Embracing the Portuguese Lifestyle: A Guide to Moving Abroad

Passadiços da Foz do Arelho – A 1 Week West Portugal road trip

Portugal has emerged as a top destination for those seeking a new home abroad, offering an enticing blend of delightful weather, affordable living, and stunning beaches.

The increasing popularity of Portugal isn’t just about its natural charms, which include stunning beaches, islands that could rival Hawaii or Iceland, and quaint mountain villages

Instead, a significant draw has been its approachable residency visa process. In recent years, there’s been a noticeable trend of people, especially from the USA, looking to Europe for relocation, and Portugal stands out as a particularly accessible option.

As well as that, there’s the safety and cost of living. Portugal is considered to be one of the safest countries in the world and it has a considerably lower cost of living than North America, Australia, and most Western European countries. 

Eligibility for Moving to Portugal

So, can you relocate to Portugal? For EU, EEA, or Swiss passport holders, the process is quite straightforward. Proving financial independence is key, whether through a pension, employment, or savings. These citizens can bypass the residency visa application, moving to Portugal directly and registering for European residency after 90 days at the local town hall (known as a câmara municipal). 

For those from other countries, like the USA, India, or Australia, a residency visa is necessary. Thankfully, Portugal’s range of residency visas is known for their attainability.

What about the language? While not immediately necessary, learning Portuguese is required for citizenship, which you can apply for after five years of residency. The language can be challenging, particularly due to the way European Portuguese is pronounced, but there are plenty of resources available to aid in learning.

James Cave from Portugalist.com, author of the book Moving to Portugal Made Simple, lists some courses and resources that focus on European Portuguese. He also has a page dedicated to courses. He highlights that most of the courses that teach Portuguese focus on Brazilian Portuguese but if you want to understand how people in Portugal speak, it’s important to focus on resources that teach Portuguese as it’s spoken in Portugal. 

However, as mentioned, you don’t need to speak Portuguese when you apply for residency – just when you apply for citizenship. James recommends starting the learning process early, however. He also notes that you can take the A2 exam, the exam required for citizenship, before the five-year mark.

Doing so would allow you to get your citizenship application in as soon as you’re eligible, speeding up the process for getting that all-important Portuguese passport. 

Popular Visa Choices

Three visas stand out: the D7 (passive income visa), the golden visa, and the D8 (digital nomad visa).

  • The D7 Visa: Designed for those with passive income, such as pensions or rental income. Applicants need to demonstrate income equivalent to the Portuguese minimum wage, currently €760 per month, set to increase to €820 in 2024. Family members can be included with additional financial requirements. For a spouse or partner, this means an additional 50% while you will need to show an additional 30% for each child. 
  • The Golden Visa: Tailored for individuals with investment capabilities. The key method now is to invest a minimum of €500,000 in a venture capital fund, a change from the previous property purchase option. This visa’s advantage is the minimal requirement to stay in Portugal, which is just an average of 7 days per year, making it ideal for those seeking a backup residency option. It’s also suitable for those who don’t qualify for the D7 or D8 but have substantial savings. 
  • The D8 Visa: Aimed at remote workers and freelancers (after all, Portugal is also a digital nomads’ paradise!), requiring an income four times the Portuguese minimum wage. The amount will be adjusted following the minimum wage changes. As of 2023, the amount is €3,040. 

Considering a Move to Portugal

Batalha monastery, Portugal

Deciding to move involves more than just eligibility. Living in Portugal has its ups and downs. The bureaucracy and customer service can be challenging, and housing issues like poor insulation and noise are common. This is more of an issue in apartments, and if you live in the countryside you are less likely to have noise problems with neighbors.

If you own your property, as opposed to renting it, you will also have more freedom to install a better heating system and improve the insulation. 

Thankfully, the majority of the bureaucratic issues you face will be at the start of your move. Once you’re settled and you have your NIF, SNS number, and everything else, there’ll be fewer hurdles to jump through. 

The job market may also present hurdles, especially for non-Portuguese speakers. The Portuguese minimum wage is the lowest in Western Europe so, understandably, other countries like Germany, France, or Ireland are more appealing to workers.

Jobs for those who don’t speak Portuguese are hard to find, although some industries, like tech, tend to mainly communicate in English. Salaries can be higher in these industries as well. 

LinkedIn and Glassdoor are two good places to begin your search for international jobs. Another route is call centers. Portugal is home to numerous call centers and there are always jobs for those fluent in other languages. While it might not be the most appealing or best-paid job, it can allow you to get your foot in the door. 

These are the downsides, of course. For the vast majority of people that have moved to Portugal, upsides like safety, the ease of obtaining an “EU passport,” the weather, and a more relaxed pace of life more than make up for these challenges. 

Understanding Taxes

Portugal employs a progressive tax system with rates that go from 14.5% to 48%, but taxation can be complex and varies based on individual circumstances. Tax treaties are important here, and it is important to speak to someone who understands the tax setup in Portugal and the country where your money is coming from. 

The NHR regime which attracted many foreigners to Portugal is scheduled to end at the end of 2023, however, a “new NHR” will begin. While not initially as appealing as the old regime, this does have opportunities for those in tech, startups, or science-related jobs. 

Again, speaking to an accountant is recommended. While the NHR regime is the most talked about tax regime, there are other tax regimes in Portugal, such as the ‘Simplified Regime’ which may mean you pay less in taxes.

This particular regime is suitable for people who make less than €200,000 a year and lets you pay taxes on 75% of your total income, and the other 25% is considered to be expenses.

Shipping Belongings

EU movers have an easier time due to the absence of customs barriers. For others, obtaining a ‘Certificado de Bagagem’ allows shipping personal items within a year of the visa grant. 

However, the cost and logistics of shipping large containers can be challenging. It’s a good idea to speak to a few different shipping companies and to get quotes on how much the move is likely to cost. 

If you are willing to downsize, that’s the more hassle-free option. It can also make sense, particularly if you’re moving from North America, given that properties in Europe are much smaller.

That couch from the US may not fit into your Portuguese apartment – and that’s before you think about getting it up the stairs.

Electronics from outside of Europe, particularly appliances, may not work properly in Portugal too. 

Bringing extra suitcases when you fly to Portugal is often the simplest option. You will have to pack smart and probably do several runs, but it limits the paperwork and costs. 

However, all of this does depend on where you’re moving from. If you’re moving from the UK, for example, the cost of moving furniture and belongings to Portugal will be significantly less than somewhere like Australia, the US, or South Africa. 

Finding Housing

Securing accommodation can be tough, especially in popular areas like Lisbon. Websites like idealista.pt and olx.pt, along with Facebook groups and real estate agencies, can be valuable resources. 

Finding accommodation can be challenging, particularly in Lisbon but also in Porto and the Algarve, all locations that have become extremely popular. It’s generally easier to find accommodation in the winter months, especially in the Algarve. 

For non-EU movers, a long-term rental contract is usually necessary for the visa process. Unfortunately, this normally can’t be from Airbnb – it has to be a specific contract that is registered with the local tax authorities (Finanças). 

For EU movers, the rules aren’t normally as stringent. However, it can depend on the particular câmara municipal that you’re dealing with. 

Making Friends

One of the biggest challenges with any move is making friends. In Portugal, it’s relatively easy to make friends with other expats due to the large number of meetup groups.

Just search Meetup.com for your location and you’ll see everything from sports groups to book clubs to more general meetup groups. 

A group of young people sitting in Baleal beach

Making Portuguese friends can be more of a challenge. The best thing you can do is try to find an activity you’re interested in, whether that’s a sport or hobby, and find an organization that has a large number of Portuguese members – as opposed to one that’s primarily aimed at expats. B

e prepared to have to speak some Portuguese, though.

In conclusion, embracing the Portuguese lifestyle as an expat involves navigating visas, dealing with bureaucracy, and adjusting to new cultural norms. Yet, the rewards are plentiful—from the stunning landscapes and warmth of the locals to the leisurely pace of life and cost-effective living.

Whether you’re drawn by the sunny beaches or the rich cultural tapestry, Portugal offers a haven for those seeking adventure and tranquility alike. With preparation and an open heart, your Portuguese journey can be the start of a vibrant new chapter. Boa sorte (good luck) on your move to Portugal!

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Surfers at sunset in Praia de Dunas, Baleal