Living in Madeira: Portugal’s most exciting hidden gem

living in madeira sun

Living in Madeira for the long term was high on my list of life goals, back amid the pandemic.

And now 2024 has come around, I’ve been happily living on this paradise island for over three years.

Funchal, the Madeiran capital, was the perfect place to wait out the worst effects of the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns.

I also believe that Madeira has excellent long-term potential as a digital émigré destination.

It’s one of the safest spots in Portugal (practically no crime!), which itself is one of the world’s safest countries.

Before I arrived in Madeira, I had no idea to what to expect. But after just a few months, I’d decided to make it my main base while working towards getting Portuguese citizenship.

So you’re probably wondering, what makes living in Madeira so compelling?

I’m here to tell you exactly why Madeira is one of the best choices for your EU citizenship mission

Benefits of living in Madeira

Let’s take a look at some of the great things Madeira has to offer. 

1. Year-round sunshine

2020 became the year I opted out of winter.

Amidst a pandemic, with lockdowns in place all over Europe, I was grateful for the opportunity to escape.

Because Madeira is so far south (600 km off the Moroccan coast on the same latitude as Marrakesh), living in Madeira means warm weather and a temperate climate all year round.

Some parts of the island are cooler than others (we saw snow a few times on the tallest mountain tops), but top destinations Funchal and Ponta do Sol are usually warm.

For example, I was on one of Madeira’s beaches on New Year’s Day 2021, in water warm enough for swimming.

living in madeira beach
Praia Formosa, a beach with black volcanic sand.

2. Pandemic-secure

Living in Madeira has certain advantages for avoiding the worst effects of a pandemic.

Being an island far out in the Atlantic, it’s easy for Madeira to control its borders. The main island only has one airport and there’s no other way of getting in.

Plus, Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal, so it can set different rules to those on the mainland.

This was evident during the Covid winter of 2020 and early 2021. The Madeiran government implemented an evening curfew, but during the daytime life continued mostly as normal. The government also set up free Covid testing at the airport for all arrivals.

In contrast, mainland Portugal went into full lockdown. All restaurants, bars, and gyms were closed.

Madeira experienced a few worrying weeks where virus cases spiked. But in general, the situation remained under control throughout.

With such pleasant weather, it was easy to socialize in the open air where the virus was less of an issue.

If you’re worried about the effects of future pandemics, living in Madeira could be one way to mitigate this.

3. Low cost of living (although this is changing)

In 2020/21, I was pleasantly surprised at the cost of living in Madeira, especially in terms of accommodation.

But, in January 2024, I must tell you that things have changed.

Funchal is still the most expensive part of Madeira, but prices have skyrocketed since the pandemic ended.

Rent and property prices are now heading into the vicinity of Lisbon – but with far fewer properties available (it’s a tiny island, after all).

For example, you’d now expect to pay around €1,500 per month for a good quality T1 (one-bedroom) apartment in the center of Lisbon. 

In 2020/21 Funchal, I found a short-term rental apartment for €700 per month.

By now, I’d expect that price to have almost doubled. You might find better deals for long-term rentals (i.e. more than 12 months), but the situation has changed in the last 1-2 years.

January 2024 update: Rental costs in Madeira have gone up a lot. Now you’re looking at spending at least €1,000 (if not more) for a one-bedroom in central Funchal. Prices outside Funchal, such as Machico, Caniço or Garajau, will be lower.

Eating out in Madeira is still affordable, especially if you stick to non-touristic places.

Many of the more touristy/international restaurants are also quite well-priced. My favorites in Funchal are Prima Caju, Threehouse Hotel, the Ritz, Art Corner, and MadCuba.

If you’re a fan of specialty coffee, you’ll find beans from a local Madeiran roastery (Greenhouse Coffee) served at Land Food & Coffee.

But you’ll have to work hard for it, as the cafe is up a very steep hill. Or you can take the cable car up the mountain. Land Food & Coffee is situated just underneath the end point of the cable car. 

Other specialty coffee places (as of 2024) include Studio Coffee, Arbor Cafe, Maia Coffee, Art Corner (Old Town), Art Corner (Forum Madeira), and Three House Hotel.

In Prazeres (the far west of the island), you can find Gato Legal Coffee, another specialty coffee shop and local roastery that also does home delivery to Funchal.

4. Amazing natural beauty

Nature is always close by when living in Madeira. The interior of the island is covered in greenery, including thousands of banana plants.

It even has some unique and unusual species, like the pineapple-banana fruit, and other strange-looking plants whose names I don’t know.

Striking vistas are never far away, especially from the tops of cliffs and high-level hiking paths.

From the heart of Funchal, you can walk along the oceanfront and spend time gazing out over the Atlantic and feeling the ocean breeze.

If you want a more rural, golden sand experience, the island of Porto Santo is just 2.5 hours away by ferry.

Here, the population is around 6,000, including a small remote worker community. There’s a large golden sandy beach and plenty of good hiking. 

living in madeira hiking
Early morning view over Madeira’s highest peak: Pico Ruivo.
living in madeira
Unusual plants that reminded me of the ‘Day of the Triffids’

5. High levels of safety and tolerance

Madeira is extremely safe, with very low rates of all types of crime, including pickpocketing, burglary and violent crime.

I felt 100% safe walking on the streets of Funchal at all hours of the day and night.

I noticed a few people living on the street, potentially drug addicts, but none of them seemed threatening whatsoever.

Madeira is also very accepting of LGBTQ travelers.  Restaurants and most service places are not discriminatory but nor are they hanging rainbow flags left and right. It’s just a relaxed acceptance.

Several of my LGBTQ friends say they feel comfortable holding hands with their partners in public. 

Portugal in general is an exceptionally safe country, but Madeira is a world apart.

6. Strong sense of community

Community is vital when you move to a new place. I was impressed with the community I found while living in Madeira.

Because of the island’s tourist focus, many locals speak excellent English.

There’s also compulsory English education from primary school level upwards.

It’s an easy place to make friends and people are open to interacting with newcomers.

Because it’s a small island, you’ll often bump into people you know, even when just having coffee at a street cafe in Funchal.

It’s a nice contrast to big city life, which tends towards the fast and impersonal.

My social life in Funchal has been far more active than it ever was in Lisbon. It soon reached the point where all the socializing was distracting me from doing my actual work! 

7. Remote worker-friendly

Madeira’s strong sense of community is very much present in the remote worker/digital nomad population.

Initiatives such as Startup Madeira’s Digital Nomad Village have done a lot to promote cohesion between newcomers to the island and help people get acquainted.

I arrived in late November 2020 and was immediately added to a lively WhatsApp group and Slack channel.

Both groups are full of remote workers from all over the world, based in Madeira.

Many had originally planned short visits, but ended up living in Madeira for the long term, just like me. Madeira has that effect.

I instantly felt part of the community and have made several lasting friendships.

The Digital Nomad Village has helped put Madeira on the map. It generated a lot of PR and buzz around the island.

We can expect to see that trend continuing in 2024, as people seek out new destinations to establish their lives.

In 2024, Madeira is seeing its fair share of transitory digital nomads, as well as digital émigrés and immigrants who are there for the long haul.

Here’s the final icing on the remote worker cake – Madeira has the fastest Internet in Portugal. 

living in madeira
Evening view of Funchal, seen from one of the many hotel rooftops.

8. Affordable property prices (not so much the case anymore!)

For the property investor, living in Madeira offers several compelling advantages (although prices have gone up significantly at the time of updating this post in January 2024).

You can still find (relatively) affordable property around the island, although you’ll have to look harder than in 2021/22. Funchal is by far the most expensive destination but with the biggest rental and resale potential.

Lots of new apartment complexes are in the process of construction.

In outlying areas of Funchal, such as Praia Formosa, you can find beachside apartments with amazing ocean views (update: I now live in one).

Camara de Lobos is an easy 15-minute drive from Funchal, so it makes a good up-and-coming destination where you may still find the odd bargain!

Residential areas of Funchal such as Santa Luzia or Madalena can still be good value, while still keeping you within easy walking distance of central Funchal. Watch out for the hills though, they’re a killer!

But on Madeira, nothing is very far away (unless it’s up a steep hill). Surrounding towns like Santa Cruz, Caniço or Machico offer good value within around a 20-minute drive from Funchal.

The village of Ponta do Sol (home of the famous Digital Nomad Village) is only a 30-minute drive from Funchal.

Ponta do Sol is the sunniest place on the island. It also has excellent potential for buying and renovating properties. The north side of the island yet has even more affordable properties.

While central Portugal definitely has some stunning towns, the weather is likely to be colder.

In some locations the international community may be limited (although that makes a great environment for learning Portuguese).

As for the Azores, they’re less developed than Madeira and further out (over two hours by air from Lisbon).

Don’t forget to check out this article on the pitfalls of buying property in Madeira (and how to avoid them).

If you’re interested in getting residency in Madeira, it’s worth considering the Golden Visa investment funds route.

It’s a fast route to residency with lower taxes and less hassle overall (compared to the now defunct property route).

Once you have your residency permit, you can then live freely anywhere in Portugal, with no restrictions.

9. Residents’ discounts on air travel

At present, the only way to travel between Madeira and mainland Europe is by air.

For starters, that means it’s not the best destination if you’re afraid of flying. Funchal’s airport was once considered one of the world’s most dangerous.

It’s less scary these days, thanks to an extended runway, but strong winds can still cause hairy landings from time to time.

Anyway, let’s talk about those residents’ discounts. The government of Madeira subsidizes return tickets between Madeira and the mainland for residents of the island.

The objective is to ensure island residents aren’t cut off from the rest of Portugal due to high transport costs. The Azores also has a similar scheme.

In Madeira, a return ticket is capped at €86 (with a maximum spend of €400). The government will refund you the difference, as long as it’s not more than €400 for the ticket.

The refund process is a little cumbersome. You have to go in person to a CTT office in Madeira with your passport, and proof of travel.

Three airlines currently fly daily routes between Madeira and mainland Portugal: TAP Air Portugal, EasyJet and, most recently, Ryanair.

There’s no shortage of flights to choose from every day. With these affordable prices, you can go to the mainland as often as you want.

living in madeira view
Funchal seen from high up the mountain, on the way down from Monte. It feels more rural the higher you go.

10. Special tax advantages

For those who wish to incorporate a company in Portugal, Madeira offers some interesting advantages over the mainland.

The Madeira International Business Centre is an initiative created in the late 80s, to rejuvenate the island’s economy by attracting foreign investment.

Companies incorporated in Madeira can benefit from a special 5% corporation tax rate, if they have overseas clients and make an investment in Madeira of €75,000 within the first two years.

Even without the investment, Madeira’s standard corporation tax is only 14.1%.

The company also needs to have a director living in Madeira (but they don’t need to be a Portuguese national). The €75,000 investment can include a property for the director to live in.

Please note, this is not tax advice. You should always speak to a qualified financial advisor before making any decisions involving tax.

11. Less bureaucracy than the mainland

New arrivals in Portugal often complain about difficulties with bureaucracy. I’ve had my share of struggles with this.

For example, in November in Lisbon, I sent my UK driving licence in for exchange. February arrived and still no word. I called the IMT (Portugal’s driving agency) office in Lisbon.

They informed me that the system ‘had changed’, so I needed to resubmit everything. Finally, I decided to try doing the exchange in person at Madeira’s version of the IMT. Everything was done within 20 minutes, photos and biometrics included. 

All bureaucracy can be unpredictable and I’m not saying that Madeira has a perfect system compared to the mainland.

But, in my experience, things tend to be easier in smaller places with fewer foreigners. This theory could also extend to citizenship applications. 

FAQs: Living in Madeira

Is Madeira a good place to live?

Yes. Madeira has won multiple awards, such as ‘Best Island’ at the World Travel Awards 2021. If you like nature, outdoor activities, and a relaxed pace of life, then you’ll love living in Madeira.

Plus, the island is very safe and has warm weather all year round. It’s the perfect destination for families, retirees and remote workers – especially those seeking a route to eventual EU citizenship via Portugal.

Is it expensive to live on Madeira?

In general, living costs in Madeira tend to be lower than in major Western European cities, but there are certain costs to watch out for. For example, purchasing a car will typically cost you several thousand euros more in Madeira, compared to the Portuguese mainland.

Shopping in supermarkets is comparable to Lisbon or Porto. You can still find affordable properties to buy if you know where to look, but costs are rapidly rising as Madeira grows in popularity. For renting, costs are typically lower than major cities, especially if you live outside of Funchal.

Can I retire to Madeira?

Retiring to Madeira is very straightforward, thanks to Portugal’s easy visa and residency process. If you’re an EU citizen, you can simply move to Madeira whenever you want. If you’re from outside the EU, then you’ll need to apply for a visa. Many retirees use the D7 passive income visa, or invest in property for the Golden Visa.

Can UK citizens live in Madeira?

Yes. UK citizens have several options for living in Madeira.
1) For short stays in Madeira of up to 90 days in every 180, UK citizens don’t need a visa
2) To live full-time in Madeira, UK citizens with sufficient passive income can apply for the D7 visa
3) For living in Madeira with maximum flexibility, UK citizens can get the Portugal Golden Visa.

Is there an expat community in Madeira?

There’s a significant expat community in Madeira, which falls into two main categories.
1) The traditional expat community of retirees, mainly from the UK and Germany
2) The new expat community of remote workers and digital nomads, from all over the world

Most expats live in Funchal (the capital), Ponta do Sol, Calheta, or Caniço. It’s easy to meet other expats in Madeira, such as at digital nomad events, the English church, or expat-oriented restaurants and cafés such as The Ritz, Art House Coffee, Threehouse Hotel or the Savoy. What’s more, every Saturday night, there’s a large digital nomad/international networking event at the Next Hotel in Funchal.

Can you live in Madeira without a car?

Yes, but it depends where you live. It’s easy to get around the main areas of Funchal on foot. However, if you live anywhere outside of Funchal, you’ll probably need a car, as public transport on wider Madeira can be sparse and unpredictable. Also, having a car opens up the island and enables you to reach interesting places inaccessible by public transport.

Do they speak English in Madeira?

Most people in Madeira tend to speak good English, especially in the larger towns and tourist areas. Although Portuguese is the official language, English is prevalent due to Madeira’s long history with the UK, strong English language education, and tourist-focused economy.

How cold does it get in Madeira?

The temperature in Madeira depends very much on whereabouts on the island you live. Madeira is full of microclimates, so weather conditions can vary greatly from place to place. Generally speaking, the closer to the coast, the warmer the weather.

For example, in a Funchal winter, temperatures get to around 20°C (68°F) during the day, and usually never drop below 14ºC (57°F) at night. In summertime, daytime temperatures in Funchal can go up to 30°C (86°F), but it usually doesn’t get much hotter than that.

Can I buy a house in Madeira?

Yes, any nationality can buy property in Madeira. The Madeira property market is extremely hot at the moment. I recommend working with a reputable agent, and visiting the island in person before making any buying decisions.

What’s the Madeira population?

According to the most recent 2021 census, the population of Madeira is 250,769.

How far is Madeira from Lisbon?

Madeira is 967km from Lisbon. The journey takes around 1 hour 30 minutes by air.

How big is Madeira Island?

Madeira Island has an area of 741 km², and is the biggest island in the archipelago.

How long does it take to drive around Madeira?

It usually takes around four hours to drive around Madeira, depending on weather, traffic and road conditions.

Is living in Madeira a good idea?

In short: yes! Living in Madeira is an excellent idea.

Objectively speaking, Portugal the best country in the EU for getting dual citizenship.

And living in Madeira is simply the icing on the cake.

Who wouldn’t want to work towards EU citizenship on a paradise island with incredible beaches and natural beauty?

If you’re keen on moving to Madeira, here’s a comprehensive explanation of the various ways to get Portugal residency.

Madeira offers all the great benefits of Portugal for those who want to eventually become citizens, plus all the things I’ve talked about in this article.

If this has got you interested in the idea of living in Madeira, I recommend that you plan a visit as soon as possible.

You can also check out my new list of things to do in Madeira, to experience plenty of the island during your trip.

Join the Digital Émigré newsletter for tips on making your big move.

21 thoughts on “Living in Madeira: Portugal’s most exciting hidden gem”

  1. Greetings! It reads inviting, but what about transportation not by car? And supermarkets & retail shopping. Thank you…

  2. Wonderful article! My husband and I are hoping to arrive in Madeira in July from California for a 3-week scouting trip, after spending 3 weeks in mainland PT in June. Our first time, but with extensive research during the tourist ‘lock-out’, we’re leaning heavily toward Madeira. Everything you mentioned in the article rings true with us. Being a same-sex couple, we are especially impressed with your view of the island’s tolerance and inclusion of LGBTQ residents. YAY! We hope to rent furnished for a year or so before deciding if Madeira is right for us. We’ll also be able to explore the wonderful small villages around the island. Who knows, we might find that one of those (Ponta do Sol, Jardim do Mar…etc) might be the perfect place for us. We can’t wait to learn more about this magical place! Obrigado, David & Rick

  3. Samantha North

    Hey Nia. Funchal is very walkable, so you can manage without a car. There are buses between towns and plenty of Ubers/Bolts and taxis. Madeira has several shopping centres with international brands, and the same Portuguese supermarkets as you find on the mainland.

  4. Samantha North

    Hi David and Rick, I’m glad you liked the article. Congrats on your decision to come to Madeira! It’s a fabulous place. I’m sure you’ll love it. Best of luck for a smooth move.

  5. Great article! I can’t wait to visit, hopefully later this year. We are living in Ericeira and loving it, but swimming on New Year’s Day would be like heaven. Water would be too cold here.

  6. Pingback: How to get Portuguese citizenship (and why it’s the best in the EU!) | Digital Émigré

  7. Hi.
    We are seriously considering .
    Well that’s an understatement.
    We want to retire to maderia in approx 4 years time.
    Which will be 2025.
    Is it in our best interest to apply for portugese citizenship now before we live there permanently

  8. Hi Sandra,
    Great decision to retire to Madeira.
    However, you’ll need to be legally resident for at least five years before you become eligible to apply for Portuguese citizenship.
    There’s no shortcut to this, unfortunately. This article has more information about the citizenship process: https://digitalemigre.com/relocation/how-to-get-portuguese-citizenship/
    Depending on your personal circumstances, you can become resident in Madeira through either the D7 passive income pathway, or the Golden Visa. The advantage of the Golden Visa is that it allows you to gain residency in Portugal without having to physically live here. Basically, the investment stacks up the required residency years on your behalf. For example, if you got a Golden Visa in 2021, when the time came to move in 2025, you’d only have 1 year left before becoming eligible to apply for citizenship. If you’d like to discuss this in more detail, please write to me on hello@digitalemigre.com to arrange a call. Best wishes, Samantha

  9. Hi Samantha, I’m a 66- year old nurse wanting to retire in Madeira, however, I’m partially disabled and cannot walk very far. I have a great income and would love to relax for this next chapter and invest in the community but am concerned about not having a car. Thoughts? Advice?

  10. Hi Samantha, I’m a 66- year old nurse wanting to retire in Madeira, however, I’m partially disabled and cannot walk very far. I have a great income and would love to relax for this next chapter and invest in the community but am concerned about not having a car. Thoughts? Advice?

  11. Hi Darmel,
    Thanks for your comment. Madeira would be a great fit for your retirement. Cost of living here is low and, especially since you have a healthy income, you’ll have a wonderful quality of life. Much of the island is hilly, that’s true, but there are plenty of walkable areas near the sea. I’d recommend you look at Funchal city centre, the Lido area, and Praia Formosa, also Garajau and Caniço de Baixo. Lots of people (including myself) live in Madeira without having a car. There are plenty of taxis and buses between these locations, and I know people who have their own taxi driver to call on when needed. If you have more questions about living in Madeira or getting a visa to move here, feel free to drop me an email on hello@digitalemigre.com

  12. Hi Darmel. Funchal is walkable…but loads of hills. If walking is a challenge for you, I would recommend a car. But if you are willing to walk it, it is a lovely city to commute by foot. 🙂

  13. I haven’t had much personal experience of the local health service, but there are lots of retired expats who have lived here for years and say it’s good. The island has done an excellent job of handling the pandemic. And there’s a large new hospital currently being built. In general, Portuguese healthcare is comparable to the UK NHS, and Madeira is no different.

  14. Hi Samantha, thank you for the the great article! Do you know how we look for a flat in funchal? I’ve been searching on the internet but the prices on websites that I found are very high. I am looking for a T1 and can’t find less than 1000 on the internet. Thank you, Sara

  15. Hi Sara,
    Glad you liked the article! It should definitely be possible to find a flat for less than that price. There’s a Madeira property WhatsApp group – I’ll email you the link to join it.

  16. Hi my Husband and I are thinking of moving to Madeira, I am Portuguese and He is British can my Husband remain permanent resident . Thank you.

  17. Hello Samantha ~
    I’ve been reading about Madeira and compiling the pros and cons of choosing this beautiful island as an option for retirement from the USA. Although the pros are many (!), I’m wondering about two cons that other people have reported. One con is the “touristy” nature of most of the island and particularly Funchal. Granted, tourism is the region’s economic mainstay, but does it become annoying to always be in the middle of tourists? I like the idea of at least starting out in Funchal, but I am wondering if there are neighborhoods not too far from downtown (walking distance), but away from tourist traffic? The other con is that of the potential feeling of isolation that can come with living on an island and being able to travel only by flying out. To me, that may not feel like a huge impediment primarily because the flight to Lisbon (and from there, connections to areas beyond) only takes 1.5 hours. However, in contrast, living in the Algarve (my alternative retirement location), one has the option of renting (or owning) a car to directly travel to places all over Europe, without the hassle of getting to an airport. But, traveling back to the US would also require a trip to an airport (either Faro or Lisbon), which could take longer than getting to the Madeira Airport. I’m wondering about your opinion on the isolation or hassle factor of traveling in and out of Madeira? In other words, does it ever become annoying or restrictive or claustrophobic knowing that one is “stuck” on the island unless you have the time and means to fly out frequently? Thanks so much! Appreciate your article.

  18. My concern as well. Having grown up on a larger island (Tasmania, Australia), the isolation factor is a consideration.

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