Moving to Portugal - 5 Things to Consider

By: Carole Hill - Also see author's expat blog listing

This article is not about moving to Portugal viewed through rose-tinted spectacles because although the sun shines, the beaches are stunning, the wine and beer are cheap Portugal has warts as well. The information below is based on personal observations and experience. The questions raised are ones you may or may not have already considered, but either way, if you take away just one idea from the points shared below then the article has been worthwhile. Many people dream of living in the sun but the reality does not always fulfill their dream.

1. Cost of Living

Portugal is no longer the cheap retirement destination it once was and if you need employment to survive it is worth noting unemployment is currently around 16% and rising while the minimum wage is under €500 euros per month.

The cost of living in Portugal was significantly cheaper than the UK in areas such as food, alcohol, eating out etc. However, costs have escalated in Portugal over the last year due to the significant increases in IVA, fuel, tolls etc, all of which have resulted in price increases to products and services. IVA is currently 23%, diesel €1.55 per litre and tolls have been implemented on several key motorways across the country. Further “Austerity” measures are planned which will undoubtedly result in further increases to the cost of living.
Health insurance is quite expensive in Portugal, but with the gradual demise of the National Health Service as part of the Austerity cost cutting measures, it is really worth budgeting around €750 per person per year depending on the type of cover. It is worth noting the quality and availability of care does vary considerably across the country in the local centro de saúdes (UK equivalent to the GP Surgery).

The cost of prescription medicines in Portugal came as rather a shock to us, because unlike the UK where you pay a set amount per item regardless of cost, in Portugal you pay for each medicine based on cost. For example recently I was prescribed a medicine which cost me €55.00! Life saving drugs however, do receive a considerable discount but they are still expensive. If you have a long term illness requiring ongoing medication this is an area definitely worth investigating further.

Furniture in Portugal is expensive, so it is worth considering shipping from the UK when you move.

New and second hand cars are far more expensive than the UK so although property maybe cheaper it is as the saying goes “swings & roundabouts”! Some people matriculate their right hand drive cars from the UK, but do you really want the disadvantage of not being able to view the road properly when you over-take, etc?

For those on a healthy pension the above points may not be of interest, but for those with a limited income who need to budget, please plan carefully as costs are rising all the time and far more than we expected!

2. Location

Location, location, but where to start looking; north, south, east or west? Each area of the country offers something different so you really need to ask yourself why you want to move to Portugal.

Here is a quick checklist:

If weather is a deciding factor you need to check out regional temperatures especially in the winter. The Algarve for example, is far warmer and drier than other areas.
Do you want to live inland, or by the sea?
Do you prefer the bustle and noise of a large town, village community or a rural location?
Do you want to be part of an Expat community, or as far away from your fellow countrymen as possible?
Is public transport important?
How important is the proximity of shops and amenities?
Are you a golfer? Do you want to live on a golf complex or just within easy access?
Do you need to be near an International School or will opt for the local school?

You also seriously need to consider:

3. Type of property

It is worth taking a moment to consider the type of property which will suit your needs, not just for now but also for the future especially if you are retiring. I know expats who bought their dream property only to find a couple of years later it became a noose round their neck as they were unable to maintain the property due to ill health. Property prices are on a downward spiral at the moment and many people sell at a giveaway price in sheer desperation.

Typical examples include: retired expats who buy a quintas with acres of land in the countryside only to find they are unable to manage the land and the dream becomes a nightmare.

Others buy large villas purely because they were unbelievably cheap. They then complain they are either unable to manage the maintenance and/or afford to heat the property in the winter. Take a moment to consider why you need that bargain six bed room house with en suite bathrooms, unless money is no object, especially when there are only two of you. Family and friends usually visit only once or twice a year and then, rarely at the same time, if at all.

Maybe an apartment in a central location and walking distance to all amenities would be suitable? But are you an apartment type of person? Could you live in such close proximity to your neighbours and tolerate their noise?

Perhaps a single story villa with a small garden with or without a pool ticks all the boxes.

Despite what the estate agent tells you, it IS cold here in the winter, and you DO need some form of heating.

Buying a plot and having a villa built is the option we chose, but would we do it again? No, not unless we were living close by and could keep tabs on the builder. We soon learned the builder was full of empty promises and more; we needed to check everything. For example, he once asked for a stage payment telling us the roof was completed when it was not. Fortunately, my husband jumped on a plane and inspected the property in person where he discovered, despite assurances the roof was complete, only roof tiles on the front of the house! Photographs can be deceptive and builders often bend the truth!

There is a very true saying “Buy in haste, repent at leisure”.

Buying v renting a property

Buying a property, unless you are familiar with an area, may prove an expensive mistake. However, if you rent for six months or even a year prior to buying a property it will at least give you plenty of opportunity to explore and experience living in an area first hand. If we had our time again we would definitely rent before we bought.

Once you have found your dream property, do check out the area at different times of the day and night for noise. There can be a big problem with barking and howling dogs in some areas which even if you are a dog lover can be rather stressful. Friends of ours have been driven out by dogs who continuously bark day and night. Yes there are laws etc, but they are not enforced with any real enthusiasm.

4. Learning the Language

When you live in a country without making any attempt to learn the language you merely exist rather than live; an outsider looking in. Learning at least some of the basics such as greetings, numbers, days of the weeks, months of the year and grocery products etc, even if you are not a natural linguist will help. Portuguese is not an easy language to learn, I know I’ve been trying for years, but I keep trying.

5. Hobbies and Interests

Finally, how will you fill your days? Will life be a social binge of pool parties, lunches and cocktails? Or will you “veg” out in front of the TV? In the UK you may have belonged to several clubs and hobby groups and socialised with like-minded people, but what about in Portugal?
Golf is popular but if you don’t play, or can’t afford to play what are the alternatives and are they catered for in the area of your choice? Where we live there are no Art Classes, Writing or Wine Circles, Gardening or Slimming Clubs or even Gyms! Yes, some of these are available but not locally. Many expats miss this aspect of life and while they embrace new hobbies others continually moan to anyone who will listen that they are bored.

Now take courage and follow your dream!

About the author:

An English expat trying to understand the Portuguese language and culture. Why not stop by my blog Piglet in Portugal where I share tales of everyday life and travel in Portugal with a humorous twist…
Blog address: Twitter: @portugalpiglet
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Contest Comments » There are 6 comments

Carole wrote 11 years ago:

Hi John, I'm glad you found the article useful. It's pretty general so if you need to know anything specific please do not hesitate to contact me. Kind regards, Carole

John wrote 11 years ago:

I really enjoyed reading this post. I'm considering making the move to Portugal myself and there's a lot of great information here.

M Singh wrote 10 years ago:

I visited albufeira in dec 2014 its was very quiet however we would like to visit again. We are a couple in our late 30's. We are thinking of selling up and buying property and living and retiring in portugal. This post has hit the spot. We will need to work though to survive as we dont have a pension. Thid post has covered allot of the questions i had in my mind. Thankyou.

Nicola Hallsworth wrote 10 years ago:

Hi We are considering a move to Portugal in about 2 years. My husband and I have both been to Portugal on Holiday but do not really want to live full time in a holiday destination. Could you recommend any areas that we should look at? MY husband is a golfer and we both play tennis. A Villa or finca in a relatively remote location with land for horses is our desire. We will want to rent initially, this seems difficult to find on the web, all are for holiday rentals. Can you make any suggestions Please. Thanks Nicola

J. Simmons wrote 10 years ago:

If I want to live in Portugal for more than 6 months , what exactly would I need to do and are there people who help with paperwork regards to healthcare ,re-registering Spanish car etc. Any help with these questions would be appreciated as my head is swimming from looking on line ! Thanks John

Pierre wrote 9 years ago:

Very interesting info. The most important for finding a retiring place is taking the time while you are still active. Not like me who decided to go back to France and made a terrible mistake, to make it short: Not the right place for middle class and poor weather. For most of Europe, we have to bear this in mind: The economic crisis is normal, because there is not enough jobs to cope with the continuous increase of population. Moreover, as a result of mondialization, the system does not need all these workers since delocalization to Asia. Consequently, the rich being able to afford paradize islands and is a minority anayway, only the middle class will have to pay the bill....untill the collapse of the system. Therefore, moving for example to portugal is a positive move weatherwise, for saving taxes, do not rely on this as the government, to stay put, can revoke this advantage without notice. If you buy property at a price that is most of the time too high, do not expect to sell it for more or equal as you probably loose if you decide to leave because of a change that bugg you.

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