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Six-Month Update On Moving To Portugal: How Is Everyone Doing?

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Last Updated on April 17, 2024 by Leslie Stroud

Given the flood of questions about our relocation to Portugal and being American expats, I’ve taken the plunge and launched a second blog titled ‘American Family in Portugal’. Join us as we share our journey and insights into expat life in this beautiful country!

We are almost 200 days into our first international move.  We’ve been planning to move to Portugal since October 2019, but Covid derailed our plans like so many well-laid plans worldwide.

Why Portugal?  After 2.5+ years of full-time family travel, our five children were ready to have some time “settled.”  Seeing the world is magical, but the thought of pets or sports is equally magical for a child.  Amount all the 35+ countries we’ve visited, Portugal stole our hearts!  We love the beauty, the beaches, the weather, the people, the food, the culture, and its location in Europe.  You can read our move to Portugal post here.

We’ve settled into Lisbon, found a house, bought a car, enrolled our five kids in school, joined a basketball club, and adopted two Portuguese dogs!  

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Of course, we’ve also managed to travel to about eight different countries in that time frame.  Travel is our true addition, guilty pleasure, and a source of great joy to our family.

How is everyone doing with our move?  I get asked this often. Are the kids settling in?  Are we speaking Portuguese?  Let’s dish!

The Kids After Six Months Abroad

To say moving to a foreign country has been easy would be a flat-out lie.  It’s been really, really difficult.  We expected it to be difficult, but it’s similar to trying to anticipate the birth of your firstborn.  Everyone says how hard it will be, but can you ever know before you do it yourself?  Nope.

The isolation, loneliness, apprehension, anxiety, and difficulty have always been overwhelming for us.  Trying to assimilate into a new culture doesn’t feel comfortable.  It feels foreign (because it is) and gives you little time to just relax and let your guard down.

Attending School in A Foreign Country

From the start of school and for the first five months, we had at least one child crying hysterically every night at bedtime about going back to school the next day.  Many nights, there was more than one child.  To know that you, as the parent, have subjected them to this experience against their will and hearing them cry gutted us every night.  

So many nights, we doubted ourselves to some degree, looked at each other with that knowing eye of “What the HECK ARE WE DOING?” or wanted to just curl up in a ball and cry.  

The kids have felt isolated at school, like they don’t fit in, and overall lonely.  Lucy, our oldest, seemed to make great friends at first but crossed some invisible cultural boundaries since, and they have gone as far as bullying her.

The younger kids are having an easier time as younger kids are just more accepting, but it also depends on their personality.  Our 8-year-old is still so lonely at school, even after six months, that he often tries to talk to his teacher during breaks.  She speaks wonderful English, and I think he feels safer talking to her than trying to face the other boys in class.

The other two boys seem to have good friends to play with but would always rather be at home.

Reasons Why It Might Be So Hard

Traditionally, in Portugal, children start going to school at the age of three and stay in the same classes together until they graduate 9th or 12th grade!  Coming into a school where everyone has already been in classes together for 6-10 years presents challenges.  

All of the parents know each other as well and while I’ve been slowly invited into some text groups for classes, I am certainly not a part of the group.  I have no idea what to do in these groups or even what they are talking about most of the time.

School schedules in Portugal are much more catered to working parents.  I have yet to find a couple where both parents don’t work, at least part-time, and school schedules are set to accommodate this.  The kids are gone SO long each day.  That’d been difficult for us all.  They leave around 8 am and return at 5:30 pm.  

They get 3 hours of breaks at school (two 30-minute breaks and a two-hour lunch break), so the overall school time is about the same as in the US, but they are gone from home much longer.  They’ve hated this, of course, as do we.  However, it’s just the way of life.

After coming from 2.5 years of world schooling while we traveled full-time and one year of school in the US on a reduced Covid schedule, this uber-long day wears them out.

Besides the fact that we are just foreign, all of this means it’s difficult to fit in.  We act, look, and feel like the Americans we are!  We don’t eat the same way or love the same foods, we certainly cannot speak the language as they can, we don’t know the games or jokes, and we can’t even keep up on most conversations yet.

It Is Getting Easier

However, it IS getting better with time, and time will be our friend.  The kids are slowly becoming more comfortable with Portuguese.  They are starting to speak, even a little, with us at home.  They are learning the subtle customs, playground games, and classroom etiquette.  

Some funny examples of things we’ve had to adjust to:

  • It’s customary to bring your toys to school from home for recess.  While some sports equipment is provided on certain days, classes rotate through different parts of the play areas for Covid safety. However, there isn’t much to play with!  The school is housed in an old Portuguese mansion.  It took me a while to understand that the boys needed to bring their toys to play with.
  • My kids didn’t want to eat the school lunch the first week of school, so we packed lunch instead.  You would have thought I sent the kids with rocks for lunch.  They were simply outcasts!  They were put into a room, alone to eat their cold lunch, while all the other kids at school lunch together.  They very quickly came home, crying, and told me it was only school lunch from here on out.  We pay extra for this, but it’s much healthier, and the lunch attendants make them eat the healthy parts before they can go play.  Woo hoo!
  • The uniforms have been a beast!  It’s a huge learning curve to ensure each child has the right uniform, pattern, and style each day.  Each child has a different gym day, and gym day jackets cannot be worn on regular days (and vice versa).  We also had to sink about $2500 into the uniforms.
  • I have ZERO ideas what I’m doing with the parent conferences.  I can understand almost nothing and miss all the important information.  I’ve had to take the approach that if the teachers need me to do something, they will just have to email me personally.  I can’t keep up with the dozen or so weekly emails, all in Portuguese, and I often miss assignments, activities, birthday parties, and more.  I’m trying to be patient with myself; thankfully, the school administration and teachers have been patient with me.

How Have People Reacted To Us Moving There?

Honestly, the Portuguese are some of the kindest people on earth.  We fell in love with the culture and the people right away.  They are warm, honest, wholesome people who love families and children.

Trying to tackle a culture that was not warm and welcoming would probably have sent us back to the US very quickly.  Despite their warm welcome, we’ve had some mishaps.

We’ve offended people, such as the woman cooking dinner for us on our work nights.  She didn’t like how we handled her holiday pay and screamed at us for over an hour, swearing never to come back. 

We’ve made plenty of cultural mistakes and will continue to do so.  It’s hard always to stand out, honestly.  It’s exhausting.  I don’t even look like a Portuguese person, so there is no chance of trying to blend it (unlike when we travel to Germany, Switzerland, England, or Scandinavian countries!  At least we look the part).

Very few Portuguese seem opposed to us living in Portugal, but they expect us to know the customs and are frustrated when we don’t.  I think that’s to be expected… I would expect the same in the US to some degree.  It’s just more difficult on the other side!

Portugal, in general, has a large influx of wealthy foreigners, which drives up their property prices and dilutes their culture.  This is happening all over the world, but there certainly is some sentiment towards this and us being a part of this.  However, I would say it is very mild.  Portuguese, in general, are quite welcoming to foreigners and enjoy other cultures.

Are We Learning The Language?

One of the main purposes of moving abroad is to acquire new language abilities.  We’ve made a ton of progress, and I’m very grateful.

None of us, even Chris, who already spoke Portuguese from a mission to Brazil, are totally fluent.  We all hesitate and stumble over our words.  Most of us understand the Portuguese we hear (depending on the speaker and speed of their speech) but don’t have the confidence or ability to converse back.

However, each week it’s a little better.  I’m noticing that I can now pick up Portuguese even when I’m not focused on it.  When we arrived, I’d have to use all my concentration to translate the words in my head, but now many feel the same as their English counterparts.  

I’ve been taking Portuguese classes downtown, which has boosted my confidence and helped a ton.  Being able to speak the language is a must for all of us and I am so grateful for this “school” experience myself.

The Portuguese (and I think other countries) refer to your “Mother Tongue”, or the language you grew up speaking in your home.  I have taken this a step further in my mind and realized that the kids will not be fluent until I, as their mother, speak it to them at home.  I’m overwhelmed by this task but determined to get there.  We throw a few words here and there but have a long way to go home.

For a short period, I was worried the kids might lose their English skills!  I suddenly panicked and made sure to read to them each night in English.  No need for this.  They won’t lose it but may simply slow their progress compared to living in the US.  We’ve determined we will likely send them to British high schools if we are still in Portugal to get those writing skills back up to snuff.

One funny note: I’ve noticed the kids don’t understand me when I speak Portuguese to them because I speak it incorrectly or with a terrible accent!  They are immersed in Portuguese 10 hours a day, and I don’t sound like they hear.  They will have to help my accent as we get more comfortable.

Chris is eating lunch with me in class

Working US Hours in Portugal

Maybe the most difficult part of living here lies in our work hours.  With the kids gone 10+ hours a day already, it kills us that we start work right before they get home and work late into the night.  Our only overlap with them is the middle of the US daytime.

Our work schedule is 3 pm – 1 am, usually.  We try to take a “lunch” to have dinner with the kids, but Chris is lucky to get even an hour of his busy day to see the kids.  Many days he doesn’t see them at all.

I’ve tried to strictly block off 6-10 pm but rarely get all of that away from work.  I miss having work and that stress done for the day while being with them.  Instead, our email boxes and messages are piling up and causing stress during our time with them.  This doesn’t make for the best quality time with the kids.

Why did God lead us here with this work schedule, I have yet to find out.  However, it’s all good. It just takes discipline and understanding coworkers.  (In case you are new, we run several online marketing businesses and have amazing staff worldwide!).  Thankfully, most of them are also parents and put up with our crazy travel and time zone needs to be with our kids.

Growth And Adversity As A Blessing

As difficult as this whole experience has been, we took on this challenge as a couple, knowing it would be difficult and ready to embrace that.  As humans, we all desire to progress in this life, bringing us immense joy.  That progress rarely comes without difficulty.

We’ve come to feel that children need some difficulty, friction, and “emotional load” to thrive.   Strong adults often come from difficult times when moving to a farm and doing physical labor, dealing with a divorce from their parents, or facing a physical handicap.

We make a very good income, have good health, travel the world together, and marvel at all our blessings on a daily basis.  However, life needs balance.  Without some load to carry and work against, we believe our children will create difficulties, such as substance abuse, mental health, etc.  I’m not saying that we have avoided these things.  Far from it!  We’ve already dealt with some of that and have many years ahead of children growing up and finding their way.

However, facing difficulty and succeeding instills confidence and self-worth that nothing else can.  We firmly believe that this experience will be for their good overall.  Especially the difficult parts.

This experience will serve them for the rest of their lives.  They may hate us now (not that they do… but at times they do… LOL), but time will give them perspective on what we chose to do as their parents.  Even if they are never grateful for it, I imagine at some point. They will respect it for what it was.

In the meantime, we try to get through the occasional accusation of “you are the ones who brought us here” or “ we want to go back to the US” and let time ease us slowly into our new life in Portugal.  Each week feels more comfortable and more like home.  Already, I know it is home for me in many ways, and we will continue to build family memories and new traditions to solidify those feelings even more.

Thanks for coming along on our journey!  Drop any more questions in the comment section below.



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Additional Reading

First Anniversary Of Living In Portugal: How Are We Doing?

My Experience Learning European Portuguese: Portuguese Connections School in Lisbon, Portugal

How To Obtain A Portuguese D7 Visa For Your Family: Everything You Need To Know


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  2. Great blog.

    We’re a multi-ethnic family of 6 looking to leave the US. We’re planning on homeschooling if we go to Portugal. Do you have any info on that? We already live in our own bubble in the US so we wouldn’t mind doing the same there.

  3. Great story and great adventure! We have 4 kids and schooling is the biggest hurdle for us. It sounds like your kids are in local schools, what about the international schools? Know anyone with kids there?

    Best of luck,

    • Leslie Stroud

      It was a big adjustment for our kids. Going from homeschooling to a local school in Portugal but they have adjusted so well and have made so many friends. I don’t know of the international schools or kids but we have really liked the local school. The kids Portuguese is even better than mine!

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  7. Janice Clark

    Hi, We are doing our research on a possible move to Portugal and I am having a hard time finding help for the following: Our daughter is 8 and has mild intellectual disability. She would not be able to pick up another language as struggling with reading currently. How can I find private or public schools that teach in English and support IEP’s.?

    • Leslie Stroud

      Hi, Janice! There are many international English-speaking schools around Lisbon that would be happy to have you. I am sure they would work well with an IEP but know they are very expensive (several thousand per year per kid). We haven’t wanted to pay this, but those that do LOVE them.

      I joined a group of ex-pats in Portugal on Facebook and read over discussions from time to time, maybe it could help you too (search Expats in Portugal Q&A and Expat Families With Kids Moving To And Living In Portugal).


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