EFAM | Escape From America Magazine

The Azores of Portugal: Expat Paradise Off the Beaten Path

Perfection does exist in retirement without any lifestyle compromise. This perfection is found in the Azores. My name is Casey Hartnett and I had been searching over the last five years for the perfect island retirement location. My search took me through Asia, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and of course, the United States. My grading criteria were extremely harsh and no place could come close to passing the comprehensive final. There were good characteristics of each country I visited but not enough that could justify a permanent residence.The cost of living could be low but the crime was terrible, or the crime was low but the heat was unbearable, etc. Nothing had it all, that is, until I stumbled upon the Azores.

One of the gorgeous views at Lago Do Fogo.

The Azores is a group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic made up of nine islands situated an hour and a half flight fromLisbon and about a five-hour flight from Boston.The Azores hasa subtropical climate that enjoys pleasant temperatures all year round with mild wintersof temperatures in the 60s and warm summers in the 70s.The islands are one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal,which have one of the lowest tax rates in Europe and incredible incentives for foreigners to start businesses.  The islands can best be described to Americans or Canadians as the Hawaii of the Atlantic, unspoiled by commercialism, at 1/10 of the price with more beauty, abundance, and quality of life.  Each island has its own unique characteristics.Flores is covered in flowers and waterfalls, Sao Miguel & Sao Jorgehavelush jungles and indescribable natural wonders, Pico is a meeting spot for whales all over the world and has one of the tallest mountains in the world measured from base to peak.

The sub-tropical climate offers pleasant temperatures all year round.

Upon researching & critiquing everything I could find on the Azores, it was perfect on paper.  Not only did it pass the final but with extra credit.  The weather, the culture, cost of living, real estate, nightlife, gastronomy, infrastructure, low cost of health insurance, organic and fresh food, stable economy, ancient architecture, bilingual population, championship surfing, hiking, mountain biking, whale watching, scuba diving, sailing, kite surfing, and paragliding, just to name a few activities andcharacteristics are all world class.  Not to mention it is the center of the developed world between the United States and Europe with many direct flightsthroughout.  Needless to say to more, I was on a flight the next week and visited the islands for two months.   When I returned to the US, I put my house up for sale, applied for a Visa, took care of my dog’s paperwork and moved here five months later and have not looked back. The entire process with a Visa was less hassle than waiting in line at the DMV, but a Visa is not required as I found out after being here for several months.

The Azores offer much more than just beautiful beaches - ancient architecture can be found throughout the islands.

Since arriving, every day has been as amazing as the day before.  The most difficult decision in the morning is to go surfing, hiking, sailing, diving, kayaking, snorkeling, or wind surfing.  All activities are either within a thirty second walk to the marina and beach or a fifteen-minute drive to the mountains from the town of Vila Franca Do Campo.  Vila Franca Do Campo is the town I eventually fell in love with on the south side of the Island.  In Vila Franca, all the local Azoreans I have met have been extremely helpful and accommodating and it has been a very easy transition to feel at home quickly.  The point of life in the Azores is to enjoy life without all the unnecessary stresses that seem to be typical in western culture.  Here, everyone works only enough to enjoy life.  If work interferes with beach or party time, it will not last long.

There is much more to be said about the Azores.  However, anyone who is looking for a semi retirement destination with adventure above or below the water, values a rich culture and quality of life, loves food, enjoys a clean environment, and wants to live free with little stress should highly consider the Azores.

Stop Looking South, Look East To The Middle of the Atlantic

What awaits you is what you have been looking for and daydreaming about for years.  Do not let the propaganda of Central and South America be the only benchmarks for your retirement search.  There are better locations, safe,culturally vibrant, affordable locations, with an excellent quality of life waiting for you at absolutely no lifestyle compromise.  Right now, Europe is on sale and one of the most breathtaking natural wonders in the world that very few Americans and Europeans know about sits between Boston and Lisbon.

The most appealing Volcanic Area in the World according toWorld Travel Guide.

National Geographic Traveler selected the Archipelago as the second best islands in the world for Sustainable Tourismout of 111 islands evaluated.

Lonely Planet named the Archipelago as one of the best destinations in the World.

In 2010, Forbes magazine named this Archipelago as a Unique Travelling Destination.

In 2011, BBC Travel named this Archipelago one of five most secret islands of the World.

National Geographic Traveler acknowledged the Archipelago as one of the 50 best tours to take in Europe of a Lifetime in 2012.

The Nottingham University Magazine elected this Archipelago as one of the best places to go to in 2012.

Budget Travel elected this destination as one of the best budget destinations for 2012.

The archipelago holds the official status of Quality Coast Destination – being the most sustainable coastal destination in Europe to spend holidays, contains several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Project “Life Priolo”award winner,  “Best of the Best – Nature” from the European Union, and the list goes on… and you probably still have no idea, it’s ok.  There are hundreds of millions of dollars aimed at promoting your social security checks for direct deposit in Central and South America it is not your fault this place has not been presented to you until now.

This magical destination is one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal and is named the Azores.  For a semi retired, burned out American who was living downtown in a big city, the Azores is everything I had been searching for the last eight years.  The charm of the islands, physically and culturally, will embrace you and there will be nothing you can do to fill the void once you experience it but become an implant.  Since space is limited in this article, I want to introduce some of the basic landscapes of several islands.   In future publications, I will expand on the prudent and analytical decision processes that makethe Azores hands down one of the best decisions you can make in your lifetime personally and fiscally with the emphasis on no compromise for quality of life.

The Azores is a group of nine islands in the middle of the Atlantic situated an hour and a half flight from Lisbon and about a five-hour flight from Boston.  The Azores has a subtropical climate that enjoys pleasant temperatures all year round with mild winters of temperatures in the sixties and warm summers in the seventies. The islands physically can best be described as the Hawaii of the Atlantic, unspoiled by commercialism with European villages dotting the coastline that date back to the 1400s, with more beauty and abundance in nature.  Unlike Central and South America, there are no poisonous insects or snakes on the island or mosquitos that dominate the night.  Andlike Hawaii, each island has its own unique characteristics.

First, is Flores Island, known as the flower islandand is covered in flowers and waterfalls that rise from sea level to over a thousand feet.It is the most remote island of the Azores and its physical beauty is a mix of romance with savage nature.  Throughout the interior of the island, there are huge peaks and imposing cliffs with deep valleysforming lagoons and natural hot springs with waterfalls feeding into them.  Within the cities you may find yourself with the background noise of water mills next to manicured streams with an occasional horse carriage passing, visually stunned at the white houses with the natural backdrop and radiant color.One of the most beautiful areas of the island is near the town of Fajazinha, where a large waterfall several hundred meters high is met by twenty other waterfalls causing rainbows to appear over the deep green mountainside.  Flores is a place of imagination and will change anyone’s depiction of reality.

Next, is the island where whales from all around the world come to call home, has one of the tallest peaks in Europe, and a wine lovers paradise, Pico.It is difficult to say the island has the most dramatic landscape, but it would be one of the top three.  “Born from the Sea,” composed of lava rock, exotic vegetation, a mountain peak extending beyond the clouds, UNESCO historical vineyards lining the roads, and ocean views that include the islands of Sao Jorge and Faial, Pico is an island of fairy tale with Giants.  Whale watching in Pico is probably the most underrated spot in the entire world.Blue whales, sperm whales, humpback whales, whale sharks (I know, not a whale), numerous species of dolphins, and many other species below the surface including sharks and mantas call Pico home.  When encountering these giants, it is on a rubber raft in extremely close proximity with the chance to swim with the dolphins, which their pods can exceed one thousand. Swimming with 700 dolphins in Pico was one of the most memorable moments in my life.  After being mesmerized by the sea, the vineyards will transport you into another experience.  All wine making goes back hundreds of years with care given to each grape and a sense of pride that is found only through tradition.  Food and wine is the competitive sport in Pico and as an expat you will be invited everywhere to be the judge. It is an Island oftranquility with world-class activities.  You can sample your neighbor’s wine while watching pods of dolphins from your patio, trek up a 7000 ft. mountain, or dive with Devil Rays.

Lastly, I wanted to introduce my home island, Sao Miguel, ”The Green Island.”This is the largest of the islands at 293 square mileswith a population of150,000.  Sao Miguel by far is the most enchanting island as it has the allcharacteristics of the Archipelago in one islandwith the most to offer.  I often joke that there is more variety here than in the Continental United States, and it is not far from the truth.  You can spend as much time doing things as you have available. Sao Miguel has multiple world class hiking destinations such as; Sete Cuidades, Logoa do Fogo, and Furnas that will leave you breathless and are ranked as some of the most incredible natural wonders in the World (remember all the testimonials above?). The surfing rivals Hawaii with perfect waves and no crowd here bra.  Windsurfing, sailing, diving, kite surfing, kayaking, fishing, snorkeling, boating, whale & dolphin watching, and body boarding are also very popular aquatic activities.Along the coast are beautiful beaches dwarfed below the cliffswith many natural swimming pools. Lakes, waterfalls, and hot springs are also abundant but its best quality is the people. This is the first place I have lived where I feel at home.  Nobody has any hidden agenda and is genuinely great people.  Everywhere on the island you go anyone will go out of their way to help you and make sure you feel welcomed and at home.  There is much more to be said about the people and culture, beginning to describe the beauty is a difficult task.

There are other islands of the Azores that are just as remarkable that I did not discuss and I am sorry for this.  If this article caught your interest feel free to email me any questions you have.  There will also be additional topics in the future that are more in depth.  This is truly the last great place in the world.  The Azores inspires imagination and is unlike any destination.  Once you come here, you will not be disappointed and will start your retirement planning immediately after.



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  1. Jules Ralston August 4, 2013 at 5:11 am

    My friends in the US (I live in the UK) just forwarded me a link to this page and I couldn’t agree with you all more! After visiting the islands 6 years ago we fell in love with them and bought a holiday home on the main island of Sao Miguel – main reasons being accessibility for friends and family (direct flights from UK & US), excellent medical services (just in case, for my elderly father!), and the range of experiences on offer on the island.

    Unfortunately we now have to sell the property, but will definitely visit again in the future as the beauty, easy going and kind nature of the people have captured our heart and soul! If I can be of any assistance in answering any questions you may have about living on Sao Miguel today do get in touch – I am very happy to share our real life experiences!

    email: julesralston@gmail.com

  2. Natalie August 14, 2013 at 8:21 am

    would love to get as much info on St. Michael. Parents were born there. June will be my first trip there. how do I find out the cost of housing, med. care, visas, and info on family history. I would love to reside there for 6 months out of the year, how to transfer money from the states to the bank in st michael. I am 70 years old and would love to get as much info as possible. Thank you

  3. Stefan September 3, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    I was thinking about Madeira and almost forgot about Azores. Does anyone have an experience with both places (what would be pluses / minuses)?

  4. Letitia Peery November 17, 2013 at 11:12 am


    I am sitting on my boat in Bocas Del Toro thinking about where to go next? My husband and I recently refitted a 40yr old yacht last yr, leaving So Africa and Residency to do this project out of St Petersberg Fla. It took a yr to complete …we headed south to Panama and although we really appreciate it here for many reasons, it is not enough to buy and settle here. So we now find ourselves facing a bigger issue…where from here?

    2 yrs ago we met a couple with 2 young children at the immigration office in Cape Town. They were “round-the-worlders” and simply said we found the perfect spot, in the Azores. I have never forgotten their remarks and not till this very moment have I realized what impact their comments made on me.

    I loved your article and it sounds …”too good to be true” but my feelings tell me otherwise. I think they were right and you are as well. We have been looking for “the right place” for 10 yrs plus and I do think this may be the place. I think the best plan is obviously to get to the Azores…right away! Taking the boat up there would be the natural and best way to see the islands but I think for the sake of time I would like to fly up and visit first.

    I think we could arrange a trip after Christmas. any general info re this would be much appreciated…ie where to fly to 1st, and begin our explore.

    Thank you for your info. It is much appreciated.

    Best Regards,

    Letitia and Richard Peery

  5. Letitia Peery November 17, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Hi, I am modifying my querry. My husband and I are in Bocas Del Toro. We would like to get more info, and take a trip there after Xmas. Any tips on where is best place to visit 1st, etc. Immigration info as well. We are in our mid 60′s. This sounds so wonderful! Many thanks

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