Live like a King in Portugal?
Yes. No. Maybe…
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that Paul and I spent some time in the US in December 2022 visiting family and friends. While we were in Florida staying at my sister’s home, we took advantage of the private community pool. One day, we met a couple at the pool who were from Massachusetts and visiting a family member living in the community. Paul struck up a conversation with them. When he mentioned that we live in Portugal, the man said, “I’ve heard that you can live like a king in Portugal.” So, Paul said, “Well, yes some things are less expensive in Portugal, but not everything.”
That brief conversation made me think: can you live like a king (or queen) in Portugal? The answer is: Yes. No. Maybe…
No hard and fast answer.
Understand that there is no hard and fast answer to this question, and I am not an expert on this subject other than what my personal experience has been. Everyone is different and what one person thinks is cheap, another might think is expensive. But what concerns me are the folks on tight budgets to begin with – or worse, folks who want to spend the least amount of money to obtain a Visa, and look for ways to ‘beat the system.’
It doesn’t help that some of the glossy magazines, conferences and social media sites geared towards expat living paint a rosy picture of life abroad on the cheap. From personal experience, I can tell you that the costs of moving to and living in a new country will be more than you can imagine unless you perform your own due diligence. That includes budgeting (and adjusting the budget periodically – usually upwards) along with careful research and planning – which is what Paul and I did before we made the move to Portugal – and even then, there were some surprises.
Getting here is not cheap.
I can say from personal experience that it is not cheap to move to Portugal on your own dime. Now if you’re moving for work and you have a relocation budget from your employer, that’s great. Although I have no statistics, I suspect the majority of people moving to Portugal are doing this at their own expense. I like to call these self-funded expenses ‘start-up’ costs.
Some of the ‘start-up’ costs.
Visa paperwork – depending on what type of visa you file for, you can expect to pay upwards of $500 (USD) per person for the application which can include apostilled and/or notarized documents, NIF fees, fees for mailing signed bank or other documents by courier (if required) to Portugal (on this alone, we spent close to $200), FBI fingerprinting and criminal background check fees, consulate or VFS fees.
Also, if you must travel to your visa appointment (for example, we lived in Arizona and had to fly into San Francisco, California – round trip - for our VFS appointments), your costs can include flights, gas if you’re traveling by car, tolls, hotel expenses, meals, public transportation, etc.
Fiscal numbers – (commonly known as the NIF) is a requirement for practically all transactions in Portugal. Depending on whether you hire a service or try to do it yourself, there are fees.
Funding a Portuguese bank account – required for visas, can cost upwards of $13,000 (USD) or much more depending on how many people are in your household and if you’re still working or if you’re retired.
And just because you fund a Portuguese bank account does not mean that you can spend that money once you arrive in Portugal. Your bank balance must be at the required level for your appointment with SEF for your residence permit, which can take a few months to get.
Housing in Portugal – currently there is a high demand for rental housing, and home prices - if you’re looking to buy - are high especially in the more desirable areas of the country.
Rent prices have increased here over the last few years. When we began looking to lease an apartment in the spring of 2021, we thought a monthly budget of between $800 to $1,000 USD somewhere within the Lisbon-to-Cascais coastal area would be more than sufficient. It wasn’t. If we were to rent the apartment we’re currently living in since our arrival in Portugal in August, 2021, I would expect the rent to start as much as forty to fifty percent higher than what we’re currently paying.
You should also factor in that you may be required to pay three months’ advance rent plus a security deposit – or more. In our case, we leased an apartment with an effective start date of June 2021. We paid three months’ rent in advance plus a security deposit. We did not arrive in Portugal until the end of August 2021, so in effect, the apartment we were paying for was vacant for nearly three months. Most landlords aren’t going to hold a property for you and agree to wait for you to start paying rent until you arrive in Portugal.
Because many foreigners lease apartments just to satisfy the visa requirements and then break their leases after one-third of the lease is completed, I’ve heard of instances where landlords are asking for six to twelve months rent in advance. I’ve also heard that it’s not uncommon in some high demand/low supply areas of the country for potential renters to ‘bid up’ the initial asking price just to get a place to live. Crazy.
So, if for example, your monthly rent in Portugal is $1,800 USD, you’ll have to budget anywhere from $5,400 USD (for 3 month’s upfront rent) to $21,600 USD (for 12 months’ upfront rent).
If you’re focused on the top places to live in Portugal (like parts of Lisbon or Cascais), try looking at surrounding areas that still have some amenities and public transportation, but may be less expensive to rent. Flexibility is the key to finding your initial place to land for a year – that’s what we did.
Relocation and attorney services.
We hired a relocation assistance service to find a furnished apartment including setting up appointments to view the apartments and doing video walk-throughs since it was during Covid, and we had to view the apartments remotely. Also, negotiating the rental price and the leasing terms, the purchase of some basic items that we needed such as a television, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, household cleaning items, etc.
We also used the same service to set up our utilities and wait for internet and cable installations as well as other inspection appointments, hire a cleaning service to freshen up the apartment, and to do some grocery shopping just prior to our arrival. We also retained the services of a Portuguese attorney to review our lease agreement and our D7 visa documents. All these costs were upwards of $6,000 USD.
Exchange rates fluctuate so be prepared for possibly having to budget more for rent and utilities (and everything else) in Portugal if your funds originate from another country.
I love animals, but we waited until our beautiful whippet passed before planning a move to Portugal. One reason – the travel stress on an older animal (she had a rather nervous disposition), and another reason – the expense. Of course, everyone is different and I’m not here to judge.
If you do decide to bring along your pet, there are costs associated with that. You’ll be required to have health certificates for each pet. And then there’s the travel expense to get them to Portugal. If you’re transporting a pet from the United States to Portugal, this resource can help with the requirements.
Costs to transport vary depending on whether you bring your pet on the plane -under the seat in a carrier or in cargo hold in an airline-approved crate. Note that short-nosed dogs or cats may not be able to travel on certain commercial airlines; or you may not feel comfortable with your pet in the hold, so you may want to consider a chartered private jet that flies pets and their pet parents to Portugal (not cheap). This resource provides a good overview of costs associated with pet transportation.
If you’re renting an apartment or house that accepts pets, you may be required to pay an additional pet damage deposit.
Shipping your things to Portugal.
Although we didn’t want to bring a lot of our possessions – preferring to get rid of stuff, we decided to ship a pallet of things to Portugal. This was an added expense that we budgeted for in addition to the thirteen suitcases we brought on board with us on the plane. We paid approximately $900 USD for our nine checked bags on Delta airlines – it would have been more, but the clerk at the check-in counter felt bad for us…
Of course, there were other ‘start-up’ expenses during the first year including the cost for private health insurance, our SEF appointment fees, obtaining our Identificação do Utente (health numbers), general household purchases such as a coffee maker, toaster, slow cooker, bath towels, sheets and pillows, cooking items, technology purchases, NHR applications, and driver’s license exchanges.
Conservatively speaking, we spent roughly $37,000 in ‘start-up’ costs in the first year for two people, no children, no pets and renting a modest two bed, three bath furnished suburban apartment. That didn’t include the car that we purchased at the end of 2022 or the accompanying vehicle taxes and insurance.
Many factors to consider.
Everyone is different and this post is only intended to provide a high-level overview of how much it could cost to ‘live like a king’ in Portugal. There are differences in expenses if you choose to own a home and not rent, if you choose an unfurnished or a furnished home, if you choose to use public transportation instead of a private vehicle, and if you choose to live in a metropolitan area versus a suburb or rural, less populated area.
If you currently live in an area such as New York City or Santa Barbara, California, chances are you’ll think Portugal is a bargain. If you live in a rural area or a small town in the United States, Portugal might not look like a bargain at all.
Some people think that they’ll move to Portugal and get a job here. That’s probably unrealistic, not to mention that the salary may be much lower than what you’re accustomed to elsewhere. Preference in jobs in Portugal usually go to Portuguese citizens. Unless you have a special skill set, or work as a freelancer for a US or other foreign country, finding employment in Portugal will be difficult.
Food is a little cheaper, good wine is much cheaper, admissions into museums (especially for 65+) is cheaper than in other countries. Energy and fuels costs are higher than in other countries.
Healthcare, in my opinion, is cheaper (and very good) in Portugal than in the United States, but Paul and I do pay for private health insurance in Portugal which costs us about twenty percent more than the Medicare Advantage plans we still pay for in the US - something we’re not yet ready to give up.
Overall, in many instances, Portugal will be cheaper but not cheap.
It’s different when you live here.
If you’ve visited Portugal on scouting trips, or as a tourist, until you actually are boots-on-the-ground living in Portugal every day, you won’t truly know if this country is your new home. I speak from personal experience, and you’ll know when the ‘honeymoon’ period is over.
It’s different when you live here. The language is often hard to learn (it is for me, anyhow), the culture is different, the food is different, the lifestyle is different, and the bureaucracy can be frustrating, to name just a few things.
I’ve known of folks who fell in love with Cascais or Lisbon or Porto, or the Algarve, on scouting trips only to find that once they moved here, it didn’t quite ‘feel’ like it did when they were on those visits. Some people adjust – others never do and eventually realize that Portugal is not for them. Some will think Portugal’s lifestyle and living expenses are a bargain. Others may think that it’s not cost-effective enough to make living here a permanent thing.
And there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind. I suggest that until you really know that your new home is Portugal, you keep some contingency funds available in case you decide to move back to where you came from or to some other country. There will be costs to pack up whatever possessions you have in Portugal and ship them back home. If you have pets, there will be costs associated with transportation. If you have children, you’ll have to deal with the emotional and financial costs of pulling roots back up, finding new schools, and moving again. And, if you’re not within driving distance of your home country, there are flight and other transportation expenses to consider.
Resources to help with budgeting for a move.
Numbeo is an online resource to help with determining the cost to live in Portugal (and many other countries). It is only good for estimating costs.
ExpaCity is a subscription-based information resource for moving to Portugal. You can also sign up for free monthly webinars on a variety of topics with vetted professional experts in a multitude of fields.
Expatistan is another online resource to help with estimating what it costs to live in Portugal. It’s a collaborative cost of living database updated by expats living across the globe.
Idealista is an online resource for getting an idea on the cost to rent or buy a property in Portugal. It’s similar to Zillow, but not always accurate or up to date, but it’s good for getting an estimate.
Portugal.com provides estimates on the costs of a variety of services in Portugal.
Google Flights is a good resource tool to determine what the cost will be to fly to Portugal (or anywhere for that matter). If you’re closer to the time when you’ll be moving to Portugal, this tool can provide an estimate of that cost.
UPakWeShip has a shipping estimate calculator to help you determine what it costs to move your personal belongings to Portugal.
KipperTree is a real estate resource focusing on property purchases. Potential buyers can view properties for sale in Portugal and find resources using their directory tool.
Do we live like a king (and queen) in Portugal?
In some respects, yes. It is less expensive overall for us to live here. But that could change depending on the future of the economy, the stability of Europe (or the world), our health, and how far our American retirement dollars will take us. I can’t predict the future, and I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on things beyond my control.
Living like a king or queen in Portugal also can mean other things like immersing yourself in the country’s rich history and culture, savoring its delicious cuisine, beautiful weather, and enjoying its many natural and man-made wonders. It can mean making new friends and enjoying new experiences, stressing less, and enjoying life more. It can mean being enriched by the beauty, kindness, and simplicity of the Portuguese people.
In this respect, without a doubt, we live like royalty!
PS: Muito Obrigada (many thanks) to Teresa for supporting Our Portugal Journey through Buy Me a Coffee. Your generosity and interest help to keep this publication free to subscribers.
Until next time…
The most current and accurate information regarding Visas and Portuguese bank funding requirements available (from my own experience) can be found on the Americans and Friends in Portugal Facebook group. Once you apply to join the group and you are accepted, you can access the Files section, in particular the PDF file entitled, Get Your VISA. Please do not ask questions until you have read (and re-read) the files as the group administrators will not answer questions that can be found by reading the files yourself.
An excellent article! Thankyou
Such a relatable story - even though my wife and I moved from the Netherlands (= EU) to stay in the EU in Portugal, so there are differences, the most obvious one being the absence of visa requirements. That said, though, getting there, acquiring a house and getting settled was costly nonetheless.
First off, I don’t want to complain: life in Portugal is less expensive than in the Netherlands. Also, the amount of rain versus the amount of sun both fall in favor of our new country and it’s not even a contest. Secondly, we’re not pensioners: we’re just over and just under 40, with a lot of working years ahead. So there’s a difference, too.
That being said, the cost of moving our furniture was less than buying everything new, but still: almost 10K. We brought two cars here, not a cheap drive with European gas- and toll prices. Thankfully, no import taxes but there are stamp duties to be paid, and we pay about 800 euros each for help with the incredibly complicated process of acquiring Portuguese plates on Dutch cars.
Getting NIFs, social security and healthcare as well as applying for the NHR scheme also took a big bite of the budget. You /could/ try to do it yourself, but there’s just so much paperwork that for us (as fulltime workers who don’t have that much spare time to figure it all out), paying people to help was paramount to get the process completed in a timely fashion.
Housing: friends who have been living here (both full- and part-time) for a decade or longer, tell us the housing market went up hugely since the 2008 crisis. We were lucky enough that we could sell a house in the Amsterdam area, where prices compete with the highest markets in Europe, so we had some wiggle room, but still: there seem to be not many cheap stacks of stone left in Western or Southern coastal regions. Also, the purchase process comes with a wholly different set of rules and regulations compared to the Netherlands, and much higher taxes as well. The sticker price in the realtor’s window is far from the full amount. Also: use a lawyer. Another out of pocket price tag, but you could really regret skipping this spend.
One of our “Dutch” cars is a classic, not meant for daily driving, so I too went looking for a used car. I’m used to high priced (second hand) vehicles in the NL, where car taxes are bordering on the absurd, but here, the car market is crazy. One advantage of buying used: no IVA (or VAT). And road tax is rather cheap too, at least compared to the Netherland. I bought an older diesel that would cost me over 200 euros per month in the NL while here, it’s only 170 for a full year. Gas is somewhat cheaper compared to the NL, too, although in the US it’s /a lot/ less.
When it comes to out of pocket costs, please be advised to have a good amount set aside, ‘cause you’ll need it. Those many stamps don’t move to any papers without the proper payment of all kinds of dues. But all in all, we landed good & well and we’re really happy we made the jump a year ago. Great house, still more square meters for the money than back in Amsterdam, especially in outside space, and the Portuguese people are patient, helpful and very kind. And now that the big costs and one-offs of moving are behind us, we can enjoy free sunshine almost every day, with cheap beers during more than affordable lunches and dinners.
Anyway, thanks for an article that made me go “Yes, this, yes, and that as well and yes, yes, and yes to that, too” in recognition :)
Best wishes from Moncarapacho, Algarve!