What We Learned: Moving to Our Second Apartment In Porto – In November 2019, my wife and I made the jump to living in Porto, Portugal and have been loving the Portuguese way of life. After spending a few years in Berlin, Germany, we were really excited to move to a place with a more easy-going lifestyle. We first visited Porto as tourists in 2018 and fell in love with the atmosphere of the city. On our return to Berlin, we started gathering ideas for moving to Porto. A year later, we moved to a small beach town called Matosinhos on the outskirts of the city. We got settled there during the first rounds of COVID-19 lockdowns and spent the next two years in the first apartment we moved into.
A Slow Pace and Far From the Fun: Leaving Matosinhos
Matosinhos is well-known in the area for its relaxed vibe and placement directly on the Atlantic Ocean. Even though we really liked the environment of Matosinhos, especially the beaches, we decided it was time for a change.
After two years in Matosinhos, we ultimately found downtown Porto to be a better fit for our lifestyle since we ended up spending more time socializing downtown than we initially expected. The center of the city offers many more options for events and meetups including our very own Expat Empire Porto meetup group. The core of Matosinhos, on the other hand, is a 45-minute metro trip from downtown Porto. This commute once or twice a week started to become a nuisance.
In addition to improving our social lives, we also thought we might have an opportunity to decrease our rent. It may come as a surprise, but the real estate market was even more expensive in Matosinhos than in downtown Porto. This is mostly in part due to its proximity to several great beaches, such as the Matosinhos city beach and the nearby Leça da Palmeira beach.
Even though we thought we would miss the easy access to those beaches, we decided that we would rather live closer to downtown and visit Matosinhos once in a while on the weekends, so we started our search for our next apartment in downtown Porto.
Exploring Porto’s Neighborhoods
We began our search on the website Idealista, which is a real estate website covering both sales and rentals with offices and properties in Portugal, Spain, and Italy. Instead of focusing on the individual apartment, we decided to put emphasis on the particulars of the neighborhoods during our search. The Bonfim parish of central Porto really captured our interest and it came highly recommended by various expats we know in the city. It lies just to the east of the downtown core and sits on a beautiful stretch of the Douro River in the south and continues up to a short walkable distance from downtown to the north. Bonfim is known for its large park spaces, beautiful churches, and vibrant city life, and it was even included in the Guardian’s list of the 10 coolest neighborhoods in Europe.
After a few days of searching, we compiled a list of eight apartments that piqued our interest and reached out to all of them. We quickly heard back from four of them and then scheduled visits to two on the same night. We liked the first apartment quite a bit, and the second apartment was already set to go to another rental applicant the following day, so we decided to consider the first apartment more closely. The price was a bit higher than we had hoped to pay, so we thought it would be worth trying to negotiate. The real estate agent representing the property discussed our offer with the landlord, who eventually agreed to our proposed price. We met the landlord in-person at the apartment the following evening, and after a good discussion, the real estate agent started writing the rental contract the following day. After a week of back and forth on the terms, we all met again at the new apartment to sign the lease, transfer the security deposit, and receive the keys. Things were off to a great start!
Timing is Everything: Planning the Move Across the City
The terms of our lease for our Matosinhos apartment stipulated that we would need to give four months’ notice before moving out in order to receive our security deposit back. Even though it might seem a bit unreasonable, those terms are unfortunately common in Portugal. In total, the entire search process for the new apartment only took about two weeks, but we had an entire four-month period to fill out. We gave our notice in mid-November and moved one month later, so we had another 3 months where we may have had to pay rent for both apartments. Thankfully, the previous landlord was open to us helping to find a new tenant at a higher rent to finish out the contract and managed to do so within about six weeks of us leaving.
During the time between giving our notice and moving to the new apartment, we had to pack all of our belongings, coordinate the logistics of the move, stop utility services at the old apartment while starting services at the new apartment, and file the official change of residence at the local Finanças tax office. With so much to do, we were lucky we still had a few weeks to make the transition!
As for the logistics of the move itself, we did our best to plan our timeline to take every detail into account:
- December 16: The moving company would move all of our stuff from the old flat to the new one.
- December 17: We requested our utilities to be shut off at the old apartment on this date. My wife would stay at the new apartment to receive new appliance deliveries while I went back to the old apartment to oversee the turning off of the utilities as well as the deep cleaning service we had booked to get the apartment in the best possible shape.
- December 18: We had an appointment at the old apartment to hand the keys back to the landlord and officially end our stay there.
- December 20: Our flight to Sicily for the winter holidays was leaving in the early morning.
We had everything planned out so that the move would proceed seamlessly. It was supposed to be an easy move between apartments that were only a 15-minute drive apart. However, as you may have guessed, it didn’t take long for things to start going south.
Miscommunications and Technicalities with Utilities
The switchover of utility services should have been easy to schedule. My electricity and gas company Energias de Portugal (EDP) thankfully had an English customer support line. We agreed that on Friday, December 17th, a technician from EDP would turn off the utilities at the old apartment.
Despite our request for that date, the company’s scheduling system proceeded to make the appointment to turn off our gas as quickly as possible. Without a knock at the door or ring of the doorbell, suddenly our gas was off and the actual gas meter was removed and taken away by the company two weeks early. We tried to get it turned back on by the next week, but when they came back to install the meter again, the technicians found a small gas leak in the new meter’s connection with the pipes and thus could not complete the installation. This meant that we no longer had access to hot water and had to suffer through freezing cold showers in the middle of December for the final two weeks we lived at the old apartment.
Moving Our Things: Broken Trucks and Speed Packing
Whenever we’ve moved countries in the past, we’ve hired people to ship our belongings and help us to find a place to live. This time in Porto, however, I decided not to worry too much about it because we had a good recommendation for a moving company from a friend who had moved around the city multiple times. Without thinking much more about our options, I scheduled the move with the company for Thursday, December 16th.
On the morning of the day before our planned move, our mover messaged me to tell me that the truck he normally uses was having issues and needed to be taken to a mechanic the following day. I felt my stomach drop as I saw our carefully laid plans suddenly go up in smoke. Trying to keep my cool, I told him that he was putting us in a very tough position and asked how he could help us deal with this massive inconvenience. Luckily, he offered to come out that same day with a different smaller truck, but that meant that we went from having 27 hours to finish packing to only around 3 hours. The mad dash to throw everything into boxes began as soon as I hung up the phone.
Even though we had many of our things packed already as we had prepared over the previous few weeks, there was still a lot to do in a very short time. I’m still not quite sure how we pulled it off, but that day ended up going off fairly successfully, all things considered. Unfortunately, he and his colleague could only move about half of our things to the new apartment that afternoon, which meant that we had to find yet another solution for the following day. Following several unsuccessful calls to moving companies around Porto that told us they were already fully booked through the rest of the year, we got the good news that the mover had some other contacts in the industry who could come the next morning to transport the rest of the items. We were finally moved out of the old apartment by the night of the 16th, ultimately keeping us on schedule.
The rest of the plans proceeded fairly smoothly. We dealt with the remainder of the utility issues, cleaned up the old apartment, and handed the keys over to the landlord. By the time our flight to Sicily came around, we were thoroughly exhausted but pleased to be officially moved into our new apartment. We had gone from not intending to leave the Matosinhos area in early November to being completely moved into a new apartment in downtown Porto by mid-December. It was a whirlwind process with its fair share of miscommunication and frustration, but we’re very glad that we did it and are much happier in the new apartment!
What We Learned from Our Porto Moving Experience
I used professional moving companies several times before while relocating to different countries. However, when I moved within the metropolitan area of Porto in 2021, I thought I could get the job done without working with professionals. I was wrong. It’s clear that everything would have proceeded much more smoothly if I had hired professional relocation services to coordinate our move from suburban Matosinhos to downtown Porto.
Furthermore, dealing with utility companies is always a huge hassle even if you’re a native speaker of the language. Assuming that you can even find someone to communicate with in a common language, any minor communication mishap can snowball into a situation where you have to spend two weeks taking ice-cold showers in December.
To help you avoid unnecessary hassles and headaches, we have built a strong network of partners in Portugal and around the world and we would love to connect you with them before, during, or even after your move abroad. I started Expat Empire in 2018 to help people around the world realize their dreams of moving abroad. Aside from our blog posts, books, and podcasts, Expat Empire offers multiple expert consulting services that will be personalized to your specific situation. If you’ve thought about making your own move abroad, now is the time to reach out. To get started, schedule your free consulting call to find out what we can do for you!