My first year in Portugal

Well it’s been an interesting first year in Portugal. A lot has happened and also not, thanks to the pandemic.

But hey, life is good, I’m happier than I’ve ever been and I’m debt free for the first time in my adult life, so I’m feeling good!

So what have I been up to in this first 12 months after I moved here from the French Alps? I’ve managed to pack in a fair amount of exploring despite being on lockdown for most of the time, whether that was local woodland forays near where I live or further afield.

At the start of the Lousã avalacnhe race.. cold, wet, but fun!

In November, one month after arriving, I took part in an avalanche MTB race in Lousã which you can read about at the end of this post. I had hoped to ride more in the bike park at Lousã but social distancing put an end to that. I have been doing a few rides around the dirt trails near where I live and getting plenty of hiking in, so it’s not so bad.

Ali & Amy at Nazaré.. waves were not even 1m high that day 😦

In January I had my first and only visitors since I’ve lived here. My sister and Amy came to visit for my birthday. Amy was pregnant at the time and in October my little nephew Ollie was born.. so I’m now an auntie, which is amazing!! While they were her we visited Nazaré (a place famous for big waves down south), Tomar, Coimbra and got to hang out and eat birthday cake. Who knows when I’ll see them next, hopefully next year… and I can’t wait to meet little Ollie 🙂

Isa (L) and her sister Bela (R)

In May this year my old cat Treacle sadly passed away. He made it 16 years and got to retire in the sun down here, which was good. I missed his company, 16 years was a long time to have a furry friend, so I started looking at taking on a rescue cat, and found two little sisters Isa & Bela, who are now living with me and enjoying life in the countryside.

Big dinosaur tracks near Ourem

Over the summer I found out about a few archaeological sites and so I visited Conimbriga Roman ruins near Coimbra, the Sauropod dinosaur footprints down in Ourem and a prehistoric rock art site up north in the Vale de Côa. Thankfully they were still open, but obviously with social distancing and obligatory mask-wearing rules in place. There are plenty of megaliths and a few other rock art sites I’d like to visit, and apparently some more dinosaur tracks somewhere nearby, but I’ve yet to track them down (pun intended).

View from Monsanto hilltop fort

Heading east towards the Spanish border, I visited Monsanto hilltop fort and Castel Branco, the biggest town over in that direction. More locally I did a circuit walk around four schist villages not far from where I live and also spent the day on a 4×4 jeep safari/mushroom foraging trip in the hills above Lousã (where the bike park is). And here’s a little post about the village I live near – Góis.

Petroglyph reconstruction at the Vale de Côa

One of the biggest things that’s happened, well that I made happen, is that I’m now debt free for the first time in my adult life. Thanks to a combination of cheap rent and household expenses, and that I don’t start paying tax in Portugal until next summer, I’ve been able to clear off all my debts and close my French bank account. I haven’t had financial freedom in such a long time, it feels SO GOOD!!

I thought about buying a house here, or some land to build on. Isn’t it funny that I became debt free and the first thing I though about doing was getting a big loan..?! Anyway since I would need a Portuguese guarantor to get one, I’m now just going to squirrel away money every month and maybe buy in a few years time.

Enjoying nature on a 4×4 jeep safari

Another thing that has happened, well sort of crept up on me, is that I’m heading into the menopause. Oh joy..! Just when I thought lockdown couldn’t get any worse, I’ve been getting all the signs that this next, very shitty stage of being a woman is upon me… that really sucks, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so I’m just sucking it up.

I also spent the last 6 weeks practising a form of moving meditation with host Tracy, and a group of amazing women from all over the US, called Body Alchemy. I joined the beginner session and learnt a lot about tuning into my body. I won’t say much more about this other than it’s totally worth signing up and giving it a go. If you read my post about my journey towards self love, this is the latest chapter in that journey and I highly recommend it. It’s now part of my daily routine.

Practical advice / to do list

I had a huge “to-do” list which I started way before I moved down here, so if you or someone you know is thinking about moving to Portugal, you might find this helpful.

Leaving France:

  • Get an attestation from the local Mairie to say you’ve officially left France. This needs to include date of arrival in and date of departure from France, as well as the date of arrival in Portugal. I actually did this after I arrived in Portugal because I needed it for the tax office.
  • Shipping belongings – This was an interesting experience. Since I was driving with my cat down to Portugal I needed to ship lots of boxes, my bike and other things that I wouldn’t need straight away. I booked through Baggage Hub for about €1000, yeah not cheap! They collected my stuff all well and good and then it got taken to the UK near Heathrow (because they didn’t have a European hub for customs processing) and then shipped onto Portugal. By the time it all arrived after being passed from one truck to another to another, a lot of boxes were damaged, picture frames smashed and my bike rotor was bent. 9 out of 10 boxes arrived in one go and then another box turned up about a week later. All I’ll say on this front is, if you can afford to hire a van or trailer to move your own stuff, do that! If not then triple wrap everything in bubble wrap, more bubble wrap and a couple of layers of cardboard, because even if you mark stuff as fragile, the delivery drivers don’t give a f*&k!
  • Cancel French taxes (salary and auto-entrepreneur needed wrapping up in my case) and declare last years revenue. I made sure SIP and all the relevant offices / online portals were notified although they don’t seem to talk to eachother (quelle surprise) so I had to send quite a few emails to straighten it all out. I paid up all the bills to date, mostly before I left France and made sure I knew what remaining payments were due and when. I can’t tell you how good it felt to pay the last one and sign the declaration that I was no longer in the French tax system 🙂
  • Cancel mobile phone – I did this a few months into arriving in Portugal and luckily it coincided with the rental contract on my handset running out. It took more paperwork and phone calls to sort this out, and I finally posted back the handset and sim with a smile.

Arriving in Portugal:

  • Register at the town hall (Camera) to state you are now a resident (they give you a certificate valid for 5 years) and you pay a small fee for the privilege. You will need to take a valid identity document (passport) and make a declaration on oath that you are employed or self-employed in Portugal (take a copy of your work contract) and I think I also took my rental contract too which lots of places asked for. My passport, rent and work contracts stayed in my bag for at least the first three months as I never knew who was going to ask for them next.
  • Register at the Junta (I can’t even remember what this is for, maybe water and electric services – there was so much paperwork to do!)
  • Register at the tax office to get a NIF/ Portuguese tax “Contribute” number. This is essential for setting up every service you will need; WiFi, mobile phone, electric, water, etc and you should also quote the number every time you go shopping (at the checkouts). This I believe, is so that they can track what you spend / possibly claim a rebate off your tax payments each year. My rent payments also need to get registered at the tax office each month, but I just send the bank transaction to the property manager, they sort it out and I get an electronic copy of the receipt.
  • Register at the doctors where they give you a “Utente” number. This is what you need to give them each time you book an appointment. Local health care is subsidised so you don’t pay for a check up. I did sign up for private health cover via my bank too (only €6.50 per month) but the nearest private clinic is about 1 hour drive away, so I’ve just been visiting the village doctor for now.
  • Paying Taxes / Social security / Accountant. I took a few looks at the Portal das finançes website and had no idea how or where to get started, so first up I got in touch with a local lawyer friend who set me up on the NHR tax scheme. Then I hired an accountant locally (for only €25/month) who registers my invoices each month and makes sure everything is on track. She’s the wife of the head of the tax office here, so she knows her onions.
  • Bank account – again required all the documents gathered above, rental contract, work contract, passport etc, but was quite easy to do since one of the cashiers speaks really good English. I had to deposit €600 to be able to get a credit card, and weirdly you can pay a lot of bills (water, car tolls) etc) via the cashpoints, which was a totally new concept to me, if not completely backwards and annoying at the same time.
  • Importing my car – I met the criteria to import my car tax free from France. Here are the criteria: 1) The vehicle is for private use only. 2) The registered owner of the vehicle is transferring his residence from another EU member state where he has been resident for at least 185 days. 3) The vehicle was purchased fully tax-paid in its registered owner’s former country of residence. 4) The vehicle has been used by its registered owner in his former country of residence for at least six months. Since the whole process involved about 25-30 things you need to do (no joke!) I got in touch with Organifacho in Pombal and they did it all for me for €400. I had to pay for the car inspection (MOT) but the price included getting PT licence plates too. The only other thing I had to pay for was a certificate of conformity, which I highly recommend you get from the manufacturer, not one of the many online services who say they will do this for you. Trust me, I had a really bad experience with this route!
  • Driving licence – my UK licence was due to expire in July, so I booked an appointment at the IMT in Coimbra and swapped over for a Portuguese licence. It only cost €30. (It took about 3 months to arrive, but I put that down to the pandemic).
  • Motorway beeper – There are numerous motorway gantries and toll stations on the main motorways and highways here, so as soon as I had my PT licence plates I signed up for a beeper with Via Verde. Similar to France, you hook up your account to your bank and every time you go through a gantry it beeps to register, and at tolls, you can drive through the designated lane where it scans your beeper. If you don’t have a beeper you need to pay either at a cashpoint or the post office, which I didn’t realise at first, so I was in debt for the lofty amount of €5.40! :p
  • Portuguese lessons – I asked around in the village and was given the number of a local lady who gives lessons. This was also put on hold at the start of the year because of the pandemic. I started in late summer, when we both agreed we felt happy to meet, but just recently we cancelled again due to an outbreak where 12 people in the village are infected. I might look for virtual lessons at some point but I’ve learnt enough to keep me going so far.

There were lots more little things on my to do list, but these above are the main ones that you need to get set up as a resident here.

What’s next?

The only thing left on my to-do list now, is to start paying back into my UK Pension. I got in touch with HMRC to check what I might have when it comes time to draw a pension, and it turns out there are a few gaps in my payment history.

Some of these have passed the point of allowing top-ups, but others I can still bump up. Check me out, planning for my financial future!! 🙂

Other than that, I’m keeping busy, enjoying spending time with my cats, gardening, toasting myself by the fire at nights (welcome back to almost winter) and figuring out new places to explore on the weekends…

Published by mtbgirl808

I'm a girl who's happiest on two wheels. I've worked as a writer and editor, but also love to write outside of work. This blog is a collection of some of my travels and mini-adventures, a place to pour out my thoughts and share some photos.

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