From Michigan to Lisbon (via Thailand) – An Interview with Cultured Kam

Written by:
Last updated on June 14, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 9 minutes

After starting a life as a digital nomad in Thailand, Kam decided she wanted to find somewhere that she could really call home and decided to make that place Thailand. In this interview, she discusses how she stumbled upon Portugal as a place to live, the steps she took to move here, and what living in Portugal has been like.

Tell me a little bit about yourself

Hi, I’m Kam, a Lisbon transplant from Michigan! I have my own creative travel brand – Cultured Kam that inspires millennials to travel and immerse themselves in different cultures around the world! What started my journey was my desire to travel the world. In 2017, that dream came true. I quit my corporate job and started freelancing, traveling, and yearning to live abroad. In 2018, I made a leap to live and teach English in Thailand where my wellness journey deepened. I knew then, moving abroad was essential for my health.

What made you decide to move to Portugal?

After living in Thailand for almost two years I was looking for my next place to stay abroad. I realized living closer to family was important, but also finding a place that I could call home and grow to love was a high priority. 

I remember in my last week of living in Thailand, I overheard a couple talking about moving to Portugal because you could get citizenship there within 5 years and I thought “hmmm, that sounds interesting!” A few weeks later, when I moved back to the States, my sister mentioned Portugal to me. She told me I’d love Lisbon because of the diversity, the closeness to other countries, and the affordability. Knowing what I wanted and what Portugal could provide – safety, access to quality healthcare, it only made sense to me to consider moving there. 

It was a bonus that I could achieve my long term goal too which is getting dual citizenship. Everything about Portugal sounded like a win-win to me. 

The only thing was, I was going to move sight unseen since the borders were closed due to COVID. But even though I had never visited, I did my research (as much as one could). I joined a bunch of Facebook groups, followed YouTube channels, and checked out influencer accounts. 

I was committed to getting to Portugal. 

Were you able to get a visa easily?

My story is definitely an anomaly, it was NOT easy for me at all. I didn’t have a business, passive income, or even a remote job at the time of beginning my process. If you have one of those things, or are coming on an educational visa then the visa process should be relatively easy. 

Even when I first applied for my D7 visa, I was denied because I didn’t include “proof of steady income.” But in reality, I rushed my application after landing a remote job. I couldn’t prove at the time I had 3 months worth of paystubs (because I didn’t yet).  

When I applied in 2020 you needed €10,000 worth of savings, and to show that you had €700 euros coming in monthly. The rules were also changing as a 6 month lease was no longer sufficient — you needed at least a year long lease, a NIF (tax ID number), and a Portuguese bank account.

[Note: Portugal now has a new visa for digital nomads – Ed].

What was the process for appealing a denied visa? 

Two weeks after sending my application in the mail, I received a call from the consulate asking me questions about my job, if I knew anyone in Portugal, and if I knew the language. I thought that was out of the ordinary as I never heard of anyone going through that. 

I answered the questions truthfully. 

Before I knew it, I received an email stating my visa was denied and I had 15 business days to appeal it. Looking to gain a better understanding, I reached out to a relocation specialist and sent her all my supporting documents. She informed me all the reasons I was denied, like only showing my savings, not checkings where my money was coming in, not providing a work contract, or my personal statement.

I sent additional documents within two weeks  to prove my means of sustenance and created a stronger personal statement. 

*Crickets*

Weeks turned into months, and I hadn’t heard back. I was told on a facebook group that it would be better to just reapply for my visa. I didn’t want to go through the process of applying again and paying additional fees, but I believed Portugal was part of my destiny so I did what I had to. I reapplied with strong documents, a clearer and concise personal statement, a letter of reference and more! 

Here is my full journey to getting residency and all the steps I took to reapply.

What made you pick Lisbon as a place to live?

It’s an international city with plenty of diversity, similar to the environment I grew up in. I wanted to feel my next place to feel like home and to connect with people from different walks of life. I also like that Lisbon is close to the US, so family and friends could visit easily. The travelista in me wanted to be close to other major cities within Europe, not too far from Africa or Asia so Lisbon was checking a lot of boxes.  

In comparison to major cities in the states, Lisbon was relatively affordable.

I would consider living outside of Lisbon but still close enough to see my friends weekly or go to events. 

Knowing what I knew about Lisbon was ultimately what made me want to move to Portugal. 

Has Portugal lived up to your expectations?

In some ways it is living up to my expectations. 

I wanted to have a place where I could feel safe and not be bothered when walk down the street and know that I won’t be bothered. Having a place where I could meet people and create a chosen family was equally important to me. 

But in some ways Portugal hasn’t lived up to my expectations. 

It’s been stressful at times navigating their bureaucracy, securing an apartment, setting up things such as my NIF, social security number, and other tasks. 

I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to set up my life in a new country while getting residency. I just assumed that I would have a level of ease that I didn’t have in the US. 

But honestly in the US we expect things to happen instantly, and that’s not the way it works in majority of the world. 

I thought that I was going to be able to find housing a lot easier and that it was going to be more affordable than what it is. 

You are co-founder of Black in Portugal (BIP). Can you talk a little more about what it’s like to be a POC in Portugal?

Being Black in Portugal has been a great experience for me honestly. I understand that there is racism anywhere in the world, but as far as safety goes I feel a level of ease that I did not have in the US. But, my experience as an American in Portugal might look different than someone that was born here or is from somewhere else. 

I can only speak to my experience. 

However I know that when it comes to police brutality and gun violence, it’s significantly lower than what the United States is. Any type of microaggressions I may not have noticed due to the language barrier. But overall I feel very safe in comparison to the life that I was living in the United States. 

I also love that I’m able to connect with people across the diaspora. We have a growing community of people from the US, the UK, Nigeria, Tanzania, Cape Verde, Angola, and more! 

And what about being single in Portugal?

Dating in Portugal was really fun for me at first. At one point it felt like I was meeting new people every week. That’s the thing about Lisbon, it’s such an international city that you can connect with people from all over. I have a friend that met her boyfriend at the park and I’ve met a past boyfriend from Facebook. 

All you really have to do is put yourself out there and be open to different things, like dating apps, meetup.com, or really, just go outside.

I found dating to be very easy here, but I’d say finding a relationship isn’t the easiest thing. 

Even though I experienced a relationship here I’ve heard countless stories from women who have challenges finding people that actually want to be in relationships with them. They’ve expressed the cultural differences of how it’s more passive in comparison than what they’re used to. 

And late 2021 I began dating someone from a form of Portuguese company and what was supposed to be a great experience turned into a disastrous experience. At one point in the relationship I wanted to end things, and he did not take things lightly and did not want to let me go.

Which resulted in me having to file a police report for being stalked. I wouldn’t say this is common, but it could happen anywhere. 

That situation made me want to expand my dating to outside of Lisbon and try surrounding countries like England (which was a great experience). That’s the beautiful thing about living in Europe — you can easily date internationally. 

Finally, does Portugal feel like somewhere you’ll live for a long time?

It certainly feels like a place I’ll be for the foreseeable future, (or at least until I can get citizenship). I’ve built a wonderful community out here, made a home for myself, and I feel like I can stay here for a while. 

The small print: Portugalist may generate a commission from mentioned products or services. This is at no additional cost to you and it does not affect our editorial standards in any way. All content, including comments, should be treated as informational and not advice of any kind, including legal or financial advice. The author makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors or omissions or damages arising from its display or use. Links to external websites do not constitute an endorsement. [Disclaimer Policy]
Written by

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.

Spotted a mistake? Suggest a correction

There are 0 comments on this article. Join the conversation and add your own thoughts, reviews, and stories of life in Portugal. However, please remember to be civil.

Leave a Comment