So I Moved to Lisbon

Everyone I’ve talked to lately, whether before, during or after my transcontinental move, keeps asking me why. “Why do you want to live in Lisbon?” I have a few different answers, but mostly I just wind up asking a different question altogether.

Specifically: “why would I want to stay in the United States?”

Wanderlust aside, I have some big issues with my country of origin.


I’m freelance, so I pay out of pocket for this back home. In my native state of Pennsylvania (where I moved after I returned to the US from traveling because I took one look at out-of-pocket premiums in my former residence of NYC and promptly fainted), this comes at the tune of around $300/month, which doesn’t even factor in my deductible (for the non-USians out there, this means the money you have to pay out of pocket before your coverage starts to, well, cover things. Yeah.)

And I’m LUCKY, because I’m relatively young, able-bodied (AKA able to find a cheaper premium than many people), and I have family to live with in a city with a pretty good medical system all things considered (heyo, Pittsburgh).

“Aren’t you worried about healthcare abroad?!” ask many USians I’ve talked to. To be fair, they often have no personal experience with healthcare systems outside the US, and they have been fed a heap of BS about how we might pay a premium in the good ole US of A, but it’s for great doctors, better care, etc. etc. (We really want to believe we get what we pay for, I guess?)

To them, I point out: the US healthcare system ranks 37th place globally. Portugal’s is #12. In another case study focused on analyzing the healthcare provided by 11 high-income nations, the US simply ranked “last.”

For cost comparisons, the average American spent $10,586 for healthcare in the year 2017. The average Portuguese citizen spent $2,681.

This was honestly the hardest thing for me about coming back to the US. Even just while traveling (my travel health insurance, which covers about what catastrophic does back in the US—emergencies, death, dismemberment—costs $67 a year), I did not have to worry about healthcare costs.

I didn’t do extensive math to make sure I could afford it before going to the doctor. I didn’t wonder if bystanders should call an ambulance when we saw a guy hit by a motorcycle because he might not have coverage (ok so I did but then non-USian friends pointed out that wasn’t an issue there). Just… it’s not a thing. And it really improved my quality of life, not harboring that invisible fear.

Cost of Living

Average consumer prices in Lisbon are around 50% lower than in NYC. Lisbon costs are up to 69% lower when it comes to rent (nice).

Okay, fair enough, you may say, but that’s just because NYC is one of the priciest places anywhere. Good point.

So let’s take Pittsburgh. You know, my hometown where everyone’s been moving because of all those HuffPo articles about how cute and affordable it is (agreed!).

Average consumer prices in Lisbon are still 32% lower than in Pittsburgh. Rent in Lisbon is 26% cheaper on average.

Also, did I mention that I’m freelance, and that writing books does not pay nearly as well as movies about writing books make it seem?

(To my non-publishing peeps: I love you, but please stop saying “JK Rowling!” when I say writers don’t make a lot of money. That’s like me telling you “Some people win the lottery!” if you tell me you need a raise at work.)


This comes up a lot. I don’t know if I should blame hyped-up media shows, clickbait articles, lack of personal experience, or just the fact that unfamiliar elements are generally scarier to humans than known quantities. But whatever drives it, so many people I talked to before I left the US expressed concern for my safety.

After all, America is the First World! Everywhere else is… Scary question marks?? I guess?

I’ve got some bad news for you, America: you are dangerous, too.

In 2016, the US ranked second-highest in the world for number of gun deaths per country. Per capita, we had the 28th-highest rate of deaths by gun violence in 2017, with 4.43 deaths per 100,000 people (that was higher than anywhere in North Africa or the Middle East that year, btw, though a much lower rate some of Central and South America).

I had trouble even finding recent stats for Portugal, but the 2014 data showed 0.2 homicides by firearm per 100,000 people (this isn’t factoring in suicides, but still).

Hell, in the US there are more guns than there are people. Around 120.5 guns for every 100 citizens.

Sure, there are places in the world more dangerous than the US. American citizens are lucky in many ways to be born where we are. But every time I leave home to travel, I inevitably receive a flood of concerned messages about my safety. I get it, worry is normal. But do me a favor and research these places. Actual statistics, not memes some guy named Bob shared to a pro-Confederacy FB group.

Because a lot of times, if you actually look at the data? It’s the other countries who should be scared of US.

Ease of Travel

Not only are inter-European flights wayyy cheaper even than the bargain basement budget flights we have in the States (you can catch international flights for $20 sometimes. What. That’s what I paid to take a NJ Transit train like 1 hour into New York City), but there’s also (GASP) a functional train system. One that’s actually comfortable to ride. Okay, sure, it’s no Japanese bullet-train, but the sleeper cars are a million times comfier than trying to nap on the repurposed bus seats Spirit fills their planes with.

Not to mention, almost all European cities have public transportation. (ILY Pittsburgh, but one train line and a few severely reduced bus routes is NOT SUFFICIENT.) I can be in another country in the time it would take me to drive from one side of PA to the other. Not even gonna get started on how many borders I could cross if I drove a whole Texas-length east.

SO, all of that factored together, and considering the fact that I can do my job from anywhere… I don’t see a good reason to stay in the United States. (Okay, friends and family, but my new plan is to just badger them all into visiting me instead. GET READY EVERYONE I hope you like egg custard tarts and salted cod. We’re gonna eat so much cod.)

As for why Lisbon specifically? That’s got to be a four-way tie between the sunny weather, the great food, the friendly people, and the chance to completely butcher a whole new language!

(Seriously though, this accent is killing me. I don’t think my mouth works that way. … Shut up.)

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