British Expat Living in Portugal - Interview with Sarah

Published: 2 May at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Portugal
Sarah Hendrickx and her partner, Keith live in the hills of the Eastern Algarve where they try to work out what to do with 250 lemons, make a pet out of Colin, the gecko who lives behind the bathroom boiler and inflict terrible Portuguese on the local population. Sarah is a writer, author of 7 books (6 on autism, one on cookery), autism speaker and occasional stand-up comedian. Always seeing the funny side of life, Sarah shares tales of her life in Portugal on her blog Bicycles and Biscuits. Sarah's expat blog is called Bicycles and Biscuits (see listing here)

Sarah pontificating as usual. Keith listens intently. (or maybe he's fallen asleep)
Sarah pontificating as usual. Keith listens intently. (or maybe he's fallen asleep)

Here's the interview with Sarah...

Where are you originally from?
I am from the South East of England, but have lived all over the UK. I grew up in the same town as Fat Boy Slim and recall him busking outside the Town Hall on a Saturday. He doesn't appear to remember me... According to Wikipedia, Ray Alan (ventriloquist) and George Best spent their final years in Reigate. The fact that these people are all mentioned on Wikipedia and I am not is all you need to know.

In which country and city are you living now?
I live in a tiny hamlet in the Eastern Algarve hills in Portugal around 12km north of Tavira. There are far more geckos than people round here.

How long have you lived in Portugal and how long are you planning to stay?
We moved in in February 2015 and we shall stay as long as we can tolerate banging our heads on the very low doorways of our traditional cottage. I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be right now.

Lemons, lots of lemons
Lemons, lots of lemons
Why did you move to Portugal and what do you do?
Moving to Portugal was part of a long held, carefully made and distant future financial plan to live overseas, which was totally turned upside down when Keith was offered redundancy in the same week that I was diagnosed with a potentially life shortening genetic kidney disease. We realised that we didn't know how long we had, so just went for it. I still run an autism training business, working remotely and part-time in the UK and Keith is now a professional tinkerer and does admin for my business. I also write for a number of magazines. Mostly we spend our days staring at the vegetables we have planted, hoping they won't die.

Did you bring family with you?
I came along with my beloved, best pal and partner in crime, Keith. My children have grown up and left home, so we sold up and ran away before they could come back.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
I find it easier to be in a foreign country than in my own. As a fairly awkward person naturally, there is a liberation to not knowing what the hell is going on most of the time. I can't figure it out so I don't try. The only thing that Keith can think of as being different is the process in some shops where you have to get a ticket from one person in order to buy something and then go to another person to pay for it. That's as much trauma as we have experienced. We love it here and between us manage to work out what we need. It's not a difficult country to move to.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
We don't require a lot of social interaction, but we've met a few people, mostly through our interest in vegetable growing, plus a few people who live near us. They are all other foreigners. We have few opportunities to interact with Portuguese people due to our limited but eager language skills and general opportunities to do so, as we don't work here. We do go to all the events in our local bar and do our best to communicate and I feel that we are well tolerated. The owners no longer reply to us in English (a typical Portuguese habit) which feels like progress. I also got to asked to dance by a local man at a dance - he gave up quickly when he realised I couldn't waltz, but it's a start.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
One of our favourite trips is a bike ride down to the coast, on to the Ecovia - a 200+km cycle trail which stretches the whole length of the Algarve and coffee and cake or lunch in Manta Rota or Fuseta. The Eastern Algarve is so quiet and unspoilt. Olhao is one of our favourite towns; it feels so Moroccan in places. We also love the river beach at Alcoutim and taking the 15 minute passenger ferry from Vila Real to Ayamonte in Spain, where if you time it right, you can have two lunches in one day as Spain is an hour ahead of Portugal.

What do you enjoy most about living in Portugal?
The pace of life here is so slow, it's wonderful. People generally seem to be in less of hurry and value family, social contact and a good cup of coffee more than in the UK. I can't drink caffeine so am continually searching for a good, strong cup of decaff. Portugal nails it. In any tiny bar halfway up a mountain you can get a fabulous decaff coffee for around 40p, In the UK, it costs 5 times that much for an insipid bucket of dishwater. Don't get me started on the price and quality of British coffee, it's a sore point. I'd live here for that alone.
Also, we love the food. We buy everything from the market that we don't try to grow ourselves. Every month has a different vegetable or fruit in season at low prices. I cook so much more in Portugal. We eat amazingly well on a small budget. Figs, nespera, quinces, sweet potatoes and freshly squeezed orange juice are all typical staples.

How does the cost of living in Portugal compare to home?
It is much cheaper to buy food if you use markets and local shops. Cars are very expensive to buy. Eating and drinking out are much cheaper. Overall, we find we need only around half the income to live here as we did in the UK, but part of that is due to not needing much entertainment because the weather is so good and we have land to mess about in.

Grapes on our vines
Grapes on our vines
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Portugal?
I can't think of any. Some people talk about issues with bureaucracy, but we have managed to navigate it all very smoothly so far. Again, some expats grumble about the laid-back way of the Portuguese, but I consider it to be extremely rude to move to another country and then complain about the nature and culture of the resident population. Go back home if you don't like it!

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Portugal, what would it be?
It's an old cliche and oft advised, but it is: learn the language. Portuguese people are very happy to speak English to you, but there are times when not speaking Portuguese will be a hinderance, and you will never integrate without it. It makes the difference between 'getting by' and 'joining in'.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Sometimes it rains. That's really hard. And they don't have many decent biscuits in Portugal. That can be a real struggle. It's also really difficult to share photographs of your warm, sunny life on Facebook because everyone you know will hate you.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
We don't have any plans for returning to the UK. Too much traffic. Too grey. And don't even go there with the price of coffee.

Traffic jam Algarve style
Traffic jam Algarve style
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Learn the language. The longer we are here, the more we realise how important it is. There are plenty of teachers on Skype and schools in Faro and Lisbon.
  2. Learn about the local population and their history. Barry Hutton's book The Portuguese is a great insight into the country and its people. The way people are makes more sense when you know where they have come from. Portugal was a dictatorship until 1974.
  3. Go native - get to the market, buy local, eat local. Change your eating habits to suit what's fresh and what local people eat.
  4. Adjust your pace of life. Slow down. Go with the climate. Don't expect to do anything in July (hot). Live like a local. Sleep in the afternoons.
  5. Really... just learn the language.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Bicycles and Biscuits is a blog about Sarah and Keith's life in Portugal and occasional forays on a bicycle. Full of random observations and nonsense on life abroad with occasional vegetables.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
On the Contact page of the blog. I offer advisory sessions via Skype or in person to assist people considering moving overseas anywhere in the world to about how to do it successfully. I am also currently writing a book on the same subject which will be published in 2017.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingSarah is a British expat living in Portugal. Blog description: In search of an unhurried life. Blogging on travel, growing, cooking and eating food, cycling and simple living in Algarve, Portugal and elsewhere.
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