings and a sky of brilliant blue.  And yet, on the days of July 1st through July 3rd of 1863, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War was fought with over 51,000 soldiers wounded, missing or dead at its end.  A war that had begun over states’ rights and numerous contentious issues of free versus slave states, which foreshadowed the greater question of the preservation of the Union, gradually had evolved into an all-out effort to subjugate the old South and banish the institution of slavery.  Like all American school kids, we’d grown up learning the bones of the story and reciting dry facts.  As adults, we’d read our share of the countless books and essays that have been written about it.  And yet, during our visit to the Gettysburg National Military Park, the significance of the Civil War seemed especially sobering in view of the great rifts and divides currently afoot among the people of the United States today. Gettysburg Battlefield monument, Pennsylvania. Photo by No Particular Place To Go

At the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center we watched a short film which sketched in the historical events leading to the Civil War and, two years into the war, explained the importance of Gettysburg as a turning point in the conflict.  Nearby, a massive painting called a cyclorama piqued our interest and got our undivided attention as it showed in painstaking detail, the final battle in Gettysburg where the Confederate infantry brigades attacked and made one last attempt to overwhelm the Union soldiers.  Known as Pickett’s Charge, the decisive defeat of the south at Gettysburg came in less than half-an-hour with more than 5,000 Confederate men broken upon the fields: missing, wounded, dying or dead.Cyclorama at Gettysburg Museum, Pennsylvania. Photo by No Particular Place To Go

 

Cyclorama at Gettysburg Museum, Pennsylvania. Photo by No Particular Place To GoA trendy form of entertainment in the late nineteenth century, cycloramas were panoramic images built in the round that gave the viewer, who stood in the middle, a 360-degree view of the action; battles, of course, were popular depictions.  Hundreds of cycloramas were made and the most popular ones would travel from city to city to be displayed, often accompanied by music and narration to make the viewing of the image a complete performance. Today, only about thirty survive worldwide with three cycloramas located in the United States: Gettysburg, Atlanta and Boston.  The Gettysburg Cyclorama, painted by French artist Paul Philippoteaux, is enormous at 42 feet high (4 stories) and longer than a football field at about 380 feet. After spending months of research on the battlefield, it took Philippoteaux and his assistants well over a year to complete the huge canvas in the early 1880s.  First exhibited in Boston in 1884, the painting suffered a lot of abuse over the years including being sliced into panels and trimmed down to fit into exhibit spaces as well as temperature and humidity fluctuations, water damage, rotting and tears and fire damage not to mention improper storage.  By the time the National Park Service acquired the cyclorama in the 1950’s, and did some restoration work before exhibiting it for the centennial anniversary of the battle, it was in sad shape.  In the late 1990’s a massive conservation effort, the largest of its kind in North America, restored and repaired this historical artwork so that it could be appreciated by the more than 1 million visitors who visit Gettysburg every year. Cyclorama at Gettysburg Museum, Pennsylvania. photo by No Particular Place To Go

 

Cyclorama at Gettysburg Museum. Pennsylvania. Photo by No Particular Place To GoAfter spending quite a bit of time walking around and examining the cyclorama, we piled back into the car and took the self-guided audio tour around the huge park which covers over nine square miles.  There are approximately 1,300 markers and monuments scattered in the fields and along the roads describing what occurred and commemorating the relevant brigades who fought there. Gettysburg Battlefield monument, Pennsylvania. Photo by No Particular Place To Go

 

Gettysburg Battlefield monuments, Pennsylvania. Photo by No Particular Place To Go

 

Gettysburg Battlefield monument, Pennsylvania. Photo by No Particular Place To GoIn the July heat following the Battle of Gettysburg, the smell of thousands of dead soldiers decomposing permeated the countryside and residents in and around the nearby town of Gettysburg carried peppermint oil and pennyroyal to help mask the stench.  Fearing an epidemic, the bodies of the dead were hastily buried, many only crudely identified with a pencil written note on a board.  Many more corpses, unnamed, were buried in shallow trenches and mass graves. Shortly thereafter, the State of Pennsylvania appropriated funds for the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and purchased a site which included the ridge where the Union forced back Pickett’s Charge.  The reburial of the Union dead began on October 27th, 1863, nearly four months after the battle, with countless graves reopened and the remains identified if possible, many by the things they carried. The bodies clad in Union uniform were placed in wooden coffins and moved to their final resting place.  The grisly exhumation of the original graves took months to accomplish and was overseen by Samuel Weaver who made sure that only the boys in blue were placed in Gettysburg’s National Cemetery.  Any grave containing Confederate dead was closed again, the corpses left in place.Gettysburg Cemetery, Pennsylvania. Photo by No Particular Place To Go

And what of the dead wearing the Confederate gray, moldering on a battlefield far from their homes?  A women’s group in North Carolina began to advocate for the return of these southern soldiers so that they too could be honored for their sacrifice and laid to rest.  And finally, after nine years, the first of the shipments south of the remains of 3,320 soldiers began. Most of the dead were reinterred in the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, but many also found their final resting places in the town cemeteries of Raleigh, Savannah and Charleston. Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Photo by No Particular Place To Go

November 19th is Remembrance Day at Gettysburg.  The day honors those who gave their lives in the war and commemorates the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery and Abraham Lincoln’s eloquent address.  In his brief speech honoring the men who had fought and sacrificed their lives, President Lincoln urged the living to continue their fight for the preservation of the country.  In the years following the Civil War, Gettysburg has become a symbol of healing, a place where former Union and Confederate soldiers returned to reflect upon the battle, but also to shake the hand of a former enemy.  Maybe we all need to remember, despite the contentious political climate that exists today, what has kept our nation united these many years since the Civil War… We can only hope.

By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash