We are seeing a wave of Americans moving to Portugal. Thinking about joining the thousands of Americans in Portugal? Here’s what you should know.
What is American expat life like in Portugal?
The minute you set foot in Portugal, you can see why it’s so popular among American expats. It’s an easy life – the pace is slow, the food is good, the climate is temperate, the beaches are sandy, and the people are kind.
Its cities and towns range from timeless, fairytale villages like Óbidos to the hip neighborhoods of Lisbon. Living in Portugal has many advantages: a warm climate, stunning landscapes, the Atlantic Ocean on your doorstep, and a relatively low cost of living.
Although the Portuguese generally speak excellent English, it is worth knowing some basics if you are committed to living in the country. Expat life in Portugal can be whatever you make it – whether you like going to jazz evenings in the Castelo De São Jorge or hiking the Portuguese Camino de Santiago.
For more information on life in this stunning European country, read out guide to expats in Portugal.
Why are Americans moving to Portugal?
There are many reasons Americans are moving to Portugal. The amount of Americans living in Portugal rose 45% from the previous year in 2021. A more affordable cost of living, high quality of life, access to public healthcare, and an excellent climate are some of the most common reasons.
In 2022, the dollar surged to its highest level in two decades, while the euro fell to a new five-year low. This has made European countries with low living costs incredibly attractive to Americans who have earned or saved their money.
The rise in remote working means that many employers allow their employees to work from anywhere, allowing US employees to live in Portugal and take advantage of special visas for digital nomads.
Portugal is very safe, ranking sixth in the 2022 Global Peace Index. International schools in the country are also excellent, attracting many American families looking to move to Europe.
The country also has a booming tech and startup scene mirroring San Francisco’s. In fact, Lisbon’s Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge is based partly on two San Francisco Bay Area bridges, a nice glimpse of home for Californians.
There is a thriving arts scene within “cultural centers” (Centros Culturais) for those interested in the arts and culture. These centers usually exhibit art, local films, and experimental music.
The Cost of Living in Portugal versus the USA
Portugal’s comparatively low living costs are incredibly alluring to expats. You can compare the cost of living between the US and Portugal here.
A cappuccino in New York costs an average of €4.84, while in Lisbon, it comes in at around €1.87. That’s a +159.2 percent difference in price.
Fresh produce is readily available in Portugal at local markets, noticeably cheaper than in the US.
You’ll notice that the further you travel from the main cities, the cheaper the living costs. Lisbon will always be more expensive than just about anywhere else in Portugal.
How to Move to Portugal From the USA
Moving to any country can be stressful and feel like a never-ending to-do list.
If you’re coming from the US, we’d recommend focusing on the following:
- Applying for the correct visa
- Finding accommodation
- Researching transportation for your goods
To live in Portugal, you must have a Portuguese residence permit. A residence permit 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.
You can live and work in Portugal freely if you’re an EU citizen. However, you will need a visa if you’re a US citizen.
The Portuguese visa process
There are various options available to you, depending on your circumstances and what you want. The Portuguese Golden Visa investment and D7 Visa programs are popular routes.
If you are moving to Portugal from outside the European Union (EU), you’ll need a temporary residence visa to establish residence. Some of the most common visa options include:
- Portugal Golden Visa
- D7 Visa (also known as the Passive Income Visa)
- Portugal Digital Nomad Visa
- Study in Portugal
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 the move by the Portuguese government to welcome foreign investors into the county.
The Golden Visa program allows investors to live and work in Portugal. After five years of the program, they can apply for Portuguese citizenship and permanent residence.
Introduced in 2012, the program offers different investment routes, including:
- Purchasing 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 percent discount will apply.
- Buying 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 percent discount will apply.
- Purchasing 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.
- Contributing to a qualified investment fund of at least €500,000
- Making a capital transfer of at least €1.5 million
- Investing a minimum of €500,000 to scientific or technological research
- Supporting the arts or reconstruction of national heritage with a donation of at least €250,000
- Incorporating and creating ten jobs, amounting to a minimum worth of €500,000
The real estate option is usually the most popular route, accounting for more than 90 percent of applications. This route is also the most popular among American expats.
You must open a Portuguese bank account and obtain a NIF (tax identification number) to get the Golden Visa. Before moving, you can obtain both a bank account and a NIF number.
Benefits of the Portugal Golden Visa
The Portugal Golden Visa offers:
- The right to family reunification
- Visa-free travel in the Schengen Area
- Permission to live and work in Portugal
- The right to apply for permanent residence and citizenship after five years, as long as you fulfill the requirements
If you would like to speak to a specialist about the Golden Visa application and its requirements, get in touch with one of our team members. Since its inception, more than 11,535 investors and 18,809 family members have benefitted from the Portugal Golden Visa.
Portugal’s D7 Visa
The D7 Visa – also known as the Passive Income or Retirement Visa – is an affordable visa for non-EU nationals who want to move to Portugal and secure Portuguese residency, provided they have sufficient funds to sustain themselves once in the country.
After five years of living in Portugal, you can apply for permanent residence and citizenship, provided that you meet all the requirements under Portuguese nationality law.
To apply for this residency visa, you need to:
- Be a non-EU national
- Earn a passive income of at least €760 per month (your income can come from pensions, transferable equity, real estate, intellectual property, or financial equity)
- Show proof of a place to live in Portugal
The residency card is valid for two years when first issued. For these two years, visa holders cannot leave the country for a period of six consecutive months or eight months in total.
Upon renewal, the card is valid for three more years. During the three-year period, visa holders cannot leave the country for six consecutive months or eight months in total during this three-year period.
This residence visa option is ideal for retirees and entrepreneurs who wish to move to Portugal without having to make a significant economic investment.
You can find out more in our article on the Portugal D7 Visa.
You can also check out other visa programs in our Portugal Immigration Guide, including visa options for working in Portugal. The Digital Nomad Visa is an excellent option if you want to work remotely from Portugal.
European citizenship through heritage
If you have parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents from an EU country, 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.
Portuguese citizenship can be obtained after living in the country for five years, provided you meet the requirements under Portuguese nationality law. You can also apply for permanent residence.
As a Portuguese citizen – or any EU citizen, for that matter – you can enjoy benefits such as the right to live, work, and study in any EU country.
Regardless of which visa program you are applying for, you must submit a visa application form to the closest Portuguese Embassy or Portuguese Consulate in the US.
You will need to download a Portuguese visa application form for the Schengen Area.
The following documents will be required:
- Two passport photographs
- A valid passport and copies of your previous visas
- A copy of your return ticket reservation, depending on your nationality
- Travel insurance with Schengen Area coverage
- 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
To rent or to buy?
Your first decision is whether to rent or buy a home when moving to Portugal.
While renting gives you flexibility and the safety blanket of a landlord to carry out repairs, you won’t be 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 seem too much work for some expats.
Overall, an investment in real estate is not only a pathway to residency but a sound investment with a stable opportunity for financial growth.
How to find the right property in Portugal
If you don’t speak the Portuguese language, we would advise using experts to guide you through the process of making a Portugal real estate purchase.
It can be a complicated process, so we would seriously recommend seeking independent legal advice in your home country and Portugal in addition to working with an experienced real estate agent.
Going it alone can be challenging, so find a buyer’s real estate agent in Portugal if possible. Goldcrest, our real estate division, is a buyer’s agent who can provide tailored advice for your needs. We can guide you through the whole process, from scouting properties you won’t find on the market through to property acquisition.
In our article, Buying Property in Portugal, you can also learn about the home-buying process for expats looking to live 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: Mortgages in Portugal for Foreigners.
First, speak to a broker or complete an online form. They’ll let you know whether a mortgage approval is likely and under what conditions. Assuming that goes well, you’ll get a quote, usually just a day or two after the initial assessment.
Terms and conditions
If the quote matches your budget, 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.
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, such as financial statements.
Approval and deposit
All being well, your mortgage will be approved, and you’ll soon have a new Portuguese address.
Your broker will confirm the terms and conditions and ask if you wish to proceed. Assuming your answer is yes, you’ll need to open a Portuguese bank account. Then you’ll be asked to deposit enough funds to cover the valuation fee.
Education in Portugal
Both the standard of teaching and the general level of English in Portugal are very high, with the country ranking in seventh position in the 2021 Education First English Proficiency Index.
Regardless of nationality, children in Portugal must be in school between the ages of six and 18. If you live in Portugal, residents can access free education through public schools.
There are also excellent international schools in the country, particularly in Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve region. The Carlucci American International School Of Lisbon and the International Christian School of Cascais are two excellent options for American students in Portugal. Lisbon also has options for French, German, and British curricula.
Read our guide on International Schools in Portugal for further information.
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.
Suppose you’re coming to Portugal from elsewhere in the EU. In that case, 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.
Partly because of the crowded public healthcare system, retirees in Portugal often carry private health insurance.
Even as a retiree, if you come from outside the EU, you’re not entitled to public healthcare until you’re a resident. That means you’ll need private health insurance when you move to Portugal.
For more information, read our article on Portuguese healthcare.
Americans Retiring in Portugal
What to consider when retiring
First, establish what exactly you want from your retirement.
It might be that you want to play golf regularly, take up new hobbies like cooking or pottery, or you might want to simply enjoy an authentic Portuguese lifestyle. You might want to take up a gardening project. Whatever your goals may be, it’s a good idea to factor them into your decision to retire in Portugal.
You might dream of a thriving expat community, or you might want to step back and enjoy a remote area befriending lifelong locals. If you envision a lifestyle for your retirement, we advise you to figure out precisely what that is.
Portugal is a wonderland of leisure activities for US citizens retiring in Portugal. If you love golf, look no further than the Algarve region, which has some of the best golf courses in Europe. If you’d rather sample the gastronomic delights of Portugal, consider Porto, 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 extending 600 kilometers from north to south, with beaches hugging the coast the whole way.
If you want to speak Portuguese, you will likely find the language a little complicated.
However, with patience and practice, you’ll get to grips with essential Portuguese – and, perhaps with the help of a couple of Portuguese friends – you shouldn’t find it too difficult.
Most people speak excellent English, although, in more interior areas, you may find that older people do not speak English.
Portugal living costs for US retirees
Moving to Portugal, you may be pleasantly surprised by the living costs, although you will find that prices are increasing in bigger cities such as Lisbon.
Tax benefits and the Non-Habitual Residence (NHR) program
The NHR program is a popular program from the Portuguese government that gives generous tax benefits to expats in Portugal for ten years.
Launched in 2009 by the Portuguese government, 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 the Complete Guide to Portugal’s NHR tax regime.
Americans Moving to Portugal
Transportation of Goods for Americans Moving to Portugal
Americans moving to Portugal should know about the customs regulations regulating the moving and shipping of goods across the Atlantic.
Before moving to Portugal, you must go to your local Portuguese Consulate and request a Certificado de Bagagem (Luggage Certificate). You can obtain this by giving a complete inventory of the possessions and household goods you plan to take to Portugal.
As long as you do not have any special medication, you should be able to find what you need in Portugal or import it once you are already there.
Shipping and flying goods
When moving your household goods and belongings to Portugal, several options are open to you.
Shipping by sea is the most wallet-friendly option but is also the slowest. You should receive your items within one to three months.
By comparison, shipping by air is the fastest and most expensive option. Your items should be with you within a week. You will need to trade off either expenses or time when choosing one option over the other.
Here is a table to provide you with some information on the average cost of sea freight for a 20 ft 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 meter cubed 250 kg (about 551.156 lbs) container of household items to Portugal:
|New York, USA||Lisbon, Portugal||$2,705.42|
|Los Angeles, USA||Lisbon, Portugal||$3,205.42|
For home goods storage, you might need a place to keep your items on either a short-term or long-term basis. Unfortunately, your options in Portugal may be limited. Portugal is amongst the European Union (EU) countries with the fewest options for self-storage per capita.
For Americans moving to Portugal with pets, be aware that Portugal abides by European rules for bringing pets into the country. If you are taking your dog or cat on your brand-new adventure, ensure you’re familiar with these rules.
In short, you can 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. Only dogs and cats can accompany you from America or outside the EU.
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 before the animal moves.
Your dog or cat must also enter Portugal through a Traveler’s Point of Entry, which includes Lisbon Airport or the airports in Porto, Faro, Funchal, Ponta Delgada, Ilha Terceira, or Beja.
Certain dog breeds 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:
- Statement of responsibility if staying in Portugal for less than four months
- A notification if staying longer than four months
More information on moving to Portugal with your pet can be found here.
There are no special vaccination requirements needed for Portuguese immigration when moving to Portugal.
Routine vaccinations like measles-mumps-rubella, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), and polio are required. A yearly flu shot is also recommended.
Moving to Portugal: Pros and Cons
No country is without its ups and downs. 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 a nutshell of pros and cons.
- 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 European 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. If you become a resident, however, you will be able to access the Portuguese healthcare service (SNS), which is very affordable.
- Often limited availability of goods and services, especially in rural areas
- Moving away from friends and family has the potential for homesickness, loneliness, and culture shock
Portugal versus Spain
Both Portugal and Spain are excellent countries for expats to move to. 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 known as 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 versus 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. Still, it’s always best to check with reputable professionals to ensure you’re making the right choices for your situation to find the most appropriate visa option for you.
Help moving to Portugal
If you need help 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 Step-by-Step Guide 2023 – 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
Frequently Asked Questions about Americans Moving to Portugal
Why do Americans move to Portugal?
An excellent year-round climate, fantastic beaches a short distance from the capital, great food, high quality of life, and low living costs are some reasons Americans move to Portugal. There are also some successful tax incentives that US citizens can benefit from in Portugal.
Is it easy for Americans to get a Portuguese visa?
As an American citizen, you’ll need to get a residence permit in Portugal if you want to stay there for more than three months.
Moving to Portugal is relatively straightforward for US citizens. There are a number of different ways for Americans to get a Portuguese visa, through work, marriage, or the Golden Visa investment program.
After five years, you can apply for permanent residency and Portuguese citizenship, provided you meet all the requirements under Portuguese nationality law.
Where do Americans live in Portugal?
Most Americans in Portugal live in Lisbon, Porto, or the Algarve. Portugal offers an array of stunning locations, whether you are looking for a buzzing city, peaceful village, or waterfront beach house.
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 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 countries in our article here: Best Countries to Move to From the USA: Everything You Need to Know.
How to retire in Portugal from the US?
You can retire to Portugal from the US by either applying for a D7 Visa or through the Golden Visa program.
Can a US citizen move to Portugal?
A US citizen can enter Portugal without a visa and stay there for 90 days. You will need to secure a visa and obtain a residence permit for a long-term stay. Different visa options are better suited to different people.
How much money do you need to immigrate to Portugal?
Portugal’s cost of living is significantly lower than America’s. With the D7 Visa, you will need to earn a passive income of at least €760 per month. Many foreign investors opt for the Golden Visa scheme, with minimum investment starting at €250,000 (for the cultural Golden Visa option).
Is healthcare in Portugal free?
American expats can benefit hugely from the Portuguese healthcare system. Portugal has a public and affordable healthcare system called the Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS). The SNS provides medical care at a low cost or for free, depending on your circumstances and if you have a legal residence permit.
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 has an excellent reputation and is becoming increasingly common.
Is it safe to live in Portugal?
The Global Peace Index ranked Portugal as the sixth safest country in the world in 2023.
What are some of the bad things about living in Portugal?
Some downsides to living in Portugal for US citizens include a slow bureaucratic process, poor insulation in homes, a potentially cold winter, and a language barrier (particularly in more remote parts of the country).
If you’re considering working in a bar or coffee shop, note that the Portuguese minimum wage is relatively low compared to other western European countries.
Can I move to Portugal without a job?
A US citizen can move to Portugal without a job if they have a passive income through the D7 Visa or if they make an investment through the Golden Visa program.
American students also do not need a job to move to Portugal if they’re moving with a student visa.