After more than 2 years of almost non-stop travel, like many other digital nomads, I’ve started thinking about finding a home base for the medium-to-long term. Portugal is a strong contender for me. If you’re feeling like it could be a good option for you too, I’ve put together this list of the main pros and cons of living in Portugal.
I did this work partly to help you decide whether it’s likely to be a good place for you to live. But also, if I’m totally honest, partly for myself. There’s a good chance I might actually end up moving there in the next few years!
I love Portugal, the people, the food, the climate, the scenery, almost everything about it. It’s easily one of my favorite countries in Europe. It’s not perfect – nowhere is. But for me, the benefits of living in Portugal vastly outweigh the downsides.
15 Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Portugal over the last few years, including last summer when I lived in a tiny village in the mountains near Porto. This list of advantages and disadvantages of living in Portugal is therefore based mainly on my own experiences.
I’ve also relied on the experiences of a few of my Portuguese friends as well as a few fellow digital nomads who’ve spent time living in Portugal. So, I hope this guide provides you with some useful insight and inspiration.
Where is Portugal?
Portugal is located on the Iberian Peninsula in Southwest Europe. The capital, Lisbon, sits at roughly the same latitude as Washington DC.
The country shares its only land border with Spain to the east and north. To the west and south is the Atlantic Ocean, giving Portugal a long and stunning coastline.
It’s easy to get to Portugal by road from most parts of mainland Spain, especially the Spanish border regions of Andalusia, Extremadura, Castilla y León, and Galicia. For those coming from further afield, Portugal has several well-connected airports with direct flights to destinations all around the world.
Pros of living in Portugal
There are many pros of living in Portugal. Here are 10 of my favorite things about it:
1. Affordable Cost of Living
One of the major pros of living in Portugal is the cost of living. Portugal is one of the most affordable countries to live in Western Europe. From rent to daily essentials and even dining out, things generally cost less in Portugal than in many other European countries, and certainly the UK.
This means that you can enjoy a higher standard of living here than in places like France, Germany, or the UK while spending much less overall. According to Numbeo, a single person’s estimated monthly expenses are less than €700, excluding rent.
It’s not hard to find a 1-bedroom apartment for around €700-€900 per month, so long as you avoid Lisbon. When I was living in Portugal, I’d regularly go out for a meal in a mid-range restaurant and spend less than €20 per head, including a bottle of house wine and a couple of beers.
2. Natural Beauty
Another great advantage of living in Portugal is the huge amount of natural beauty on offer here. From the rugged cliffs and golden beaches of the Algarve to the lush vineyards of the Douro Valley, Portugal’s landscapes are diverse and often spectacular.
I love hiking and Portugal has so many amazing trails to explore. One of my favorites is the Passadiços do Paiva, which is a 9-kilometer (5.5 mile) route mainly consisting of boardwalks and wooden steps snaking along the scenic banks of the Paiva River, in the mountains southeast of Porto.
Of course, Portugal is also famous for its gorgeous beaches and coastal scenery. With 1,794 kilometers (1,115 miles) of coastline, you’re spoilt for choice. Whether you prefer accessible beaches with plenty of facilities, or wild untouched beaches, you won’t struggle to find a perfect spot.
3. Rich Culture and History
Portugal has a distinctive culture, shaped by its history over the centuries. From Moorish influences in the south to Celtic and Roman influences in the north, Portugal’s unique history has left various marks on the country and its culture.
The country’s rich history is etched into every cobblestone street, ancient village, castle, and historical monument. The architecture alone is enough to transport you back in time, and many places feel wonderfully timeless.
Experiencing the soulful melodies of Fado music, regular festivals and other celebrations, and traditional markets are just some of the many advantages of living in Portugal. There’s always something new and interesting to discover as you explore Portugal’s countless cultural offerings.
4. Friendly People
One of my favorite things about Portugal is how genuinely friendly and welcoming the people are. Far from being a cliche, the warmth of the local people here is just incredible.
The moment I arrived at the place I stayed at most recently, the family next door appeared. As well as introducing themselves, they gave me a giant basket of fresh fruit and vegetables, cold beers, and a bowl of homemade soup because they assumed – correctly – that I’d be hungry after a long journey.
Simple acts of kindness like that are not, in my experience at least, at all uncommon in Portugal. People go out of their way to make you feel welcome. It’s wonderful and makes settling into a new place all the easier and more pleasant.
5. Great Weather (One of the Biggest Pros of Living in Portugal)
Another huge pro of living in Portugal is the weather. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, it’s one of the sunniest countries in Europe. The climate here is generally fairly temperate with hot summers and mild winters. Although, depending on where you are, temperatures can vary quite a bit.
For example, summer temperatures in the Algarve often soar to 35 degrees Celsius/90 degrees Fahrenheit, while in the mountains, you can expect cool evenings in the summer and even snow in the winter. But, overall, the weather is good for most of the time.
This means that you can enjoy outdoor activities pretty much year-round. For me, this is one of the biggest pros of living in Portugal. I love spending time outside, whether it’s hiking, swimming, or even dining outdoors – something I could rarely do back home in England!
6. High-Quality Healthcare
Portugal offers high-quality and affordable healthcare, which is another advantage of living here. The public healthcare system in Portugal, the Serviço Nacional de Saúde, is excellent. Many procedures (including most urgent care) are free of charge to all legal residents in Portugal, including expats.
Private healthcare is also available at fairly reasonable prices and is often accessible without waiting times for appointments or procedures.
Portugal’s quality healthcare system means that you can feel secure knowing that medical care is always possible if needed. And especially if you’re from somewhere like the US, the affordability of Portuguese healthcare will probably be a breath of fresh air.
Safety is an important consideration when choosing a place to live, especially in a country that you aren’t familiar with. Happily, Portugal excels on this front too. In fact, Portugal is consistently ranked as one of the safest countries in the world.
According to the 2023 Global Peace Index, Portugal ranks as the 7th most peaceful country in the world as well as one of the safest. The country has a low crime rate and a strong sense of community that contributes to its overall safety.
This general sense of security in Portugal extends to its political and social stability too. It means you can feel secure and at ease living in Portugal, whether you’re walking around the city at night or exploring the countryside alone. I’ve never once felt even a tiny bit unsafe in Portugal.
Of course, the usual rules apply when it comes to keeping yourself and your belongings safe. However, you can relax and enjoy all the amazing experiences and opportunities Portugal has to offer, without being overly concerned about your safety.
8. English Widely Spoken
One of the challenges of moving to a new country can be the language barrier, but in Portugal, this hurdle is significantly reduced, thanks to the widespread use of English, especially in larger urban and popular tourist areas.
This helps make everyday tasks much easier and more convenient, from shopping to asking for directions. It also helps when it comes to building meaningful connections and relationships with your neighbors and other people you meet.
This, in turn, will hopefully help you integrate more smoothly into local Portuguese life and greatly enrich your daily experiences while living there.
9. Delicious Food and Wine
Top-quality food and wine are other highlights of living in Portugal. The food here is not only delicious but also diverse; reflecting the country’s history and maritime heritage. For someone who enjoys exploring a place through its flavors, Portugal is a culinary delight.
If you like seafood, you’re in for a treat. Dishes like bacalhau (salt cod) and fresh sardines are national staples, found on practically every menu throughout the country. Pair this with the country’s superb wines, and you have a match made in heaven.
And the affordability of eating and drinking out in Portugal is the icing on the cake. As I mentioned above, you can easily go out for a meal at a quality local restaurant and spend under €20 per person including drinks. It’s amazing and definitely something I could get used to!
10. Laid-back Lifestyle
The laid-back lifestyle is another major benefit of living in Portugal. As someone who spent the majority of their 20s in a fast-paced city (London), it’s so refreshing to savor the slower pace of Portuguese life. The Portuguese prefer to take their time and enjoy life rather than rush blindly through it.
Even in Lisbon, people take time to enjoy their meals and coffee breaks, and weekends are meant for relaxing and spending time with family and friends. Work-life balance is a serious thing here. And outside of the capital, it gets even more chilled!
This relaxed approach to life is a big draw for me. I spent far too much of my life to date being stressed, overworked, and under-rested. Living in Portugal offers a refreshing change from all that, which is one of the many reasons I’m considering moving there more permanently!
Cons of Living in Portugal
Of course, nowhere is perfect. Despite the many pros, there are naturally a few cons of living in Portugal too.
Not all of these will apply to everybody. But it’s important to think carefully and realistically about what a move to Portugal would actually involve. Consider the good as well as the bad when deciding whether it’s something that’s likely to be right for you.
1. Language Barrier in Rural Areas
While English is widely spoken in the urban and tourist areas of Portugal, the same often can’t be said for the more rural regions. For example, in the village where I lived in northern Portugal last year, nobody spoke any English whatsoever.
This gave me an excellent crash course in basic conversational Portuguese, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. However, needless to say, the language barrier can often pose a challenge, especially in your day-to-day interactions with the locals.
If you want to live in a rural area away from the tourist crowds, learning at least a little Portuguese becomes almost a necessity. For most people, this will require time and effort and could be a significant downside of living in Portugal. Unless you love learning new languages!
Another disadvantage of moving to (and/or living in) Portugal is the amount of bureaucracy involved. The process of getting your residency, tax numbers, and other necessary documents can be a bit tedious, time-consuming, and even downright frustrating at times.
Once you get through the initial bureaucracy, things do get easier. And Portugal is certainly more efficient than some other European countries that I’ve spent extensive time in (name no names… but Italy).
However, my Portuguese friends tell me that it’s not uncommon to come up against bureaucratic hurdles whenever you need to get anything official done, whether that’s filing your taxes, buying property, or even dealing with utility companies. It’s just something you have to learn to deal with. Patience will serve you well in these instances!
3. High Tourist Numbers in Peak Season
Portugal’s popularity as a tourist destination is a double-edged sword. During peak season (June–August and public holidays), popular locations can become extremely crowded. This is particularly noticeable in places like Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve, which can feel almost overrun at times.
The high numbers of visitors often lead to inflated prices and longer queues for popular attractions and restaurants. And surges in tourism have led to some areas being littered with souvenir shops and businesses catering solely to tourists, taking away from the authentic local charm.
It’s definitely something to think about if you’re planning to settle in one of Portugal’s more popular areas. But if you’re considering moving to a quieter, less known-about area, this isn’t something you need to be concerned about.
4. Limited Job Opportunities
If you’re a digital nomad or any other type of remote worker, this one won’t apply to you. But for anyone looking for regular employment and job opportunities, particularly outside of major cities, opportunities can be limited and often require fluency in Portuguese.
The country’s economy is heavily reliant on tourism and agriculture, and I know several Portuguese people personally who left and emigrated to other countries (the UK and Sweden, in this case) due to the limited job market and lack of options back home.
While not likely to affect everybody planning on moving to Portugal, it’s an important factor to consider if you’re likely to be reliant on local employment.
5. Income Disparity
This is related to the above point on limited job opportunities. While the cost of living is generally lower than in other European countries, average salaries in Portugal are significantly lower as well, making it difficult for those on a lower income to make ends meet.
This can be particularly challenging in more expensive cities like Lisbon and Porto, where the economic disparity is even more pronounced. As a result, there can be stark contrasts between wealthy neighborhoods and poorer areas.
Even if you earn good money from abroad, the income disparity in Portugal is a reality for many people living here, and it may shock you. And if you’re seeking local employment, you might need to think realistically about your lifestyle expectations and what you’ll be able to afford to do.
Is Living in Portugal Worth It?
I think living in Portugal is definitely worth it. Yes, there are a few downsides to living in Portugal. But, for me at least, the pros vastly outweigh the cons. This fantastic country has a huge amount to offer, whatever your budget, interests, and preferences.
Of course, everybody’s different. But if you’re seriously considering a move to Portugal, I’d say go for it. Why not? I might even see you there. Writing this post has reminded me just how much I love it there!