Moving to Portugal from the US: The Definitive Guide

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. Indeed, it is incredibly easy to live in Portugal. 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.

Living in Portugal has many advantages: a warm climate, stunning landscapes, the ocean on your doorstep, and a relatively low cost of living. The country has a low crime rate, very good education and healthcare, and there are significant tax advantages for residents. Although the Portuguese generally speak very good English, it is worth knowing some basics if you are committed to living in the country. Also, when it comes to the cons of Portugal, it is good to have some cash on you, as some places have yet to take up card payments.

For more information on life in Portugal, check out our guide to expats in 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.

 

How To Move to Portugal From the USA

Moving to any country can be difficult. Moving to Portugal from the USA, there are certain things that you should be aware of, such as which visa is best for you, how to ship your goods, and about the healthcare in the country. That said, if you have the right information, you should be able to, without much trouble, be able to move easily to Portugal. Essentially to stay and live in Portugal, you will need to have a Portuguese residence permit. This can be obtained if you find work in the country, enroll in a long-term course of studies, marry a Portuguese citizen, or invest in Portugal’s economy. Here, we’ll provide you with some information on the visa process, and on two popular routes, the Portugal Golden Visa and the D7 Visa. 

 

The Visa Process

If you are moving 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: 

  • The Golden Visa
  • D7 Visa
  • Schengen Visa (these are short-term, tourist visas required from some countries)
  • Study
  • Work
  • Tech
  • Startup
  • D2

 

Portugal Golden Visa

The Portugal Golden Visa Program or the Residence Permit Program is a five-year residency-by-investment scheme open to non-EU nationals. It is part of Portugal’s move to welcome foreign investors into the county. 

Introduced in 2012, the program offers different investment routes to investors, including:

  • Purchase residential real estate in designated interior areas of Portugal, worth at least €500,000 or €350,000, if investing in a rehabilitation project. If the residential property is located in a “low-density area”, then a 20% discount will apply.
  • Buy commercial real estate anywhere in the county worth at least €500,000 or €350,000, if investing in a rehabilitation project. If the commercial property is located in a “low-density area”, then a 20% discount will apply.
  • Buy real estate on the autonomous islands of Madeira or the Azores, worth at least €500,000 or €350,000, if investing in a rehabilitation project.
  • Make a contribution to an investment qualified fund, that is worth at least  €500,000.
  • Make a capital transfer of at least €1.5 million.
  • Make a contribution to scientific or technological research worth at least €500,000.
  • Support the arts or reconstruction of national heritage with a donation of at least €250,000.
  • Company incorporation and the creation of ten jobs, amounting to a minimum value of €500,000.

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

Take a look at our Portugal Golden Visa Ultimate Guide by local experts

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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.

Portugal’s D7 Visa

The D7 is an affordable visa for non-EU nationals that want to move to Portugal and secure Portuguese residency, provided that they have sufficient funds to sustain themselves once in the country. 

To obtain the D7 Visa, applicants will need to provide proof that they have a minimum income or pensions for a 12-month duration.

  • €7.980 for the first adult
  • €3.600 for second or more adults
  • €2.160 per child

This visa option is ideal for retirees and entrepreneurs who wish to move to Portugal without having to make a major economic investment. 

More information on the D7 Visa can be found here

Other visa options can be found here

 

European Citizenship Through Heritage

If you have parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents that were from an EU country, then you may be eligible for EU citizenship. The countries in the EU that provide the most favorable routes for citizenship by descent are Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Latvia, and Lithuania. 

 

Required Documents

Whichever visa type you are applying for, you will need to submit a visa application form to the Portuguese embassy or consulate in the USA. You will need to download a Portuguese visa application form for the Schengen Area. 

The following documents will be required: 

  • Two passport photographs
  • Your passport and copies of your previous visas
  • A copy of your return ticket reservation, depending on your nationality
  • Travel insurance to cover you for the Schengen area
  • Flight dates and times
  • Accommodation plans for the duration of your stay
  • Proof of sufficient funds for the duration of your stay
  • Proof of civil status 
  • Proof of economic status
  • You may need to show extra documentation, e.g. students will need to show proof of enrollment to a Portuguese institution

 

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

Find 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 who are looking to live in Portugal 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. If you live in Portugal, 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

Public System

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.

Private 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.

Americans retiring in Portugal

For Americans retiring in Portugal, there are a couple of things you need to consider.

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.

Leisure activities

Portugal is a wonderland of leisure activities for a US citizen retiring in Portugal. 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. 

Portugal living costs for US retirees

Moving to Portugal, you may be pleasantly surprised by the living costs. You can live in Portugal comfortably with an estimated €1,300-€1,500 (US$1,500-1,700) per month in small towns or €1,700 ($2,200) in larger urban areas such as Lisbon or Porto.

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.

Take a look at our Portugal's NHR tax regime: the complete guide

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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. Moving to 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!

 

Customs

Americans moving to Portugal should know about the customs regulations in the country when it comes to moving and shipping goods across the Atlantic. 

Before you move to Portugal, you will need to go to your local Portuguese consulate and request a Certificado de Bagagem (Luggage Certificate). You can obtain this by giving a complete inventory of your possessions and household goods that you are planning on taking to Portugal.

As long as you do not have any special medication, you should be able to find what you need in Portugal or be able to import it once you are already there. 

 

Shipping and Flying Goods 

When it comes to moving your household goods and belongings to Portugal, there are various options open to you. 

Shipping by sea is generally the most wallet-friendly option, but also the slowest. You should receive your items within one to three months. In contrast, shipping by air is the fastest option, but also the most expensive. Your items should be with you within a week. You will need to trade off either expenses or time taken when choosing one option over the other. 

Here is a table to provide you with some information on the average cost for a sea freight for a 20ft container of furniture (according to World Freight Rates and  SeaRates).

Flight departure Flight destination Price Duration
New York City, USA Lisbon, Portugal $1,229.11 14 days
Los Angeles, USA Lisbon, Portugal $2,993.41 27 days

The price for shipping a m3 250KG container of household items to Portugal:

Departing Destination Price
New York, USA Lisbon, Portugal $2,705.42
Los Angeles, USA Lisbon, Portugal $3,205.42

 

Storage

For home goods storage, if you need a place to keep your items on either a short-term or long-term basis, then your options in Portugal may be limited. Portugal is amongst the European countries with the fewest options for self-storage per capita.

In the larger cities, such as Lisbon and Porto, you will find more options. You can try researching where it is possible by typing “armazenamento” into your preferred self engine, which means “storage” and checking out your options. You will probably need to contact the company by phone or email to receive a cost quote and to book your storage in advance.

 

Pets

For Americans moving to Portugal with pets, you should be aware that Portugal abides by the European rules for bringing pets into the country. If you are taking your dog or cat with you on your brand-new adventure, make sure you know the rules in place. 

In short, you are allowed to bring up to five animals to Portugal, as long as it is for non-commercial purposes. The rules will vary on whether you are coming from within or outside the EU. 

Coming from America, or outside the EU, only dogs and cats can accompany you. The pets must also be microchipped or have a readable tattoo, and be vaccinated against rabies. This vaccination should be administered before or at the same time as the microchip is implemented and at least 21 days prior to the animal being moved. 

Your dog or cat must also enter Portugal through a Traveler’s Point of Entry, which includes the airports of Lisbon, Oporto, Faro, Funchal, Ponta Delgada, Ilha Terceira, and Beja. 

A further consideration is that there are certain dog breeds that are considered to be dangerous. These include Fila Brasileiro, Dogo Argentino, Pitbull terrier, Rottweiler, American Staffordshire terrier, Tosa Inu, and the Staffordshire bull terrier. While these breeds are allowed into Portugal, at the Traveler’s Point of Entry, the owner will need to sign the following:

More information on moving to Portugal with your pet can be found here.

 

Vaccinations

There are not any specific vaccination requirements needed for Portuguese immigration when moving to Portugal. The required ones are routine, that you will usually have received when you were young. These are measles-mumps-rubella, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis,varicella (chickenpox) and polio.

Taking the yearly flu shot is also recommended. 

 

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.

Pros

  • Great weather in most parts of Portugal, most of the year
  • Friendly people and a culture that welcomes foreigners
  • 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

Cons

  • 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.

How can Global Citizen Solutions help you?

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

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Frequently Asked Questions about Americans moving to Portugal

Why do Americans move to Portugal?

A good year-round climate, fantastic beaches a short distance from the capital, great food, high quality of life, and low living costs are just some of the reasons Americans move to Portugal. There are also a number of successful tax incentives that American citizens can benefit from in Portugal.

Is it easy for Americans to get a Portuguese visa?

Moving to Portugal is not so difficult for US citizens. There are a number of different ways for Americans to a get Portuguese visas, through work, marriage, or investment.

Where do Americans live in Portugal?

Most Americans in Portugal live in Lisbon, Porto or the Algarve.

Are there international schools in Portugal?

If you live in Portugal, you will find that there are many excellent international schools in the country, most of which are located around the Lisbon and Cascais area, and also in the Algarve in the south of the country.

Besides Portugal, where else can Americans relocate to?

Americans looking to move abroad can consider the top ten countries in the world to move to.

How to retire in Portugal from the US?

You can retire to Portugal from the US by either applying through the D7 visa route or the Golden Visa route.

Can American citizens move to Portugal?

Moving to Portugal is definitely possible for Americans. You will need to secure a visa to enter the country and gain a residence permit. Popular visa options include the Portugal Golden Visa and the D7 Visa. Then you will be able to live in Portugal.

How much money do you need to immigrate to Portugal?

Moving to Portugal is very easy for Americans. With the D7 Visa, you will need to show that you receive €7.980 in income for every 12 months for one person. With the Golden Visa, a minimum investment of  €250,000 is required.

Is healthcare in Portugal free?

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 and if you are a resident in the country. It’s a publicly funded system that operates through a network of public hospitals and community health centers. There is also the private healthcare option, which is very good and becoming increasingly common.

Is it safe to live in Portugal?

The Global Peace Index ranked Portugal as the fourth safest country in the world in 2021. Portugal has a low crime rate and friendly, welcoming people, making it a safe place to live.