So, you’re looking for the best places to live in Portugal for expats? Woohoo! Whether you’re considering a complete move over to the sun-kissed land at the end of Europe or just planning a short jaunt to somewhere to join the digital nomad crowd, this country has you covered.
From the sunny beaches of the south coast and the Algarve’s surf meccas to the culture-brimming cities of Porto and Lisbon, there’s just so much on offer. Yep, Portugal caters to adventure-hungry youngsters as much as R&R-seeking retirees. Or you can do both – a surf at Supertubos in the morning and a gorge on Atlantic seafood in Lisbon by afternoon, anybody?
This guide will pick out nine of the most awesome, most enticing, and most accomplished spots for the émigré crowd. It focuses on destinations that have proven themselves as the best places to live in Portugal for expats, either by dint of their beaches, their lifestyle, their history, or anything else in between.
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No list of the best places to live in Portugal for expats could possibly miss out on Lisbon. This is the buzzing capital of the country. It’s got the most multicultural and international crowd in the nation, not to mention a booming population of digital nomads that have been wooed by all-new remote working laws, internet upgrades, and residency permits.
More than that, Lisbon positively oozes history from every grand Age of Discovery building that tops its town center. Hit the Alfama and you’ll wander narrow lanes of cobblestone with tile-fronted cottages rising overhead. Scale the hills to find the Castelo de São Jorge, a one-time bastion of the Moors. Go to Belem and you’ll see the tower that great explorers like Vasco da Gama bid farewell to as they sailed off to Asia or South America.
Lisbon is a ball of energy and life in all seasons. You can surf on the Estoril beaches to the west. You can drink on lookout points at kiosk bars. You can party the night away in the hedonistic Bairro Alto. It’s just an awesome city to live in. Take us back!
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis
We’ve got a serious soft spot for the northern city and the second-largest city in Portugal. Having lived there ourselves for several months on and off, there’s no doubt that it’s a place that enchants and beguiles. A touch more chilled than the capital, it’s home to a gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage Site downtown core that runs to the Douro River in a cascade of pink, red, and blue-tiled houses. Simply divine.
Districts like Vitória and Bolhão are the buzziest out there. They come with niche jazz bars and ethnic eateries, with roastery cafés and co-working spaces aplenty. Then there’s the area of the city that spills into the sea, including the surfer’s enclave of Matosinhos, where the waves are reliable and surf schools abound.
More than anything, Porto stands out for its hipster, off-beat character. It’s not as sunny as the south and gets battered by rain in the winter. But it’s got something unique and different than Lisbon or the Algarve can’t master, in quirky bookstores, vintage clothes outlets, smoky speakeasies – the list goes on.
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis
Little Aljezur is a charming spot just over the border between the Beja District and the Faro District at the very northern end of the Algarve. Topped by a Moorish castle and draped over a steep ridge, the old town is a chocolate-box of white-painted cottages; all small, all cozy, all warmed by roaring wood fires.
The town is said to have the highest proportion of expats to locals in the country. You can certainly tell, what with the vanlifers and the surf crews who are constantly around. However, there’s still a rich and raw south Portuguese character, and the area is nowhere near as developed as the far Western Algarve around Lagos and Faro.
Then you’ve got the surf. Aljezur might be four miles or so back from where the Atlantic rolls in, but it’s connected by road through a national coastal reserve to oodles of beaches and spots. Among them is the legendary beginner and intermediate surf beach of Arrifana, along with the strong, right-hand point break down Carrapateira. You will need a car to get to those, though.
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis
They call Aveiro the Venice of Portugal. That’s largely down to the fact that it sits atop a weaving, winding network of canals. And it has its own answer to Venice’s gondolas, in the form of beautifully painted punt boats that can be seen taking groups of photo-clicking tourists around from May to September.
There’s no getting around the fact that it’s a darn handsome city. You’ll be wowed by the tile-fronted bungalows that line the streets and enjoy wandering between the alleys that lead up to the great St Joana Convent, the resting place of Portugal’s most revered saint.
Beaches are never too far away. A short ride in the car can take you to Praia da Barra, a lovely harbor town that has seafood joints overlooking the Atlantic. A little further and you could hit Praia da Costa Nova, where the striped sea houses are a famous place for a R&R vacay.
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While many of the best places to live in Portugal for expats are aimed squarely at the surfer crowd, Braga takes a different tack. This one’s steeped in culture and history and offers a tempting location on the edge of the mountains of northern Portugal. It’s also now highly rated among digital nomads for its liveability, speed of internet, and clean air.
The old city center takes the plaudits. There, you’ll wander steep alleys of cobbled sidewalks to catch glimpses of the Gothic Braga Cathedral and the cobalt-blue façades of Palácio do Raio. You’ll sip coffee under the plane trees of the lovely Cruzeiro do Campo das Carvalheiras while watching the world go by.
When adventure does come a-calling, set the sat nav for the Peneda-Gerês National Park. It’s about 40 minutes’ drive away, touting fresh highland streams, loads of hiking, and wild-swimming spots that glow turquoise and green on the border with Spain.
Photo by Joseph Richard Francis
Just a mention of the name Peniche is usually enough to conjure images of perfectly peeling beach breaks. This is the home of Supertubos, which is hailed as one of the finest sandbar waves in the whole of Europe. And there’s way more for the surfers than just that, what with uber-long runs of sand to the north and south of town that have endless peaks to enjoy.
Peniche itself sits on an old headland in the Oeste region. It’s a charming, historic fort and fishing town with medieval walls and salt-washed towers surrounding it. Within the old center are countless cottages come Airbnbs and bars aimed at wooing the surf-hungry regulars, from Italian pizzerias to traditional Portuguese sardine kitchens.
If you’re keen to find something a little quieter, then Peniche can offer a number of satellite towns and villages. They include quiet Baleal to the north, which is linked to Peniche proper by a main beach and roadway, or Ferrel, a small and uber-rustic village that’s become popular with the vanlife crowd.
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Endless sun and the golden beaches of the Western Algarve await in Lagos. It’s easy to see why this is one of the best places to live in Portugal for expats. Basically, it’s a lived-in, working town with all the conveniences you might need, only a stone’s throw from some of Europe’s most wonderful bays and with a gorgeous old town thrown in for good measure.
Expat life here is about bathing in the sunset glow on the Ponta da Piedade headland. It’s about soaking up the rays on Praia de São Roque. It’s about exploring the coves of Rocha Negra and Porto Mós just along the coast. Basically, it’s a beach lover’s dream come true.
Lagos gets a little touristy during the peak summer season between May and August. That might sound like a downside if you’re planning on settling here for good, but it also means you get a hit of wild nightlife, along with a wide array of cafes and restaurants fueled by the traveler dollar.
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The second of the most popular surf towns on the Portuguese Silver Coast and now an official Save the Waves World Surfing Reserve, Ericeira has risen and risen to fame as an expat destination in recent years. It’s drawing a noticeably young crowd thanks to its abundance of excellent waves, which run from Coxos in the north to Foz do Lizandro down south.
But the surf is just a part of the story. People who come here with the board in tow often find themselves staying thanks to the abundance of affordable property that awaits in the greater Mafra region. There’s also a varied mix of restaurants and bars and cafes in the village’s old center, catering to resident beach lovers as well as travelers.
On top of that, Ericeira sits within easy reach of Lisbon. It’s a mere 40 minutes in the car down the motorway until you’re in the heart of the capital. There are also direct buses that take only an hour. Living here means you’re well connected to the rest of Europe via Lisbon Airport and can enjoy all the nightlife that comes with proximity to the big city come the weekend.
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Madeira will take the breath away – like, literally! The island is spiked with such soaring, needle-like mountains that you’ll need to huff and puff your way to the top. They’re riddled with incredible hiking paths known as vereda, including the epic lookouts of Vereda do Pico do Arieiro (not for expats that suffer from vertigo) and the Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço (keep the eyes peeled for whales on the cape!).
And it’s not just hiking that awaits. This land of lush green valleys and black-rock beaches is also famed for its sweet local wine and unique cuisine. You can spend weekends tasting your way through countless cellar doors and devouring maize and tuna steak platters. Foodies won’t be disappointed.
More generally, Madeira has a bit of a rep as a retiree’s hub. There’s a well-developed expat community of internationals, especially from northern Europe and the UK. They tend to live in the more built-up parts of the main island, around Garajau, São Martinho, and Funchal.
Where do most expats live in Portugal?
Expats live all over Portugal. However, the areas of the Algarve and the major cities of Lisbon and Porto are probably the most popular of all. The Algarve trends to draw retirees and surfers, while the cities are better for digital nomads and young professionals looking for a new way of life.
How much money do I need to retire in Portugal?
There’s no hard and fast rule about how much money you need to retire to Portugal. However, a general estimation based on local living costs would be that you need to be able to sustain an average income of around $1,500-2,000 USD per month. You might be able to get by living on less in rural areas.
Is Portugal safe for expats?
Portugal is very safe for expats. Not only does it have relatively low crime rates, especially outside of major cities, but expats themselves agree, with up to 98% of people who’ve moved to the country saying they consider it a peaceful place to live.