Moving to Portugal from the UK: 19 Important Concerns

Moving to Portugal from the UK

Despite the effects of Brexit, Portugal is still one of the easiest countries to move to from the UK.

Getting residency in Portugal for UK citizens is relatively easy.

PLUS, Portugal is a good choice if you want to regain your EU citizenship later down the line, by applying for Portuguese citizenship after five years.

In this article, we’ll look at essential concerns when moving to Portugal from the UK.

These are based on my personal experiences and those of other Brits in Portugal.

19 Important Concerns When Moving to Portugal from the UK

Cristo Rei statue in Lisbon, overlooking the Tagus River

#1. Choosing the right place to live 

If you’re looking for reliable sun, then living in the Algarve region or Madeira would be the best places for you.

Many people also choose to start their Portugal life by living in Lisbon.

Weather-wise, Lisbon has plenty of sun in the summer time, but can be cold and damp during the winter (which is especially noticeable in poorly insulated accommodation).

If you’re looking for weather that’s similar to the UK, then towns in the north of Portugal, such as Porto or Braga would likely be a better fit for you. The cost of living will also be lower outside of the big cities and major tourist areas.

You’ll also need to decide whether you want to live in a more international area or a more local area. Don’t worry too much about safety, Portugal is one of the safest countries in the world.

The best places to find international communities are Lisbon, Porto, the Algarve, and Madeira. As the capital and most populated city, Lisbon is the best place to build networks and find business opportunities.

#2. Renting and buying property 

Fortunately, buying property in Portugal after Brexit is still as easy as it was before.

Foreigners can buy property in Portugal without any restrictions. But you will need to apply for residency if you want to spend more than 90 days at a time in Portugal.

Many people choose to rent for six months to a year, before making the decision to buy. Your mileage may vary. Renting in Portugal is fairly straightforward.

Keep in mind that Portugal doesn’t have a third party deposit protection scheme like the UK, so try to avoid paying more than a month’s deposit upfront.

Housing in Portugal is variable in quality; watch out for badly insulated buildings, which can be very uncomfortable in the winter.

#3. Getting residency sorted out 

If you don’t have an EU second passport or an EU spouse, then you’ll need a residency visa to start the process of moving to Portugal from the UK.

Fortunately, Portugal has a range of accessible visa options available, whether you’re an investor, a pensioner, a remote worker, or a start-up founder.

Here’s a quick rundown of the different residency visas:

The Portugal Golden Visa

Best for those who want to invest, Portugal’s Golden Visa gives you maximum flexibility.

If you want to secure residency in Portugal while maintaining your life in the UK, the Golden Visa is the right option for you. 

There are a range of investment options available, including property and investment funds.

The minimum investment is €250,000 for the arts and cultural heritage route, which includes an option to invest in Portuguese films.

Realistically speaking, the two most straightforward Golden Visa options are:

  1. Invest in a property at the highest (but easiest) threshold
  2. Invest in a Golden Visa investment fund

Both require €500,000 of minimum investment. You could also invest in one of the hotel development projects in central regions of Portugal

Hotel investment can be an easy way to access lower Golden Visa thresholds of €280,000 and €350,000 – without the hassle of searching for a property in a low density area or suitable for rehabilitation.

The D7 Passive Income Visa 

This is one of the most popular options for people moving to Portugal from the UK.

Originally designed for pensioners, the Portugal D7 visa is also suitable for those who have passive income from other sources, such as dividends or rental income.

Many people have moved to Portugal using the D7 route, but the process is getting more complicated. 

Many Portuguese embassies now ask for proof of 12 months of accommodation in Portugal (typically a rental contract) before submitting the D7 visa application. This can be a challenge.

The D2 Entrepreneur Visa 

The D2 visa is a good fit if you don’t have passive income, but want to set up a new business or open a branch of an existing one in Portugal.

You’ll need a business plan, enough money in the bank to start the business, and a Portuguese accountant. You’ll also need to incorporate a Portuguese company.

The D2 visa is more complicated than the D7 visa. That’s why I’d always recommend that you try to establish a source of passive income so you can use the D7 route instead. 

The HQA Visa

The Highly Qualified Activity Visa is a hybrid start-up/investment visa designed for individuals with a background in scientific research, entrepreneurship, or management.

The HQA visa offers similar benefits to the Golden Visa in terms of low physical stay requirements, but with a much lower minimum investment of just €175,000.

The processing timeline is also much faster than the Golden Visa – 30 days compared to several months.

What’s more, if your visa application is rejected, you’ll receive a full refund of your whole investment. The HQA visa is a no-risk route.

To get started, you’ll need to find a Portuguese university which can support your proposed research project by acting as an incubator. There are concierge services that can manage all aspects of getting the HQA Visa for you.

In reality, you don’t have to do much work beyond making the initial investment. That’s unless you want to make your startup a success and have the chance to make decent returns on your investment.

Interested in the HQA Visa? Request more information

#4. Money transfer between Portugal and the UK

I recommend that you set up a cross-border bank account for easy transfer between pounds and euros. One of my favourites is Wise, which is totally free to open and use anywhere in Portugal.

Revolut is another good option (also free), which offers some interesting added features such as crypto and stocks. Both are online only services without any physical branches. 

For larger fund transfers, such as for buying a property, you’ll typically get better rates by using a specialised transfer service, rather than Wise or Revolut. 

What’s more, specialised services give you peace of mind, because you’ll always know the status of your funds.

I use Currencies Direct for excellent rates, reliability and friendly service. You’ll get a dedicated account manager to help with your transfers.

#5. Getting to grips with the language 

Many people say that Portuguese is a tricky language to learn.

I don’t believe that’s necessarily the case. The biggest challenge is finding opportunities to practice speaking Portuguese, especially when you’re a beginner.

A lot of Portuguese people speak English very well. So they’re prone to switching to English when faced with a foreigner who’s not yet confident in Portuguese.

Some expats may find this reassuring, but others who want to improve their language skills may find it frustrating.

This is particularly problematic in highly touristic areas such as Madeira or the Algarve. The risk is that you get discouraged and end up relying on English rather than strengthening your Portuguese.

The key to success is to politely insist on speaking Portuguese as much as you can (I’m not good at doing this) and get started learning the language from the very beginning. 

Here are some useful resources for learning European Portuguese:

#6. Making friends and finding community

Maybe you’re moving to Portugal from the UK alone, or maybe with your partner and/or kids.

But no matter your situation, it’s important to integrate into the local community and build up a circle of friends.

The major cities in Portugal will already have some type of international community.

Here you will usually find a good mix of foreigners and cosmopolitan, English-speaking locals.

Facebook is one of the best places to find these communities. It usually has social groups for each city, which often organise in-person events.

You could also try InterNations or Meetup to find interesting activity groups.

If you’re in Madeira, the Digital Nomad Village initiative organises a range of events, from business networking to cryptocurrency meetups.

#7. Schools in Portugal

If you have kids, finding the right school will be an important consideration.

As a resident of Portugal, your kids will be entitled to go to school here. The same applies to university; residents can attend under the same conditions as citizens.

You can choose whether to enrol your child in a Portuguese state school or one of the international schools. Many foreigners choose to send their kids to an international school in Portugal.

These typically follow the curriculums of the UK, the US, France or Germany.

There are also Montessori schools, and schools following the International baccalaureate programme.

International schools can be found around Portugal, but are most concentrated in large cities and regions popular with expats, such as the Algarve.

#8. Sorting out your UK ISA

Once you become tax resident in Portugal, then you’ll no longer be able to make contributions to your UK ISA. You have two courses of action with your ISA before moving to Portugal from the UK:

  1. Freeze your ISA and keep it intact until you return to the UK,
  2. Cash it out before moving and take any gains with you to Portugal.

The second option is especially important if you have a stocks and shares ISA. Any gains will be liable for Portuguese capital gains tax once you’re a Portugal tax resident, so make sure you cash it out before that happens.

#9. Transfer UK pension to Portugal

Thanks to the double tax agreement between the UK and Portugal, you can receive your UK pension in Portugal without being taxed twice.

If you’re tax resident in Portugal, then you’ll pay Portuguese tax on your UK pension income.

Some expats prefer to protect their pensions from income tax by transferring them to another jurisdiction using QROPS (Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme).

According to financial advisors Blacktower, who specialise in cross-border tax, both Malta and Gibraltar are good choices due to their favourable terms.

We strongly recommend you consult a financial advisor before making any decisions on your pension.

#10. Renewing your UK driving licence

After moving to Portugal from the UK and becoming resident, you’ll need to swap your UK driving licence for a Portuguese one.

There’s a grace period of a couple of months before you need to get this done, but it’s best to do it as soon as possible.

In the meantime, it’s important to make sure your UK licence doesn’t expire during that time.

If it does, there’s a risk you may have to take a driving test in Portuguese to obtain a Portuguese driving licence, rather than doing a direct swap.

So if your UK licence is close to expiry, I recommend you renew it before moving to Portugal from the UK.

#11. Setting up healthcare

Portugal has state healthcare, the SNS, which is similar to the UK’s NHS. There’s also a private healthcare system.

Unlike the NHS, in Portugal you’ll have to pay a small fee when you visit the doctor, but it’s a reasonable amount and the quality of care is good.

You can sign up for state healthcare and get your SNS number as soon as you receive your residence permit, although some people also take out private health insurance. 

This is useful because waiting times at the SNS can be long (just like with the NHS).

With private health insurance, you can get referred to a specialist faster and the hospitals are usually more modern.

Health insurance in Portugal is not expensive, with policies averaging out at between €30 and €1000 a month, depending on your specific health profile. 

If you travel frequently or plan to move abroad again after living in Portugal, then it might be a good idea to take out an international health insurance policy.

These are typically more expensive than Portuguese policies, but will keep you covered wherever you go.

Popular expat insurers include:

#12. Maintaining an address in the UK

You may want to keep a UK address on file, especially if you have bank accounts or a business in the UK.

The obvious option is to use the address of a friend or family member. 

You could also consider using a virtual address service, which can collect and forward any physical mail onto you electronically.

#13. Mobile phone providers

Make sure your UK provider will let you roam in the EU as part of the package, such as Three Mobile.

Bear in mind that they’re likely to cut off your service after you’ve been out of the UK for over three months (under fair use policies).

It’s useful to have a UK number for as long as possible, to give you chance to transfer over two factor authentication details, and so on.

You could always switch your UK contract to a pay-as-you-go.

This would sort out the two factor authentication problem by allowing you to maintain a UK number while living in Portugal.

Getting a Portuguese mobile number is easy. You just need to take your passport to one of the phone providers, either NOS, MEO, or Vodafone.

Portugal mobile phone contracts are more expensive and provide less value for money compared to those in the UK.

For example, Three Mobile gives me unlimited data, minutes, and texts for £25 a month.

To get similar from Vodafone Portugal, the cost would be €55 per month. 

#14. Removals from the UK to Portugal

Before Brexit, it was easy to move your personal belongings to Portugal. The removal company could just drive all the way from the UK to Portugal without any customs checks or fees.

Guess what? After Brexit this has all changed. 

There is now a significant amount of paperwork involved in transporting your things from the UK to Portugal. The process will cost more and take more time.

If possible, we recommend selling or donating as much as possible before making your move.

But if there are things you REALLY need to have that won’t fit on the plane, then you’ll have to bring them over via a removals firm – with lots of additional post-Brexit complications.

#15. Bringing your car

Cars are much more expensive in Portugal than the UK, both new and secondhand.

That’s why many British residents in Portugal decide to drive their own cars from the UK to Portugal.

However, this course of action is full of complications, especially post-Brexit. If you hold a residency permit in Portugal, you can’t just bring your car over here, you’ll need to import it.

You’ll also need to find Portuguese insurance for it, which can often be tricky.

It’s a far better option to sell your UK vehicle before moving, and buy another one once you arrive in Portugal. Despite the extra costs, you’ll save a lot of time, stress, and expense on dealing with bureaucracy.

Also, once you become resident, don’t forget to exchange your UK driving licence for a Portuguese driving licence.

#16. Bringing your pets

Pets moving to Portugal from the UK used to be accepted with just a UK pet passport. That’s no longer the case.

But dogs, cats, and ferrets can be transported to Portugal without quarantine, if they follow certain requirements.

These include microchipping, undergoing a rabies test, and obtaining a health certificate. If you’re travelling with more than 5 pets (dogs, cats, and ferrets, the regulations will be slightly different.

Read more about specific regulations on the Pet Travel website.

Many people choose to transport their pets to Portugal by air.

Depending on the airline, the pets can travel in the cabin, as checked baggage, or as cargo. You’ll normally need to pay an inspection fee once they arrive.

#17. Stocking up on certain items

You can get everything you need in Portugal, but the UK has a wider range of grocery items, clothing stores, electronics, books, and personal care products.

If you have any particular favourites, it’s best to stock up on them before moving to Portugal from the UK.

Things I like to bring with me include books in English, cosmetics and other products from Boots or Superdrug, clothes from my favourite London shops, and electronic items like Apple products.

Electronics tend to be cheaper in the UK, but make sure they’re for personal use only. Don’t try to carry them brand new and boxed through customs.

#18. Switching your Amazon account

Portugal doesn’t have its own version of Amazon, so be prepared to give up Amazon UK and switch to either the Spanish or German versions.

The Spanish Amazon doesn’t have an English version, but Google translate gives a pretty good result.

The German site is available in both German and English. Prices vary slightly between the two, so check both to see which has the better deal.

Amazon UK is still useful for Kindle book downloads, as well as sending items from within the UK to friends and family, e.g. for gifts.

#19. Setting up a VPN service

It’s worthwhile investing in a good VPN service, which can help you to access British TV and other websites while living in Portugal.

I currently use Private Internet Access, but Express VPN and NordVPN are also popular options for those moving to Portugal from the UK.

Before you go…

Moving to Portugal from the UK is a major life change, which needs careful planning.

But you’re following in the footsteps of many British expats, so rest assured there are plenty of resources and advice available to help you in your journey.

I’m sure you won’t regret starting your new life in Portugal.

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