How to move from Turkey to Portugal

Imren and her husband spent four years choosing where to move from Istambul. Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona... Ultimately they chose a city they had never been to, Lisbon
9 min
June 12, 2023

Imren and her husband spent four years choosing where to move from Istambul. Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona... Ultimately they chose a city they had never been to, Lisbon. 

We talked to Imren about her immigration experience and how the perception of the city depends on us. We also tried to understand the meaning of the Portuguese word "saudade," which is difficult to translate but is associated with the life of an immigrant.

You write a blog about life in Lisbon in Turkish. Why did you decide to start one? Why didn't you switch to English like many immigrants?

We struggled to find any Turkish resources about life in Portugal when we first applied for the visa. I could only rely on the advice of a friend who had already moved to Lisbon. That's when I decided to start a Turkish blog in order to help fellow Turks who are thinking about relocating here. While many resources are available in English, reading about the experiences of someone from the same cultural background and who speaks the same language can provide a deeper level of understanding and connection. That's why I chose to write in Turkish so that Turkish readers would find it more accessible and relatable.

Many people think an immigrant's life is like a fairy tale because he lives in the country of his dreams. But the truth is that it is tough for immigrants when they are starting. Does blogging help you feel supported?

I think, starting a new life as an immigrant is difficult and far from a fairy tale. During this period, blogging has been a support and encouragement for me. Through my blog, I've been able to connect with other immigrants who have faced similar struggles. I've also received helpful tips and advice from readers, which has made our life in Lisbon easier. When I look at my old posts, I can see how much we have solved. It's a powerful reminder that the difficult stages of the immigration process are temporary and that things get better with time.

I read on your blog that you and your husband had the idea of immigration for a long time, for four years. What was stopping you? 

Many factors held us back, including uncertainty about which country or city would be the best fit for us and, fear of leaving our comfort zone… We continued to travel and search options, and each attempt brought us closer to this point. We eventually decided to relocate to Lisbon, despite the fact that we had never been there before. Despite our initial uncertainty, we are both happy with our decision and believe it was the best one for us. When I look back, I'm glad we went through the process because it allowed us to carefully consider our options and ultimately make a decision.

You took to choose which city you wanted to live in for a long time. Barcelona, Berlin, Amsterdam... Why didn't you like those cities?

To summarize very briefly; we spent a long time researching different cities and considering our options before deciding on Lisbon. While cities like Barcelona, Berlin, and Amsterdam were all appealing in their own right, they didn't quite meet all of our criteria. For one, we wanted to live in a place with a sunny and mild climate, which ruled out some of the cooler and rainier northern European cities. Additionally, since we didn't yet speak the local language, we wanted to live in a place where we could communicate effectively in English while we got settled. Final and most important, safety was a top priority for us, and we wanted to choose a city that we felt was safe and welcoming.

Orhan Pamuk is one of the most famous Turkish writers. In his book "Istanbul. The City of Memories," he wrote: "But whatever we say about the city, about its character, spirit, and atmosphere, it will be more about us, about our lives and our state of mind. The city has no center but ourselves." Do you agree?

I lived in Istanbul for 6 years, I can certainly understand it. Istanbul is a complex and diverse city, with many different neighborhoods, and cultures all coexisting in one place. Each person's experience of the city will depend on their individual preferences, needs, and priorities. Especially if you have an opportunity to choose.

However, in recent years, the city has become increasingly crowded, making it more difficult to live and enjoy. While there are still many great things about Istanbul, the challenges of living in such a crowded and rapidly changing city can be overwhelming. Overall, it's critical to recognize the realities and challenges of living in a city like Istanbul.

Now you're in Lisbon. How often do you pause and say to yourself, "Wow, now I live here!"

I still can’t believe that I am living in such a beautiful city like Lisbon. Every time I step out on a sunny day, I can't help but feel grateful and lucky. I often find myself smiling and taking in the beautiful scenery around me. In fact, I recently posted on Instagram that "If Lisbon was a person, sometimes I would pinch its cheeks." This just goes to show how much I adore this city and appreciate the opportunity to live here.

Is it possible to stop taking pictures of sunsets in Lisbon? :)

You know, it’s not! Can you please share these photos below? Isn't it fascinating?

Portugal cuisine is considered one of the tastiest in the world, but you don't like it. How are you going to live here? :)

I’m embarrassed now:) I know that Portuguese cuisine is rank high in the most delicious cuisine lists but, I have to admit that it's not to my personal taste. Since we mostly cook at home, this hasn’t been a problem for us. When we go out to eat, we prefer Italian or Lebanese restaurants. Thankfully, Lisbon has a lot of diverse and delicious food options, so it hasn't been difficult to find restaurants that match our tastes.

In one of your posts, you say you learned the word saudade in Portugal. How do you understand it? 

This is one of those hard words that I think everyone interprets from their own experience, it's pretty hard to explain. It’s like missing the old days, maybe even if they are not as beautiful as we remember. When I first learned about this word, it reminded me of the cultural concept of "raki" in Turkiye, which is similar to the Greek ouzo. Drinking raki with your friends or loved ones often brings up memories of the past and a sense of nostalgia or regret for what has passed.

Do you feel saudade about some things you lost when you immigrated?

Of course! I feel the most intense are special occasions. Our birthdays and new year have passed since we moved. Celebrating these days with loved ones was a big part of our lives back in Turkiye, and it's been tough not being able to be with them physically since we moved. We called on facetime and sent videos to each other this year but, we still miss the good times we had together.

What is the hardest thing about immigration for you?

Complete loss of familiarity and to feel safe. You try to hold on to anything familiar, navigate the unknown and explore your new world at the same time. It can be challenging to find your footing, especially when you're trying to maintain a connection to your old life while also exploring your new world.

What helps you cope with the challenges?

My husband has been my biggest support system during this period. We try to help each other to adapt to the new environment. Additionally, meeting other immigrants and sharing our experiences has been very helpful. Traveling and exploring the city also helps me. Finally, I believe that therapy is necessary for dealing with the emotional challenges of immigration.

Why did you need to seek advice from an immigration expert?

I think it's a process where you decide to change your life completely. Preparing the documents correctly, helping someone who is familiar with a problem when there is one, getting quick answers to the questions in your mind are very helpful. Our lawyers provided us with guidance and support throughout the immigration process, and we felt more confident about our decision because of their expertise.

Remember when you arrived in Ankara and handed in your forms? Remember the day you saw the visa in your passport? How did you cope with the excitement while waiting?

I cannot explain my excitement when I saw the Portuguese flag while I was waiting in front of the embassy and how I felt relieved after handed the forms in Ankara :) But it didn't take long, I started to wonder if it would be approved the next day. Fortunately, at that time, our close friends were getting married, which kept us happily busy.

It's March, and soon it will be warm - it will be picnic time in the park. I noticed that you often took a book with you. What would you recommend to those starting life in a new country?

It can be both exciting and challenging. It's important to take the time to get to know yourself again and to explore what the new environment has to offer.

Reading books, watching films, and listening to music from your new home country can be a great way to start exploring the culture. But my personal favorite – go out and explore! Traveling within your new country is a perfect way to discover hidden gems and experience the local way of life.

We thank Imren for the interesting conversation and for trusting us with her family's immigration process :)

Are you planning to move  Portugal?

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Yulia Bykova
Immigrant and writer
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