Our Race to Portugal – Everything Just Got Faster
The early morning sun is already hot in the sky as I walk my now familiar circuit around the farm. I try to gather together my darting thoughts to put down on paper. Tomorrow it will be eleven weeks since we arrived here. The final stop on our race home against the virus, and thirteen weeks since our final day in Portugal. Never guessing as we left Braga on the third of March that three months later we would be starting a new race to return. A race to Portugal – instead of away. And hopefully to our new home.
And a race to Portugal feels exactly like what this journey has become. It is only twelve days since we made the monumentous, snap decision to move there, and our schedule is getting faster all the time. The old crews of Wacky Races never had a more crazy ride! And with every passing day our targets and to do lists rearrange and slide. Taking on a life of their own as we hang on tight to our hats. Portuguese bureaucracy, the villainous, Dick Dastardly thorn in our sides.
(If you’re too young to have heard of this old kids cartoon show – Wacky Races I strongly recommend checking it out here. Dated – but fun.)
If you’ve been following our journey so far then you’ll know we began with the idea of getting to Portugal for the end of November/ beginning of December of this year. But within just five days we realised that we’d have to be in the country by September to guarantee being able to apply for residency before the Brexit transition period expires. And then, three days later – on the 29th of May – everything changed again.
We are talking to a lot of people down in Portugal now. Both friends that are already down there, and friends in the making on the Facebook expat groups. And time and again we hear the same message.
“Don’t hang about. “
“Get here as soon as you can.”
“Hurry up as soon as the border is open.”
“They expect there will be a second wave of the virus. The borders might close again. Hurry.”
We’d already cut three months off our original six month timetable. We now only had three months left to find out everything we needed to know and get organised to move. Could we possibly do it any faster? Should we do it any faster?
The first part of our answer came with a call to Aviva – the pension fund we were going to cash in.
We’d been talking things over again before we got in touch with Aviva. Jay had made his weekly call to the nursing agency he works for and they still didn’t have any shifts for him. His time off with a cough at the start of the lockdown had made it almost impossible for him to work now. The agency staff pretty much couldn’t go into anywhere they weren’t already working – in case they inadvertently brought the virus in with them. It made perfect sense, and we were glad they were protecting patients, but it meant we had no idea when he would be able to work again. And it didn’t look like it was going to be anytime soon.
With all the warnings we were getting about difficulties getting through borders did it really make sense to hang around in Scotland waiting for work to start up again? We really didn’t want to leave without more money in the bank. But all we were achieving by sitting here waiting was to get poorer every day.
My mind numbing trawling through the Portuguese tax system began to come in handy for the first time. With no wages coming in at the moment there didn’t seem to be much point in delaying taking out the full pension fund. If we took it all now there was a reasonable chance we would pay less tax on it than if we waited until next year. Next year we should have more income than this one. That would probably push us into a higher tax bracket on the pension money.
And so we decided to just take it all out now. We would get together all the paperwork we needed; get Iggy ready; get the pension money; and get on the road. No time like as soon as possible. The pace had just picked up a little bit more. The race to Portugal had climbed to the top of the second hill. We shifted up gears to second and picked up the phone to Aviva.
The young woman on the phone could not have been more pleasant and helpful, and we were really impressed with how they handled our request. At the ripe young age of fifty five we’ve never cashed in a pension fund before and the last week had been a big learning curve on how it all worked. All we really wanted to know now was how long it would take, and for someone to press the magic button that would release our funds.
The young lady on the phone congratulated us on our decision and then quietly, respectfully, and skilfully spent twenty minutes making absolutely sure we knew what we were doing. That we had really thought about it. That it wasn’t going to leave us financially disadvantaged. And that we had all the resources we needed to get independent financial advice if we needed it. All without ever making us feel as though she was trying to change our minds in any way whatsoever.
And that, was pretty much that. Twenty minutes on the phone, and a really pleasant chat later, the forms we needed to fill in and return were in Jay’s inbox. Nothing needed printed off or posted. I just needed to fill in the forms on my laptop and email them back. We could take anywhere up to six months to send them back, and a maximum of twenty days later the money would be in our bank account – minus tax.
Jay hung up the phone and there was a few seconds of silence in Iggy. The first, definite step had been taken. The gears had just shifted up to third. September had become “Probably July”. I gulped. My head spun ever so slightly. And I reached for my laptop once again saying,
“Better get busy”
This race to Portugal was well and truly on.
And now here I sit in Iggy on Monday the first of June. Neck deep in websites and emails as I try and create a checklist for leaving. There are still so many unknowns, and every day is a rollercoaster of emotions as I plough further into the business of moving my life to another country.
Outside Iggy’s open windows and door Scotland has rarely looked more beautiful. The lockdown has blessed us with clear skies and soaring temperatures as the pollution levels fall. I love my country, and there is a little ache somewhere beneath my ribs at the thought of leaving her.
As the speed of our departure cranks up that tiny ache seems to be growing larger. My writer’s imagination is as much a curse as a blessing as I think of leaving our families behind. We will come back every year for sure. And hopefully they will all come to visit us in Portugal. This is not the days of sailing ships to Australia. Of saying goodbye forever when people set off for foreign shores. And yet…
And yet so many things are uncertain in our world right now. Covid-19 stands between us and our loved ones in so many, many ways. There will be no farewell party. No gathering of friends to toast our health and wish us merrily on our way. No drinks, no hugs, no tipsy tears.
Although the virus has slowly released the viciousness of its grip on places like Europe – it has not released its grip on our world. I look at the daily updates on the Worldometers site and watch the worldwide numbers of daily new cases go steadily up – and up again. The opening borders we are waiting to slip through may just as easily close behind us again. Barring the way between us and the people who live in our hearts.
This may not be the days of sailing ships to Australia and the New World anymore. But, in a small, small way I catch just the edge of how that must have felt. In the midst of everything that is happening… the ever present risk of the virus; the massive uncertainty about what will happen with it all in the days to come… In the midst of it all my heart clenches and my throat clogs up momentarily with tears.
Are we mad? Should we even be thinking of this? I don’t want to leave my family. Maybe we should just stay?
No sooner have the thoughts entered my head than I know that we shall still go. If anything the doubts and the pain of leaving everyone behind just makes the path ahead clearer. Because no matter how strong these feelings are, this need to go is stronger still. It’s been with me all my life and I know if I stay I will regret it to my dying breath. The road is always calling me. Whispering, tugging, itching in my bones. And I am only ever half alive when I do not listen and follow.
And there – for now – I will leave you. There are more hurdles to jump, and more stories to tell. We are struggling with information on officially importing Iggy into Portugal – and almost changed our plans over it all yesterday. Almost, but not quite. That whisper in my bones is too strong.
Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. Iggy is off to ATS to get a brand new set of tyres. And then we need to meet with a motorhome repair man to get a quote for some work he needs done. And in between it all I will write some lists for you and I. Lists of what we know we have to get done before we can start on the last leg of our race to Portugal. Fifth gear and the long road south.
For now I have websites to read and emails to write. Hopes to dream – and fears to put gently to bed.