I love living in Portugal as an expat and there are many reasons to choose Portugal. It is not only because of the beautiful weather, but Portugal doesn’t have too many major problems and people are friendly and welcoming. But the best things about Portugal are not on the surface. The best things are deeper and more subtle, they come from warmth of people, their traditions, their culture and cosmopolitan way of life.
Introduction to Portugal
Portugal is a country with delicious food with influences from both sides of the Atlantic ocean something that makes it unique, with a beautiful coast line and dramatically changing landscapes that can make you travel around it for years to experience all the different regions, from inland valleys filled with vineyards and rivers on one side to sandy beaches and cliffs on the other. This country is also rich in history, arts and sports. Portugal is one of the world’s top exporters of port wine.
It also has several World Heritage Sites, which include the very famous churches: São Vicente de Fora in Lisbon (considered to be a national monument) and Batalha Monastery.
Living in Portugal as an Expat – Pros and Cons
In a nutshell, here is a summary of the pros and cons of living in Portugal as an expat:
- Great weather
- Friendly locals who are often willing to help you
- Good diet – plenty of fresh vegetables and fish
- Freelancing in Portugal is easy compared to other EU countries e.g. Spain
- Good expat and digital communities in main cities e.g. Lisbon, Albufeira, Tomar
- Opportunities to learn Portuguese for free – many local schools and colleges provide classes for expats
- Excellent transport links by train and so it’s easy to explore the country from most destinations
- Easy to travel in Spain
- Cooler than areas in the Mediteranean e.g. South of Spain due to the Atlantic breeze
- Opportunities for water sports e.g. surfing, Kite surfing, sailing
- Good tax break opportunities e.g. NHR scheme
- Golden Visa scheme for anyone investing in more than 500,000EURO in property or business in Portugal
- Bureaucracy can be tough
- Language barrier means that you will struggle in some certain situations especially in more remote areas
- Some remote areas can be difficult to access without a car and far from hospitals
- There are some rental and property scams
- Petty theft in Lisbon – e.g. pick pocketing on the Metro to be aware of
- Far away from family (if they are still back in the UK and USA)
- Matriculation of vehicles is difficult and second hand cars are expensive in Portugal
- Sometimes there are two prices – local price and ‘estrangeiro’ price.
The Bright Side of Living in Portugal
The Bright side of living in Portugal is that many people who have moved from the UK report an overall better quality of life and vastly improved health. The sunshine is a great source of vitamin D and means that expats are finding themselves spending more time outside as a result – maybe swimming or playing tennis and volleyball. Combine this active lifestyle with high quality food with a great deal of fresh fish, fruit and vegetables and you may find a massive difference in the way that you feel when you move to Portugal.
You tend to get a ‘holiday period’ when you first arrive, when everything all seems lovely. It’s only once you have been there for say 3-6 months that you start to really see the challenges!
Be aware that in many places you will find two prices – one for locals and one for foreigners. This is all well and good when you are visiting an area as a tourist with a fair bit of cash to spend, but it’s a completely different scenario when you are living in Portugal, paying tax in Portugal and earning a Portuguese wage. We have heard reports of sellers in Pedrogo Grande market selling at inflated prices to expats. For example, a sack of spuds for 4 EURO might be 7 EURO to a Brit. Our advice is to take someone local with you when you shop at the markets. It also doesn’t happen in supermarkets as the prices there tend to be fixed.
‘Couvert’ in Restaurants
When you start eating out in Portugal, you will get used to this concept of ‘Couvert’. The waiter will bring you extras such as bread, butter and cheese. In the UK, we would presume that these were complimentary and therefore free with the meal if we hadn’t ordered them. But in Portugal, if you eat it, you will pay for it! So if waiters bring you anything that you don’t want you can simply ask them to take it away.
Bureaucracy and Paperwork
One of the main things that expats moan about when they first arrive in Portugal is the paperwork. At first it seems almost impossible to get anything done! A lot of it comes down to luck and who you get on the desk that day. Many expats will tell you that not every tax office representative or government official will give you the same answer. Want a different answer to the one you’ve been given? Try going to a different office or return the next day!
The bureaucracy of Living in Portugal as an Expat is a challenge. You will find out that there are certain ‘numbers’ that you need to have and without them, you can’t really get anything done. Fpr example you need a NIF (fiscal number) to open a bank account, buy a house or do anything financial in Portugal. You also need a NISS for freelancing in Portugal and also for paying into the Portuguese pension and state system. NISS stands for Número de Identificação de Segurança Social
Driving in Portugal
If you are bringing your vehicle from another country, it will need to go through the matriculation process which can be rather complex. Some people find it easier to sell their car back home and then buy another one in Portugal. But there is also a downside to that – second hand vehicles are not so cheap in Portugal.
Driving in Portugal can be a challenge due to the narrow and winding streets – many of them cobbled. There are a lot of steep hills so you’d better be good at your hill starts! You will also need to change your driving license for a Portuguese one within 90 days of becoming a Portuguese resident.
Where to Live in Portugal as an Expat
The main thing to think about when choosing your location is whether you want to be in the countryside or near the coast. The areas inland get much hotter in the summer and can also be colder in the winter. Coastal towns have a nice balance regarding weather but are more pricey. Here are some of the most popular places that people choose when living in Portugal as an Expat:
The capital city of Lisbon is well connected with a Metro link to the airport and direct flights to and from the UK. It’s a thriving hub for business with a great digital nomad scene. There are excellent connections by bus and train all over Portugal. Beautiful local beaches are also accessible from Lisbon. The main downside is of course the price of renting or buying an apartment.
Porto is Portugal’s second city, slightly North of Lisbon. It has its own airport and is famous for producing Port wine. Porto still has good business opportunities and transport links with its own Metro system. It has the added advantage of being slightly cheaper for accommodation than Lisbon, but these prices have now started creeping up.
Albufeira has long been popular with the Brits. It has great nightlife, beautiful beaches and a good expat community. However, it has been recently criticised for being ‘too British’ and so expats looking for a more Portuguese town in the Algarve have started to head to Tavira.
Countryside Destinations popular with Expats
Due to the cheap property, many Brits who want countryside living are going for properties in and around Tomar, Castelo Branco and Serta. Although the prices are cheap, you will probably need your own transport in these areas – a car or at least an electric bike. If you have land you will need to manage it or pay someone to manage it. This includes ensuring that the grass and bushes are kept under control to avoid fires in the hot summer months.
On the plus side, you will often end up with an orange tree or olive grove or two! Learning to attend to the land and crops is all part and parcel of countryside life in Portugal. You may also experience the generocity of neighbours when living in Portugal. They will often leave produce at your doorstep particularly after a harvest. You may expect to find olives, dates, lemons and figs. You can also return the favour by leaving something for them – but do it the countryside way – leave it at the doorstep!
Are you thinking of Moving to Portugal as an Expat?
If you are thinking about moving to Portugal as an expat, I am sure you will enjoy the country and you will not regret your decision. If this article interests you, please read my other posts on living in Portugal:
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