Madeira for Digital Nomads

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Written by: | Last updated on March 6, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 13 minutes
This article is available in: en_US

While Lisbon has long reigned as the premier destination for digital nomads in Portugal, the idyllic island of Madeira has been quietly but steadily making its mark on the global digital nomad scene. Historically known for its appeal to retirees and cruise ship enthusiasts, Madeira’s recent rise as a digital nomad hotspot is not surprising, given its year-round mild climate, breathtaking natural landscapes, and burgeoning community of remote workers.

What has truly catapulted Madeira into the limelight is the advent of the world’s first digital nomad village, Ponta do Sol. Pioneered by the Madeira government’s efforts to attract remote workers, this innovative initiative has successfully drawn digital nomads from around the world to this picturesque island. Since its inception, the digital nomad community has flourished on Madeira, encompassing various parts of the island and fostering a thriving ecosystem for those who embrace a location-independent lifestyle.

Visas

Non-EU citizens can typically stay in Portugal (or anywhere in the Schengen Area) for up to 90 days in every 180 days. EU citizens can stay longer, but should be aware of residency requirements (after three months) and tax obligations (which typically occur after six months).

Those living in Madeira up to 183 days are generally not considered residents for tax purposes, and so are not subject to personal income tax on their income. However, situations vary and you should always get advice from a professional.

For those that wish to stay longer, Portugal offers a digital nomad visa: the D8. This visa, aimed at remote workers and freelancers, is aimed at those that want live in Portugal for around six months of the year [source]. After five years of residency, you can then apply for both permanent residency and Portuguese citizenship.

During the years you are resident, you may also be able to take advantage of various tax schemes and incentives. This includes schemes available across Portugal but also schemes specific to Madeira aimed at attracting freelancers and entrepreneurs to the region.

Where to Stay

Most nomads visiting Madeira choose to stay in either Funchal or Ponta do Sol. Funchal is situated roughly 25 minutes by car from Ponta do Sol.

The main accommodation sites to look at are:

  • Flatio: An Airbnb-style platform for mid-term rentals, Flatio offers a number of properties in Madeira.
  • Outsite: Offers a coliving space in Ponta do Sol. All rooms have desks and there’s a well-equipped kitchen and laundry facilities onsite.
  • Airbnb: Always a go-to for any nomad.
  • Booking.com: Worth checking for accommodation, particularly out of season when prices are lower.
  • Coliving.com: Lists several coliving spaces in Madeira, particularly around Ponta do Sol and Funchal.
  • Banana House: A coliving house in Ponta do Sol.
  • Funchal: Nestled in the southern part of the island, Funchal stands as the largest city, boasting Old Portuguese colonial architecture, a vibrant city center, and a rich array of activities. With its historic old town area, including the 16th-century Gothic Cathedral, Funchal serves as the cultural and historical heart of Madeira.
  • Santa Cruz: Once a quaint coastal village with a 15th-century port, Santa Cruz is conveniently located northeast of Funchal, making it a favored choice among European visitors, especially families. This charming town offers a range of family-friendly attractions, from historic churches to an exciting aqua park.
  • Machico: Renowned for its pristine beaches, Machico has some of the finest sandy shores on the island, thanks to the import of thousands of tonnes of white sand from Morocco in 2008. With the Machico River nearby and lush greenery enveloping the surroundings, this area offers a tranquil retreat just outside the city, complete with a selection of bars and restaurants along a scenic waterfront promenade.
  • Jardim do Mar: Aptly named the “Garden of the Sea” in English, Jardim do Mar is a haven for surfers. Situated along Madeira’s southwest coast, this picturesque village is the ideal base for water sports enthusiasts seeking to ride the waves and enjoy coastal adventures.
  • Caniçal: As the oldest municipality on the island, Caniçal is a quaint and remote fishing village on Madeira’s east coast. It provides an excellent home base for hiking enthusiasts and those seeking a tranquil rural experience.
  • Ponta do Sol: Located in the southern region of Madeira, Ponta do Sol is a paradise for beach lovers. Characterized by scenic seafronts, pebble beaches, and graceful palm-lined promenades, this area offers a beach lover’s dream, featuring popular stretches like Anjos, Lugar de Baixo, Madalena do Mar, and Ponta do Sol. It’s also home to the pioneering Digital Nomad Village, a concept initiated and tested in 2021.
  • Camara de Lobos: Situated just a short distance from Funchal, Camara de Lobos is an ideal choice for those seeking a relaxed atmosphere while staying within convenient reach of the city. This location offers a laid-back vibe and easy access to Funchal for occasional visits and city experiences.

Coworking Spaces

There are coworking spaces dotted around the island, particularly in Ponta Do Sol and Funchal.

Ponta Do Sol

As part of the digital nomad village initiative, Ponta Do Sol offers a complimentary coworking space for those joining the village. Situated within the John do Passos Cultural Centre, this coworking hub is accessible to program participants at no cost.

Its central location in Ponta Do Sol places it conveniently within walking distance of the town’s restaurants and bars, making it an ideal workspace for remote professionals seeking both productivity and convenience.

Santa Cruz

In Santa Cruz, two coworking spaces are managed by Hub Remotely as part of the digital nomad village project, namely Vila Galé and Quinta Splendida. While Vila Galé doubles as a coliving space, it warmly welcomes coworking enthusiasts.

With a monthly membership fee of approximately $72 USD, members gain round-the-clock access, an onsite gym, and hot-desking facilities. Quinta Splendida exclusively offers coworking amenities, available for around $116 USD per month. Both spaces provide an excellent environment for networking and offer daily rates starting at approximately $14 USD.

Funchal

Funchal, the capital city and the third location within the digital nomad village, presents two outstanding coworking spaces for remote professionals to consider:

  • Cowork Funchal: Nestled in the heart of Funchal, Cowork Funchal is a premier coworking facility housed in a 300-year-old historical building spanning six floors. This workspace boasts thirteen offices, two meeting rooms, and a dynamic coworking area.
  • Sangha Cowork: With the added benefit of its affiliation with a hotel group, Sangha Cowork extends a range of packages that encompass more than just workspace—it includes access to a range of hotel amenities such as dining options, bars, pools, gyms, meeting facilities, and more. Services at Sangha Cowork include top-notch internet connectivity, 24/7 access for members, dedicated desks, private offices, meeting rooms, virtual office options, conference and workshop venues, a thriving community, comfortable lounge areas, and a well-equipped kitchen.

Getting Around

While there is a public transport network on Madeira, it is limited, unsurprising given that Madeira is quite a rural area. See horariosdofunchal.pt for more information.

The best way to get around is to rent a car, which you can either do in advance at the airport or when you get there. You are likely to get better deals if you book in advance, and you may get better deals by booking direct.

Two of the main car rental sites to check are:

  • DiscoverCars.com
  • RentalCars.com

There’s no Uber in Madeira, but Bolt (a similar taxi app) operates there.

Things to Do

  • Markets: Madeira offers a vibrant market scene where you can explore local and imported produce, traditional crafts, and handmade items. Notable markets include the farmers market and the produce market, both conveniently located within walking distance of Funchal’s center. If you visit during winter, don’t miss the charming Christmas market along the promenade, offering an array of handmade gifts. Experience local life by joining the Sunday markets, a popular choice among locals, with locations in Funchal, Santa Porto Moniz, Santa Cruz, Ponta Delgada, and Santo da Serra.
  • Museums: Immerse yourself in the rich history, culture, traditions, and achievements of Madeira through its diverse museums. Explore the Old Mill Museum in the northeast, dedicated to the island’s history, or delve into the history of whaling at the Museum da Baleia da Madeira. Funchal, the island’s capital, boasts over ten museums, each offering a unique perspective on Madeiran life. Discover Núcleo Museológico, Museu de Electricidade Casa da Luz, Madeira Story Center, Adegas de São Francisco, and the Military Museum, among others. In the southwest, you can visit Museu Etnográfico da Madeira and the Press Museum.
  • Art and Culture Galleries: Madeira’s art and culture come to life in galleries like the Henrique and Francisco Franco Museum, Sacred Art Museum of Funchal, and Museu da Quinta das Cruzes, all located in Funchal. These galleries offer an array of artistic and cultural treasures for exploration. For contemporary art enthusiasts, the Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Madeira in the southwest showcases a diverse collection of modern artworks.
  • Botanical Gardens: Embark on a memorable journey to Funchal’s botanical gardens, accessible by cable car, providing stunning views of the city. Jardim Botânico da Madeira offers a serene setting featuring tropical plants and water features. Admission, including the cable car ride and garden entry, typically costs around $15 USD. Many visitors choose to hike back down from the gardens or opt for a traditional toboggan descent.
  • Toboggans: Experience the thrill of riding wicker toboggans known as “carreiros do montes” downhill from the Botanical Gardens. This exciting ride, originating in the 19th century as a form of public transport, is pushed by two drivers. Enjoy the exhilarating journey for approximately $35 USD for two passengers.
  • Watersports: Dive into the waters of Madeira and explore a variety of watersports, from sea kayaking and sailing to paddleboarding. Whether you prefer a leisurely paddleboard rental or an immersive guided tour, Madeira offers options for all water sports enthusiasts. Rent single kayaks for around $12 USD per hour or doubles for $18 USD. Guided tours, such as kayaking and snorkeling adventures lasting 3-6 hours, are available for approximately $40 USD.
  • Enchanted Terraces Madeira: Discover the picturesque Enchanted Terraces along the northwest coast, a series of accessible water coves nestled amid volcanic formations. These volcanic pools provide a stunning backdrop for swimming in the azure waters.
  • Hiking: Explore the island’s rugged and mountainous terrain, characterized by natural waterfalls and lush UNESCO-protected forests, through hiking. Madeira offers a plethora of hiking trails suitable for various skill levels. Always be prepared for changing weather conditions or consider guided hikes for inexperienced hikers. Guidebooks detailing different hikes are readily available both before your visit and on the island.
  • Hike the Levadas: Traverse the island along the intricate levadas, a network of water channels originally designed for agricultural water transport. Madeira boasts around 1,350 miles of levadas, making them a popular choice for both short and long hikes.
  • Wine Festival: Experience the renowned Madeira wine at the annual Madeira Wine Festival, taking place from late August to early September. This celebration coincides with the grape harvest season, featuring lively carnivals and embracing European Folklore Week, creating a unique and festive atmosphere.
  • Dolphin and Whale Watching: Set sail on a memorable 2-3 hour boat trip for dolphin and whale watching, a popular attraction in Madeira. Enjoy the opportunity to witness the island’s rich marine life up close for approximately $30 USD, offering an unforgettable ocean adventure.

Regional Food

  • Peixe Espada com Banana: Delight (or surprise!) your taste buds with one of Madeira’s most renowned regional dishes, Peixe Espada com Banana. This unique creation features black scabbardfish (peixe espada), either breaded or battered and fried alongside a banana, sometimes accompanied by a passionfruit and custard sauce. The intriguing flavour combination is a must-try and offers a culinary experience distinct to Madeira.
  • Espetada: Embrace the tradition of skewer-cooked cuisine in Madeira with “Espetada.” Typically, wooden skewers made from bay laurel trees infuse a unique flavor into the meat. Savor this flavorful method of cooking, where various meats are skewered and grilled to perfection.
  • Picado/Picadinho: Dive into the simplicity and deliciousness of “Picado.” This dish consists of small cubes of beef or veal seasoned with salt, pepper, crushed garlic, and cooked with “morangueiro” wine, water, olive oil, butter, bay leaves, and tomato puree. Often served with crispy french fries, Picado is ideal for sharing among friends.
  • Bolo de Caco: Discover Madeira’s regional bread, “Bolo de Caco,” named after the basalt stone slab on which it’s baked. This exceptionally soft bread is commonly served with garlic butter and is a popular starter in Madeira. You can find it in bakeries, supermarkets, and specialty Bolo de Caco sandwich shops.
  • Lapas: Delight in another Madeiran specialty, “Lapas” or limpets, similar to clams but with a chewier texture. These delectable treats are typically served in the frying pan they’re cooked in, accompanied by lemon slices. In Madeira, they are often paired with Bolo de Caco.
  • Madeira Wine: Explore the lesser-known fortified wine of Portugal, “Madeira Wine.” Unlike its well-known counterpart, Port, Madeira Wine has its unique characteristics. One distinctive aspect is its storage in warm places like attics, setting it apart from Port, which matures in cold cellars. Discover the flavors and nuances of this lesser-explored fortified wine.
  • Brisa: Quench your thirst with “Brisa,” a range of soft drinks produced and distributed in Madeira. While seeking refreshment, opt for local flavors such as Cola, Cola light, Cola zero, Água Tónica (tonic water), Laranja (orange), Limonada (lemonade), Maçã (apple), Manga Mix (mango), and Maracujá (passion fruit), instead of the usual international options.
  • Poncha: Immerse yourself in the world of “Poncha” or punch, a beloved drink found in bars throughout Madeira. Many bars in Funchal specialize in Poncha. This delightful beverage is crafted from Aguardente, honey, sugar, and lemon juice, often complemented with various fruit juices. Poncha’s origins may be traced back to Indian pãnch, which later inspired English punch. Enjoy the vibrant Poncha bars that adorn Funchal’s streets, offering an irresistible and colorful array of flavors to tantalize your palate.

Read more about food from Madeira

Language

As with mainland Portugal, the language spoken here is Portuguese (specifically European Portuguese). The language is the same, but there is a regional accent that is different to that of mainland Portugal. There are also some idioms and expressions which are unique to Madeira, which you may not encounter on mainland Portugal.

English is widely spoken, particularly around Funchal. However, it’s recommended that you learn some basic phrases in Portuguese.

Safety

Like mainland Portugal, Madeira is considered to be very safe. While relatively rare, instances of petty street crime can occasionally happen, and it’s wise for visitors to exercise certain precautions. The most common examples of crime are break-ins and pick-pocketing.

Avoid carrying substantial sums of money and refrain from wearing conspicuous, expensive jewellery or attire that might draw undue attention. It’s important to stay vigilant and be mindful of individuals who unnecessarily brush up against you, as they could potentially be pickpockets.

Written by

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.