I’m a city girl.
I love living in cities and have been unhappy whenever I’ve lived, even briefly, in smaller towns. And visiting and exploring new urban centers is one of my favorite pastimes.
Both are Western European riverfront capitals with lots of history, culture, and entertainment. They have many things in common, but, really, these two cities couldn’t be more different..
The Tagus Versus The Seine
Lisbon lies on the River Tagus where it opens wide to flow into the Atlantic. However, when you’re in Lisbon, it feels more like you’re on the ocean than in a riverfront city. And, after all, the sea is just next door. From some waterfront points, you can’t see land on the other side of the estuary, and the water is gray and choppy just like the Atlantic. A strong ocean breeze is a common companion.
Paris, perhaps a more conventional riverfront city, lies inland, with the River Seine more or less bisecting it. Far from the wild feeling of Lisbon’s coast, the Seine is a gentle, placid river offering miles of civilized stone banks to enjoy it from.
In Lisbon, you’ll see sand at some parts of the waterfront where the stone construction peters out into the water, but not in Paris.
These differences in the cities’ respective bodies of water seem reflected in their populations and attitudes…
Alfacinhas Versus Parisians
Paris is a staid, predictable, highly genteel city. Parisians are likewise subdued for the most part.
Alfacinhas (people from Lisbon), on the other hand, can be more raucous by comparison. The folks who call Portugal’s capital home are a little more unpredictable and have a Latin flair for revelry that shows in their love of music and dancing.
Live music is a much-appreciated form of entertainment in Lisbon’s nightlife, but it’s not that common in Paris. However the music is played, you won’t catch Parisians standing up at an outdoor café to sway. There’s a spontaneity in Lisbon and its people that you don’t find in Paris.
There’s also a laid-back feeling in Lisbon that, for me, comes from the wide-open harbor that has you feeling like you’re in a beach town… albeit a sophisticated beach town. The vibe is easygoing.
That said, the French live to enjoy life, they appreciate pleasure, and they don’t like to rush. Pass the banks of the Seine or the Canal Saint-Martin or stroll through a park on even an overcast day, and you’ll see plenty of Parisians laying back and relishing the day.
Both cities boast incomparable museums, galleries, concerts, and theater. Both have thousands of years of history to draw on. Both serve up world-class cuisine. Both have gorgeous architecture that could have you tripping over yourself as you walk around looking ever skyward.
Which Is The Better Bargain?
But when it comes to enjoying all these amenities, Lisbon is by far the cheaper of the two options. Although Paris can be more affordable than most believe, it’s still an objectively expensive place to live. Eating out is our family’s biggest splurge, and it bites quite a chunk into our monthly budget.
Eating out in Lisbon, meantime, is super affordable, and the food is always fresh and delicious. Because of the proximity to the ocean, seafood is a real specialty in Lisbon, which isn’t the case in Paris.
Paris is the more walkable of the two cities. You could walk across its mostly flat topography easily in a matter of hours. Lisbon isn’t quite as manageable size-wise and challenges the pedestrian with hills and steps. But both cities have excellent public transport systems, so you don’t need to walk much in either if you don’t want to.
Lots Of Expats For Company
Both cities have impressive populations of English-speaking expats, as well. Lisbon is home to mostly Brits… while Brits, Canadians, Americans, Australians, Irish, and many more English-speakers besides live in Paris.
As I’ve become more active in the expat community in Paris over the last year, I’ve met several of each of the nationalities above, but it seems to me that we all meld together as foreigners, with little attention paid to point of origin.
France is a land of bureaucracy, whereas Portugal takes a less strict stance on administration, making pretty much anything you need to do easier than France does.
Residency And Health Care
Portugal offers several turn-key options for residency and citizenship and even offers the attractive NHR (Non-Habitual Resident) tax program once you’ve acquired residency. If you haven’t been resident in Portugal in the last five years, you can apply to live there for 10 years under the NHR regime, meaning foreign pension income is taxed at a flat 10% rate and reduced tax on most other income.
France also offers several routes to residency but requires more of the applicant in terms of paperwork and physical presence in the country.
As a resident of either country, the care comes just about free of charge. If you’re not part of the social system or opt for private care, paying out of pocket is affordable—leagues cheaper than in the States.
Obviously I’m prejudiced. I’ve chosen to live in Paris because, for me, this city offers the world’s best quality of life.
But that’s me. You need to experience both cities for yourself to know which speaks to you.
I can’t imagine better homework.
Editor, In Focus: Europe