It feels like everyone is moving to Portugal these days. Everyone from Brits who want to regain their lost EU rights, to Americans worried about the future of their country. Plus lots more nationalities from all over.
Portugal is often portrayed as an idyllic country, and in many ways it is. But no place is perfect (and I’ve lived in many).
That’s why I believe it’s important for wannabe immigrants to have a clear grasp of the pros and cons of living in Portugal. There’s no point in moving to a new country if it might end up being a bad fit for your personal situation and preferences.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of living in Portugal in 2023. Some of these are based on my own experience, while others from discussions with fellow immigrants living in Portugal.
21+ Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal
Advantages of living in Portugal
#1. Outdoor lifestyle
Portugal’s mild climate and beautiful natural landscapes encourage an outdoor lifestyle, with plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, and all kinds of water sports. Madeira is an especially good destination for this, with its year-round summertime weather. You could even be swimming in the sea on New Year’s Day!
#2. Growing tech industry
Portugal has a growing tech industry, particularly in the cities of Lisbon and Porto, making it an attractive destination if you’re in the tech sector. One of the tech industry’s biggest conferences, WebSummit, is held every November in Lisbon. You’ll also find regular events and networking meet ups for people in all areas of tech, from crypto to SEO and everything in between.
#3. Wine culture
Portugal has a rich wine culture and produces a variety of high-quality wines, which you can enjoy at affordable prices. Even the cheapest supermarket wines tend to be delicious (which definitely is not the case in every country!)
#4. Music and festivals
Portugal has a vibrant music and festival scene, with events such as the annual Lisbon International Jazz Festival and the Festa de São João in Porto. Even far-flung locations such as Madeira have a surprisingly good music scene, with DJs visiting from all over the country and sometimes from wider Europe. If you’re visiting the island, make sure to check out the Purple Friday events, held most Friday nights at the Estalagem Hotel, Ponta do Sol.
#5. Healthcare system
Portugal has a universal healthcare system with treatment for residents being either free or low-cost (depending what it is). This can be a significant advantage for new immigrants, especially if you’re coming from a country like the USA with expensive health insurance.
However, like many state health care systems, Portugal’s can be slow with long waiting lists. To overcome this issue, many people opt to take out a private health insurance policy. Unlike the US, these are relatively affordable in Portugal.
#6. Sustainable living
Portugal is making big efforts to become more environmentally sustainable, with initiatives such as the promotion of electric cars and the use of renewable energy. You’ll also find a number of alternative living communities all over the country, particularly in the rural interior and along the coast. These offer a great opportunity for a slower pace of life, which may come as a welcome change for some people.
#7. Surfing culture
Portugal has some of the best surfing spots in Europe, and surfing is a popular activity among Portuguese and foreigners alike.
One of the country’s top surfing hotspots, the town of Nazaré, has experienced record-breaking waves. In Nazaré in 2020, German surfer Sebastian Steudtner broke the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest wave surfed.
I went to Nazaré recently and was truly astounded by the size of the waves. Definitely not for the faint hearted or beginner surfers!
#8. Still (relatively) affordable
Portugal offers a high standard of living at affordable prices, making it possible to enjoy luxury experiences at a fraction of the cost in other European countries. But, caveat, prices have been going up in 2023. Some would argue that Portugal is no longer affordable.
You can still find affordable lifestyles outside of the major cities, but Lisbon in particular has become extremely expensive. Property prices have risen to a level that’s unaffordable for anyone earning the national minimum wage. There’s a similar situation at play in Madeira, where rental and property prices have gone crazy since the end of the pandemic.
That’s why you should check your budget carefully before planning to relocate to Portugal. It might be worth considering moving to a lower cost area of the country, such as Coimbra, the Silver Coast, or one of the northern towns.
#9. Accessible residency visas
Portugal still wants to encourage immigration, so it offers a range of accessible residency visas, such as the D7 visa, digital nomad visa, or the Golden Visa. Of course, if you’re already an EU/EEA or Swiss citizen, you won’t need any visa to move here.
Options are available to suit many different needs, from those with passive income to those who wish to invest in activities that will benefit Portugal’s economy. Portugal also offers options to apply for traditional work visas through company sponsorship, or student visas if you enrol in a recognized program.
#10. Fast pathway to citizenship
Portugal has one of the EU’s shortest timelines for citizenship by naturalization. You’ll need to live in Portugal for just five years as a temporary resident before you become eligible to apply for Portuguese citizenship. Keep in mind though, completing the process can take a year or more from the point when you submit your application.
#11. Proximity to the rest of Europe
Portugal is well located for travels throughout Europe, whether that’s by plane, car, bus, or train. You can fly from Lisbon airport to most international destinations, including all over the United States, the UK and Canada.
It’s even possible to travel by train all the way from Lisbon to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam – the world’s longest train ride. Of course, this involves more than one train…
Funchal, the capital of Madeira, is surprisingly well connected for a tiny island. You can fly from Funchal to many destinations in the UK and Ireland, plus all over Europe, and even New York City!
#12. Super fast internet
Portugal has some of the fastest Internet speeds I’ve ever experienced. The country is well served with fibre optic broadband, and has 5G access in many places. If you’re working remotely and/or taking a lot of video calls, you’ll have an easy time of it in Portugal.
Disadvantages of living in Portugal
Portugal is located in an area with high seismic activity, and earthquakes can occur with little warning. In early 2022, I experienced my first earthquake in Madeira. Although it was a mild one, keep in mind that earthquakes are certainly a thing here. Lisbon in particular is located on one of Europe’s major fault lines. If you plan to buy a property there, be mindful of building quality when making your selection.
#14. Limited access to certain foods
While Portugal has a rich culinary heritage, some new immigrants may find certain foods or ingredients aren’t readily available, especially if they have specific dietary restrictions. That said, it depends where you live. You can find most food items in the major cities, especially in stores like Celeiro, Bioforma, or GoNatural.
#15. Tricky recycling
While Portugal has made efforts to become more environmentally sustainable, some new arrivals may find it difficult to navigate the complex recycling system. Nevertheless, it’s worth learning the system, because saving the planet is something we should all be doing. If in doubt, ask your landlord, your neighbors, or a helpful local friend to explain it to you.
#16. Noise issues
Portugal’s relaxed lifestyle can also mean that noise pollution, such as loud music or fireworks, can be more common, especially during holidays and festivals. Some areas have a lot of barking dogs, which can be disturbing when they all set each other off and bark in unison. When you’re choosing a property to rent or buy, I recommend checking out the area first to see if it’s relatively dog free (I love dogs, but I’m less keen on barking for hours on end).
#17. Chilly houses in winter
Many people imagine Portugal as a land of constant sunshine. That might be the case in some areas, such as the Algarve, but not everywhere. The north of Portugal in particular, has a similar climate to northern England (think Manchester).
The problem is the widespread lack of insulation in housing in Portugal. Because the country doesn’t typically get as cold as northern Europe, having insulation in housing isn’t seen as a necessity. That’s great in summertime, but you may struggle in January and February.
In Lisbon in particular, houses can become very cold and damp during the winter months. To get through it, look for places with double glazing and heating (this can be an air-conditioning unit that also heats). Consider buying extra heaters and a dehumidifier for the winter months.
#18. Limited shopping options
While Portugal has a range of shopping options, you may find that certain products or brands aren’t available or are more expensive than in your home country. You could always try ordering certain items from Amazon Spain or Amazon Germany. Before Brexit, Amazon UK would have been the best choice, but expensive customs charges mean it’s no longer a good idea.
Portuguese shopping malls include most of the large mainstream brands, such as Zara, Mango, Massimo Dutti, H&M, and so on. You can find high end designer brands here as well (think Prada, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Hermes etc). In Lisbon, you’ll find these at the El Corte Inglés shopping center, or along the prestigious Avenida da Liberdade in the middle of the city.
But for the ultimate shopping experience with far more diversity of brands, you’d be better off taking a trip to London. Many of my Portuguese friends do it that way.
#19. Language barriers in healthcare
Portugal’s healthcare system is generally of a high standard. But you may struggle to communicate with some healthcare professionals if you don’t speak good Portuguese. Again, levels of English spoken depends on the area you’re living in.
For example, I’ve found that most medical professionals in Madeira speak excellent English and there are no communication problems at all. If you’re worried, then one solution is to buy private medical insurance, which gives you access to a network of English-speaking medical professionals.
#20. Limited job opportunities outside of tourism
While Portugal has a growing economy, job opportunities outside of the tourism industry can be limited, especially if you don’t speak a high level of Portuguese. Most foreigners don’t come to Portugal looking for a job. It’s better suited for those who already have a source of income from abroad, such as remote work, pension income, or income from overseas property.
#21. Difficulties learning the language
Many people say Portuguese is a difficult language to learn. That’s true to a certain extent.
But I believe the bigger challenge for us immigrants is the lack of an incentive to practice and reach sufficient fluency. Let me explain further. Many Portuguese people speak excellent English. That’s especially the case in major urban centers like Lisbon, plus all tourist destinations, particularly Madeira.
For foreigners, you’ll struggle to hold a conversation in basic Portuguese, because people tend to switch seamlessly into English. While this is usually done with the best possible intentions, it can feel quite discouraging for people who really want to get better at Portuguese.
In contrast, when I spent time in China, I developed a good level of Mandarin, because not many people spoke English. The incentive to improve my Mandarin was strong. What’s more, I was compelled to practice daily, through necessity.
The best way forward is to hire a private tutor to get your Portuguese to a level where you feel confident having conversations with native speakers. Once you’ve overcome that hurdle, your fluency will improve as you’ll have conversations more frequently.
All in all, living in Portugal is an excellent decision for many foreigners.
It’s a great place to be in so many ways, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to live here. But at the same time, having spent many years moving around the world, I’m more aware than most that no country is ever perfect. That’s what I hoped to convey in this article.
When planning an international move, it’s important to be fully aware of the pros and cons of the country you have in mind. Everyone has different goals, needs, and requirements to live a comfortable and happy life. So I hope you found this list helpful.