8 Things You Should Know About Living in Central Portugal

Central Portugal, with its lush landscapes and welcoming communities, offers a unique lifestyle that has drawn many prospective expats searching for a change. The region is one of the largest and most varied in Portugal, encompassing coastal towns like Figueira da Foz and Nazaré, small cities like Aveiro and Coimbra, and even smaller towns and cities in and around Guarda and Castelo Branco, close to the Spanish-Portuguese border. 

Many of these future expats are drawn to Central Portugal’s potential for a self-sufficient lifestyle, closely connected to the land and the affordability of land and property, especially close to the Spanish border. From planting fruit trees to dreaming of running a smallholding, many dream of being able to live sustainably. 

Many expats choose Central Portugal for its promise of a lifestyle more aligned with their values. Whether driven by a desire to escape urban stress, political dissatisfaction, or environmental concerns, the region offers a fresh start. It’s a place where one can live more slowly, in harmony with nature, and surrounded by a supportive community.

Newcomers often find a sense of belonging and acceptance among both locals and the expat community. This area is also regarded as incredibly safe, contributing to the overall quality of life and making it an ideal place for families and individuals alike.

Central Portugal is a Big Region

Central Portugal is a big and incredibly diverse region that stretches from the Portuguese coast on one side to the Spanish-Portuguese border on the other. Living in a small town on the Spanish-Portuguese border offers an incredibly different way of life to living on the Portuguese coast, and it’s important to be aware of these differences. 

For those drawn to the coast, the Silver Coast (Costa de Prata) is a popular choice among expats. Stretching from just above Lisbon to just below Porto, this area is known for its stunning beaches, charming seaside towns, and excellent surfing conditions.

Cities like Caldas da Rainha, Figueira da Foz, and Nazaré offer a mix of modern amenities and traditional Portuguese charm, with a lively expat community and plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities and cultural events.

Inland, the provinces of Beiras and Estremadura offer a more rural and traditional way of life. Here, you’ll find picturesque villages, historic castles, and rolling hills covered in vineyards and olive groves. Cities like Coimbra, Tomar, and Castelo Branco serve as regional hubs, offering a mix of medieval architecture, vibrant universities, and modern shopping and dining options. Expats in these areas often appreciate the slower pace of life, the strong sense of community, and the opportunity to immerse themselves in authentic Portuguese culture.

For those seeking a more remote and tranquil experience, the regions bordering Spain, such as Beira Alta and Beira Baixa, offer a unique blend of Portuguese and Spanish influences. Towns like Guarda, Castelo Branco, and Idanha-a-Nova provide a glimpse into the region’s rich history, with ancient fortifications, Roman ruins, and Baroque architecture.

The proximity to Spain also allows for easy access to Spanish cities and attractions, adding an extra dimension to the expat experience. However, it’s important to note that living in these border regions may require a greater level of self-sufficiency and adaptability, as local services and amenities may be more limited compared to the larger coastal cities.

The Weather is a Mixed Bag

The climate in Central Portugal can be a mixed bag. Winters often bring prolonged rain, impacting outdoor activities and, for some, affecting mental well-being. However, the arrival of spring heralds a significant shift, breathing new life into the countryside and its inhabitants. The sun reemerges, encouraging everyone to venture outside and engage with the natural beauty of the region. 

However, summers can be incredibly hot, especially as you go closer to the Spanish-Portuguese border. Temperatures of 40°C (around 104°F) are not unheard of and wildfires can be a problem in the summer too. 

The Region is Very Affordable

Central Portugal, especially away from the coast, is a very affordable place to live. This area offers the chance to buy much bigger houses for your money compared to popular spots like the Algarve, or big cities like Lisbon and Porto. It’s especially attractive because there are many old houses or ruins that need fixing up, and you can find a lot of these for less than €50,000. 

However, properties, especially rural ones, may require significant maintenance or renovation. Be prepared for the challenges of restoring older homes or managing land, from dealing with overgrown plots to updating plumbing and electrical systems.

You’ll Need a Car

Public transport is, unfortunately, quite limited in a lot of rural Portugal, and this includes Central Portugal. While there are some bus services, and the train line connects some towns in the region, it’s a good idea to get a car. 

The need to get a car varies from town to town and some are better connected than others. For example, many of the coastal towns and cities are on (or nearby) the trainline, which allows them to connect to Lisbon or Porto easily, as well as other nearby towns. Larger towns and cities, like Castelo Branco, for example, will also act as a transport hub and offer a mixture of local and national bus services. 

Be sure to check the train options on cp.pt and the bus options (using the local bus website and national services like Rede Expressos) to see what options are available. 

Learning Portuguese is Important

While many expats may be drawn to the coastal regions, where English is more widely spoken due to the higher concentration of tourists and international residents, those who choose to settle inland will quickly realise that a solid grasp of European Portuguese is essential for navigating daily life and fully integrating into the local community. Even on the Silver Coast, it’s still necessary to have some Portuguese as not everyone will speak English. Thankfully, there are lots of courses that cover European Portuguese, from beginner to fluency. 

Expats who make an effort to learn the language will find that their experiences in Central Portugal are greatly enriched, as they can engage more meaningfully with the local population, build stronger relationships, and gain a deeper appreciation for the region’s culture and way of life. Moreover, demonstrating a willingness to learn Portuguese is often met with warmth and encouragement from the locals, who appreciate the effort to embrace their language and customs. 

Education Options

There are education options all over Portugal, including Central Portugal. However, if you have specific requirements for your children, this may limit where you can live. 

Leiria is home to two notable international schools that cater to expat families seeking English-language education with an international curriculum.

  • Leiria International School is known for its comprehensive British curriculum that spans from early childhood through to pre-university levels. 
  • CLIC – Colégio Luso-Internacional de Centro stands out for its unique blend of British and Portuguese curricula, offering students the best of both educational worlds. This bilingual approach not only enriches the academic experience but also prepares students for global opportunities while keeping them rooted in Portuguese culture and language.

As well as international schools, the region also offers a mixture of private and public schools. Rankings for the different schools can be found on Público and Observador

The Region Lacks An Airport

One of the potential drawbacks for expats considering a move to Central Portugal is the lack of a major international airport within the region itself. The two primary airports serving Central Portugal are located in Porto, to the north, and Lisbon, to the south, leaving a significant gap in the central part of the country. 

This can pose challenges for those who need to travel frequently for work or personal reasons, as reaching either airport may involve a considerable drive. For prospective expats who anticipate regular air travel, it may make sense to consider settling closer to either Porto or Lisbon, depending on their specific needs and preferences. If you plan to travel to the airport by public transport, be sure to check the train and bus services in advance. 

Beach Access

Central Portugal has both a coastal and inland area and, obviously, only the coastal region has beaches. Fortunately, inland Central Portugal has praias fluviais, or river beaches. These scenic spots along the region’s rivers and lakes offer a refreshing escape from the summer heat, with crystal-clear waters, sandy shores, and often, amenities like picnic areas, cafes, and water sports facilities. Many of these river beaches have been awarded the coveted “Blue Flag” status, indicating their high standards of water quality, safety, and environmental management.

Another advantage of living inland in Central Portugal is the generally lower cost of living compared to the more touristy coastal areas. This means that expats may find it more affordable to purchase a property with a private pool, providing a convenient and refreshing oasis right in their own backyard.

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