Our first year in Portugal

Our first year in Portugal

We are approaching the first anniversary of our move to Albufeira. Looking back we have had a phenomenal year, learnt a lot and definitely changed for the better.  I wanted to write this post to pass on some of the experiences and what they meant to us.

Harry at school

Without doubt we are most proud of our fantastic son Harry.  There is no doubt that, of the 3 of us, he was by far the most wary of the move from Belfast. He was leaving behind friends, a brother and sister, and a school he was very settled in.

I would describe Harry as a quietly confident child; he does take on new challenges but definitely has initial doubts on his ability to handle them.  As parents, we didn’t doubt his ability to grasp a new language and were also confident his social skills meant he would make friends fairly easily.  We did have concerns on how long it would take him to adjust to an environment where none of his old friends were around. I would say that, alongside my ability to keep my business going, it was the most critical thing to making the move a success.

When we first arrived one of the first things we did was enlist a private tutor who took Harry for 2 mornings a week at 2 hours a time.  This was a fantastic investment.  Maria was superb at giving Harry the confidence that he could learn a new language, and he thrived under her creative way of teaching, playing games and challenges as part of the structured learning.  In all, Harry took these lessons from the week after we arrived in June through to the start of September and it turned out to be massively important when he started school.

I’ve covered the overall process to get Harry enlisted at school in a separate post.  When we (finally!) completed that, we visited the school the day before the classes themselves started.  This was on a sunny Thursday afternoon, and parents and children were in attendance together.  It was here that the reality truly hit home. The teacher spoke Portuguese, obviously, and we struggled to follow.  But there was something touching about the way the other children, their parents and the teacher, all made us feel welcome.  After the meeting we were given a tour of the school and it felt right.

Harry started on a Friday and it was one of the longest mornings of our lives.  We were so worried about how he was getting on, if he was interacting with friends and if he was following the classes.  As the days went into weeks, he did struggle to settle.  He found Monday in particular a hard day – he started at 8.15 and didn’t finish to 17.10.  That was well over 3 hours longer than he was used to and the intensity tired him.  However, he did reveal he was making friends and he definitely showed signs of gaining confidence with the language and started interacting with the “banter”.

The standard of work is definitely a big step up from what he was used to at home, and he is tested regularly during the term.  He is now gaining 60% plus in all subjects and we are massively proud.  Harry himself prefers this school to the one at home; he finds the teaching much more suited to what he likes and the teachers are more relaxed in their approach. Picking him up each day I beam with pride when I see him walking out with friends, laughing and chatting in Portuguese!

Work

I run the business I set up in Belfast from Albufeira.  I do most of my work remotely anyway but it was still quite a step into the unknown to distance myself from any immediate face to face contact with my clients.

In the initial weeks most clients were supportive, but what surprised me a little was that 2 were not.  They made some narky comments, and despite me tackling the issue head on, it did take some management to get to the bottom of the issue. It turned out it was little more than jealousy that they couldn’t do what I was doing!

In terms of how work has changed I have made subtle but important changes to my routine.  I have made a conscious effort to take more time on marketing the services to the correct customers; some companies are simply too old school to work over Skype and Google Hangouts and consider someone working remotely as not working at all.  I developed a great partnership with another consultant doing a similar work – life change in France, and leads coming in now really have no issue working with a virtual advisor. I am developing some really great relationships and finding out interesting new businesses and ways of working while doing it.

I also invested a lot of time in making the company truly cloud only and completely paperless.  I was working here for nearly 6 months before I had to go and get a printer and print a bank form for a client.  We are living in a much smaller building than at home and space is of prime value. Removing the need for an office has really helped us.  In terms of going cloud only, it means I can move between 2 laptops and an Macbook Air seamlessly without worrying about version controls and flash drives.  (If this interests you, you may find value in this post on my business site).

It is a pleasure working from Portugal. You cannot help but feel inspired by the sunshine and the coastline.  I definitely feel that I have professionally relaxed a lot working here and the quality of my work is improving (I believe anyway!).  I am able to devote the time saved from having no commute into a dedicated creative session, and the business development work is really benefiting.  There is no doubt that this move has strengthened the business and enable me to start working with Companies outside my catchment area.  I have now gone from having businesses in Northern Ireland to working across 5 countries.  All from a lounger in my sunny garden!

Family

As a family we are finding this move has brought us all closer.  Not just in a literal sense as we no longer have a 4 bedroom house to space ourselves in, but emotionally.

My wife and I spend all day together, every day.  That would probably scare a lot of people, but we have always done everything together and it didn’t faze us.  It is wonderful that we can have lunch together now and spend time talking, something we definitely didn’t get enough time to do at home.  There are also no need for the distractions in life – we just spend time talking and listening. Its important and its really helped us manage things, like Harry getting settled down in school.

We are very disciplined during the week and avoid the temptation to eat (and drink) out.  We visit the gym 3 times a week and then just enjoy the environment.  An evening visit to the beach is a pleasure, but sometimes just a quiet moment in the garden works.

Evening football on beach in Albufeira
Evening football on beach in Albufeira

In terms of Harry, I now have the absolute pleasure of the school run.  This was something I never got the chance to do at home, and its my favourite part of the day.  That time is sacred and no work deadline ever gets in the way.  Now that the attractions are opening again we have a To do list that we are diligently working through.

At weekends we always make time to take in at least one meal out a weekend.  The food is awesome and its our mission to support our restaurant and bar owning friends here as much as we can, but also to try and find something new as much as possible.  (I think my favourite dish so far has been the black rice fish paella but there are so many that will be a separate post in itself!)

In terms of family at home I’m really pleased at how often they have visited us.  It does wonders for Harry to see them and is always a brilliant surprise for AnneMarie.  For some reason they always entrust me with the details, and to keep it as a surprise for the other two – I am useless at keeping surprises but getting good practice at getting better! Its lovely taking the family out to meet the people we’ve met and to enjoy the places we’ve found.  I did receive a wonderful message from my Aunt who said she found it “great to share our new lifestyle”.

I think overall this move has been important.  I am personally more relaxed and content, and I think we are all becoming like the laid back locals by osmosis.  The town has a wonderful vibe, things get done and in their own time, and rather than getting frustrated with that, we actually enjoy it.

Visiting Portugal

I intend writing about our tours in more detail but so far we have fantastic 4 day breaks in Lisbon and Porto, and our now spending time at weekends touring different places around the Algarve.  The country is beautiful, there is no denying that, but the level of beauty and the variety has astounded us.  The fact that we are based here and can effectively have a weekend abroad every weekend if we wished inspires us.  We definitely have a lot more to explore and now we have the time to do it.

Cable Car tour in Porto
Cable Car tour in Porto

What is also underestimated is how lovely Albufeira itself is. Outside the main bar areas there are some great views in restaurants and we walk endlessly just taking in new places in the town.

Summary

All in all, I think its been a great decision and paid off well on all fronts for us.  Its hard to believe our first year is nearly over, and we are looking forward to many more.  I hope this post has given some insight to the many, many great moments we have had so far, and if you want to contact me to discuss anything in more detail I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Registering for a Portuguese School

Registering for a Portuguese School

Our son, Harry, was 10-years old when we arrived permanently in June 2016.  He was just finished his Primary 6 year in the Christ the Redeemer School in Belfast, and would have been due to start his last year of primary school in September 2016.

We began the process of registering Harry in the local Portuguese school in May 2016.  We naively thought it would be straightforward, but it was anything but!  It was early September 2016 before we got the final go-ahead that Harry could start school later that month.  The people we encountered were helpful and did their best to help but it was clear that the process for registering is quite cumbersome.  This is a guide on how we did it, to save you the many wasted trips and hours that we endured / enjoyed 😉

(Note, this is not a definitive guide and is based on registering in the EB2,3 Dr. Francisco Cabrita school in Albufeira.  We have no doubt that different schools and regions have varying practices, but hopefully this is fairly consistent at a high level).

Fiscal Numbers

To our surprise everyone in Portugal needs a fiscal number, including children.  Step 1 is therefore to get your child, or children, a fiscal number as none of the steps that follow can be completed without it.

A Portuguese fiscal number can be obtained from the Repartição de Finanças de Albufeira. The address is 184, R. das Telecomunicações 2, 8200 Albufeira which is just past the Modelo shopping centre on the way into the Old Town.

The Finanças, as it is known by locals, is open 9.30am to 12.30pm and officially 2-5pm. It actually accepts the last queries before 3.30pm and the doors are closed.  Queries are dealt with on a ticket system (as are nearly all Portuguese services).  To complicate it a little there are tickets for 5 separate services in the one office.  You need to pick a ticket for queue B.

The staff speak some English, but are not fluent so do be patient with them.  The service is slow on account of the forms needed for everything in Portugal (!) but ultimately it is an effective service.

Fiscal numbers can also be obtained by using a local fiscal representative to do so on your behalf; this would cost around €200 but is a good investment.  This is a good option if you aren’t or can’t be in the country. A Portuguese address is also not necessary, and foreign addresses can be added to the fiscal certificate. There is a fee of around €10 per fiscal number required if you are registering yourself in person.

Residency

Armed with your fiscal numbers you can now apply for temporary residency, which is mandatory for being granted a place in a Portuguese school.

As EU residents this process was fairly straightforward. We are not sure of the conditions for non EU residents and recommend speaking to the authorities directly.

In typical Portuguese style you can’t get residency in the same office as the fiscal numbers and instead need to visit the Câmara Municipal de Albufeira which is handily just across the street from the Finanças.

You will need the passport for all members of the family, your fiscal numbers and a proof of address (an electric or water bill will suffice).  EU residents can get a 5 year temporary residency certificate for a fee of €15 each.

Doctor registration

All children must provide childhood immunisation certificates before the school will accept them. They must also be registered with a local doctor and the doctor must provide a letter verifying they have seen the immunisations records and assessed the child is fit and healthy to attend. In Albufeira, you need to visit the Centro de Saúde de Albufeira, located in Urbanização Alto dos Caliços, 8200 Albufeira.  This is found on the road to the right of the Globe roundabout as you head into the Old Town.

However, before you can be registered with a doctor you need to…, that’s right, queue to meet the administrative manager who completes the registrations!  She ended up being a lovely lady who spoke no English but we got there in the end and now had our third essential certificate!

The doctor registration is essential for the school but we were tipped off that the schools do accept the initial letter from the International Health Centre which is more accessible.  We paid a fee of €20 to get the letter we needed from the Health Centre at the bottom of the Strip in Albufeira.

Previous School Report

The Portuguese schools will accept children into the applicable matching year of the school system the child has attended before.  In our case, as Harry was due to start Primary 7 in Belfast, we identified that he needed to be in Year 6 in Portugal.

The school therefore required a report stating he had successfully completed the standard of their equivalent Year 5 before accepting him.  We produced the school report on our first visit but were told that we needed to do a few extra steps.  In summary these were:

  • the report had to be verified and stamped by a solicitor in Belfast;
  • it then needed to be sent to the UK Legalisation Office to be legalised;
  • the legalised document then needed to translated into Portuguese; and, finally,
  • the translated report was to be notarised by a Portuguese solicitor.

This was the longest delay in getting the registration to the school completed.  We ended up getting two years reports legalised, translated and notarised as the time taken for the 1st report meant it was out of date by the time we presented it!

You will pay around £15 for the Uk solicitor to stamp the document and £40 approximately for the Legalisation Office.   We found a translator in Albufeira on Google who charged based on the length of the document (approximately €70 including the notary fee).

School Administrative Department

Another quirk to be aware of here.  We assumed, naively, that we needed to register Harry in the actual school.  In fact his school is part of a Group of 5 schools, so we needed to visit the Administrative Department for all 5 schools.

It is worth contacting this department as they have small windows of opening hours for the public, and don’t open Friday afternoons.  (We know that as we visited on a Friday afternoon and hadn’t checked!).

If you have all the documents noted above, and the parents bring passports, proof of address and proof of residency, you will now be able to get registration.  You will also be told which school the child will have to attend, based on location of your address and the age of the child.

Visit the actual school

We had, thankfully, been able to get Harry registered before the start of the school year, which in Portugal is mid-September. We were advised to visit the school a week before and the actual start dates, class and timetable would be available for review in the school noticeboards.

After 3 trips the list was indeed presented! This is normal and the schools seem to decide the specific start and registration dates very late in the summer break indeed.

Summary

As I noted above, this is not intended to be a definitive guide. We don’t know for certain this is the same requirements that all schools will need and it is obviously worth making enquiries directly. However, we do hope it helps you avoid the many wasted trips we endured trying to find the answers to how to get these documents.

The end result has been worth it. Harry is really enjoying his school and has settled well. It was our number one concern to get him settled and educated well and we are delighted that is now happening.

First day at Portuguese school
First day at school – September 2016