By Millicent Borges Accardi
After traveling throughout the world, expatriate writer Tricia Pimental has settled in Central Portugal to live the good life. Her travels include most of Europe, the Baltic States, Russia, and parts of the Middle East. Her writing has been featured on Eye on Travel – WTTC European Leaders Forum on CBS, Peter Greenberg Worldwide; The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch; Bouncing Over the Big Pond – Dance Past Sunset with Brant Huddleston and Generation Bold Talk Radio with Adrian Berg.
Yet, after leaving her native Brooklyn (New York), Pimental never imagined she’d ultimately end up settling down in a romantic cottage and vineyard in Central Portugal. But, she did! In fact, she and her husband, Keith, have lived in the small village of Castelo Branco since 2012.
Currently, she writes expatriate dispatches for International Living and has written a memoir as well as two books on Portugal: A Movable Marriage, Slippery Slopes, and Rabbit Trail: How a Former Playboy Bunny Found Her Way.
In this exclusive interview for the Portuguese American Journal Patricia Pimental speaks of her decision to move to Portugal, of her expatriate experience, her all Portuguese favorites, and of what takes to make Portugal one’s home.
Q: Your last name could be Portuguese, are you sure you don’t have any Luso heritage?
A: (Ha Ha) My husband is of Portuguese descent, with great-grandparents born in Madeira and the Azores.
Q: You’re living the expat life in Portugal, how did you choose where to live?
A: I was born in New York, and my husband Keith and I met in Los Angeles. We lived in Miami at one point, as well, and we were done with big city life even before we left the US. When we first arrived in Portugal, we lived in Cruz, near Vila Nova de Famalicão, and spent a fair amount of time in Braga and Porto. Living in Mafra, we spent a great deal of time in both Cascais and Lisbon, and of course, when we fly we go to Lisbon, so we get enough of that busyness at those times.
Q: What advice would you give to Portuguese-Americans looking to retire in Portugal?
A: That’s easy. Go for it. It’s a fabulous place to both visit and retire. Also, check if you have any ties that would allow you to procure citizenship. Generally, if one of your grandparents was a Portuguese citizen, you can qualify for dual citizenship. This would eliminate much of the recurring requirements of a residency visa.
Q: What’s the process for gaining residency? Do you apply for a residency card? How long does it take? Cost? Is it easy to obtain? How long does a temp/perm residency card last?
A: First you need to apply for a D-7 Residency Visa through the Portuguese Embassy in the US. Recently the process has been simplified by requiring all applicants to use the services provided by VFS Global “Visa Facilitations Services Global”. Their website has all of the information you need to comply with the requirements to receive your initial four-month visa.
Prove the ability to provide for your monthly living expenses through income or retirement funds (generally about $1,000 per person);
Retain an international health insurance policy that has an expiration at least one year into the future;
Provide a clean criminal background check through the FBI;
Start the process no more than 90 days but no less than three weeks prior to your planned departure for Portugal. You should plan on it taking eight weeks;
The costs include $105.29 per person for the Visa fee, VFS fee of $33.92 and courier fees;
Demonstrate proof of lodging, typically with a signed lease in Portugal with a minimum of six months’ duration.
With that in hand, finish the process in Portugal with their immigration service, Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (http://imigrante.sef.pt/en). That’s where you apply for the residency card, within 30 days of arrival in the country. At the moment, SEF’s calendar is a bit on overload (which is why it was recently reported in Portugal News Today that they had recently hired 100 new officers to handle requests). The cost is approximately $150. Once received, the card is good for one year, then renewable twice for two years each, and then for five years, at which point you can also apply for citizenship, if so desired.
Q: Have you heard about the special offer that Portugal extended, where (I think) if you invest $500K into a house you can obtain citizenship? Or Permanent Residency?
A: I think you’re referring to the Golden Visa program. Yes, that’s an option for those with the financial ability to invest a sum (which can be lower, depending on the area of the country in which you choose to buy). That scheme was actually suspended for a while but is currently back in place. It’s essential to seek professional advice when considering participation.
It only provides for a fast-track to residency with somewhat less criteria, not for citizenship. One must still meet the general requirements of time in country and basic language skills to apply for citizenship.
Q: Is there a plus to renting versus buying property in Portugal?
A: Purchasing is a serious commitment; it pays to be sure. Also, in Portugal, apartments frequently rent for less than a typical mortgage payment would be on the same property, so the plus of renting in Portugal is that you always get a truer sense of an area and neighborhood if you spend significant time there.
Q: In a travel article, you said health insurance was only $100? For two people? In the US, private insurance can run upwards of $1,000 a month.
A: True on both counts, and one of the reasons this country is such a blessing to so many. We also have insurance with ACP (Automóvel Club de Portugal) which is only about $100 a year for two.
Q: What are some things you wish you had known before you moved to Portugal? Not pros and cons, but perhaps tidbits of wisdom you can pass along?
A: I wish I had known how long things often take to get accomplished, from getting appointments to finding folks to help us out – like electricians, carpenters, landscapers, etc. It can be challenge. But it has taught us patience, so that’s a good thing.
Q: Was sorting out social security and retirement pensions difficult in Portugal?
A: Not at all. We don’t use the Portuguese pension system. It is generally not advantageous for a US person to pay into and eventually get a small amount out of. The US Social Security doesn’t care where you live, except for a few countries like North Korea or Cuba, so they pay you without a hiccup.
Q: You have a book about your travel adventures, A Movable Marriage: A Memoir can you tell what it is about? Is it similar to Eat, Pray, Love or A Year in Provence?
A: Yes, there are similarities to those books. As the Amazon blurb reads,
In her early forties, Tricia Pimental has everything she ever wanted: beautiful children, a lovely home, and in her new marriage, the romance of a lifetime. She soon realizes, however, that she and her husband are at odds over one critical issue. She is a homebody. He is a nomad. So begins the never-ending journey. The author crisscrosses North America, relocating on an alarmingly regular basis. Along the way she meets an imposing cast of characters, from a gun-slinging landlord to cowboy weathermen to television superstar Regis Philbin. . . A Movable Marriage is a funny and poignant look at the adventure known as married life, and a tribute to the wisdom of perseverance. Come along for the ride. No passport required.
Q: Did you have a real estate agent when finding your house?
A: We were fortunate to find Inês Cid of Remax (firstname.lastname@example.org). She is an amazing professional and has remained a friend.
Q: How did you settle on the Castelo Branco District ? Did you rent there first? What about it attracted you and your husband?
A: We had been renting a home in Mafra for about three years, and wanted to purchase, but couldn’t find the size property we wanted in the area.
My husband wanted a vineyard, a well, and we need at least four bedrooms, because we each have a home office and frequently entertain overnight guests. Recently we hosted a family of six for three months. So we began moving away from the Mafra region, heading north, and fell in love with the beauty of the Beira Baixa region.
Q: Did you take language classes in Portuguese or just pick up the language?
A: First we listened (many times) to the Michel Thomas European Portuguese Language CDs. They were invaluable in giving us confidence in our daily conversations with locals. About a year after we moved here, we signed up for an intensive course in Portuguese at the University of Coimbra, and that greatly raised our level of competency.
Q: You said you did not care for fish, can you name a few of the Portuguese dishes that you do love?
A: Actually, Portugal has converted me. I love the pillowy codcakes, known as pasteis de bacalhau, as well as freshly grilled dorado and robalo, although I don’t eat shellfish. I’m a little sensitive about eating meat—although I do—and if I can get over any hesitations, I have to say that chanfana is fabulous.
Q: Favorite Portuguese foods to cook?
A: Early into our marriage (we’ll be married 27 years next month), my husband became the chef in our home. He makes a creative and delicious variation on ensopada.
Q: What are some of your favorite activities to do in Portugal?
A: When we lived in Mafra, I was very active with International Women in Portugal. Through IWP I met with like-minded ladies who wanted to engage in conversational Portuguese and French, I learned to play bridge (mais o menos), participated in a writers’ group and I still am involved with their Lisbon Book Club. Just before we moved away, I had started with a newly formed pétanque group. I’ve been playing that game, similar to bocce ball, for over 25 years.
Q: Do you find it challenging to get carpenters/plumbers to do work on your house?
A: That has sometimes been the case. On the other hand, we’ve had certain people who were quite reliable. So we hope for the best, and deal with whatever it is. And whatever it is, the people themselves are always delightful, so how bad is that?
Q: What daily challenges do you have living in Portugal versus the US?
A: Honestly, there are no everyday challenges here versus the US. I just returned from three weeks there because of work and to visit family, and the general vibe—and I was in four different states—is more tense and unfriendly there than it is here. Life, especially in the countryside, is relaxing in Portugal, and in a word, happy.
Q: Can you describe what a typical day looks like for you and your husband?
A: I rise around 7:00 a.m. and Keith follows sometime after. Together we go outside–we have a lovely view, all the way to Monsanto–and give thanks to God for our blessings. Over coffee we read a chapter in the Bible, then it’s time for a sauna and to get ready for the day – I write in my office, and he works in his.
When the pressure is on with International Living, like when I’m preparing presentations for a conference, working on a book for them, or on a lengthy article (I just submitted the cover story for the January 2020 issue), I may work nine or ten hours. We have a light lunch and may go into town (Fundão to the north, Castelo Branco to the south) to run an errand or two. Five o’clock means cheese, olives, and a glass of wine on the patio, weather permitting, and then an early dinner at around 6:30. I adore reading and like to spend about an hour in my office doing that before heading to bed (and reading some more).
Q: What’s been the biggest challenge in living abroad?
A: I would say it’s being so far from family. I have two daughters from my first marriage, who live in California and have four children between them. I do visit them twice a year, though, and I think we would all agree our time spent together falls into the “quality over quantity” category. My stepson has three children, and we have not only visited them in the Midwest, but they’ve all traveled several times to see us here in Portugal.
Q: What was the most difficult thing to get used to in Portugal versus the US?
A: Probably it’s the fact that everything takes longer than it does in the US. For example, except for in a big city, if you’re looking for a specific tool or household item or food, you may have to go to several stores and perhaps still not find it. Add to that the fact that the Portuguese like to chat, and you might find an errand takes an hour instead of 20 minutes.
Q: What words and phrases are the most helpful to learn in Portuguese?
A: Just as in any language, please and thank you are so important. I prefer “se faz favor” to “por favor“ simply because I love the sound of the “s” and “f” linked together and the “sh” on the end of faz.
Barry Hatton, the author of The Portuguese: A Modern History, likens the sound of Portuguese to “windsurfing through consonants” and I think he’s got something there.
Also, since moving to central Portugal, I’ve started saying “bem haja“ sometimes instead of “obrigada” which invariably brings a smile to the recipient.
It’s also useful to know how to count, to understand prices, and how to ask for things. Oh, and to be good at charades.
Q: What are your top ten things about Portugal?
A: Welcoming people, with emphasis on family and friends; Beautiful and varied geography; Relaxing pace of life; Sense of history; Castles everywhere; Cathedrals, churches, and chapels; Award-winning wines; Fresh cuisine; Professional, quality healthcare; Affordability of lifestyle.
Q: Do you read Portuguese literature? Who are your favorite writers?
A: I’ve read a bit of Camões (in English) and other legendary authors, and my hope is to be able to enjoy them in Portuguese someday, without a dictionary in hand.
I am absolutely hooked on Isabel Stilworth’s historical novels, and I’m the proud owner of autographed copies of Philippa of Lancaster, Catherine of Braganza, and Maria II.
Q: Can you share a significant passage from A Movable Marriage: A Memoir that you feel best gives people a taste for the book?
A: From the happiest of times. This excerpt is from the final section of the book, entitled Paradise in Portugal.
In this new and decidedly more rural area of the country, our understanding of the Portuguese mindset deepened. The people were sensitive to personal dynamics and quickly discerned if visitors had genuine respect for their culture. A tourist seeking an inexpensive vacation, during which he will view stunning landscapes, sample mellow Port wines from long-established houses, and enjoy an abundance of fresh fish, will be graciously welcomed from a polite distance. A foreigner who attempts to speak a few words of Portuguese and smiles at the locals, defying their characteristic dour demeanor, will break through and make a tentative connection. But a person who voices regard for the history of what was once one of the greatest countries in the world, who seeks to understand their political, religious, and philosophical take on life, and who embraces the country’s cuisine and language, will find that the Portuguese open up from the heart, like a rose blossoming in time-lapse photography. That person will be accepted as “one of them.”
Q: Do you have any events or book signings we can publicize?
A: This coming April I’ll be speaking in Los Angeles at an International Living retirement conference, and the following month, at one in the Algarve. I’ve had book signings here, in Cascais among other places, but as I’m currently working on a new book, no signings are scheduled right now.
Q: What are you writing? I mean what’s next?
A: International Living has kept me busy enough over the past several years that in addition to works written for them, I have personally have only written short stories, published in places like Southern Writers Magazine and through the National League of American Pen Women.
But I am currently at work on a sequel to A Movable Marriage about life as an expat in Portugal. Seven years has given me plenty of time to have had many interesting encounters of all kinds. For instance, there was that time with the Guarda Nacional Republicana—actually, it was those times. Stay tuned…
Millicent Borges Accardi is the author of three poetry books: Injuring Eternity, Woman on a Shaky Bridge, and Only More So. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Fulbright, CantoMundo, California Arts Council, Barbara Deming, Fundação Luso-Americana (FLAD), and SOPAS, Special Congressional Recognition for poetry in the Portuguese community of California. Her new work appears in The Journal, Quiddity, Mantis and Laurel Review. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @TopangaHippie
Tricia Pimental has written three award-winning books: A Movable Marriage, Slippery Slopes, and Rabbit Trail: How a Former Playboy Bunny Found Her Way. Other publication credits include short stories, flash fiction, and poetry in various magazines and anthologies. As a correspondent for International Living, she has written Escape to Portugal and a 15-part video series entitled Portugal 101. Tricia contributes monthly to the magazine and speaks at conferences and other events in the US and Europe. For more information, here’s her website: http://triciapimental.com/
Pictures courtesy of Tricia & Keith Pimental