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Welcome to Portugal, now go home

Episode Summary

Portugal is one of the most affordable countries to live in Europe, which has drawn thousands of Californian exiles. How are these expats changing society?

Episode Notes

Ocean breezes, mountain views, stunning architecture, great food. Fala vocé português? Even if you don’t; Portugal is it right now, and has been for years. But recently, more Americans and especially Californians are looking to make their vacations in the small European country permanent.

Today, why more Americans are trading in their SUVs and fast food drive-throughs for the affordable homes and easy living of Portugal. And what that means for local residents.

Read the full transcript here.

Host: Gustavo Arellano

Guests: L.A. Times European correspondent Jaweed Kaleem

More reading:

Welcome to Portugal, the new expat haven. Californians, please go home

These Californians relocated to Portugal. They share their stories

Goodbye, L.A. and San Francisco. Hello, Riverside and Central Valley. California moves east


Episode Transcription

Gustavo: Ocean breezes, mountain views, stunning architecture, great food. Even if you don't; Portugal is it right now, and has been for years. 

Tour Guide: I have a few questions for you. Can you hear me well? You understand my English? Are you enjoying? Do you want to walk? Great. It's a walking tour not a talking tour, right? 

Gustavo: But recently, more Americans and especially Californians; They're looking to make their vacations in the small European country…permanent.

BEAT drop 

I'm Gustavo Arellano. You're listening to The Times, daily news from the LA Times. It's Tuesday, June 7th, 2022. 

Today, why more Americans are trading in their SUVs and drive-throughs for the affordable homes and easy living of Portugal. And what that means for local residents.

BEAT drop 2 to mux fade out 

Gustavo: My L.A. Times colleague and national correspondent Jaweed Kaleem has been looking into this phenomenon and joins us from London to talk about it. Jaweed, welcome to The Times.

Jaweed Kaleem: Hi, Gustavo. Thanks for having me. 

Gustavo: So you recently spent some time in Portugal. Where did you go exactly and what took you there?

Jaweed Kaleem: I went to the Lisbon area and one of the areas around Lisbon that I went to is Qashqai about 30 minutes west of Lisbon, a wealthy seaside, hilly suburb, where a lot of expats are moving.

Gustavo: And how did you hear about all these foreigners moving to Portugal? 

Jaweed Kaleem: It began with my family. Uh, my brother-in-law has wanted to move to Portugal for some time. So I just thought about, Hmm, are there more people like him? Once I found out a little more, I learned that my editor's brother lives there in Portugal. And then I went on Facebook and I found all kinds of people, especially from California, LA and San Francisco and beyond, who are going there or want to go there. 

Gustavo: I've always wanted to visit Portugal, but I would've never thought of living there. So you go there and you meet a woman at Qashqai, Jamie Dixon and her family.  What was their story?

Jaweed Kaleem: So, uh, Jamie is 37. She's a fourth generation Californian. 

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Jamie Dixon: My name is Jamie Dixon and I'm born and raised in Malibu, Los Angeles, California. I lived there my whole life for 36 years. And I'm now in Qashqai, Portugal and moved here almost one year ago.

Jaweed Kaleem: And she was working as a fitness instructor. And during the pandemic had her salary cut, her hours cut. People couldn’t meet. 

Jamie Dixon: So honestly, my salary got dropped by about 75% during 2020. And I was scrambling to find a new job. And I happened to meet my new boss. At which time I started a new job where I was able to work remote anywhere in the world. 

Jaweed Kaleem: And her daughter was not able to go to school in person. And a lot of these changes made her reevaluate what's next in my life for my family.

Jamie Dixon: COVID really catapulted that. We wanted our daughter to have somewhat of a normal upbringing. And we didn't want her to be in a mask. 

Jaweed Kaleem: Her husband's an actor. And they began exploring. 

Jamie Dixon: The dream was to let her run wild in the jungles of Costa Rica, but…

Jaweed Kaleem: A little less than a year ago, finally took the jump and I'm now living in Qashqai in Portugal.

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Gustavo: How did the Dixons land on Portugal as a place to live? Did they think of any other countries or anything like that?

Jaweed Kaleem: They // were looking at it a couple of places. One was Costa Rica, which is of course, another longtime popular destination for Americans who are going abroad or retirees

Jamie Dixon: Deciding on where to move was… was challenging. Because it was very overwhelming. Like we can live anywhere in the world. Where should we go? So we had a list going. And South America, Central America, Costa Rica was definitely on our list.

Jaweed Kaleem: They landed on Portugal for several reasons. One is, it's in the European Union. And they wanted to have access to Europe and eventually, hopefully be EU citizens.

Jamie Dixon: We were also looking to pick up another passport. We really want to collect a couple of different passports in our lifetime for a variety of reasons. We also want to learn different language and we want our daughter to be trilingual one day. 

Gustavo: I know Americans can go to Europe and stay there, like around three months without any visa. What's the process though, to actually live and work there? 

Jaweed Kaleem: Yeah, any American citizen can go to a European Union country like Portugal for about three months as a tourist, without really any paperwork required or anything. To move there is a whole different process.

Jamie Dixon: It was super stressful, honestly. Every part of it, we almost backed out a couple of times because there was so many intense requirements to get here.

Jaweed Kaleem: There's different kinds of visas Portugal has, which are specifically for foreigners who are professionals who want to relocate abroad. One is called the D7, which is basically uh where you're a remote worker, essentially. You're earning money outside of Portugal and spending it in Portugal. For Jamie Dixon, her husband, Joey Dixon, // they had to have about $21,000 in a Portuguese bank account that they opened. And that's about minimum wage for about a couple or two people who would be Portuguese workers. The other one that is also popular is called the golden Visa. This one costs a lot more money and you'll find more retirees or people who are just wealthier doing this, where you have to invest about half a million dollars in a property or a house or building in Portugal. And that essentially is your way of buying residency in the country by investing in property.

Gustavo: And Portugal. I've never been. But I'm imagining nice weather, sandy beaches, good food. You know, that whole Mediterranean climate, even though Portugal is not on the Mediterranean. But also a lot of what Jamie and her family probably had in Malibu. So how similar are Qashqai in Southern California in terms of, like, climate and all that?

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Jaweed Kaleem: You know, one of the things people say about Portugal, especially Californians who are going there, is the weather. They cite that over and over again, including Jamie Dixon and her husband Joey. 

Jamie Dixon: So living in Qashqai, they say it's like the Malibu of Portugal. And I think that's true to some degree, but not a hundred percent. It doesn't really remind me of Malibu. 

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Jaweed Kaleem: Um, what about like the ocean. 

Jamie Dixon: Yes, coastal, coastal living, I guess that… that's a really great point. Close to living. That's similar to living in Malibu.

Mux beat

Jaweed Kaleem: There's a kind of // golden sunlight that you get in California, you know, that kind of Sunkist light.

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Jaweed Kaleem: That same light you get in Portugal.

Jamie Dixon: The weather was definitely a concern. We wanted to live somewhere where there was nice warm sunshine and… 

Jaweed Kaleem: There's the surfing and the waves of the ocean. Parts of Qashqai look kind of like big Sur with the cliffs. So there's so many similarities, just visually and om climate just alone, which is a big draw for both places. 

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Gustavo: But it's more than just the weather and sunsets that are bringing people to Portugal from California. That's after the break. 

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Gustavo: Jaweed, there's another reason people like Jamie Dixon are moving to Portugal. It's pretty affordable. 

Jaweed Kaleem: Portugal is very affordable for an American coming in, Californian especially, where professionals in L.A. and San Francisco have some of the highest salaries in the country and highest cost of living, too. So somebody like Jamie, they were living in that luxury trailer, a very nice trailer on the sea, on the ocean in Malibu. 

Jamie Dixon: The cost of living here is significantly less, which is so amazing. I mean, we have a…a three bedroom, three bath place for significantly cheaper that we had in the US. It was very expensive living in L.A. and here it's not.

Jaweed Kaleem: And they're paying maybe half the price they were before. 

Jamie Dixon: You know,  you can get your house clean for really cheap. You can get babysitters for really cheap. Same with markets like go shopping at the market.

Jaweed Kaleem: It's a lot cheaper for, especially an L.A. resident who moves in. 

Jamie Dixon: Five-star restaurant. You can get out the door for like $30. It's great.

Gustavo: How many Americans have moved to Portugal in recent years?

Jaweed Kaleem: Americans are actually among the smallest group of foreigners in Portugal. It's been a popular destination for a long time for people who are, um, from the UK. In terms of more working-class immigrants you’ll get Brazilians. You'll get people from south Asia, Romanians, even Ukrainians are coming in  larger numbers now.  Americans are a newer group, so they're smaller, but they're growing really fast.

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Jaweed Kaleem:  The population of Americans grew by I think 45% in the last year alone. And among those, Californians are a big group because we have the most people. We have a huge population in California and thus we send more people everywhere.

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Jaweed Kaleem: The Portuguese population has been decreasing, and that's a long-term trend, which actually relates in some ways to the arrival of foreigners and why they're coming.

Jamie Dixon: There's so many expats moving here. They're building two giant production studios in Algarve. It's happening. There's construction everywhere. The prices of homes are going up. People are starting to catch on, and this is a great place to live. 

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Gustavo: What would be the makeup of the typical American expat? LIke, what are their characteristics if any? 

Jaweed Kaleem: They're a pretty diverse group of people in many ways, in terms of profession.  You'll find retirees, that's what's one big group. You'll find tech workers, crypto investors. People who have remote jobs of some kind. There are families, couples, single people. I met people who were there like Jamie in their thirties. I met people who burned their sixties and everywhere between. There are entire groups dedicated on Facebook to people of color in Portugal. So there's all these kinds of constituencies that have found their ways to find each other. What you will find though, among the people who are doing these special visas to live in Portugal is that they are middle-class at lowest or upper-middle-class, or even upper-class. // If you're a working-class person //  moving to Portugal, you're in a whole different cat community and economic sector and usually not American.

Gustavo: Yeah. That's interesting. 

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Gustavo: What about the politics of these expats? 

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Jaweed Kaleem: So a lot of people made the decision to move during the Trump years. We all heard people talk about once Trump was elected in 2016. Oh, you know, I'm leaving, I'm going to Canada. I'm going somewhere else. 

Gustavo: So they're the ones who did it. 

Jaweed Kaleem: So these are some of the ones who did it. Yeah. But a lot of people I spoke to had this idea after Trump won, even living in California where it's the liberal, liberal states, a blue state, saying, I'm just fed up with America in so many ways. And who didn't make the decision until this last year, the pandemic being one reason that delayed them. 

Mux beat 

Jaweed Kaleem: Another thing is gun violence. People, especially with kids cited to me saying I cannot fathom living another day in the country where people are shot and killed at a grocery store at a school and a church. And I want to be somewhere where this is just not the same kind of issue. And of course, across much of Europe, gun violence does not exist in the way it does in the U.S. at all. 

Mux beat  

Gustavo:  After the break, how expats are changing Portugal. 

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Gustavo: So Jaweed, Portugal is one of the smaller economies in the European union. And it's suffered a lot during the financial crisis in 2008, and it's had debt issues. How does all of that play a role in more foreigners moving in? 

Jaweed Kaleem: During the global // economic crisis in 2008/2009, you know, it hit every corner of the world. Portugal was one of those countries that was hit among the hardest. Unemployment shot up, the housing market was a mess. At one point, the leaders of the country told the young people to leave the country and seek opportunities elsewhere. And so one thing that the government did was they devised a plan about how to get money into Portugal. And their idea was, let's find people from other wealthier countries in Europe, from the United States, from Australia, and let's get them to invest in our property. Let's market our beaches and our country as a retirement community. As a digital nomad community. As a place where you can live a cheaper and more relaxed lifestyle and have bigger and better space to live in and spend your money here. But earn it elsewhere. Don't take jobs from Portuguese people. And it worked. It worked almost too well. Portugal is full of expats moving in by the hoard every day and every week. 

Gustavo: And all that money that's coming into Portugal. How much are we talking about?

Jaweed Kaleem: Billions and billions of dollars. One of the numbers was around 6 billion invested in a couple of years, just through the golden visa program, which is the one where you spend half a million dollars to buy housing, but even more money through tourism, through Airbnbs, through tourist companies, through flights, through so on and so forth. The GDP of Portugal, about 15% of it is now dedicated to tourism. Comparatively in the U S I think it's under 1% per year. Portugal is heavily reliant on people from outside the country, either coming into visit or coming in to stay. 

Gustavo: You spoke to a professor in Lisbon about this whole phenomenon. How did he say all these expats and money is changing his country? 

Jaweed Kaleem: It's gentrification. That's what Luis Mendez told me. 

Professor: My name is Luis Mendez. I'm a geographer at the Institute of geography as special planning of the University of Brisbane. I'm a researcher, a teacher also. And so I've been researching gentrification for almost two decades now. 

Jaweed Kaleem: So he said he'd seen how humans affect cities and spaces. And what's happened is Lisbon, Porto, other cities; the average Portuguese person can not afford to live there anymore. 

Professor: The last 10 years, a lot of things changed in the city. I mean, you could see how over tourism, but also the financialization of real estate really changed a younger generation, uh, and the whole urban condition in Lisbon. 

Jaweed Kaleem: There's eviction skyrocketing. Rent prices going up. People who are elderly, who don't have jobs and can't pay to live.

Professor: So people were evicted from their houses. Sometimes people that live there for 15 years, more than half a century or even more. And they were evicted to go to the outskirts of the city. 

Jaweed Kaleem: The growth of tourism, Airbnbs and foreigners who are moving in to live permanently has really just totally changed the dynamic of affordability in Portugal.

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Gustavo: So what's been the response of Portuguese to people like the Dixons? 

Jaweed Kaleem: On one hand, they've responded in two kind of opposite ways. People I have spoken with in Portugal are  at once thankful for people like the Dixons for others who are moving in, because they say these people have saved our economy. They've given us jobs and tourism. They've added money to Portugal and helped us, you know, make our housing stock better. And given our country a new lease on life, so to speak. // But they also say the same people, but we can't afford to live here anymore. We are from here, born here, grew up here. We can't afford to live here. 

Professor: The social damage is very striking because you don't have just people that are evicted from their homes. When we talk about eviction, this is a very violent process, you know, it's symbolic, but it's also very physical and it's very psychological. 

Gustavo: How is the government responding to these concerns?

Jaweed Kaleem: They're doing a couple things. So during the pandemic, the former mayor of Lisbon had a plan regarding Airbnb. He wanted to basically stop renting out some of the Airbnbs and rent them himself through the city to provide affordable housing. That plan backfired because you can make more money with Airbnb as a property owner. The other thing that's been happening in this last few months is that //  the golden visa program, which allows you to buy housing and move to Portugal. You can no longer buy housing in the biggest cities. So Porto and Lison being two of them. So they've been putting some limits in. 

Gustavo: Jamie Dickson and her family. They're a part of this wave of foreigners that have contributed to some of these gentrification issues. What is she doing to be a good neighbor? 

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Jaweed Kaleem: She's trying to learn the language. She wants to have a certain level of fluency within five years.

Jamie Dixon: I think it's really smart and I really want to, and it's been, it's been pretty challenging for me, and

Jaweed Kaleem: And that's the amount of time you have to be in Portugal to take the citizenship test. And that test requires you to know some of the language.

Jamie Dixon: And this is my daughter. I love you. Okay.

Jaweed Kaleem: Her daughter is going to a school where they speak Portuguese and English. She wants her daughter to have multiple languages in her life. 

Jamie Dixon: Girls, I'm in the middle of the interview. Can you guys go in the other room? Thank you.  

Jaweed Kaleem: There's an attempt at integrating into the culture in some ways. 

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Gustavo: Finally, Jaweed, is this going to be the permanent home then for Jamie and her family?

Jaweed Kaleem: It might, it might not be. They want to be there for enough time to gain citizens. And then they're going to decide once you're an EU citizen, you can live and work in many EU countries and kind of go back and forth. So they may end up somewhere else in the end. But for now, this is where they are.

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Gustavo: Jaweed.  Thank you so much for this conversation.

Jaweed Kaleem: Thanks Gustavo.

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Outro mux 

Gustavo: And that's it for this episode of The Times, daily news from the LA Times

 Kasha Bristolian was a half on this episode And mark Neto mixed and mastered it. 

Our show is produced by Shannon Lynn, Denise Guetta, Kasha, battalion, David stiletto, Ashley Brown, and angel us.

Our editorial assistants are Madeline, a Moto and Carlos Illawarra. Our engineers are Mario Diaz, mark our editors Kenzie Morlin. Our executive producers are Hussman Aguilar and Shani Hilton. And our theme music is by Andrew, Ethan. Like what you're listening to then make sure to follow the times on whatever platform.

Don't make us the poochie of podcasts. I'm Gustavo. Yanno, we'll be back tomorrow with all the news and desmadre. Obrigado.