15 February 2017

James Cave - Expat in Portugal

James Cave - Expat in Portugal

We’ve had the chance to talk to James Cave, 30, an Irish expat who has moved to Portugal with his partner. Mr. Cave who has been living there for two years, now works as a freelance marketing consultant.

Read more about his experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I’m from the South of Ireland. I grew up in a small town about half an hour away from Cork.


Q: What made you move out of Ireland?

A: I left home to go and live in the UK in 2005, where I spent several years working in digital marketing. Once I went freelance, my partner and I decided it made more financial sense to live and work from abroad where the cost of living is cheaper than the UK. We’ve lived in a few countries, including Spain and Germany, but eventually settled on Portugal as the place to call home.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I’m living in Portugal. After a very enjoyable trip to Portugal, we decided to spend a few months living in Lisbon. We both really liked it and decided it was where we wanted to put roots down.


Q: How long have you been living in Portugal?

A: I moved to Portugal in 2012, but have lived in a few other places like Spain and Germany in between. In total, I’ve spent two years living in Portugal.  


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: With a partner. She’s doing fine! We’re both freelancers, and so neither of us is the expat wife or husband in this situation.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: The first year or so of living abroad was more challenging, and there were definitely aspects of the UK and Irish life that I missed. But, you get used to it and you find alternatives. Pretty soon, you don’t miss whatever you were missing before.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: Portugal is a friendly country, and Lisbon, in particular, is very welcoming of the new wave of young expats that have moved there. Freelancing makes it more difficult to integrate, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It just means you don’t get to meet people through work, and so have to make more of an effort.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Portugal? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: A combination of both expats and locals. While I have been doing my best to settle into Portuguese life and meet locals, it’s nice to also be able to have a conversation in your native language every now and then. 

Meeting new people is never easy, but it helps if you have a hobby. Lisbon has a good running meetup group, which works well for me as I like running. 

Meeting new people where you have no common ground (i.e. a hobby) makes things even more difficult. If you start off with something in common, then you’ve a better chance of striking up a friendship.


Q: How does the cost of living in Portugal compare to your home?


  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: Depending on the place, it’s usually somewhere between 0.50 and 1.00 for a bica (espresso)

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: A reasonably priced lunchtime menu usually costs between €8 and €10, although it’s possible to find menus for €5 or less.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: There are expensive restaurants in Lisbon as well. Villa Joya, a 2 Michelin star restaurant in the Algarve, costs around €200 per person for dinner, not including wine. In general, though, you can usually have a very good meal for around €45-60 for a couple, including wine.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: A good, drinkable bottle of wine from the supermarket usually starts at somewhere between €3 and €6. In a restaurant, the house wine usually costs somewhere between €5 and €10. As for cigarettes, I can’t remember. I gave up smoking a few years ago and have no idea what they cost now.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Portugal

A: Opening a bank account in Portugal is reasonably straightforward, assuming you have the right paperwork (NIF and identification). In terms of banking, things are quite traditional, though. N26, a German startup bank, have just launched in Portugal so hopefully, that’ll shake up the industry a bit.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: As an EU citizen, this hasn’t really been an issue for me. Bureaucracy is a big part of Portuguese life, though. Even if you don’t need a visa or a work permit you will run into it eventually.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Portugal is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Thankfully, apart from a few travel injections, I haven’t needed to make use of the Portuguese health service yet. From what I’ve heard it’s good, though.


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Portugal Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: We didn’t have a lot of stuff (as in furniture) and so were able to drive most of it down in the car. It’s a good option if you need to have a car when you arrive, but it would have been cheaper to ship everything. We have shipped boxes (of 20kg or less) using GLS and this has always been fairly straight forward.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: The language is obviously a big stumbling block. Although English is widely spoken in Portugal, not speaking Portuguese does limit your experience here.  It’s getting easier to meet new people in Lisbon. When we first moved there a few years ago, there was less of an international freelancer community. Now that that’s growing, it’s definitely easier to fit in and integrate quicker.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Portugal?

A: The positives are definitely the weather, food, and the culture. There are a lot of other positives, but these are the most obvious ones. In terms of negatives, things can move slower here. There are more bureaucracy and paperwork, but I think most people know to expect this going in. Winters can also be cold here, inside that is. The houses aren’t designed for the winter months, and central heating is a rarity. It’s not so much of a problem if you’re just visiting, or if you’re able to spend your time outside. We work from home, and it can get very cold sitting in front of the computer all day.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: Eat. There are plenty of great restaurants in Portugal, especially seafood restaurants. Prices vary greatly, but on the whole, it’s very affordable. It’s possible to get lunch for €3-4, or even a Michelin star lunch for €25.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: For the time being, no. We still plan to travel outside of Portugal a lot, but Portugal will be our base for the time being. All that could change, of course. We never imagined that we would end up living in Portugal. Who knows what the future holds?


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Definitely, learn the language. A lot of people don’t bother and have a lesser experience for it. It’s a hard slog, and it takes years to master, but it’s worth it in the end. Also, take some time to discover all of Portugal. The North is incredibly different to the South, and places like the Azores are even more different again. If you live in Portugal, you absolutely should explore the whole of the country. 


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Portugal?

A: That’s actually the reason we started Portugalist.com. There’s a real lack of information about Portugal, both for travellers and expats. We’re hoping to fill that gap a little with our blog.