I often wonder how many times I've sat at a lovely Praça with an ice-cold beer and a few nibbles and overheard this same old conversation time and again. One half of an expat couple will declare in a loud English voice "We're so glad we moved here - aren't we darling?". The statement is quite often met with a somewhat muted response!
I bet you know a few expat couples who live a fairly insular existence. Perhaps, having settled into a remote village, away from the usual tourist traps? A perfect way to embrace that quintessential, and dare I use the word "authentic" Portuguese existence?
Such couples often have a villa that's large enough to accommodate a soccer team. A home spacious enough to embrace all their visiting family and friends perhaps? The trouble is, family and friends have their own lives and may not have made those dreamy trips to Portugal as often as had been anticipated.
I've known several couples who have made this kind of choice. Typically, they don't mix with other expats because that wasn't "what they moved here for". They don't mix with the locals either usually because of the language barrier. "Ola" and "Obrigado" won't get you too far amidst a group of Portuguese folk who speak the local lingo at 2,000 words per second!
What's even more curious is some people's motives for making the move to Portugal. "WE didn't like the way things were going at home - did we luv?" is quite a commonly uttered statement.
I was watching a programme recently which suggested that Portugal could be expecting an influx of Americans should Donald Trump win the next Presidential election. If this transpires, then I fear that my theory that Portugal's expat community has its fair share of politically homeless individuals might hold some credence.
Mine is not such an outrageous theory if you look at things in detail. Of course, not all people moved for political reasons alone, things are far more nuanced than any broad theorising. But, on the other hand, plenty have done! Daft as it sounds, I know several retired Brits who moved abroad when Corbyn failed in his bid for No10. I'm willing to bet that someone will be reading this and the facts get a bit close to the bone. It may not be the whole reason such people moved but it might well have been a catalyst Brexit was the other biggie.
Let's just pause a minute and think about all this and ask: Are these types of scenarios really a good thing for Portugal?
Craving an ideal
So many expats seem to crave the idyll of Portuguese authenticity but, as a collective, such individuals are unwittingly diluting that very authenticity. The influx of wealthy foreigners has steadily been driving up property values to a point where it's actually making life much more difficult for some ordinary Portuguese families. Like it or not, these are the very people who can genuinely nurture the very Portuguese communities who naturally provide the kind of authenticity that so many expats enjoy.
It's especially not great if people's motive for relocation to Portugal is simply to seek some kind of sanctuary from things that haven't gone their way back home. But having said that, there's a whole list of places that have lots of rightly disgruntled people who wish to leave their homelands for the sunny beaches of Portugal. Lots of them had very good reasons. The wealthiest people of France, for instance. These people practically ran out of France in order to escape Francois Hollande's punitive 70% wealth taxes. Many went to the UK and many came right here to Portugal. In both cases, property values shot up.
Of course, Portugal has offered lucrative tax incentives to draw wealthy expats into the country with the hope of some trickle-down economics. Every euro spent attracts somewhere in the region of 25% in stealth taxes which supposedly helps the population at large.
I've had some very interesting debates amidst expats about some people's motives for relocating to Portugal. It usually starts when I defend good old Blighty from a barrage of naysaying, rather than idly sitting back and listening to selective statistics being bandied about in order to demonstrate just how dreadful the UK has become since it voted to exit the EU. What's often not cited whilst delivering doom-laden statistics is the fact that the UK exit from the EU was closely followed by the global pandemic as well as, latterly, a war in Europe.
Who knows what might be the economic consequences of yet more turbulence in the Middle East? It's disturbing, but economic woes are dwarfed by the abject plight and suffering endured by innocents on both sides of the Middle Eastern and the Ukrainian conflicts. I'm wholly mindful of this.
Let's be entirely candid, all these global factors haven't been uniquely detrimental to UK fortunes. Our current inflationary woes were being stoked well before Brexit or the huge government cash injections granted during the COVID pandemic. It's basic economics. If you increase the money supply, resultant inflationary pressures follow and, like it or lump it, that has absolutely nothing to do with Brexit. Leaving the EU has arguably caused plenty of other difficulties but inflation has been a global factor that cannot realistically be attributed to Brexit.
Frankly, I think folks might have to run away rather a lot further than good old Portugal if they truly wish to escape all the negatives of the world.
Another one I keep hearing is that retirement funds go much further in Portugal than they might do elsewhere. In some cases, that may well be true. I believe this is certainly the case for many Americans. But, as far as I've seen, when it comes to the UK and you add it all up, the lower cost of things like wine and the odd meal out is more than countered by other costs which are markedly higher in Portugal than they are elsewhere. Motoring for example.
Then, there's property prices and rents. In areas such as the Algarve and Lisbon, property costs have long been quite frightening. So, when it's all pooled together, the actual cost of living in Portugal isn't really all that much lower than it is here in the UK (excluding London). That's unless, of course, you choose to live in a remote rural location and do the Portuguese off-grid thing. But that won't cut it with everyone and many retired folk will be far more inclined towards their creature comforts than doing the old Good Life routine in 45-degree rural Portugal.
Whatever motivations there have been for your move, it's been a personal journey. The most important factor is our collective endeavour to keep this lovely country just the way it is by embracing that age-old adage "live and let live".
Douglas Hughes is a UK-based writer producing general interest articles ranging from travel pieces to classic motoring.