Julie: Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Portugal, etc.
I’m originally from the UK but I developed a serious case of wanderlust when I went backpacking in my late 20s. When I got back to the UK, I quickly realized that I needed to live somewhere warmer so I trained to become a teacher of English as a foreign language.
After that, I lived and worked in Spain, Tanzania and Venezuela before settling down in Portugal in 2007. Having lived in Tanzania and Venezuela for a few years, I felt the need to be a little closer to friends and family so when a job came up in Coimbra, I jumped at the chance to return to Europe but stay in the sun.
I met my husband in this new job so it was a good move! He’d just bought a house in a tiny village outside Coimbra which has amazing views so now we’re both enjoying the quiet of the Portuguese countryside.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
A couple of years ago, I decided to put some effort into fulfilling a long-held dream of mine to become a writer. One of the many useful pieces of advice I came across was to keep a blog.
At first, the content was rather random and sporadic but in September 2011, I decided to follow some additional advice about blogging and focus on one main area. I still love travelling and really enjoy travel writing but most of my trips these days are within Portugal so it made most sense for me to limit my blog to things related to living and travelling in Portugal.
My hope is that readers will find my experiences entertaining and possibly useful in some way.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
It’s hard to choose as there are several that I’m quite fond of. One of them is the first in my Personal A to Z of Portugal series, A is for Alva, the River Alva because it combines my enthusiasm for where I live with my love of river beaches. Still on the theme of river beaches, another of my favorite posts is about a new one I found last year, The Unexpected Pleasures of Cascalheira River Beach.
I also like the post I wrote about the Castle of Dreams, Porto, which is where the photo above was taken.
And I can’t resist adding K is for Kissing as it describes my ongoing difficulties with social greetings in Portugal.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Portugal differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I came to Portugal after spending a difficult year in Venezuela and it was like a breath of fresh air. Cars stopped at zebra crossings! It was safe to walk around alone after dark in cities! A trip to the supermarket could be completed in less than an hour!
Now that I’ve lived here for a few years, I know that life’s not always as rosy as it first appeared to be but I still feel very safe here and despite occasional frustrations that are largely to do with bureaucracy and a lack of communication, I really enjoy living here.
Because of the work I do, I get to wake up when I’m ready instead of being rudely awoken by an alarm clock. I usually get to spend most of the day at home making the most of the weather and views before setting off to work in the afternoon.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Portugal? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I was fortunate in that my company helped a lot with the settling in procedures. One of the admin staff came house hunting with me and a couple of other new teachers which made renting a flat much easier than if I’d had to do it myself. They also whisked us off to the town hall to get us registered with tax and social security and the like. If I hadn’t had that support, things would have been much more challenging, I’m sure.
My advice to anyone coming under their own steam would be to try and hire a Portuguese speaker who knows the ropes to get you through the minefield of bureaucracy. It shouldn’t cost much and would be money well spent, in my opinion.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
One that springs to mind would be the water torture massage. I’m sure that if I spoke better Portuguese, I wouldn’t have endured it for so long but as it was, I shut up and put up with a very uncomfortable massage that was only funny on reflection.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Portugal?
- Try before you buy. If you’re thinking of buying a property out here, rent somewhere in the area you’re thinking of first, if you can, just to make sure you feel comfortable living there. It can take a very long time to sell your property again if you get it wrong.
- Stock up on patience. Things take longer than you might expect and you probably won’t receive the level of customer service you may be used to. You will need to chase people for information, such as quotes and deliveries. It’s the thing I find most frustrating even after years of living here.
- Check the regulations on importing your possessions, especially your car, before you move to make sure you don’t miss out or get caught out with import duty / exemptions. Cars are VERY expensive here so if you’re coming from another EU country and you can get all the necessary documentation together before you move, you could save a fortune.
How is the expat community in Portugal? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
A large proportion of expats in Portugal are retired, especially those living in the Algarve, and there are well-established social clubs and activities to suit a range of interests that shouldn’t be too difficult to find on the internet or through local, English language newspapers.
In central Portugal, there are a lot of people sprinkled across the countryside who are trying to do up a ruin and grow their own veg with varying degrees of success and financial resources. People tend to be supportive of each other and provide an informal network but you could easily feel isolated if you don’t make the effort to get involved. Car boot sales are starting to spring up all over the place and they are often a good place to meet other expats.
I’m lucky in a way that because of my job, I work with other Brits so getting advice and making friends has been fairly easy. If I lived in Lisbon, I’d definitely go to one of the InterNations meet-ups to get to know people from other walks of life, and go to Portuguese classes.
How would you summarize your expat life in Portugal in a single, catchy sentence?
Crazy, hazy, lazy days in the sun with Daisy the dog.