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9 Expats Talk About What It's Really Like Living in Portugal

Betsy Burlingame

Summary: With it's beautiful beaches, historic cities, lower cost of living and welcoming Portuguese people, Portugal continues to be a popular expat destination. 9 expats talk about what it's really like living in Portugal.

Cascias, Portugal
Cascias, Portugal

Portugal is a very popular expat destination with something for everyone. Some expats love the city life in Lisbon, while others love coastal cities like Cascais and Tavira. 9 expats talk about what it's really like living in Portugal.

Deciding Where to Live in Portugal

When we asked expats living in Portugal to offer newcomers advice about choosing a neighborhood and finding a home, they replied:

"We travelled extensively around Portugal, and although we wanted to live in the far north it was too cold in winter so we travelled further south and loved Tomar with its peaceful atmosphere, good connections, good shopping for my wife, good facilities and excellent access. We lived close by for 3 years," said one expat living in Tomar, Portugal.

"We came to Portugal last year for 2 weeks. We explored two areas only: first, the Algarve and next, Lisboa. These selections were based on weather, as we didn't want the colder weather in the North of Portugal. The Algarve is dead in winter, congested in summer, and just stuffed with Brits. The Lisboa area was delightful but we were sold when we took a train from Lisboa to Cascais. This is ideal: generally reliably nice weather, pristine beaches, restaurants all over the narrow streets and squares as well as along the pedestrian esplanade along the ocean. An easy train ride into Lisbon any time you want more culture or diversions, while plenty of museums, shows and parks in the Estoril/Cascais area. IDEAL," mentioned another expat in Portugal.

Meeting People in Portugal

Expats living in Portugal talked about meeting people in Portugal and local clubs and organizations:

"In my experience, restaurants and cafes afforded me the opportunity to meet new people, develop friendships, and practice speaking the language. At nearly every turn, I was able to find people willing to speak English with me and to offer useful help in developing the ability to speak Portuguese. For my part, I have not made any attempts to join expat communities. Instead, a little humility and lots of hard work trying to learn the language has opened doors to friends and families in the local community. All this began by trying to frequent the cafes and restaurants that had employees and clients who were willing to communicate," said one expat living in Lisbon, Portugal.

"Americans in Portugal ( and on facebook) offers social activities to mark the US holidays and some informational meetings on taxes or similar topics during the year; International Women in Portugal is also helpful on a broad basis related to settling in," mentioned another expat in Portugal.

"There are a wide number of groups that you can join in Lisbon that will help any newcomer get situated. For women, I would recommend: Lisbon Girl Gone International. For digital nomads: Lisbon Digital Nomads. For expats looking to make a move to Portugal: Portugal: The good life is also a great site for events and meet ups," commented one expat who made the move to Portugal.

Expat Life in Portugal

What is it like living in Portugal? Here is what people had to say:

"There's a little bit of everything in Lisboa (Lisbon). Public transportation is a must in this city. There are a number of outdoor cafes where you can enjoy a coffee and people-watch. However, sports is the priority in Lisbon. Futebol (Soccer) is king here. Sporting and Benfica are the top soccer teams in the city. Be careful about wearing green (Sporting colors) in the Benfica neighborhood," said one expat living in Lisbon, Portugal.

"Without a doubt, the vast majority of folks that I have met are first and foremost concerned with quality of life. This begins with family and friends. Sure, the economic crisis is hitting hard in Portugal, so one can expect to hear a lot about the hardships and difficulties being wrought by the austerity measures, but one can also begin to feel right a home with new friends. Conversations can certainly be started by anyone interested in football, and any chance to question locals about the rich cultural history is met with excitement and enthusiasm. Basically, if one opens their hearts and minds to Portugal and the Portuguese people, they can expect to meet warm caring people with a propensity for eating, drinking, and sharing times with friends," mentioned another expat in Portugal.

"Lisbon is a great city for socializing. There are many expats and digital nomads here who are always open to meeting new people. It is great for young people, as well as older expats with is wide range of options and close proximity to the beaches and lots of bars, clubs and restaurants," commented one expat who made the move to Portugal.

What Expats Appreciate about Their New Culture

Carvoeiro Village in Algarve, Portugal
Carvoeiro Village in Algarve, Portugal

We asked expats in Portugal what they appreciated about their new culture. Here's what they had to say:

"The thing we like best about Portugal is the relaxed pace of life. The thing we like least about Portugal is the relaxed pace of life. It's great to be able to do things at a different speed but a lot of things move in slow motion when you wish they wouldn't. Just last night we had a piece of furniture being delivered. The time was supposed to be 6 and by the time they arrived it was 7:30 and we were just sitting down to eat. Typical," commented one expat living in Lisbon.

"Kind, helpful and genuinely friendly Portuguese people. The beautiful and, mainly, pristine beaches, forests, villages, towns, rivers and ocean," said one expat living in Cascais, Portugal.

The Most Challenging Aspects of Living in Portugal

Then, we asked expats in Portugal what was most challenging about their new culture. They replied:

"Pace of life and government bureaucracy. Pace of life is easy to adjust...slow down and enjoy. When dealing with government agencies just be prepared for extreme bureaucracy," said one expat living in Cascais, Portugal.

"People, especially in this part of the country, are pretty tough, they lack refinement and subtlety," mentioned another expat in Portugal.

Advice for Newcomers to Portugal

With respect to learning Portuguese, one expat had an important warning, "Watch out for duolingo, it's Brazilian Portuguese. While it isn't hugely different, you may not always get what people are saying here."

"Grab a Portugese phrase book, and spend time focusing on learning crucial phrases that will help you in conversing with the locals," said one expat living in Lisbon, Portugal.

"First, plan on learning the language. One need not speak Portuguese in order to survive here, but in order to truly experience all of the wonderful aspects of the city and her inhabitants, speaking the language or even seriously trying too opens doors, shows real respect, and can help you work your way into the hearts of the Portuguese people. Work is a little hard to find right now, but the quality of life and the warmth of the Portuguese people means that if you have enough to get by, you just might feel richer than living a money driven life," mentioned another expat in Portugal.

"After basic research using internet sites, so you understand the cost of living and ease of speaking English, spend time here--two weeks or so--before making any commitment. Renting for a few months or longer is most common and affords the flexibility to try other towns, as the life style varies quite a bit between city and village or rural life. This is not a dirt-streets beach town; it is historic, relaxed, casual yet chic," commented one expat who made the move to Portugal.

"I would tell them to meet as many local people as possible and to learn some Portuguese to get situated quickly. Even though most people speak English, knowledge of the language would help them get settled and find good accommodation deals that otherwise would be hard to find," remarked another expat living in Lisbon, Portugal.

Private Health Insurance for Expats in Portugal

Pharmacy in Portugal
Pharmacy in Portugal

Healthcare in Portugal is insured through the national healthcare system, called Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS), and private health insurance companies. To learn more about the healthcare system, read our article, 6 Important Tips about Health Insurance for Expats in Portugal.

When we asked expats about their experiences with health insurance and the cost of medical care in Portugal, they said:

"We are required to have a private policy that meets the Schengen Community requirements (go to their website). The highest quality of coverage won't cost more than 3,000 euros a person/year (2017) and most retirees are paying only 2,000 euros annually. This includes dental and eye care, surgeries, private hospital room, unlimited doctor visits and tests," commented one expat living in Lisbon Coast, Portugal.

"The cost of a private plan is half or less than charged in the US. Health insurance can be purchased through banks or a few organizations, such as the Automobile Club of Portugal or 'afpop'. These offer even better group rates than the bank rates," mentioned another expat living in Portugal.

Expats living in Portugal interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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First Published: Jun 26, 2018

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