Having just released our2024 Overseas Retirement Index, we’re eager to be able to share some of the newcomers to this year’s list…
Portugal is our long-reigning queen, having dominated the top or runner-up spots for about a decade now, and this year was no different. It’s hard to knock a country with so much going for it from the winner’s podium… what’s exciting, though, is that we’ve had the pleasure of discovering a new destination over the last 12 months. One that’s hardly ever talked about and, therefore, not yet a well-known expat haven.
Taking the #2 spot this year is Braga, Portugal, the adopted home of our Portugal Circle Members’ Liaison, Jeff Woodruff.
Braga is the culturally vibrant capital of Portugal’s northern Minho Province, famous for its lush, green landscapes that produce vinho verde wine.
What has us turning our gaze away from those more stereotypical choices?
Portugal has long been popular with expats, but its popularity has skyrocketed in the past two or three years.
Most of the attention is focused on those three areas (the Algarve, Lisbon, and Porto), and that attention has driven up property prices and costs of living.
Braga is affordable not only relative to the costs of living in the United States and Canada; it’s also affordable relative to other places in Portugal. Property prices and costs of living haven’t been inflated as much as in places like the Algarve, Lisbon, and Porto. For its rich lifestyle, Braga is a bargain.
It also offers a more authentically Portuguese, tranquil, and affordable way of life relative to those places.
And it’s appealing in its own right, more than earning its second-place spot in this year’s index rankings.
Braga is an attractive, well-loved city, with narrow lanes and lively plazas hemmed in by historic buildings and elegant baroque churches.
Its key appeal comes from its historic center, a dense, buzzy neighborhood that’s full of cafés, restaurants, boutiques, churches, supermarkets, businesses, hotels, homes, and more…
The city dates to 296 B.C. and today features landmarks in a range of architectural styles. Once surrounded by medieval walls, a stunning Renaissance gate announces the entrance to the city’s pedestrianized historic heart today.
It’s long been a religious center, and with magnificent churches and cathedrals, it continues to be a destination for religious pilgrims. Sites of historical significance abound, like the Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary and Sé de Braga Cathedral, and the sound of church bells is near-constant.
Braga is known as the Rome of Portugal thanks to its numerous churches and religious sites. Pilgrims have journeyed here for centuries. But life in Braga is not all about penance, mass, and homilies…
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Portuguese people love a good party, and the cultural events calendar in Braga is stacked with exciting, colorful festivals, concerts, and exhibitions year-round…
Most festivals are multi-day affairs featuring live music, performances, food and drink, and costumes… It’s good family fun for all, and the best part is, it’s free.
The lively event calendar makes much of the “big three”: Christmas, Easter, and Carnival, which each attract thousands of visitors each year…
But Braga also has its own home-grown events, like Verde Cool, a month-long restaurant festival during which participating restaurants offer a small plate plus a wine pairing for 3 euros.
It’s a gastronomic hub, and savory Portuguese dishes and drinks can be enjoyed on the cheap because they’re priced for the biggest client base: university students.
An hour from Braga, there’s Porto, with even more cultural entertainment options… Needless to say, you’ll never be bored here.
It’s a pleasant place to walk around, people-watch, and enjoy lunch on the sunny outdoor terrace of a café or restaurant.
Braga is a small city with a population of under 200,000 people, and with buses, trains, taxis, and ride-hailing apps, many of these residents live comfortably without a car. It’s easy to get around this city and beyond using the well-appointed public transportation system. Plus, it’s pedestrian-friendly.
But because it’s a university town, the ambiance is always lively, with people out enjoying its gastronomic offerings, parks, and plazas. It’s also compact, so you can easily get by without a car and make your way from A to B on foot.
When it comes to health care, Porutgal’s is ranked 12th best in the world. Public health care is extremely affordable and available to all residents. Going to the family doctor or general practitioner, for example, will cost you 4.50 euros—a fee called taxa moderadora. Some health care services are completely free in the national system.
In Braga, there are public hospitals and health centers, as well as private hospitals and clinics. You should have no trouble meeting your health care needs here. In fact, you’ll likely be upgrading the quality of care you receive by relocating to Braga.
Plus, English is the second-most spoken language in Portugal. It’s taught from an early age in schools. Most people, especially the younger generation, speak it at a high conversational level.
You can get by with English alone in Braga and shouldn’t have a problem finding English-speaking doctors, real estate agents, and lawyers, as well as English-language media.
Braga has a smaller expat community than the Algarve, Lisbon, and Porto. That’s part of its appeal—it’s authentic, laid-back, uncrowded, and tranquil.
That said, you won’t be isolated here as an expat; there’s an active community of international folks who organize social activities, making it easy to make connections.
Braga is well-situated, less than an hour from Portugal’s second city, Porto, as well as the country’s rugged Atlantic coastline. Famous for outstanding natural beauty, the sprawling landscape of Minho Province surrounds it, providing ample opportunities to commune with nature.
Enjoy walks, hikes, cycles, and drives through the lush landscapes, mountains, river valleys, nearby national parks, and rugged Atlantic coastline.
Within a 30-minute drive, you can be at the beaches of Portugal’s northwest coast, including Esposende, Fao, Ofir, Geres, and Porto. There’s also river access across the region, providing opportunities for kayaking and waterfall canyoning.
Sports are a part of life in Braga. Soccer is the most popular sport nation-wide, and Braga has a team (Sporting Clube de Braga) and stadium in Portugal’s top division.
Motorsports are also a big deal here, with several race tracks nearby and the European Hillclimb Championship (a motorsport competition) hosted here every year.
Above all, what Braga offers is tranquility in a well-appointed, well-maintained, and elegant city. It enchants visitors with its vibrant cultural offerings, blending ancient and youthful energies with its historical ambiance and modern-day university town buzz.
Editor,In Focus: Europe