Moving to Portugal from the USA

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Published: February 2021 & Last Updated: November 2022

Over the past few years, more and more Americans are talking about moving to Portugal, which raises the question? Can Americans move to Portugal?

Yes, Americans can move to Portugal. Americans can spend up to 90 days in every 180 days as a tourist. However, if you want to stay longer and actually move to Portugal, you’ll need to obtain residency. If you hold an “EU passport” as well as your American citizenship, you can easily move as an EU citizen. If you don’t, you’ll normally need to apply for a residency visa such as a visa aimed at students or retirees. The good news is that Portugal’s residency visas are very attainable for Americans.

Why should Americans Move to Portugal?

Why are so many Americans moving to Portugal? Yes, there’s the great weather, beautiful beaches, great food and wine, and centuries of history and culture, but the following are a few reasons that Americans in particular should consider moving to Portugal:

  • Safety – Portugal is considered extremely safe, particularly when compared to the US. That’s not to say there isn’t any crime, but it’s definitely a world apart from the safety issues in the US. It’s also considerably safer than other popular retirement destinations, particularly in Asia or Latin America.
  • Cost of Living – While the cost of living has increased in Portugal and some things are more expensive than the US, the cost of many things like property, groceries, and health insurance is considerably cheaper than the US. Overall, the cost of living can work out considerably cheaper, particularly if you’re moving from an expensive area like California or New York.
  • Quality food – Yes, there are some things you can’t get easily (like good Mexican food) but Portuguese food is good and, more importantly, ingredients are not only affordable but extremely good quality. Due to EU rules, there are also less health concerns about what’s in a product or what it’s grown with.
  • Political stability – Compared to the US, Portuguese politics are very tame and the swings from left to right are nowhere as big as in the US.
  • Healthcare – Portugal has both a public and a private healthcare system. As a resident of Portugal, you’ll not only have access to Portugal tax-funded public healthcare system, but you’ll also be able to use the private healthcare system (typically through health insurance) which is considerably cheaper than private healthcare in the US.
  • Family-friendly culture – In Portugal, there’s a large focus on family and both children and the elderly are looked after considerably better than they are the US.
  • Taxes – Taxes is an entire topic on its own, but two things that make Portugal appealing are its NHR tax regime, which offers newcomers preferential rates on their taxes, and Portugal’s dual tax treaties with the US.
  • Proximity to the US – While many European countries have similar selling points, Portugal’s location on the west of Europe makes it particularly appealing. Lisbon is roughly 8.5 hours from New York, while São Miguel, one of the Portuguese islands in the middle of The Atlantic, is around 6 hours. 
  • English is widely spoken – Although you will need to learn some Portuguese to get by, English is widely spoken and often to an almost native level. This isn’t the case in neighbouring Spain or France. If you’re a native Spanish speaker, you’ll be pleased to know that many Portuguese understand and speak Spanish to a high level as well.
  • Citizenship application possible after just 5 years – After just 5 years of legally residing in Portugal, you’ll be able to submit a citizenship application. A Portuguese passport is an “EU passport,” so having this will allow you to move anywhere in the EU.
  • Ease of obtaining residency – Portugal’s visas are very attainable for Americans, due in part to the low minimum income typically required. The same cannot be said for other European countries.

Residency Visa Options

Depending on the individual, there are a few different residency visa options:

  • For someone looking for a backup plan – If you’re mainly looking for a backup plan in case things get worse in the US, the golden visa allows you to obtain residency in Portugal but only requires you to spend an average of 7 days per year in Portugal. Read more about Portugal as a backup plan
  • For a retiree or “passive income” holder – If you have a regular income, ideally passive, such as a pension, income from a rental property, or dividends, you could qualify for Portugal’s D7 visa.
  • For someone with cash savings – If you don’t have a regular income but have cash savings of €250,000 or more, the golden visa might be the best option for you. Although the fees are higher than the D7, the golden visa has the added benefit of only requiring you to spend an average of 7 days per year in Portugal.
  • For the remote worker, freelancer, or digital nomad – If you have a regular income from a job or freelance work, you might be able to move to Portugal under Portugal’s digital nomad visa.
  • For the person that wants to start a business – If you’re looking to start a business, small or large, Portugal’s D2 or entrepreneur visa could allow you to start a new life in Portugal.

Alternatively, if you already have a passport from an EU country (such as Ireland or Italy) or your partner does, you could move to Portugal without the residency visa requirement.

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 – 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
  • Cascais – 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.
  • 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.
  • Madeira – 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.
  • Silver Coast – 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.
  • Porto – 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.

What about the Cons?

Although a lot of websites focus on the pros of living in Portugal, it would be dishonest to suggest there weren’t any cons. Moving to Portugal will mean that you gain a lot of benefits, from safety to affordable healthcare, but there are definitely some areas in which Portugal doesn’t stack up to the US:

  • Customer Service: As with most of Europe, there is much less of a focus on customer service in Portugal. While most people don’t need chirpy servers or cashiers, the lack of customer service can become an issue whenever you are trying to get a problem resolved.
  • Speed of life: Although you might be moving to Portugal for a slower pace of life, the speed at which things move in Portugal can be frustrating when you’re dealing with government bureaucracy and many small businesses, particularly tradespeople. This isn’t as big a problem if you have a lot of free time (e.g. if you’re retired) but it can eat into your leisure time if you’re still working. Thankfully, there are a lot of lawyers and other professionals that you can pay to handle these issues.
  • Cost of certain items: Some things (like groceries and cell phone plans) are cheaper in Portugal, but other items (like cars, electronics, and toiletries) are more expensive. It’s a small price to pay, but it can be cheaper knowing that you can get the same item cheaper in your home country.
  • Housing issues: While Portuguese properties can be more affordable than those in the US, they often require work in order to get them up to American standards. As well as updating the decor and adding fly screens, many Americans will want to improve the insulation, add a heating solution, and install air con.

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Comments

  1. 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. 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.

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