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Living In Portugal: A Guide To Moving To Portugal As An Expat

Living In Portugal: A Guide To Moving To Portugal As An Expat

Portugal combines all the best bits of Europe, from picturesque beaches to vibrant cities and incredible landscapes. Plus, with one of the lowest costs of living in Europe, it’s fast becoming a popular destination for expats and digital nomads.

If you too are considering living in Portugal, this handy expat guide to Portugal will help you to get started. Discover the basics of moving to Portugal, including how to find accommodation, arrange your finances and cover your medical expenses.

Yellow vintage tram on the street in Lisbon, Portugal - Living In Portugal: A Guide To Moving To Portugal As An Expat
Vintage tram on the street in Lisbon / GETTY IMAGES

What to expect from living in Portugal as an expat

Rich history, delicious fresh food, a laid-back way of life, and a family-oriented, predominantly Catholic culture are just some of the many hallmarks of living in Portugal.

The natural and built environments are also huge draws. In the cities, expect to find white-washed villas decked in colourful tiles. The countryside is littered with Moorish castles that tell of the struggles between Islam and Christianity, not to mention those pesky neighbours the Spanish. And of course, there is the Algarve region, where caramel deserts roll into craggy coastlines, upon which are nestled picturesque beach towns like Albufeira, Lagos and Portimao.

Modern times have not been as kind to Portugal. As Europe’s last-remaining authoritarian dictatorship, Portugal was slow to experience urban and social development at the same pace of other European nations in the 20th Century.

This period culminated in a deep recession lasting from 2010–2014, which led to many young people leaving the country in search of opportunities elsewhere. This caused a labour shortage that has further stunted economic development. As such, Portugal ranks just 19th out of 39 in the list of Europe’s strongest economies, with a GDP of US$231 billion euros (compared, for instance, to #1-ranked Germany’s US$3.8 trillion economy).

The upshot is that Portugal is now the cheapest country in Europe to live. The cost of living in Portugal is around 30% cheaper than in the UK, with rent around 33% cheaper. Expats moving to Portugal will find the cost of consumer goods – from food and wine to new cars and property – significantly cheaper than in other parts of Europe.

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How many expats are living in Portugal?

The total population of expats living in Portugal in 2022 is around 661,000 as of 2020 – around 6.5% of the total population.

How many British expats are living in Portugal?

As of 2020, there were 46,238 British expats living in Portugal, according to government data. This makes Britain the second-largest expat population living in Portugal, with Brazil the largest.

The largest expat populations living in Portugal as of 2020 were:

Country of originNumber of expats living in Portugal (2020)
Brazil183,875
United Kingdom46,238
Cape Verde36,466
Romania30,052
Ukraine28,621

Source: Pordata

Is Portugal safe for expats?

Portugal is known as an extremely safe country, ranking 4th in the 2021 Global Peace Index from Vision of Humanity.

Crime in Portugal is already low and is on a downward trend, currently at just 0.79 incidents per 100k of the population, as of 2018.

In fact, Portugal ranks consistently low for almost every type of crime, according to Numbeo. It also one of the safest countries in the world for women, due to a very low frequency of sexual harassment, and is one of the safest countries to walk alone at night – which makes it very attractive to solo travellers.

However, the UK government does warn that petty crime in Portugal is not uncommon.

The risk of natural disaster in Portugal is low according to the EU Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre, although it is not out of the question. Expats living in Portugal should be aware of the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis. It has been a long time since the last major natural disaster of this sort in Portugal, but that does not negate the risk entirely.

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Portuguese beach villa in Carvoeiro with classic fishing boats - Living In Portugal: A Guide To Moving To Portugal As An Expat
Portuguese beach villas in Carvoeiro, Portugal / GETTY IMAGES

How is the political situation in Portugal?

Portugal was Western Europe’s last authoritarian regime The Estado Novo only collapsed in 1974, and since then Portugal has been a democratic republic. Portugal was a founding member of NATO in 1949, joined the European Union in 1986 and adopted the euro as its currency in 1999. Portugal now enjoys a high level of political stability (it was ranked 23rd in 2020 by the World Bank) and strong international relations, especially with its neighbours in Western Europe.

That is not to say everything is perfect in Portugal. The country ranks lower than many other European nations on the Corruption Perceptions Index with a score of just 62/100.

In recent years, political protests have become a staple feature for people living in Portugal, as the economy has failed to regain its stride after the 2010–2014 recession, which saw unemployment hit a peak of 16% in 2013. That rate is much lower now, but still lags behind many other developed nations.

What language is spoken in Portugal and do people living in Portugal speak English?

The official, and most widely spoken language in Portugal is Portuguese. Portugal has a second official language, Mirandese, which is spoken in the North Eastern region of Terra de Miranda.

English is the second most common language spoken in Portugal, and is now included on the national curriculum. French and Spanish are also spoken by a significant proportion of the population.

The percentage of people living in Portugal who speak various languages are:

LanguagePercentage population (2011)
Portuguese95.6%
English14.8%
French10.3%
Spanish6.9%
German1.2%

Source: LanguageKnowledge.eu

If you are moving to Portugal, it’s a good idea to learn at least basic Portuguese, especially if you intend to live outside of the metropolitan areas of Porto and Lisbon.

How did Portugal deal with COVID-19?

Although Portugal’s health system is nowhere near as good as other European countries (they have just 3.5 hospital beds per 1,000 people, compared to the EU average of 4.6), theirs was a success story during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, Portugal had a mortality rate of just 3% – compared to 10% in Spain, 12% in the UK and 15% in France.

Portugal was quick to ban all large gatherings, closed schools on March 16 and declared a state of emergency two days later. This quick response helped Portugal avoid the worst effects of the first wave.

Portugal was hit by the second/third waves of COVID-19 in 2021, however, they were fast in rolling out vaccines. As of April 2022, Portugal has the 3rd highest rate of fully vaccinated citizens in the world.

As of May 2022, Portugal has had 3.9 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and 22,300 confirmed deaths. There were around 11,000 confirmed daily cases.

Portugal has fully opened its borders for immunised travellers but maintains a high degree of caution around COVID-19. Fully vaccinated travellers with a recognised certificate can now enter Portugal without needing to show a PCR test or quarantine.

Non-vaccinated travellers can enter Portugal with proof of a negative PCR test, or a proof of recovery certificate. This also applies to the Azores Islands. There are no entry requirements for Madeira. Be sure to read official advice on travelling to Portugal to understand your rights and responsibilities.

Old town of Porto on the Douro River - Living In Portugal: A Guide To Moving To Portugal As An Expat
The old town of Porto on the Douro River / GETTY IMAGES

How to move to Portugal as an expat

Portugal is part of the European Union (EU), so EU citizens are free to relocate there. British citizens can still move to Portugal, however they will need to go through the same process as all other non-EU citizens, unless they were already living in Portugal before 1st January 2021. If you’re a British citizen, you may want to start by checking out our ultimate guide to moving abroad after Brexit.

Moving to Portugal is relatively straightforward. In summary, you’ll need to go through the following steps:

  • You can live in Portugal visa-free for up to 90 days in a year
  • Before the 90 days are up, you must complete your application for a Portugal Residency Visa (valid for around 3 months) or Residency Permit (valid for 1 year)
  • The Residency Visa is like a temporary extension intended to give you enough time to apply for a Residency Permit. A Residency Permit can be renewed every 12 months
  • After 5 years of living in Portugal on a Residency Permit, you’ll be able to apply for a Permanent Residency Permit

Where will you find expats living in Portugal and how can I find accommodation?

Far and away the most popular destination for expatriates are Portugal’s cities. The capital, Lisbon (population 500,000) and Porto (population 215,000) attract people from around the world with their historic buildings, laid-back ways of life and buzzing culture. Lisbon ranked 37th in the world for quality of living in Mercer’s 2019 city rankings and was awarded the title of fourth best city in the world by The Telegraph. Almost half (42%) the population of Lisbon come from abroad, while 7.9% of citizens in Porto are foreign nationals.

The Algarve is Portugal’s southernmost region and home to the thriving coastal towns of Portimao, Albufeira and Faro, as well as some interior municipalities such as Silves. With its beautiful beaches and verdant golf courses, the Algarve is widely-known as a tourist region, but it also attracts expats who come to enjoy a peaceful way of life. Around 10% of the Algarve’s 438,000 citizens come from abroad, with over 77,000 living in the regional capital of Faro.

Portugal’s interior is vast and made up of pockets of urbanisation, including medieval cities such as Braga (pop: 121,000) and Coimbra (pop: 106,000). In between stretches of desert and national parks, Portugal’s countryside is littered with luxurious villas and humble farmsteads. Recent data has shown that expats living in Portugal are increasingly looking to move to the interior. Expats looking to move to the countryside should look long and hard for a suitable place to live, as some areas are less modernised than others.

Finally, Portugal has two island regions, both in the North Atlantic ocean. These are the Madeira archipelago (pop: 253,000) and the Azores archipelago (pop: 236,000). These islands are very well-connected, thanks to their popularity with holidaymakers, and are increasingly attracting expats. Again, expats should put in plenty of research if they are thinking of island life in Portugal – each island has its own local culture and challenges.

Before moving to Portugal, it is a good idea to look online for properties and speak to a relocation expert. Real estate in Portugal is notably cheaper than in other parts of Europe, which has given rise to a thriving real estate sector. There are therefore many agents with local knowledge who can help you and your family in relocating to Portugal. You could check out:

Beautiful beach on Algarve coast - Living In Portugal: A Guide To Moving To Portugal As An Expat
Beautiful beach on Algarve coast, Portugal / GETTY IMAGES

Can expats buy property in Portugal?

Yes. There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Portugal. The only thing you’ll need to do is get a Tax Identification Number (NIF), which you’ll be assigned automatically when you open a bank account in Portugal.

Buying a property in Portugal is a popular route for expats to earn one of Portugal’s ‘golden visas’. You can get one of these if you buy a property worth at least €500,000/£430,000 in a city, or €400,000/£343,000 in a low-density area. A golden visa is like a fast-track programme towards becoming a citizen, and allows you to apply for Portuguese citizenship after just five years of living in Portugal.

Top expat tips for living in Portugal

  • • Ensure you have all essential documents and visas in place before departure
  • • If you move with your kids, early application for school places is advisable
  • • Have up to three months’ rent available upfront to secure a rental property
  • • Look at life insurance and health cover that reflect your location needs. We have been supporting expats with international insurance for almost 30 years now
  • • Stay healthy and immerse yourself in the culture

Jobs, visas and working in Portugal

As a member of the European Union, EU citizens are free to live and work in Portugal without having to acquire any visas. All other expats hoping to live and work in Portugal will need:

  • A passport valid for at least three months more than you intend to live in Portugal before completing your residency application
  • A visa

There are three main types of visa for expats moving to Portugal:

  • A short stay visa (valid for up to 90 days), which costs around €80/£70
  • A temporary stay visa (valid for up to one year), which costs around €75/£68
  • A long stay or residency visa, which costs around €90/£80

To apply for a temporary or long stay visa, you’ll need to be able to show that you can financially support yourself during your time in Portugal. This could either be proof of income, proof of retirement funds or proof of savings. You will also need to be able to prove you have suitable accommodation, for instance by showing a tenancy agreement or proof of a property purchase. Finally, you need not to have criminal record.

There are many types of visas for people intending to relocate to Portugal to work. Visit the Portuguese immigration website to learn more about the types of working visa.

Retirees should look to apply for Portugal’s D7 (passive income) visa. To apply, you need to show that you can draw down at least €8,460/£7,250 per year from your pension, plus an additional 50% for each additional applicant.

The D7 visa for Portugal also acts as a type of visa for digital nomads. If you are moving to Portugal as a digital nomad, you will need to have a formal letter from your employer showing your salary and guaranteeing that you have the right to work remotely.

Porto city skyline at night - Living In Portugal: A Guide To Moving To Portugal As An Expat
Porto skyline in the evening / GETTY IMAGES

What sort of salary will I earn living in Portugal?

If you are planning on working for a local company, you may struggle to earn good money.

The Portuguese economy is nowhere near as strong as many other industrialised countries in Europe, and is still reeling from the effects of the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession. As such, Portugal’s main economies are still based in the areas of manufacturing, agriculture and raw materials. There is also a thriving tourism sector in some parts of the country. However, white-collar jobs are hard to come by.

At US£28,400 a year, the average salary in Portugal is significantly lower than many other countries in the OECD, and far below the average of US$49,200. However, Portugal has a broad range of salary options, and expatriates moving to Portugal with experience under their belts may find a number of jobs paying in the triple-figures range. Some top executives can expect to earn up to €150,000 (US$158,000) per year.

Cost of living and moving to Portugal

Like most countries in the world, the cost of living in Portugal has shot up in 2022. In April 2022, the rate of inflation in Portugal hit 7.2%, the highest rate Portugal has seen since March 1993. As a result, the cost of consumer goods, energy and rent are increasing rapidly.

However, the good news is that Portugal is still exceptionally cheap compared to other European countries.

Numbeo reports that the cost of living in Portugal is around 29% cheaper than in the United Kingdom, with rent around 32% lower on average.

Expats living in Portugal will therefore find their money goes much further, even if they are earning less overall. Wine lovers in particular will delight in Portugal, where a bottle of good quality, locally produced wine can cost as little as €2 at a local supermarket.

If you intend to relocate your own household items to Portugal, you will need to hire a professional overseas relocation company to help with shipping. The cost of moving an average family home’s worth of furniture to Portugal from the UK can be anywhere between €1,400/£1,200 and €4,676/£4,000 according to reloadvisor.

Panoramic aerial view of Lisbon with colorful houses and Estrela Basilica cathedral towers - Living In Portugal: A Guide To Moving To Portugal As An Expat
Panoramic aerial view of Lisbon with Estrela Basilica cathedral towers / GETTY IMAGES

Banking and finance in Portugal

While expats are not legally required to have a bank account in Portugal, those intending to relocate to Portugal will find it much easier to pay taxes and apply for a visa if they have a bank account registered there.

To open a bank account in Portugal, you will need to have:

  • A valid photo ID (usually a passport)
  • Proof of address (e.g. a tenancy agreement)
  • Proof of employment
  • An NIF (Número de Identificação Fiscal), issued by the Portuguese tax authority

To open a student account, you will also need to bring proof of your ongoing enrolment at a university.

Some banks in Portugal allow you to open an account online, however most will ask you to intend in person. In either case, you will be expected to complete paperwork, and then make the minimum deposit (which will differ according to which bank you’ve chosen).

Portugal has a number of banks including some of the biggest banking groups in the world. Expats moving to Portugal may wish to consider banking with:

Got more questions about moving abroad?
Check out our guide for expats looking at moving in 2022
Rossio Square in Lisbon - Living In Portugal: A Guide To Moving To Portugal As An Expat
Rossio Square in Lisbon / GETTY IMAGES

Healthcare and insurance in Portugal

Healthcare in Portugal is not top-of-the-range by any means, but expats living in Portugal will find all their basic healthcare needs catered for. In fact, despite the fact government spending on healthcare is much lower than in other OECD countries, Portugal still manages to rank 23rd in the world for life expectancy, with an average of 82.6 – ahead of both the UK and USA.

Portugal has a state-funded healthcare system known as the SNS (Serviço Nacional de Saúde). EU nationals with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) are entitled to use Portuguese health services free of charge, and British citizens can use the UK Global Health Insurance Card.

For those who do not qualify for Portuguese state healthcare, or for families who wish to ensure a higher level of healthcare, international health insurance is a must-have. Expats living in Portugal who take out private medical insurance will find they have access to private healthcare when they need it most. They are much more likely to be connected to doctors who speak their own language, and can also include specialist services such as maternity, dentistry and mental health in their cover.

Culture and customs in Portugal

Portugal maintains a strong connection with its past. Traditional industries such as cork farming and tile-decorating are still alive and well. With a strong history of Catholicism, it’s not unusual to find the city streets deserted on Sundays, as Portuguese people flock to church. Holy events, such as Santa Semana (Holy Week, leading up to Easter Sunday) are a big deal in Portugal, but so too is the Brazilian-inspired Carnival, which takes place every February.

The country is also renowned for its excellent food (try Portuguese pizza, topped with bananas – just trust us!), wine and beer, and its relaxed café culture. Pasteis de nata and peri-peri chicken have become world-famous exports from Portugal, and understandably so.

The country goes further than most to protect women, earning it the ranking of 21st best country in the world to be a woman, although it lags behind in the UN’s ratings for gender equality (40th). Portugal has wide-ranging anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ+ people, and in 2011 passed a gender identity law hailed as one of the most robust in the world to protect the status of transgender people. The SPARTACUS Gay Travel Index places Portugal second in the world in its gay-friendly rankings.

Religious freedom is guaranteed by Portugal’s constitution. While the vast majority (81%) of people living in Portugal identity as Catholic, there are also a great number of other Christian denominations, Hindus, Jews and Muslims living in Portugal. A growing percentage of the population (7%) now identifies as non-religious.

Your handy “moving to Portugal” checklist

To help get you started, here are the essential things you need to tick off:

Accommodation

  • ☐ Have you researched places you’d like to live?
  • ☐ If you’ve found an apartment or house you’d like to rent, have you contacted the landlord and made an offer?
  • ☐ If you’ve agreed a place to live, have you received your tenancy agreement?

Work

  • ☐ Have you received a job offer from a Portuguese employer?
  • ☐ Alternatively, do you have proof of income and your eligibility to work overseas from your existing employer, if you intend to relocate to Portugal as a digital nomad?
  • ☐ Have you started your application for your visa?
  • ☐ Do you have the proof of income or proof of savings required to apply for a visa?

Healthcare

  • ☐ Do you meet the eligibility criteria to access state healthcare while living in Portugal? If you are an EU citizen, do you have a valid EHIC?
  • ☐ If you are not eligible, have you taken out international health insurance before moving to Portugal?
  • ☐ Have you looked into other forms of health insurance to support your life in Portugal, such as life insurance and income protection?

Banking

  • ☐ Do you have all the paperwork necessary to complete your application for a bank account?
  • ☐ Do you have the minimum deposit available in cash?

Relocation

  • ☐ Have you looked into the cost of relocation? If you’re bringing your own furniture from home, have you received a reliable quote from a shipping company?
  • ☐ Have you looked into schooling for your children? If you are relying on state education, you may need to contact schools to see if they have places available

Before you go…

If you’re considering choosing international health insurance, William Russell would be happy to offer you advice and a quote to help you decide. For 30 years, we have helped expats like you move and settle into their new lives overseas, with the peace of mind of knowing their families are covered by a comprehensive and flexible health insurance policy.

Speak to us today to find out more about how international health insurance could benefit you and your family – and good luck moving to Portugal!

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