American Expat Living in Portugal - Interview with Joy

Published: 30 Jan at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Portugal
Joy Hanford is a Midwestern American writer and artist. When she was a little girl, she know exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up then she forgot then she remembered. She spends her week filling pages in her sketchbook with stories and adventures, and her weekends searching for dragons hiding in castle corners. Joy's expat blog is called Conversations with Hank (see listing here)

Family Portrait: Joy, Amália (Molly), Alfredo and Henrique (Hank)
Family Portrait: Joy, Amália (Molly), Alfredo and Henrique (Hank)

Here's the interview with Joy...

Where are you originally from?
I have lived in most of the Midwestern States most notably Illinois, Ohio and Indiana.

In which country and city are you living now?
My family and I have been blessed to live in Guimarães, in the stunning north of Portugal.

How long have you lived in Portugal and how long are you planning to stay?
We were brought to the north from our home in Setúbal by the University of Minho where my husband is a research scientist. Our family of four plans on staying in this medieval college town as long as science and book making allows or until our next adventure comes calling.

Guimarães, Portugal
Guimarães, Portugal
Why did you move to Portugal and what do you do?
It is easy to move abroad when your spouse is a resident and you're a blogger, freelance illustrator and a children's book author. I can work anywhere. I won the lottery with both my husband and his country. Portugal is one of the best kept secrets of Europe and living in such a magical place has only further inspires me.

Did you bring family with you?
In 2010 my then family of three: husband Alfredo, myself and our three year old, Hank moved to Setúbal about 45 minutes outside of Lisbon from the Midwest. Originally, I started my blog so my friends and family back in The States could have a growing picture of our son Hank's personality while living an ocean away.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
The first months are always the hardest, but if you can find nice people, places or things to brighten these tough days then soon it is all gravy. It also helped that I had been traveling and staying extensively in Portugal since 2005 and that I had the support of my husband's large family. I don't know what I would have done without them. They were my main motivation for language acquisition, because even without communication they were always so helpful and welcoming. I couldn't wait to participate in their loud, large and hilarious family dinners. Thankfully four years later I can proudly hold court with them all!

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
One criticism I do have with Portugal is that I have found it is hard to make friends. Not because Portuguese are unfriendly, quite the opposite, it is due to a lack of time. Family is so important and all consuming and then when you add your friends from high school and college there is little room for more. I was lucky to inherit my husband's amazing group of friends and I have some amazing relationships with fellow expats from all over the globe: Poland, Russia, Senegal, Canada, as well as from back home. When you live abroad your friends become your family.

Guimarães, Portugal
Guimarães, Portugal
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
The North of Portugal is FULL of day trips you can do by car or train. Take advantage of every little Aldeia (village) their restaurants, cafés and lookouts. You never know what treasure is hiding in these hills.

What do you enjoy most about living in Portugal?
I love the age of everything. Where I come from the only things we have with this kind of age are trees and dirt. I love walking along a Roman road and seeing cars navigate medieval streets. The clash of modern and ancient fills my sketchbook to the brim!

How does the cost of living in Portugal compare to home?
Necessities are priced for the people where as luxuries aren't. As long as you are happy with stunning food and nice wine at an amazing price and a beautiful view to match then you cannot go wrong with Portugal. If you want things instead of memories you better come with your pockets well padded. They have a saying in Portugal: Small salary, big life and I agree this sums up the culture. You need to value time here not things.

Guimarães, Portugal
Guimarães, Portugal
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Portugal?
The winters are very cold and wet and so by May you are praying for a bit of sunshine on your face, but the rest of the year makes up for those few cold months.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Portugal, what would it be?
Find the nice people and ignore the rest. Do not take attitudes personally. It isn't about you and if it is then that person isn't worth your time.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Missing my nephew growing up and all the children back home, sure there is skype, facetime and letters, but it is hard being so far away from little ones.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I am home. There is no place I would rather be.

Guimarães, Portugal
Guimarães, Portugal
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Find the nice people and forget the rest.
  2. Find a victim and practice your language at least 20 minutes a day.
  3. Do not be afraid of making mistakes, embrace them, learn from them.
  4. Watch you finances and make sure you have all of your paperwork (voting, housing, irs, etc.) in order at all times.
  5. Keep a journal to look back on. Today may be hard but looking back a month, 3 months, 6 months, a year from now and you will be surprised and comforted by how far you've come.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog. is a Micro -Sitcom about our family of four living in the north of Portugal: A midwestern American Artist, a Portuguese Scientist, a newborn and a seven year old. The site is in English with a peppering of (translated) Portuguese. Living in Portugal since 2010 our family will have you laughing your way through new conversations posted Monday-Friday.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
You can reach me through my contact page on my blog:

About the author

Expat Blog ListingJoy is an American expat living in Portugal. Blog description: Micro -Sitcom about a family of four living in the north of Portugal: A midwestern American Artist, a Portuguese Scientist, a newborn and a seven year old.
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