The Americans are coming!

I remember that, nearly six years ago, a very small group of American expats met at the Pingo Doce coffee shop in Lagos in a simple effort to meet other Americans. I, for one, would have preferred meeting for drinks much later in the day, but I was desperate.

Living in Faro at the time, my lovely wife and I had not encountered a single American during our first few months in the country. I had even written to an expat blog enquiring if there were any Americans living in the Faro area. I received only one reply and the kind person reported that he knew of two Americans in Faro, but one’s “business failed and he moved away, and the other one had died”. Not promising.

So, I was thrilled to somehow be included in the gathering, which was organised by Frank de Sousa Loureiro, actually a Portuguese dual citizen who had lived and worked in the States for many years. Frank mentioned to me recently that the basic purpose of that meeting was because he “could not find any Americans”. Exactly.

The other attendees included Paul Hansefus, who has gone on to organise a very successful annual Thanksgiving Dinner; Kiki Bridges, a popular face on Facebook, and Melanie Valenzuela, an event planner who organised a happy hour in the following weeks at a bar in Praia da Rocha that was attended by approximately a half dozen newly-arrived Americans including Mike Wasinski and Frank Remiatte.

My regular reader and a few other immigrants from the States, now residing in the Algarve, can see where this is going – this small, select gang went on to form the influential expat group known as ALITA, Americans Living in the Algarve. The two Franks and Mike were the original administrators of the Facebook forum, which offered plenty of advice to newcomers and, with Melanie’s help, organised several get-togethers until things slowed down considerably due to the pandemic.

My point is that there are now over 2,000 official ALITA members, with de Sousa, who is an excellent source of accurate information, being very strict as to who qualifies.

Wasinski and Remiatte are still active but also quite involved with The Algarveans Experimental Theatre Group, with Frank serving as co-director of the comic musical ‘Nunsense’, which had a successful run recently. The guys Mike and Frank also host a fun evening of karaoke every Friday at the Taberna do Sul in Praia da Rocha as well as informal happy hours for Portimão expats along the beach. All these activities are open to everyone but of particular interest to Americans seeking contacts in their new country of residence.

If you think 2,000 from a bit over a half dozen is extreme growth, you should talk to Susan Korthase, the generous administrator of the other leading expat forum known as Americans and Friends in Portugal, which is a research group that covers the entire country including the Algarve.

In its fifth year, A&F is now at 24,000, 10,000 of which are “friends” from all over the world, from the UK to such far-flung countries as Turkey and Japan and even a few Canadians.

Being a member of either group doesn’t mean that everybody has already moved to the edge of the Iberian Peninsula. According to Korthase and a CNBC report, there are approximately 6,000 Americans now in Portugal, which is still one of the smallest nationalities represented.

An important hint to the successful use of the Americans and Friends site is to consult the extensive files available. These files will help not only newcomers, but veteran residents and “would-bes” alike with almost any question they can come up with no matter how creative.

According to the 2020 annual report from SEF, the Portuguese Foreigners and Border Service, there were 4,768 Americans living in Portugal, which was an increase of 1,115 over 2019 and almost double the number of 2,705 in 2016, the year ol’Pat arrived.

However, that same report showed that in 2020 there were 46,238 from Brazil; 36,609 from the UK; even 30,052 from relatively small Cabo Verde; 28,628 from Romania (a population that seems to find learning Portuguese relatively easy, at least compared to the rest of us); 28,158 from the Ukraine in more peaceful times; 26,074 surprisingly from Italy; and even 24,550 from China.

If you look specifically at the Faro district, for example, which is where I live and at one point couldn’t even find signs of Americans, we’re still not having that much impact. While all foreign residents in Faro are up by 11.6%, the real numbers show that the American total of 638 newbies are not even in the top 10 nationalities. Even Nepal, with 2,706 new arrivals, is way ahead, with the UK at 23,027 and Brazil at 15,878 leading the way.

One interesting trend that Korthase noticed is that a large and growing number of immigrants do not fit into the retirement bubble. In the last couple of years, the total number of immigrants aged 30 to 45 is four times greater than the over 60s group.

These digital nomads, entrepreneurs, artists and young families seem to be seeking a European experience with the potential of travel, working digitally, founding new businesses and attending international schools. Some also seem to be escaping what they consider a negative and divisive political climate and rather seeking a safer environment with much less gun violence.

Another interesting stat, that I’m not sure what to make of, is that during 2020-21 only 86 Golden Visas were granted to US citizens as compared to 479 for folks from China. Yet another footnote is that the total population of Portugal is actually declining – not much but 10,196,709 in 2020 with slightly fewer at 10,167,507 in 2021.

Also, according to good ol’Susan, we lose about 100 a year who return to the States for a variety of reasons including health and family issues, but also because of problems adapting to cultural differences including the language, pace of life and availability of familiar products and services.

So yes, there are plenty more Americans coming to experience 300 days of sunshine a year (just not recently), but the overall percentage is still quite small out of a total foreign population of approximately 662,000.

Ol’Pat still believes that there will be a notable increase in the number of Americans flocking to Portugal; maybe not a tidal wave but a stronger and stronger influx due to the fact that there is a pent-up demand that was caused by the travel restrictions of recent years and a continued growing awareness brought on by lots of positive publicity with Portugal topping almost every list of top destinations and desirable places to retire.

Your pal, Pat, the expat, is happy to hear from any readers. Suggestions and story ideas are always appreciated. I’m particularly interested in hearing from that very small but growing group of people in the Faro area. Maybe we could organise a get-together. We tried pre-pandemic without much success. Let’s give it another try. Please let me know at [email protected]

By Pat the Expat
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For the previous 10 years, Pat lived in Panama which used to be rated above Portugal as a top retirement destination (but not any more), where he wrote a column for a tourist publication.