Reader Question: Hi Carol! I enjoy reading your posts about your experiences moving to and living in Portugal. I’m thinking of moving to Portugal in another 3-5 years. Do you have any suggestions as to where I should live? Sincerely, Future Expat. (*Read my answer to Future Expat at the end of this post).
Where should I live?
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Before Paul and I moved to Portugal, I began researching potential areas to live. I read articles from International Living Magazine and dozens of other expat online publications. I also joined a plethora of Facebook groups for expats and travelers to learn what others thought were the best places to visit or live in Portugal. My list of potential places grew! The more I read, the more confused I became. I didn’t want to make a mistake and land in a place that was awful, and I didn’t want to rent an apartment that wasn’t a perfect fit. For such a small country, there certainly are a lot of choices. So, where should you live in Portugal?
The Criteria List (or maybe a Fantasy List?)
Especially in the expat Facebook groups - on a daily basis - you can find questions posed to group members and admins asking about where someone should live in Portugal. Frankly, now that I live here (and I apologize to anyone who in the past attempted to answer my own ‘where should I live’ questions on Facebook), it’s often comical to read these questions because people have long, long criteria lists (or perhaps more accurately, in some instances, fantasy lists) of requirements. For example (based on what I’ve read and notes I’ve kept over the last couple of years):
I need at least 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms in an area with a garden space or yard, within a short walk from public transportation and with several cafes, restaurants, shops, grocery stores, and medical services all within walking distance. The area can’t be too hilly. The weather should be moderate. And there should be bike and running trails nearby. And I’d like a neighborhood where there’s some space between each building. I would prefer a house to an apartment. I don’t want to pay a lot for rent – maybe something like $500 to $700 a month.
I want to live near the ocean or the river in an area that has lots of charm, but not in a village where there’s nothing going on.
I want to live in an area where there’s lots of culture and I want to be where it’s flat for walking and not too hilly, but not in a big city like Lisbon.
I need an area with a good mix of expats and locals and where there are lots of activities for my school-aged children.
I need an area that’s dog friendly.
I need an area that is kid friendly with mom’s groups and playdates.
I want to live where it’s not too touristy but where people speak English as I don’t speak Portuguese.
I want to live in an area where there are other younger, working people.
I want to be in an area where there are lots of Portuguese restaurants and good cheap food and wine.
I want to live in an area where there are private schools for my child.
I need to be in an area where there’s good internet access.
I don’t like chilly weather and I don’t like hot weather, so I want to be someplace with an all-year-round mild temperature. I don’t want to live where it’s humid.
I want to live close to an airport, but I don’t want to hear the airplanes landing and taking off.
I don’t want to live in an area that’s pricey, but I don’t want to live in an area that’s rural.
I don’t want to own a car and will have to rely on public transportation such as buses and trains, so I need to live close to those.
I want to live in a rural area where there are just a few neighbors spread far apart from me.
I want to live near restaurants that offer vegan dishes and/or gluten-free foods.
The place I rent, or purchase must have an elevator if it’s not on ground level and must have heat and air conditioning in every room. It also must have enough space to accommodate the contents of the container I’m shipping over from my home country with practically everything I currently have in my 3,000 square-foot home (not sure if I’m going to bring my Sub-Zero refrigerator and car yet, but maybe).
The bedrooms in the place I rent or buy in Portugal must accommodate king sized beds and mattresses.
I don’t want to hear my neighbors, so the area I live in must be quiet. And I don’t want to hear dogs barking all night.
Individually, some of the above-mentioned criteria isn’t all that far-fetched and much of it is reasonable. But when a few of them are combined together – and that’s usually the case – the criteria list can get close to fantasy.
Here is not there.
You can’t replicate the life you had in your former country with the life you’ll have in Portugal. And you really shouldn’t. Portugal is Portugal. Living spaces are often smaller and buildings are closer together than what you might be accustomed to. Prices for rentals or property purchases are increasingly becoming higher. Not everything is cheap. Not all areas are flat. Neighborhoods aren’t all like the one in Mayberry. Not every kitchen (or electrical supply) will be able to accommodate a Sub-Zero refrigerator. Not every bedroom will accommodate a king-sized anything. Not every place is easily accessible by foot. Not every area of the country will offer the same amenities. Like I said, it’s Portugal.
Scouting trips? Sure. You can do one or more scouting trips but still not find ‘the place.’ Sometimes you have to land somewhere and then see where it takes you. Being boots-on-the-ground has been the best experience for me and Paul. We’re starting to travel to other parts of the country when we have the time. We get to talk to locals and shop keepers about their city or neighborhood. We walk around and poke in alleyways to see what’s there. We get to sit at a local restaurant or café and see if there’s a good vibe. To me (my opinion only and I know not everyone can/wants to do this), we’re on the best ‘scouting trip’ ever.
The five primary areas you can live in.
If you don’t know a lot about Portugal and you want to know where you should live so that you can do further research, on mainland Portugal, there are five primary areas:
Alentejo – This area is located south of Lisbon and spans across what is known as the Silver Coast towards the west of the country, all the way to the Spanish border heading east. The main city in the Alentejo is Évora. Other cities include Portalegre and Sines. There are many rural and traditional villages in this region and the terrain is flat with farm fields, hills, and forests. The area is known for its agriculture and wine production. In recent years, there has been an increase of wildfires in this region due to the dry, hot summers. Read more about the Alentejo region here:
Algarve – This area is in the south of Portugal with miles of coastline and beautiful, sandy beaches. It’s a tourist-heavy region with a burgeoning population during the summer months. Faro, the capital city, has a large airport connecting to many parts of Europe. Once a sleepy fishing region, the Algarve has become a popular destination for weddings, parties (and partygoers), vacationers, and retirees, although there are still many nice little villages tucked away here and there. The region has hot dry summers and mild, sometimes rainy winters. There are many different choices for housing and a wide selection of simple to expensive restaurants and cafes. Click here for more information on the Algarve.
Central Portugal – This is the east-to-west region south of Porto and north of Lisbon. One of the largest and most popular cities in this area is Coimbra, home to Coimbra University, one of the oldest universities in the world. This area has a multi-faceted landscape from the coastal beaches including Nazaré, to rivers, forests, and mountains. With excellent transportation routes connecting Coimbra to Lisbon and Porto, Central Portugal has a high concentration of industry. Summers are warm to hot, and winters can be mild to cold depending on where you live in Central Portugal. Click here for more information on this area.
Lisbon and the Tagus River – Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, has a population of nearly three million people and includes the popular areas of Setúbal, Cascais, and Sintra. The Tagus River divides Lisbon from the Setúbal Peninsula. The areas in the Greater Lisbon area are densely populated and can be very hilly. There are several Atlantic beaches and rocky cliffs along the coastline. Summers are warmer in the city interior and cooler along the shoreline. Winters are generally mild. A mixture of tourists, professionals, digital nomads, families, and retirees call Lisbon home. Click here for more information on this area.
Northern Portugal – When most people think of Northern Portugal, the city of Porto comes to mind and it’s no wonder since it’s the largest city in Portugal with a population of about 1.7 million people. Other areas in Northern Portugal include Braga and Vila Nova de Gaia. There are mountains and rivers throughout this area as well as parks and rich vegetation. The Douro River is the main body of water in Northern Portugal as well as home to the Douro Valley wine region where Port wine is produced. To the east of the area the summers are hot, and the winters are cold. To the west of the area towards the coastline, the temperatures are warm in the summer and mild in the winter. Click here for more information on this area.
Where should you live in Portugal? I don’t have the answers. Only you have that.
It may take time to find the perfect spot in Portugal for you. Just like shoes, you have to try a few pairs on before you find the best and most comfortable fit. Recommendations from others are great, but one person’s idea of great may not be yours.
*Carol’s Answer: Dear Future Expat – I’m so happy that you find my articles helpful - thank you! If you’re considering a move to Portugal in 3 to 5 years, a lot can change in that time – both with immigration laws and requirements, climate, and housing. Having said that, I cannot make any suggestions other than what’s in this article about where you should live in Portugal because it’s a personal choice and everyone is different with diverse needs and expectations. The one piece of advice I can give you is this: Experiencing the journey and learning from successes and mistakes is all part of the process. I’m confident that if you’re serious about moving to Portugal, you’ll find your own path. – Sincerely, Carol.
Until next time…
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A great post! Love your sentence "Portugal is Portugal". I don't understand why some one would like to have the same kind of life in a new country. But that's on me, I know :) But one important thing when moving to a new country is to accept and respect how things are and that change may happen in a different way. The pace of life here in Portugal where an important reason for our move. So I am not complaining over the slow bureaucracy. 1+1=2, right?
I think this is why we'll likely be "renters for life," or at least "renters for a very long time." Not only are people unique from one another (what works for you might not work for me), but people change over time. What we like today, we might dislike tomorrow. At this point, we don't even know if Portugal will be a goof fit, much less Lisbon, much less our particular neighborhood. I'm always blown away by the people who buy properties as part of their D7 applications. As you so correctly point out, there's no substitution for on the ground research and experience. And that just takes time.