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Safety and Emergencies for Expats in Portugal

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: August 2015

Safety – Natural Hazards

Portugal is generally a safe country as far as natural hazards are concerned. There are occasional floods and there are volcanoes on Madeira and the Azores, though there have not been any recent eruptions. These island groups and the southern half of the mainland are also seismic areas, though earthquakes are very rare.

Daytime summer temperatures in Portugal can rise to well over 30°C, especially in July and August. At these times, there is a risk of heat exhaustion and the more serious heat stroke. To avoid these conditions, it is important to make sure you drink enough water and wear loose, lightweight clothing. Arrange your day so you are out of the sun in the middle of the day and take breaks in cooler places whenever possible.

During the hot, dry summers, there is also the risk of forest fires, especially in central and northern areas. Be aware of this when travelling in woodland areas. Note also that starting a forest fire, even unintentionally, is treated as a criminal offence.

Swimming in the Atlantic Ocean is generally safe, though it can get rough. Always ensure you observe the standard precautions by checking notice boards and obeying any safety flags that are flying. Jellyfish can also pose a problem, including, naturally, Portuguese men-of-war.

Safety – Man-Made Hazards

Portugal has some of the lowest crime rates in the world. Lisbon has one of the lowest rates of homicide of any of the world’s major cities. Although homicide rates are a little higher in the north of the country, they are still very low on a world scale at below 2.5 per 100,000. The same goes for other violent crimes. You are unlikely to experience any trouble in most parts of the country, and walking the streets and travelling on public transport is mostly safe day and

Petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and bag-snatching do occur. They are most frequent during the high season in the main touristic areas, though this is less of a problem in the Azores. Thieves typically target passports and cash, often using distraction techniques. These and other forms of theft are most likely to occur in crowded areas such as tourist attractions, but also on beaches and on public transport.To prevent such crimes, it is important to stay aware of what is going on around you and keep valuables such as money, jewellery, mobile phones and laptops out of sight as much as possible.

There is a low rate of sexual assaults on women in Portugal. Nevertheless, expats are more likely to be targeted, and you do need to be careful in situations where you might be vulnerable. If drinking in a public place, make sure you know where your friends are at all times. Make sure someone in your group has an eye on your drinks and be wary of accepting drinks from strangers.

There have not been any recent terrorist attacks in Portugal. Nevertheless, it is prudent to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity. In a country with so many disaffected youths, demonstrations and protests do take place, though they are almost always peaceful. Nevertheless, it is better to avoid any demonstrations. You can use the local and national media to help keep track of them.


For all emergencies – police, ambulance and fire brigade – dial 112 from any phone. Note that there are two main police forces in Portugal: the National Republican Guard and the Public Security Police. Emergency calls are free of charge, and work even from a mobile phone without a SIM card. The emergency operator will answer in Portuguese, though English-speaking operators are also generally available. Additionally, for forest fire emergencies, dial 117.




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