Luxury Travel Agent Marisa DeSalvio on Moving to Lisbon from Washington, DC

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Last updated on June 4, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 6 minutes

After falling in love with Portugal, Marisa DeSalvio made the decision to move from her busy life in Washington, DC to Lisbon. As she already ran a luxury travel agency, DeSalvio Travel, she used Portugal’s D2 or entrepreneur visa to apply for residency. Thankfully, it was accepted and she was able to make a new life in Portugal.

James: What made you move to Portugal?

Marisa: So many reasons! It’s been a 15 year dream of mine to move to Europe and I finally was in the position to do it. I chose Portugal because I was hosted here on a travel industry PR trip in 2019 and fell in love with the beauty, the culture, the kindness of the people, and the overall relaxed nature of the country.

I knew I could have a higher quality of life here than I did in busy DC and that my travel business would benefit greatly from the close connections I would make with vendors and hoteliers not only here in Portugal but also throughout Europe. 

Marisa DeSalvio in a classic car in Portugal

James: What were some of the biggest challenges of applying for the D2?

Marisa: The biggest challenge was working with a lawyer and working on their timeline. I struggled with this as a very proactive East Coaster used to getting things done quickly and efficiently. The application itself was easy but I had more anxiety about whether it would be accepted since there is not as much information about it online. 

James: What documents did you need for the D2?

Marisa: The same as the list for the D7 plus a business plan and business bank account set up in Portugal. 

James: Did you consider any other visas, such as the D7 or D8?

Marisa: The D8 came out after I started the process and my lawyer incorrectly informed me I would not qualify for the D8 because of my fluctuating income. I later found out I could have and I would have preferred the D8.

Ultimately, I did find out that by being a director of my LDA company in Portugal, I qualify as one of the professionals under NHR so it seems like I may have had to set up a company here regardless. 

James: A lot of lawyers advise against the D2 as the criteria is subjective. Did you find this to be the case?

Marisa: They initially did until they learned about my business and then advised that it was a good case. For most people, their business idea will not qualify unless it directly impacts the economy in Portugal and hires local Portuguese employees. In my case, I could demonstrate how beneficial it would be for me to meet with and hire Portuguese vendors in person and how my company could influence more people to travel to Portugal. 

James: One of the hardest parts of the D2 is the business plan. What tips would you give others writing theirs? 

Marisa: This was the easiest part of my application since I already had an extensive business plan!

The best tips are to keep it simple and use templates. Canva has some great ones to start with or you can easily find free downloads online.

My lawyers recommended that I include my plans to work out of a coworking office and to share the contacts of the Portuguese accounting firm I hired to legitimize my business further. 

Did you face any difficult questions at your VFS interview in NYC or SEF appointment in Cascais?

No issues in New York but in Cascais, my paperwork was held up because the “Start Up” category had accidentally been checked on my application even though it’s not a start up.

In this case, I was grateful for my lawyer to be there and he helped explain the mix up and we were able to move on and complete the appointment. 

I’m sure you did extensive research on the D2. What are some of your top tips?

Marisa: Apart from what I mentioned before, I think the key to getting approved is really emphasizing how you are adding a positive economic impact to local businesses and people. You need to always think from the lens of how your business is contributing back to the community.  

Once you are approved, you also really need to understand your tax situation, invoicing European clients, and your finances. The taxes are extremely high for businesses so you need a really good accountant to help you walk through how to pay yourself and keep costs low. It also was a surprise that you need to pay an accountant a monthly fee, which was a big difference from my accountant in America. This should definitely be factored into your business overhead. 

It’s hard enough to run a business on your own in your own country but running a business abroad comes with extra challenges so you need to be very sure that this is the right path for you. 

James: As someone who knows the luxury travel industry inside out, do you have any favourite hotels, restaurants, or bars in Portugal?

Marisa: Of course, my Google Map is covered with hearts! 

Palacio Principe Real in Lisbon – a gorgeous family run hotel with the feeling of being in someone’s home and the most unique interiors and outdoor garden.

Octant Vila Monte in Fuseta, the Algarve – this farmhouse hotel is so special! They’ve planted a lush garden and an orange tree grove so it has the most heavenly smell of rosemary, herbs, oranges, flowers, and the nearby sea. Stargazing and a beach picnic on the sandbar islands are musts. 

For restaurants, Casa Tradicao in Lisbon is doing a wonderful job creating a twist on classic Portuguese dishes while artfully presenting them with excellent wine pairings. I recently visited Bar Na Colina and really enjoyed the atmosphere and cocktails but Sneaky Sip is a sure winner for the most creative cocktails in Lisbon. Black Sheep is a must visit for an in depth education of Portuguese natural wines. 

My trips are customized to each client but I love to do a mix of city and country experiences to give the best overall feeling of Portugal. Immersion in nature, hands-on food experiences, visual art tours, hidden gems – these are the elements of a perfect trip in my opinion. 

James: What’s next for Marisa deSalvio?

Marisa: Apart from being happy and settled in Lisbon? I am visiting Madeira for the first time next month and am excited to start traveling again since my first year was really about finding my community and setting up my new life. 

For the business, I’ve launched a curated collection of tours people can book themselves here and I am in the process of planning a Destination Wedding photoshoot and marketing campaign for Sublime Comporta’s incredible new event space and villas opening in 2025. 

Oh, and I’d love to adopt a dog! Life is good and I’m very happy with my decision to move 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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