We're "Flexpats" - Not Quite Expats Yet!

Taking care of other people's houses and pets via house and pet sitting is a satisfying for UK-born freelance workers James and Jemma, since it allows them a taste of expat life. They are currently house-sitting in Portugal's capital city of Lisbon, where the people are friendly, the weather sublime, and the cost of living comparatively more affordable.

James & Jemma

-Where were you born? 

James was born in England and Jemma was born in Scotland. Prior to moving abroad we both lived in Edinburgh.

-In which country and city are you living now?

We’re currently living in Lisbon, Portugal. Prior to Lisbon we spent some time living in the South of Spain (near Sevilla) and before that the South of France.

We’ve spent the majority of our time ‘house sitting’ for other expats; we look after other people’s homes while they’re away. This is usually because they have pets and don’t want to put them into boarding kennels, but we often also carry out other chores as well such as watering plants, collecting the mail and – in the case of France in the winter- checking on pipes if the temperature drops.

House sitting gives us an opportunity to live in a country and experience it without having to rent or buy a property before deciding whether or not it’s right for us. As we’re usually house sitting for expats, we usually get a good insight into what life is like there as an expat as well, e.g., the challenges of buying a property, renovating a property, learning the language and settling into the community.

-Are you living alone or with your family?


-How long have you been living in Portugal?

We’ve been in Lisbon for around 3 months now.

-What is your age?

We’re both 27.

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Portugal?

After living in France we spent a weekend in Lisbon and loved it. It is very picturesque, has 300+ days of sunshine per year, has a nice, relaxed vibe and always has quite a lot going on. It’s also a very affordable place to live, so that’s always a bonus.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit? 

We both freelance for companies based in the UK and US so have been able to avoid the challenges of finding work and sorting out the paperwork surrounding it.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived? 

Finding insurance policies that cover long-term travel, especially if you aren’t able to give an end date for a trip can be difficult. The E111 card makes life a lot easier and in non-emergency situations there’s always the option of a Ryanair flight home.

-How do you make your living in Portugal? Do you have any type of income generated? 

As mentioned, we both work in freelance roles which means we can move from place to place without the challenges of sorting out a job at each new destination. Jemma is a freelance copywriter and James is a freelance tech-person – we both had normal 9-5 jobs in these careers previously and spent a few years building up the skills and contacts to make freelance living a viable option.

-Do you speak Portuguese and do you think it's important to speak the local language? 

In every country we’ve lived, we’ve made a big effort to learn the language. In France, speaking French was essential (all the stereotypes are true) however in Portugal it can actually be quite hard to practice Portuguese; if someone sees you struggling to find a word they’ll switch to English. It’s obviously very polite but it does mean you have fewer opportunities to practice speaking Portuguese.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes? 

As Lisbon is a capital city, we’ve been able to find everything we did back in the UK here. The only difference is that in the UK most events are written about online and finding out what’s going on is fairly straight-forward. Although Portugal is getting more internet-friendly it can still be difficult to stay in the loop.

-Do you have other plans for the future? 

We plan to continue what we’re doing, spending a few months in a place and getting to know it. We haven’t made any definite plans about where we’re going next but we still have a few months to decide!

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it? 

We house sit as much as possible which means we don’t have the cost of rent to worry about; however a guide price for a one bedroom apartment with all utilities included is about 700 euros and up. You can get cheaper apartments, with more space as well, however as we only stay in a place short-term when we look at rental options we look at those with utilities included and these are usually off-season holiday rentals.

-What is the cost of living in Portugal?

Portugal has to be one of the most affordable countries to live in Western Europe, especially coming from the UK. Lisbon is obviously a little more expensive than other parts of Portugal, but to give you an idea of some regular expenses:

  •  A cup of coffee (espresso): 50cents – 1 Euro
  • A meal out for two (with wine) at an inexpensive restaurant: 20-25 euros
  • A meal out for two (with wine) at a slightly posher restaurant: 40-60 Euros
  • A good bottle of wine: from 3 euros and up
  • Metro ticket: Euro 1.40
  • Rent for a one bedroom flat with utilities included: From around 700 euros

 -What do you think about the Portuguese? 

The Portuguese are very friendly. Even in the Algarve (we spent a few months there previously) where what was once a small fishing part of the world that’s become a tourist hotspot, there really isn’t any resentment towards tourists.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Portugal?

Positive aspects include 300+ days of sunshine, a very affordable cost of living and a very beautiful warm and welcoming country.

For us the only real negative aspect is finding things that are going on. I think if we were to buy a place here we might include Portuguese red tape in this list – based on what we’ve heard from others – but thankfully we haven’t had to go through that aspect of life here yet.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Portugal?

Definitely learn to speak some Portuguese and don’t speak Spanish.

Remember there’s more to Portugal than the beach; the countryside for example is beautiful and fantastic for walking.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Portugal?