Portugal is fast becoming a top destination to relocate to. From the country’s friendly local population, low crime levels, amazing stretches of Atlantic coastline, to thriving cities, here is what Americans moving to Portugal should know.
What is life like in Portugal?
The minute you set foot in Portugal, you can see why it’s so popular among expats. Who doesn’t love the temperate climate, wide beaches, golf courses, and natural beauty throughout the country? Its cities and towns range from timeless, fairytale-like villages like Obidos to the hip neighborhoods of Lisbon. And, of course, there’s the genuinely friendly spirit of the Portuguese that makes it such a natural choice for anyone moving to Portugal.
Cost of living in Portugal vs USA
One of the most appealing aspects of spending time in Portugal is its affordable living costs. Whether it’s buying a coffee or the menu do día (menu of the day) from a typical Portuguese bakery or taking a train trip from Lisbon to Porto, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the affordable prices.
Your food budget will be noticeably less if you don’t buy lots of expensive imported goods, and eat fresh produce from local markets and buy local wine (of which there are many great varieties).
You’ll also notice that the more you go outside of the main cities, the living costs are cheaper. Lisbon will always be more expensive than just about anywhere else in Portugal. Public transport options outside the cities are also cheap and efficient.
Best communities for expats in Portugal
Life in Lisbon itself might lend itself more to the young at heart. If you’re excited by the buzzing city life, then Lisbon is a great option. The cost of living in Lisbon is, of course, among the highest in Portugal. However, these costs are still very reasonable in comparison to other capital cities around Europe like Paris.
A quick 30-minute drive from the Lisbon airport, the former fishing village of Cascais retains a sophisticated charm, with less hustle and bustle than Lisbon. Despite having more than 200,000 inhabitants, Cascais is still considered a village – and it retains much of that feeling. In earlier years, Cascais was popular with royal families, who would visit the beaches every chance they got for a bit of warm sand and sunny weather.
Porto has always been a popular choice for Americans moving to Portugal, because of the blend of timeless character and modernity in this old fishing town. It’s a popular tourist spot and is the second-largest city in Portugal – but it’s still a little less expensive than Lisbon, so it is a great option if you’re moving to Portugal.
The Algarve’s golden coast is a great place to consider if you’re moving to Portugal. With beautiful, unspoiled beaches and dramatic rocks along the shoreline, the Algarve region has been a haven for expats for generations.
Portugal’s Golden Visa Program
As an EU resident, you don’t need a visa to live in Portugal. Keep in mind that you do need to register within 90 days of your arrival, though. This is easy enough to do, with a quick visit to your local freguesia (town office).
However, if you intend to move to Portugal and you’re from outside the EU, you’ll need a visa in order to establish residence. Some of the most common visa options include:
- Schengen Visa (these are short-term, tourist visas required from some countries)
- Golden Visa
Benefits of Golden Visas
The Portugal Golden Visa is granted based on an investment in Portugal. Golden Visas have been very popular with expats who wish to buy real estate in Portugal – though there are a number of other investment types that will qualify. Golden Visa benefits include:
- The right to family reunification
- A waiver of the usual residence visa for Portugal
- A visa exemption for Schengen Area travel
- Permission to live and work in Portugal, as long as you spend at least one week in-country during the first year, and at least two weeks during each year after that
- The right to apply for permanent residence and citizenship after five years as long as you fulfill those separate requirements
If you would like to speak to a specialist about a Golden Visa application and its requirements, get in touch with one of our team member.
Finding accommodation in Portugal
Rent or Buy?
Your first decision is whether to rent or buy a home when moving to Portugal. While renting gives you flexibility and a landlord to rely on for repairs and updates, you’re not building equity in a rented property. Buying is an attractive alternative that can save you money in the long run, but finding and maintaining a property can be more than some expats want to deal with.
Overall, an investment in real estate is not only a pathway to residence, but a sound investment with a stable opportunity for financial growth.
How to find the right property in Portugal
Particularly if you don’t speak the language, we would advise using experts to ease the process of Portugal real estate purchases. It’s not an easy DIY project to go through, so you should seriously consider seeking independent legal advice in your home country and in Portugal, in addition to working with an experienced real estate agent.
Going at it alone can be hard, so if possible, find a buyer’s real estate agent in Portugal. These aren’t as common as in the US, so try to get recommendations through friends or online communities, like Facebook groups for expats in Portugal.
Learn more about the entire home-buying process for expats in our article, Buying Property in Portugal.
How to get a mortgage in Portugal
Here are the basic steps to getting a mortgage in Portugal. For more information, check out our full article on Mortgages for Foreigners in Portugal:
- Pre-Application. First, speak to a broker or complete an online form. They’ll let you know whether a mortgage approval is likely and what conditions might be possible. Assuming that goes well, you’ll get an actual mortgage quote, usually just a day or two after the initial assessment.
- Terms and Conditions. If the quote suits your needs, your broker will ask you to sign a terms and conditions sheet and pay a fee of €495. Note that if your mortgage is declined, the fee is typically refunded.
- Mortgage Application. Your broker should assist you with this and will submit it on your behalf. The broker will also walk you through any supporting documents you might need, like financial statements.
- Approval and Deposit. If all goes well, your mortgage will be approved. Your broker will confirm the terms and conditions, and ask you if you wish to proceed. Assuming your answer is yes, you’ll need to open a bank account. Then you’ll be asked to deposit enough funds to cover the valuation fee.
Education in Portugal
In general, Portugal’s population is well educated, and one in three Portuguese people speaks English. This number is noticeably higher among younger Portuguese people, especially those under 25 because English is widely taught in both public and private schools in Portugal.
Regardless of nationality, children in Portugal must be in school between the ages of 6 and 16. Residents can access state schools, as well as excellent international schools, particularly in Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve.
There are a number of international schools throughout the country. Two excellent options for American students in Portugal are the Carlucci American International School Of Lisbon and the International Christian School of Cascais. However, there are also options in Lisbon for French, German, and British curriculums, along with American-style education.
Learn more about options for American expats in our full article on international schools in Portugal.
Healthcare in Portugal
Portugal has a public healthcare system called the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS). The SNS provides medical care at low or no cost, depending on your circumstances. It’s a publicly funded system that operates through a network of public hospitals and community health centers.
Portuguese citizens and legal residents of Portugal can be registered in the public healthcare system. Tourists can’t register for the public system, but can still get emergency treatment if necessary.
If you’re coming to Portugal from elsewhere in the EU, you’ll need to show your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) from your country of origin, and your passport or identification document. This will allow you to get medical care via Portugal’s public system.
In part because of the crowded public system, retirees in Portugal often carry private health insurance. Remember that – even as a retiree – if you come from outside the EU, you’re not entitled to public healthcare until you’re a permanent resident. That means you’ll need private insurance for at least the first five years of your retirement in Portugal.
For more information, read our article on what healthcare is like in Portugal.
Retirement in Portugal
What to consider when retiring
First, establish what it is exactly you want from your retirement. It might be that you want to play golf regularly, or volunteer in your new community. You might want to take up a gardening project. Whatever your goals might be, it’s a good idea to factor your goals into your decision in retiring in Portugal.
You might be hankering after a thriving expat community, or you might want to step back and find a more remote and peaceful area with lifelong locals. If it’s a certain type of lifestyle that you envision for your retirement, we advise you to figure out what exactly that is.
Portugal is a wonderland of leisure activities for retirees. If you love golf, look no further than the Algarve, with some of the best courses in Europe. If you’d rather sample the gastronomic delights of Portugal, consider Lisbon, with its burgeoning food and wine scene.
Want nothing more than to lounge on the beach by day and tuck into a fresh-from-the-ocean seafood dinner every night? Portugal has an Atlantic coastline going for 600 kilometers from north to south, with beaches along the whole way.
Tax benefits and NHR
The Non-Habitual Residence (NHR) program is a very popular government program that gives generous tax benefits to expats in Portugal for a 10-year period.
Launched in 2009, the Portugal NHR program is designed to attract expats to Portugal. If you qualify for NHR status, you’re exempt from most taxes for ten years on income earned abroad from pensions, investments like 401Ks, capital gains, rental income, or work.
Americans Moving to Portugal
Americans are generally very welcome in Portugal. The culture in Portugal might be quite different from what you are used to back home. In Portugal, there is a slower way of living and more time is taken for personal life, hobbies, and time with family. We really mean everything is slower, so don’t expect to rush through ordering a coffee or an appointment at the bank. It will take longer than expected!
Should I move to Portugal?
We think so! But no country is without its ups and downs, of course. If you’re still considering whether Portugal is right for you, and where the best spot in the country might be, we’ve put together pros and cons that give you Portugal in a nutshell.
- Great weather in most parts of Portugal, most of the year
- Friendly people and a culture that welcomes expats
- Delicious fresh seafood and a thriving gastronomy scene
- Lower cost of living and less expensive real estate prices than in many other Western countries
- Low crime rates and a democratic state
- Healthcare: Particularly if you’re from the US, neither US health insurance nor Medicare will cover you here. Regardless of your country of origin, you’ll likely have to invest in some private international health insurance.
- Often limited availability of goods and services, especially in rural areas
- Moving away from friends and family has the potential for homesickness and culture shock
Portugal versus Spain
Portugal is considered more affordable and laid-back than its closest EU neighbor, Spain, and its property market hasn’t seen the same ups and downs. While Portugal has been considered a sleepy retirement spot in the past, buying a home in Portugal now is just as much about the return on investment as it is about the lifestyle.
If you’re undecided between Portugal and Spain, check out our handy Spain vs Portugal comparison guide here.
Work with a professional to get started
You’re about to embark on an exciting journey – moving to Portugal! There’s a lot of information on the internet, but it’s always best to check with reputable professionals, to ensure you’re making the right choices for your personal situation.
If you need help with relocating to Portugal, our team of experts can help.
Global Citizen Solutions specializes in assistance with residency and property investment in Portugal. Get in touch to schedule a free 15-minute consultation.
Resources on moving to Portugal
- How to get citizenship by investment in Portugal
- Golden Visa Portugal 2020 – The Ultimate Guide by Experts
- How to buy property in Portugal
- Where to buy property in Lisbon
- Mortgages in Portugal for foreigners
- Portugal’s NHR (non-habitual resident) tax regime: the complete guide
- Healthcare for foreigners in Portugal
- International schools in Portugal