Some of the best advice I received about choosing a place to live was to assess safety, cuisine, and the climate.
Safety: Will I feel safe enough to take a walk alone?
Cuisine: Will my body tolerate the local cuisine? Even better—will I enjoy what I eat?
Climate: Can I handle the weather? Even better – will I thrive in the climate?
It’s one thing to research safety precautions when planning a vacation. You might read a crime and safety report to know if you should use a steel-reinforced cross-body bag, or just carry your cell phone in your back pocket. But safety considerations are something different for living in a new country. Will my possessions be safe in my home? Do I need to carry some sort of deterrent in case of an attack? Should I avoid taking walks alone? Is it safe to use the ATM in my potential neighborhood? Is there a gang presence that I should learn how to avoid? Will it be obvious that I am a foreigner, and will that make me a target? If I’m in a medical emergency, will I get good care?
To answer these questions, I highly recommend getting your feet on that ground. Walk around, observe, talk to the locals. It is also highly beneficial to engage with the local expat community. Their experiences will provide priceless insights.
My family and I feel very safe in Portugal. My mother doesn’t think twice about walking to her local market alone. The roads and bridges are well-maintained. Public transportation is modern and clean. If I’m walking home at night, I am reasonably cautious, but not unduly anxious. The medical care here is impressive as well. Portugal gets an “A” in my score book.
What is your level of adventure when it comes to eating? Where do you land on a scale of Anthony Bourdain to Homer Simpson?
If you prefer to stick with comfort foods, make sure the local grocery stores carry the products you prefer. Also, how does your gastrointestinal system tolerate change?
For those with a tender tummy like me, some more adventurous foods and potential exposure to parasites can take a lot of joy out of the expat experience. Again, talk to the local expats. Find out what they are eating. Find out what they are buying. Ask how well they have been able to adjust to a new diet.
If you enjoy fish and seafood with loads of olive oil and garlic, you will be perfectly happy in Portugal.
And don’t overlook the abundance of high-quality local wines—reds, whites, and greens. Other types of meat and a vast array of fresh produce are readily available as well. Spicy food is less common, so you might want to pack your own heat, as in chili sauce, when dining out. My family and I give Portugal another “A” for its healthy and comforting cuisine.
Do you run a little hot or a little cold? At what temperature do you keep your air conditioner or heater set? How much sunshine do you prefer throughout the year? How about humid versus dry environments? Use those answers to narrow down your list of potential places to move. If you choose to live somewhere that you are consistently over-heated or trembling from the cold, it might be tempting to move again or give up on the expat experience.
I’m an Arizonan that has dealt with enough heat stroke to last a lifetime. My climate requirements are plenty of sunshine, but with moderate temperatures. Lisbon fits that bill with lows around 40 and highs around 85. Most homes here do not have heating/air conditioning units; however, they can be installed. Portugal gets another “A.”
Making a good decision on where to land is worth the time. Not only will you have a better chance for success, but you may also have a new set of expat friends to help you settle and thoroughly enjoy the experience.
I am curious, though: How happy are you with your expat destination choice? Do you have other high priority selection criteria? I’d love to know.
by: Carmen Melseth