As soon as we saw that Portugal enjoys more than 300 sunny days every year, we began plotting our move.
(Okay, not exactly, but it is a big draw!)
Sunny days, beaches, and a slower – but affordable – pace of living. You may be wondering “What’s not to love?”
With any major choice in life, of course there are drawbacks, so I spoke to as many expats as I could to answer the question “What is the downside of retiring in Portugal?”
Read on for all the answers!
Downside of Retiring to Portugal
Don’t let this list deter you, I really did have to dig to find these downsides. As a whole, people love living in Portugal!
Portugal is Heavy on the Bureaucracy and Red Tape
The #1 downside for retiring to Portugal is the amount of bureaucracy, paperwork, and red tape that is involved. This is not just for the actual move, but really anything you need to accomplish that involves the government.
I have heard this downside over and over again, from both people who have relocated to Portugal, and lifelong locals.
You might be thinking that after you have a visa you won’t really need to bother the government, think again.
Getting a driver’s license, waiting for your mail to clear customs, and accessing health care will all take a long time and sometimes involve many extra steps.
There is a Slower Pace of Living
This is also an upside for many people, but the slower pace of living in Portugal does sometimes cause inconvenience and frustration.
This downside goes hand-in-hand with the bureaucracy, because on some level it is a cultural thing, and not just that the government is slow.
I wish I had saved the quote, but my favorite about Portuguese people was along the lines of “They move like they know there’s an afterlife.”
If you need a copy of your lease from your landlord, it may take them a week or two to get it to you. If you need something fixed, it may take several days just to get the call back.
For people from the US, the pace in Portugal can be a bit of a culture shock. Nobody is in a hurry to get anywhere, to get work done, or hurrying for any other reason. Considering the North American culture places a high value on “hustle,” Portugal could not be any more different.
Sometimes this can be seen as poor service, but it’s a matter of expectation and not laziness or bad motives.
Learning Portuguese is Hard
I’m not going to suggest that learning the language is a downside, because I think it’s the right and considerate thing to do if you plan on making a permanent move to another country.
However, Portuguese specifically is a difficult language to learn. Even those that migrate from Brazil where Portuguese is the official language, can find European Portuguese to be challenging.
If you plan on living in a smaller town, you will need to learn Portuguese, so if language skills do not come easy to you, this can be a downside.
You Will Miss Food and Drinks From Home
I have placed it a little further down the list, but this is probably the second most common downside of retiring or moving to Portugal.
You will begin to miss the comforts of home; coffee and food in particular. This goes for really any country, but still needs to be considered when contemplating a move to Portugal.
Coffee in Portugal is Different
If you are a big fan of drip coffee, you will be sad in Portugal. It’s an espresso nation, and even a “coffee long with milk” isn’t really the same thing.
Consider bringing a simple drip setup – or pour-over – from home if you aren’t a fan of lattes or tiny espresso shots.
Plenty of us North American people have come to enjoy espresso bevvies, so this probably isn’t as big of a deal, but for some it is.
Portuguese Food is Different
It doesn’t take long for me to start craving our terrible North American food when we are away from home. Specifically our fatty lasagnas.
(Don’t know what it is about lasagna, will crave on any long trip.)
You won’t be able to get a greasy deep dish pizza, spaghetti will be different, and a good burger is hard to come by.
None of these are bad things necessarily, Portugal does still have very good food, but it is more fish and veg, less meat and brunch buffets. Portugal is still pretty big on potatoes, so not to worry there.
To be honest, I get very tired of bread in Portugal. So much bread.
Appies? Bread. (Plus an olive!)
The food cravings are real. Try to learn how to make your favorites before you go!
Getting Used to Different Products
The everyday items that you are used to using in the US or the UK will probably be different in Portugal. Everything from laundry soap to conditioner is a little bit different, and you will be starting over to figure out your go-to items.
Again, this is not really specific to Portugal, just something to think about.
Beauty products that you can get from any old drugstore will probably not be available in Portugal. Ordering and shipping your favorite items can be very cost prohibitive, so it is probably more economical to start over.
Portugal Has Very Low Wages
If you were planning on working a little bit in retirement, you may think twice in Portugal. The wages are very low compared to what you will be used to.
If you are moving to Portugal but NOT planning to retire, definitely try to move with a job that you can do remotely. Portugal is affordable…on the salaries from back home.
Almost nobody moves to Portugal with the plan to find a job with a Portuguese company.
Portugal Can Be Too Hot
Well yeah? Isn’t that the point? Not exactly.
Portugal is known for it’s beautiful sunny weather and mild winters, but inland the summers can be unbearably hot. Much hotter than on the seaside!
If you want to live in a town away from the coast, check out the summer temperatures, and make sure that there is a lake or river to cool off in.
Nobody wants to be stuck inside all the time when they are retired!
Portugal Can Be Too Cold
What? Aren’t we moving to Portugal for the mild winters?
Yes, but the mild outdoor temperature could be the indoor temperature if you don’t do your research! A common complaint amongst people living in Lisbon especially, is that their apartments are drafty and cold in the winter.
It is not very common for buildings in Portugal (especially older ones) to have central heating. If you move in the summer, make sure that the A/C unit also has heat capabilities or there is another heat source.
Up in Northern Portugal the winters can be quite rainy, and significantly cooler, so it’s even more important to have heat!
That said, most of the places that we have stayed did have those little remote controlled heating and cooling units, and they did just fine. Make sure there is something.
Impact on the Local Economy
It would be irresponsible to list all of the downsides of moving to Portugal and not also mention the major downside to the locals: Inflation.
Anytime you are moving somewhere with money to spend that you don’t have to earn in local wages, it can make things more expensive for the locals.
Shop local and tip generously. Do your best to put your money into the local economy in ways that don’t increase prices.
Buy or rent in a community with a high vacancy rate, and try to purchase something in a reasonable price range.
Things to Know About Living in Portugal
While Portuguese people are very friendly and nice in general, here are a few things to know about living in Portugal.
They Don’t Like the Term “Expat”
I just learned this myself. Expat is a highly frowned upon term. Why?
When you think about it, they have a point. The term expat is inherently racist, because it is primarily used to describe white people moving abroad from western nations. The term immigrant is used to describe almost anybody else who moves to a new country.
So while none of us intend for it to come off this way, the term “expat” makes it seem as though we are too good to be called immigrants.
Most people just use the term “expat,” and not “immigrant,” because they don’t know if their move will be permanent.
Basically, if you don’t want to seem entitled, don’t call yourself an expat.
You can call yourself an immigrant if you have moved permanently, or just say “we moved here from XX for a few years,” and don’t label it at all.
They Appreciate the Effort to Learn the Language
There are people who manage to live in Portugal and never learn the language, as though that is something to brag about, it’s not. If you are moving to a new country, try to think of it as a package deal.
You shouldn’t get the perfect weather, and the beaches, and the old towns, without also accepting their language and culture. You don’t have to be fluent, or even very good at it, but the effort will show your appreciation for the country.
They Don’t Want You to Move to Lisbon
There are a LOT of amazing places to live in Portugal that aren’t Lisbon. People seem to move to Lisbon without much thought because it’s a hip young city with a big population.
Try not to move to Lisbon!
The locals have been priced out of the nice areas of Lisbon, and it is only going to get worse. For people who work in Lisbon (not you) this is becoming a pretty big struggle.
There are plenty of smaller economies with more than enough space for you. Alternatively, don’t live in the city center.
Is Portugal a Good Place to Live?
Portugal is absolutely a great place to live! While there are a few minor downsides, there are more good things than bad. Here are some pros to living in Portugal:
Retiring in Portugal Pros
Positive Impact on the Local Economy
I already listed the possible negative impact of splashing foreign cash in Portugal, but the local economic impact can be positive too!
If you move to a city that needs people and tourism dollars, your presence will be a welcome one. You can pay a local landlord for an otherwise vacant property, support local shops, and help keep restaurants afloat, all while not taking a job away from a local. Win-win!
Portugal Has Great Weather
Remember those 300+ sunny days? There’s not much else that needs to be said about Portugal’s weather. The winter in the south never gets very cold, and snow is rare. You can’t get much better weather in all of Europe.
While the ocean may be too cold for a swim in the winter, you can still have a beach day in November!
(Well, until you acclimate, then maybe 20 degrees C will be too cold for you too!)
Portugal Has Great Food
Another pro from the con list! Portugal’s food may be a little different, but it is very delicious.
There is also a huge variety of restaurants offering many different types of cuisine. You could eat something new for a very long time before you ever had to repeat.
Portugal is Still Inexpensive
The prices in Portugal have risen over the years, as it becomes a more popular destination, but it is still very reasonable.
Accommodation, both short and long term, is still affordable.
The cost of eating out at a restaurant, including drinks, is still very low compared to other parts of the world.
Food prices in grocery stores are also still inexpensive.
English is Widely Spoken
Of course learning the language should be a goal, but this is very easily facilitated in Portugal, where English is widely spoken.
This is especially true in the cities of Lisbon and Porto, and throughout the Algarve. (Basically any touristy area.)
Menus are available in English. Road signs are in Portuguese and English. Most trains announce stops in English too.
When you first arrive you should have no trouble settling in with limited to no language skills.
Easy to Travel Elsewhere
If you are retiring to Portugal and you still want to travel, you are in luck! Not only can you get around the country very easily by train, the Lisbon airport can take you just about anywhere.
This is something that not a lot of people consider when they move to another country, and there are parts of the world that only offer short connecting flights.
You can go home to visit your family, wherever that may be, fairly easily from Portugal.
You can also take a vacation elsewhere in Europe through any number of low cost airlines.
Health Care is Affordable in Portugal
If you are retiring to Portugal and you are waiting for your health care to kick in after the mountain of red tape, stay calm!
Even if you have to pay out of pocket for minor health scares and treatment in Portugal, it is very affordable. An emergency room visit will only cost you between 20 and 100 euros.
Enjoy the Slower Pace of Living
Another pro and con, is that easy-going Portuguese lifestyle. While it may cause a little frustration while you are trying to get settled or iron out some details, slowing down is also kind of the goal in retirement.
Taking it easy, going for strolls, staying up late, sleeping in, quiet coffees in the town square: All can be part of your new life in Portugal!
How Much Money Do You Need to Retire to Portugal?
So, all of this sounds great, but how much is it really going to cost, and can you afford it?
If you choose to live in a more expensive city, like Lisbon, you will need about $2000 – $2400 per month. (For a couple.)
In smaller towns and less expensive parts of the country (like up north), you can get by on about $1400+.
Singles can make do on less, but these are good numbers to plan around. Families of course, will cost more.
Final Thoughts on Retiring to Portugal
I can’t imagine that many people get to Portugal and don’t like it, but you should try living there on a temporary basis at first, just in case.
Try out different parts of the country! You may surprise yourself and find the perfect village away from the seaside.
Consider other countries where your dollars may go further, but aren’t as modern, like Bulgaria.
Finally, nothing needs to be permanent! If you think you want to retire in Portugal, none of the downsides are ones that you can’t recover from!
I recently interviewed a couple who went slow traveling in retirement. Take a look at their experience here.