From Toronto to Lisbon – An Interview with Amanda Perkins

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Last updated on June 14, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 8 minutes

After spending her twenties working long hours and travelling the globe, Amanda Perkins opted for a slower pace of life in Lisbon, somewhere she values for its nearby beaches, safety, and vibrant community. 

What made you want to move to Lisbon?

I initially came to the Algarve for a surf trip back in May 2018. I’ve spent a lot of time travelling around the world, and Portugal is one place where I just feel safe. The weather is also incredible, which helps, particularly coming from Canada. I ended up coming back to Portugal in October of the same year and was planning to stay longer, but then the pandemic hit and I went Canada. 

I stayed in Canada for most of the pandemic, but was able to take a trip to London to visit friends in October of 2021. They were trying to convince me to move there, saying Europe is better, but I didn’t feel London was right for me. I asked myself where I might like to live and decided that Lisbon could be right for me. It’s not too big and not too small, it’s close to a lot of beaches, which is important for a surfer, English is widely spoken and it’s safe. 

But, even though I love Portugal, I recommend that people take a trip here before making any big plans to move. 

Are there any other locations in Portugal you could have seen yourself living in?

Lisbon was always the right place for me. It’s a small city, especially when compared to Toronto, but it’s big enough. I think most of the other cities in Portugal would feel too small. 

I am definitely drawn to a lot of the small beach towns, but I prefer to have Lisbon as my base and then to explore these during vacations or weekends away. 

You initially came in on the working holiday visa for Canadians. Can you explain what that is?

This is a visa that’s organised between Canada and Portugal. There may be similar visas in other countries, but the one I applied for was specifically for Canadians aged 18-35 (more info on Amanda’s site). 

I applied in December 2021 and was approved in January 2022, so the approval process was very fast. Actually, the Canadian Embassy in Toronto is very helpful and I generally get a reply to my questions via email within 3 working days. 

The main reason I applied for it was that it allows you to stay in Portugal past the 90 day Schengen limit. Although it’s called a working holiday visa, and you can work for a Portuguese company on it, it’s also designed for people that want to study or simply explore Portuguese life and culture rather than work, which is what I did. I didn’t want to take a job in a Portuguese company away from a Portuguese person. 

Then I went home for Christmas later that year and while there I applied for the new digital nomad visa. I was initially going to apply for the D7 visa, which was the main route for digital nomads, but the Toronto Embassy said the D7 was for people with passive income and the digital nomad visa was more suitable.  

What documents did you need to show for the nomad visa?

I included the following documents with my application:  

  1. Motivation Letter: Why I wanted to move to Portugal
  2. Travel Insurance: I used Safety Wing
  3. Flight Itinerary (not the actual ticket): This laid out my assumed timeline, but wasn’t set in stone. 
  4. Accommodation: For short-term stay, you need to provide a 4-month lease. For the long-term lease, you need to provide a 12-month lease. 
  5. Canadian Banking and Investment Amounts: This was to show I have proof of funds.
  6. Portuguese Bank Account: I also opened a Portuguese bank account and funded it with €10,000 and took a screenshot of that page too. 
  7. Canadian Company Incorporation Documents: I own my own consulting company so I prepared the T2 tax documents for last year, and also included my balance sheet and income statement for the previous 6 months. 
  8. Criminal Background Check: I purchased a Canadian background check from MyCRC
  9. Signed Release to Check Criminal Records in Portugal: This is a document (found here) which allows the Portuguese government to run a background check in Portugal. 

I also showed a NIF number, which I already had. There seems to be a lot of debate as to whether this is needed, but I would suggest getting them beforehand as it’ll help your application. 

I completed the application form and then booked an appointment at the nearest embassy, which, in this case, was the Portuguese embassy in Toronto. 

Once a visa is granted, the second stage to the process is to attend the SEF appointment in Portugal (update – now known as AIMA). Although I lived in Lisbon, my appointment was in Coimbra. 

I needed the following documents: 

  1. Original Application
  2. Bank Statements
    1. Personal Bank Statements
    2. Company Bank Statements
    3. Portuguese Bank Statements 
  3. Insurance (I took my Safety Wing Card and printed out pages 7-9 of the Read Full Policy document under Travel benefits that outlines the policy that Safety Wing provides)
  4. NIF Document
  5. Home Deed/ Rental Lease (I took a printout of my MEO bill with my name and address on it)
  6. Passport

[More information, including the correct address for the Coimbra AIMA appointment, can be found in this blog post on Amanda’s site]. 

Was it difficult to find accommodation in Lisbon?

I had already bought an apartment in Lisbon, so in theory this should have been easy. However, I purchased a property with tenants thinking that wouldn’t be long-term but due to the tenant’s rights rules here, I haven’t been able to move in yet and am now renting. So, I was able to find a place to buy and to rent, although the housing market is really hot here right now.

Many people have the incorrect assumption that Lisbon is more affordable than other major cities for housing, however, this is no longer the case and people will need to be prepared to spend more than they originally think they can get an apartment for.

What have been some of the pros and cons of living in Portugal?

The pros definitely outweigh the cons in Lisbon, particularly if you’re someone who’s single and in their thirties. There is a really vibrant nomad and expat community and it’s easy to make friends and find things to do. I go to pub quizzes, lightning talks, and the big digital nomad meetup on a Thursday. 

It’s nice not to live in a place where you feel like you have to find a partner and settle down. There’s a friendliness to the city that I haven’t found elsewhere. I’m also able to surf and the weather is beautiful. I’m learning Portuguese and as much about Portuguese culture as I can. 

One of the cons is that you can feel like you’re contributing to the problem – the housing problem and cost of living problem – even though you don’t want to, but are unsure of what you can do to change that. Also, you need a lawyer for everything as Portuguese law is complex, it frequently changes, and the new laws often seem to supersede contracts. 

What are some of the main differences between life in Toronto and life in Lisbon?

Toronto is a very career-driven city. I came to Lisbon to slow down. I still work, and I run a consulting business, but work isn’t my whole identity. That’s a big shift from the Toronto mentality. 

I think if you’re coming from anywhere in Canada, you should give yourself time to adjust. Even basic things like grocery shopping and knowing where to shop are different and can take a while to work out. 

You need to work remotely to live well here. There are local jobs, but Portuguese salaries aren’t really enough to live on. 

Also, be prepared that walking around the city is a workout. You will get used to it, but it’s tough in the beginning. 

Is this somewhere you see yourself staying long-term?

Yes. I spent a lot of my twenties travelling and now the goal isn’t to travel as much but to build a life here. 

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James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.

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