After 2 years of expat life in Lisbon, Jessica has seen a huge change, the type that only truly happens when you take big leaps like moving abroad. Packing up her life in the UK, she landed ready for a new chapter in Portugal, carrying with her a love for art and creativity. Lisbon, a favorite Black expat location, offered Jessica plenty of new lessons and adventure. Expat life is a special type of life, truly for the brave-hearted.
Navigating new friendships, languages, cultures and a pandemic that seemed to be ending, life shifted for this expat. Jessica tells Travel Noire the everyday realities of being in this vibrant and coveted city. Find out how two years in Lisbon have changed Jessica’s life and notions of belonging.
Tell us about yourself
I’m Jessica, I’m British with Jamaican heritage and I’ve been living in Portugal for the last two years.
What led you to choosing Lisbon to begin with?
I’ve visited Portugal every year since first coming in 2015, I had the chance to connect with other Portuguese students my age who became friends. It was amazing to have the chance to build relationships before deciding to move! In 2020, during that quiet summer period when we all thought the pandemic was over…. I had the chance to move to Lisbon for work and I jumped at the chance. The timing worked out impeccably because I was able to get everything sorted before Brexit which made the process of living and working here much easier.
What would you say was the key difference between your first and second year?
Covid is definitely the biggest difference. My first year was quite isolating and inward focused -it became a significant time for me personally and spiritually to grow and learn. There were many challenges, from studying Portuguese, trying to establish new friendships to connecting with the arts and creative scene in Lisbon.
Now, almost at the end of my second year, it feels like Lisbon is coming alive again and it’s wonderful to experience. My social network has changed so much. I’ve been able to connect with many artists and found a community of other black women, both Portuguese and international, which has been a significant factor in feeling more at home here.
What are your favorite ways to unwind and to meet people in the city?
Compared to my experience living in the UK, I feel like there is so much life and energy after the working day and people are still quite social during the week. I enjoy wandering in Lisboa’s many public parks to grab a snack from the Quiosques (small bars) or going for walks with friends along the river or by the ocean somewhere along the Cascais train line. There’s always a free event happening somewhere if you’re willing to wander and find it.
What have you learnt about finding accommodation in Lisbon?
This is honestly a struggle at the moment! I’ve been fortunate to find accommodation through friends throughout all my time living here, but with so much attention on Portugal and Lisbon specifically for short term travel and remote working, the market is being flooded. Expats have significantly more buying power than the average Portuguese citizen and it’s changing the shape of Lisbon. There are some more mainstream websites people use towards their housing search, but I’ve had a lot of positive stories from people who use Facebook groups to find accommodation – both for long term and for short stays.
Santos and Lapa have become somewhat ‘expat hotspots’ and the area has developed with vendors who cater to this clientele, from brunch spots to specialty cafes. The Green Line of the metro from Martim Moniz to Alameda is known for being more diverse and is becoming popular for long-term rental or even Airbnb accommodation. Looming above, alongside the hills of Castilo São Jorge, is an area called Graça, with great views of all Lisbon from various mirador points and plenty of bars and small galleries lining its back streets. It’s also popular to visit for a day or a short-stay visit.
What surprised you most about being an expat in Lisbon?
I’ve been surprised by some of the challenges, from integrating into the community to housing and language adjustment. I’ve also been surprised by the amazing creative energy in the city. I’m still understanding the lay of the land here creatively, but from what I’ve experienced so far, in the lack of a centralized funding system, there are small pockets of self-led organizing, creative collaboration and activity.
Keep updated with Jessica’s expat story on Instagram.