What I Didn’t Expect When I Moved to Portugal in 2011

Just about 4 years ago I moved to Portugal with my partner who had secured a teaching position at the French school (Lycée Francais) in Lisbon. We had vacationed in Lisbon in 2008 and we both really connected with the city. It was a big move, from Los Angeles, but the decision was easy. Now I am preparing a return trip to Los Angeles to focus on more challenging work opportunities and of course I am thinking about all that has happened in these 4 years.

Here are a few things that I just did not plan for even though I had spent time in Portugal and had done a lot of research prior to our arrival.

  1. That the Portuguese are among the friendliest and most humble people on the planet. I knew the Portuguese were nice but I have encountered such amazing people who are kind, supportive and caring. I doubt it’s just good luck but people are really kindhearted and the Portuguese language uses a lot of very polite phrases. Like when you go to pay somebody, they ask if they can take the money. It’s really the little things that truly speak about a nation (especially during difficult financial times).
  2. The discovery of a startup scene. Most visible traces of a startup scene go back about 3 years now, but of course there have always been startups in Portugal. We all know that the Portuguese travelled the world ahead of the rest and created many new and innovative businesses and there have been a number of Portuguese companies that have had much success in the past few decades. But the real Portuguese startup scene did come alive not long after I arrived in Lisbon. I lived through the other West Coast startup evolution in California and I never expected to witness this incredible startup growth activity again.
  3. That the country is 2 degrees of separation especially in the startup world. Yes, Portugal is a small country, but people get out and do many things and get to know each other. When I meet somebody new, it often turns out that we know 50 of the same people on LinkedIn. You can build a network fast here.
  4. That I would be in Lisbon when the entire world is now discovering or rediscovering Portugal. If you have not visited this amazing country, add it to the top of your travel list. The energy is great, the weather quite good, the history very visible, the prices very affordable, the mix of activities fantastic and again, the people are very friendly and helpful.
  5. That I would ever give up Italian wine! Yup, my pallet has totally converted to Portuguese wine. There is such a great offering of very affordable red, wine, and green wines and when you go to dinner, the price of a decent glass of house wine can be less than the cost of a coke. Regardless of the price, the wine industry has a lot to offer and the Douro region is spectacular.
  6. My surprise to learn that there are so many polyglots in Portugal. Many people in Portugal speak 3+ languages and are comfortable speaking English. This really does help to get to know people while you try to learn their language. And it makes learning Portuguese even tougher if you speak English, Spanish and/or French. Obrigada for speaking such good English!
  7. That even after years of exploring Portugal, I feel like I have so much more to see! It’s easy to move around to other cities and popular places without a car in Portugal, but to really see a country, you need to have time to really roam and get off the main roads. We’ve done some of that but never enough.
  8. Education! It seems like everyone I meet has 2-3 degrees in Portugal. It’s very impressive and it seems like many people have been able to get really amazing educations affordably. Now all that is needed is more jobs!
  9. That I would fall madly in love with this country (when I always wanted to live in Italy where my grandparents were born). I knew when we moved here that I was really going to like it, but I adore Portugal. OK, all the car beeping, and you know who you are, is strange and out of character, but it’s a country with a lot of good infrastructure. You’ll find clean water, good transportation (when not on strike), good internet speeds for residential use, lots of great tourism opportunities, excellent language skills and so much more. And the cities and towns are just beautiful, much like the people.
  10. That I would work with and mentor over 200 startups! Meeting, mentoring, coaching, teaching, advising and networking with so many startups, and most of them Portuguese, has given me this amazing inside view of the country. I have had the great opportunity to meet many smart, educated, risk taking, global thinking entrepreneurs ready to take on the world, create a cool path for themselves and help to make Portugal an even better place. Being part of Beta-I and involved with Startup Lisboa has been key to coming into contact with so many startups. Thanks!
  11. That it would be so hard to earn a living with Portuguese clients. Like many, the lack of strong career opportunities has driven a lot of Portuguese outside of the country and hopefully salaries will start to rise and money will start to move around more.
The Lisbon Startup 'Game'

The Lisbon Startup ‘Game’

So as I prepare to depart in mid-July, thank you to all of you with special thanks to the team at Startup Lisboa, Beta-I, Portugal Startups and Startup Pirates the IPN team in Coimbra, Startup Braga and to each and every startup I have had the opportunity to meet and work with through many different programs. There is DEFINITELY something happening in Lisbon!

Thank you for welcoming me into your lovely country and I will be back. And you are all invited to ‘my Los Angeles’ where there is a lot of startup movement. Think of me as your connection to ‘the other west coast’!



>>>Keep up-to-date by following me on Twitter @SandraSick and KEEP TWEETING PORTUGAL!

 Here are some pictures from startup activities;

Sandra Sick SandraSick @SandraSick

Wrap-up for #LIS15 – Beta-i Team!

Sandra Sick SandraSick @SandraSick

Lisbon Challenge Startup Teams

Sandra Sick SandraSick @SandraSick

Sandra Sick Moderating Startup Pitches

Sandra Sick SandraSick @SandraSick

Sandra Sick and Magnafinance

Sandra Sick SandraSick @SandraSick

Panel for SVC2Lx

Sandra Sick SandraSick @SandraSick

Presenting to the President of Portugal

Sandra Sick @SandraSick Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend Coimbra

Sandra Sick @SandraSick Startup Pirates Lisboa

Startup Pirates Lisboa

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45 Responses to What I Didn’t Expect When I Moved to Portugal in 2011

  1. Carolina says:

    Hi Sandra, thank you so much for your kind words. I am Portuguese and love my country. Reading such lovely words regarding my country and Portuguese people fills my soul. So again, thank you and I do hope you come back!
    I am a script writer and have a script (romantic comedy) in English. If you would care to read it I would love to have your opinion of it (I have had very positive feedback from it). Let me know 🙂
    All the best,

    • sandrasweb1 says:

      Hello Carolina and thanks for the reply to the post. Most people here make it so easy to like and get along in your country. It’s been a great experience. Yes, send me a copy of the script as I’m interested and who knows who one bumps into while in Los Angeles. Be well, Sandra

  2. As a translator living in the Algarve since 2008, much of what you say here resonates with me, particularly as regards the new entrepreneurial enthusiasm which is gaining ground.

    • sandrasweb1 says:

      Hello Allison and thanks for the comment. YES, more and more startup activity is happening in the Algarve. And there is already such an interesting internal mix of people, so it’s like to be all the more dynamic. Tweet about it so the rest of the world will know what is going on as they may only equate vacationing with the Algarve! Be well, Sandra

  3. A verdade… Obrigado.

  4. Fiona says:

    I’ve been here 9 years this week! and I think you have summed up so many of the amazing things about being a foreigner and being so accepted here. I started a business here the first year I arrived and EVERYONE I met was so happy to help me, to connect me, to share their network and city with me. I find Portuguese people so sweet, helpful, loyal and fun to be with. I LOVE seeing how Lisbon has come alive in the last couple of years, it feels like we don’t have to keep it a secret any more! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. Brilliantly written .. and all so true ! I am English, my hubby from Scotland and we moved here in 2009 into our retirement. My father in law, has just moved here this year .. aged 90 yrs old, and LOVES it here. He loves the people and the friendliness, he loves the warmth of course, and the beautiful countryside. He has also learned how to love wine .. usually red or rosé and adores Port ! We are in the north and couldn’t be happier here.

    Hope you come visiting Portugal again soon .. !

    • Victor Fernandes. says:

      I am glad that you move to Portugal.The people there are fascinating,helpful, always ready to help.I was born there and also from the North but i dont live there,The gastronomy of the region is full of surprises.I hope you enjoy your life there.


  6. Manuel says:

    As a Portuguese from Porto, I just can say ” OBRIGADO”

  7. Mafalda Ribeiro says:

    Thank you so much for these words 🙂
    It’s always good when someone likes our country
    Good Luck and I hope you come back 🙂

  8. Alexandre Parra says:

    Hello Sandra!
    Thank you for these amazing words.
    We met briefly at Lisbon Challege and had a great talk over dinner.
    Hope you find other great challenges back home.
    See you when I see you.
    Kind regards

  9. Who wants Italian wines when you can enjoy tinto alentejano? I’m sorry to hear you’ll be leaving us. I also continue to discover as time passes that the decision to move to Portugal was wiser than I could have imagined. You’ll find sun, sand and sangria in a lot of places, but the people make the place, and I have found none to match.

  10. Thank you so much for your kind words about Portugal! Cheers!

  11. 100% true about people!

    (oh please, just do not mention our politicians! But, well… Not everything is perfect in this planet…)

  12. Susan P says:

    My husband and I lived in Portugal for almost 12 years from 1979 to 1989. Our children were all born in the Hospital Particular in Lisbon. We grieved when we left. All of us. We would like to move back, and we are working to that end. We fell in love with the country, the people and everything else.

  13. Rosalina Coelho says:

    Thank you Sandra. I have lived in Long Island, NY for the last 34 years but I always go back to my beautiful country. I couldn’t express my feelings anyway better than you! Obrigada!

  14. Thank you so much for wonderful your words about Portugal Sir! Viva Portugal!

  15. Bernardino Henriques says:

    Thank You Sandra for your great positive opinion About My Country it,s prodcts and People … We also love people like You

  16. j carlos says:

    Obrigado ,and thank you, it’s so important to listen your comments. Joao Carlos

  17. Gonçalo says:

    Thank you for your words and thank you for all.

  18. José Pedro Fernandes says:

    Just simple Obrigado! Small is beautiful, and in the case of Portugal is just so true!
    Enjoy your coming back Home, you know that you have always another Home waiting for you…
    Zé Pedro

  19. Rodrigo says:

    Dear Sandra,
    Your words have made me get emotional. We as a country have so many bad things but it’s always good to remember that we do have lots of very good things as well. And to be reminded of that from a foreign person, it’s really emotional for me. Best of luck back in LA! And do come back, and bring friends! 🙂

    • sandrasweb1 says:

      Thanks for the comment Rodrigo and Portugal has had a rough past few years and certainly other tough times but I find that so many Portuguese people are optimistic and want more for themselves and their country. It’s inspiring especially as I work with so many startups and the founders are nearly all Portuguese, well-educated, willing to take chances and want to stay here to make a difference. Thanks and I’m certainly a bit Portuguese now (I have a social security number; wink wink) and I will be back. Bjs, Sandra

  20. Mar says:

    Hi Sandra,
    I’m Portuguese and I’ve been residing in the US for most of my life now, for the past 21 years. Portugal is and will always be in my heart, so I was compelled to thank you for this beautiful account of your experience. And to be honest, a little jealous as well. Although I visit every time I get a change, it’s never enough time to be with my family and friends, and visit all the spots I pick out for each trip. As my family came here to pursue a better future, you have encountered a happy and successful life in country and that pleases me and pains me as well (in an excellent way, of course) as you remind me that home is amazing and how much I truly miss my Portugal. I was in tears reading this blog..please, write more.
    Muito obrigado e com muitas saudades do meu pais..

    • sandrasweb1 says:

      Hi Mar and thanks for the message. Yes, your European home is really amazing. It’s changing somewhat fast in Lisboa, but it still feels like old Europe. Earlier this month Beta-i, the large startup accelerator held their annual 2-day investment summit in the Palace Pombal. Now you are not likely to find startup events in the US held in such a historic place with sooooooo much character.

      As you are still young and the US is very comfortable, don’t be afraid to return to Portugal even when it feels risky. The good news is that the quality of life here is just so high, as you know and you can live and eat so healthy. Few drive-throughs around and yes, not a 7/11 on every corner but so much more really.

      I really always thought I would live in Italy as my maternal grandparents were born there, but then I discovered Portugal! Bjs, Sandra

      • Mar says:

        Wow..I remember taking school trips to Palace Pombal. That is awesome and I’m glad they are putting this historic place to good use and allowing people to enjoy it instead of keeping it shut and away from the public eye.

        I will never rule out moving back home, as one never truly knows what’s in store for the future. And with my dual citizenship, it makes things easier. I’m glad you discovered Portugal and enjoy it so much. Have a pastel de nata for me 🙂

  21. Muito Obrigada Sandra,
    I also lived in New England and was a teacher for 35 years in the USA. After retiring I came back to Açores, Portugal and opened my dream house into a B&B and I’m truly enjoying my second act in life as sole propiretor of a beautiful place to share with so many guests from all over the world.
    I have been to the Continent many times but I beg to differ with you. The people in São Miguel are truly amazing…very kind, helpful, cheerful, always ready to celebrate life…There is a “festa” every weekend somewhere and people meet to sing, dance, eat delicious food, and of course drink wine, lots of wine!
    Thank you soooo much for sharing this article with the world….the secret is out…Portuguese people know how to live with little or alot and they will share all that they have with you.
    Beijinhos querida.
    Maria de Deus

    • sandrasweb1 says:

      Olá Maria and thanks for the note. I must get to the Açores as I have heard so many lovely things about it. Your life sounds like a great second act. Congrats for taking the big step and for sharing a bit about your life. It sounds amazing!

  22. Louisa says:

    Hi Sandra,
    What a fabulous post, I truly enjoyed it!
    My husband and I moved to Lisboa in Jan 2011 and have loved every moment of being here.
    All that you have said is so true, it definitely tickles the heart that another foreigner is as moved by this peaceful land as we are. I find my self thanking everyday for being blessed to know Portugal & be able to take part in it´s unfolding. A humble country, although its beauty glows in every corner you look. There is a sense of true humanity, which you just dont see in the world these days.

    We are in our mid 30s and have lived in South Africa and London but Portugal radiates a warmth quite unique… a place a ´strangeiro´ can be proud to call home 🙂

    Thank you for sharing your experience, im sure you inspired many while living in Portugal.
    All the very very best for your journey ahead!

  23. Fernando says:

    Hi Sandra
    All the things you said are true, but you only said the good things of the true.
    Let me show you the others:
    We have one of the higher level of corruption of the world. It’s a gigantic octopus that grows from decades ago and it’s large arms embrace state and private. If you try to start a business you will find its impossible to pay so much taxes and interests, and problems with ridiculous security rules. So many friends of mine are in a desperate situation because of “startups” , their are worst they were before. The wonderful infrastructures are now roads without cars and babilonias of concrete, money waisted and that could be invested in industry for example that grows economy. For a tourist or a rich this is a wonderful country, but believe me that it’s not just with startups and coaching you grow this country, we need first to clean this corruption and then change the system. And it’s not giving money to the owners of banks, it’s investing on science, on education , on people and stopping the unfair competion with asiatic slavery. It’s not all roses, Sandra, lots of spines to cut first .

    • sandrasweb1 says:

      Bom dia Fernando. Yes, I have heard time and time again about the corruption in Portugal. It is hard to see it as an outsider which does make it seem “less visible” but everyone talks about it, sadly. Corruption eats a country up from the inside out and as Portugal has a lower growth rate, it enables corruption to eat even more. I agree that new money will help create new opportunities and jobs that will hopefully pay better and keep the Portuguese in Portugal. Many of the larger Portuguese companies (PT, EDP, Caixa and others) now have incubation and acceleration programs along with industry specific mentoring and financial awards to help grow new ventures. This directly and indirectly invests in bio, tourism, education, science, energy, etc. It won’t happen overnight, growth, change and more investments in long-term initiatives, but it is happening. Have a great week and thanks for the note!

    • luis says:

      Olá Fernando. Where did you get that information? Can you put it up here? I can… please go here:
      I am pretty sure you are refering to a study that was held in 38 countries, where people were asked about corruption. There portugal came in fifth place. But we must remember that people have the right to a trial in court. So, one thing is what people on the street say and other is the reality.
      Ate you really trying to compare Portugal to the top ten most corrupt coumtries in the World? See the corruption world map and realize that Our country is placed in the 34th place in the world, where nr.1 is the least corrupt. 175 coumtries on that map.
      Regards to all of you.

  24. We recommend all people that is moving to Portugal to visit the southern cities in Algarve. I love all beaches. And Deserta Island in Faro is a paradise island.

  25. Hi Sandra, as Portuguese, thank you for your kind words. Indeed Portugal is a fantastic place to live, but a (very) hard place to work.

  26. Really ask for this says:

    By not publishing all coments you just proved how coward you are and in what kind of illusional world you people, americans like to live…just saying…thank god you wen away, it’s one less!

  27. Fetz says:

    Hi, really great summary and post. I had the chance to travel to and through Portugal this year in May and I was absolutely blown away by this country and it’s people. I’m posting my experiences at http://www.theleobook.info/category/traveling/europa/portugal/ – and would like to invite all of you to follow me visiting 50 LEO clubs and publishing a book about volunteering around the world.

  28. somniumhodie says:

    Hi Sandra,

    As I Portuguese I really enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • sandrasweb1 says:

      Thanks for the comment and even though this post was issued a few months ago, it still keeps moving around the globe. The startup scene in Portugal is really heating up and so many cool things are really underway. The world seems to be paying attention to Portugal all the more. I am back in LA and miss Lisbon and all of Portugal so much and I miss hearing Portuguese from all the lovely people in your country. Have a great weekend. Bjs, Sandra

  29. Luisa Salvador Furtado says:

    Thank you for speaking so kindly about my birth country. I was born I. Peniche my parents moves us to NJ in 1982, I don’t go back as often as I would like, but one say I will retire there.

  30. Cindy Forbes says:

    Very interesting and thoughtful story. I visited Portugal many years ago and was throughly fascinated worth the county and culture. The Algave was absolutely breathtaking. I am interested in your company and startup. Is this geared to new companies starting up in Portugal?

  31. David Kinsella says:

    Hi. We’re from Ireland. My wife is Brazilian. We’re planning on moving to Portugal later this year. I expected this article to negative. And when I saw it was positive I thought “She’s just setting us up for the main part of the article which will be negative.” Because that’s how most articles are. And most people who go abroad and live in another country almost always leave complaining. That has been my experience of people coming here to live and then leaving. So thank you.

    • sandrasweb1 says:

      Hey David, I wrote this article awhile ago now but I have been back to Portugal and should be there now (if the US was not such a mess). Anyway, I was in Portugal during really tough times and my experience was really great and I left part of me there. The economy continues to get better and hopefully the country is not to overrun with new faces, commercialism and whatever else that can eat away at the heart of a lovely place. I adore the Portuguese, their history, the food, music, culture, their humbleness, their fighting spirit, their great language skills and so much more. Thanks for reading the blog and have a great move. Your knowledge of the language will only help (or via your wife). Best!

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