Gear up for our next expat interview with Damon Johnson – a lovely client who moved to Portugal with his family!

Last Updated on April 18, 2024 by Maryam Siddiqui

Let’s begin our next expat interview with a client who moved from America to Portugal, inspired by the quality of life here! Talking to Damon has been an absolute pleasure as he dives into the details of what life is like moving abroad with his wife and 10-year-old son. Have they adapted to the Portuguese culture yet? How’s the cost of living for an American family? What were the biggest challenges? 

Learn all about their inspiring story!  

Living-Abroad-An-Expat-Interview-with-Damon Johnson

Guest Introduction

Victor: Today, I’m with a client who became a very nice and close friend, Damon. It’s really been a blast getting to know what it’s like to move to Portugal from the other side. Damon, I would really like to appreciate the fact that you are here with me, and thank you for spending time with me. And if you could introduce yourself, that would be really amazing. 

Damon: Thank you, Victor. My name is Damon. I am a father and husband. I have a small family. It’s me, my wife, and my 10-year-old son. I’m from New York, and my wife is from California. And in May of 2023, we decided that we were ready to start our journey and to move abroad. 

We really looked at our 10-year-old and wanted him to be a global citizen, have some really amazing perspective on the world, and not be stuck in a monolithic sort of way of thinking. So we decided on Portugal, we did some research, and thankfully we found Viv Europe. We decided in May, engaged Viv Europe in June, had visas in hand soon after, and were in Portugal by December. 


Q. What motivated you to move to another country?

Damon: The key piece in that and why we just fell in love with Portugal specifically is from our perspective. Again, I’m from New York. My wife is from Oakland. We decided that we wanted to move to a major metro. We were eventually looking for a place to set full roots and retire and live here. This is like a life decision, right but before we moved to the beautiful countryside or the beach somewhere, we knew we wanted to be somewhere where there were services the metro, there are shopping centers that are open until midnight if we needed to run out and grab something. 

We’re in a major European capital that is just beautiful. I’m a history buff and just love architecture. Being in places with a great story and a lot of history and pride. And you’ll find that in Portugal, people are just very, very, very proud to be Portuguese and their heritage. We really liked the fact that we could come somewhere where it’s beautiful, it’s safe being in a large demo where we see how children are looked at and treated and sort of respected right um the level of Independence they are allowed to have and be children. 

There were a lot of great reasons for us to look and say, we can see ourselves here, but those were the main ones. And we found a school that we fell in love with as well and just looked and said, this is a place that we can plant our roots. It was just such a broadening of opportunity for us and our family. 

Q. Is having a kid impacted your decision to move to Portugal? 

Victor: Amazing. You mentioned the security. I guess it had this special role in your decision, right? 

Damon: I look at my relationship with my mother and my father, and I just know they did everything they could to give me as many opportunities as possible and just to allow me to do better than they did. And for me, having a global perspective is important for him. 

It really allowed our family to have an amazing fresh start in a way that it’s not like we’re trying to get away from anything but coming to a community with open arms. We had always just wanted to try Europe and to see if we would sort of see ourselves there, and then the more and more we researched and visited and saw, it was like there’s a place for us here, like this is home. 

Victor: And really, Damon, I think it’s very nice that you have this proactive way of dealing with things in general. 

I had gone through a similar path. I came from Brazil and moved to Portugal six years ago. And unlike you, I moved to a very small city called Braga. And so I was trying to escape from the hustle and bustle of big cities. But the funny thing is that I moved to Porto now because it was too quiet. My wife likes having the chance to choose from many services and many restaurants and despite the fact that it was very calm, now we have more options here in Porto. In Portugal, we can take advantage of living in a small and peaceful country and having the chance to have access to things that only big cities can provide, at least from my view. 

Q. What do you wish you had known before you became an expat?

Victor: It’s nice to see people looking forward to following their dreams. But is there something you wish you had known before you moved to Portugal that could have impacted your decision at the time? 

Furniture Shopping

Damon: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question. Well, there is something I wish I had known. We were advised by Viv Europe to find a furnished apartment and just not have that be a part of our moving experience, having to buy furniture. But we just found the perfect place that we were in love with, and it just happened to be unfurnished, so getting here and furniture shopping, I would say 90% of the stuff here, unless you buy used furniture, is made to order, which is fantastic. But you might not have a couch for two months. 

And then you finally give in where you’re just like, look, we can get some things from IKEA, and it’s never failed us. So we are waiting for some furniture that’s being custom built for us. And it’s very affordable for being a custom piece. But that is something to be very, very, very aware of. We decided that we didn’t want to ship stuff from the US because that would have taken 3 months anyway.

Moving sucks, no matter what. No matter where you move, you can move from one floor to the next. You can move upstairs or downstairs, or move across town, or move across the country. But moving to another country, a lot of the things that you have to go through, that you have to endure, you just have to keep perspective about them. There are things that you are going to have to be patient about, and right now, we are still going through that phase of getting all of our numbers together and just making sure we have our health numbers and our tax numbers were taken care of by Viv Europe.

Importance Of Having A Relocation Partner

Damon: But there are things like getting your tax address changed, and there are these very methodical steps you have to take. That’s really why I’m happy that we engaged Viv Europe, which could keep us on task. 

It’s amazing to have someone with whom we’re able to share our findings and say, hey, here’s what is happening in real-time right now in this parish. Here are the results we got. And to hear, is that typical? Is that, you know, something that other clients are seeing and to really have a good idea of what to expect, because that’ll put you ahead of. And it’s so heartbreaking sitting in these offices and seeing the people before you sitting without the right document. I’m really just losing it emotionally because it’s hard to get these appointments.

So it was clearly the best investment we made to make sure that we weren’t coming back and forth or having to go back and provide, you know, follow-up appointments and figure out what documents needed to be there. We had someone who was going through with a fine toothcomb and saying, you know, you might not need this, but it would be good to bring this, and lo and behold, we need something that isn’t on the list. 

Q. What insights or advice do you have for those considering expat life?

Victor: Yeah, Damon, first of all, I appreciate your compliments. And I really feel that you made this decision with open arms to face a new environment and a new scenario. We deal with many clients that come from many places and it’s becoming more and more common for them to think of Portugal as a way to get some kind of freedom and for everything to be perfect. Oh, it’s a new country, it’s a new life. Not only knowing the reality but also not being able to embrace the novelty. 

And, you know, we even had to partner with a psychologist because it became a very common scenario. I had to be someone who would show that, yes, it’s not perfect; you have to first see the reason why you decided to move to Portugal, but there is culture shock. There will be things that you don’t like, that you did not face in America or other countries. But it’s part of the journey. You have to be open to it. And then we did associate with a professional, and then for these clients, we think it’s important to hear from someone who is professional, and they realized that they were being much more dramatic than it’s supposed to be. So it’s nice to know that you came prepared emotionally. 

Moving Away Doesn’t Solve Your Problems

Damon: Well, here’s the thing. Moving to another country isn’t something to do if you’re trying to run from something because it’ll follow you right here. So we have private health insurance that we signed on to, in addition to the public health insurance. And it’s about 10% of the cost of American health insurance, but it’s an insurance company. There’s still a waiting period to have the benefits kick in. They still looked at my weight and said, hey, you got to lose some weight, and until you do, we’re charging you extra. Right.

So I can be here and say, hey, I am going to clearly get healthier here because there’s a lot more walking. We didn’t bring our car. The groceries and the food. Oh, my God, they are so much fresher. And we’re just doing grocery shopping more often and having less in the fridge that’s just sitting there and less processed food. But if I eat all this amazing food, I’m not like it. Actually getting healthy and doing the walks and getting up and running, that’s not something that’s going to magically change by me moving to another country. 

If there are things that I need to figure out just what is my lot in life and how to be happy, sometimes a change in scenario is great, but you know, I’m here with my wife and my son. We will have to like to be a part of our communities. We’re very excited to learn Portuguese and taking classes with our son at his school. 

Make Your “Why” Board

Damon: It’s great that you guys have someone to help talk through that process. And I think there are other resources for expats to find community. But there are also some great people here and there are also some jerks here as well. Is that Portuguese culture? It’s like, no, you ran into an a-hole. So I think the key piece for folks who are considering something like this is to really put together their why board. Like, what are you looking to accomplish? If you’re moving here because you’re looking for a magic place that’s going to solve issues of depression or you’re just not in a good place, you may want to reconsider that because this is a process. And we’re looking forward to being a few months removed from the initial setup because that’s not fun for anybody. 

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Q. How did you choose where you wanted to live?

Victor: Oh, I agree 100%. Really, really well said. One place where people sometimes struggle when moving, specifically to Portugal, is related to finding the perfect spot to live and the perfect apartment to live. And I know that it’s not easy to find a place to rent. I would really like to know how was your experience in finding your apartment that you are living in 

Damon: So again, it’s going to be stressful unless you don’t make it stressful, make it a game, right? So, I’m used to real estate and finding venues. I’m used to looking in New York City and the Bay Area. So there’s very little you can put in front of me that’s gonna intimidate me. But working with Viv Europe, they were just like, hey, let us know if you need us to help you navigate certain places. I was like, all right, well, look at my spreadsheet and let me know what you think of my grid that has all of these properties on Idealista mapped out by cost per square meter, by bedroom size, by neighborhood. 

Portuguese Communities And Real Estate

Damon: But we gave ourselves a week to find a place. You need to WhatsApp people to get appointments. That’s the biggest feedback I can give you. You’re having half-hour conversations with the people who are showing you the place. It could be the owner’s kids. It could be a real estate agent, right? But they’re all gonna wanna know who you are. They’re going to wanna know what your story is, especially somebody coming from outside of Portugal.

And a funny story about the place that we are at. We saw this place, we fell in love with it. We’re like, we want to be here, right? We went to lunch and reached out, and they said, “Oh, sorry, it’s gone. It’s off the market. And we were bummed. As we’re at the airport returning to the US, we get a call, and they’re like, hey, that other person kind of fell through. So we want you to come back and meet the rest of the family. Now we’re in a building where there are 10 kids, and there’s the family environment that we were looking for. 

I say really be in touch with what you’re looking for, and you don’t have to compromise on the core things you’re looking for. And working with a partner like Viv Europe, you can understand. You need to make sure you are fully compliant because you do not want any mistakes in this process. 

Q. What was the biggest challenge you had to face?

Damon: Yeah, the key thing and the key advice I can give everybody to approaching this is to look at your entire move and really figure out your budget for your entire move. We treated it as an investment. It’s an investment in us. It’s an investment in our son. And we didn’t look at moving to Portugal as a cost-saving measure. That’s very important because it is less expensive here. But if that’s the goal, you’re going to have some challenges because starting a new home, starting a new apartment, you know, getting the lay of the land, right? Buying a new car or getting used to, you know, a new public transit system, there will be startup costs to that, right? 

If your key focus is like, I want to move, and we’re on a tight budget, and we need to save money, Lisbon may have to come later in your journey. You might have to look at other places that will be amazing. I’ve lived in New York. I’ve lived in San Francisco where it’s like, hey, we’re full, everybody. I grew up here, and it used to be a third of that. 

And put yourself in the shoes of someone else that you encounter in the US whose English is their second language right, and appreciate them right and what they have to go through and, you know, hope for the same grace that they hope for. It’s a different experience, and you’ll just have to have patience. And the best thing you can do is just arm yourself with as much information and partners that it makes sense to work with it. 

Q. How is the cost of living in Portugal compared to America? 

Damon: That’s a great question. This is going to be very individualistic. If you’re a young couple, you’re in your twenties, going out, drinking and going to shows and hanging out, and coming here. You’re going to do a lot more of that stuff and be affordable, right? 

But for me personally, we were eating out too much in the Bay area. Now I go to the supermarket, and I’m just like, oh, there’s fresh food here. We walk into a supermarket. You’re going to save probably everything you’re spending because you know the groceries are super affordable. For us, it was a lifestyle shift of going to the supermarket three days a week now versus going to the supermarket once every two weeks. 

Differences between Portugal and America

Damon: I live right across the street from an amazing market, and my family eats fresh. We are able to get fresh baked croissants and bread and all sorts of stuff that would cost an arm and a leg. I realized that I love Lisbon so much because it’s a lot of little communities that are connected by a really great grid. That’s where the football stadium is. That’s where the other football stadium is. It’s connected to this shopping center. That’s another thing about Lisbon. In the US, the malls are dying, and here they’re incredible. They’re beautiful. Every town has basically like a little commerce center where you can get groceries, you can go to the movie theater, you can, you know, do like shopping and the stores and the boutiques there are, are incredible, and they’re beautiful, and they’re well maintained. 

So I think the key is to get your budget together and figure out what you enjoy, and there’ll be a way for you to continue that and to have that in your life, but you just need to make sure, you know, some people don’t need to do a budget. If you need to budget in the US, you gotta make absolutely sure that you have everything clear. Cause you don’t want any surprises when you’re out here. 

Ending Note

Victor: Yeah. When you were speaking, I was just nodding because it’s really how I feel. I’m not in Lisbon, but I’m in Porto. And from moving to Braga to Porto, this is something that I appreciate the most. There are so many cultural events that you can go to, just like a big city, but I live on the other side of the bridge, so it’s a calmer place.

So, just knowing that I can get a metro and go downtown and see so many things, I have many places to choose if I want to have lunch. It’s very unique to Portugal. And yeah, just like you, I love living here. You just moved to Lisbon, and I’m pretty sure there are so many things you can explore in the city and the surroundings. I love going to Lisbon, actually, and I always find something new to do it’s incredible really really nice to know that. 

Damon, I really, really, really appreciate you, you know, being here with me to share your experience with the public you mentioned very important topics to think about and the issue with the mindset that you talked about moving to a new place is something that I really really think it’s important. 

If you need anything, you know you can always count on us; we are all here for you and your family, and thank you absolutely it’s been a pleasure chatting with you. 

This brings us to the end of this beautiful, authentic conversation with our lovely client, Damon Johnson. We’ve loved helping his family move from America to Portugal. It’s been an incredible ride, and we’re honored to have been a part of it. We wish them all the happiness this country has to offer and good luck for their future endeavors! 

How do you become an expat in Portugal?

Once you’ve figured out where to live, the next step is to think about the visa process and how to qualify! 

Don’t worry, you won’t have to figure it out alone. Our team of immigration experts is here every step of the way to help you out. 

Types of Visa for Expats in Portugal

Here’s a list of all the different types of Visas for expats that Viv Europe helps with: 

To know more information, get in touch with Viv Europe’s visa assistance experts

Do you need Visa assistance?

It’s extremely common for expats to require visa assistance, even when moving alone. It’s not because of the bureaucracy or the complications, it is about getting it right on the first try and saving your time, effort, and money. 

Just like Damon and his family, you can kickstart your dream relocation with experts who will be there for you till you settle down successfully. At Viv Europe, we strive to make relocation an effortless experience for all! 

If you liked this expat interview, join our Facebook Group – All About Portugal For Expats. If you’d like to share your story with us to inspire other people, feel free to reach out to our team! 

*All photos of our guests are used with permission for this expat interview only. Unauthorized use of these photos is strictly prohibited. 



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