Moving to Portugal was one of the biggest risks I’ve taken. As a single 20-something freelancer, I moved to a country I had never visited or was even on my radar! Ultimately, I’ve made it home while co-creating a thriving community for expats and locals.
Although getting here was undeniably challenging (I’ll explain later)—the time, effort, and planning was well worth it!
Why did you move to Portugal? What attracted you to the country?
What initially attracted me to Portugal was a visa option that can lead to dual citizenship in five years.
In early 2020 I was in Thailand trying to plan my next move. I wanted to be somewhere relatively close to the U.S., but far enough for my sanity (if you know what I mean).
I liked the peace that came from living abroad—the safety, the affordability, the freedom to show up unapologetically me, the chance to travel more, and have excellent healthcare. All of which I experienced living in Thailand, but it was SO far and didn’t feel like home.
What stood out the most about Portugal is that I thought I could fit right into the city culture. Plus, it’s only a 7hr flight back to the U.S.
What I love about Lisbon is that it’s a cosmopolitan city. It has a diversity of people from the diaspora, black and brown people from all over. I love that, because finding a place where I could feel at home was important to me.
Even though I had never visited Portugal, I did my research (as much as one could). I joined a bunch of Facebook groups, followed YouTube channels like Our Rich Journey. I even got on Tinder to see what the dating scene might be like.
Everything I learned made me fall in love with the idea of Portugal.
I knew my soul was calling for Portugal. The soft way of life. The espressos midday at a Pasteleria, the rustic (and slippery) sidewalks, the slow but meaningful days. I didn’t know at the time, but this was just the tip of the iceberg!
Which visa did you get, and what was the process like?
In Portugal, you can apply for short-term or long-term visas.
My end goal was to become a citizen, so I began researching which visas would give me residency. My choices were narrowed down to the D2, D7, and the Golden Visa.
I eventually applied for the D7 visa. It would provide temporary residency and put me on track for citizenship after 5 years.
I looked up the requirements and it seemed straightforward—make at least 600 euros/month, get a lease, have background checks done, save up at least $9k, and write a personal statement.
Here is the checklist I followed for my application, which seemed pretty straightforward at the time.
I completed my application myself and was denied. I ended up consulting with a relocation specialist who helped me figure out what I needed to correct.
With that help, I prepared everything I needed to submit a stronger application for the second time, and submitted it in February 2021… In May 2021 the government announced the borders were opening, so I booked a flight to Portugal and took a leap of faith, hoping it would all work out. I packed up all my stuff and said my goodbyes to loved ones.
Luckily, within two days of my arrival, I found out my visa was approved!
Tell us about finding a long-term rental in Portugal - how did you do it, and what is your advice for others?
I recommend finding a reliable realtor, but sometimes that can be challenging if you’re not actually in Portugal. (Editor's note to readers: StartAbroad can help you with the rental search even before you arrive in Portugal!) For my apartment, I ended up using Idealista because you can find apartments that are furnished or unfurnished, for rent or for sale. My recommendation is to speak with a realtor directly vs emailing. That’s what worked for me.
Here’s a few things that I learned and were useful for me during my process, your mileage may vary.
● Prepare for a bidding war due to the current housing crisis
● Visit areas outside of the city center for better value
● Prepare for possibly needing a guarantor (co-signer) and/or potential longer lease terms/higher
● Be ready to negotiate
I lucked out and managed to find an unfurnished apartment in an area I love. With an unfurnished place, you have more leverage and can get a better deal. I was able to negotiate a lease with low upfront terms and no guarantor which is rare.
What has your experience been as a Black American living in Portugal? Any advice for other Black expats looking to make the move?
My experience has been nothing short of life changing. I have found a home in and helped to cultivate the thriving Black expat community here. It’s been amazing! To quote my friend and business partner Heather, “my community is filled with not only amazing Black women, and women of color—it is made up of men, women, and young adults from all walks of life.”
Heather did a phenomenal job at highlighting what it’s like to live in Portugal as a Black expat and how we’ve been thriving as a community. Since being here, we’ve co-founded Black in Portugal and have been able to expand it with the help from our team members Anna and Ashley.
If you’re a member of the Diaspora and looking to move to Portugal, I say DO IT! Even though there’s no place in this world free from prejudice; I enjoy the feelings of safety and community that I’ve experienced here. I love seeing Black and Brown people from all over the world. Seeing people that look like me who are thriving in this very cosmopolitan city reaffirms my decision to move here.
What is the cost of living like in Lisbon? What is your typical monthly budget?
This is honestly going to depend on the person! Many people making Portuguese salaries are going to make under €2,000 (that’s on the high end). Plenty of locals' salaries are under €1,000, which is very difficult to maintain.
I was lucky and found a place for €575/month, which is rare, so my budget is around €1,500/month. This includes my rent, utilities, going out, beauty expenses, and eating out.
As a single expat, you’ll live more comfortably with €2,000 or more, especially if you’re renting a one-bedroom apartment.
The biggest expenses are rent and electricity. Portugal has some of the most expensive electricity in Europe so finding a place with gas helps!
These are some expenses:
● Ubers and Bolts, €3-7 a trip.
● The monthly metro pass is €30 or 40/month.
● Weekly groceries as a vegetarian €40
● Eating out, €3 - 20 a meal.
● Electricity and gas €60/month
● Water (billed every 3 months) €20
● Internet €37
● Phone €16
● Nails €34
● Hair €50
● Private health insurance €20/month
These numbers will vary based on the person and the lifestyle you want to live.
How would you describe safety and security in Portugal and in Lisbon?
I feel completely safe in Portugal as a single female expat. I can walk down the street without worrying about being bothered. I can go out at night with my friends, and we’ll all feel safe.
No country is perfect, but I feel safer in Portugal than I did in the US!
I’d still recommend being aware of your surroundings, especially in Lisbon because it’s a big city. Use common safety practices.
What would you do differently if you could?
Making a housing checklist early on and then securing long-term housing earlier! Within my first 7 months of living in Portugal, I moved four times trying to find the right place. It was good to live in different neighborhoods, but it was stressful.
Lastly, I’d take my time with the visa process. Had I taken more time in the first place to prepare my application, I would have saved myself time and money. Lesson learned!
What advice would you give other Americans moving to Portugal?
Be open to the Portuguese way of living. Being a guest in this country, it is important to be present and acclimate to the way they do things here. Also try to minimize comparisons to the U.S.
Try to be patient with certain processes (e.g. applying for a visa, finding housing, etc.) as things tend to be slower paced, but don’t give up! What I’ve learned about being in Portugal is persistence is key and sometimes you have to talk to different people to get the answers you want.
What do you enjoy most about living in Portugal?
Black in Portugal. It’s been so rewarding not only interacting with other expats but also creating amazing connections with the local community here.
I have also been able to meet people so easily, whether on Facebook, at my favorite hangout spot—Mambo, or on the street.
Portugal truly feels like home and that’s what I ultimately enjoy the most about living here!
Kamra Clemons is a budget travel and holistic wellness blogger who enjoys sharing stories through her (mis) adventures. She is a native Michigander and travel enthusiast, having been to 25 states and 19 countries. Her experiences and a drive to better herself, opened the door to immerse herself in cultural exchanges. Her website connects travel and wellness through storytelling, advice, and tip sharing.
Additional Resources from StartAbroad and its Partners
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