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Living in Portugal as an Expat. Learn All You Need to Know to Get Started!

Become an Expat in Portugal

Imagine waking up each day in a country that has fantastic weather, ocean views, amazing food, and friendly people. Now, envision that your dream country also has affordable health care, access to an international airport, and a thriving international community. 


Guess what! You don’t need to fantasize because everything on your wishlist is in Portugal. And you’ll soon learn why more and more Americans, as well as expats from all over the world, are establishing residency in Portugal each year.

streetcars in Lisbon

As the least expensive country in western Europe, Portugal checks many boxes for Americans and others who’ve moved to this part of the Iberian Peninsula. Even though relocating overseas can be overwhelming and exciting, many expats believe establishing a better quality of life, that includes affordable housing and quality healthcare, is worth it!  


Can you relate to why foreigners are drawn to Portugal? If you’re nodding yes, read on as we address the top questions so you can learn all you need to know about making this country your new home. 

Can I just move to Portugal?

Like any big life change, becoming an expat in Portugal requires a lot of planning. For Americans, one of the first steps entails researching visa options based on future goals such as going to school, retiring, and working remotely.

Can a US citizen live in Portugal?

Since Portugal is a part of the Schengen Area, Americans can visit for a total of 90 days within a 180 day period. This is the way to go if you’re touring around Europe or a digital nomad who plans to stay in the country within this given time frame. 


As mentioned earlier, living in Portugal for an extended period requires a visa specific to your circumstance. The great news is that there are plenty of options for American citizens to choose from. If your ancestors come from Europe, you might even qualify for a passport from an EU member country via citizenship by descent

Are you an EU citizen?

A huge benefit to being born in a European Union (EU) member state is the right to live in another country that’s also an EU member. But, if you plan to stay for more than 90 days in Portugal, you’ll need to complete a registration certificate with the local authorities. If your goal is to permanently relocate, you’ll need to live in the country for at least five years straight. Check here for more information.

Moving to Portugal after Brexit

Brexit has changed the criteria for British citizens who plan on living in Portugal as an expat. If you’re a British, visit here to learn more about the current guidelines.

Residency in Portugal

The first step to establishing residency in Portugal is to contact your local consulate or embassy to learn more about the visa you’d like to pursue and submit your application. Then, upon arriving in Portugal, you can apply for a two-year residence permit that can then be renewed for three years. Once you’ve lived in the country for five years, you’re eligible to pursue permanent residency.


Want to know more about the types of visas and residency process for expats in Portugal? Grab a copy of our guide I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe to find out all you need to know to make it happen.

Where do most expats live in Portugal?

So, where do you want to be when you move? Would you like to live in a major city and have access to an array of expat communities in Portugal? Or, if you’re considering retirement, would you prefer to live in a quieter area near others in the same stage of life?  


There are plenty of foreigners residing throughout the country. Take a look at the following overview of the top spots where you’ll find Americans and other expats living in Portugal. 


As Portugal’s capital and largest city, Lisbon’s diverse population and cultural scene make it a top choice for expats relocating to the country. 

Sometimes called the “San Francisco of Europe” for its hills, colorful trams and red suspension bridge, Lisbon attracts lots of digital nomads and young creatives with its art scene and low cost of living—not to mention its sparkling coastline and claim to fame as the sunniest capital in Europe. This charming city will dazzle you with its expansive history—it’s the second-oldest European capital—centuries-old architecture, colorful Portuguese tiles and liberal mindset.


Portugal’s second-largest city is located about 200 miles north of Lisbon. It’s known for its iconic Dom Luís I Bridge and of course, Port wine. With its low cost of living, small-town charm and expanding food scene, Porto is going through a bit of a revival, attracting a growing number of international retirees and digital nomads.

And, if you head south to the Algarve region, you’ll find retirees who love the warm weather, golfing, and beaches and digital nomads too.

If you’re interested in learning more about transportation, safety, and daily expenses, I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe covers a full breakdown of Lisbon and Porto—as well as 32 other popular expat cities in 15 key countries in Europe—and what kind of living experience each city brings.

How much money do I need to live comfortably in Portugal?

Portugal is the cheapest country for Americans to move to in western Europe. However, while it’s inexpensive for expats, the cost of living is considered high for locals.


Rent in the States, (pending on location), is approximately double what you’d spend in Portugal. Also, something as simple as a coffee can cost $5.00 in a major American city and only $2.00 in Lisbon. 


Expats can comfortably live in different parts of the country for as little as $1500 – $2000 a month. If you have expensive taste, travel a lot, and other incidentals, you’ll need to incorporate these expenses into your budget too.

Where is the cheapest place to live in Portugal?

Some of the most affordable places for Americans relocating to Portugal include small university towns like Coimbra and the historical city Braga. Although these areas might be cheap, weigh the pros and cons to see if a smaller place, with less of an expat community, is right for you. 

Is it better to live in Portugal or Spain?

Deciding to live in Portugal versus Spain is a personal choice. Both countries have great weather, are easily accessible to other parts of Europe, and require a five year period before you can apply for permanent residency.

There are pros and cons to also think about. If you want a bigger country and feel more confident speaking Spanish versus Portuguese, moving to Spain might be the best fit for you. But, if you’d like to live in a smaller and more affordable part of Europe, Portugal could be the way for you to go!

Another major benefit to living in Portugal, instead of Spain, is the Non-Habitual Residence (NHR) tax regime. Read on in the next section to understand the tax breaks you’ll receive under this incentive that attracts expats from all over the world.

Do expats pay taxes in Portugal?

Foreigners who become residents of Portugal are required to pay taxes in their new country if they live there for more than 183 days a year. If you’re not a Portuguese resident, you’ll still need to pay taxes on any money you earned while you lived there.

A big draw for foreigners is the Non-Habitual Residence (NHR) tax regime. The NHR provides expats the opportunity to decrease their income tax to zero as under this tax scheme overseas income is not taxed in Portugal for the first 10 years of residency or citizenship. However, as of April 2020 the NHR has been revised to include a 10% tax on foreign pension income (including social security).

Take a look here for more information about this huge incentive for moving to Portugal. 

Can foreigners buy property in Portugal?

To encourage foreigners to buy property, the Portuguese government created the Golden Visa option for expats. If you have the means, this is the easiest way to buy property and become an EU citizen. All you need is $340,000 to $600,000 USD, (depending on the type of investment), to seal the deal! However, in January 2022 the terms of the Golden Visa will be change, including limitations on where investment properties can be purchased as well as investment requirements. For the most up to date information about the Golden Visa, click here.  


Regardless of income status, there’s nothing preventing foreigners from buying property in Portugal. However, you’ll need a Portuguese identification number and passport. Due to exchange rate fluctuations, it’s also suggested that you have a local bank account before making a property purchase in the country.

Is there free healthcare in Portugal?

Many American in Portugal state healthcare as one of the reasons why they decided to move to the Iberian Peninsula. In addition to ranking much higher than the United States on the world scale, Portuguese healthcare is accessible to both residents and citizens.


Although the public healthcare system covers most medical expenses, expats are required to show proof of private medical coverage. You’ll find more about the most popular health insurance plans for American expats in I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe

sintra portugal

Now, get ready to learn how members of She Hit Refresh are living their best lives abroad in Portugal. Read on to be inspired by their unique journeys and how they’ve created community in their new homes.

Meet an American expat in Portugal

Jen, 39, was born in Virginia and lived as a digital nomad for nearly 15 years. Her adventures took her to Prague, parts of Mexico, Barcelona, and a number of cities in America. 


Three years ago, Jen and her Portuguese husband left Mexico to be closer to his family and return to living the European lifestyle they both love. Because of Jen’s marital status, she was able to apply for residency through her husband within 90 days of arriving in the country.


While Jen and her husband initially relocated near his family in suburban Cascais, city life was calling them. They’re now settled in Lisbon and Jen is active in the expat communities there. She’s even the community manager for an all-female group.


After following her wanderlust for such a long period of time, a major adjustment for Jen has been staying put for more than six months. And while she’s embraced moving to Portugal, she’s found learning the language and getting used to the cold and humid indoors during the winter to be a bit challenging. However, her supportive in-person and online expat communities have helped her feel grounded in her new home. 


Jen highly recommends tapping into online expat communities for support navigating the bureaucratic residency process. She also suggests learning basic European Portuguese (through the Memrise app) before moving and enrolling in a language course once you get settled.


Jen’s way of getting to Portugal is just one of many ways to become an expat in the country. To learn about the best option for you, check out  I’m Outta Here, An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe. 

Meet an American retiree living in Portugal

At 70 years young, Donna is an American retiree and expat who now resides in Lisbon.

After being depleted of her savings when she cared for her ill husband, Donna looked outside of the United States for an affordable place to call home. She decided on Lisbon because it reminded her of the time she spent in New York City. She was also drawn to the water and has a dear friend who lives in Portugal’s capital. 

Throughout Donna’s life, she’s had to adapt to change. As a child, her family moved around a lot and as an adult, she lived in a few different cities throughout the world. So, although Donna had to deal with tons of paperwork, a sketchy living situation, and other logistics regarding establishing residency in Portugal, she was prepared to manage the challenges she faced. 

Donna has no regrets about her decision to retire to Portugal. In fact, she encourages others to take the leap too!  

These days, Donna’s thriving on absorbing all she can about her new culture. This has also helped her develop more compassion for immigrants from all different backgrounds. She’s also all about immersing herself into learning Portuguese – the best way for expats in Portugal to embrace and show respect for their new home!

Meet a She Hit Refresh member from the UK who relocated to Portugal

Born to Indian parents who were born in Tanzania, 39 year-old Nina is a British citizen who now calls the Algarve region in Portugal home.

Three years ago, Nina moved to Madrid for work. She had studied Spanish for 12 years in the UK and was nearly fluent. This helped her quickly acclimate to her new life. 

Soon after Nina settled in Spain, she integrated with Spanish speaking people and took advantage of all Madrid had to offer. Although Nina loved her life in Spain, she was presented with an opportunity to try something new when her work status changed and COVID-19 hit.

Nina’s decision to move to Portugal was based on research and listening to her gut. After finding a like-minded Facebook expat and digital nomad community in Lagos, Nina took steps to hit refresh by 1) visiting the country and then 2) moving to Portugal on a temporary month by month basis which coincided with the Brexit deadline.

Nina soon realized that Portugal offered so much more than she had ever imagined. This included walks on the beach and easily meeting like-minded young internationals. In addition, she embraced feeling a part of an inclusive culture in a smaller town that had a fantastic quality life. Once Nina felt that she couldn’t leave Lagos, (she always dreamed of living in a warm climate by the water), she made her move permanent.

For someone planning to hit refresh in Portugal, Nina suggests looking into tax incentives with the NHR regime. Because cars in Portugal are the most expensive in Europe, she also recommends buying a car abroad as well.

Per Nina’s experience, relocating to Portugal during the winter season is easier because there’s less tourism and more housing inventory. Additionally, joining an engaged Facebook community has been a great way for Nina to get information and support about expat life and moving to Portugal. 

Dom Luís I Bridge

Next steps for moving to Portugal

Now that you know a bit more about living in Portugal, it’s time to make your dream happen! Here’s how to take action:

Interested in learning more about moving to other European countries? Check out our guides on how you can become an expat in Spain, France, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany.

Are you already living abroad in Portugal? If so, share some of your experiences about relocating to Portugal in the comment section below. 



All information included in this piece is based on most recent information available at time of writing – April 2021.

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