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Where to Live for Expats in Portugal

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: August 2015

There is a wide range of accommodation available in Portugal, so you can take the time to find somewhere that suits you well. Practical factors that will influence your choice include accommodation prices, cost of living and availability of amenities. Then there are emotional criteria, such as the desirability of a place – whether what you desire is happiness, safety, friendly locals or an active social life.

Whether you want to live near other expats may also influence your decision. There are around 900,000 expats living in Portugal out of a total population of 10.3 million. Most of these expats live in and around Lisbon and Porto or in the Algarve. Many of them, especially those from northern Europe, move to Portugal not to find work but to retire. They are drawn by the agreeable climate, clean white beaches, beautiful countryside and generous, friendly locals with an unflustered attitude to life. Some working people decide to put life before work, accept a pay cut and move to Portugal for similar reasons.

Average property prices in Portugal are lower than the Europe-wide average. Naturally prices are lowest in the less favoured areas. Around Lisbon and in the Algarve, property prices are higher, though there are still some bargains to be had.

The capital of Portugal and by some distance its largest and most important city, Lisbon is popular with expats. The city was substantially redesigned after the devastating 1755 earthquake, and hence contains a delightful combination of old and 18th century architecture.

Lisbon is the heartbeat of the country, though it is more relaxed than most other European capitals. Within the city borders, the most popular expat districts are Lapa and Estrela. The resorts of Estoril and Cascais, a little to the west of Lisbon proper, are even more popular with expats. These cities are family-friendly and are popular with tourists and lisboêtas alike.

Heading north up the coast from Lisbon are the beautiful cliffs and beaches of the Silver Coast. This area is another strong draw to expats, especially the retired. To the north-east, inland, is the old university city of Coimbra, another Portuguese city famous for its elegant architecture. Many international students study in the city, giving it a cosmopolitan feel. Tomar, midway between Lisbon and Coimbra, is as fine an example of a quiet, traditional Portuguese town as you can find anywhere.

Further north, on the Douro estuary, is Porto (Portuguese Oporto ‘the port’), which gives the country its name. It is the second-largest city in Portugal and is another expat haven. The city centre, containing a maze of old alleyways and winding streets, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Porto is the major centre for culture and entertainment in the north of the country. There are often opportunities for work in manufacturing and related areas in Porto. Further north, the country becomes more rugged and rural and contains almost unspoilt towns such as Chaves and Bragança.

South of Lisbon, for those who really want to get away from it all, there is the Alentejo, with its rugged hills to the east and fine beaches to the west. Summers here are particularly hot and sunny. The Alentejo is the most rural and least touristic part of Portugal. Property here is cheap, though amenities may be lacking, leading to greater overall expense if you are buying.

Further south, there is the celebrated Algarve, mainland Portugal’s southernmost region. One of the most popular holidaymaking and retirement regions in Europe, it has a remarkably stable, sunny, Mediterranean-style climate and excellent beaches. There are more than 100,000 retired expats living in the region. Albufeira is the largest resort town in the region and prices here are reasonable, while towns such as Silves and Lagoa are much more expensive. The eastern Algarve is less commercially developed and still offers the authentic way of Portuguese life. Cities in this area, such as Tavira, are mostly unspoilt.

The Azores are also popular with expats, especially the retired. The islands offer an excellent climate, a low cost of living and very low crime rates. São Miguel is the largest island and the most popular with expats, though property prices are lower on the other islands. The other Portuguese island group, Madeira, has long been popular with expats and its potential is currently undergoing further development.




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