Of the thirty-something countries that Gretchen has visited in the last decade, there were only two she said she would never go back to. Portugal was one of them.
So what made her decide to pursue Golden Visa application to Portugal?
Even last month, I would have laughed at the thought of wanting a Portuguese Golden Visa. I spent a week in Lisbon almost a decade ago feeling foreign, unwanted, and rejected. Maybe I hadn’t yet learned to wrap myself in ambiguity, cloaking the sharp Americanness that the world finds so off-putting. Maybe Portugal—or Lisbon—holds strangers at arm’s length. Either way, I saw no reason to return.
But the internet works in mysterious ways. Somehow an article about the 2022 Portuguese Golden Visa changes appeared in my news feed. I rolled my eyes, like who would pay to move to Portugal? I skimmed that article to find out. Then another. Then a dozen more. Suddenly my days filled with Portuguese property listings, and my nights—thanks to the time difference—with Zoom calls to property agents and lawyers.
In less than a month, I’ve gone from a skeptic to a wholehearted convert. I’m already working with the Pearls of Portugal team, interviewing lawyers, and preparing documents.
First, I realized the bang for your buck you get in Portugal. See, I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area (median home price: $1.3 million). I’m now living in New Zealand, where real estate prices aren’t much better.
When I first saw a listing for a 5-bedroom Portuguese villa with three acres, its own vineyard, and even olive trees, all for €200k, can you blame me for suspecting a scam? It wasn’t—and the country has hundreds of similarly remarkable properties for sale.
Portugal continued its persuasion with a promise of peace and privacy. I’ve almost always lived in cities with their constant noise. As I write this, the kids at the daycare next door are shrieking for the fourth straight hour today. The thought of having foxes and deer as neighbours, and waking to birdsong in our own Serra da Estrela or Peso da Régua home, sounds almost like paradise.
But I’m not ready to wholly commit to a laid-back countryside daydream. I love the urban life of convenience, walkability, and restaurants. Luckily, while Lisbon and Porto aren’t eligible for residential Golden Visa purchases anymore, some vibrant, thriving cities still qualify.
We’ve looked into Viseu, Évora, Vila Real, and Castelo Branco. With Portugal’s affordable prices and the €400k Golden Visa minimum, we realised we can buy the best of both worlds: a quiet country house and a lively downtown apartment.
After two years in beautiful but secluded New Zealand, I appreciate the importance of easy access to the world. Portugal’s convenient location and three international airports reassured me that, pandemics allowing, the country works well as a home base for global travel. We’re even already planning a road trip from our future property.
Portugal’s incredible cuisine was another deciding factor, particularly the abundant ultra-fresh, ultra-local produce. Pearls of Portugal is helping me find a property with established fruit trees and maybe a garden, so I can grow my own food. As someone who cherishes the occasional truly special meal, I’m thrilled that Portugal has 33 Michelin-starred restaurants and 36 Michelin Bib Gourmand options.
Let’s talk about some practical details: education and healthcare.
Portugal’s higher education costs speak volumes about its priorities. In fact, the fees I paid for my 18-month master’s program in New Zealand would have covered around twenty years of Portuguese higher education.
And as a former healthcare consultant with a focus on insurance contracts and payments, Portugal’s tax-funded healthcare system for residents amazes me with its low prices. (Keep in mind that the public healthcare system doesn’t automatically cover Golden Visa holders, so you may need to keep your private health insurance.)
Even though paying taxes stings less when the money goes to good causes, like education and healthcare, we’d all still prefer to pay less. Learning about Portugal’s tax options for Golden Visa applicants helped me understand the very reasonable financial implications. The non-habitual residents (NHR) regime is a great place to start. If you’re like me and only have non-Portuguese income, you might be equally surprised by the low (or nonexistent) tax liabilities in Portugal.
All of that sounds great, right? I agree—but unfortunately, I have a chronic case of anxious “what if?”s. What if we don’t like Portugal? What if we want to move to Peru? What if our careers keep us traveling full-time?
That’s why Portugal’s remarkably low residency requirements for the Golden Visa were a deciding factor. We hope to live there half the time, but if that doesn’t happen… well, we can just visit every couple of years and still end up with citizenship.
That opportunity for citizenship in a Schengen country speaks for itself. If you’ve ever run into the limits of the 90/180 Schengen rule, you understand the value of not needing to plan three months outside the area for every three months you’re inside it. Living in Portugal sounds great, but the eventual ability to freely travel, work, and live throughout the Schengen countries seals the deal. As you may know, you’ll need to learn Portuguese to an A2 level for citizenship—but with five years to practice, I’m personally not too worried about that. Besides, it’s a great excuse to spend more time in Portugal.
Living in a country is always a different experience than just visiting. Even if you only visit occasionally, you’ll get to know the area around your Portuguese home in an intimate way tourists rarely experience. There’s something special about meeting a country on its own terms instead of just breezing through checking off the major sights, and having a Golden Visa is the perfect encouragement to approach Portugal this way.
Ultimately, that promise of a different experience made up my mind. If Portugal does wait for strangers to prove themselves, what better way than to move there? A decade on from that first bad experience, I’m ready to prove myself wrong about Portugal—and prove Portugal wrong about me. It might not always be easy, but given everything this amazing country has to offer, I know it will be worth it.
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