We previously shared why we moved to Lisbon.
After living in Portugal for four years, we’re now ready to share our thoughts about our life-changing decision. These thoughts include all of the good and bad things about living as expats in Portugal from our personal perspective
Pros and Cons Of Living In Portugal As An Expat
Moving to Portugal has become trendy.
While we were far from the first Americans living in Portugal, we’re constantly contacted by people who want to make a similar jump. They want to know how we did it and what it’s like to live in the Iberian nation. They also want our recommendation on where to live, details about the crime rate in Portugal and how much to budget.
Our first piece of advice is that everybody is different and that the lifestyle options in Portugal are numerous. People with kids will have different priorities compared to recent retirees. Our top priority involves living in a culturally diverse city with an airport that offers easy connections to Europe and the world.
We initially considered living in Porto for many reasons including the city’s epic beauty and its never-ending supply of port wine. However, we ultimately decided to live in Lisbon.
While we love living in the center of Portugal’s vibrant capital, others may prefer living by the beach or on a farm. We’re city people and Lisbon is the country’s largest metropolitan region with a relatively vast selection of international cuisine and a formidable international airport. At the end of the day, Lisbon checked more of our boxes than any other Portuguese city.
Read more about why we moved to Lisbon.
10 Things We Love About Living In Portugal
In short, we love living in Lisbon. All of the reasons that made us decide to abandon the digital nomad life and apply for D7 visas and become Portuguese residents proved valid. However, like any place we’ve lived in the world including the United States, there are a handful of things that annoy us after a few years.
Read on to discover our favorite aspects about expat life in Portugal in general and living in Lisbon in particular:
We love eating in Portugal. We love the food at restaurants, in markets and what we cook at home. We love chowing down on traditional bacalhau (cod) dishes at tascas (taverns) as much as we love dining at fancy Michelin-starred restaurants like Belcanto. We love the omnipresent desserts that go way beyond pasteis de nata. We love it all.
Located in southern Europe, Portugal has a wealth of excellent cured meats and cheeses that have been produced for millenia, a lifestyle in which daily fresh bread is a way of life and a cooking culture filled with traditional dishes passed down through generations.
It’s also one of Europe’s great agricultural centers with an array of incredible fruits and vegetables that come and go with the seasons.
During the spring, we enjoy fresh strawberries. Then comes June with its deep red cherries followed by July’s sweet little green plums called Rainha Claudia. August brings purple and dark green figs. Excellent tomatoes are available from June all the way to November – our favorites are amazing heirloom tomato varieties sold at our local bio (i.e. organic) farmers markets.
Discover our picks for the best food cities in Portugal.
We eat some of the world’s greatest seafood in Portugal too. From Porto and Matsinhos in the north to Lisbon and neighboring Setubal in the center and all the way down to Algarve in the south, a huge variety of fish, crustaceans and mollusks are available at both markets and restaurants. Even Lisbon is a seafood paradise thanks to restaurants like Cervejaria Ramiro and Ponto Final.
The nation celebrates fresh sardinhas (sardines) in June and gambas al aguillo (garlic shrimp) is a national dish. It’s virtually impossible to visit or live in Portugal without enjoying seafood centered rice stews like arroz de tamboril (rice with monkfish).
Other seafood favorites like açorda (seafood bread stew) and cataplana (seafood stew with potatoes) are easily found throughout the country too.
Check out our recipe for arroz de pato, Portugal’s version of duck rice.
Spain is famous for Iberico jamon but did you know that a good amount of the black pork used to make those hams is raised in Eastern Portugal? In Spain it’s called pata negra but it’s called called porco preto in Portugal.
In our opinion, the country’s chouriço porco preto, when produced with care, is one of the finest pork products in the world. We enjoy it on cheese boards along with presunto (Portugal’s dried ham similar to serrano hams found in Spain) and Portuguese ‘torta cheeses’ like azeitão – an aged, raw sheep milk cheese that’s opened from the top and eaten with a spoon.
For everyday food there’s nothing better than a bifana – a simple sandwich of stewed pork on a round Portuguese roll. When we’re really hungry after a port wine tasting crawl, we love sharing a francesinha – an American diner-like amalgamation of bread, ham and steak, covered in melty cheese, smothered in tomato/beef gravy and topped with a fried egg.
Discover even more Portuguese food favorites.
Portugal gained world fame through its production of port wines – vintages that have been ‘fortified’ with grape spirit (think brandy.) Legendary houses like Graham’s, Kopke and Sandeman’s operate in the northern city of Porto where they produce port wine using grapes grown in the nearby Douro Valley.
If you visit Porto, you can easily cross the Rio Douro and taste some of the best port wines in Vila Nova de Gaia. You can also buy trophy-worthy bottles and barrel aged wines to enjoy later.
But great wine in Portugal isn’t all fortified and isn’t limited to the the Douro Valley. Portugal produces serious, age-worthy reds and shockingly good whites in the eastern dry, hot region of Alentejo, the northern region of Bairrada and even in the Lisbon region. These are just a few of Portugal’s 14 wine regions which include the Portuguese islands of Madeira and The Azores
And the best part? Excellent everyday table wines can be purchased for under 5€ at Portuguese grocery stores. Sometimes, we’re shocked at how good these wines are considering their affordability.
Affordable Cost Of Living
Portugal is affordable compared to most developed nations in both Europe and North America. We’d call it cheap but that would be crass. Plus, that terminology isn’t exactly the truth. Rather, instead of cheap, Portugal is a good value for those who earn income outside of the country. Portuguese salaries are notoriously low.
Frugal shoppers will find great deals on products like pottery and glassware produced in the country. Groceries tend to be less expensive, unless they’re imported, and local markets are treasure troves for those (like us) who prefer eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
Restaurant meals are great deals when you consider that prices include both tax and gratuity. Accordingly, our small tips for good service are both earned and appreciated. Lunch specials are particularly cost effective, often costing under ¢10 for multiple courses.
However, there are notable exceptions to Portugal’s affordability.
Electronics and camera gear are a good bit more expensive compared to the US and other European countries. For some reason, sun screen is also expensive unless it’s on sale. Utilities are high in price too, motivating many Portuguese people (not us) to eschew both air conditioning and heat.
And, importantly, really great apartments come at a premium though they’re still a decent value compared to countries like the USA, UK and France. Real estate can be a challenge as it’s driving the Portugal cost of living up, especially in cities like Lisbon and Porto.
Our Beautiful Apartment
The third time was a charm when we looked for a great apartment in Lisbon.
We were rushed while looking for our first apartment since we needed a lease as part of our D7 visa application. Plus, we were misinformed about the low cost of real estate and what we should pay for a good apartment.
While our second apartment had amazing views, it lacked certain amenities, namely a dishwasher, full-sized refrigerator, air conditioning and heat. We were initially okay with these omissions since we traveled a lot, but then the pandemic hit and we were home on a 24/7 basis for months and months and months. Ouch!
Once we raised our budget and expanded our search, we found an apartment that we love in Lisbon’s Baixa neighborhood. It has all of those missing amenities plus some we didn’t realize we needed like a built-in ice maker, dryer and wine fridge. Plus, the views from our French balconies rarely disappoint.
While living out of a suitcase for three straight years, we discovered that the richest nations don’t necessarily have the fastest internet. We’ve surfed at lightning fast speeds in nations like Vietnam, Romania, Thailand and even Sri Lanka. The same thing can be said for Portugal.
Countries like the UK and Germany occasionally sport spotty and surprisingly slow connection speeds. Meanwhile, Portugal’s electronic superhighway is a dream with download speeds up to 1GBPS. This dependable speed is critical for our business and enjoyable when we want to watch a movie or show on Netflix.
Friends and family from the USA wonder in amazement at the clear, clean signal coming from across the ocean. Zoom calls? Games? Fast video uploads? Não tem problema!!
Travel Within Portugal
The phrase ‘trains, planes and automobiles’ is incomplete when it comes to transportation within Portugal. While Portugal has all of these options, the options also include subways, trams, buses, ferries and bikes. Then there’s our personal favorite way of getting around Lisbon – walking.
Don’t get us wrong. We don’t hesitate to use every mode of public transport including the iconic 28 tram. We even purchase monthly transit passes when we’re not traveling. It’s all a matter of what makes sense.
Traveling between cities is a different matter. We typically take trains when we travel to nearby destinations like Cascais and Sintra as well as to more distant cities like Porto and Faro.
Portuguese train rides aren’t just fast and cost effective. We ride in surprising comfort, even in second class cabins, when we take trains to other cities. Portugal even offers high speed Alfa Pendular trains between Porto, Lisbon and the Algarve.
Travel Within Europe
Traveling within Europe is a different matter.
Portugal’s location on the continent’s western edge makes train travel difficult if not impossible to other European countries. (We had planned on taking an overnight train to Madrid in 2020 but those plans were shelved when the train route was canceled during the pandemic. We’re still waiting for it to return but we’re not holding our collective breath.)
We’re not complaining too emphatically though. We can easily fly on discount airlines like Ryanair and Easy Jet as well as on more mainstream TAP for relatively low prices. And, thanks to our credit cards, we enjoy the privilege of Priority Pass which allows us to use lounges at most airports around the world.
A foot of crippling snow greeted us as we exited our Philadelphia house in 2016. The snow validated our decision about leaving and abandoning brutal Philly winters forever.
Since we moved to Lisbon in 2019, our memories of snow and bitingly cold winds have faded like the sunsets that greet us every night on the Rio Tejo. Lisbon’s latitude of 38.7° places the city in the semi tropics with warm days in the summer cooled by Atlantic evening breezes.
Yes, the winter can be cold and rainy in Portugal. Although many houses and apartments lack good insulation and climate control, these issues are relatively minor compared to the monster snow storms we endured while living in the Northeastern USA.
The beaches in the Algarve are legendary. However, the dirty little secret (shhhh) is that Portugal has beautiful beaches all along its Atlantic coastline.
In other words, it’s not just possible to take visit a beach while in Lisbon or Portugal, it’s also easy. As in as easy as taking a short train ride.
Great Lisbon beach options include Carcavelos, Comporta, Setubal and Comporta. Meanwhile, visitors to Porto can chill out at Praia de São Jacinto in Aveiro.
We’re lucky. We’ve never had major medical issues that have rendered us incapacitated and/or drained our bank account. While we had great health insurance when we lived in the states, it came at a hefty cost.
Since moving to Lisbon, we’ve found that health services in Portugal rival the quality in America. Hospitals are state-of-the-art here and many health professionals speak English. However, the best part of the Portuguese medical system is its affordability.
All citizens and legal residents have access medical care. We supplement public benefits with private insurance that costs a fraction of what we would pay back home. We hope that nothing bad happens to our health but, if it does, we’ll be covered.