The Best Cities and Towns for Americans Planning to Live in Portugal

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Last updated on June 4, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 15 minutes

So, you’ve decided to make the exciting move from America to Portugal? Thanks to attainable residency visas like the D7, golden visa, and digital nomad visa, Portugal has become an incredibly popular destination for Americans to move to.

But the big question is: just where in Portugal should you live?

That’s where this guide comes in! We’ve scoured Portugal from top to bottom to bring you the best of the best – the places that offer the perfect blend of comfort, adventure, and that special something that makes you feel like you truly belong.

So, are you ready to discover your new home in Portugal? Let’s dive in and explore the top destinations for Americans considering a move to Portugal. By the end of this guide, you’ll be ready to pack your bags and start your new adventure here!

Lisbon: The Vibrant Capital with a Touch of San Francisco

rooftops of Lisbon

If you’re looking for a city that combines old-world charm with a modern, cosmopolitan vibe, Lisbon is the place for you. As an American, you’ll feel right at home in this vibrant capital, which many compare to San Francisco with its iconic trams, stunning bridge, and hilly streets. The growing startup scene and large digital nomad community add a tech-savvy edge to the city’s atmosphere.

One of the biggest advantages of living in Lisbon is the ease of communication. English is widely spoken, so you won’t have to worry about any language barriers. The city also boasts Portugal’s largest airport, making it a breeze to catch flights back to the USA or explore the rest of the country.

Getting around Lisbon is a piece of cake, thanks to the excellent public transportation system. You can easily navigate the city without a car, which is a huge plus for those who prefer a more eco-friendly and hassle-free lifestyle.

If you’re moving with kids, you’ll be happy to know that Lisbon and the surrounding area has several schools that teach the American curriculum, such as:

This means your children can continue their education seamlessly without having to adapt to a new system.

Missing those favourite American products? No problem! Lisbon has a variety of shops that stock American goods, including Liberty Store, Glood, and Flavers. And if you’re craving some Mexican flavours, you’ll find plenty of options like Potzalia, Paco Bigotes in Estoril, and Sr. Taco in Oeiras.

The downside? Cost. Property prices have risen in Lisbon and while it’s still much cheaper than many American cities, it’s no longer as affordable as it once was.

The Algarve: Europe’s Answer to California

Beach in the Algarve

For those dreaming of endless beaches, the best weather in Portugal, and a laid-back lifestyle, the Algarve is the ultimate destination. Often referred to as the California of Europe, this stunning region in southern Portugal is a haven for expats from all over the world, including a significant American community.

One of the best things about the Algarve is the international atmosphere. You’ll find yourself among a diverse group of people from the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Brazil, all drawn to the region’s natural beauty and relaxed way of life. And with English being widely spoken, you’ll have no trouble making new friends and feeling at home.

Unfortunately, you’ll probably need to take a connecting flight to get back to the US. However, there are plenty of options for European destinations, particularly countries like the UK, Ireland, Germany, and France.

Having a car in the Algarve is recommended, as public transportation can be hit or miss depending on the town. However, it’s still possible to get by without one, especially if you choose a location with good train or bus connections.

International schools in the Algarve mainly teach the British curriculum or International Baccalaureate, so keep that in mind if you have school-aged children.

Finding American groceries or authentic Mexican food may be a bit more challenging in the Algarve compared to Lisbon, but it’s not impossible. The Food Co. Supermarket in Almancil stocks some American staples like Ranch dressing, and there are online stores that deliver Mexican ingredients right to your door.

Given the proximity to the beach and the good weather, property prices are naturally a little higher here. However, you can find more affordable real estate if you look a little further inland from the coast.

Porto: The Charming and Affordable Alternative

A view of Porto and the Dom Luis Bridge from Vila Nova de Gaia

If you’re looking for a more affordable option that still offers the charm and beauty of a major city, Porto is the perfect choice. Many people consider Porto to be even more picturesque than Lisbon, with its stunning architecture and cozy, welcoming atmosphere. Like Lisbon, English is widely spoken here, although learning Portuguese is always recommended.

One of the biggest advantages of living in Porto is the lower cost of living, especially when it comes to property prices. You’ll be able to find a lovely home for a fraction of what you’d pay in Lisbon or the Algarve, without sacrificing quality of life.

Porto’s airport is well-connected, offering flights all over Europe and to international destinations, including North America. This makes it easy to travel for business or pleasure, or to welcome visitors from back home.

While a car isn’t necessary for city life in Porto, you may want one for exploring the surrounding region. Fortunately, Porto is well-connected to nearby towns like Braga, Aveiro, Viana do Castelo, and even Lisbon by train and intercity bus, so you’ll have plenty of options for day trips and weekend getaways.

International schools in Porto primarily teach British, French, or International Baccalaureate curricula, so if you’re set on an American curriculum, you may need to consider other options like homeschooling or online learning.

Finding American goods in Porto is a bit easier than in the Algarve, thanks to stores like Glood. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for locally, there are online stores that will deliver your favorite products right to your doorstep.

Coimbra: A Charming University City with a Rich Cultural Heritage

Largo da Portagem Coimbra

For those seeking a more intimate, historical setting, Coimbra is a perfect choice. This small city, known for its stunning university and vibrant fado music scene, offers a unique blend of culture, affordability, and easy access to the coast.

One of the biggest draws of Coimbra is its rich cultural heritage. The city’s university, one of the oldest in Europe, is a testament to its long history of learning and innovation. The fado houses scattered throughout the city provide a glimpse into Portugal’s soulful musical tradition, making for unforgettable evenings out.

While Coimbra may lack the big-city amenities of Lisbon or Porto, it more than makes up for it with its affordable cost of living. Property prices are significantly lower than in the larger cities, especially if you choose to live outside of the city center. This makes Coimbra an attractive option for those looking to stretch their budget without sacrificing quality of life.

Although Coimbra doesn’t have its own airport, it’s well-connected to both Lisbon and Porto by train, making travel easy and convenient. And if you’re craving a beach day, the lovely town of Figueira da Foz is just a short train ride away.

Getting around Coimbra is a breeze, thanks to its walkable city center. However, if you plan to explore the surrounding areas, a car can be useful. Public transportation is reliable, with regular trains to Lisbon, Porto, and Aveiro.

One potential drawback for families is the lack of international schools teaching the American curriculum. However, Coimbra has plenty of excellent public and private Portuguese schools to choose from.

Cascais: The Perfect Blend of Seaside Charm and City Convenience

View of Cascais, and the beach, from above

If you’re dreaming of a seaside lifestyle with easy access to the excitement of Lisbon, Cascais is the ideal choice. This charming town, located just 40 minutes outside the capital, offers a perfect balance of small-town tranquility and big-city convenience.

Cascais is known for its stunning beaches, from the central town beach to the surfer’s paradise of Carcavelos and the rugged beauty of Guincho. With its international community and significant American presence, you’ll feel right at home in this welcoming town.

While property prices in Cascais are higher than in some other parts of Portugal, the quality of life is unbeatable. The town attracts a diverse mix of families, retirees, and digital nomads, all drawn to its unique blend of natural beauty and cosmopolitan flair.

One of the biggest advantages of living in Cascais is its proximity to Lisbon Airport. Once you’re in Lisbon, the rest of the country (and the world) is at your fingertips. And with plenty of international school options, including several that follow the American curriculum, Cascais is an excellent choice for families.

The Azores: A Hidden Gem with Strong American Ties

santa maria island

For those seeking a truly unique living experience, the Azores islands are a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. These nine stunning islands, located in the middle of the Atlantic, have a long history of emigration to the United States and Canada, resulting in strong ties to North America.

The largest islands, São Miguel and Terceira, offer the most amenities, including large supermarkets and airports with direct flights to the US. As you venture to the smaller islands, life becomes more rustic and laid-back, perfect for those craving a slower pace of life. Property prices vary, but there are plenty of affordable properties to be found.

When considering a move to the Azores, it’s essential to research healthcare options, especially on the smaller islands. Some islands have limited medical facilities and may require residents to fly to larger islands or wait for visiting doctors.

School options in the Azores are typically limited to Portuguese public and private schools, so families should be prepared to adapt to a new educational system.

On most islands, having a car is a necessity for getting around and exploring all the natural wonders the Azores have to offer.

Braga: The Up-and-Coming City with Cooler Temperatures

Jardim da Senhora A Branca in Braga

Braga, a charming city in northern Portugal, is quickly becoming a popular destination for expats seeking a more affordable and authentic living experience. With its flat, walkable streets and stunning architecture, Braga offers a high quality of life without the tourist crowds of Lisbon or Porto.

One unique aspect of Braga is its climate. Winters can be damp and grey, while summers are pleasantly warm. This cooler weather may be a selling point for those coming from more temperate regions of the United States.

Property prices in Braga are significantly more affordable than in Lisbon or Porto, allowing your budget to go further without sacrificing comfort or style.

Braga is well-connected to Porto by train and bus, providing easy access to a major city and its international airport. This makes travel and exploring the rest of Portugal and Europe a breeze.

While there is an international school in Braga (CLIB – The Braga International School), it follows the British curriculum. However, the city has numerous excellent Portuguese public and private schools to choose from.

Setúbal: The Seafood Lover’s Paradise Near Lisbon

Setúbal Square

Setúbal, a charming fishing town located just outside of Lisbon, is the perfect choice for those who want to be close to the capital without being right in the middle of the action. With regular train and bus connections, getting to Lisbon is a breeze, and you’ll also have easy access to Lisbon Airport for international flights.

Known for its incredible seafood, Setúbal attracts visitors from Lisbon on weekends who come to indulge in the local specialties. While the outskirts of the town can feel a bit industrial, the city center is full of charm and character.

One of the biggest draws of Setúbal is its proximity to the stunning beaches of Serra da Arrábida. These beaches can get busy on weekends, but with so many to choose from, including nearby Sesimbra and Comporta, you’ll always be able to find a peaceful spot to relax.

Caldas da Rainha: Authenticity and Affordability on the Silver Coast

square in Caldas da Rainha

The Silver Coast region of Portugal has become increasingly popular with American expats, and Caldas da Rainha is a prime example of why. Along with nearby towns like Óbidos, Peniche, and Nazaré, Caldas da Rainha offers a more affordable and authentic living experience compared to the more touristy Algarve.

As a traditional market town, Caldas da Rainha is known for its spas and bustling market. While not directly on the coast, beautiful beaches are just a short drive away, making it an excellent base for exploring this picturesque part of Portugal.

While there is no airport in Caldas da Rainha, the town is well-connected to Lisbon by train and bus, making travel easy and convenient. However, it’s important to note that there are no international schools in the area, so families will need to consider Portuguese public or private school options.

Ericeira: The Surfer’s Paradise Near Lisbon

surfing near Ericeira

Ericeira, a former fishing village turned surfer’s paradise, has become a hotspot for digital nomads and expats seeking a laid-back lifestyle with easy access to Lisbon. With its charming small-town feel and excellent restaurant scene, Ericeira offers a more relaxed pace of life while still being close to the amenities of the capital.

While property prices in Ericeira can be as high as in Lisbon, the town’s desirability and proximity to the city make it a worthwhile investment for those seeking a unique living experience.

One potential drawback for families is the lack of international schools in Ericeira. While there are plenty of Portuguese public and private schools to choose from, the nearest international schools are in Lisbon, which may be too far for a daily commute.

Public transportation in Ericeira is limited to bus services to Lisbon, with no train station in the town. However, driving or taking an Uber to the capital is relatively quick and easy.

Viana do Castelo: Traditional Charm in Northern Portugal

viana do castelo square

Viana do Castelo, a beautiful town in northern Portugal, is an up-and-coming destination for expats seeking a more traditional living experience. With its stunning beaches, walkable city center, and authentic atmosphere, Viana do Castelo offers a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural charm.

One of the biggest advantages of living in Viana do Castelo is its affordability. Property prices are lower than in more touristy areas, and the town has yet to be overrun by expats and tourists, allowing it to maintain its authentic character.

While the weather in northern Portugal can be wet and damp during the winter months, this may appeal to those coming from milder regions of the United States.

Viana do Castelo is well-connected to Porto by public transport, providing easy access to a major city, its international airport, and a wide range of restaurants, grocery stores, and other amenities.

Another perk of living in Viana do Castelo is its proximity to Spain. With a car, it’s easy to cross the border for a weekend getaway and explore a new country.

Although there are no international schools in Viana do Castelo, the town offers a variety of Portuguese educational options for families to consider.

Madeira: A Subtropical Paradise for Nature Lovers and Remote Workers

madeira hills

If you’re dreaming of escaping the hustle and bustle of mainland life, Madeira might just be the perfect destination for you. This stunning subtropical island, located in the Atlantic Ocean, offers a unique blend of natural beauty, mild weather, and a growing international community.

One of the biggest draws of Madeira is its year-round pleasant climate. Unlike mainland Portugal, which can experience extreme temperature variations, Madeira enjoys consistent, mild weather throughout the year. This makes it an ideal location for those seeking a comfortable, outdoor-oriented lifestyle.

Nature enthusiasts will fall in love with Madeira’s lush landscapes and incredible biodiversity. The island is famous for its “levadas,” a network of irrigation channels that wind through the mountains, offering breathtaking views and countless hiking opportunities. From the vibrant botanical gardens of Funchal to the rugged cliffs of Cabo Girão, Madeira is a paradise for those who love to explore the great outdoors.

While living on Madeira does mean being somewhat remote from the mainland, the island does have an international airport with direct flights to various destinations. However, it’s important to note that the airport is known for its challenging landing conditions due to the island’s topography. Occasional flight disruptions are not uncommon, so this is something to keep in mind if you plan on making frequent trips to and from mainland Portugal.

Madeira has become an increasingly popular destination for digital nomads and remote workers, particularly in and around the capital city of Funchal and the picturesque village of Ponta do Sol. The island’s growing international community includes people from the UK, Germany, and a growing number from the United States, creating a diverse and welcoming atmosphere for expats.

Families considering a move to Madeira will find two international school options: The International School of Madeira and the International Sharing School Madeira. While neither school offers the American high school curriculum, they provide a high-quality education in a multicultural setting. Additionally, there are several well-regarded private and public Portuguese schools on the island.

No matter which destination you choose, Portugal offers a wealth of opportunities for American expats seeking a new life abroad. From the vibrant cities of Lisbon and Porto to the charming towns of the Silver Coast and the rugged beauty of the Azores, there’s a perfect place for every taste and lifestyle.

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James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.

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  1. There is no flight from Faro to New York. United killed that Summer-only route about a month before it was scheduled to commence.

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