Portugal, and especially Lisbon, is a popular destination for digital nomads. It has great weather, good internet, it’s safe, and it’s affordable-ish: rent in Lisbon is very expensive, but, on the plus side, you can get a coffee for fifty cents. Unless you go to a hipster coffee that is, in which case you can get a flat white for the same price as you’d pay anywhere else in Europe.
Recently, a few travel blogs have begun discussing Portugal’s digital nomad visa, but Portugal doesn’t actually have a specific visa for digital nomads (yet).
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What it does have, and this is what these blogs refer to as a “digital nomad visa,” are residency visas like the D7 and D2, which are aimed at those from outside of the EU/EEA/Switzerland. These are both suitable for people to come to Portugal and start a business, work as a freelancer, or work as a remote worker. The main draw of these visas is that they offer the opportunity to apply for Portuguese citizenship after five years.
But – and there’s a big but – these residency visas typically require you to spend the majority of the year in Portugal, normally cited as six consecutive months and eight months with gaps. This is absolutely fine if you’re happy to spend half or three quarters of the year in Portugal, but nomads typically want to spend more than half of the year out of the country. Portugal is in the Schengen Area, so it would probably be possible to visit other European countries without being noticed, but this is obviously breaking the terms of the visa.
The best visa for digital nomads is probably the golden visa or ARI. In return for an investment in Portugal, this visa allows you to have residency in Portugal, with the possibility of citizenship after five years, but only requires you to spend an average of seven days per year in Portugal (14 days every two years).
The challenge, particularly for nomads who are starting out, is that it requires an investment of at least €280k, but typically €350k or €500k, depending on the investment. Investments are quite flexible, and can include buying a qualifying property in Portugal, which you can rent out, or investing in funds. There are a lot of pros to this visa, but not everyone will have the money to invest.
In terms of tax, there is the NHR regime or non-habitual residency regime, which offers preferential rates of tax for the first 10 years of residency. The amount of tax you’ll pay varies depending on the type of income, but most nomads will probably pay 20% plus social security. The simplified regime is also worth looking at and may be a better option for some freelancers.
Most non-EU nomads who come to Portugal don’t actually come on a residency visa, but on a tourist visa. The Schengen Visa allows you to visit Portugal, or anywhere in the Schengen Area, for 90 days in every 180. In practice, this allows you to spend up to six months per year in Portugal without becoming a resident, although that six months is split into two. It doesn’t lead to Portuguese citizenship, but it does avoid the challenge of running a business from Portugal which is typically full of bureaucratic headaches. Working while on the Schengen Visa is a grey area, but an area that many nomads will already be familiar with.
Hopefully, Portugal will introduce a digital nomad visa one day. Thousands of nomads visit Portugal every year and, although they spend money on accommodation, food, and coffee, Portugal doesn’t see much in the way of tax dollars. However, for that visa to appeal to nomads, it would probably have to offer more travel flexibility. In the meantime, there are options for those semi-retired nomads who want more of a base and the golden visa for those that want to travel and have money to invest.