Moving To Portugal in 2023: The Expat’s Guide

Are you dreaming of moving to Portugal? Here’s what you need to know.

Portugal’s flexible immigration policies draw immigrants from locations across the globe. At the end of 2021, more than 7,000 Americans1were living in the Western European nation, which is double the number residing in Portugal just three years before.

Canadians are also starting new lives in the country. Considering there are 221,000 Portuguese-speaking residents of Canada2, a move to Portugal may provide a lower cost of living and a change of scenery for Canadians without the need to learn a new language.

If you’re considering a move to Portugal from the U.S. or Canada, this guide will introduce you to the immigration process and some important facts about your potential new home.

Moving To Portugal

A brief overview of Portugal

Portugal is the westernmost country on the European continent. It borders the Atlantic Ocean and Spain. English is the most commonly spoken foreign language. The country is known for its rich history, fado music, spectacular architecture, and port wine.

  • Size: 35,608 sq. mi. (92,225 sq km)
  • Capital: Lisbon
  • Major cities: Porto, Amadora, Braga, Vita Nova de Gaia
  • Population: 10.3 million people
  • Foreign-born population: roughly 7.6% of total
  • Official language: Portuguese
  • Demographics: 95% Ethnic Portuguese, 5% minority groups including African, Brazilian, Han Chinese

Can a U.S. or Canadian citizen move to Portugal?

U.S. and Canadian citizens can move to Portugal if they go through the legal immigration process and obtain the necessary visas.

What are the requirements to move to Portugal?

To move to Portugal, you must first qualify for entry into the country.

Requirements for entry include:

  • a passport from your home country that is valid for at least 3 months longer than your expected stay
  • a visa if you wish to stay in the country for more than 90 days

The residency visa is what most Americans and Canadians who wish to move to Portugal apply for. To qualify for one, you will need to meet one of the following criteria:

  • you’re a highly skilled professional or educator with employment in Portugal
  • you have intention and financial ability to start a business in Portugal
  • you have relatives living in Portugal who are Portuguese citizens or permanent residents
  • you’re a retiree with a pension that can fully support you
  • you’re an investor with financial holdings in real estate in Portugal or one or more Portuguese companies
  • you’re an individual with independent wealth who can support themselves on savings, royalties, or investment income

All applicants for residence visas must also have:

  • travel insurance
  • clean criminal record with no history of felony convictions
  • proof of accommodations, such as a lease or deed
  • proof of financial independence or the ability to earn money, such as bank or investment account statements or a letter from a qualified Portuguese employer
    • If a Portuguese citizen signs a certificate of responsibility stating that they will financially support you, this requirement may be waived.

How do you get a visa to move to Portugal?

To get a visa to move to Portugal, you must complete an application and turn it into a Portuguese embassy or consulate in your home country.

You will also need to pay an application fee of 90€, which is approximately $92. Most visa applications are processed within 60 days.

Does Portugal offer digital nomad visas?

A digital nomad visa allows people to immigrate to a country and work remotely for employers located in their home countries. As of August 2022, Portugal did not offer a digital nomad visa.

However, people who can independently support themselves through foreign employment may qualify for a residence visa in some cases. Contact your closest Portuguese embassy or consulate for more information.

Can you live in Portugal permanently?

It is possible to live in Portugal permanently with a residence permit. Your initial residency visa is usually good for 4 months.

Once you arrive in the country, you will need to obtain a residency permit from Immigration and Border Services (SEF) in Portugal. The qualifications for obtaining one depend on your situation. SEF has a comprehensive website that will help you determine exactly what you need.

The initial residence permit often expires after one year, and you will have to renew it before the expiration date to remain in the country. In some cases, SEF will supply two-year residence permits after the first renewal. After you have lived in Portugal for five years, you can apply for Portuguese citizenship.

How much money do you need to move to Portugal?

The cost of flying or driving to Portugal depends on where your trip begins. If you’re planning to fly, try to avoid the peak tourist season from July–August to get the best deals on airfare. If you’re driving, factor in the cost of gasoline, food, and overnight accommodations during your trip. Plan for fees at the various borders.

International moving companies charge for the cost of shipping by container, which includes inspection and customs’ fees. As a result, the cost can run into the thousands of dollars.

Expat forums like ExpatExchange will have up-to-date information from others about the cost of moving, as well as recommendations. In general, the amount you’ll pay will depend on the distance you travel and the total weight and size of what needs to be moved.

Once you arrive in the country, factor in the cost of initial accommodation in a hotel or hostel as you search for a residence.

How much monthly income do you need to live in Portugal?

How much you’ll need to earn monthly to enjoy a comfortable life in Portugal depends on where you settle in the country.

In Lisbon, the estimated monthly living costs are around $603 USD for a single person and $2,125 for a family of four. Average rents in the capital are roughly $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment or $2,000 for a three-bedroom apartment in the city center. The cost of living in Porto and Braga is slightly less than in Lisbon.

What type of government does Portugal have?

Portugal is a republic, a nation where power is held by elected officials. The president is the head of state and the commander in chief of the armed forces. Portuguese citizens elect presidents for five-year terms through a two-round voting system. The newly elected president names a prime minister, who oversees the actions of the executive branch’s ministers.

The Assembly of the Republic serves as Portugal’s legislature. It has just one house made up of elected representatives that serve 4-year terms. Portugal’s judicial branch includes a Supreme Court that handles final appeals. The president nominates Supreme Court justices for 6-year terms, and the legislature approves them.

Decisions regarding the constitutionality of laws are made by the high Constitutional Court. It has 10 justices that serve 6-year terms. The legislature elects seven justices, and they then elect the three remaining members of the court panel.

Is there a U.S. embassy in Portugal?

Yes, the U.S. has an embassy in Lisbon and a consulate in Ponta Delgada.

Canada also maintains friendly diplomatic relations with an embassy in Lisbon and consulates in Faro and Ponta Delgada.

Is Portugal a good place for North American expats?

U.S. News and World Report ranked Portugal the 24th best country in the world in 2020. North American expats can enjoy safe cities with a low-cost and high standard of living and benefit from robust social services in Portugal.

How safe is it to live in Portugal?

The U.S. State Department advises that conditions in Portugal are generally safe for foreigners and advises people to take normal safety precautions in the country. These include things like locking your doors at night, avoiding walking in unlit, unfamiliar areas at night, and storing valuables and travel and identity documents in a safe place.

What is the cost of living like in Portugal?

The cost of living in Portugal is generally lower than in many major cities in the U.S.

It is approximately 54% less expensive to live in Lisbon than New York City, and consumer prices are about 40% lower in the city than they are in Vancouver.

What is the education system like in Portugal?

Portugal has a strong education system that U.S. News and World Report ranked the 25th best in the world. The Ministry of Education oversees the public school system, which offers free education for children from preschool through high school. Attending a private or public school is mandatory for everyone in the country, age 6–18. Although preschool is not compulsory, roughly 92% of children receive early childhood education in Portugal.

Although Portugal’s public school system is comprehensive, some expats choose to send their children to private international schools. These schools usually offer instruction primarily in English and teach Portuguese as a second language. The International Schools Database offers a search tool to help you find international schools in Portugal.

For adults and recent high school graduates, Portugal offers many opportunities for higher education. The country is home to more than 90 post-secondary institutions.

U.S. World and News Report ranks the following colleges and universities as the best in Portugal:

What is the healthcare system like in Portugal?

Portugal has a well-developed public health system. Although life expectancy rates in the country are slightly lower than in some other Western European countries, Portugal’s healthcare system ranked above both Canada and the U.S. on CEOWORLD magazine’s 2021 Health Care Index.

All residents in Portugal can receive care through the National Health Service (NHS) funded mostly through taxes. To gain access to healthcare through the NHS, expats must register at the Instituto da Solidariedade in their district or city.

What is the climate/weather like in Portugal?

Portugal has a warm Mediterranean climate with an average daytime temperature of around 61°F (16°C). The country gets rain throughout the winter and has drier summers. Sea breezes help to keep temperatures in check throughout the year. As a result, temperatures rarely exceed 79°F (26°C).

Moving To Portugal

What is the quality of life in Portugal?

Portugal ranked 56 out of 146 countries on the 2022 World Happiness Report. Lower life expectancy rates and perceived levels of generosity placed the country below Canada, the U.S., and other western European nations. Rates of poverty are lower than many other places in the world, and the country is politically stable and generally safe.

Can I get a driver’s license in Portugal?

In Portugal, U.S. and Canadian citizens can drive with their foreign driver’s licenses for up to 185 days. You can exchange your Canadian or U.S. driver’s license for a Portuguese driver’s license without having to take a driving exam, provided you are under 60 years old and make the request within 90 days of arrival.

However, most large cities and towns in Portugal have robust public transportation systems. Depending on where you’re moving to, you may not need to drive often. The Comboios de Portugal rail system also makes it possible to quickly travel between cities.

Is it easy for Americans and Canadians to find a job in Portugal?

In early 2022, the unemployment rate in Portugal was 5.9% and falling compared to previous quarters. This rate of unemployment suggests that competition for jobs is likely to be lower than it has in the past, when difficult economic conditions left many Portuguese citizens unemployed.

For North American expats, the biggest barrier to employment is likely the language. A good understanding of Portuguese may help you find work, particularly if you’re searching for jobs outside major cities.

What are some things to do in Portugal? Exploring your new home

With more than 500 mi (800km) of coastline, Portugal is known for its sandy beaches.

Popular beach destinations in the country include:

  • Aveiro
  • Cascais
  • Lagos
  • Nazaré
  • Peniche
  • Ponta Delgada
  • Tavira

Beyond beaches, Portugal is home to many popular tourist attractions, such as:

Portuguese culture: what to know

Some notable customs and traditions of Portugal are:

  • Folk dancing: Many regions of Portugal have traditional dances that are performed at festivals. They include the vira from Monho, the bailinho from Madeira, and the corridinho from the Algarve.
  • Azulejos: Many buildings feature beautiful blue and white tiles called azulejos. Portuguese artisans produce them using a special process and have been doing so since the 15th century.
  • Barcelos Cockerel: Throughout Portugal you may see small hand-painted chicken figurines on display in homes and some businesses. They are known as the Barcelos cockerels and trace their roots back to a Portuguese legend about a pilgrim who was saved by the song of a cockerel. Some people consider the figurines to be good luck, while others simply see them as a symbol of Portugal’s history and cultural heritage.
  • Festivals: Many regions of Portugal hold celebrations and festivals throughout the year on days that correspond with the days dedicated to various catholic saints. One of the most famous is Lisbon’s Feast of Saint Anthony. Held in June, the festival usually includes dancing with friends and family while eating grilled sardines and drinking wine or sangria.
  • Port wine: A sweet, potent dessert wine, port gets its name from the city of Porto, which is located not far from the vineyards that produce it.
  • Futebol: Known as soccer in English, futebol is an incredibly popular sport in Portugal. People of all ages play for recreation, and the country is home to a highly competitive league and a national team.

What are the best places to live in Portugal?

The best places to live in Portugal depend on your age, lifestyle, marital status, employment, and personal preferences.

For retirees

Forbes magazine ranked Portugal among the best places in the world for retirees to live, and called the Algarve one of the most desirable destinations for older adults. Home to many expats, the area is a good place for English speakers who don’t know Portuguese.

The area also boasts pleasant weather, many golf courses, and numerous beaches. Outside the major resort areas, the cost of living for seniors is also relatively low.

For families

Lisbon is a popular destination for families. You’re more likely to encounter English speakers in the capital, and the city is home to many international private schools. As the largest city in Portugal, Lisbon also offers job opportunities.

For young singles

For young singles, Porto offers an exciting nightlife scene. The city is home to many bars and clubs that operate into the early hours of the morning. As the second largest metropolitan area in the country, Porto is home to job opportunities as well as many English speakers.

The University of Porto is also located here and offers bachelor’s and postgraduate degrees for those who wish to continue their education.

How to find a place to live in Portugal

Searching for an apartment or house to rent in Portugal while you’re still in the U.S. or Canada can seem challenging. As a result, some U.S. and Canadian citizens take advantage of the visa-free tourism policy of Portugal to visit the country for up to 90 days as a tourist. Then, they return home and apply for an entry visa.

If you wish to conduct your search while in the U.S. or Canada, consider enlisting the help of a real estate agent in Portugal or searching for rentals on a site like Realtor.com International. Facebook groups, WhatsApp groups, and other expatriate forums can be a rich source of information for finding housing.

How to set up a bank account in Portugal

To make purchases and deposit payments, it’s best to have a bank account in Portugal. A member of the European Union, Portugal uses the Euro as its form of currency. You’ll need to transfer U.S. dollars into Euros to purchase items in the country.

The Corporate Finance Institute names these banks among the best options for consumers:

Remitly is a trusted app for transferring money between accounts in your home country and your Portuguese bank. With international money transfers, your U.S. dollars will automatically turn into Euros that you can use electronically or withdraw from an ATM.

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1 (2021). Relatório de Imigração, Fronteiras e Asilo. https://sefstat.sef.pt/Docs/Rifa2021.pdf
2 Anderson, Grace M. & Higgs, David. (2019, September 18). Portuguese Canadians. The Canadian Encyclopedia. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/portuguese