Recent American immigrant to Portugal Kelly Hayes-Raitt shares her tips for house sitting in Lisbon as a way to explore her new home town.
19 Practical Tips for Successful House Sitting in Lisbon
By Kelly Hayes-Raitt
18 months ago, I moved to Lisbon! I had an unfurnished flat, an air mattress, a cork screw and a wine glass. House sitting in Lisbon helped me get my bearings (and my furnishings!) when I first arrived.
Before that, I house sat when I applied for my visa and searched for an apartment. Now that I’m “settled,” I continue house sitting in Lisbon as a way of exploring new neighborhoods, making new friends and getting my fur-fix!
My top tips for House Sitting in Lisbon
1. Some neighborhoods are more international than others, so the number of people who speak Portuguese varies throughout the city. While most conversations can happen with gestures, smiles and rudimentary English, a few Portuguese phrases can really help when house sitting in Lisbon! Bom dia, boa tarde, obrigada (or obrigado if you are male), disculpe (pronounced dish-cool-pah – “excuse me”) are great starters.
2. Beware of other dogs, especially those off-lead. While Lisbon is a very pet-friendly city (I even spotted a man walking his pet pig!), some Portuguese dog owners are not big disciplinarians. And they’re not always diligent about scooping poop. When out walking, keep your wits about you.
3. Take your pet to dinner. Seriously! Most restaurants allow leashed, well-behaved dogs to hang out under the tables. (I haven’t yet sussed out the rules for leashed pigs.)
While house sitting in Lisbon, it’s easy to get around
4. Buy a Viva Viagem transportation card. It costs only half a euro and can be recharged at any Metro station. It’s good for traveling on the clean, easy-to-navigate Metro, the buses and the trams – including the iconic #28 tram.
5. Wear flat shoes with lots of traction. The cobblestones are really slippery – even when dry. And if a dog is pulling on a lead, the uneven surfaces can be even more treacherous.
6. Download Bolt and/or Uber before house sitting in Lisbon. Both are ride apps that are very affordable. Most rides throughout the city will be under 5 euro, regardless of the number of people riding. Some rides are dog-friendly!
Get connected to make house sitting in Lisbon easier!
7. Create a What’s App account. It’s free and incredibly easy to use. Chances are, your homeowners will use this to contact you while you are house sitting in Lisbon.
Be aware that although texting is a thing, Portuguese people tend not to respond to a text unless they have definitive news. So, for example, they won’t text you if they are running late until they know when they will be there.
I was once standing outside a vacation rental frantically texting the manager who didn’t respond to my texts – for an hour! He wasn’t rude, it’s just a cultural holdover from the days when people had to pay for every text.
8. Turn off WiFi when out and about and use your data. Lisbon has crappy city-wide WiFi that your phone will automatically connect to. This will interfere with your ability to connect to Google Maps, Bolt/Uber, your translating app and What’s App.
9. Take care crossing busy streets. Lisbon drivers are maniacs. They are supposed to stop at zebra-striped crossings, but may not. They speed and hit the brakes fast. It’s unnerving. Keep a tight hold of your dog(s).
But when not behind the wheel, Lisboetas are incredibly friendly and helpful. More than once, a person has come from behind his/her counter to walk me down the street to point out where I could buy something they didn’t carry.
More practical suggestions for house sitting in Lisbon
10. Take a number! If you go to a grocery counter, bank, pharmacy, or some bakeries or coffee shops, you will need to take a number from a ticket dispenser or punch in on an LED board. It’s nearly impossible to get help without doing so. Queuing isn’t enough. I suspect this is a holdover from the anti-corruption efforts: Bribes won’t get faster service.
11. Expect a paper receipt for everything. (See note above about fighting corruption.) When buying something, you may get asked for your “NIF.” It’s a national ID number that gets noted for every transaction. Just shake your head and say, não. (It’s a very nasal sound, kind of like “meow.”)
12. Don’t buy a lot of euro ahead of time. It’s expensive! Credit cards are used everywhere (except smaller restaurants and many quiosques – the little burger and beverage places in the jardims).
Even the Metro terminals take credit cards. And if you are using a ride-share service like Bolt or Uber, the transaction is cashless and automatically charged to your credit card.
13. If you decide to withdraw euro using your home bank card, be sure to use a Portuguese bank’s ATM (Millennium, Activo, etc). There are rogue ATMs here that skim your personal info or charge ridiculous fees.
And not all ATMs dispense cash – some are repositories for payments. If levantamentos doesn’t appear as an option, you can’t withdraw cash.
Also, if the screen asks if you want them to do the rate conversion, hit não. In general, never let anyone other than your own bank or credit card company compute your rate conversion and always choose to pay in the local currency if given a choice (on a credit card terminal, for example).
Sightseeing while house sitting in Lisbon
14. Eat early! Restaurants (not cafeterias and breakfast places) open at noon, but close at 3:00. They generally reopen at 7:00 pm.
15. Take a walking tour. There are many great food tours (that usually involve wine!) that explain Portugal’s love affair with sardines, bacalhau (cod and the zillion ways it’s prepared) and pastel de nata (the decadent custard tarts).
But the tour that always moves me is Rui Fernandes’s half-day tour on the history of Lisbon’s slave trade.
16. Enjoy the many museums. Most of Lisbon’s museums can be explored during an hour-long tour, making it a great city for house sitting! I particularly love the Berardo Museu Arte Deco, which houses one of the world’s leading art deco collections, and the Casa Fernando Pessoa, where Portugal’s famous multi-personality writer lived.
Pessoa created more than a hundred alter-egos – complete with astrological charts! – whose names he wrote under.
Lisbon is very neighborhood oriented
17. Get to know your pet owner’s veterinarian. Vets are very neighborhood-oriented and are extremely caring and affordable. You will likely run into your neighborhood vet while out dog-walking.
18. Explore the parks and miradouros (lookout points). Lisbon boasts a lot of green spaces and parks that are generally dog-friendly. Dogs are required to be leashed, but you’ll see many dogs running free. Unless you are in a specific fenced-off dog area (of which there are many!) where dogs are allowed off-lead, keep your charge tethered.
Portuguese dog owners are not always the best dog trainers, unfortunately.
19. Get to know your neighborhood. Lisbon is comprised of many adjacent neighborhoods that each have their own unique character. Check out fliers posted at the local quiosque for information about concerts, outdoor yoga classes, dance lessons and more! Or just hang out and people-watch. House sitting in Lisbon offers many different experiences!
One of my local jardims, Jardim da Estrela, changes character throughout the day. During my morning dog-walk, it’s all about outdoor exercising: yoga classes, kickboxing lessons, joggers. The afternoon gives way to more leisurely pursuits: card games, long lunches, sunbathing. Evenings find the after-work happy hour crowd enjoying wine picnics.
There is so much to see, do and eat (!) here, that if you find yourself house sitting in Lisbon, you, too, might end up relocating!
Kelly Hayes-Raitt can’t stop pinching herself to confirm she really is living in Portugal. And she can’t stop house sitting in Lisbon!
After 12 years of full-time international house sitting, she wrote How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the Housesit Diva.
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