Georgina Lawton explains how splitting her time between London and Lisbon was the right choice for her.
Two two cities couldn’t be more different, of course – but that’s why I love them both. As a freelance writer and author at work on my next book, results come far more easily in Lisbon than in my home city. I moved to Lisbon in 2020, managing to nab a residency and a fairly cheap apartment before the UK left the EU and thousands more people rushed here.
Lisbon is quainter than South London and offers a slower pace – which frees up time for creative thinking. Although the global rise in the cost of living is also impacting Portugal, working remotely with clients from the UK and USA means my money goes further here. This, in turn, allows me more freedom to work at the pace I want.
A typical day in Lisbon? I wake up and walk along the cobbled streets to my local cafe, where I get my morning cafe pingado (espresso with milk) for under one euro. With my dog Jasper, I then head to another cafe or co-working space, where I write a travel article or plan a writing event. (I run creative and writing retreats for women of color in Sintra, just outside of the city; the next one is in November). I’m usually done with work by 3 or 4pm – then it’s either off to the gym or for a cocktail or beer at one of the many miradouros (viewpoints) that offer panoramic views of the city.
Traveling from one side of Lisbon to the other rarely takes more than 30 minutes – which means making plans with friends is incredibly easy. In London I have to book dates with my friends weeks or even months in advance; in Lisbon, on the other hand, I can text a friend 30 minutes before I want to see them. After three years of living here, I never feel lonely. The weather – nine months of sunshine a year – also plays a part in boosting my mood. I also know all the neighbors in my building, which makes me feel part of a community in a way I never did in London.
Missing those things you can only get in Brixton
There are drawbacks to living in Lisbon, however, which is why I’m grateful to still have my London base when it comes to work. When my books were released in 2021, I had to travel back and forth to attend various literary festivals and events. Although I loved it, the extensive travel became tiring, and I’ve missed out on many work opportunities since I moved to Portugal. I also sometimes feel cut off from the English world’s literary hub. As a Black Londoner, I’d be lying if I said I also didn’t pine for the spices and hair products that are easily available in Brixton. While I’m learning Portuguese, and although the music and festival scene is not bad in Lisbon, there are times where I just want to be among an English crowd, swaying to Afrobeats or indie, with people who just get it.
Brexit and the rise of right-wing populism make it feel as if the world is shrinking. Every time I post a piece of content on Lisbon, a troll will tell me to “go home.” I ignore it. Still, it’s strange to feel part of the wave of gentrification here in Lisbon, where a housing crisis similar to the one in London has emerged, with the government doing little to help. Although Portugal has one of the highest rates of emigration in the world and had a declining population until fairly recently, there’s nonetheless a backlash against foreigners here – and remote workers in particular. Local wages have remained stagnant at around $1500 a month, resulting in widespread protests.
For those considering a full move, I’d say: go for it. It takes a bit of planning – but the payoff of living in eternal summer is worth it. Remember that even though English is widely spoken in Lisbon, attempting to learn the language is the least you can do. Without residency, those with British passports can only spend 90 days in Europe each year now (for EU passport holders the rules are different) – but that’s the perfect amount of time for a trial run.
For the summer, I’ve left my dog with a friend and found a sublet for my London apartment, and it’s workingfine. When I return to London for work trips or visits, I stay with friends and family; but in the future, if I need to return for longer, I’d consider a house swap like I’ve seen on TikTok.
But for the moment, I feel as if I have the best of both worlds.