First blog post

Why Retire in Europe?

Born in Chicago with maternal Irish grandparents, for years I collected marriage and birth certificates to acquire an Irish passport. With that, I could work legally in enchanted Europe. However, before the Internet, finding European jobs was difficult, and other countries were more lucrative. In Saudi Arabia in 1984, I began my life teaching overseas. For the next for 25 years, I taught mostly in Arabia and Asia. When I turned 63, retirement loomed. My Irish passport allowed retirement in any European Union country. While visiting British colleagues from the United Arab Emirates in their retirement in Barcelona, they advised: “If you retire in the States, you’ll be bored within six months.”

Seven girls dressed in winter clothes to endure a Chicago's winter.
Six sisters and me, in Chicago’s cold winter. Retirement=Escape from Cold!

Retire near them? Many Spanish people, although they know English, refuse to speak it. Language-learning for dyslexics like myself comes with listening and memory handicaps. French was my language of choice but I had only mastered basic French. Retire in France? French taxes and red tape? Back in 2000, teaching in Lyon, France for six months taught me some dreams are better left unlived.

4 Cats Restaurant, Barcelona, Spain
4 Cats Restaurant in Barcelona, Tiffany lamp. This place once fed famous artists.

Why not retire in the USA? After 11 years in Oman, I savored personal safety. Crime rates in America are sky high, including old people mugged and murdered. Exorbitant housing and transportation prices. I had preferred Los Angeles for three years to the two years spent in San Francisco, but even rainy Seattle, where I had lived sporadically for four years, had joined the ‘too expensive’ category. Most people speak English, but in America, I would be poor.

Thailand? Warm, massages, excellent food and inexpensive. Thai retirement visas demand $1,800 monthly income – much more than necessary to enjoy living there. Over my budget.

Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Belize, Mexico? Warm, yes, but these areas never interested me, except for Mayan, Inca and Aztec history. Visa income requirements, gigantic flying insects, and constant humidity evoked horrors. Italy? Too expensive.

Turkey? Its retirement visa required only $700 a month. Enticing. Exotic historical sites. Winter. Luckily, Turkey is one of the few countries that issues work visas for people over 60. I taught there to test the waters. A terrible surprise awaited. Unlike

Talas, suburb of Kayseri Turkey
Failing to escape winter, I landed in Kayseri, Turkey.

Oman, outside the university, few people spoke English. In a store, searching for an umbrella, another failure to communicate spiked an unreasonable frustration: I wanted to grab my eyeballs, rip them from my head and throw them onto the store’s floor.From that, I learned never leave home without my reading glasses – without them, a bi-lingual dictionary is useless.

Then the Turkish government banned Turkish Airlines hostesses from wearing red nail polish. Then YouTube was blocked. High rates of domestic violence, the war in Syria. Then bombs. The Turkish option died long before the coup, police round-ups and thousands of dismissed teachers. 

Retirement was a year away. A choice was necessary, so on a summer holiday from Turkey, I scouted Portugal and Ireland. The Portuguese speak English, the country is poor, and it’s in the EU. The Algarve in the south is mostly summer inhabited by Brits and lacks city amenities. Expats say when a location is overrun by one foreign group

Downtown Porto. The old, wide building is abandoned - a common sight because there’s little money for renovations.
Downtown Porto. The old, wide building is abandoned – a common sight because Portugal has few funds for renovations.

en masse, whether hundreds of thousands of Brits in Faro or Albufeira or thousands of Americans in Phuket, life becomes unpleasant. Why? Too many foreigners yearn to live as if at home, but only cheaper. Often they expect American-like amenities and are unwilling to be flexible once confronted with the developing world’s limitations. Frustrated, they literally throw temper tantrums in government offices.

In Portugal, I found Lisbon to be walkable, an essential requirement for living without a car. Up-north Porto was smaller and cheaper, but also rainier – too much like Seattle’s constant gray skies. Next, I explored Ireland.

From Porto, I flew to Dublin. Hotels were expensive, so I stayed at college dormitories. I avoided the tourist lure of Irish whiskey and visited rhinos, giraffes, and orangutans in the Dublin Zoo. The local classifieds advertised costly rentals. I learned Dublin had enticed international companies to headquarter there with low corporate taxes, resulting in sky-high rents.

Dublin Zoo's Orangutan - more fun to visit than Irish bars.
Dublin Zoo’s Orangutan – more fun to visit than Irish bars.

From Dublin, I took a train south to Cork. I had hoped to hear my Irish grandmother’s melodic accent again and find less expensive apartments. Nope. Newspapers showed slightly cheaper rentals to the west in smaller and colder Galway.

However, the most shocking problem was Irish weather: cold in August! It is one thing to hear and read about horrible Irish weather, but another to live it. Despite the hundred of amazing shades of green on the English-speaking Emerald Island, its high rents and weather made me say adios.

Back in Lisbon, I decided Portugal won. Why? Ten year income tax holiday on pensions for immigrants. In Europe. No snow. Portuguese television, unlike Spain’s, is in English with Portuguese subtitles. No libraries with English books, but the Internet is today’s global communicator. Most people in Portugal are poor so I’ll fit in. Additionally, the present generation is exceptionally well-educated and fluent English speakers. The young speak English, the older (my generation) speak French and even the French retire to Portugal!

Four Cats Restaurant
Expat Information
Portugal Newspaper in English


6 thoughts on “First blog post

  1. Great start! I’m looking forward to reading more! BTW, the huge number of abandoned mansions falling into decay has more to do with a combination of low taxes and insurance premiums on abandoned buildings which means that huge extended families (which might not know each other or might not get along) have no pressure to sell the buildings to people who could afford to restore them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting start. As for the crime rate in the U.S., well, that’s why we have guns. What you needed to look at were small towns within easy driving distance to cities. Sounds like you’ve found a nice place to be. Be happy.

    Liked by 1 person

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