House Sitting Helped Me Retire in Portugal

12 Apr, 2023

House Sitting Helped Me Retire in Portugal

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When Kelly Hayes-Raitt, veteran housesitter, hung up her full-time house sitting hat, she decided to retire in Portugal. Here’s how house sitting helped her relocation. Want to retire in Portugal, then read on…

How housesitting helped me retire in Portugal

By Kelly Hayes-Raitt

I house sat while I decided to retire in Portugal.
“I’m curious: Why retire in Portugal?” asked a cat Kelly house sat for in Óbidos while searching for her new home. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

While house sitting helped me decide to retire in Portugal, it’s a great way to help anyone decide where to relocate. House sitting allows you to discover what it’s really like to live in a new neighborhood, city or country by experiencing first-hand the noise, safety, shopping, transportation, bureaucracy, logistics, language barriers, etc.

But I didn’t have that opportunity, as I was planning to relocate in 2020! I had intended to spend that summer house sitting throughout Europe to “interview” potential new cities. I love European cities and the idea of hopping a train and being in another country – another culture, another cuisine – in a few hours always excited me.

Pandemic Grounded Me

As those house sits evaporated, I spent the summer hunkered down at a house sit in Edinburgh, researching cities from a comfy chair instead of on the ground. I took several virtual tours of my short-listed cities via Heygo, a new platform that provides guides of walking tours with eager, real-time, on-line, audiences.

Lisbon was a fast favorite and I took several tours with Inês Valencia and got to see what the streets looked like, what the weather was like, how accessible cafes and restaurants were.

I could ask Inês questions in the chat that she responded to on-the-spot. Through her, I had my first “feel” of Lisbon.

(Two years later, when I’d just relocated to Lisbon and was house sitting in another neighborhood, I ran into Inês! I later house sat for her sweet puppy and kitty.)

I Decided to Retire in Portugal

This is why I decided to retire in Portugal!
The view from Kelly’s new flat in Lisbon. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Portugal ticked all my boxes: It’s one of the safest countries in the world and (relatively) incorrupt, a factor that rose in importance after the home I cared for in Mexico was burgled and ransacked. (One police officer stole a ring the burglars had dropped.)

Quality of life

Portugal has a decent health care system, high literacy rate, and (relatively) progressive politics. The country’s compassionate drug policies are being replicated throughout the world.

How much money do you need to retire in Portugal?

Now that I’d chosen to retire in Portugal, I had to secure housing before I could be issued the visa that would allow me to live here. The government wants to ensure that newcomers won’t burden the state, so I needed a year’s lease, a funded bank account, health insurance and proof of adequate income.

Where is the best place to retire in Portugal?

When looking for towns to settle in Portugal I decided was keen on Lisbon. So I accepted a house sit in Óbidos, a charming walled village an hour north of the capital. Between spoiling three kitties, I ventured into Lisbon and secured my new apartment with a jaw-dropping view of the Rio Tejo, 25 de Abril Bridge and the iconic Cristo Rei Statue.

Back to the States

Lease in hand, I headed back to the U.S. to apply for an extended visitor’s visa – my first step on the “retire in Portugal” road. But, after 12 years of full-time international house sitting, I had no home to go back to! So, I house sat – first in Oakland, and then in Berkeley while waiting for my appointment with representatives of the Portuguese consulate in San Francisco.

Can a US citizen retire to Portugal?

After the appointment, while waiting for the visa to be issued, I bounced around the U.S., house sitting in Chicago and visiting friends in Cincinnati, Baltimore and Tampa.

After nearly 3 months, with my passport and visa (which had arrived just the day before my flight!) in hand, I boarded my flight to finally retire in Portugal!

“All that to move to Portugal? That’s exhausting!” echoed a kitty Kelly pampered while waiting for her visa to Portugal. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

House Sitting Helped Me Settle In

I arrived jet-lagged after 24 hours of traveling. My new flat was equipped with a few things I’d bought during a previous trip – a blow-up mattress, a knife and a fork I’d been given with a take-away meal, a corkscrew and a wine glass – and a few second-hand things I’d flown with from the States – a pillow, a bedsheet and 2 towels.

Never a dull moment

After the nail-biting scramble for my visa and passport, I couldn’t just sink into my new life, though. I had a flat to furnish from scratch.

Settling in took time

It was stressful and exhausting. Everything was a mental negotiation: converting inches to centimeters, Dollars to Euros, English to Portuguese. But once I had the inspiration to house sit locally, I began to breathe.

I landed a lovely house sit in a nearby neighborhood pampering a wonderful pooch and kitty, enjoying Netflix at night and coffee in a real cup in the morning. This gave me an opportunity to shop for furniture more thoughtfully instead of in the panic state I’d been in.

Furnishing a new home

I decided to buy all my furniture on Facebook Marketplace – easier on the planet and on my wallet. Although it took a lot more time to furnish my small flat, every single piece has its own story! I decided to continue house sitting around Lisbon, which gives me a chance to explore different neighborhoods as well as meet new human friends in my new city.

House Sitting While “Retired” in Portugal

The Basílica da Estrela from Kelly’s balcony during her first New Year’s Eve. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Four months after my arrival, I had my appointment with Portugal’s border control agency to secure my 2-year temporary residency permit. But that appointment was scheduled in Braga, a 4-hour bus ride north of Lisbon. While there, I met a lovely group of women (all of whom retired in Portugal) who invited me back to house sit for them, allowing me to get to know them and their sweet town better.

Learning the language

I’m taking Portuguese language lessons now, but I look forward to exploring more of this diverse country by house sitting once classes are over.

First anniversary

April 20th marks my first year of relocating to Lisbon.  While there have been moments of overwhelm – and a few of sheer panic! – this has been one of the best years of my life. I’m so grateful house sitting helped me realize my dream to retire in Portugal!


Now (nearly) settled in Lisbon, Kelly Hayes-Raitt is coming out of retirement by editing books, writing blogs and raising funds for a non-profit organization that builds small-scale biodigestors in rural communities throughout the world.

She is the author of How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva.

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Further reading on housesitting for housesitters

At we like to share useful blogs and practical advice about housesitters, housesitting and pet sitting. We hope you find this small selection of our blogs on house sitters and house sitting in London useful.

How to travel on a budget

Solo travel – Housesitting is a safer option

Cat sitting tourist sees London for free

What a housesitter does – Top 10 responsibilities

What is House Sitting?

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Kelly Hayes-Raitt

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