Moving to Portugal from the UK

The small print: Portugalist may generate a commission from mentioned products or services. This is at no additional cost to you and it does not affect our editorial standards in any way. All content, including comments, should be treated as informational and not advice of any kind, including legal or financial advice. The author makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors or omissions or damages arising from its display or use. Links to external websites do not constitute an endorsement. [Disclaimer Policy]

Written by: | Last updated on February 29, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 16 minutes
This article is available in: en_US

Brexit, the UK’s departure from the European Union, has made it more complicated for Britons to move to EU countries. Yet, Portugal stands out as a favorable destination.

An increasing number of Brits are choosing Portugal, attracted not only by its pleasant climate, stunning beaches, and affordable living costs, but also due to its accessible residency visa programs. Portugal’s visa options cater to a variety of people, including digital nomads, remote workers, and retirees.

Despite changes in political landscapes, the relationship between Portugal and the UK remains strong. This is evident from the significant British community in Portugal, providing newcomers from the UK with a blend of new cultural experiences and familiar connections.

Reasons to move here

  • Better Weather: The UK’s unpredictable weather is no match for Portugal’s sunnier climes. Even in Northern Portugal, which experiences more rainfall than parts of England, the weather is generally more pleasant. For those seeking consistently mild conditions, regions like Madeira are ideal while the Algarve is perfect for those that want warm weather during the winter months.
  • Cost of Living: While the cost of living in Portugal has seen an increase, it remains competitive. Many everyday expenses are cheaper than in the UK. However, it’s essential to note that certain items, such as cars, electricity, and petrol, can be pricier in Portugal.
  • Political Stability: In contrast to the polarised political climate of post-Brexit Britain, Portugal offers a more stable environment. While the country faces its own challenges, the political discourse is less divisive.
  • Pathway to Portuguese Citizenship: For those missing the privileges of an EU passport, Portugal provides a solution. After residing in the country for five years, UK nationals can apply for Portuguese citizenship. The best part? Portugal recognises dual citizenship, allowing individuals to hold both British and Portuguese passports.
  • Family-Centric Culture: Portugal places a high value on family, with both the elderly and children treated with immense respect. This family-friendly environment is a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of many UK cities.
  • Safety: Portugal boasts a lower crime rate compared to many parts of the UK, offering residents a greater sense of security and peace of mind.
  • Food Quality: The culinary delights of Portugal are not just about taste but also quality. Fresh ingredients, especially fruits and vegetables, are of superior quality, enhancing every meal.
  • Strong Connections to the UK: Despite the geographical distance, travelling between Portugal and the UK is hassle-free. A variety of flight options and the possibility of driving and taking a ferry to and from Spain ensure that the UK is always within easy reach.
  • Quality of Life: For those looking to escape the fast-paced life of the UK, particularly Southern England, Portugal is a sanctuary. The country’s relaxed pace, combined with its natural beauty and cultural richness, ensures a life of contentment and well-being.
  • Large Expat Community: There are a lot of British people living in Portugal, particularly in places like the Algarve, Lisbon, and Madeira, and having that community there can make it easier to settle and get relevant information.

However, there are, unsurprisingly, a few downsides as well.

The biggest one is bureaucracy. Although the UK doesn’t always run perfectly, bureaucracy is much less of an issue than it is in Portugal. Another issue is the quality of housing, which tends to lack insulation and heating, particularly in the cheaper, older properties. This means that properties can be quite cold during the winter months, unless you take steps to insulate and add a heating solution, such as a heat pump.

The cost of living isn’t always cheaper too. While those moving from London will undoubtedly see everything as cheaper, those moving from more affordable parts of the UK, such as the North or Wales, may notice that property prices, groceries, and other costs are often more affordable in the UK.

Overall, however, most people moving from the UK find that the pros of living in Portugal outweigh the cons.

Obtaining Residency

Post Brexit, Brits that don’t have an EU/EEA/Swiss passport (e.g. an Irish or French passport) now need to obtain a residency visa in order to move to Portugal. Don’t worry, though. Portugal has some of the most attainable visas in the EU. Some of the standout options include:

  • Golden Visa: This visa allows you to obtain residency in return for investing in Portugal, and only requires you to spend an average of 7 days in Portugal. As of 2023, the most appealing option for most people is likely to be investing in a fund, such as a venture capital fund. The typical minimum price is €500,000.
  • D7: The D7 is aimed at those with a passive income, such as a pension or income from a rental property. As it’s based on the Portuguese minimum wage, you only need to show an average monthly income that’s great than €820 per month, as of 2024.
  • Digital Nomad Visa: The D8 is aimed at those that work remotely or freelance and can support themselves in Portugal. Applicants need to show an income above €3,280 per month, as of 2024.
  • D2: The D2 is aimed at those that want to start a business in Portugal. It can be in any industry, from a guesthouse to a marketing agency.

Besides these, there are a few other visas to consider.

Immigration lawyers work with consulates around the world on a daily basis, so they know exactly what they’re looking for. These requirements can be specific to that particular consulate and might not be listed anywhere else. For these reasons, it’s recommended that you work with a lawyer, however it’s not a legal requirement that you do so.

Where to Live

While the whole of Portugal is your oyster, you may have specific requirements for your future town or city.

  • Firstly, the weather. If your main priority is blue skies and sunshine, you’ll probably need to focus on Lisbon and anywhere south of Lisbon (especially the Algarve). While the north of Portugal does have wonderful, warm summers, winters are cold and damp – not completely unlike those in the UK.
  • Secondly, it’s important to decide whether your want to live in an area that has a lot of expats. Some people do and some people don’t but, if it’s what you’re looking for, it’s important to realise that expats tend to be focused in certain parts of the country with the Algarve and Lisbon being the two most popular places.

Of all the places you could move to in Portugal, there are a few that are particularly popular:

The Algarve

  • Overview: This southernmost region of Portugal is a magnet for Brits, and it’s easy to see why. With its golden beaches and consistently warm weather, especially during the winter months, the Algarve offers a sun-soaked escape from the UK’s chillier seasons. English is widely spoken, although it’s recommended that you learn some Portuguese.
  • Who It’s For: Ideal for those who prioritise sunshine and coastal living over living in large cities. The Algarve attracts people of all ages, but is especially popular with retirees and to a lesser extent families and digital nomads.

Lisbon

  • Overview: As the vibrant capital of Portugal, Lisbon seamlessly blends historical charm with modern amenities. Its urban landscape is dotted with cultural landmarks, trendy cafes, and bustling markets.
  • Who It’s For: Particularly popular among digital nomads and younger professionals seeking the dynamism of city life.

Cascais and Surrounding Areas

  • Overview: Located a stone’s throw from Lisbon, Cascais is a coastal gem that offers a serene lifestyle. Nearby areas like Estoril and Carcavelos also beckon with their coastal allure.
  • Who It’s For: Cascais is a favourite among affluent families and retirees who desire coastal living without being too far from the capital’s amenities.

Central Portugal

  • Overview: Central Portugal is gaining traction among Brits for its affordability. The Silver Coast provides a cost-effective alternative to the Algarve’s beachfront properties. For those willing to undertake a project, the interior regions offer incredibly cheap properties, many of which are ruins ripe for restoration.
  • Who It’s For: Perfect for those seeking a more budget-friendly lifestyle or a renovation challenge.

Madeira

  • Overview: This archipelago, located off the northwest coast of Africa, is a nature lover’s paradise. Madeira is renowned for its year-round mild climate, stunning walking trails, and diverse fauna.
  • Who It’s For: Ideal for those who appreciate nature and are looking for a tranquil environment with consistent weather.

Renting & Buying Property

For Brits considering a move to Portugal, understanding the property landscape is crucial. Whether you’re looking to rent a quaint apartment or invest in a sprawling villa, Portugal offers a range of options to suit varied preferences and budgets.

  1. Ownership Rights for Brits:
    • Overview: Regardless of Brexit, Brits retain the right to purchase property in Portugal. This applies whether you’re planning to reside in the country permanently or are simply looking for a holiday home. However, you’re more likely to be able to borrow more money if you’re resident in Portugal rather than in the UK.
    • Implication: This flexibility ensures that British nationals can invest in Portuguese real estate without residency constraints.
  2. Property Ownership and Visas:
    • Overview: For those seeking residency through visas like the D7, owning or renting a property in Portugal is often a prerequisite. Because of this most people end up renting for a year or two and then buying once they’re settled.
    • Implication: Having a fixed address in Portugal can be a key component of the visa application process.
  3. Rent Before You Buy:
    • Overview: A common approach among newcomers is to rent a property initially. This allows them to familiarize themselves with different regions and neighborhoods before making a long-term investment.
    • Implication: Renting provides the flexibility to explore and decide on the perfect location to settle down.
  4. Property Price Dynamics:
    • Overview: Property prices in Portugal can vary significantly based on location. While urban areas and popular coastal regions like the Algarve might command higher prices, rural parts of the country, such as the Alentejo, Northern Portugal, or Central Portugal offer more affordable options.
    • Implication: Depending on your budget and lifestyle preferences, you can find properties that offer great value for money. However, these often require a lot of work.
  5. Mortgage Accessibility:
    • Overview: Both residents and non-residents are eligible to apply for mortgages in Portugal. This ensures that even if you’re not yet a permanent resident, you can still secure financing for your property purchase.
    • Implication: This inclusivity in the mortgage market simplifies the property buying process for Brits, making it more accessible and straightforward.

Money & Finances

Taxes

Taxes are a big consideration when moving abroad, and Brits should be aware that, generally speaking, moving to Portugal means becoming tax resident here. The exception to this is the golden visa, as it only requires you to spend an average of 7 days per year here.

There are a number of implications to being tax resident in Portugal. The main one is that, if you have an income, you may require an accountant to file your returns for you. Depending on your income, tax rates may be higher or lower. The tax-free savings allowance in Portugal is lower than in the UK. However, special tax regimes, can offer lower rates of tax than the UK.

It’s also worth noting that the UK and Portugal have tax treaties, which allow you to avoid being taxed twice on your income.

Transferring money

At some point, you’ll probably need to transfer a large portion of your pounds into euros

Generally speaking, high street banks charge high fees and offer poor rates when it comes to international transfers. You can get around most of these fees by using a specialist online transfer service. 

Wise (previously Transferwise) is probably the favourite amongst expats, and for good reason, but, if you’re sending a large amount of money, it makes sense to use a comparison service like Monito to see who’s offering the best rate. For larger amounts, it’s worth comparing quotes from several online companies (such as Wise and Atlantic Money) as well as currency brokers.

You’ll probably need to get a Portuguese bank account at some point, particularly to pay bills, but you may also decide to keep a UK bank account open – especially as most current accounts in the UK are free. 

It may also be worth opening a few travel-friendly accounts like the Halifax Clarity Credit Card, as there are no charges for overseas card payments, or Metrobank’s current account, which gives free cash withdrawals in Europe. App-based bank accounts, like Revolut, Starling, or Monzo, also make it easy (and affordable) to transfer between pounds and euros.

ISAs and Investments

The UK has several tax and saving schemes, and you may hold several of these – particularly an ISA. 

If you have an ISA, it’s worth noting that you can’t continue to contribute to it once you’re no longer resident in the UK. You can keep your ISA there, and you can switch providers, but you can’t add any more money to it. 

If you return to the UK, you can pick up where you left off, but, if you decide to withdraw money while you’re living in Portugal, you may be taxed on those earnings. 

You’ll need to decide whether you want to keep it in the UK but stop contributing to it, or withdraw from it before leaving the UK. 

If you hold premium bonds, you should also decide whether to continue holding them. While these are tax-free in the UK, they may not be in Portugal.

Keeping an address in the UK

Many people who move to Portugal from the UK keep an address in the UK, at least in the beginning. 

This is useful (although not always essential) if you’re keeping a bank account open in the UK, but may be helpful for lots of other things as well. 

The easiest thing that you can do is ask a friend or family member if you can use their address but, if that’s not an option, there are services like EXPOST that allow you to keep an address in the UK (Use the code SAVER to get 1 month free when you sign up for a year). 

 If you still have a property in the UK, another option would be to use the Post Office’s mail redirection service and get your post forwarded to your new address in Portugal. You can even do this after you’ve moved. 

Bringing a Car to Portugal

Cars, both new and second-hand, are expensive in Portugal – much more than the UK. Because of this, lots of people drive to Portugal and bring their cars over to Portugal with them. You can even buy LHD cars in the UK, and there are a few companies that specialise in them as well as others that specialist in expat car insurance.

While bringing a car over is a solution in the short-term, it does create a few problems later on. 

  • Firstly, if you’re registered as living in Portugal, you’ll need to import your car into Portugal. This often seems to be a very complicated process, not least because you’ve got to move the steering wheel over to the other side. 
  • If you’re no longer living in the UK, you’ll also have to insure it. Finding a Portuguese insurer who will insure it pre-importation is difficult, but thankfully there are a few companies like Abbeygate that specialise in this confusing grey area. 
  • Even if you continue to be technically living in the UK, on paper anyway, you will still have insurance and MOT issues to think about down the line. 

Generally speaking, most people find the easiest option is to simply purchase a second-hand car in Portugal. Because prices are higher, you won’t get the same quality of car that you would in the UK but it’s much easier than dealing with importing a car or trying to drive a RHD through the narrow Portuguese towns.

Transporting Your Stuff

From furniture to appliances, you may have lots of things that you want to move to Portugal – things that are much too big to fit in your Ryanair carry-on or in the boot of your car. 

If that’s the case, you’ll probably need to use a removals company to transport your stuff to Portugal or bring it all over in a van.

There are lots of specialist removals companies. Some actually specialise in moves to Portugal, while others cover the whole of Europe or even the whole of the world. Many cater to Brits moving to and from Portugal, including:

Bringing Pets

If you already have pets, you’ll probably want to bring them with you to your new home in Portugal.

There are a few things to consider here, but the biggest is moving them to Portugal. First of all, they’ll need to meet the conditions of the PETS travel scheme which may have slightly different requirements depending on Brexit.

Secondly, transporting your pets from the UK to Portugal is a challenge in itself. You can either:

  • Drive to Portugal with the pets in the car.
  • Bring the pets on the plane with you (only an option with certain airlines and certain airports).
  • Use a specialist pet transportation company to bring them here.

Healthcare

Like the UK, Portugal has both a public and a private healthcare system.

The public healthcare system, SNS, is similar to the NHS, although not exactly identical. You do have to pay small amounts when you visit A&E or the doctor, and you often have to pay for prescriptions as well. The amounts are very reasonable, though, and the quality is comparable to the UK. The experience of visiting a doctor is also different.

Although residents of Portugal are entitled to use Portugal’s public health system, some expats also take out private health insurance as well. While insurance holders may still end up using the public hospitals for major operations, it does help with waiting times. Many of the smaller procedures are done in a private hospital.

Education

If you’re moving to Portugal with kids, or with the intention of having kids, education is another thing that you’ll need to think about.

As residents of Portugal, your children would be entitled to attend school in Portugal and, later on, attend university here at the same cost as someone born in Portugal.

Many expats prefer to put their children into international schools, particularly ones that follow the curriculum in England and Wales. There are private schools dotted around Portugal, but the majority are located near big cities like Lisbon and Porto or in areas with large numbers of expats like the Algarve.

If you’re planning for your children to attend a private school, you’ll probably need to pay attention to the nearby schools before making a decision on where you’re going to live.

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.