It’s not easy being an expat

Chillin’ on a side street, somewhere in Portugal

Okay, so I had my fun last week writing various satirical posts, which I thought were deeply amusing. Unfortunately, my wife did not share this view; she may not be alone in that regard.

So enough with the snotty, lead balloon humor.

We leave for Tavira on September 17th.

I would have had time to squeeze in an appearance with intellectual giants Amber Heard and Steve Bannon in NY at the Economist’s upcoming Open Future conference, but unfortunately I wasn’t invited.

We’ll be in Tavira for a month, which means I won’t have the opportunity to help my good friend Naguib host the 2nd Annual Gouna Film Festival, as I did last year in my rented SCUBA dive suit. Just as well, as I remember getting confused in my opening monologue between Morsi and Sisi; the names are so similar, after all, with each sounding like some more pronounced version of the other.

At any rate, it’s time to get serious about setting up some sort of game plan about moving (or not) to Portugal.

The matter is a lot more complicated than it would have been, due to the Brexit drama, which has added an enormous amount of uncertainty to our decision process.  There will be approximately 6 month and 11 days to Brexit (March 29, 2019), upon our arrival in Tavira.

I will touch on the issues of applying for Portuguese residency, using my UK passport, a little further on in this article.

First, I have to answer the basic question:  do I really want to leave Florida and live in a foreign country, like, maybe forever?

Well, yes, about leaving Florida, and maybe about the forever part.  Nothing is forever.

If you feel, as I do, that the Republican Party is a vile and putrid cabal, and the people who vote Republican are subhuman goons*: that in and of itself is not a sufficient reason to permanently leave the United States.

Administrations come and go:  who can predict what the political landscape will look like after November, let alone by the time 2020 rolls around?

As despicable as he is, Donald Trump is hardly important enough for me to make a life altering decision based on my distaste for his clownish persona and destructive policies — unless he decides to round up Arab-Americans, and throw us all in concentration camps.

More convincing reasons include pocketbook issues, such as the likelihood of a massive increase in insurance premiums by 2019.

My wife and I have already paid out over 200,000 US dollars in insurance premiums over the past fifteen years (and have only cost our insurance company a quarter of that in payouts).  That’s a villa in the Algarve bought and paid for, had we moved there during W’s first term.

My wife still has a number years left before she qualifies for Medicare.

So on the basis on health premium costs alone, the answer is yes, we should probably move to eliminate the risk of bankruptcy due the predatory “health care” system in the United States.

Another issue is this:  yes, that’s all good and well, but wouldn’t we miss America, if we permanently moved away?

The answer to that is… unlikely. I spent 7 months during the past year in El Gouna, on the Red Sea, in Egypt — where mindless drivel as entertainment is the house speciality.

While I did miss certain things about the US, the reason I returned to Florida had more to do with the unsuitability of Egypt, than any heartsick longing for America or friends whose company we deeply enjoy here (memo:  we have no friends amongst the right-wing geezers who live in our association).

banana boat
Red Sea tip of the day: avoid these as if your life depended on it, because it does

So the question becomes:  is Portugal worth all the hassle?

It has defamation laws on the books that put a crimp on freedom of expression, which seem irrelevant until you become aware of the possible implications.

Its infamous “golden visa” program is overwhelmingly dominated by Chinese investors — who are technically not allowed to take out of China anywhere near the amount of money needed to qualify for this program.  Portugal’s recent brush with insolvency has caused it to look the other way in such matters.

Also, real estate prices are gradually spinning out of control.  Finding cheap long-term digs in the Algarve may already be impossible.

Portugal’s cities and seaside resort towns are being hollowed out by foreigners who are aggressively and with little government control turning places like Lisbon and Faro into AirBnB cash-cows, to the detriment of a living urban neighborhood environment where real people reside year round.

We all know how the real estate bubble turned out in the US in 2008. And I am not even taking in account here the currency risk of a possible collapse of the dollar vs the Euro.

In view of this, is selling one’s house in America and buying in the Algarve the prudent course to take, if one has only one house to gamble with?

And what happens when the government needs more money to prop up the economy or buy new trains or build more infrastructure? Would increases in property taxes aimed at foreigners put an end to its attractiveness as an affordable Shangri La?

In a similar vein, there’s political risk.

Lisbon — the hilly city of forced stairmaster workouts, every time you step out the door — reportedly now has 6 or 7 foreigners for every native Portuguese resident.  Is it even Portuguese any more? How long will this last before there is some kind of anti-foreign reaction to a population that is being socially dislocated and decides to impose onerous taxes and restrictions on foreigners?

Other issues include human trafficking, which remains a problem in Portugal. Ditto the stifling influence of corrupt, rich Angolans and others on freedom of the press and other matters that are poisoning Portuguese society.

Why is this important?  In a country that has been corrupted and distorted by moneyed interests, as I have witnessed in the US and Egypt, sudden changes that can flatten you out financially are always a consideration — if you are not part of the elite. And there is the matter of whether you choose to live in a truly democratic society, or if that is a luxury you cannot afford to consider in your deliberations.

Similarly, you have to ask yourself if your okay with this.

Finally, much of the charm of the Algarve has been sucked out by ruthless developers. Does moving to a place that may soon mirror the concrete horrors of the Costa del Sol or the French Riviera represent an improvement over the quality of life in Florida?

Having said all that, there is a lot to be said for living in a country that is not going through a low boil civil war, as is the case in the States.

Living in Portugal may also mean being among more cultured or sophisticated people, on average, than can be found, say, in Florida.

A town like Tavira, with a calmer. more temperate pace of life (except in summer), sounds rather attractive, at least on paper.

The devil, as they say, is in the details:  what about Portuguese taxes, for example? Specifically, would my modest SS benefits be exempt?

And how does one best navigate the treacherous shoals of Schengen visas?

If one is only allowed to live in Portugal for 3 months out of every 6, on a standard American passport, then you would be forced to absorb the cost of maintaining two households in two separate countries, and constantly travel back and forth.  No way. That may be no problem financially for some; but it would be major for us.

Should one, then, seriously consider taking advantage of the non-habitual residence program?

Would we qualify for it, even if we only allowed a budget of 2,000 Euros a month whilst in Portugal?

Is that even doable for two people to live on?  And are our Social Security benefits — which would fund this jaunt — really non taxable?  What about issues such as future inheritance taxes?

Or is it better to rent a place in Tavira, then after 3 months apply for a residency certificate as a UK/EU citizen?  The many benefits of residency can be found here; careful review of the pros and cons involved is obviously a must.

What about the cost of a car or scooter?  Or the hassle of getting DMV attestation in order to obtain a Portuguese driver’s license without having to take a written driver’s exam in Portuguese?

And is expat health insurance really only 50 to a 100 dollars a month?  What would it in fact cover?

Other than doing a lot of preliminary homework, our approach to coming up with answers to these complex questions is first to go to Tavira, and stay there a month.

If we don’t like it there, the rest of this conversation is moot.

We are also joining expat FB groups to hook with Americans who live in the Algarve; many have already graciously offered to meet in Tavira and give us pointers as to what to expect.

We should know within a week if we truly like it there, or at least enough to — ideally –return during a different part of the year, before making any final decisions. You don’t just switch countries on a whim.

Complicating all this is the inexorable tick-tock of Brexit.

I also have an British passport, in addition to my American one.

What are the benefits of establishing residency in Portugal using that document while it is still a valid EU passport?  Would these also extend to my wife, by virtue of her marriage to an EU passport holder?

Going this route means not having to put up with the intrusive FBI background check that US citizens are subjected to, if they wish to move to Portugal.  This is quite rich:  as law abiding US citizens, we have to ask the FBI to poke into our past and provide us with notarized papers that state we are not criminals, while dodgy Chinese and Russians are given a free pass on the Golden Visa program.

Not sure I am entirely comfortable with that concept.

Moreover, could we really deal with having to drive a small car (I am quite tall, and have a spinal issue that necessitates my driving a large car) and extremely high gas prices and ruinous tolls, as we watch (according to research I have done on the Internet) Russian mobsters drive big black shiny SUVs around no problemo?

Essentially, this boils down to why should those thieving punks have a better life than us? — this a question many Londoners may ask themselves as they walk along Edgeware Rd.

Would we enjoy living in a house or apartment with little or no insulation? No central air? No central heating?  Bad plumbing? No private garage?

Or be stuck in an area that is flooded with obnoxious tourists for much of the Summer and Fall?

Or be compelled to accept sundry unpleasantness, such as the viral public smoking that goes on in Portugal, or the ubiquitous dog doo leavings that fester on the sidewalks throughout this fair land?

This was the situation in Nice, France, last year, and it was a major turnoff.

Ditto El Gouna, where every one smoked as if lung cancer does not exist in Egypt, when in fact it is rampant, and otherwise intelligent people pretend that second hand smoke in open air restaurants is not a problem, which is complete bullshit.

As you can see, the decision process will not be a simple one; but it may have to be made quickly, despite the pace of life in the Algarve lane, where nothing involving documentation, the government, or banks moves quickly.

Many of these issues involve complex legal issues.  But I’m not a complete dummy, and am rarely intimidated by digging into this sort of stuff: although I must admit I was more comfortable navigating these tedious legalese waters in French (which I speak fluently), and was the reason we first considered Nice, last year, until we realized it was too expensive an option.

After all, you have to be extremely careful when you affix your name to legal documents — such as real estate deals — in Portuguese, that may or may not be the exact equivalent of their English-language counterparts.

Truly, it’s not easy being an expat, unless you’re some lah-de-da “digital nomad” kid just passing through hipster Lisbon, man, and slinging some startup code before eventually going back to your real life in the States.

And if it’s a stated given that much about human nature is universally despicable, and that any government, which often mirrors the worst therein, is essentially a system of unwelcome financial extraction to finance national dreams of glory on the backs of the working stiff, what dance of mirrors must be followed to justify all the hold-your-nose-and-vote compromises one will have to accept in order to make the case for the Algarve stick?

As I look out my window early this morning, and notice the two ignorant, American troglodytes — who uniquely embody everything that I find most repulsive about the United States — hanging out and talking loudly in front of my driveway, as they do every day, just to irritate the shit out of my wife and I to the maximum degree possible, and the old hags from a few houses down commence their waddle toward the communal pool, brightly-colored swimming noodles in hand, the answer to this question becomes ever clearer.

* essentially a fascist-leaning combination of rich bigots and methheads on welfare

leaving america


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