An Interview With Portugal Living Magazine Founder Bruce Joffe

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Written by: | Last updated on February 29, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 7 minutes
This article is available in: en_US

Bruce Joffe and his partner moved to Portugal in 2018, choosing the Castelo Branco region as their place to make a better life. Shortly after starting, he created Portugal Living Magazine, which offers news, information, and personal stories about what it’s like to live in Portugal.

What made you move to Portugal?

That’s actually a double-barreled question! First, we moved to Portugal because of the untenable crises in our homeland, the USA. We couldn’t believe the horrors happening there on a daily basis … and people cheering them on. Friends and neighbors were moving from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, to Portugal. “You really should check out Portugal,” they advised us. We did. And liked what we saw.

Did you run into any difficulties obtaining the D7 visa?

None whatsoever. The folks at the consulate of Portugal in Washington, DC, were helpful and friendly.

Why move to Portugal when you already had a vacation property in Spain?

Because Portugal welcomed us, making us feel wanted … while Spain put up roadblocks and obstacles to granting us visas. Spain would only grant me a “visado de jubilado” (retirement visa) which is non-lucrative–meaning that neither I nor any of my dependents could do any work — even remotely — while living in Spain.

Also, there were financial considerations: Spain expected me to have “passive income” (i.e., pensions and/or Social Security) totalling €28,000 per year plus another €8,000 per dependent. That’s €36,000 per year! How many natives earn that much working full-time in Spain? Not too many!

For its part, Portugal only wanted documentation that our passive income equaled one year of minimum wage in the country–about €10,000 in our Portuguese bank account. Portugal imposed no restrictions on us working, whether remotely on site.

What are some of the pros and cons of living in Castelo Branco?

Castelo Branco is a bustling city in Central Portugal that’s growing by leaps and bounds, with many high-tech companies establishing their headquarters there. No matter what you’re looking for — groceries, restaurants, culture, shops — it’s here in abundance. The Castelo Branco district comprises many nearby towns and villages where houses continue to be quite affordable, as well as myriad sites to see within an hour or so drive. There’s also direct (and fast) train connections between Castelo Branco and Lisbon.

Downsides? For people wanting to live near the coast, we’re at least a two-hour drive. It used to be that Castelo Branco tended to be very hot during the summers … but with climate change and global warming, the difference in temperatures between Castelo Branco and elsewhere in Portugal — except in the north — is negligible.

What tips would you give others who want to properly integrate in Portugal?

Don’t live in a tourist mecca. Learn to speak some Portuguese. Communicate and get to know your Portuguese neighbors. Use Google to search for the background and meaning of many of the holidays and festivals celebrated here.

How does your cost of living in Castelo Branco compare to the US?

Our cost of living is far lower here and our quality of life is much higher.

What are some of the main differences between Spain and Portugal?

It’s the difference between flamenco and fado, salido and saudade. The Spanish people tend to be much louder and extroverted, while our experience with the Portuguese has been that they’re more introverted and sentimental.

What are some of the pros and cons of learning Portuguese after knowing Spanish?

The pros include being able to figure out many Portuguese words–especially written and within context. Sometimes, the same word or expression transcends both Portuguese and Spanish. On the other hand, don’t assume that just because you know Spanish it will be easy to learn Portuguese. Often, fluency in Spanish can be a stumbling block to speaking Portugal and pronouncing the language correctly.

What would you say are some of the biggest challenges Americans will face living in Portugal?

Good question! Had you asked me this question a few years ago, my answer would be quite different than today. Then, adjusting to differences in culture and giving yourself enough time to adapt to Portuguese ways and means would have been the most challenging. They still are.

But now, propaganda and “social” media are projecting Americans as the evil ones who come to the most desirable parts of Portugal with baggages full of cash to buy — and displace — Portugal people who no longer can afford to live as and where their families have for ages.

Yet, ironically, Americans are nowhere near the top ten nationalities emigrating to Portugal. In fact, according to SEF (update – now known as AIMA), less than 1.5% of the country’s immigrants are from America (the USA and Canada, that is).

What have you adapted to (and what have you struggled to adapt to)? 

We’ve pretty much adapted well to our life in Portugal. Shuttling back and forth between our homes in Portugal and Spain can be confusing at times. It’s still hard for us to adapt to Portugal’s later hours for eating and entertainment. We prefer to eat lunch, for instance, between noon and 13h … but many Portuguese restaurants, snack bars, and cafés aren’t serving food before 14h. Dinner for us — at home, at least — is between 19h and 20h. People are few and far between in Portuguese eateries until after 8:00PM. And then begins the entertainment. Me? I’m fast asleep by 11:00PM!

In the US, you were pastor of a primarily LGBTQ church. Is Portugal somewhere people from the LGTBQ or Christian communities should consider moving?

Yes, of course. Sexual orientation and gender identification tend to be far less of an issue in Portugal and Spain than in the USA. People are more accepting here. The churches I pastored in the USA tended to be “progressive” rather than orthodox or fundamentalist … which, I believe, is what attracted many LGBTQ+ people. Fellowship (or “fillyship”) and community is often difficult for English-speakers to find here in terms of religion and spirituality.

The Roman Catholic Church is the “official” church in Portugal. Scattered around some towns and villages are outposts of “fringe” denominations: Seventh Day Adventists, Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah Witnesses, and storefront evangelical meeting places. In Lisbon, there’s an Anglican church. Jewish synagogues and places to worship can be found here and there.

But no progressive congregations that are spiritual rather than religious, organic over organizational, and personal beyond institutional. That’s why I created People of Faith Online Congregation. We have more than 550 “members” in Portugal and all around the world.  

Why did you create Portugal Living Magazine?

There was no “full-spectrum” magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds: People planning or considering relocation to Portugal, recent arrivals in search of an introduction and orientation to their new country, long-time residents wanting to know more about the people and places of Portugal other than Porto, Lisbon, and the Algarve. A dozen or so magazines are published in and focused on the Algarve. Even the country’s two English newspapers are based there. Few periodicals, however, went beyond these renowned areas to cover places like, say, Castelo Branco … or even the Alentejo. 

Portugal Living Magazine tries to offer something for everyone who follows us: news, information, events, advice, personal stories about life in Portugal for foreigners, truly extraordinary photos and images.

Why switch from a PDF format to a Facebook-based platform?

Quite a few reasons: Our PDF format took a long time to develop, prepare, and distribute. So, we published the magazine quarterly. Once every three months. Our Facebook-based platform enables us to publish the same amount and type of content–but daily!

Our online publication is also interactive … so readers and followers can comment and react to our content. Which they do! Production is far easier, quicker, and less costly. We can share far more material online. We are quite pleased to have reached almost 11,000 daily followers since switching to our Facebook platform. Back issues of the magazine in PDF format continue to be available at no cost via our website, as well as in print format through Amazon and online booksellers everywhere.

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.