Live In Portugal

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Where to Live In Portugal

Reviewed by Lief Simon

Lief Simon is the managing editor of Global Property Advisor, Simon Letter, and Offshore Living Letter. He has purchased more than 45 properties, investing in 23 different countries around the world.

A couple sitting on a bench enjoying a sunny day at a lake

Retirees and digital nomads looking for a new place to live can’t go wrong with Portugal.

It doesn’t draw as much attention as its Iberian sibling, Spain, but Portugal has a lot going for it — medieval castles, vineyards, sparkling beaches, great food and the best weather in continental Europe.

The lifestyle options are as varied as the landscape. There are captivating cities, small villages with cobblestone plazas, beach-front high-rises or quiet rural farms.

It’s a lot packed into such a small package. Here are some of the more popular options for foreigners looking to settle in Portugal.

The Algarve

Hands-down the favorite among foreign expats, this corner of Old World charm has been luring pensioners from the UK and elsewhere in northern Europe for decades. There are now an estimated 100,000 expatriates who call the Algarve home.

A safe region, with very little crime and a laid-back lifestyle for expatriates, this destination caters equally to families and retirees, due to the wide variety of cultural, nature-based, sporting, gastronomic, and other activities. Long a popular summer destination for sun-seekers and a winter-stay retreat for those getting away from Northern Europe’s colder months, the Algarve receives more than 5 million annual visitors through its airport alone, swelling the local population of approximately 350,000.

If you are looking for a mix between the Algarve’s historical roots and the spectacular beaches for which it is famous, then look no further than Silves and Lagoa. These two municipalities, located slightly west of center in Portugal’s southernmost province, allow residents to experience the best the area has to offer.

Silves, nestled in verdant valleys surrounded by the country’s largest citrus-growing area, and on the banks of the Arade River, which is navigable to where it meets the sea at Portimão, offers a warm microclimate, and visitors here will feel comfortable all year round…but perhaps just a little flustered when temperatures soar in the summer!

For a variety of beaches, hop over to neighboring Lagoa, with the capital town of the same name, which is a much smaller municipality located close to the ocean. Most of its activity is related to tourism around the coastal resorts towns of Carvoeiro and Ferragudo.

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Offering tranquil affordable living options and an authentic view into the past, Lisbon is renowned for its warm hospitality, friendly atmosphere, and for having one of the lowest costs of living in Portugal, if not all of Western Europe.

Featuring a vibrant downtown dotted with colorful houses and small, walkable neighborhoods, the “White City” as it is commonly known (thanks to the unique architectural luminosity—characteristic ochre stone used throughout the city seems to illuminate the city when the sun’s rays reflect off it), is also home to some of the most modern buildings and luxury villas of our era.

From elegant apartments to luxury new developments, Lisbon has lifestyle choices for all tastes and budgets and, even though it is more expensive than the areas surrounding it, it has the advantage of having an already well-established and large community of expats.

Lisbon around the surrounding area offer a wide range of properties to choose from. From beachfront properties in Cascais, Estoril, and Quinta da Marinha, to countryside villas in Herdade da Aroeira, to townhouses in classic buildings in Campo de Ourique, Lapa, Avenidas Novas, Alvalade, and Av. De Roma.

Lisbon has one of Europe’s lowest crime rates, so on a level of personal security, the Portuguese capital is renowned for offering high quality of life to its citizens and in a safe environment.

Porto and the North

Porto, on an estuary of the Douro River in northwest Portugal, is the second largest city in Portugal and is considered its cultural capital.

The historic center, the Ribeira district, is recognized as a world heritage centre by UNESCO and is a hopelessly romantic mix of Baroque churches, narrow pedestrian lanes, and sprawling plazas.

An influx of low-cost airlines into Porto in recent years has raised the city’s profile among both tourists and expatriates.

The city itself is home to only about 200,000 people, but the wider region of 18 municipalities spread over four districts has a total population of some 1.75 million, so there is a wide variety of properties in the area.

In central Porto you will find mainly apartments and townhouses, and the prices will be higher. Larger detached home with more gardens and outdoor space on the outskirts of the city are more reasonably priced.

Nearby towns worthy of consideration by those not enamored of city living include the beach resort of Espinho, the fishing village of Povoa de Varzim, and Amarante. Another beach resort worth a look is the town of Vila do Condo, where several new developments have popped up that have been marketed to foreign buyers.

Silver Coast

Portugal so-called Silver Coast, a 150-mile stretch of coast north of Lisbon, is rapidly becoming the alternative Algarve for expatriates looking for a beach lifestyle. While the weather is not quite as idyllic as that of the Algarve (ocean temperatures in the Atlantic are several degrees cooler on average than in the south), prices are still moderate compared to the Algarve and the area is seen as more “authentic” than its flashier rival.

Overseas buyers began to flock to the Silver Coast in the late 1990s when the A8 motorway to Lisbon was completed and what was previously an hours-long journey to Obidos, the best-known town in the area, was shortened to less than an hour.

Apart from Obidos, notable towns in the region include Caldas da Rainha, a market town used as a hub by many of the small farmers in the region, and popular surfing destinations such as Baleal and Peniche.

The best-known resort in the area is the Praia D’El Rey Golf & Resort on the southern shores of the Obidos lagoon.

The village of Cascais, popular among royalty as far back as the 19th century, is today favored by Lisbon’s jet set and teems with people during the summer months.

Home prices on the Silver Coast are genearally about 20% lower than the Algarve but rising rapidly.

A wide range of property is available, from country villas in need of restoration to both new and older apartments in the center of Caldas to beachfront properties on the north shore of Obidos lagoon.

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Advantages And Disadvantages Of Living In Portugal

Lisbon panorama in Rossio square, Portugal
Adobe Stock/TTstudio

A little over three years ago, on March 14, 2020, we stepped off the plane from San Francisco in Lisbon, Portugal.

We collected the eight suitcases and four carry-ons that contained all our worldly possessions and started life as retired immigrants.

From our perspective, this was the best decision of our lives. We often exclaim, “A vida é boa!” (“life is good”).

Would we do it again today?

Most assuredly.

We bought a condo for about 20% of the price of something similar back in the States.

Now we live in a suburb to the north of Porto, just two-and-a-half blocks from a lovely Atlantic beach.

Let us share the pros and cons of relocating to Portugal…

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The Pros

Portuguese people are welcoming

The Portuguese are friendly, helpful, and hospitable to people from other countries. Total strangers share personal stories from the moment you start talking to them.

English is widely spoken

English is mandatory through high school in Portuguese public education.

Movies and television programs from English-speaking countries are not dubbed.

Everyone is happy to help us with our attempts to speak Portuguese. Merchants slide effortlessly into English when they detect our accents but we insist that we want to use our rudimentary Portuguese in conversation.

An elderly man and the whole waiting room at our community medical center broke into smiles and applause as we continued to speak in Portuguese while
the medical assistant at the check-in desk spoke in English

European-standard health care

It’s low cost or no cost. The health care is world-class and a fraction of the cost of care in the States. Upon establishing legal residency, health care is free

Fantastic climate year-round

We found the climate comparable to what we had in California.

Portugal gets more than 300 sunny days per year, and its climate is mild year-round.

We don’t worry about exorbitant heating or air conditioning bills thanks to reduced need and reasonable energy rates.

Excellent cuisine

Portugal’s restaurants, cafés, supermarkets, and public markets offer us affordable and simple-yet-gourmet food and wine.

Did we mention affordable? We are amazed at how inexpensive food and wine are in Portugal.

“Direct from the earth and sea” has been the way of life in Portugal for centuries. It’s not a new trend like it is in the States.

The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world and helps prevent heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.

Live In Portugal: Endless things to do

Our life is rich, interesting, and full of adventure.

We love exploring our new country’s long and interesting history. The architecture is as stunning as the beaches.

We visit museums, art galleries, theaters, historic towns, and other sites throughout the country.

Historic Church of Bom Jesus do Monte and her public garden in Braga, Portugal
Adobe Stock/bennymarty

There is an abundance of outdoor activities for us to try, like cycling, boating, fishing, hiking, four-wheeling, surfing, golf, and even skydiving. There are more than 1,000 miles of coastline and beaches.

We pinch ourselves when we remember that we now live in a foreign country that’s about the size of Indiana.

A day trip takes us to nearby countries and introduces us to new languages, cultures, cuisines, and more.

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First-rate infrastructure

Public transportation is efficient and inexpensive. This is not the developing world.

We have lived here for almost three years without owning a car. We succeeded in lowering our carbon footprint by moving to Portugal.

Portugal is incredibly safe

Portugal is rated as the sixth-safest country in the world. The troubles that seem to affect most of the world simply don’t happen here.

Low cost of living

Our lifestyle only feels expensive. We live more than comfortably on as little as US$2,400 per month in the second largest city in the country.

As an expat, you only pay 10% tax annually on retirement income. Any Portuguese income tax we pay is deducted from the tax we must pay on income in the States.

That’s a win for us.

The Cons

Distance from friends and family

We can’t just spontaneously get together with long-time friends anymore.

That said, we have wonderful new friends in Portugal, and we discovered that loved ones want to visit us, so this isn’t as big a con as we thought it would be.

Our nephew moved to England seven months after we arrived in Portugal, so he’s close. And travel from California to New York takes about the same time as travel to Portugal.

Expensive international post

International postage instead of domestic on a large Christmas card list can add up! We adjusted and now do a digital Christmas card. Again, this is not such a big con. But while we’re talking about postage, mailing packages and gifts can become an expensive adventure. Online shopping has become our friend

No Mexican food

We’re from California. We miss all the wonderful Mexican restaurants we used to go to. We haven’t found many Mexican restaurants in Portugal, but we’re surviving.

Electronic devices are expensive

Cell phones, laptops, and the like are more expensive here than in the States. This is not a big enough con to dissuade us from living in Europe.

Learning Portuguese isn’t easy

Portuguese is hard to master. We know expats who aren’t focused on learning Portuguese, but we want to fully embrace this country and its language.

This con has resulted in a pro: The Portuguese immigration service provides free Portuguese language lessons for new immigrants. How nice is that?

Gasoline and diesel are expensive

This is another reason why we now prefer using public transportation and have decided against owning a car.

If we were considering moving to Portugal today, we would most assuredly take the plunge.

The people, the lifestyle, and the affordability of most everything in Portugal…

Life is as good as it gets.

Joch and Jeff Woodruff
Full-Time Portugal Expats

Get Your Free Portugal Report Today!

Learn more about PORTUGAL and other countries in our free, daily Overseas Opportunity Letter. Simply enter your email address below and we’ll send you our FREE REPORT: Portugal – The World's Number #1 Retirement Haven