Tara Lightner, 52, and daughter Peyton Nagel, 22 left Tucson, Arizona with two suitcases, two backpacks, and their 8-year-old coonhound/black lab mix named Echo Bella. Distressed by their lives in the US they hoped to settle somewhere abroad where they could write a new chapter to their lives.

Life took a bad turn for Tara in 2017 when her identity was stolen. Like every US citizen, she filed her income taxes with the Internal Revenue Service but since her identity had been compromised, they managed to avoid issuing her a refund. “After endless phone calls to the IRS, I felt I had no other option, so I looked into suing them. It took several filings from my lawyers, and it was finally resolved in about 8 months.” Although she did receive a refund of $6,000, they did not pay the accrued interest.

Another blow for Tara came in 2023 when her corporate job in software sales neglected to compensate her for much of her well-earned commission. Distraught and frantic from another disappointment she quit the job. “At this point, I was ready to sell everything and go live in a van,” Tara said.

Tara’s daughter Peyton fell in love with the sport of rugby in high school and always wanted to play internationally while continuing her studies online with the University of Arizona. Tara, bummed out by life in the US needed to make a change and start over, so the mother-daughter duo decided to go somewhere together. “We both wanted to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture, so we started to do some research,” Tara explained.

Tara and Peyton first considered New Zealand or Australia as their ideal expat location, but both proved to be too expensive, according to Tara. “Besides that, our dog Echo Bella would have had to be quarantined way too long which would not have worked for our princess.”

A great fit

“People we knew suggested that we check out Portugal and after some research, we decided it was a great fit.” They visited Lisbon, Porto, and Coimbra, really trying to keep an open mind about where we would eventually settle.

“When we first came to Portugal, we travelled around checking out rugby clubs but the one in Coimbra had everything we were looking for and more,” Tara exclaimed. “The rugby community is fabulous and open, something we adore.”

Currently, Peyton plays on three different rugby teams: Rugby Agrária (AEESAC), Norte/Centro Seleção Regional, and 7s Universitários Femininos da UC, which keep both her and her mom very busy. “Unfortunately, Peyton cannot play on the national team in Portugal because she is not Portuguese,” says Tara.

“When we lived in the US if Peyton could have gone pro, she would have, but we were miserable and just wanted out.” But because Peyton played under the USA Rugby Association umbrella, she was able to transfer that to Portugal.

Besides her love of rugby, Peyton is finishing up her online degree in psychology with minor degrees in both art and child development. She plans to continue working toward her master’s degree and eventually hopes to run a nonprofit art therapy program for human trafficked survivors. Both Peyton and Tara are studying the Portuguese language at the University of Coimbra.

Credits: Supplied Image;

Online education

Tara is continuing her online education at Wilmington University to obtain her master’s degree in cybersecurity. “I look forward to working with people and nonprofits to protect those not looking to return to corporate America, to work for greedy companies,” Tara said.

“Coimbra is a very cool city with a Harry Potter vibe, where university students wear black capes. It has a magical mystic about it,” Tara explained. And those who live in Coimbra have a saying, "You don't choose Coimbra, Coimbra chooses you."

Tara and Peyton love the friends they have made, the amazing, fresh produce, and the great restaurants and cafes. “Everything tastes way better here,” says Tara. “The food is not full of toxins and preservatives like it is in the US. I avoided gluten for years in the US but still always felt sick after I ate. Here I can eat anything and feel fine.”

What’s next for this dynamic duo? Since Tara fixed up and flipped their last home in Arizona she hopes to find a similar project in Portugal. Building a tiny home is also something that appeals to this go-getter but first, they want to travel around the country before deciding on their next spot.

“We are playing it by ear as to where we will go next but the whole idea of travelling around or even living in a van is still calling my name,” says Tara with a smile.


Terry Coles has been writing about living and travelling abroad since she left the US in 2011. She and her husband have lived in Panama and now reside in Portugal. 

Terry Coles