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Moving to Portugal

Situated on the west of the Iberian Peninsula, surrounded by Spain and the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal's beauty abounds with long stretches of white beach and upward arching mountains. A population of just over 10 million leaves plenty of room for expats to enjoy themselves and explore its architectural treasures and archaeological gems without the claustrophobia of large crowds.

Expats moving to Portugal are more often than not self-confessed sun lovers. The long, hot summers are certainly one of its greatest lures, and many move to the country to enjoy their retirement on its warm shores.

Another reason expats move to Portugal is the warm environment created by the local people. Portuguese culture revolves around family, and locals are friendly, welcoming and helpful. That said, the Portuguese approach and the tedium of government bureaucracy can be frustrating for expats doing business in the country. Employment is also difficult to find, and wages are generally lower than in other European destinations. 

The working world does present some opportunities, but most expats arrive looking for a better quality of life rather than for financial and professional reasons. In line with lower wages, the cost of living is by far one of the most reasonable in Europe. Expats will find good quality local fruit and vegetables as well as affordable, well-made wine. Eating out is relatively cheap, as are beer, soft drinks and coffee.

Property is also reasonably priced outside of the main tourist areas and unlike in other expat destinations, expats living in Portugal prefer to buy property rather than rent. For those with money from other investments, moving to Portugal can be financially prudent and it makes for an attractive retirement destination.

Portugal is well positioned in regard to the rest of Europe, with air links to most destinations from the main airports at Faro, Porto and Lisbon. Expats looking for natural beauty, friendly people, good weather and a slower pace of life will love living in Portugal.


Fast facts

Population: About 10.3 million

Capital city: Lisbon 

Neighbouring countries: Spain

Geography: Portugal is located on the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula which divides the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. It is located on the Atlantic coast of the plateau and crossed by several rivers. The main rivers are the Minho, Douro, Mondego, Tagus and Guadiana.

Political system: Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic

Major religions: Catholicism

Main language: Portuguese

Money: The Euro (EUR), divided into 100 cents. The country has a well-developed banking system and many international banks have a presence in the main Portuguese cities.

Tipping: A standard 10-15 percent tip can be added to the bill if the service is good. 

Time: GMT +0 (GMT +1 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October)

Electricity: 230 volts, 50 Hz. Round, two-pin plugs are most common.

International dialling code: +351

Internet domain: .pt

Emergency numbers: In the event of any emergency expats can dial 112, the general European emergency number. The standard of emergency services in Portugal are generally good. In most tourist areas the staff speak good English. 

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road in Portugal. Public transport in the Portuguese capital city of Lisbon and other major urban hubs is of a good standard, but national transport systems aren't usually in line with standards that expats would be accustomed to in the rest of Europe. It's worth considering buying a car if expats wish to explore the country. 

Weather in Portugal

The weather in Portugal is the product of a Mediterranean climate tempered by Atlantic Ocean influences. Winters are mild, and summer sunshine is plentiful.

Expats in the central parts of the mainland may experience slightly cooler temperatures due to the presence of minor mountains and plateaux. Otherwise, the mercury usually sits at around 78°F (25°C) in summer and 61°F (16°C) in winter.

Rainfall in Portugal is mostly present during winter, but heavy periods of precipitation can occur in autumn.

Weather in Portugal's Algarve region, a favourite expat destination, is by far the best in the country. This pensioner's playground is the sunniest, driest and warmest part of the nation yet temperatures are never uncomfortably hot.

 
 

Embassy contacts for Portugal


Portuguese embassies

  • Portuguese Embassy, Washington, United States: +1 202 350 5400.

  • Portuguese Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 207 235 5331.

  • Portuguese Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 729 0883

  • Consulate General of Portugal, Sydney, Australia: +61 2 9262 2199

  • Portuguese Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 341 2340

  • Portuguese Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 669 9100

  • Portuguese Consulate, Auckland, New Zealand: +64 9 255 2569


Foreign embassies in Portugal

  • United States Embassy, Lisbon: +351 21 727 3300

  • British Embassy, Lisbon: +351 21 392 4000

  • Canadian Embassy, Lisbon: +351 21 316 4600

  • Australian Embassy, Lisbon: +351 21 310 1500

  • South African Embassy, Lisbon: +351 21 319 2200

  • Irish Embassy, Lisbon: +351 21 330 8200

  • New Zealand Consulate, Lisbon: +351 21 314 0780

Public Holidays in Portugal

 

2021

2022

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Good Friday

2 April

15 April

Easter Sunday

4 April

17 April

Liberation Day

25 April

25 April

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Portugal Day

10 June

10 June

Corpus Christi

3 June

16 June

Assumption Day

15 August

15 August

Republic Day

5 October

5 October

All Saints' Day

1 November

1 November

Independence Restoration Day

1 December

1 December

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

8 December

8 December

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

 

Pros and Cons of Moving to Portugal

Expats moving abroad often lose themselves in the process of making parallels between their new destination and their home country. While this can be a natural part of acclimatisation, it's important not to get too bogged down in what one may perceive to be apparent positive and negatives.

That being said, some preparation for what people may deem the good, the bad and the ugly is necessary. Here are some pros and cons of moving to Portugal.


The people in Portugal

+ PRO: The people are friendly and welcoming

The people of Portugal are incredibly friendly and helpful. Neighbours will often bring home-grown tomatoes, share their wine and talk to expats quite happily despite the language barrier that might exist.

- CON: The slow pace might take some time getting used to

Expats may find the Portuguese people to be frustrating, as they're not generally in a hurry to resolve issues or deal with problems. The phrase devagar will often be heard it means 'slowly' in Portuguese.


Weather in Portugal

+ PRO: Portugal experiences warm summers

The weather is great. Generally, March to October is warm, with July and August being really hot. Temperatures can climb to 104°F (40°C).  

- CON: Winters can be cold

It's not, in fact, sunny 12 months of the year. The winters can be cold and very wet, but apart from the mountainous areas, there is little snow. Inland frost is common.

+ PRO: Portugal has beautiful beaches

For those who like beaches, they stretch along the entire western and southern areas of the country and are white and clean. Only in July and August are the most popular beaches ever crowded.


Visas for Portugal

+ PRO: Visa submissions are easy to understand

The Portuguese authorities will take the time to explain which papers foreigners need to submit.

- CON: The red tape of bureaucracy can be frustrating

Bureaucracy is thick and not fast. Information from public offices can also be inconsistent.


Communication in Portugal

+ PRO: Locals are interested in speaking English

Younger Portuguese people learn English at school, and they are always keen to practice it with expats.

- CON: The Portuguese language can be difficult to learn

Portuguese is a difficult language to learn and pronounce, but a little of the language goes a long way in goodwill.


Transport and driving in Portugal

+ PRO: The traffic tends to be lighter than elsewhere

The traffic in Portugal is considerably less than in northern European countries, except in the large cities where traffic jams at peak hours are bad.

- CON: Driving can be dangerous

Portuguese drivers are keen to drive fast and impatient to overtake. This causes numerous accidents, so caution is advised.

+ PRO: Portugal has good road networks

There is a good network of highways or dual carriageways in Portugal, and the main ones are not very busy.

- CON: Road tolls can add up

National motorways are toll roads, and while they are excellent and there is less traffic, the tolls can make them expensive.


The cost of living in Portugal 

+ PRO: General produce is affordable

Food, wine, bread and normal shopping commodities are generally very reasonably priced. It’s easy to obtain British foods if expats really need them.

- CON: Consumer goods tend to be more costly

Consumer goods can be very expensive, anywhere between 20 to 50 percent more expensive than expats might be used to. British foods are available but are more expensive.

Working in Portugal

Unlike many other destinations, working in Portugal is hardly a hook for expats looking to move to this Mediterranean country. In fact, many relocate here to escape the faster business cultures of their own home countries. These include retirees and professionals that sacrifice higher wages for a better quality of life.


Job market in Portugal

Expats who do move for employment can find the transition difficult, as Portugal's large bureaucracy can be slow to provide licences and certifications. Furthermore, unemployment is generally high and wages are well below the European average, leaving many locals to settle for some abbreviated version of self-employment.

Much of Portuguese industry is manufacturing, which has a limited need or attraction for expat workers; however, burgeoning technology and alternative energy industries are beginning to take root in the country as well.


Finding a job in Portugal

Those lucky enough to secure a job prior to relocation will find that the businesses usually take care of most of the groundwork. Expats planning on taking the self-employed route or those who move without a job opportunity will have much more difficulty beginning a business as well as navigating the waters of foreign affairs.

Those wanting to work in Portugal will find the best method of obtaining a job is through word-of-mouth. Many positions never even reach the press for advertisement and are rather marketed through social connections and friendship networks.

Expats may also find that the expat community often prefers hiring service providers that originate from a similar part of the word as themselves, so it's worthwhile to cultivate acquaintances in these circles. Many have made a living in Portugal working strictly for expats like themselves.


Work culture in Portugal

Portuguese business culture tends to be hierarchical and relationship focused. Employees show respect to superiors and should always use titles like Señhor and Señhora when speaking to colleaguesAppearances are important to local businesspeople. Expats should make an effort to wear formal, neat and conservative clothing.

Expats would also do well to learn at least basic Portuguese before arriving in their new home, as this will go a long way when building a business network in Portugal.

Doing Business in Portugal

The Portuguese economy has undergone a major transformation in recent decades. Its primarily agricultural infrastructure has given way to a modern, service-based economy in line with the rest of the European Union.

Expats will find that doing business in Portugal reflects this change, with a curious mixture of old-school conservatism and new-age innovation characterising the business world.

Portugal is ranked 39th out of 190 countries in the World Bank's 2020 Ease of Doing Business survey, placing first for trading across borders and excelling in the criteria of enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.


Fast facts

Business language

Portuguese is the primary business language of the country, with English often being used as the 'second language of business'.

Hours of business

Hours vary but are generally from 8.30am to 1pm, and 2pm to 6pm, from Monday to Friday.

Dress

Business attire in Portugal is generally formal and conservative.

Gifts

Gifts are not generally given at business meetings and could even be seen as inappropriate. If invited to an associate's home, expats should take along some good wine, flowers or sweets. Expats should also bear in mind that lilies and chrysanthemums are best avoided as they are usually reserved for funerals.

Greetings

Shaking hands is an appropriate greeting in Portugal. Expats should shake hands with both male and female colleagues at the beginning and end of a meeting.

Gender equality

Women are ostensibly treated as equals in the Portuguese business world, though it is rare to see them occupying the highest corporate positions. 


Business culture in Portugal

Although the situation is changing every day, business culture in Portugal retains vestiges of paternalism and strict hierarchical 'top-down' approaches to management and leadership.

Business etiquette in Portugal displays an interesting mix of formality and easygoingness – with conduct being at once formal and conservative, yet also warm and relaxed. Expats should use the titles 'Senhor' and 'Senhora' until strictly instructed not to do so, and show deference to those in obvious positions of authority. There is no specific accepted conduct for the exchange of business cards, but expats should be sure to treat any card received with respect.

Meetings 

Business meetings in Portugal must be made by appointment and should not be scheduled for times that might conflict with important family or religious holidays. Expats will be expected to be punctual, even if the hosts may not be. Since the official language of business in the country is Portuguese, it is a good idea to provide translations of all important documents or to engage the services of a translator to ensure that everyone is on the same page at business meetings.

Hierarchy

Teamwork and collaboration on important decisions is not the norm in Portugal. The accepted management style is more directive, and subordinate employees are more often than not expected to follow instructions rather than contribute to the decision-making process.

In Portugal, the strongest business relationships are those built on the trust of individuals and as a result, nepotism has been seen as an advantageous hiring policy. Expats should be sure to allow time for personal connections to develop with Portuguese business associates, as familiarity can go a long way toward ensuring success.

Appearance

The dress code in Portugal is strictly smart and formal, with a strong importance placed on looking good. It isn't an unfair statement to say that a person’s status in the business world will be gauged by how they present themselves. Expats are advised to choose clothing in dark colours with stylish cuts.

Attitude to foreigners

Although traces of nepotism are revealed now and then, foreigners and foreign investment are increasingly forming an integral part of the modern Portuguese economy. So long as expats treat associates with respect and warmth, they will have no problem integrating themselves into the Portuguese business world.


Dos and don'ts of business in Portugal

  • Do respect authority

  • Do be warm and friendly, and willing to make personal connections

  • Do look smart and professional at all times

  • Don’t be impatient, let those in power conduct meetings at their own pace

  • Don’t be resistant to taking instructions from superiors

  • Don’t be late, rude or self-aggrandising when attending business meetings

Visas for Portugal

Before expats make their move to the country, it's important to make sure they have the correct paperwork in order and have obtained the correct visa for Portugal, if necessary. As Portugal is an  EU-member state, citizens of other EU states can travel to the country with nothing but their passport. 

Although EU citizens are entitled to live and work in Portugal without a visa, there are still some documents which will be required to obtain the necessary residence permit. Residency visas are necessary for any stay longer than six months and can also be used as proof of residence for administrative tasks.

Non-EU citizens travelling to Portugal for a short stay or holiday may need to apply for a Schengen visa, which takes approximately 30 days. If non-EU citizens plan on settling down or working in Portugal they will need to take the necessary steps to obtain either a business, work or residency permit before their arrival.


Tourist visas for Portugal

Portugal is a signatory to the Schengen Agreement. Nationals of countries which are also signatory to the agreement don't need to apply for a tourist visa prior to arrival. Citizens of some countries such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand are also entitled to stay in Portugal for 90 days or less without a visa.

Visitors from other countries will be required to apply for a tourist visa before arriving in Portugal. The processing time for a tourist visa is around 30 days and travellers can apply at the Portuguese embassy or consulate in their home country. However, it is best to apply well ahead of time and it is possible to submit an application more than three months prior to the date of departure. 

Schengen visas for Portugal

As Portugal is part of the Schengen territory, once a person is granted this visa they can visit multiple destinations that are signatories to the agreement. Those who plan on travelling to several Schengen countries will find it's best to make their application at the consulate of the country in which they plan to spend the largest amount of time.

It is important to note that under the Schengen Visa it's not permitted for expats or visitors to work or carry out any form of business activity.


Residence permits for Portugal

European Union citizens aren't required to have a residence or work permit for Portugal. However, it is generally advisable that all expats obtain this document as it will often act as a useful proof of residence for obtaining a local driver's licence, opening a bank account or for tax purposes. 

Only nationals of EU-member states are allowed to apply for a residence permit from within Portugal. All other expats will be required to apply at a Portuguese consulate in their home country.

Temporary residence visas are granted for one year, initially. This first year is followed by two consecutive two-year terms. After living in Portugal for five years on a residence visa, expats can apply for a permanent residence visa.

The most common visa that expats apply for is the Type 1 visa. This visa is issued to expats who are planning on settling in Portugal permanently for retirement, independent living or to establish an independent business. Applicants will need to show proof that they have private healthcare insurance and sufficient funds to cover the cost of accommodation in Portugal and support themselves.

Work Permits for Portugal

Work permits for Portugal are granted differently, according to an expat's country of origin.

Expats who are nationals of an EU-member state don't need a work permit for Portugal for their first six months in the country. However, after this period they will be required to apply for a residence permit to live in Portugal. This is more of a formality and simply makes life easier when it comes to applying for a bank account in Portugal and also serves as proof of address.

Those moving to Portugal from outside the EU will either need to have a secure job offer or be married to a Portuguese citizen in order to apply for a work permit. 


Work permits for EU nationals

EU nationals aren't restricted from finding employment in Portugal and are granted a 90-day period to live in the country and find work without obtaining an EU registration certificate.

Some expats may need to apply for a residence card. This is a process that, albeit simple, results in its own long queues and delays. The residence card can only be obtained from the Portuguese Immigration Office (Serviços de Estrangeiros e Fronteiros).

Neither a work permit nor a residence card is needed for EU citizens working for an employment period of three months or less.


Work permits for non-EU nationals

Non-EU nationals can obtain a work permit for Portugal if offered a secure job contract by a formal employer. As there are regulations in place that encourage companies to hire members of other EU countries before looking outside the sphere, it can be difficult to solidify a job offer.

If an expat does manage to find a job offer, the hiring company starts the process by applying to the Portuguese Labour Authorities for the work permit with a copy of the contract. Once completed, the expat applicant must apply for a Portuguese work permit at their local Portuguese Embassy.

The work permit application process in Portugal can take up to eight months. Permits are usually granted for six months and are renewable.

Cost of Living in Portugal

The reasonable cost of living in Portugal has attracted expats from all over the world. Though still not as tempting as its Iberian neighbour, the country is increasingly appealing to more Northern Europeans and Britons. Retirees and pensioners looking to invest in overseas housing have taken a particular liking to the market of affordable property in Portugal.

As is the case in most destinations, in major cities such as Lisbon, Estoril and Cascais the cost of living is much higher than in more rural communities. For expats who can manage a modest way of life, a single person with a steady job earning a moderate salary will be able to attain a decent standard of living in Portugal. Overall, the cost of living in Portugal depends very much on location and the lifestyle of the individual but generally offers good value to expats and retirees.


Cost of food in Portugal

The cost of food in Portugal is much cheaper compared to other Western European countries. Two adults can easily survive on a food and drink budget of less than a third of the average salary in Portugal.

Portugal is a coastal country and thus enjoys abundant and affordable seafood. Several regions in Portugal also make and distribute wine, both locally and internationally, making it extremely affordable. Meat products are slightly more expensive, as are poultry and eggs.


Cost of accommodation in Portugal

Except for extremely expensive expat resorts and golf homes, such as in the Algarve, property in Portugal is less expensive than the European average. Unlike most expats elsewhere, a significant number of foreigners living in Portugal actually opt to buy property rather than rent. 

Renting is also good value, though. An expat living in Portugal will spend around half of the average Portuguese salary on rent, including water, electricity and gas bills, except in the areas of Lisbon and Porto, where prices are higher.


Cost of transportation in Portugal

Expats should note that car and petrol costs are considerably more expensive in contrast to many other parts of Portuguese life. Some expats find themselves paying thousands of euros for a rust-bucket on its last legs. Alternatively, public transport options are generally cheap and efficient. 


Cost of schooling in Portugal

Expats have the option of sending their child to a public school in Portugal at little or no cost. However, since the standards at these schools vary and the Portuguese public school system has been heavily criticised, most expats prefer to have their children educated at private or international schools.

Fees at international schools in Portugal can be sky high. In addition to exorbitant school fees, parents will need to budget for additional costs such as textbooks, uniforms, extra-curricular activities and school excursions.


Cost of living in Portugal chart 

Note that prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Lisbon in January 2021.

Accommodation (monthly)

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

EUR 1,700

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

EUR 1,200

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

EUR 900

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

EUR 650

Shopping

Milk (1 litre)

EUR 0.65

Dozen eggs

EUR 1.90

Loaf of white bread

EUR 1.10

Rice (1kg)

EUR 1

Chicken breasts (1kg)

EUR 5

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

EUR 5

Utilities

Monthly internet (uncapped ADSL or cable)

EUR 33

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

EUR 0.20

Utilities (average per month for standard household)

EUR 110

Hourly rate for a domestic cleaner

EUR 8

Eating out and entertainment

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

EUR 35

Big Mac Meal

EUR 6.50

Cappuccino

EUR 1.60

Coca-Cola (330 ml)

EUR 1.40

Local beer (500ml)

EUR 2

Transportation

Taxi per km

EUR 0.50

City bus

EUR 1.70

Petrol per litre

EUR 1.55

 

Accommodation in Portugal

With such a wide range of housing options available, new arrivals are sure to find their ideal accommodation in Portugal. Expats will be able to choose from a range of downtown apartment blocks, condominiums and even rustic farmhouses. The price of accommodation in Portugal relative to the typical salary earned is generally considered to be reasonable except for the main cities and surroundings of Lisbon and Porto.

Expats, especially those that don't speak good Portuguese, should consider hiring a reputable real estate agent to assist them in finding a suitable home for the duration of their stay in the country. 


Types of accommodation in Portugal

The standard of accommodation in Portugal can vary hugely from area to area, and from building to building. Newer apartment blocks are modern, well finished, and structurally sound; while older buildings, although beautifully rustic at times, can often have problems with plumbing and electricity supply, among other things. Property in Portugal is generally quite spacious, particularly by British and northern European standards.

Shipping existing furniture to Portugal is an option, but the costs can run quite high. It will probably end up being more economical for expats to simply buy furniture once they are settled. There are plenty of reputable furniture stores to be found in the large urban centres in Portugal.

Home security is not a pressing issue in Portugal, although in tourist areas minor break-ins can sometimes occur. Modern apartment blocks in Portugal are usually fitted with electronic access panels, deadlocks and shutters. For the most part, expats report that they feel safe in their homes and confident in the security of their possessions.


Finding accommodation in Portugal

Expats planning on moving to Portugal should start researching properties before they actually move to the country. Since Portugal is such a popular holiday destination, there are loads of short-term rentals available. However, long-term rentals can disappear from the market quickly.

Expats can use real estate agent websites to get an idea of the market in their chosen area or suburb. Local newspapers will also have classified sections were landlords may advertise accommodation. However, expats who don’t speak Portuguese may find it best to consult a real estate agent to help them with the process of finding accommodation in Portugal


Renting accommodation in Portugal

Upon relocating to the Iberian Peninsula, most expats will probably look to rent rather than buy in Portugal, at least initially. Expats should note that they need a Portuguese fiscal number in order to rent accommodation in Portugal. EU residents can apply for their fiscal number by visiting their local tax office. Non-EU residents must make use of a legal representative to apply.

Furnished or unfurnished

Short-term rentals will typically be furnished while long-term rentals tend to be unfurnished. Expats need to make sure they know what is included in their rental before signing the rental contract.

Rental process

Once expats have found a suitable property in Portugal they'll need to sign a rental contract (contrato de arrendamento) regardless of whether it's a short- or long-term rental. Some landlords or agents may have contracts available in English but in many cases, expats will need to have the document professionally translated. The rental contract will establish the legal obligations of both the tenant and the landlord. It will also state what is and isn’t included in the rental price. 

Deposits

Landlords in Portugal will normally require two months’ rent as a security deposit. They may also require the first month’s rent in advance.

When moving into a property, it is best to carry out a full inventory of the fittings and fixtures as well as any existing damages. Upon the termination of the lease, the property will be inspected. Any damage to the property is deducted from the security deposit.

Leases

Expats will find that rental contracts in Portugal are fairly flexible. Most landlords or rental agents will offer a choice between fixed-term open-ended contracts.

Fixed-term contracts are usually set for a period of two years. Some expats prefer open-ended contracts as they may not be sure how long they will stay in the country or if they’ll end up buying instead. Tenants will need to take careful note of the notice period of their contract as some contracts can require up to four months’ notice when ending the contract.

Utilities

Short-term rentals will most likely include utility bills in the rental price. However, long-term rentals very rarely include utilities like water, gas and electricity. These costs need to be added on to the monthly rental price when expats are creating a monthly budget.

Healthcare in Portugal

Expats looking to move to Portugal might find that the country’s healthcare system poses some significant challenges.

Both public and private healthcare options are available in Portugal. Private healthcare in Portugal is steadily gaining popularity among expats and becoming more readily available. The public healthcare system in Portugal, however, continues to frustrate and disappoint locals and expats alike.

Those moving to Portugal will find it reassuring that virtually every doctor is conversant in English in major cities. This is true of both public and private healthcare facilities in Portugal. Whether other employees in the health sector, such as nurses and technicians, speak English will depend on the location of the facilities. Areas with a larger expat population, such as Lisbon and the Algarve, will naturally have more bilingual employees. Expats living in rural parts of Portugal shouldn't rely on healthcare professionals to speak English, though, and should ensure they can speak an adequate amount of Portuguese in order to communicate at the local hospital or clinic.


Public healthcare facilities in Portugal

Access to public healthcare in Portugal is free for children under 18 and people over 65. All other legal residents can access public healthcare at low rates. Basic services can be found in rural areas but travel to a larger city will be necessary for specialised care. Public hospitals and clinics in Portugal are frequently understaffed and overcrowded.

The shortage of physicians has caused long waiting lists for non-life-threatening surgeries and a strain on the system as a whole, which often forces Portuguese nationals and expats alike to use emergency-room services in place of a general practitioner. At the public level, technology is often lacking and it can be difficult to arrange an appointment with a specialist.

EU citizens can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access state healthcare here during a short-term visit. UK citizens can make use of their Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which replaced the EHIC for UK citizens post-Brexit.

Both EU and non-EU expats with residency in Portugal must obtain a National Health Service user card in order to take advantage of the free public healthcare system. This can be done at a local health centre with a passport and residency card. Non-EU expats will also need to provide a social security card.


Private healthcare facilities in Portugal

Private healthcare in Portugal is expensive, especially for those who don't have health insurance. However, private healthcare is the best option for those who can afford a relatively low-cost health insurance policy.

Long queues and crowded waiting rooms are seldom seen in private health clinics or hospitals in Portugal. Doctors at private establishments in Portugal are generally skilful and more attentive.

Most banks in Portugal now offer information on their choice of private health insurance provider. While some larger corporations and government bodies offer private health insurance to their employees, this is not the norm, nor is it required by law. Therefore expats should be prepared to pay for their own healthcare expenses whilst living in Portugal.


Pharmacies and medicines in Portugal

Pharmacies in Portugal are widely available and easily accessible. They can be found in most town centres and shopping malls.

Since many medications are subsidised, with the proper prescription from a general practitioner or specialist, medication can be obtained for a very low cost. The cost rises significantly without a prescription, even for the most common of medications.

During a consultation, if a doctor offers a prescription for a medication that doesn’t require one it is wise to accept it, even for common cough medicines or anti-inflammatories. Having these prescriptions saves money when it comes to purchasing medication at the pharmacy. 

For surgeries performed in public hospitals, medications administered in the hospitals are free. However, doctors often ask patients to bring medications to the hospital to be administered after the operation.

There are few restrictions on medicine being brought into Portugal, as long as paperwork can be provided to prove that the medication is for personal use only. 


Emergency services in Portugal

Emergency services in Portugal can be reached by dialling 112.

Paramedics who respond to emergencies are adequately trained, generally proficient and considerate.

In serious emergencies, it's not unusual for patients to be quickly transferred from a less equipped hospital to a more specialised care unit in the closest large city.

Education and Schools in Portugal

Education and schools in Portugal fall under one of two sectors: state and private. Regardless of the sponsoring body, learning is separated into tiers. Jardim de infância offers education for children between the ages of three and five years old. Children between the ages of six and 15 attend ensino básico, while teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17 attend ensino secundário. 

Children in Portugal tend to attend school based on the neighbourhood in which they live or in which their parents work. It follows that many of the richer economic areas are linked to higher-quality educational institutions. Rural areas and less economically developed regions of the country are especially notorious for shifty standards, though the larger urban centres and the expat-friendly Algarve area provide some good options.


Public schools in Portugal

Public or state schools in Portugal are free. However, expats will quickly learn that these public institutions have been the subject of much debate. In the past, frequent teacher strikes and a much-bemoaned Ministry of Education was enough to scare off any expat looking to enrol their child.

This serious criticism has led to Portugal's government increasing investment to improve facilities, teaching quality and classroom sizes. Although such concerns are now actively being addressed, expat parents should still be wary of the state system.

Some teachers in Portuguese public schools speak English, but not all of them. The curriculum is taught in Portuguese, and expat parents considering sending their child to a public school should look into what possibilities exist to overcome the language barrier and to support the learning process.

Parents who want to pursue this route should note that Portuguese schools require very specific paperwork and, as bureaucracy can be slow to approve documents, it's necessary to prepare well in advance.


Private schools in Portugal

There is a large network of private schools for expats to choose from in Portugal. Private schools generally have smaller class sizes, a stronger system of extra-curricular activities and more modern facilities than their public equivalents. Many of Portugal's private schools are faith-based.

It's important to note that the teachers in these institutions are paid less than those in the public sector. As such, teachers in private schools can often be young and underqualified.


International schools in Portugal

International schools in Portugal offer a variety of curricula. Most uphold high standards of education, and expats need not be worried about their children falling behind their peers at home while living abroad. There are several international schools throughout Portugal, most of which are in the popular expat regions of Lisbon and the Algarve.

Tuition and fees at international schools can be expensive. Expats should be sure to budget accordingly, or to negotiate with their employer to include an education allowance in their expat package.


Homeschooling in Portugal

Expat parents who want to teach their children at home will be happy to hear that homeschooling, or Ensino Doméstico, is legal in Portugal. It is important to note that expats will first have to obtain authorisation from the local school board before starting their homeschooling program.

Parents will need to submit a written declaration in which they provide information on their children, the family member or person who will be responsible for the children's education and this person's qualifications. It would be best for prospective homeschoolers to contact their local educational offices to find out exactly what the procedures and expectations are before starting homeschooling in Portugal.


Special needs education in Portugal

Special needs education (Necessidades Educativas Especiais or NEE) in Portugal is integrated within mainstream schools. Only in extreme cases or when students are not reaching their individual educational goals will students be referred to specialist schools.

Once students with special needs enter compulsory schooling at the age of six, an individual educational plan is typically set out for them that details changes and adaptations they will need to their learning. These students then have extra support available to them within mainstream schools like specialised professionals, specific equipment or tools or special conditions for assessment.

Almost all students attend mainstream schools in Portugal; however, those who have needs that can't be met in these schools have some options available in terms of special schools. These include schools for the partially sighted, like Centro Helen Keller in Lisbon, or schools for children with developmental disabilities.

Transport and Driving in Portugal

Expats who plan on travelling within Portugal have a number of options available to them. Generally, those residing in Portuguese cities such as Lisbon, Faro and Porto will find that having a car is unnecessary unless they want to travel to other parts of the country.

Trains in Portugal are a comfortable and efficient way to travel between cities. However, train travel will require some planning because services don't operate at such frequent intervals. The bus network is far more comprehensive and covers areas located inland.

Expats living in rural Portugal or the Algarve tend to own cars. While Portugal's road infrastructure is modern, there are some driving conditions that new expat drivers may take some time getting accustomed to. 


Public transport in Portugal

Portugal's capital city, Lisbon, and other urban hubs such as Porto have modern transport networks comprising of trains, buses, trams and metro systems.

However, at the national level, public transportation in Portugal isn't as extensive as expats would find in other European countries. The railway network in Portugal is limited, which leaves just one option for those without a private vehicle: intercity buses.

Trains

The rail network in Portugal, run by Comboios de Portugal (CP), is somewhat limited.

While travelling by train in Portugal is often slightly faster than the equivalent bus journey, most trains only serve to connect the major cities such as Lisbon, Porto, Faro, Gaia and Aveiro to one another.

Suburban rail services cover the areas surrounding Lisbon and Porto reasonably well but are limited elsewhere in the country. Commuters using trains in Portugal find the services to be relatively efficient and comfortable. As trains aren't very frequent it is best to make a reservation well in advance.

Some intercity trains travel to the interior of the country and serve towns such as Evora, Beja and Guarda. However, most railway routes follow Portugal’s Atlantic coastline.

Trains in Portugal tend to operate less frequently and are more expensive than intercity buses. However, rail fares are still much more reasonably priced than one would find elsewhere in Europe. It is possible to purchase tickets online or in person at any train station in Portugal.

Buses

Due to the country’s limited rail network, many of those who need to travel nationally in Portugal prefer to use intercity buses.

Although travelling by bus in Portugal may take a little longer, bus routes tend to be more extensive and cover places that lie off the beaten track.

Bus fares in Portugal are also reasonably priced, especially in comparison to those elsewhere in Europe. Rede Nacional de Expressos is the largest intercity bus company and has routes that cover the length and breadth of the country. Buses are relatively frequent and on busier routes, services depart every 45 to 60 minutes.


Driving in Portugal

Generally, road conditions in Portugal are good, especially on the motorways that connect major cities. However, there are secondary roads in rural areas of Portugal where driving conditions can be dangerous.

There's a unified electronic toll-paying system in Portugal. This system, Via Verde, allows cars to pass through the toll without having to stop and the cost of the journey will be debited directly from the user's account.

It will probably take some time for expats to get used to interacting with Portuguese drivers. It's important to drive defensively as local drivers can be erratic at times. The Portuguese government has taken steps to alleviate the problems associated with aggressive driving by introducing harsh punishments for those caught speeding, driving without a valid licence or under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.

Expats should be aware that maps of Portugal can vary, and can therefore be difficult to follow. Road signage isn't always clear and can end suddenly, leaving drivers wondering if they are still heading in the right direction. GPS is improving in areas surrounding major Portuguese cities. However, those using GPS devices should ensure they have a map to use for cross-referencing, as many towns, villages and streets in Portugal have the same name.


Air travel in Portugal

Domestic flights in Portugal are relatively expensive, so not many people fly within the country itself. Portugal’s main airports are in Lisbon, Faro, Porto, Funchal (Madeira) and Ponta Delgada (Azores).  

Frequently Asked Questions about Portugal

Expats moving to Portugal might have some questions regarding their relocation. Here is a list of some of the common questions asked by those considering relocating to Portugal.

Do I need to learn Portuguese?

Many retired communities have large populations of English speakers and residents can generally get by without learning the local language. In tourist destinations and resort communities, Portuguese people can usually speak English.

However, English is limited in more rural communities and business is often conducted in Portuguese. To become integrated into the culture, learning the language is important and it also reduces the impact of culture shock on new arrivals. It is considered rude to attempt to substitute Spanish for Portuguese. 

Is Portugal a good place to raise children?

Portugal is a great place to raise children. The education system in Portugal is good and transfer from EU schools is easy. The communities are safe and although public medical facilities aren't up to top standards, private healthcare for children is great. The quality of life in Portugal has also made the population among the healthiest in the world.

What is the weather like?

There are really two climates in Portugal, the southern and warmer Mediterranean area, and the Northern Atlantic climate. Some expats who expect extreme heat will be surprised that it is not as warm as countries farther south near the tropics. Summers usually hover around 85°F (30°C), and winters 50°F (10°C).

Banking, Money and Taxes in Portugal

Expats moving to Portugal will find that the country has a modern and efficient banking system which makes it easy to manage one's finances. 

Banks in Portugal offer a wide range of accounts and financial services including current and savings accounts, joint accounts and business accounts. Online banking is a standard feature with all accounts in Portugal. 

Portuguese banks are generally open from 8.30am to 3pm from Monday to Friday. Certain banks extend opening hours till 4pm on Fridays and some open for a limited time on Saturday mornings. 


Money in Portugal

The Euro (EUR) is Portugal's official currency. One euro is divided into 100 cents.

  • Notes: EUR 5, EUR 10, EUR 20, EUR 50, EUR 100, EUR 200 and EUR 500

  • Coins: EUR 1, EUR 2 and 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents


Banking in Portugal

Portuguese banks are part of a national grouping of banks called Multibanco. This makes accounts easily accessible and account holders may use a Multibanco debit card in ATMs across the country and for buying most goods. 

Opening a bank account

Expats will find that opening a bank account in Portugal is fairly straightforward. Depending on where an expat is from they'll simply need to visit a bank branch in Portugal with certain documents including proof of identity and proof of address. Documents may vary between banks, so expats should check with their chosen bank.

Credit cards and ATMs

Credit cards and debit cards are widely accepted throughout Portugal. Transaction charges do apply for those using international cards in Portugal. 

ATMs can be easily found in most town centres and urban areas. ATMs in Portugal will accept major foreign cards. They also tend to provide better exchange rates than those offered by bureaux de change and are therefore a convenient way to access money in Portugal, especially for those without a Portuguese bank account. 

The Multibanco system in Portugal is lauded for allowing its users a wide variety of conveniences. In addition to normal withdrawal and transfer services, at a Multibanco ATM expats can:
  • Pay certain utility bills

  • Load talk time onto mobile phones

  • Pay income tax and value-added tax

  • Purchase concert tickets

  • Pay motor tolls


Taxes in Portugal

Portugal taxes residents and non-residents differently. To be considered a resident for tax purposes, a person must reside in the country for 183 days of the year or have a permanent home in Portugal. If someone is considered a resident they are liable to be taxed on their worldwide income.

Expats may be concerned about being simultaneously taxed in Portugal and their home country, but in many cases treaties exist which will prevent double taxation. Often, becoming a resident of Portugal can exempt expats from higher overseas taxes. To find the most advantageous tax plan, it's a good idea to consult an international tax planner.

Resident expats working for a Portuguese employer will have their income tax automatically deducted from their salary on a sliding scale based on their worldwide income. Non-residents are taxed only on income derived from within Portugal, usually at a flat rate.

Expat Experiences in Portugal

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real-life stories from other expats who have lived there. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Portugal and would like to share your experience.


Joanna is a nomad, an online teacher and a blogger. She left her home country, Poland, almost 20 years ago. Since then she's lived in the UK, Thailand, Vietnam, Germany, and she's now living in Portugal. She run's her own business - OK English - where, along with 7 other teachers, she teaches Polish people to speak English with confidence. Read about her expat experiences living in Lisbon. Joanna Horanin

Bob Burrows is an American expat living in Ericeira. In late 2019 he took the leap with his wife and moved to Portugal and hasn't looked back. Bob enjoys the quality of life in Portugal and how close to the beach they live. Read more about his expat experiences in Portugal.

Bob

Gail Aguiar is a Philippines-born, Canadian-raised freelance photographer who made Portugal home in late 2013, six countries and three continents later. She lives in photogenic Porto with her Portuguese husband and their rescue dog from Guimarães. Read more about her expat life in Portugal.

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In the first month of 2016, Helena Radeson Silverup and her husband left Sweden’s icy shores with their four-year-old daughter in tow. They headed straight for sunshine and easy living and found themselves in Cascais, Portugal. Read more about her expat life in Portugal.

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Sarah is a British expat living in the Algarve with her partner, Keith. She is a freelance writer and author of six books, who sought out a quiet life in the rural hills of Portugal, where she can cycle in the sun and eat breakfast outdoors in January. Read more about her expat life in Portugal.

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Julie Fox is a British expat living in Portugal. Having previously lived in Tanzania and Venezuela, Julie is now settled in a tiny village in central Portugal, close to the city of Coimbra, where she works part-time as an English teacher. She also works as a freelance writer and enjoys sharing her expat experiences in Portugal on her blog. Read more about her expat life in Portugal.

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After a period of exploration in Europe and Northern Africa, British expat Derek Harper resettled in Central Portugal with his partner. Though he still gets sentimental about curry and country pubs, he loves his life abroad and has even created online guides for expats moving to and living in Portugal. Read more about Derek's expat experience in Portugal.

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Wendy, a British expat living in Portugal, was heavy with the hardship of life in the UK. Rather than continue on weighed down and wary of what was to come, she moved with her husband and her two boys to Central Portugal. Since, she's become her own boss and is enjoying life on the idyllic Iberian Peninsula. Read more about her expat experience in Portugal.

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