Categories
living abroad

Why Move to Portugal?

TL;DR: It’s easy to have a comfortable, affordable, and sunny life in Portugal.

Note: I’m not a tax or legal professional, and this is not tax or legal advice. 

Sunny, warm weather

As much as I love Berlin, I struggled slogging through the five-month-long gray winters. Porto, the city where I now live, rains frequently (it’s probably one of the rainiest places in Portugal), but still manages to have 2x the number of sunshine hours as Berlin, and mild weather year-round.

English-speaking, friendly people

While not everyone speaks English, the majority of people I’ve interacted with in major cities do. People also seem far more willing to speak English compared to Berlin (I was once scolded at the Berlin airport: “In Germany we speak German!”). While I’ve heard that in Lisbon there’s some discontent about locals being pushed out of the city, in Porto I’ve only found people to be extremely welcoming. I recently went to pick up a package at a convenience store. The owner was so friendly, welcoming me to the neighborhood and chatting about my experience learning Portuguese. This would, literally, never have happened to me in Berlin. Nor can I imagine many Americans so enthusiastically welcoming a foreigner to their neighborhood. 

Attractive tax scheme for foreigners

If you are in a “high value” profession (which basically means an IT worker) and you haven’t resided in Portugal in the past decade, you may qualify for a special 20% income tax for 10 years. This is an extremely low income income tax rate for the EU. (Note that if you’re American you will probably have to pay additional taxes in the US, because 20% is likely less than your US tax rate, which never goes away, because America.) Portugal was once quite attractive for not taxing crypto, but has announced it will start taxing it, though those details are to be determined. 

Relatively affordable real estate

While some people spent their COVID lockdown baking bread, I obsessed over buying a home. I originally was looking to buy in Berlin, but I quickly learned that I would either need to move to the outskirts or give up on my dream of both my partner and I having home offices. For the same amount of money as a crappy one-bedroom in Berlin, in Porto we were able to afford a beautiful apartment in the city center with more than enough space. If you’re interested in browsing real estate, there’s no one site that lists every property, but imo the best one is Idealista

Cheap property taxes

Perhaps it’s normal for property taxes to be low in other countries, but for the Americans reading this: Portuguese property taxes are pennies compared to real estate taxes in many states: I pay less than 500 EUR/year in property taxes, though that rate will vary depending on what and where in Portugal you buy and if the property is your primary residence. 

Good internet

Fiber internet is widespread and not that expensive. We got our internet set up in a few days, whereas internet setup in Berlin can easily take weeks. We’ve had no issues or downtime (I’m looking at you, Comcast). The internet speed and reliability is much better than my experience in California and Berlin. 

Affordable and high quality health care

Basic health care is free, and I pay 90 EUR/month for additional private health insurance (this was the most expensive/comprehensive package I could find), which includes 500k coverage for international treatment. I haven’t interacted with the health care system too much, but this has been my experience so far:

Through my private health insurance, I had two phone consultations a few hours after I requested them (even on Sunday), both in perfect English. From the consultations I was prescribed medications which successfully remedied my issue. I picked up the prescription from the pharmacy a few blocks away. I paid for the prescriptions myself (not too expensive). I was advised to visit the emergency room if my condition didn’t quickly improve. 

I don’t know enough about both medical systems to assess, but here’s my intuition: If you have tons of money to blow on all the bells and whistles of the American healthcare system, I don’t think you will find that level of care in Portugal. However if you are looking for safe and sane treatment and want to avoid the insanely expensive, litigation-fearing American health care system, I think Portugal is great. 

I have had a better experience in Porto than in Berlin because the healthcare system is friendlier to English speakers, and I haven’t had to wait as long to get an appointment.

Low cost of living

Of course, “low” is relative, and Lisbon will be far more expensive than a rural city. Speaking from my experience of Porto’s expenses, it seems very reasonable to live on 2k EUR/month, but obviously this would depend on your rent/mortgage, whether you share a place, how much you eat out, etc. 2k EUR/month is the avocado toast range—many of the locals live on far less, as 900 EUR/month is a common monthly salary.

Here’s a sample of prices:

90 EUR/month private health insurance (this is the high end; basic public health insurance is free)

80 EUR/month electric (3 bedroom apartment)

30 EUR/month gas (3 bedroom apartment)

10 EUR/month water utility

50 EUR/month for a fancy gym membership

70 EUR/month for fiber internet and unlimited mobile data (this is the high end)

2 EUR – typical bus or metro ticket

One thing I noticed is that I spend less money in Portugal simply because the market is less developed. If I were in the US, I would go to Whole Foods and blow $150 on kale chips and coconut water, but in Portugal there’s simply not those options, so I… save money. Similarly, in the US I would buy a bunch of crap online. In Portugal online shopping is far less developed, and so I just… buy less. In Europe in general, shopping is not the center of society as it is in the US, and it feels more like a chore rather than means of entertainment. In Portugal, people don’t seem to show off through possessions as they do in the US. Altogether it feels like a healthier and saner relationship to consumption.

Visa and citizenship is accessible for non-EU citizens

While Germany is accessible to non-EU freelancers, I felt confined being on the freelance visa, as I had to abide by rules such as having at least one local German client and receiving at least 25% of my income from a second client. It felt like I was managing my workload simply to keep Germany happy, when I would have preferred a different setup. 

In contrast, you can get the D7 visa in Portugal if you can prove you’re receiving adequate income and also have a good amount of savings. For whatever reason, people tend to think they need the Golden Visa. However if you are planning to live in Portugal–not just dump money in a place for a passport–I’d go with the D7, as there’s no investment needed and it’s far cheaper in administrative costs. The only advantage the Golden Visa gives is you don’t need to live in Portugal for the majority of the year. After five years on either the D7 or Golden Visa, you can apply for citizenship.

Safe

Portugal is quite safe. In 2021, the Global Peace Index ranked Portugal as the fourth most peaceful country in the world. Of course, you should still be prudent, especially in larger cities.

© Global Peace Index

Why Not Portugal?

Portugal is ideal if you are doing a location arbitrage where you earn an income that is set for a higher cost of living. Due to the relatively low salaries and the likelihood you would need to speak Portuguese, I wouldn’t come to Portugal looking for a job. However, coming from the US market which is so saturated, I see a LOT of opportunities for entrepreneurship in Portugal and the EU in general. 

My biggest gripe about Portugal is that Portuguese food is not vegetarian or vegan friendly. However, if you’re in a major city like Lisbon or Porto you’ll be fine–provided you don’t go to traditional Portuguese restaurants. And if you eat fish you’ll find plenty to eat. 

For being in the EU, Portugal is pretty affordable. However if you’re looking for the cheapest cost of living, there’s other countries that would be cheaper. Certainly e.g., Thailand would be cheaper. 

If I were in my 20s and could work remotely, I would be a digital nomad and explore various countries before deciding where to live.

If I were a North American in my 20s and wanted to grow my career abroad, I would move to Berlin. Getting the German freelancer visa is a headache but doable, and I think the city is more lively and fun, and with more career opportunities than Lisbon. 

Further resources

When I was contemplating moving to Portugal, I enjoyed Our Rich Journey and Expats Everywhere YouTube channels. I also appreciated this site on the D7 visa, though I didn’t use their services so can’t attest to them.

Closing Advice

Many of my American friends talk about moving from the US, but that’s what it is: talk. Certainly many of them have work or school ties to the US, and that is a real obstacle. But I think most often it feels too overwhelming or scary to consider, and so they stay put. My advice: visit the place you’re interested in moving to for a month. It will take a few weeks to get adjusted to the new place, and by the end of the month you should feel much more comfortable with the idea of moving, or else know that it’s not for you. 


Thanks to Augusto Lopes for the photo.

Categories
books Buddhism contemplation

What Thich Nhat Hanh Taught Me

I used to know for certain there was a living buddha in the world. Then Thich Nhat Hanh passed away.

But in his writing, he was clear that he would not die. He told a story of how a student had prepared a place for his remains. He laughed and said he would not be in this place. He would be with us in our mindful breaths, in the peace of the cloud.

I used to think I had a peculiar relationship with Thich Nhat Hanh, that I was especially touched by him. When he passed away, I discovered that very many people love him just as I do. When they speak about him, I know their love is the same as mine. It’s very beautiful, finding the same love that’s in your heart in someone else’s.

In Buddhism there’s talk about taking refuge in the Buddha, but Thich Nhat Hanh the buddha pointed to this current-breath-right-now as the place of refuge.

He said something I’ll never forget. He said that if he found meditation to be arduous, he wouldn’t do it. He meditates because he finds it enjoyable. He likes to sit with his breath.

From that, I meditated in a new way. I gave up the self-bludgeoning trying. I breathed and listened for peace.

Ah, there it is.

Last night his words taught me something else. He said we can be free while living our lives, doing good in the world, and tending to what needs to be done. We can be free if we are breathing mindfully in the present moment. We don’t have to be captives of our circumstance, always waiting for some outer situation to change. If we are present with the breath, we are free. ☁️

If you’re interested in knowing Thich Nhat Hanh, I really loved his books The Art of Communicating and The Art of Living.

Categories
contemplation

2021 Reflections

This year I formalized my life philosophy as “do good deeds” and “give love to this moment.” It’s nice having a simple strategy for engaging with life: if I’m doing good deeds and maintaining loving presence, I can let the rest go.

As part of “do good deeds,” I donated more money this year than ever before. At times this was difficult, but I sleep better at night with the hope that I have perhaps at last contributed something good to this world, and if I die soon I can rest in peace. After hearing about peyote being endangered, I was particularly enthusiastic to contribute to the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative.

I also started Crypto Philanthropy Club, which is still in its infancy but is something I look forward to developing in the New Year.

Internally, I made strides in letting go of perfectionism. I did several IFS sessions and discovered four particularly interesting parts: the one who wants to save the world, the one who seeks creative accomplishment, the one who seeks a sense of joyous freedom, and the responsible one. I look forward to further inner inquiry in the New Year.

Sustaining good habits around healthy eating and exercise is a continual challenge, but this year I made progress in regular fasting and strength training. After tiring of cooking during lockdown, in 2022 I especially seek to find joy and balance in preparing healthy and delicious meals.

Additionally, in 2022 I seek to give myself more permission in the areas of creative and artistic expression, honest communication, and leadership.

Sending you blessings for a year of joy, health, and fulfillment. 💗✨

Categories
books

2021 Book Recommendations

I used to do annual books read lists (see 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016) but honestly that’s a lot of work and I figure it’s more useful to just give my top picks because no one wants to read meh books anyway.

This year I got really into biographies and memoirs. Biographies are like fiction but the stories are essentially written by life itself, and my hypothesis is if you read enough of them some larger understanding of life will emerge.

There’s emojis in this list, here’s what they mean:
🌟 Top recommendation
💡 Particularly insightful
🎈 Fun!
👂 Audio version recommended

Nonfiction

💡🌟 Four Thousand Weeks – Oliver Burkeman

This was a ‘quake book’ for me in that it fundamentally changed the way I saw the world. By showing me how little time I had and how I certainly won’t accomplish everything I’d like or hope to, Burkeman freed me from a tortuous delusion. I now feel more satisfied with ‘wasting’ my time, as surely that is all we can do. I loved this book so much that I was a bit evangelical about it: I tweeted constantly about it, forced friends to suffer through voice messages where I read them highlights, and almost sent it to one friend’s birthday before realizing that sending someone a book about how little time they have left perhaps isn’t the best birthday gift (I sent her a puppet instead). If you’re still not sold on this book, you can listen to a chapter of it in this episode of Tim Ferriss’s podcast.

💡👂 Living From a Place of Surrender – Michael Singer

Ok so technically this is a lecture series, but it’s on Audible and was amazing so I’ll include it. In the lectures, Singer makes a logical argument that the world is a highly complex series of events over billions of years, so why are you upset when things aren’t the exact way you desire them to be? I got so much out of the lectures, I’ll need to re-listen to them soon. If you’d prefer an actual book, Singer’s The Untethered Soul is one of my favorites and is probably the book I’ve reread most.

🎈💡 This is Your Mind on Plants – Michael Pollan

I loved Pollan’s previous How to Change Your Mind so much that I found myself grieving when I finished it. So I was overjoyed when Pollan mercifully created this semi-sequel. This is Your Mind on Plants is composed of three long essays on poppies, coffee and tea, and mescaline cacti. Like anything Pollan writes, it’s worth reading just to savor Michael Pollan’s exquisite prose. If you haven’t read How to Change Your Mind, read that first.

🎈👂 Just Kids – Patti Smith

This engaging memoir won the American “National Book Award.” I hesitated reading it because I wasn’t familiar with Patti Smith, but I’m so glad I gave it a try. I loved living through some New York City history and the lives of famous artists. But more than anything, this is a memoir about a friendship, an account of two people falling into orbit with each other. I can’t recommend it enough, particularly the audiobook which is beautifully read by Smith.

💡Almost Everything: Notes on Hope – Anne Lamott

I discovered my love for Anne Lamott through a Tim Ferriss podcast. She’s the opposite of the hyper-confident alpha males Ferriss normally interviews, and I love her so much for it. She shares the wisdom of someone weathered by seasons of dark nights of the soul. She shares many of my own faults and fears, and for that she makes me feel less alone. This book is a collection of stories and wisdom. To help you get a sense for the type of wisdom in the book, I’ll share my favorite quote:

An old woman in twelve-step recovery once told me that while there is an elaborate prayer in one of the steps, of turning one’s life and all results over to the care of God, as each person understands God, she and some of the old-timers secretly pray upon waking, “Whatever,” and pray before falling asleep, “Oh, well.”

Luckily Lamott is quite prolific; I look forward to discovering the rest of her catalogue.

🎈 The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

In this work of heart-wrenching beauty, the author recounts her tale of a year spent denying her husband’s sudden passing. The story speaks to our tendency to cling onto a sense of control at any cost, and the preciousness of the everyday. I recommend giving it a read on a rainy weekend and reveling in life’s fragile bitter-sweetness.

💡 The Psychology of Money – Morgan Housel

A nice read for anyone interested in investing. My main takeaway was that we expect ourselves to make rational decisions about investing, but we don’t. For example, we panic and sell during market downturns. We need to set ourselves up for success, like having enough cash to be able to sit through market downturns, or whatever else that looks like for us.

🎈 Open – Andre Agassi

I absolutely adored this book. I had no idea that Agassi actually hated tennis, and was simply forced into it by his overbearing father. It is a wonderful gift to be able to glimpse the struggling inner journey of someone who from the outside appears like an untouchable success. It’s an epic drama, and one that takes place more inside Agassi’s mind than on tennis courts.

🎈👂 Greenlights – Matthew McConaughey

A super fun read with more depth than expected. I devoured it in a weekend. Because it’s such a joy to read, I recommend this book to people who aren’t “readers.” The audiobook is worth checking out if only for McConaughey’s Australian accent impersonation.

💡 Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art – James Nestor

An entire book about breathing? That’s interesting and helpful? Yes and yes. My main takeaway: breathe through your nose, not your mouth. There’s a whole bunch of health reasons to breathe through your nose, but this is difficult for many of us because we have underdeveloped nasal cavities and so our noses remain perpetually stuffed. Curiously, this is in part due to a new diet of soft foods—it takes lots of chewing to produce the nasal passages our ancestors enjoyed. Regular use of a salt water nasal spray helps me, but Nestor shares many other tips.

🎈💡The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman

Fun read by a journalist exploring stoicism. I loved the beginning’s brutal takedown of the positive thinking movement. There’s many recent books on stoicism that are also excellent and worth reading, but I enjoyed Burkeman’s take as he comes from a more journalistic perspective instead of someone hell-bent on being a modern day Seneca. Notably this is the same journalist who wrote “Four Thousand Weeks,” which is my top nonfiction pick on this list.

Fiction

🎈🌟 The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

This book changed my life in that I discovered how amazing fiction can be. For the many weeks it took to read this giant book and its sequel, I lived more in Rothfuss’s authored world than in my own. It’s a bit like Harry Potter for grownups. Posting about the book on Twitter, I quickly learned it has a large fanbase. If you’re into audiobooks, I recommend the version narrated by Rupert Degas.

💡 The Collapse of Western Civilisation: A View from the Future – Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes

This short book imagines how historians will tell the story of climate change, and how political will faltered to prevent and stop it. Normally I can’t stomach books on climate change—it’s just too unbearably tragic—but the fictionalized retrospective makes the topic more tolerable. I learned a lot about the huge missed opportunities for us to stop climate change. Just a few changes in legislation here and there could have done so much (and still could do so much…).

🎈👂 Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir

A delightful, frictionless audiobook listen. My favorite part was gaining a better understanding of how the engineer types in my life view the world. The audiobook narration is exceptional. I fell in love with the secondary character (can’t say much more without spoiling it. 😉 ).

Photo credit: Vita Lian

Categories
ideas living abroad

In Praise of Berlin and Very Slow Travel

I’ve been moving cities every 2-4 years since college. While I look forward to ‘growing up’ and committing to one place, I am fond of how the chapters of my life are filed neatly under city names.

I love this slow travel—exploring a locale by making it home. My last stop was 3.5 years in Berlin. While I haven’t seen any* of Berlin’s sights, I know what the tourists never will: The pulse of the city’s chaotic energy, the distance between the long stretches of summer mania and winter’s small gray windows, the anxiety of years slipping by with little progress in German fluency.

I love so much about Berlin. I love the way the city mocks advertisements, its billboards defaced moments after they’re plastered. I love the residents from seemingly every nation who spill out into the parks to drink beer on sunny Sundays. I love the pragmatism that guides citizen life, like how most drink bottles are not recycled but returned to manufacturers to be refilled.

On my first morning in Berlin, I awoke to a strange, oddly pleasant sensation. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Then a local informed me that Berlin is not privy to natural disasters—not hurricanes, nor tornados, nor earthquakes, nor fires. (“But world war does break out every so often,” he quipped.) In the U.S. I had taken it for granted that you must trade one natural disaster risk for another—if not earthquakes, then hurricanes. It was this that felt new to me: a sense of safety.

Perhaps I was also feeling the maternal embrace of Merkel, the German chancellor who had held office since George W. Bush, re-elected thrice. In her I found the female role model I had longed for: a woman who eschews fashion and frivolities in her total dedication to serving the public. She is the rare politician who will openly admit to not being an expert on a subject, or publicly admit to having been wrong. If only the world could have more Merkels.

A famous Silicon Valley VC once jibed that Berlin is where 30-year-olds go to retire. And I can see what he’s saying. In Berlin, the quality of life, for the majority of people, is good. So why strive for more? And compared to the U.S., you needn’t run so hard from the threat of falling through society’s cracks. While there’s still homelessness and other issues, there’s a more comprehensive safety net in German society. Certainly the threat of bankruptcy via medical bills is a lesser concern, and immortal student loans are nonexistent.

On my first evening in Berlin, I was astonished to see throngs of people lounging by the canal, beer in hand, to celebrate a glorious sunset. They struck me as slothful in their open squander of daylight hours. Didn’t they know they should be using this time to hustle to a future that might just come if they worked hard enough?

Likewise, I laughed when the public transit system workers went on strike, demanding to work less than 40 hours. “These people are so spoiled, this would never happen in the U.S.,” I cynically remarked. But, as a colleague pointed out, why not let people work less and enjoy life more? Isn’t this what societal progress should be? And certainly what the environment needs is less GDP, less consumerism, less doing.

Over time I came to understand: This day, this sunset, this time together, is all we have. And maybe this is enough.

Enough is something that Americans do not know, but it’s something I’ve tried to learn.

I have tried, over and over, to write about Berlin. To convey what the city has meant for me. To laud it for its openness to me, an immigrant fleeing Trump’s America and a California that is every year more in drought and on fire. To convey what it’s like to live in a city where it’s the unblinking norm to sit at a ten-person dinner where each person hails from a different nation.

But I don’t think I can ever truly convey what Berlin is, or my experience of it. I can only urge you to go, move there for a few years, and find out for yourself.

Or… don’t. Instead, look around you and see that wherever you are, whoever you are, and whomever you are with, is enough.

Viel Glück.

*Actually, I did go on a walking tour and witnessed the place where Hitler shot himself. Spoiler: it’s now a parking lot.

Categories
the truth about life

Things You’re Allowed to Do, That I Would Recommend

Sell everything you own and buy a one-way ticket
Arrive and have a panic attack
Regard this as one of the highlights of your life

Buy a new book, even though you have a stack of unread books
Add the new book to the stack
Admire the stack from afar

Make spreadsheets to critically think through your big life decision
Go with your gut feeling
Eat some chocolate, you deserve it

Take a walking tour of the city. It’s fascinating, everything you didn’t know
Don’t take a walking tour of the city. Let it remain a mystery
Stay in your hotel. Browsing the internet in a new city is nice

Walk around with smeared eyeliner. It looked nice in the morning
Admire women who don’t wear makeup
Buy nude lipstick

Buy crypto
Panic sell when the market crashes
Laugh about the silly internet money (that you no longer have)

Become zero waste
Become vegan
Ask for a paper napkin with your grilled cheese. Hey, you’re only human

Resist taking a photo of the pretty sunset. Just be present
Nevermind, take a photo. Living in the moment is on your to-do list
Make the photo your wallpaper to remind your future self to live in the moment