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‘My main takeaways a year after swapping Ireland for Portugal’

The Portuguese have no tolerance for a chill. Once the temperature hovers around 20 degrees, it is common to see people wrapped up in coats and gloves

As I lay in my cabin berth in the dark, swaying on the swells of the Bay of Biscay, listening to the chugging of the engine beneath me, I really began to question what on earth I was doing.

Six weeks earlier, my boyfriend and I made the decision to pick up the life we had carefully crafted over the past six years in Dublin.

The destination for our next phase of life? Lisbon, Portugal.

If there was any time to do it, it was then.

In an unlucky and lucky coincidence, within a month of one another in early 2023 we both fell victim to tech layoffs.

We took it as a sign – it was time to leave Ireland.

We went by ferry and car –­ the easiest way to transport half of our belongings and a very confused Golden Retriever.

It is about a year now since we made the move, so naturally I’m reflecting on life so far in Lisbon.

Here are some of my main takeaways:

I’ll start with the most obvious: the weather makes such a difference to our lifestyle. Winter here often feels like a nice September day in Ireland.

Lisbon is built with outdoor leisure in mind. There is no crowding around the cramped canal outside the Barge pub on a rare sunny day – a wonderful thing in and of itself. Instead, you have countless incredible viewpoints, terraces and beaches at your disposal. You can switch from work to holiday mode as soon as you step outside.

The good weather means that the Portuguese have no tolerance for a chill of any kind. Once the temperature hovers around 20 degrees, it is common to see people wrapped up in coats and gloves. I find it amusing now, but I wonder if I will succumb to the same habits after a year or two more here.

Portuguese people have been really welcoming – and quite patient when you try and fail to speak the language. Having lived in France, I can say that not every country is as kind to a helpless foreigner.

Despite the warm welcome, I would say it is difficult to integrate socially with the Portuguese unless you have mastered the language. This makes sense and is very fair – it just means that I have a lot more Portuguese lessons ahead of me.

I have picked up a lot of Portuguese through local yoga classes, although I can’t say that describing a cat-cow or downward-dog position in Portuguese has been particularly useful when trying to make a hospital appointment or applying for a bus pass.

While Portugal, particularly Lisbon, shares some similar social challenges to Ireland (think healthcare, inflation), they can take slightly different forms. For example, the cost of living in Lisbon has skyrocketed since Covid. Unlike Dublin, this is largely because digital nomads with US or UK-level salaries choose Lisbon to work remotely.

‘The weather makes such a difference to our lifestyle. Winter here often feels like a nice September day in Ireland’

Average rental costs in Lisbon have increased by 40 per cent in the past two years alone. While I am not a digital nomad, and I am working for a Lisbon-based company, I am lucky to be earning enough to live a good quality of life. However, for those who earn the minimum wage of just over €11,000 per year, life is becoming completely unaffordable. It’s a source of tension between locals and expats and it’s hard to see this trend slowing down any time soon.

There are, of course, some things I miss about home. One comfort I long for is a cosy pint in a local pub. While there are plenty of places to get a drink in Lisbon, they don’t have the same atmosphere as home.

More importantly, it can be hard to miss out on the lives of your family and friends at home.

I am lucky to live relatively close to Ireland. Even so, each visit home is a rush to see everyone, with hurried catch-ups over coffee and a sense that while I can catch the big milestones, I am missing out on the smaller, key moments that make up the lives of those closest to me.

This is intensified by the fact that my boyfriend is from Norway and if we want to travel to family together for holidays, there is no one “home” we can go to. There will always be one family’s dinner table missing a person on a seat at Christmas time. With all that said, I am so grateful we made the decision to move to Lisbon, and we are not planning on leaving any time soon.

A year after I arrived, I have gone from bouncing nervously on a Brittany Ferries voyage to sitting on a sailboat on the Tagus river with family and friends who visit often, watching the sunset over another beautiful day in Lisbon.

  • Leah Driscoll is from Cork and studied English and French at UCC. She moved to Lisbon with her Norwegian boyfriend Jostein and their dog a year ago in May 2023. She now works for a financial technology company in Lisbon.
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