Moving to Portugal

From Australia to Portugal at 78!

by Gaby Hughes
Spacious seven bed home in Mucifal Village 2
Gaby Hughes's property for sale in Lisbon


At 78 years and just a tad bored with my comfortably safe and complacent life on the east coast of Australia, and the neighbours’ daily chatter of bowls, Women’s Institute and the high cost of living, I decided on a late-in-life far flung adventure. In extreme youth I had explored much of Europe but somehow Portugal was missed and so my proposed destination was decided. It helped that Portugal was sunny, had affordable property, deliciously warm and I had family living in London, practically a bus ride nowadays!

Moving to Portugal

I’ve always been passionate about property and the hard work and art of renovating so naturally checked out property values and availability in an area that seemed worth exploring. Cascais, Sintra and particularly the protected 150 sq klm area of Parque Naturel de Sintra-Cascais. I was more than impressed, gobsmacked would be nearer my reaction at what the sale of my little Oz home would buy! And of course, as a retiree, I checked out Centrelink, Australia’s social security department, who assured me my retirement pension would be paid to me if I relocated to Portugal, and I still had my UK passport to welcome me into the European Union. The local libraries, magazines and internet all assured me that Portugal was one of the most economically affordable countries in Europe with a good standard of living and property for sale costing far less than other western countries, particularly UK, France, Australia.
I thought "What’s not to like?!?" sold my home and booked my ticket!

Learning Portuguese

I made a serious attempt to learn some Portuguese before I left Australia but it was nowhere near enough to see me through the initial stages of finding a temporary residence, getting the all important ‘fiscal number’, a Portuguese bank account, buying a vehicle (yes I had to quickly adapt not only to the hairy Portuguese driving style, but on the right side of the road in a car with a strange layout) but it has to be said that many, many Portuguese speak English and people are so kind and eager to help. I might be an old lady in a very strange country 12,000 klms from all that has been familiar to me for the past forty years, but I felt very safe and welcome!

Property in Sintra

I was temporarily based in Sao Joao do Estoril overlooking the ocean which is a lovely place to be, a good walk along the beach to the hot spot Cascais. I loved it but it wasn’t affordable on my budget so drove further north ending up in Colares. I was enthralled by the ancientness of Sintra, the palace, the castles, museums, quaint villages and beautiful mountainous scenery and coastline, this was the place to be and I started my search for a home with local real estate agents.

Chosing the right property

Initially I was shown fully renovated pretty little cottages, but they weren’t right for me. There are properties aplenty in the area, all very affordable and it didn’t take long for me to find what I was looking for. I am quite an experienced buyer of properties in Australia, and also UK in the far distant past but it is very different here and one does need help if you’re new to it so a good real estate agent working for you and with you is a must.

Property inspections

One mistake I made was to be a little shy and not sufficiently assertive enough to insist on a professional inspection. I did ask for a building inspector and was prepared to pay but the agent, innocently trying to save me euros, called in a couple of companies who specialised in the building trade. Their opinion was free but of course not independent and only related to their particular line of business. The fault was mine for not being bold enough. My personal inspection of the property I bought was difficult to, I seemed to have an entourage at my elbow all the way. In future I would insist on just one English speaking person to accompany me and be rather more nosy. I recommend prospective house buyers feel free to look in cupboards, try the taps, flush the loos, try the electricity, look behind heavy old furniture, look for fresh paint work that might be out of place, look at the ceilings, look for damp marks and cracks. I ended up with a house neglected of any proper maintenance for 30 years but the reality is I was lucky enough to make a good purchase, it just needed money and work thrown at it. I enjoyed working on the restoration and I love my house.

Low cost of labour

A huge plus in Portugal is the cost of labour, getting help, builders, carpenters, electricians and plumbers, is very affordable. And Bliss!! I have a treasure of a lady who quickly became a friend and who makes a wonderful job of relieving me of house work.

Life in Portugal

I love living here in Mucifal, Colares, my neighbours and the locals are very friendly and always ready to help, I love walking down the road to the local shops where I’m now known and my hopeless Portuguese forgiven with a smile, Praia das Macas, a five minute drive, is a good family beach with coffee shops, restaurants and a market (the fish market particularly good!), and also the local Praia Grande and other world renown surfing beaches nearby … and then there are days spent in Lisboa (a mere train ride) or Cascais for a day of hype.

A tip?

The weekend market on the N247 near Almocageme, Colares is famous and a must!! and any ladies new to Portugal should get in touch with IWF (International Women of Portugal) for some instant good friends and activities.