This series is detailing my personal expat journey. I will be covering my move from the U.S. to Nicaragua, Belize, back to the U.S., and eventually settling in Portugal. If you have any personal questions or comments, please feel free to shoot me an email! If you missed Part 1 or Part 2 of this series, be sure to check them out!
In the last two weeks, I covered my experience living in Nicaragua and Belize and why I moved back to NYC. That whole year was a learning experience for me. I rushed into living an expat life without taking any of the advice I could have quickly received with a google search.
My story so far is by no means a guide to living abroad, but rather a firsthand account of what can go wrong when due diligence is not taken.
Anyone can simply move abroad. It’s as easy as buying a plane ticket and booking a place to live. That’s really all that I thought there was to it.
Creating a sustainable life abroad is a whole different story. I won’t sugarcoat it…it can and will be a huge pain in the butt. Moving always is. Since graduating from college six years ago, I have moved 7 times. During each move, I never once thought, “Wow this is so easy and seamless.”
Material possessions become more of a burden than a luxury.
When I moved back to NYC I only had one suitcase worth of possessions. Half of my things I had left in Belize, and there was even a small suitcase worth of things that I had left in Nicaragua. I realized the only things I really needed were clothes, and even those were easily replaceable.
Even though I didn’t have most of my things and was living in an uncomfortably small Manhattan apartment, I felt more at home than ever. I so desperately wanted to be back in New York that nothing was going to bring me down. I was back in the town that people dream of moving to one day and “making it.” Being abroad made me love the city so much more.
I quickly and easily take things for granted. My time in Central America made me realize how good I had it before heading south of the border.
My web-based job still allowed me to travel whenever I wanted to, and I took full advantage of that. I still visited Central America quite often. I spent a month in California visiting a colleague and learning about the business of the internet. I spent a month in New Orleans helping a friend start a business.
Twenty-five percent of my time was spent outside of NYC, but that was okay because NYC was my home base and I was comforted knowing that I’d be back there soon enough.
Because of my ability to work from anywhere, I started to think about other cities I would want to actually live in. I started thinking about how NYC is never going away, but I may not always have the privilege of being a remote worker. I tried to identify the main reasons why I didn’t like Central America and attempted to make a list of things that were important to me. I wanted to see if there was a city that would match what I wanted…and I started to plan another move.
It probably sounds crazy that after all of my complaining of how I wanted to be back in NYC, I was already thinking about planning another move two years after I returned.
I almost looked at the next move as redemption for my awful first attempt at trying to live abroad. It was embarrassing that I didn’t last a full 12 months. I needed to prove to myself that I could do this properly if I wanted to. At this point, when I would discuss moving again with friends and family, they would laugh me off and think back to my time in Central America the year before. This pushed my desire to move again even further.
But where to?? I needed to do my due diligence. I promised myself that I would stay put in my chosen city for at least two years. Even if I hated it, I needed to learn how to become more adaptable.
The first city that kept coming to my mind was London. Baby steps…
I saw London as NYC abroad and figured the transition there would be seamless. English-speaking, good public transportation, educated city with first-world amenities.
London was actually the only option I was putting on the table.
In late summer of 2016, I started talking to the friends I had in London about a possible move there in the following summer. Seemed easy. Just pick an apartment and go.
Around the same time, I took a two-week trip to Vienna, Austria.
It was here that I realized I could handle living in a non-English speaking nation. Vienna is an amazing city. It is a walking museum. I was truly amazed at the history attached to almost every building I passed.
Public transportation there is amazingly reliable, which was a refreshing change to NYC’s constantly delayed trains.
My standard of being abroad was primarily third-world countries, so of course I was amazed at how developed Vienna was. I honestly loved every second of my trip there.
I immediately started to re-think moving to London and made Vienna the leading candidate.
I was talking to a friend from Portugal about these thoughts and, of course, he convinced me that Lisbon was a better city. I described to him what I was looking for in a city and he told me how Lisbon was perfect for me… but of course he would say that!
This was the first time in my adult life that I was abroad, outside of Central America. I was blown away with how life abroad can be pretty comparable to that in the U.S.
By the time I got home from my Vienna trip, I was more mentally committed than ever to being abroad long-term. I knew that after two full years in the States, I would be ready for a new adventure – and there was more to the world than the English-speaking nations of the U.S. and the UK.
I stayed in close touch with my friend in Lisbon, who consistently told me that Lisbon was the BEST place in the world to live. I did my own research on Lisbon and quickly learned that it is growing to be one of the top destinations in the world for expats. I was also convinced that I would be able to get by only knowing English. I also kept reading how there was a large British expat population in Portugal, which made me think that Portugal could be an ideal location.
Portugal ended up making much more sense than moving to the UK. For one, residency is extremely easy to get in Portugal, and after 6 years I would qualify for citizenship without any investment into the country. A long-term goal of mine is to have a second passport, and this seemed like the easiest way to get one without going the investment route.
Having a second passport has many benefits, and being able to acquire a second passport by the age of 34 would put me years ahead of when I originally thought this would be feasible.
Portugal also has a first-world standard of living that is very important to me right now in life. First-world European living and third-world Latin American prices made Portugal my obvious number-one spot for relocation.
As each month passed by, I would hear more and more amazing things about Portugal. I can honestly say that I have never heard one bad thing about Lisbon. Each month I would meet someone new who had lived or traveled there and all I would hear was praise. The country was affordable, had an incredible history, delicious food, perfect weather akin to Southern California, and was in prime location for traveling to either the U.S. or to other parts of Europe.
This made me much more comfortable with committing to the city and I really could not wait to start the process of moving. I am a skeptic by nature, so I was almost thrown off that I never heard one bad thing said about Portugal. Nevertheless, my excitement for moving there grew with each passing month.
I could not start looking for an apartment or applying for residency until 3-4 months prior to my move date, so then it was just a waiting game. I committed to a July 3rd flight and planned everything around that. My last 6 months in NYC were probably the best of my life, likely because I knew I was leaving and made sure to make my time well spent.
Once I was three months out from moving, I started to properly plan the trip and apply for residency. Everything I had read online about residency made me think it would be an easy process.
Well, this is when the stress started to settle in and I realized that moving is NEVER easy. You can read countless articles telling you the step by step process to moving abroad, but nothing can fully prepare you. Most things will go wrong and not be as seamless as advertised online.
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