The past few weeks have been pretty much split between enjoying Erik’s time with us over the holidays and more paperwork. We are well into winter which means there are a few chilly and wet days but for the most part we have enjoyed sunshine. Winter definitely calls for layers here. When you are in the shade or the wind you will appreciate fleece or a “puffy coat” but in the afternoon sun you can strip down to a short sleeve shirt.
We did our first airport “run” to Lisbon to pick Erik up. It is about a three hour drive from Portimão on toll highways all the way, so it is a relatively easy drive – but it is expensive. It cost €45 return for tolls, but fortunately our car gets great mileage so that part wasn’t too bad. By way of comparison, we spent €44 each for a return trip on the train (First Class) to Lisbon in early January.
Our first few days of Erik’s visit were spent in showing him around Portimão, Alvor and Lagos. There are plenty of beautiful beaches, interesting streets, great restaurants and pleasant walks within a short distance of home so those days passed by very quickly. The streets of Portimão and Lagos were all decked out in Christmas lights and decorations so it added to the atmosphere that we enjoy so much.
Of course we had to go see the latest Star Wars movie which we thought was excellent! Then it was time to head to Sevilla for a wonderful return visit to this city which we love.
Christmas at our place was a pretty low-key but enjoyable and relaxing day. A roast duck with trimmings was very tasty accompanied by a nice Portuguese rose Vinho Verde. New Year’s Eve was celebrated with friends coming over for the evening, culminating with fireworks on the Portimão riverfront. An excellent way to finish off an exciting year and to kick-off 2018.
With so many interesting and beautiful areas around this end of the Algarve to share with Erik, it was hard to decide which ones to visit on the few days that he had remaining. In the end we decided on a trip to the Foia in the Serra de Monchique, a drive to Sagres and “the end of the world”, and a beach day exploring the coastline around Salema and Burgau. As you can tell from the pictures and from previous posts there are many many beautiful day trips nearby.
To finish off his visit, we all took the train to Lisbon. This was our first time using the train as for this route as we normally take the bus. However with prices being comparable and taking advantage of First Class tickets we have to say the train will be our mode of choice when schedules permit. The trains do not run as often as the buses but the relaxation of a First Class coach from Tunes to Lisbon make it a more enjoyable ride. For anyone considering this way of traveling you have to take the small regional train from Portimão (or Lagos) to Tunes where you change, at the platform, for the larger intercity train to Lisbon. The cost for us was €44 each return.
It felt really good to be back in Lisbon, if only for one night. We rented a nice apartment through Airbnb near Rossio Station giving us walking access to the streets of downtown Lisbon. We enjoyed seeing the Christmas decorations and lights that were everywhere. Finished off by a delicious seafood dinner it was a great way to end Erik’s trip. Judging by his reaction we will have no problem convincing him to come back again soon!
Our Beginner’s Portuguese classes ended in mid-January. We were pleased with the progress we made and found them very enjoyable. Our instructor Vanessa was excellent and we feel we made a friend as well. It was also a great way to meet people – we had classmates from England, Belgium, USA, Czech Republic and Thailand. We plan to move into the Elementary level classes later this year.
As we mentioned in earlier posts, changing addresses here in Portugal, especially for immigrants, involves a lot of work (and costs) so we are hoping we will be able to stay in our current condo for as long as possible. The first step is to register at the Serviço de Finanças (Financial Office) in your local city to change the address on your Fiscal Number (NIF). This we accomplished easily and at no cost.
For immigrants the major change is you will need to provide SEF with any change in your address and have a new card issued. We arrived at SEF to do this and were told we needed a prior appointment. After several attempts of setting up an appointment we have one in mid-March. We understand you need a full security check again, picture re-take and fingerprints before a new card is issued. The charge for this is €40 per person.
If you own a vehicle you will need to change the address on your Matrículas de Automóveis (registration). This is done at your local office of irn or Instituto dos Registos e do Notoriado. Be prepared for a bit of a wait (ours was over an hour) and to shell out another €30.
One of the things we put off that we shouldn’t have, was to register for the National Health Care System. There is no cost associated with this and it gives you access to the public health system as well as reduced prices on prescription medications. It is relatively straightforward and you go to your local Centro de Saúde (which are operated by the National Health Service) and ask for a cartao de utente (citizen card). They will likely ask you for a Social Security card/number but we don’t have one as we are retired and not working here. It didn’t seem to be a problem although we have heard that some places were more adamant that you had one.
Our last hurdle was to exchange our Nova Scotia Driver’s Licences for Portuguese ones. For Canadian citizens this must be done within 3 months of acquiring your Residencia. You should check with the Instituto da Mobilidade e dos Transportes (IMT) as the requirements are different for various non-EU countries. The full list of requirements with more background are on our Emigrating to Portugal page. If you do not get this exchange completed within the time allocated you will have to do a full Driver’s test in Portuguese, so we wanted to avoid that.
There is only one IMT office in the Algarve (or Faro District) and that is in Faro which is about an hour from Portimão. Once we had all of our documents and had completed the required medical we headed to Faro. The wait in the office wasn’t too long and then we faced the ladies behind the desks (balcaos) which can be intimidating at times. It was also a little nerve wracking to hand over our Canadian licenses. Once that was done our pictures and electronic signatures were taken and more money changed hands. The fee associated with this is €30. We were issued temporary licenses and are patiently waiting for our new licenses to arrive in the mail.
If this all sounds like quite a bit of work – it is. We set aside either a morning or an afternoon for any visit or appointment as lines can be long and most of the paperwork is filled out at the desks and is usually quite slow. For the most part we have been well treated but keep in mind that like in most parts of the world the bureaucratic process can be tedious and is not always a pleasant experience.
Our overall thoughts on going through the processes here is that we are still quite amazed at how relatively easily we have been able to obtain residence. Perhaps the biggest challenges are the lack of good information and also what seems to be inconsistency in application of the rules. For the most part your own experience will depend on who you get at the desk and how you chose to deal with them. They prefer to speak Portuguese and the more you know of the language the better off you will be. Common sense and courtesy will go a long way to smooth the interactions but even that isn’t enough sometimes.
We are enjoying both our condo and our new home town very much. From what we have seen of alternatives and heard from others we are fortunate to have found a modern apartment with the amenities we have and in such a good location for the price. It works very well for us.
The longer we are in Portimão, the more we are finding it suits us. We can take a scenic walk along the Zona Ribeirinha (riverfront), it has all the shopping and services we need, most government services are available here, and it offers a good variety of cultural and recreational facilities. Some added bonuses are the very nice municipal mercado, bus and train access, a museum in the former sardine factory, a local futebol team, and businesses that are open year round.
So as we move into the latter stages of winter and look forward to experiencing our first Algarve spring we are content and very pleased how our life is unfolding here.