Want to Move from the USA to Portugal? Here’s What You Need to Know

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Last updated on June 14, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 21 minutes

Are you tired of the political turmoil back home? Concerned about the increasing cost of living? What about safety? Maybe it’s time to move to Portugal.

Portugal is roughly the same size as Indiana and has a population that’s roughly the same size as the state of Michigan. Yet, despite its small size, Portugal has quickly become the place for Americans to move to. Around 10,000 Americans currently live in Portugal.

Why has Portugal become so appealing?

Here are some of the reasons so many Americans are moving to Portugal:

  • Attainable residency visas: While France or Italy might be the first countries that Americans think of, Portugal has a huge selling point: Portugal’s residency visas are more attainable. The D7, for example, is aimed at those with an income from passive income sources (e.g. a pension or social security) that’s €820 per month or higher. That’s less than $900 a month—very attainable for a lot of American retirees.
  • Political stability: Portugal offers a peaceful and stable political environment, making it an attractive escape from the turmoil back home. That isn’t to say that everything is perfect here—far right party Chega has made advancements in recent years—however, the daily stress of polarising politics isn’t something you’re likely to have to face in Portugal.
  • Portuguese citizenship: Portugal allows you to apply for citizenship after just five years of living here (compared to 10 years for Spain). What’s more, as of 2024, the time spent waiting for your application to be processed now counts towards that time, so you could be applying for a European passport in less than five years from now.
  • Dual citizenship: Unlike some other European countries, including Spain, Portugal recognises dual citizenship, so you won’t have to give up your US citizenship if you apply for Portuguese citizenship.
  • Lower cost of living: From affordable healthcare to lower costs for housing, food, and daily essentials, Portugal offers a more budget-friendly lifestyle compared to the United States. That isn’t to say everything is cheaper, of course. Gas is more expensive, but overall, your cost of living should be much lower in Portugal.
  • English is widely spoken: While mastering European Portuguese is important, many Portuguese speak excellent English, a proficiency not as common in neighbouring Spain or France. Additionally, Spanish speakers will find many Portuguese are bilingual in Spanish, or at least a combination of the two people refer to as Portuñol.
  • Healthcare: Like most European countries, Portugal has a public and a private healthcare system. As a resident of Portugal, you would be able to use the public system for free (or very low cost). If you choose private healthcare, your costs or health insurance costs are likely to be a lot lower than in the US.
  • Safety and security: Consistently ranked as one of the safest countries in the world, Portugal provides a secure environment for individuals and families, with low crime rates and a general atmosphere of peace.
  • Laid-back lifestyle: The Portuguese way of life prioritises family, leisure, and a healthy work-life balance, offering a refreshing change of pace from the hectic American lifestyle.

Of course, there are a few downsides to consider too:

  • Customer Service: Portugal, like many European countries, has a different approach to customer service compared to the United States. While interactions may not always be as cheerful or prioritised, the real challenge arises when trying to resolve issues. For Americans moving to Portugal, it’s important to recognise that bureaucracy and lower quality customer service are just two inevitable aspects of living in Portugal.
  • Property Considerations: Although real estate in Portugal is generally more affordable than in the U.S., properties often require improvements to meet American preferences. In addition to cosmetic updates and installing amenities like fly screens, many may find it necessary to add insulation, heating solutions, or air conditioning.
  • Limited Job Market: Portugal has a limited job market, and salaries are often significantly lower than in the U.S., even when accounting for the lower cost of living. This makes it difficult to move here unless you already have a remote job or retirement income.

However, despite the downsides, pros like being able to apply for citizenship after five years, not having to give up your American passport, and ease of obtaining a residency visa mean that Portugal is still more favoured that other European countries for Americans looking to get out of the US.

And that’s before you consider other selling points like a tax-funded healthcare system, the warm weather, and the beautiful beaches.

From The Interview Archives

Marisa DeSalvio Lisbon

I knew I could have a higher quality of life here than I did in busy DC and that my travel business would benefit greatly from the close connections I would make with vendors and hoteliers not only here in Portugal but also throughout Europe…Life is good and I’m very happy with my decision to move here.” Maria DeSalvio

If the motivation to move is driven by the desire to leave the US behind, it is important to keep at the front of their mind that most of what they were used to in the US is NOT going to be found here or done here in the same fashion…What you give up, you gain in quality of life and relief of stress/conflict.” – Stephanie Durães

Stephanie Durães
Alkers family arriving in The Azores

“…if you are able to learn the language you will be able to make those connections and see the side of life in the Azores that is so sought after – the slowing down, taking time to talk with your neighbors, meeting friends at the café when you stop in for a coffee. Portuguese is definitely very challenging to learn, but most people are very appreciative if you just try. There are also classes you can take, usually sponsored by the local government.” Tricia Alker

Different Types of Residency Visas

US passport holders can spend up to 90 days in every 180 days as a tourist. This is ideal for spending an extended period of time here, and even allows for two visits of up to three months per year, but it doesn’t allow you to live here permanently.

If you want to move to Portugal, and get benefits like public healthcare and the opportunity to apply for Portuguese citizenship, you will need a residency visa.

Residency Visa Comparison

The following are the most common residency visas for Americans moving to Portugal.

Income TypeFinancial RequirementsPhysical Stay Requirements
The D7Passive Income (e.g. pension/social security/dividends)€820 per month or more6-8 months p/residence permit
The D8Salary from Remote Job/Freelancing Income€3,280 per month or more6-8 months p/residence permit
Golden VisaInvestment/DonationTypical investment is €500,000Av. 7 days p/year
The D2Business/Self-employment Income€820 per month or more6-8 months p/residence permit
These aren’t the only visas (a longer list can be found here) but they are some of the most popular, particularly for US citizens moving to Portugal.

Let’s take a look at these visas in more detail.

The D7

Best for retirees and landlords.

The D7 (sometimes called the retirement visa or passive income visa) requires applicants to have an income that’s equivalent to the Portuguese monthly minimum wage. As of 2024, that’s just €820 per month for a single applicant. For a spouse or partner, add an additional 50% and then an additional 30% for each child.

That income must come from passive income sources. Acceptable forms of income include:

  • A pension or social security.
  • Income from a rental property.
  • Income from dividends.
  • Income from royalties.

A salary or income from freelancing is not suitable for the D7. However, it is possible to apply for the D8 (or digital nomad visa) if you have a remote job or income from freelancing.

Key Considerations: The D7 is the most popular residency visa as it’s very attainable, only requiring an income of €820 per month for a single applicant. The biggest challenge in obtaining this visa will be in arranging an address in Portugal (e.g. a rental or buying a property) before you move there.

Main Requirements:

  • Passive Income (e.g. pension, rental income) equivalent to €820 per month.
  • 1 Year of savings (e.g. 12 * €820 for a single applicant).
  • Clean criminal record.
  • An address in Portugal (e.g. a rental lease, deeds to a property, or letter of invitation from someone resident there).

The D8

Best for remote workers and freelancers.

This D8 (or digital nomad visa) is aimed at remote workers and freelancers who can live here thanks to an income that comes from outside of Portugal. If you have a job with a US company that can be done remotely, for example, this could be the perfect visa for you.

To qualify for the D8, you will need to have an average monthly income that’s four times the monthly minimum wage. As of 2024, this equates to €3,280 per month. For a spouse or partner, add 50% and then an additional 30% for each child.

Main Requirements:

  • Show an income from outside Portugal that’s equivalent to four times the minimum wage or €3,280 as of 2024.
  • 1 Year of savings (e.g. 12 * €820 for a single applicant).
  • Clean criminal record.
  • Spend around six months per year physically in Portugal.

Key considerations: The D8 (or digital nomad visa) is a fantastic option for Americans that are still working and want to move to Portugal. One of the biggest downsides is the financial requirements, which are much higher than that of the D7.

Another issue to be aware of is that even if your job is considered remote, many companies are unwilling to employ people in other countries for legal and tax reasons.

The Golden Visa

Best for investors and those with savings that want to spend minimal time in Portugal.

The golden visa is unique in that it only requires you to spend an average of seven days per year in Portugal to maintain residency. Of course, you can spend more if you want to.

This makes the golden visa perfect for certain groups of people:

  • Those that want residency in Portugal, but aren’t ready to move just yet (e.g. those a few years from retirement).
  • Those that want a backup option in case things go really pear-shaped in the US.
  • Those that want more freedom to travel and spend time outside Portugal than other residency visas allow.

There are several investment routes, such as into a Portuguese company, but the most appealing option for most people is likely to be investing into a fund.

Main Requirements:

  • Invest €500,000 in a qualifying investment or donate €250,000 in a qualifying category.
  • Clean criminal record.
  • Spend an average of seven days per year in Portugal (you can spend more if you wish)

Key Considerations: The golden visa is a fantastic option for those that don’t qualify for another visa (like the D7 or D8) or that want to only spend minimal time in Portugal. It’s also ideal for those that aren’t ready to move to Portugal just yet, but want to obtain residency here now.

The biggest downside of the golden visa is the cost, both the investment cost (typically €500,000) and the legal fees that go with this visa (often around €10,000).

The D2

The D2 or “entrepreneur visa” is aimed at those that want to start a business in Portugal. If you have a business that you believe could succeed in Portugal, and have the means of supporting yourself, you can submit a business plan and apply for residency.

  • Show a business plan capable of at least supporting you and any dependents in Portugal.
  • Sufficient startup capital.
  • 1 Year of savings (e.g. 12 * €820 for a single applicant).
  • Clean criminal record.
  • Spend around six months per year physically in Portugal.

Key Considerations: Many lawyers discourage people from applying for this visa is you qualify for another, such as the D7. This is because the requirements for this visa are more subjective as your business plan has to be approved by the person reviewing the application.

Cost of Living

The cost of living can significantly influence one’s decision to relocate. When comparing the US and Portugal, there are stark contrasts that potential expats should consider. Here’s a breakdown of the primary expenses in both countries:

Housing:

  • US: Housing costs vary widely, with cities like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles being among the most expensive. Median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in these cities can easily exceed $2,500 per month.
  • Portugal: Renting is generally more affordable. In Lisbon, the capital and most expensive city, a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre averages around €1,000 per month. In smaller towns, this can drop significantly.

Groceries:

  • US: The average monthly grocery bill for a single person is around $400, depending on dietary habits and location.
  • Portugal: Groceries tend to be cheaper, with fresh produce and local products being particularly cost-effective. A single person might spend around €200-€250 per month.

Dining Out:

  • US: A meal at a mid-range restaurant can cost between $20-$50 per person, depending on the city.
  • Portugal: Dining out is more affordable. A three-course meal at a decent restaurant might set you back €20-€30. In smaller towns, it’s still possible to find affordable lunch menus for around €10 per person, often including wine and coffee.

Transportation:

  • US: Monthly public transportation passes in major cities average $70-$120. Gasoline prices fluctuate but can be around $3 per gallon.
  • Portugal: Public transport is cheaper, with monthly passes averaging €40 in cities like Lisbon. Gasoline tends to be pricier than in the US.

Healthcare:

  • US: Healthcare can be expensive, with insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs varying widely. An average health insurance premium might be $400-$600 per month for a single person.
  • Portugal: Both public and private healthcare systems are available. While the public system is funded through taxes, private health insurance is much cheaper than in the US, with premiums often below €100 per month.

Utilities:

  • US: Monthly utilities (electricity, heating, cooling, water, garbage) for an 85m^2 apartment average $150-$200.
  • Portugal: Utilities for a similar-sized apartment are roughly €100-€150, though this can vary based on usage and location.

Taxes

Taxes are a complex issue and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to any question. For this reason, you should always speak to a financial professional to understand how Portuguese taxes will affect you.

That said, there are a few general things to be aware of.

  • Tax residency: Individuals who spend more than 183 days in Portugal in a year or have a habitual residence there are considered tax residents and are taxed on their worldwide income. Most visa holders, with the exception of golden visa holders, will need to spend around six months of the year in Portugal in order to meet the visa requirements.
  • Tax treaties: Portugal has treaties with numerous countries, including the US, to prevent double taxation. These agreements ensure that individuals and businesses don’t pay taxes on the same income in both countries.
  • Tax Benefits: Portugal offers a number of tax programs aimed at attracting newcomers to Portugal as well as to entice those who have already left.
  • Other taxes: Income tax is just one consideration. Did you know that Portugal has no wealth tax, unlike Spain? There also aren’t state taxes. Property taxes are also typically a fraction of what they are in the US, with most people paying just a few hundred euros per year.

Applying for Citizenship

One of the big draws for Americans moving to Portugal is the opportunity to obtain an EU passport. Through naturalisation, or living in Portugal, residents are able to apply for citizenship after five years of legally living in Portugal.

  • As of 2024, the clock starts ticking when you apply for residency. So, if you apply for a residency visa (like the D7) in January and don’t get your resident permit until December, the time will count from January.
  • Portugal recognises dual citizenship, so there’s no need to give up your American passport.
  • Unlike the US, Portugal does not tax based on citizenship, but tax residency. However, if you obtain citizenship and continue living in Portugal, it’s likely you will pay taxes in Portugal (although the tax treaties between the two countries ensure you’re not taxed twice).

Where Should Americans Consider Moving To?

There are Americans dotted all over Portugal, and you can move anywhere you like, but there are a few places that have quickly become hotspots from American expats.

Lisbon

rooftops of Lisbon

Portugal’s capital city is especially popular with digital nomads and younger expats due to the increasing cost of rent, but although rents have increased, it’s a small price to pay to get access to a capital city with great weather and a laid-back feel.

Pros:

  • Beautiful capital city with cobbled streets and idyllic trams.
  • One of the warmer European cities, particularly during the winter.
  • Large digital nomad and growing tech scene.

Cons:

  • High cost of rent and property prices.
  • Over-tourism.

Did you know? Madonna owns a property in the nearby town of Sintra?

Cascais

View of Cascais, and the beach, from above

Situated just outside of Lisbon, the seaside town of Cascais has a much more laid-back vibe than Central Lisbon, making it particularly popular with retirees that want access to the city but don’t want to live downtown.

Pros:

  • Easy access to the beach, both in Cascais and nearby beaches like Estoril and Carcavelos.
  • Lisbon is just a short trainride away.

Cons:

  • Property prices are expensive, both to rent and buy.

The Algarve

Beach in the Algarve

The southern coastal region of the Algarve has some of the best beaches in Portugal and the best weather. It has long been a popular destination for expats from Germany and the UK, and now many Americans are following suit. Many newspapers have referred to the Algarve as the California of Europe.

Madeira

madeira hills

The island of Madeira is closer to Africa than it is to Portugal and this means that it has a completely different climate – one that’s mild and consistent for the majority of the year. Traditionally popular with retirees, in recent years Madeira has also become a hotspot for digital nomads and remote workers.

Pros:

  • Beautiful scenery.
  • Year-round mild temperatures that rarely get too hot or too cold.
  • Some tax benefits that don’t apply on mainland Portugal.

Cons:

  • After a while Madeira can feel too small.
  • Ordering items can be difficult as some stores won’t ship to Madeira.

Silver Coast

square in Caldas da Rainha

The coastal area between Lisbon and Porto (particularly around Coimbra and Caldas da Rainha) has rapidly grown in popularity as an affordable alternative to the Algarve. It doesn’t have quite as mild winters but what it lacks in winter warmth, it makes up in access to cities like Lisbon, Coimbra, and Porto and a more authentic Portuguese feel.

Pros:

  • Beautiful beaches.
  • More affordable properties, both for rent and purchase.
  • Good weather for the majority of the year, although winter isn’t as warm as it is on the Algarve.

Cons:

  • Winters aren’t as warm as the Algarve or other parts of southern Portugal.
  • Lacks a major airport, so you’ll need to travel to either Lisbon or Porto.

Porto

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

Portugal’s second city has long been overshadowed by Lisbon, but more and more expats are starting to consider Porto. It offers all of the benefits of a small city, but it’s slightly less touristy and has a lower cost of living than Lisbon.

Pros:

  • All the benefits of a small-medium city with a lower cost of living than Lisbon.
  • Easy access to nearby cities like Braga and Guimarães.
  • Proximity to Northern Spain.

Cons:

  • While not as expensive as Lisbon, the cost of renting or buying property in Porto is more expensive than the rest of Portugal.
  • Winters can be grey, wet, and damp, although not without a few sunny days here and there.
  • The city can be touristy, particularly during the summer months.

Healthcare

Whether you’re a resident, an expat, or a visitor, understanding the healthcare landscape in Portugal is essential. Here’s a comprehensive look:

Public Healthcare System (SNS – Serviço Nacional de Saúde):

  • Accessibility: The SNS provides healthcare services to all Portuguese residents. It’s funded through taxation and ensures that everyone has access to essential medical services.
  • Hospitals & Clinics: Public hospitals and health centers are spread across the country. While care quality is generally high, wait times for non-urgent procedures can be longer than in private facilities.
  • Costs: Many services under the SNS are free or available for a nominal user fee. However, certain specialized treatments or medications might have associated costs.

Private Healthcare:

  • Facilities: Private hospitals and clinics often boast state-of-the-art equipment and shorter wait times. They are especially prevalent in urban areas.
  • Insurance: While private healthcare is more expensive than public services, many residents and expats opt for private health insurance to cover potential costs. Several insurance providers offer varied plans tailored to individual needs.

Dental Care:

While basic dental care is available under the SNS, many opt for private dental clinics for specialized treatments or cosmetic procedures. Dental insurance is also available through various providers.

Property: Renting Vs Buying

Whether you’re considering renting a quaint apartment in Lisbon or buying a villa along the Algarve coast, understanding the property market is crucial. Here’s what you need to know:

Renting in Portugal:

  • Costs: Rental prices vary based on location, size, and amenities. Urban areas like Lisbon and Porto tend to be pricier than rural regions. Always factor in additional costs like utilities, service charges, and possibly a real estate agent’s fee.
  • Lease Agreements: Standard lease agreements are for one year or longer but can be renewed. Ensure you read and understand all terms, especially regarding the notice period and any annual rent increases.
  • Finding a Rental: While online portals (such as Idealista or Olx.pt) are a great starting point along with expat-focused Facebook groups, local newspapers and real estate agents can offer listings not found elsewhere.

Buying Property in Portugal:

  • Property Types: From modern city apartments to traditional countryside homes and luxurious coastal villas, there’s a wide range of options to suit various preferences and budgets.
  • Costs: Apart from the property price, buyers should account for taxes (like the Property Transfer Tax), notary fees, registration fees, and possibly a real estate agent’s commission.
  • Legal Procedures: It’s advisable to hire a local lawyer when buying property. They’ll ensure the property is free of debts, handle contracts, and guide you through the legal intricacies.
  • Financing: If you’re considering a mortgage, Portuguese banks offer loans to foreigners, though the terms and interest rates might differ from those for residents.

Education in Portugal

With a system that emphasises inclusivity and quality, Portugal offers a range of educational opportunities for both locals and expats. Here’s a deep dive into the Portuguese education landscape:

Structure of the Education System:

  • Pre-primary Education (Educação Pré-Escolar): For children aged 3 to 6. While not mandatory, it’s widely available and often free in public institutions.
  • Basic Education (Ensino Básico): Mandatory and lasts for nine years, divided into three cycles, covering ages 6 to 15.
  • Secondary Education (Ensino Secundário): For students aged 15 to 18, this three-year phase prepares students for higher education or offers vocational training.
  • Higher Education: Comprises universities and polytechnics, offering undergraduate, postgraduate, and doctoral programs.

Quality and Standards:

Portugal has made significant strides in improving its education system. The country participates in international assessments like PISA and has shown consistent progress over the years.

International Schools:

For expats or those seeking an international curriculum, Portugal boasts a range of international schools, primarily in major cities. These schools often offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program or curricula from countries like the UK or the US.

Language of Instruction:

While Portuguese is the primary language of instruction, many higher education institutions offer courses in English, especially at the postgraduate level.

Tuition and Costs:

Public education is free up to the secondary level, though there might be some associated costs for materials. Higher education institutions charge tuition, but these fees are generally lower than in many other Western countries. Scholarships and financial aid are available for eligible students.

Vocational Training:

For those not pursuing traditional academic paths, Portugal offers robust vocational training programs, equipping students with skills for various industries.

Special Needs Education:

Portugal emphasises inclusive education. Schools are equipped to accommodate students with special needs, ensuring they receive quality education tailored to their requirements.

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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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There are 4 comments on this article. Join the conversation and add your own thoughts, reviews, and stories of life in Portugal. However, please remember to be civil.

Comments

  1. For me the main reason to leave the US is quality of life. The US is a dangerous, divisive place. I never really thought I would leave or if I did I thought I would leave out of choice. I’m leaving because it is now such a toxic place to live and I no longer feel safe or comfortable there. We have shootings every other day. We have road rage. People are horrible to each other. Yes people are polite in the beginning but nobody looks out for themselves. I know Portugal has its problems and life isn’t perfect there but I am looking forward to living with real people and not being scared when I go to the supermarket.

    Reply
  2. We really miss certain things like good Mexican food however it’s a fair trade off for what we get in return. We don’t fear elections here. People are much more reasonable about politics. There are some guns in Portugal but nothing like the US and nobody shoots up a school. It can be difficult to integrate here and it does feel like some Portuguese take advantage of foreigners but it’s definitely not the same cut-throat society where people don’t care about each other like in the US. Oh and give me Portuguese driving any day. Yes it can be dangerous but people there is a lot less road rage here.

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  3. Portugal is a better place to live if you don’t have much money whereas America is a better place to live if you have money. In America you get a much better selection and qualify of life. In Portugal you can spend half your life in queues or fighting bureaucracy. But you don’t have gun problems in Portugal (generally) and healthcare is free so Portugal is better for a lot of people.

    Reply
  4. Another downside is the friendliness of people. Portugese people are very nice but they won’t warm up until they get to know you. This means interactions in stores and restaurants can be less friendly than what you might be used to.

    Reply

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