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Kim Van Craeynest, Porto, Portugal

Who are you?

My name is Kim, a 43-year-old Belgian mum of 3 energetic kids who have each been born in a different country.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

After completing my Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality in Belgium, I wanted to experience, at least once, what it would be like to live and work abroad. So, at 22 years old, I moved to Atlanta, GA, in the United States, to work at a Hilton hotel on a J1 visa for 18 months.

After that incredible experience, in 2004, I decided to take on another challenge and moved to Dubai to be part of the pre-opening team of Madinat Jumeirah Hotel.

It was there where I met my husband who was a restaurant manager at the same hotel, and a year later we decided to move to London together. We both continued in the London hotel industry for several years until it was time to start a family.

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I decided to move into the corporate world because of the better hours and in 2009 our son was born. When our little one was 5 months old, my husband accepted an opportunity in Nassau, in the Bahamas, and the three of us lived there for 2 and a half years.

After this Caribbean adventure, we moved to Abu Dhabi, where my daughter was born and we stayed there for 3 and a half years, until my husband was transferred again, this time to Doha in Qatar. Our adventure there lasted 4 years and we added our last child to the gang.

In 2018, we exchanged the Middle Eastern heat for the snow and moved to the ski resort Whistler in Canada. This chapter lasted 2 years, until we became casualties of Covid and decided that it might be time to return to Europe after 20 years of living abroad.

The choice between Belgium and Portugal was a very easy one for me to make, due to the lifestyle and climate, so we packed up our lives for the “last” time and moved to Porto. We have been here almost 3 years now and the family is settled and happy.

What challenges did you face during the move?

I have 8 moves under my belt, with and without children, so the challenges vary a lot. Moving makes you step out of your comfort zone and forces you to re-invent yourself. This is both exciting and scary especially as a trailing spouse, which I have been for many years.

Setting up life all over again, figuring out everything in a new location, without any help (as friends and family don’t move with you), can be daunting. And for a social creature like myself, the isolation and not having ‘a tribe’ to fall back on, was always the hardest part for me. Mom-dating is no fun!

Did you need to obtain a visa, residency permit or work permit? What was the process like?

In most locations (except for London) we did need a visa, which was always organized by the employer of my husband. The process was always pretty smooth I must say. It’s the things that need to be done once there, that take more time, such as obtaining a driver’s license, the kids’ IDs, etc…

How does the cost of living compare with your previous country?

This varies a lot as I have lived in various places… Dubai back in 2004 was still very affordable and not as expensive as now (obviously what was on offer then was a whole different thing !).

London is expensive as everyone is aware. Nassau can also be expensive as it’s aimed at wealthy tourists. Abu Dhabi and Doha were very reasonable and you could spend as much or as little as you wanted…There is something for every budget.

In Whistler, which is a world renown ski resort, the cost of living was obviously a whole lot more expensive, hence why many people choose to live 30-40 min away in the neighboring towns. And last but not least: Porto is very affordable and is growing quickly. It is still cheaper than the capital Lisbon, but I predict big changes in the next 5-10 years.

Is it easy to open and use an account with a local bank?

In all locations I must say it is. Some you can do it yourself and in other locations it’s just easier to hire someone to assist you with that hassle.

How did you find somewhere to live?

Mostly, short-term accommodation had been arranged through my husband’s employer, which gave us ample time to find our new home. The location of this would always depend on the school we chose, which was priority number one every time we moved. Because happy kids = happy parents.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Most of the places we’ve lived in have been expat locations, and this usually makes it easier to connect with people, as you are in the same boat and can relate more easily(far away from familiar faces and places).

Our current home, Porto, is not an expat location, so this change was new to me and made the move a bit more challenging, especially during the first year. The locals are very friendly, but have their social circle set up already and first want to understand if you are here to stay before they invest in a new friendship.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

In the Middle East it is harder to connect with the locals, but in the UAE they are more open to expats than in Doha, at least in my personal experience, also this was going back a few years.

Nassau was harder, as it’s a very touristic island, and locals are used to seeing lots of people pass through. In Whistler it was easier and in Porto it took about a year to really connect on a deeper level than just “hello”…which is normal as it’s not an expat location (yet).

What do you like about life where you are?

I have been in Porto for almost 3 years and the lifestyle is great! After having tasted a few parts of the world, for me this city/country has it all: The city and beach within 20min from each other, amazing food and wine, extremely friendly and helpful people, safety (which is of course super important for a family with young children), easy access to the rest of Europe and abroad… and yes, even the climate!

In Porto we do have rain during fall and winter, but that’s why we have lots of greenery as well. It is worth it, as we get amazing weather in exchange for 7 months!

What do you dislike about your expat life?

The hardest part of expat life is having to miss out on lots of family events and occasions… We do keep in touch via whatsapp and Facebook, but it is not the same.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

This one can go in many different directions of course, because the Caribbean is very different from the Middle East and miles apart from Europe…

The biggest cultural difference with the Caribbean is being the minority as a white family. This has been a very unique and humbling experience, as the white population is often looked at taking away the jobs of the locals.

Also, living on an island is definitely very different and challenging, especially when it comes to availability and therefore cost of products. The Bahamian population is very pleasant and joyful to live with though.

In the Middle East, the locals are in the minority (80% of the population are expats) so that is very different. Of course, being in a Muslim country, there is the adjustment to rules when outside of your home/compound and during prayer time. Doha is more conservative than Abu Dhabi in just about everything when it comes to daily life.

Canada was an amazing experience mainly due to the incredible mind-blowing nature! Culturally, the Canadians are very friendly and extremely polite, but it is hard to get to know them on a deeper level as they are quite reserved.

And in Porto, the cultural difference would be the least marked compared to my own Belgian culture, even though there are southern ways of doing things, meaning a slower pace of life and business.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

If you are even considering making a move to another country, my advice would be to just do it! We only regret the things we didn’t do and I really believe in that. Age is just a number and even if you have a family it is not impossible, if you really want it.

The life experience you get from moving abroad, exposure to new cultures and languages, it is truly priceless. BUT do find someone who can help you through the maze of things to organize. This makes a world of difference for your experience and be prepared for bumps in the road. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

What are your plans for the future?

I have actually just started my own little company called Porto.withkim, doing what I love the most: helping other expat families move to Porto and assist them with personalized care, from the moment they decide to make the move, until the moment they move into their new home(and beyond!)

Many foreigners are discovering the benefits of living in Porto/Portugal and I am here to help reduce the stress during the process of relocating. I look forward to helping many more families!

To find out more about Kim’s expat experience, you can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.