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 and low crime levels to its amazing stretches of Atlantic coastline and thriving cities, here is what Americans moving to Portugal should know.

What is expat 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, sandy beaches, golf courses, and natural beauty throughout the country? Its cities and towns range from timeless, fairytale-like villages like Óbidos to the hip neighborhoods of Lisbon. And, of course, the genuinely friendly spirit of the Portuguese makes it such a natural choice for anyone moving to Portugal.

Living in Portugal has many advantages: a warm climate, stunning landscapes, the Atlantic Ocean on your doorstep, and a relatively low cost of living. The country has a low crime rate, good education and healthcare, and significant tax advantages for residents.

Although the Portuguese generally speak excellent 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, although this is becoming less of a problem.

For more information on life in this stunning European country, check out our guide to expats in Portugal.

 

Why are Americans moving to Portugal?

There are several different reasons why Americans are moving to Portugal. 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. Also, Portugal ranks in sixth position in the 2022 Global Peace Index, highlighting that the country is a very safe place to live. International schools in the country are also excellent, attracting many American families looking to move to Europe.

With delicious cuisine, a relaxed pace of life, and a variety of exciting places to live – the buzzing capital of Lisbon, the historic Portuguese city of Porto, the stunning beaches of the Algarve, or the authentic Silver Coast, many Americans are flocking to Portugal. The country also has a booming tech and startup scene, and the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge in Lisbon is based partly on two San Francisco Bay Area bridges, a nice glimpse of home for Californians. The sheer diversity of locations in Portugal is a big attraction – whether you are a retiree, young professional, or family, there are many options to consider.

 

The Cost of Living in Portugal versus the USA

One of the most appealing aspects of spending time in Portugal is its low 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 expensive imported goods, and if you choose to eat fresh produce from local markets, and buy local Portuguese wine, which is excellent.

You’ll also notice that the more you go outside the main cities, the cheaper the living costs.  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 understanding which visa is best for you, and how to ship your goods and healthcare in the country. That said, if you have the correct information, you should be able to, without much trouble, move to Portugal easily.

To stay and 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. Here, we’ll provide you with some information on the visa process, and on two popular routes, through the Portuguese Golden Visa investment program and the D7 Visa program.

The Visa process

If you are moving to Portugal and you’re from outside the European Union (EU), you’ll need a temporary residence visa in order 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
  • Schengen Visa (these are short-term, tourist visas required from some countries)
  • Study in Portugal
  • D2 Visa

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.

Following five years of holding down your investment and being a temporary resident, you can apply for permanent residence and Portuguese citizenship. You will need to meet the criteria under Portuguese nationality law, for example, having a clean criminal record and passing a basic Portuguese language test.

Introduced in 2012, the Portugal Golden Visa 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 percent 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 percent discount will apply.
  • Purchase 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.
  • Contribute to a qualified investment fund of at least  €500,000
  • Make a capital transfer of at least €1.5 million
  • Contribute 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

While the real estate option is the most popular route, accounting for more than 90 percent of applications, many American expats and investors are choosing the investment fund option, which has been increasing in popularity in the past few years.

You will need to open a Portuguese bank account and obtain a NIF (tax identification number). You can obtain both a bank account and a NIF number before moving to Portugal.

Benefits of the Portugal Golden Visa

The Portugal Golden Visa program is granted based on an investment in Portugal. Golden Visas have been particularly popular with expats who wish to buy real estate in Portugal. Benefits of the Portugal Golden Visa include:

  • The right to family reunification
  • A waiver of the usual residence visa for Portugal
  • A visa exemption for travel in the Schengen Area
  • 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 each year after that)
  • The right to apply for permanent residence and citizenship after five years, as long as you fulfill the 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 the Golden Visa application and its requirements, get in touch with one of our team members. Since its inception, more than 11,180 investors and 18,368 family members have benefitted from the Portugal Golden Visa.

Portugal’s D7 Visa

The D7 Visa – also known as the Passive Income Visa 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 Portugal 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
  • Be willing to reside for more than 183 consecutive days per calendar year in Portugal

This residence 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 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 all the requirements under Portugal nationality law. As a Portuguese citizen – or any EU citizen, for that matter – you can enjoy an array of benefits, including the ability to live, work, and study in any EU country and enjoy visa-free access to 172 countries.

Required documents

Whichever visa type you are applying for, you will need to submit a visa application form to the Portuguese Embassy or Portuguese 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 valid 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 residency but a sound investment with a stable opportunity for financial growth.

How to find the right property in Portugal

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Particularly if you don’t speak the Portuguese 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 it alone can be challenging, so find a buyer’s real estate agent in Portugal if possible. These are less common than in the US, so try to get recommendations through friends or online communities, like Facebook expat groups in Portugal.

Goldcrest, our real estate division, is a buyer’s agent that can provide you tailored advice for your circumstances, guiding you through the buying process, from scouting out properties that you won’t find on the market all the way through to property acquisition.

You can also 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: Mortgages in Portugal for Foreigners.

  • 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, such as financial statements.
  • Approval and Deposit. If all goes well, your mortgage will be approved, and you’ll soon have your new Portuguese address. 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 Portuguese 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 the level of English in the country is very high, ranking in 7th position in the 2021 Education First English Proficiency Index.

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 free education through public schools, as well as excellent international schools, particularly in Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve region.

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 curricula.

You can see our guide on International Schools in Portugal for further information.

 

Healthcare in Portugal

Public healthcare

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 healthcare

In part because of the crowded public healthcare 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 resident. That means you’ll need private health insurance when you move to 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 few things you need to consider.

What to consider when retiring

First, establish what exactly you want from your retirement. It might be that you want to play golf regularly or enjoy an authentic Portuguese lifestyle. 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 to retire in Portugal.

You might be dreaming of a thriving expat community or want to step back and find a more remote and peaceful area with lifelong locals. If you envision a certain type of lifestyle for your retirement, we advise you to figure out what exactly that is.

Leisure activities

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 for 600 kilometers from north to south, with beaches hugging the coast the whole way.

Learn Portuguese

If you want to speak Portuguese, you will 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. You can live in Portugal comfortably with an estimated €1,300 to €1,500 ($1,500 to $1,700) per month in small towns or €1,700 ($2,200) in larger urban areas such as Lisbon or Porto.

Tax benefits and the Non-Habitual Residence (NHR) program

The NHR program is a very popular program from the Portuguese government that gives generous tax benefits to expats in Portugal for a ten-year period.

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 our Portugal's NHR tax regime: the complete guide

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Americans Moving to Portugal

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 is 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 of a sea freight for a 20 ft container of furniture (according to World Freight Rates and SeaRates).

Flight departureFlight destinationPriceDuration
New York City, USALisbon, Portugal$1,229.1114 days
Los Angeles, USALisbon, Portugal$2,993.4127 days

The price for shipping a meter cubed 250 kg (about 551.156 lbs) container of household items to Portugal:

DepartingDestinationPrice
New York, USALisbon, Portugal$2,705.42
Los Angeles, USALisbon, 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 Union (EU) 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 search 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 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 that are 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 Lisbon airport, plus the airports in Porto, 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.

 

Pros and Cons of Moving to Portugal

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 European 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. 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 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 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 to find the most appropriate visa option for you.

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 US 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 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. If you are looking to live in a larger city, say Lisbon, you’ll find some stunning properties outside the city center and in the surrounding area.

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 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 is able to enter Portugal without a visa and stay in the country for 90 days. For a long-term stay, you will need to secure a visa and obtain a residence permit. There are different visa options that are better suited to different people.

How much money do you need to immigrate to Portugal?

Moving to Portugal is very easy for Americans. Portugal’s costs are significantly lower than those in America. 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 (arts donation route).

Is healthcare in Portugal free?

One of the key reasons why Portugal is good for American expats is 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 low or no cost, 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 is very good and 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 2022. With a low crime rate, Portugal is friendly to Americans and expats, with the locals noted to be very welcoming.

What are some of the bad things about living in Portugal?

Some of the disadvantages to living in Portugal for US citizens include: the bureaucratic process can be slow, insulation inside houses can be lacking meaning it can get cold in winter, and, in the very remote parts of the country, older locals may not speak English. The Portuguese minimum wage is also relatively low compared to other western European countries.