Former Bermuda residents enjoy cheaper living in the Azores
In October, having spent 18 years here, Mark and Tricia Walters packed up their belongings and moved to the Azores with their two cats, Cocoa Bean and Freya.
Although they loved Bermuda it was “getting ridiculously expensive” and so while on holiday in the Portuguese archipelago last May, they started searching.
Within days Mrs Walters, a South African artist, and Mr Walters, an IT professional from the UK, found their dream home – an isolated two-bedroom farmhouse on the island of Faial.
“Over the last few years Mark and I had talked about where we would go if we left Bermuda,” said Mrs Walters.
The pair didn’t want to live in England and, because of its “crime and ongoing violence” South Africa was not an option. They visited Central America, Mexico and parts of the Caribbean but none were a good fit for them.
“When we heard our Portuguese friends in Bermuda talk about their home, the Azores, we decided to come see for ourselves,” she said. “We'd been to Madeira a few years ago and expected something similar, but it was so much better than we could have dreamt.”
They first went to Sao Miguel but after a week decided it was “too big and had too many people”.
“It was also not as rural as we liked,” Mrs Walters said. “You can imagine living in Bermuda, which is only 22 square miles, we did want something bigger with less people. It's nice to look out of the window and NOT see another house.”
Faial, an approximately 67-square-mile island in the centre of the Azores with a population of about 15,000, struck their fancy.
“It's one of the more western islands. We picked it because it sounded like it had everything we were looking for. We were right. Within three days of landing in Faial we saw a house and before going to bed that night we had bought it.”
Having the financing in place made the transaction easier. The couple was fortunate to find a realtor who had emigrated there from another part of Europe five years prior. He gave legal advice and helped them open their banking and other necessary accounts.
“But honestly, I did a lot of research online,” Mrs Walters said. “There were a few hoops we had to jump through when we got here. Mark is British so it was no problem for him to get a [permanent residency] permit.
“I'm South African so it was a bit of a battle working with immigration to get all the necessary documentation, but I have [mine] now. It's valid for five years and then we can both apply for Portuguese citizenship, which is something I definitely want to do.”
Five months after their first visit they were unpacking in their new home with their cats, which flew with them having met the island’s requirements: rabies shots, ID chips and an assortment of forms documented by their Bermuda vet.
Most missed so far are friends, and “the beautiful beaches” they left behind.
“But I'll be honest, the Azores are less expensive so that makes up for it,” Mrs Walters said.
Their brand new Toyota Yaris cost $16,564.81; they pay $46.14 to fill it with fuel. A bimonthly grocery shop that includes meat comes in under $215; a “nice” bottle of wine sets them back $3.55 and a latte costs 75 cents.
Every resident is given a number ID that entitles them to inexpensive healthcare. A visit to the Emergency Room incurs a $5.91 fee no matter what is done.
Internet service, which runs at 200 Mbps, costs $70.99 each month and includes more than 300 TV channels with subtitles, and two mobile phones with unlimited calls.
It’s all a bonus for Mr Walters, who works part-time and “chuckles” about the difference in what the two islands offer.
Language has been the only real hiccup so far.
“You don't realise there's a difference between mainland Portuguese and Azorean Portuguese until you get here,” said Mrs Walters, who speaks English and Afrikaans and understands German. “I took a few lessons online before flying here, but it was a total waste of time; the pronunciation of certain words ties your lips in a knot.
“I've picked up a bit just living here. You have to immerse yourself in the language and cultural experience. I did buy a book and the locals taught me the right pronunciation but Portuguese is honestly a language all on its own. They speak so fast and to the naked ear it all sounds like ‘mish mish mish’.”
Although yet to meet anyone with a Bermuda connection she is confident of it happening as Faial is a huge stopping point for sailors crossing the Atlantic.
“I’ve been told there is a couple in the city of Horta who lived on their boat in Bermuda for years,” Mrs Walters said. “Every so often you hear of someone who has family in Bermuda. Chances are when Covid restrictions lift a bit, more and more boats from Bermuda will make their way into our harbour. There's a restaurant/pub called Peter's Sport Cafe where everyone coming in on a boat hangs out. You can hear languages there from all over the world. If I sit there long enough in the summer, I'm sure to hear that distinctive Bermuda accent.”
Her hope is to get back into her art with a workshop and studio she plans to open in January in a barn on their property.
Vaca Pintada – painted cow in Portuguese – will offer art and craft workshops to locals and visitors.
“[It will also serve as] a walk-in experience for anyone wanting to try their hand at something be it painting, making jewellery, papier-mâché, block printing, pottery … we'll have it all,” Mrs Walters said.
“I've found over the years a lot of people wanted to try painting but were afraid they wouldn't be any good and didn't want to invest in the paint, canvases and equipment only to end up stuck with it all. I'm giving them the venue to do just that – try it!”
Her advice to anyone considering moving to the Azores and finding a job: make sure you have a healthy bank balance.
"We've heard horror stories of people moving here with just enough money to buy a house and get settled,“ she said. ”They expect to find a job right away and live happily ever after.
“You can retire here and, like Mark, you can work part-time from home but unless you are fluent in Portuguese and have links to the island it's not easy finding work.”
Many of the expats in Faial are semi-retired tradesmen who have benefited because the island has a shortage of carpenters and masons, Mrs Walters added.
“My next advice is to visit the island first and find a home. You can purchase a two- bedroom farm property like ours with a fair bit of land for under $110,000 on the smaller islands.”
Taxes also need to be considered, she warned.
“Research online what you are expected to pay towards social security and taxes for your income bracket if you continue to work.”
Research is also essential in determining which of the nine islands is the best fit for you.
Said Mrs Walters: “Sao Miguel is more cosmopolitan with Ponta Delgada offering museums, art galleries and theatres, while smaller islands like Faial or Flores, are more rural with stunning nature hikes, rolling green farmlands and beaches.”