From Idaho to the Algarve – An interview with Stacy Ennis

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Written by: | Last updated on February 29, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 13 minutes
This article is available in: en_US

Stacy Ennis is a best-selling author, coach, and speaker on a mission to help leaders clarify their ideas and harness their unique story to make an impact. Originally from Idaho, Stacy has spent most of her adult life exploring the entire world, and has lived in the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Thailand, and now Portugal.

In this interview, we discuss what made her move to Portugal and some of the challenges she faced along the way.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m a location independent entrepreneur living in Portugal with my husband and two kids. Before kids, we lived in the Dominican Republic and Vietnam; after we had kids, we moved to Thailand and then Portugal. I love to travel and have spent most of my adult life exploring the world.

Professionally, I’m a best-selling author, book coach, and speaker on a mission to help leaders clarify their ideas and harness their unique story to make an impact. My background includes ghostwriting for a Nobel Prize winner in medicine and leading as executive editor of Sam’s Club’s Healthy Living Made Simple, a publication that reached around 11 million readers. I’m also the host of Beyond Better, a podcast that explores how to create a location independent business and a life you love. You can learn more at www.stacyennis.com.

What made you decide to move to Portugal?

We moved in 2019—yes, just before COVID—after a difficult initial move abroad to Thailand in 2018. We initially looked to Spain because of our background in Spanish, but at the time it proved to be a difficult place to live as a business owner. I would have had to essentially reopen my business in Spain, and the taxes were significantly higher than what I was paying in the United States.

So that was our motivation: something like Spain . . . but not Spain. We happened upon content about Portugal, and we quickly realized the country seemed like an incredible fit for our family. Specifically, we were attracted to the quality of life, cost of living, quality medical care, safety, and gorgeous landscape. My husband is a cyclist and the cycling seemed epic. 

Fun fact: we hadn’t been to Europe before we moved to Portugal.

How did you make the move possible?

I had already been working for years to build a location independent business, so the finance side was already taken care of. We had also already made the big move to Thailand, which required a lot of vision, work, and stick-to-itiveness. We’d also lived in the Dominican Republic and Vietnam before kids, but those were for jobs, which is very different than moving without support. I’ll share a bit about each of the later moves, because I learned a lot about what it takes to successfully move abroad. 

For Thailand, I spent a lot of time paring down our life. I used Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which was incredibly helpful because it’s methodical. I also hired a Thai local to support us in researching schools and neighborhood. By the time we moved, we had already essentially decided which neighborhood and school we’d select.

By the way, did I mention I hadn’t visited Phuket either before we moved there? 

Along with all of the dangers and near-death experiences in Thailand, the visa situation was a real struggle. By the time we moved, we had not managed to successfully secure visas for our whole family—only for half of us. This meant that we had to do what are known as “visa runs” every three months. On the plus side, we took incredible trips to Singapore and Vietnam. On the downside, it was incredibly disruptive to our daily life to not have a secure visa status and have to leave the country so often.

When we moved to Portugal, we did things differently. The main difference: hiring an attorney to help us with our visas. I created my own spreadsheet of locations and schools this time. We rented a place in Lisbon for a month and used that as a home base, from which we did driving trips around the country. While we nearly moved to Lisbon, we ended up in the Algarve.

Practically, I used a spreadsheet for tracking schools and Asana project management to track all of the many moving parts of the move. These kept me sane! 

Did you need a visa, and which visa allowed you to move to Portugal?
Yes, we came via the “own income” visa, also known as the D7. We did the family reunification route, which meant that I applied for a visa and then we applied for the family once mine was fully approved here in Portugal.

As an American moving to Portugal, you have to physically go to the Portugal consulate in the United States to apply for your visa. This is different than the other three countries we’ve lived in and was honestly a hassle because we weren’t able to move there directly from Thailand but instead had to go back to Idaho for four months while we applied and waited for my visa. 

Through my visa, we were given a special tax status for ten years here, which gives us a flat 20 percent tax rate for any income earned in Portugal. However, because I bring in my own income outside of Portugal, this doesn’t exactly apply to our situation. 

Important note: if you come in on a visa with a special tax designation, you have to file separately with the tax office. A lot of people miss this step, and it can have huge consequences for your take-home pay.

Never assume anything is automatic here in Portugal. Always call or go in person to the government offices and triple-check.

Did you need to show income and savings for this visa?

The bar is low for proof of income because the wages are so low here. I don’t recall the exact number, but I think we needed to prove somewhere in the range of €1,500 for our family of four. After we arrived in Portugal, I had to maintain roughly that balance in an account here so that we could show three months of stability in a Portuguese account. Contrast that with Thailand, which required us to keep about $10,000 in an account for six months.

Outside of the Portuguese account, I brought three months of financial statements with our account numbers blacked out: checking, savings, and retirement. I also submitted signed contracts (client names and all identifying details were blacked out on the computer before printing) and, I think, an invoice list. All of the bank documents were stamped and signed at the bank and the retirement docs by my financial advisor. Honestly, I think I went overboard, but I didn’t want to risk getting denied. 

We also had to show proof of purchased plane tickets, a Portuguese bank account, and health insurance. I mostly did everything on my own, but we did hire an immigration firm to help us with some of the items, and then I turned the entire process over to them once we moved. The few thousand dollars we spent getting help was absolutely worth it.

Once we got to Portugal, we had to go to the Camara, the local government office, to get a proof of address. Our Airbnb host helped us with this, but it’s not as flexible today. I’ve heard you need a signed rental contract or property here in order to move. Portugal is extremely bureaucratic, so it’s important to follow all the rules to the T.

Since COVID hit during our application process, the family’s process was not smooth, but we eventually got everything done. Renewing residency is extremely easy and so far has not required any additional paperwork.

Have you struggled with any elements of bureaucracy?

I’ll answer with an emphatic yes. I mentioned bureaucracy above—this is truly one of the most difficult parts about living in Portugal. There is often a huge backlog in the government offices, and then things will change suddenly.

That said, I do think the country can be reasonable about things. For example, during COVID, all pending residency applicants were given legal status while waiting, even if visas had expired. I waited for nearly a year for my driver’s license and couldn’t get an appointment because of the sheer volume of people waiting, and the government eventually made American licenses valid on Portuguese roads.

Pro tip: if you can’t get an appointment or are struggling with something, the Camara is incredibly helpful. I’ve visited my local government office more than once, and they’ve been a great support.

How did you find the right schools for your children?

My husband and I both used to be teachers, so we have well-formed opinions on the type of school we wanted our kids at. During our initial countrywide tour, we saw a range of schools. We eventually ended up selecting a sweet school in the Algarve.

Because of my experience working at international schools and sending my kids to schools in Thailand, I’ve learned that it can be easy to be wooed by school facilities. In Thailand, our kids went to an extremely fancy school—it had a beautiful campus, three swimming pools, and the most amazing playground equipment I had ever seen. The school threw incredible parties, and everything they did had a luxurious feel to it.

However, underneath the luxury were low-paid teachers, a negative school culture, and high turnover. We learned from that experience to look beyond what the sales person is telling you about the school and ask actual teachers and parents about their experience.

The best place for this, I have found, is Facebook groups. There are almost always expat groups for the particular city you’re looking to move to, and there are also often American expat groups. I’ve discovered that it’s helpful to get a wide range of perspectives because cultural expectations vary.

For example, at the school in Thailand, we couldn’t believe our kindergartener was receiving homework. She was exhausted enough as it was after a long day of school and we refused to make her do more work at home. Other parents wanted more homework and thought the school wasn’t rigorous enough. It’s smart to form your own must-haves first and then ask a wide variety of people for their opinions.

Has anything not lived up to your expectations?

Overall, we love living here. I’m grateful for the safety, cost of living, and access to affordable health care. But no place is perfect. And like any place, there are things in the Algarve specifically that I would love to see Portugal change.

First is investment in emergency services and medical specialists in the Algarve. As of this writing, if your child were to fall seriously ill in the middle of the night or have an emergency, you would have to take them to the public hospital in Faro. To put this into context, if you’re in the western Algarve, that could be more than an hour drive. Pediatricians have been slowly disappearing one by one from both public and private hospitals in the Algarve since we first moved here, which makes no sense to me because the population has drastically increased. 

We had an emergency situation recently that required an ambulance ride, and it took twenty minutes for the ambulance to get to our home. I literally had to run down the road waving my arms to get the ambulance’s attention because they couldn’t find our house. We’re in a neighborhood within the town limits—and we’re on Google Maps—so there is no excuse for this. Thank goodness it wasn’t a life or death situation.

If you need a medical specialist in the Algarve, you’ll also have to wait weeks or months—or make a trip to Lisbon or Porto. We have had to make overnight trips to see doctors because the type of doctor we need isn’t available in our area. Or if they are, they come down once a month from Lisbon, which means their calendars book up quickly.

Second is schools. This isn’t necessarily true in Lisbon and Porto, but when you get to more rural areas and most of the Algarve, the public school system is overburdened. Kids have to go to school in shifts because there aren’t enough teachers. And as you can imagine, the teachers are overburdened, which means they go on strike several times a year, often for days or weeks at a time. 

On the private school side, there are very few quality secondary schools on the western side of the Algarve. Nearly all private primary schools have waiting lists dozens deep. One school has 100+ on its waiting list. If you’re on the eastern side of the Algarve, closer to Faro, there are more international school options. 

Were factors like NHR and the possibility of citizenship a factor in choosing Portugal? 

Yes, this is definitely something we talked about before moving. But I haven’t done enough research to know if it makes sense to become a citizen. The tax situation is a big consideration for us because the taxes here are so high compared to the United States.

I envision us eventually spending part of the year in Idaho and part of the year in Portugal. Right now, we can’t do that because of school, but I definitely see myself spending more time back in Idaho when the kids go to college. 

After three years, what have been your favourite things about living in Portugal?  

We love so many things about living here. While I know my earlier response about what we don’t like seems strong, the fact is that our everyday life feels like paradise. It’s stunning here. The weather is incredible almost year-round. There is something about the air—a purity and softness to it that’s hard to describe. The Portuguese people we’ve gotten to know have been kind and welcoming. It’s a safe and happy place to raise kids. I’m still pinching myself that I can say to my husband on a Saturday morning, “Want to go to the beach today?” and we get to just go.

And for me specifically, it’s been a great counterbalance to my Type A personality. I love the integration of family and importance of rest. Many Portuguese businesses close for one to two months per year—and this year, I did too! Living here has caused me to self-reflect and make changes to how I live my daily life.

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.