No, not San Francisco, but Lisbon: More and more Americans are moving to Portugal – Copyright AFP/Jade GAO File
Nathan Hadlock moved to Portugal to escape the violence and lack of social welfare he saw in the United States, while still enjoying the sun and sea he loved in California.
“Lisbon ticked all the boxes,” the 40-year-old American businessman told AFP.
It even has a suspension bridge that is almost a dead ringer for San Francisco’s Golden Gate.
“My partner and I were looking to slow down life and enjoy things more. So we made a list of the top 10 places in the world and Lisbon quickly rose to the top.”
The couple, who started a family when they moved to the Portuguese capital in 2020, were drawn to the climate, good food, cheaper lifestyle and ease of travel to other parts of Europe.
They also wanted to escape the darker sides of American society.
“One of the main reasons that (American) investors are looking to move here is for the safety of their children. They often say, ‘I don’t want my son to go to school and get shot,’” Hadlock insisted.
“And that’s a real thing in the United States that no one here in Europe has to experience.”
Jen Wittman, who moved from the Golden State to Lisbon during the pandemic with her husband and teenage son, said the United States was “really falling apart.”
“The George Floyd incident and the pandemic, the political divide, the racism… It was all becoming overwhelming in America.”
Having a European social network also made a big difference.
“America is terrible at health care. And it’s terrible if you’re retired and have a health condition. Essentially, in the United States you can go bankrupt from illness,” the 47-year-old said.
At around 7,000, the number of US citizens living in Portugal remains small compared to the 42,000 British expatriates who have made the country their home.
But while the influx of Britons, Western Europe’s largest expatriate community, has begun to decline, income from the United States has doubled since 2018.
This year, Americans are competing with the Chinese for the top spot among foreign investors attracted by Portugal’s “golden visas” – residence permits issued to foreigners willing to buy property or transfer capital to the Iberian country.
But most come on a D7 visa, which requires them to have regular “passive income” from pensions, rentals or investments.
– ‘Different mentality’ –
Joana Mendoca, a lawyer at migration consultancy Global Citizen Solutions, speaks “almost every day” with US clients.
“Some come because they are digital nomads and want to work from home by the sea,” he said.
“There are also entire families who dream that one day their children will enter European universities.
“And there are retirees who sell everything in the United States to be able to enjoy a good retirement in Portugal.”
Mendoca said Americans had “a different mindset” from other foreign investors, who were drawn to Portugal essentially because of residence permits and tax breaks.
“They really want to come live here and adopt a different lifestyle,” he said, even though the introduction of the golden visa scheme in 2012 contributed to an unwanted rise in property prices.
Hadlock started out as a digital nomad in Portugal. He now works for an investment fund that buys land for olive and almond plantations in the rolling hills of the Alentejo.
The region south of Lisbon reminds you of the Napa and Sonoma valleys in California.
– ‘Surf and good wine’ –
In Lisbon, Hadlock organizes meetings to develop business ties between California and Portugal. The group calls itself Red Bridge, a nod to the red suspension bridges that span the San Francisco Bay and the Tagus estuary.
Jonathan Littman, one of the members, still lives in California but is learning Portuguese.
He was introduced to Portuguese startups in Silicon Valley when Lisbon began hosting annual international web summits in 2016.
“We see this as the California of Europe,” he said.
“The surf, the coast… We both have good wine. We both have a love for seafood and healthy cooking. We can both be a little chill.”
Like her compatriots, Wittman and her family left the United States to escape a “divisiveness” that Hadlock says is “ripping America apart” and is palpable “as soon as you step off the plane.”
But Portugal was not his first choice.
“We tried to move to Italy, but they wouldn’t accept any US visa applicants,” he recalled. “So we thought, ‘Who in Europe is going to take the Americans?’ And they were Croatia and Portugal”.
She and her husband run their own digital marketing company and have no plans to return.
“It’s safe. It’s inclusive. We feel safe walking around, we feel safe at night. We do things that we could never do in the United States without constant fear,” she said.