Moving to Portugal saved a family $5,000/month but had surprising costs

  • Frances Bo Cordova has lived in California all her life but recently found it too expensive.
  • She and her husband moved to Portugal with their son in October to lower their living expenses.
  • Cordova said the move cut her monthly expenses in half, but it was unexpectedly expensive to settle down.

The rising cost of living in the US is driving some people abroad in search of more affordable options.

Frances Bo Cordova, 32, her husband and four-year-old son left the Bay Area for Porto, Portugal in October. The move has already taken a huge toll on her monthly expenses, which totaled about $10,000 in California.

“We’ve only been here two months, but our expenses are in the $5,000 to $6,000 range,” she said. “So it was about half.”

In the US, Cordova paid a mortgage of about $2,500 a month. In Porto, she and her family rent a two-bedroom house for 1,000 euros a month. While Cordova stopped working as a team leader and operations manager for a small tech startup before the move, her husband still works as an engineer for a software company that already had employees in Europe.

The reduction in monthly expenses has been nice, she said. But, Cordova added, starting a new life in Portugal — including the process of applying for and obtaining a D7 visa, a document that allows residents of non-EU countries to apply for legal stay — is both expensive and expensive been troublesome.

“The D7 process is definitely not for the faint of heart,” she said. “You have to be financially stable before you go into it.”

Cordova laid out the main ins and outs of her family’s move, which she believes anyone considering a similar move should be aware of.

Why she chose Portugal

This year in particular, Americans were eager to learn about life in Europe. They’ve tried buying property not just in Portugal, but also in France, Italy and Greece thanks to the rise of remote work and a relatively strong dollar.

However, Cordova’s research always led her to Portugal.

“We didn’t know anything about Portugal at the time, but we were curious – considering how much we’ve read about it,” she said. “We liked the sound of the cost of living, the fact that a lot of people speak English, that it’s very safe. Both the education and healthcare systems have proven to be of high quality and easily accessible.”

Porto, Portugal

Porto, Portugal, where Cordova and her family moved to.


Neighboring Spain was also on Cordova’s shortlist, but the cost savings in Portugal were too attractive to pass up.

“The main thing that kept us from Spain, which is the other country that we really considered, is taxation there,” she said.

But Portugal has bureaucracy – and it’s not cheap

Although Cordova has saved thousands of dollars so far since moving to Portugal, moving there was costly and time-consuming.

“Moving to Portugal will probably cost between $6,000 and $10,000,” she said.

A valid passport, proof of income, bank statements, proof of adequate accommodation by providing a 12-month rental agreement, and more are required to apply for a D7 visa. The D7 application costs around $102 and the process can take up to 60 days, according to Global Citizen Solutions, a London-based migration consultancy.

“There’s just a lot of paperwork,” Cordova confirmed. “You must order copies of your birth certificate, your marriage certificate, etc. Each copy itself costs $20-$30 from your US state.”

“Imagine every application has 20 of these pieces of paper and you have four people in your family,” she added. “It adds up very quickly.”

Cordova also described background checks that required in-person visits to a Portuguese application center in the United States. Depending on where your nearest application center is located, these can be costly. Luckily for her it was only a short drive away in San Francisco.

Proof of accommodation was the most expensive part

For the D7 visa, applicants must prove that they can live in Portugal upon arrival. That, Cordova said, was the most expensive part.

Cordova said she found an apartment for the family in Porto, the country’s second largest city, and signed a lease in June. However, since the visa process takes months, she had to pay the $1,000 rent on the apartment for several months before she could even set foot in the country. That way, she would be ready with evidence when it was her turn to present it to the authorities reviewing her application.

“Very few people could get around that,” Cordova said. “That’s essentially several thousand dollars that you have to be willing to lose with.”

Porto Portugal

Another view of beautiful Porto.

artem evdokimov/Shutterstock

Aside from paying rent on an empty house, she warned, it costs more to move abroad than it does domestically.

“From a logistical standpoint, preparing all your ducks for the move isn’t that cheap,” Cordova said. “You have to buy all the extra suitcases. You must purchase all luggage tags and luggage wrap and special straps. You need people to drive you and all your bags to and from the airport. I think a lot of people don’t really think about these expenses until they’re absolutely necessary and they’re on your doorstep.”

While the move itself didn’t come cheap, Cordova believes the overall experience will pay off.

“The longer we stay here,” she said, “the more it was worth it.”

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