Tag Archives: living in Lagos

Living La Vida Lagos: How Much Does It REALLY Cost To Live In Lagos, Portugal?

Unless you’re reading our blog for the very first time, you’ll know that we’re delighted with our adopted country of Portugal and especially, the Algarve Region where we’ve been for the last two years, busily putting down some shallow roots. For us, it’s turned out to be an excellent place to live and we love exploring the area as well as playing impromptu tour guides, sharing favorite places with friends passing through. And maybe that’s why it really bothered us when we read an article about the cost of living in the Algarve that specifically mentioned outrageously low prices in Lagos (hamburgers costing €3) and promised that a couple could live on a budget of €1300 a month, more (that would be us) or even less.

But let’s back up a moment to confess that just a few short years ago, back in 2011 and right at the beginning of the germ of an idea that would lead to where we’re living now, I loved to check out the online stories about expats living out their retirement dreams in exotic locations overseas. We’d pass by the pics of palm trees and charming colonial cities and zero right in on our big question: What would it cost to live there? What would paying a rent of $700, $800 or even $1000 per month get us and what could we expect our groceries to cost each month? What was the price of a typical restaurant meal? A taxi? And, could we afford to pay the monthly air conditioning bill?

 

 

This is where traveling slow and living like locals as we made our way around and through several countries came in useful. From the beginning of our travels, we’ve kept detailed expense records of our daily costs and could tell you in a few minutes what we spent in each country. Having an idea what a realistic cost of living would be for us as well as what we could and couldn’t live without was extremely useful so that we could make some well-informed decisions based upon our practical knowledge. We visited many places where expats had written glowingly of their experiences and found, kind of like the nursery tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, that many places were too hot or too humid, some of the ‘springtime temps’ were too cold, some too rural and yes, some too expensive. Many places had little to offer in the way of things to do, some were too grimy, downright ugly or the air was polluted with diesel fumes, burning garbage and dust. In some places we had to be especially vigilant about protecting our possessions (we learned our lesson the hard way when a computer and camera were stolen in Ecuador) and there were places we didn’t feel safe. Lastly, some lacked medical services that we want in place as we age. Perhaps one of our most unanticipated lessons that we learned, on a memorable month-long visit to Big Corn Island off the coast of Nicaragua, was that our vision of paradise on a tropical island fell far short of the nirvana we’d imagined.

While we know that cost of living is an important consideration when you’re thinking of moving overseas, there are a lot of other things to think through, too. We’re mindful of our spending but bare bones living isn’t how we want to live. We want to download the new best seller onto our Kindles, watch Netflix, buy a pair of shoes or something for our apartment and go out to eat with friends without counting the pennies. And, contrary to what an online article we read said, €1300 ($1530 USD) a month probably won’t be enough to live in most places in the Algarve. (But, for those on a budget, don’t let us discourage you because there are some great places to check out north of us and along the Silver Coast which are less expensive.)

We compiled our expenses from July through November this year and then averaged our monthly costs to give you a better idea of what we spend each month living in Lagos.

 

 

RENT – €800/$939 USD

Rentals are difficult to find in Lagos so we were beyond happy when we found a fully furnished, modern, two-bedroom, two-bath apartment on the outskirts of Lagos. The apartment is a 5-minute walk to the beach and a 30-minute walk to the heart of historic Lagos. It has a large kitchen with granite countertops, a dishwasher and washing machine, a balcony with a sea view and access to a rooftop terrace. There’s a communal pool, a storage room and an underground parking space as well as plenty of secure parking behind a gate. (Note: Our lease ends in April and we’re hoping to find a house somewhere near Lagos so this figure will probably change.)

 

 

GROCERIES – €365/$430

We both like to cook and we eat the majority of our meals at home. We buy very little processed or ready-to-heat foods and eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, fish, chicken and lean hamburger. We usually slow cook pork and beef cuts as we’ve found them to be tough.

HOUSEHOLD – €160/$189

This includes all the miscellaneous non-grocery items that usually get lumped in with the grocery bill like cleaning products and laundry soap, toiletries (shampoo, toothpaste), paper towels and toilet paper. It also covers household items such as a printer stand, pens and pencils, garbage bags, plastic storage bins and kitchen towels.

UTILITIES –  €215/$253

We’ve lumped in three separate costs under utilities. Our PHONE/CABLE TELEVISION/INTERNET is bundled at €60/$69 for a landline, one mobile phone and basic cable. Our WATER bill recently increased and runs about €25/$29 and our ANNUAL ELECTRICITY averages out to €130/$153 per month. We changed our average cost from monthly to annual for our electricity bill to give you a better idea of what we’re paying for an average. From December through March, we heat the living room of our apartment and from May through October, we cool the apartment using fans and the old-fashioned method of opening our windows during the night rather than using the included A/C in the living and bedrooms. Sewer and garbage is included in our rent.

TRANSPORTATION – €170/$200

We bought a 2012, 4-door Skoda our first winter here for €7500/$8830 which has a manual transmission. Following a tip from a friend, we found a mechanic who charges us local prices rather than the higher prices we’d been paying at a far more conveniently placed auto shop. Gas in Portugal is outrageous no matter how you look at it. We pay roughly €1.50/$1.77 per liter or a heart-stopping €6/$7.06 per gallon. A set of four new tires and an alignment cost us €279/$329 which is included in our monthly average. Also included in this average is our monthly car insurance at €28/$33 and the road tax (similar to license place fees) which is €13/$15.

 

 

MEALS OUT – €138/$162

Meeting friends for a late lunch is one of our favorite things to do here in Lagos and there are plenty of restaurants and cafes in the area to while away an afternoon. An average meal for the two of us costs €25-40/$30-47 including a drink and small tip. For wine drinkers it can be a real bargain because sometimes a bottle of water costs more than a glass of wine!

 

 

CLOTHING – €99/$117

HEALTH INSURANCE – €92/$108 for both of us

We carry a Portuguese private insurance for which we pay an additional copay per doctor or dentist visit. As residents, we also qualify for the public healthcare, the Portuguese Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS) which charges a very small copay. We did not include our medical costs or prescriptions as figures can vary greatly from person to person.

LANGUAGE LESSONS/GYM – €107/$126

ONLINE PURCHASES – €113/$133

This includes Netflix, movie rentals and book purchases from Amazon for our E-readers

MISCELLANEOUS – €102/$121

This includes all sorts of incidentals like haircuts and random purchases that don’t fit into any other category.

THE GRAND TOTAL – €2361/$2780

For us, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” in Lagos, Portugal doesn’t get much better.  We have everything we need at our fingertips but, more importantly, we have (just about!) everything we want. And …WE’RE LIVING IN  FREAKING EUROPE!  Obviously, our priorities and expenses are going to be different from another couple’s spending but there’s no reason to exaggerate about how affordable the Algarve Region of Portugal is. (And articles saying that a couple can live here comfortably for €1300/month only set people up for failure.) There are always going to be less expensive places to live around the world but, for a country brimming over with history, culture, stunning landscapes, beautiful beaches, a mild climate, great food, good medical care and friendly people – we figure we probably don’t need to find a better place for us than right where we are!

By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash

Note:  We’re going to take some time away from writing for the next few weeks, so this will be our last post for 2017. Wishing you all a very happy holiday season and we’ll catch up with you sometime in January.

 

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.