Interview with Ursula M. Hahn, Relocation Consultant

This week we are featuring an interview with Ursula M. Hahn, Relocation Consultant on Madeira Island, Portugal

Tell us a bit about yourself, Ursula: how did you come to live on Madeira Island?
I am German, and I had a training in the hotel industry. With this basis, it was easy to travel the world, settle anywhere nice and find work. I lived in several countries before I moved to Madeira Island. This was more than 20 years ago.

Madeira photo by Christian Mülhauser
Madeira photo by Christian Mülhauser

Was it a good decision to move to a tiny, Portuguese Island in the middle of the Atlantic?
Yes, it was. It is a beautiful island with a friendly and helpful population and it has very few potential natural treats. A big point for me is that we are far away from serious world conflicts. Due to the insularity, the crime rate is low. The climate is pleasant all year around; I used to get depressed in Winter in Germany, here depression is not a issue!

If someone wants to move into a sunny climate, why would Madeira be better than say, the Algarve or the south of Spain?
The climate is more moderate, and the crime rate is lower. I prefer the insular mentality, people are very friendly and helpful but it is also a gossipy place, especially in small villages. A foreigner will always be recognized and treated with respect. Harassment for women is also very low.

How is the health care system on the island?
Not bad: Statistics in which the European health care systems were rated, reported that Portugal did better than the UK system. On Madeira, the nurses and doctors are fantastic and very caring. There is no better pre- and neonatal care than in Portugal.

The local “Centros de Saúde” – created countrywide after the Revolution in 1974 – care for minor problems.
If you break a leg, you’ll end up in the main hospital in Funchal. It has a fast-lane approach for strokes, heart attacks and sepsis so that patients do not need to wait for treatment. For foreigners, the language barrier can make such situations more stressful, then it is advisable to call someone to translate; This is one of my jobs.

” A big point for me is that we are far away from serious world conflicts. Due to the insularity, the crime rate is low …”

Are there private health insurance companies?
Yes, internationally renowned companies offer their services in Portugal , including Madeira, and the rates are much lower than in other countries. It is important to watch for a few factors when taking out insurance but the services a good.

Due to the lower purchasing power of the Portuguese, most medicines are less expensive than elsewhere.
Retired newcomers can be fully integrated into the national Social Security system without paying in a cent.

What if a newcomer wants to bring a car to the island?
It is possible but a bit arduous because Portugal wants to have a car import tax, and in order to avoid it – which is possible if you move your main residence here – one has to jump through some bureaucratic hoops. Other than that, bureaucracy is streamlined in Madeira: around 26 state agencies are accessible in the Citizens’ Bureau in Funchal for easy administration. The Portuguese Citizens’ Bureau system is a good model for other states in Europe.

What about public transport?
The capital, Funchal, has a city system with yellow buses, and we have an overland bus systems to connect to more remote corners. Contrary to many services in Portugal which adopt a more southern. leisurely schedule, the buses always start on time, and they are not expensive. We have a separate airport transport, taxis and even tuk-tuks now.

How is the banking system?
ATM machines can be found on every corner, and as the island is part of the European Community, bank transfers are fast, efficient and easy. There are also transfer companies which offer good exchange rates for Sterling.

Night of the Market by Hugo Reis
Night of the Market by Hugo Reis

The Island is far out there, how is the connection to the internet?
Many of the sea cable connections to the Americas and Africa end in Madeira; here the signals are boosted and sent on to Lisbon and London. Therefore, Madeira was the first testing ground in Portugal for the internet and, due to its mountainous area, mobile GPS. We have two major internet providers; their networks are reliable.

There is no ferry connection at the moment, so the island is only accessible by air.
We hope to have a new ferry connection soon, until then the airport it is. TAP offers regular flights from Lisbon and Porto, and due to the low lost competition, prices have gone down nicely. Easyjet is strong on the connection to the UK with several flights per week. Other charter carriers link to the UK, Germany and France, as well as to Porto Santo. Our airport is used by many residents like a train station.

How is the supermarket supply?
We are on an island, and sometimes items are out of stock, but most of the times, you can find 99.99% of what you are looking for. We have a few gourmet shops as well.

And the restaurants?
Madeira offers a plentiful cuisine with traditional fish and meat dishes. Fine dining can be found in any good hotel; our local hotel school trains the staff to perfection. The prices are lower than in other countries, so residents can go out to dinner more often that at home. We also have some good Indian, Japanese and Chinese restaurants; unfortunately, there is no Austrian restaurant at this time, that would be my favorite…

“Letting a holiday home out to tourists is a good, low-tax business …”

How difficult is it to buy a property?
This is well regulated by law but you want to do some research first and use a surveyor before committing to a property. While houses are well documented in Funchal, the register for the rest of the island can be patchy. In the 19030/1940s, many Madeirans emigrated in search of work, therefore a property may be unsellable because many heirs in various countries may be involved.

Once the property is in the clear, the purchasing process is straightforward; the taxes on it are moderate. A foreign buyer needs to be accompanied by a translator for the deed at the Notary’s office. (The realtor is paid by the seller.) Let’s not forget insurance and utilities for which the new owner may want to have assistance, in order to avoid pitfalls.

To take care of a holiday property during the owner’s absence, Madeira has a good offer of professional agencies at hand. Letting a holiday home out to tourists is a good, low-tax business.

What about residency: when does a new arrival have to register?
If the newcomer is from the EU, the process is simple: after six months, you apply for a “Residencia”.

How is taxation on Madeira Island?
In order to offset the insularity problem, our taxes are always slightly lower than on the mainland.
Although Portugal had to raise many rates because if the debt, taxes for foreigners on their worldwide income are usually still lower that in the home country so it is a good idea to look into this.

Last question … Where can the readers find you on the web?

My website/blog: