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14 Downsides to Living in Portugal

Last updated in September 2019 | 50 Comments from Portugalist readers.

Let’s face it, nowhere is perfect. No matter where you live in the world there are things you love, and there are things that you wish were different.

Portugal is like that. There are a lot of pros to life in Portugal: the weather is great, the cost of living is low, the beaches are beautiful, and Portugal is a really interesting place to explore.

People from all over the world are moving to Portugal – particularly places like Lisbon, the Algarve, and Porto – for all kinds of reasons. Some are moving here to study, others to retire, others to work, you name it.

So, it’s important to be honest about the downsides of living here because sooner or later you’ll come to discover them all as well. But, even though there are a few downsides to living in Portugal, most people who live in Portugal decide that the good outweighs the bad and this really is a place that’s worth staying in.

Cold winters

Although most people associate Portugal with beaches and sunshine, a lot of Northern Portugal can be very damp and wet in the winter. Portugal is a long and narrow country, after all, and the climate in the Algarve is very different to the climate in the North of the country.

Most people who move to Portugal usually live in Lisbon or South of Lisbon, though, which often has mild winters. This is especially true of the Algarve, which has some of the best winters in Europe.

But, even though it can be warm outside, that doesn’t mean that it’s warm inside.

Poor quality housing

Portuguese houses, particularly older Portuguese houses, can be extremely cold in the winter. Almost none have central heating of any kind or good quality insulation, and often it’s much warmer outside than it is inside. Unless your property gets the sun during winter, you may find yourself wearing a jacket indoors (no exaggeration).

This is because houses are designed with summer in mind, and aren’t designed to retain heat, and also because they’re often old and cheaply built. You can get central heating, and you can improve the insulation but, if you’re renting or you’ve just moved into a property, there’s a good chance it’ll be cold in winter (unless it catches the sun during the day).

Heating the property can also be expensive as electricity prices are high (see below), which is why a lot of rural properties have fireplaces or people pay for gas central heating.

Bureaucracy

Try to get anything done in Portugal, whether it’s starting a business or applying for planning permission, and you’ll run into a little thing called “bureaucracy.” There’s a lot of it in Portugal especially, although not exclusively, if the government is involved in some way.

files

The hardest part of bureaucracy isn’t the bureaucracy itself. Most people know that bureaucracy exists in Portugal, and aren’t surprised when they come up against it. The hardest part is that you never know how to navigate it. If it was simply a case of filling out paperwork and speaking to the right people, but you knew which paperwork to fill out and which people to speak to, it would be fine. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance you’ll be going into a lot of situations blind.

Thankfully, there are a lot of Facebook groups and forums where you can ask questions and hopefully speak to other people who’ve had a similar issue.

Integration

Integrating into any country is difficult. People have their own circles and, as an outsider, it can be very difficult to get into those circles – especially if you don’t speak Portuguese.

But even being able to speak Portuguese, even being a native Portuguese speaker, doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to integrate easily. Even Portuguese people have trouble integrating when they move to other parts of Portugal. This doesn’t just apply to rural areas, but cities like Lisbon and Porto as well.

This isn’t because the Portuguese are unwelcoming. In fact, they’re incredibly welcoming of both tourists and expats and normally very friendly when you speak to them.

As to breaking into their circle, though, don’t expect that to be too easy.

Expensive utilities (and other things)

Although food and wine is cheap in Portugal, not everything else is. Some things are comparatively quite expensive.

Electricity and petrol are two good examples of this. Per kilowatt, Portugal is one of the most expensive countries in Europe. It’s also one of the most expensive countries for fuel, which leads to a lot of people who living near the Spanish border driving across to fill up.

Other things that are expensive include cars (both new and second-hand), furniture, electronics and appliances, toll roads, books, branded international foods and household products (e.g. cereals), and cosmetics and toiletries.

Learning Portuguese

For some people having to learn Portuguese to live in Portugal is a fact of life. To others, it’s a big downside.

It isn’t so much that people don’t want to learn Portuguese (although some don’t), but rather that it’s a big stumbling block that prevents you from integrating into Portugal. It doesn’t take too long to learn enough Portuguese to get by in daily life, and even in more difficult bureaucratic situations, but it does take a long time to learn enough Portuguese to really integrate.

Portuguese is also seen as a difficult language. It’s not as difficult as Chinese or Arabic, but it’s one of the most difficult romance languages.

Limited cultural events in English

One of the downsides of living in another country, and not being fluent in the language, is that you miss out on a lot of cultural events like theatre, stand-up comedy, talks, book launches, and storytelling events.

If these events do exist – and some things like stand-up comedy can be hard to find even in Portuguese – they will more than likely be in Portuguese rather than English.

There are exceptions, particularly in Lisbon, but the vast majority of these events will be in Portuguese. On the plus side, it’s just another good reason to really practice your Portuguese.

Slow pace of life

The slow pace of life is one of the main reasons that people move to Portugal, but that slow pace of life can also be a downside. When you have something that needs doing, suddenly you find yourself wishing that slow pace of life wasn’t a thing in Portugal.

Even in simple tasks like going to the supermarket, you’ll find yourself queuing for a lot longer than you would in countries that don’t have a slow pace of life. It all depends which you value more: the slow pace of life (for when you do want it) or constant efficiency.

Mentality

The Portuguese mentality can be frustrating for a lot of people, particularly for entrepreneurs and go-getters. If America has a “can do” attitude, Portugal often sits at the other side of the spectrum with a “can’t do” attitude.

There are a lot of reasons for this difference, particularly historical and cultural reasons, but regardless of them, some people will still find it hard to deal with.

Low employment

A lot of people who move to Portugal bring their own money in the sense that they either come here as retirees with a pension, as freelancers or remote workers with clients outside of Portugal, or they start their own business here.

While there are jobs in Portugal, salaries are low – especially when compared to what most non-Portuguese people are used to.

The “who you know” attitude to business

To get ahead in a lot of industries in Portugal, it’s all about who you know. This maxim is true in a lot of countries, of course, but it’s especially true in Portugal.

In a lot of English-speaking countries, like the UK and US, who you know opens doors but it doesn’t make it impossible to break into certain industries. In Portugal, not knowing the right people can make it impossible to do business in a lot of industries that you could break into in other countries.

Rising cost of living

The cost of living in Portugal is on the rise, particularly when it comes to property prices. This is obviously more of a downside for the Portuguese living in Portugal who typically have less buying power on average, but it’s still a downside for expats as well.

House prices are rising throughout Portugal, but particularly in Lisbon and Porto and the Algarve.

Cold ocean

A lot of people move to Portugal for the beaches and are surprised by just how cold the water is. Yes, it can be very cold: it’s not the Mediterranean Sea, it’s the Atlantic Ocean.

It isn’t a big deal for a lot of people, as most only go to the beach in summer, but it can make a difference if you were expecting to spend a lot of time in the water.

Over tourism

In the past few years, tourism has boomed in Portugal. Lisbon, in particular, has become one of the hottest destinations to visit and it has attracted millions of tourists from all over the world. Porto, and the Algarve, likewise, have seen a huge increase in tourism as well.

queues at pasteis de belem

Unfortunately, Lisbon and Porto are much too small to handle the sheer volume of tourists that are visiting. The streets are narrow, and the cities themselves are quite compact and small. Historical attractions like the Torre de Belém in Lisbon or the Clérigos Tower just weren’t designed to cope with queues of hundreds of tourists.

It’s also led to other problems in the local housing market, and put a strain on public transport and other services. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like over tourism is going to decrease anytime soon and, with no real solutions to the problem, it may just become something that people have to accept. There’s that Portuguese “can’t do” attitude creeping in!

Last updated in September 2019.
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50 thoughts on “14 Downsides to Living in Portugal”

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  1. I have been visiting Portugal for 10 years to visit my prima who moved there 14 years ago. From my experience and learning through her all of your downsides are very accurate and reasonable. Beaurocracy being the most difficult and nearly enough to just walk away from the country entirely! Really like your blog – it’s helpful! Leaving for Tavira again tomorrow, so looking forward to being back.

  2. Coming to Portugal is a real shock coming from 11 years in Switzerland which punches well above its weight and has a can do attitude like the USA. Portugal however I have found has a very stratified social culture that is more like the Middle ages… The Aristocrats, the civil servants, the trades people and the serfs. Most portuguese refuse to take an active involvement in government, unlike Switzerland where people feel they are the Government. I live in Cascais, outside the city the land is poor for farming, in germany you would see millions of solar panels with 300 days of sunshine here thats a lot of electrical generation, but what do the portuguese do sell the electrical grid to the chinese how smart is that. There seems to be a national cultural complex of low level depression, which leads to your can’t do/ attitudes, what in psych;ology is called psychomotor slowing. You have a paradox of a Socialist Government but the real power resembles the south korean Chobo system where most of the GDP is concentrated in wealthy family business, often people dating back to the old aristocracy. A nurse with sub speciality training makes 1000 euro monthly, A pharmacist never more than 5000. I have a relatively nice life here but I don’t know if i want to live where there is such income disparity. Old People in lisbon last year were dying from the cold but you had to read about it in the Spanish newspapers. I suspect a lot of this passivity is left over from the dictatorship and some will argue there never was one! If this were France it would be man the barricades but in Portugal its man the football stadiums. I have found in this world its not what you ask for its what you demand. Portugal is a kind of pseudo social democracy.

  3. Hi James, thank-you so much for sharing your experience. I have shared it on a group called “South Africans helping South Africans in Portugal ” because i am sure it will be of great help to those that are iether coming here or planning to.
    Would you please consider joining the group because I’m sure you will not only enjoy all the helpful posts and comments but you would surely be able to contribute immensely, seeing as you know Portugal so well. I’m sure our Group Admin, Steve Robinson would welcome someone like you with open arms. Stay well.

  4. I lived in Uruguay for three years and your 14 points are almost identical descriptions of that country. While seeing the list prior to moving would not have kept me from relocating, my frustration level could have been reduced by a realistic understanding of what to expect! Every expat, and especially potential expats, should see these points. Great list…thanks!

  5. You forget dog poop all o ver the floor and vandalism grafite covering even train Windows. I also do not agree in the Language matter. Chinese is easier than portuguese. At least to learn to speak.

    • Hi Art,

      Definitely dog poop is a problem, although that seems to be common throughout a lot of Europe. Graffiti does seem to be unique to Portugal though.

      Also, interesting comment re: Chinese VS Portuguese.

    • Portuguese is a Roman/Latin language, related to Spanish, French, Italian, and Catalan. I have a degree in Spanish and French and have traveled in the Latin countries a lot, so even though I’ve never studied Portuguese I can understand half of what I read, and I can easily speak common phrases like bom dia, muito obrigado, etc. It’s just ridiculous to say that Chinese is easier to speak. Non-Western languages like Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, etc. are NOT in any way, shape or form easier than Portuguese!!!

  6. Had to go through 3 meetings with Camara Municipal to change kitchen floor and shower stall in my Lisbon apartment – and was still told that I needed to file a request online and it would take a year to get a permit….. and my architect casually mentioned that any foreigner who hires a contractor, electrician, plumber, painter in Lisbon usually is charged far more than a native client. Frustrating, but also understandable.

  7. Great info. Moving to Porto from the US at the end of the year. The bureaucracy is something I’ve been reading about all over the internet. Although, currently living in Los Angeles, it sort of feels the same way. Most people end up doing construction to their homes on the weekends, here, to avoid getting asked about permits. The city makes it extremely difficult and the costs for permits is sometimes more expensive than the construction, itself. Also, fuel is insanely expensive (almost $5/gallon). I am surprised to read about the dog poop thing. I have a dog and have read in many places that Portugal isn’t very dog-friendly. I wonder if this is part of why, haha. Luckily, I always pick up after mine!

    • Hi Blake,

      Bureaucracy is definitely an issue. It’s not so much having to fill in paperwork that’s the issue, it’s working out which paperwork that you need to fill in. In another language that gets even more difficult. Things just tend to stall.

      I guess you guys have more expensive fuel than the rest of the US. It’ll still be slightly more expensive here, but not as expensive as if you were coming from somewhere else in the US.

  8. Ola friends and thank you for putting this resource together

    Is there a sight or a section where expats can look up vendors to use or avoid? I have been taken for a terrible ride by a construction company called Artys and want to be sure that no one else falls into that money pit. I love Lisbon but have learned many things the hard way- and also been pleasantly surprised. Perhaps we can all help one another and continue to build community as you have kindly helped to do!

    Best of luck everyone!

    Nirit

  9. Hi there. Thanks for all the insider info. After 15 years living and working in the Bahamas, we are ready for retirement return to Europe. Having the Dutch nationality and experienced the Caribbean mentality we will probably not be shocked by the cons of moving to Portugal. How is the winter climate in the area around Porto?

    • Hi Renate,

      It’s quite grey and damp, not unlike what you’d find in the North of Europe in terms of colour although it’s definitely milder. The problem isn’t so much the weather but the housing which tends to be very cold in winter. Central heating is rare here, but you can get it and I imagine that it would solve the problem. Alternatively, there are lots of different stoves that do quite a good job.

  10. Hi Everyone,
    I have actually never left a comment anywhere online before, so here is a first. The article really resonated with me. I found every point accurate. I’ve been living in the Algarve for a year now, having physically moved from Toronto, Canada ( thou mentally still partly there) and have found many things challenging and frustrating, such as the bureaucracy, and the “can’t do” attitude as well as little cultural perspectives and ways of doing things. I will be running my own Paint Nights in Algarve business and am definitely feeling some intimidation and discouragement. I think integration is difficult and Id really like to find myself in an english speaking community with a lot more “can do” attitude. Luckily I do speak portuguese but I don’t really feel that I relate to the portuguese community. I could go on and on, but just wanted to say thank you for the post, helped validate my own observations and lighten my soul.

    • Hi Maria,

      Thanks for commenting! Integration is definitely difficult, and it takes time.

      It’s exciting to hear that you’re launching a business on the Algarve. I hope it goes well, and you keep that “can do” attitude 🙂

    • Maria, did you move there alone? I am also a female from TO but living in the US and am quite serious about moving to Portugal. I was wondering if you’d be willing to shoot a few emails back and forth with me about your experiences there, why you moved there, etc.

    • Hi Maria

      We just moved to Portugal and I enjoyed reading your post. I was born and raised in Toronto and have always admired immigrants with respect to how brave they were to leave their comforts (language, culture..) behind and start over. All the best of luck in your adventures.

      Sandy

    • It´s a unique place. Sort of a bottom first world/elite third world mix that most people aren´t prepared for. Most graduates want to leave (wages, job opportunities, lack of connections). If you have alot of money and come from another wealthier country it may or may not be to your liking. I think of it as Portugal is to the rest of Europe as Mexico/Latin America is to the US and Canada. Somewhere to get away from it all after you´ve made your nest egg. Definitely not somewhere to become a self made success.

      Good luck to those with the courage to come here. Make sure you keep something back home, alot of people end up not being able to leave because they left no anchor in their home countries.

  11. Hai there! Or Ola😃
    Me and my family live in the Alentejo now for 4 months on a temporary bases. We ‘guard’ a baron land with a huge dog from not getting plundered.. It s that bad. I must say that I’ve loved Portugal since I was a kid. I’ve been here many years and then many not. Since then so much has changed…. The Portuguese I knew ‘left the building’. Those that stayed here near Grândola in the Serra are two kinds of people: or Tjernobyl Germans or depressed Portuguese that WILL scam you whenever or wherever they get the chance. And I do speak the language.

    What happened to you guys!? This ‘cannot do’ attitude towards life in general is killing you and your beautiful country. It seems it’s only about money to you!! There is so much going for you, if you were only able to understand. Usually I would leave Portugal with a pain in my heart, but now I’ll be glad…. And I am so very sorry.

    Ps the cost of living for food and drink isn’t ‘cheap’ it is just as expensive as it was in the Netherlands, only 7 months ago. Cheap is the meat. True. But the rest is just a insane as it is anywhere else, especially in and near Lisbon and in and near Setúbal. The area of Coimbra and Viseu is indeed very cheap.

    • Sounds like another godless country with no real Christian standards, honesty, integrity, etc and therefore a no-can-do attitude and depressive people. Govt corruption will get worse. Will never leave third world status.

  12. Great information; my wife and I are talking about retiring in Portugal. No real time table established yet. Sounds like a lot of research needs to take place as you would expect.

    Thanks again..

      • Hello , i just came across this site and been reading all comments, im from BC , been really thinking of moving to Portugal and im in the Hair and Fashion industry, any advice about opening a salon or working in one would help, i have never been to Portugal so need advice on which areas would be good, thanks!

        • Hi Arif,

          Not an industry I know anything about, so unfortunately I won’t be able to give any specific advice.

          If you did move to Portugal, what are you looking for? If it’s a city, Lisbon or Porto are probably going to be the main places to focus on. If it’s beach, the Algarve should be your focus. If it’s something more of the beaten path, there’s a lot more of Portugal to look at.

  13. Hi I just have 4 weeks. And I’m living in Madeira the bureaucracy is incredible high . I was buying a car, the story is so long to tell here. the mentality of the people is negative. Some forums say life is slow and relax . I see more life is inefficient to do something . In Madeira bus stops are horrible designed . Seems like government here just give the leftover to people and steal money. I have a company in the United States . I was thinking expanding on Europe starting in Portugal because I have relatives here. I just quit the idea . I will go to Germany or uk instead . Now i understand no investment in Portugal

  14. I am a 64 yr old woman. I have decided to go to Portugal for a month and see if I want to relocate from the U.S. If things seem ok in that month I plan to move temporarily for a yr to see if I want to relocate for a longer period of time.
    One of the most attractive attributes is the number of British expats. I am learning the language but it would be great to be around English speaking people.
    I have no desire to live on the coast since I am currently living on a barrier island off FL. I love cold weather and find so much sunshine oppressive.
    Can anyone direct me to the part of Portugal which could could provide these things? And of course cheap is good. I will not be looking for any type of employment.
    One more question—is there a realtor who could help me find a place to stay for a month.
    Thanks.
    Shannon

    • Hi Shannon,

      Most people don’t go to Portugal for the cold weather – especially British expats 🙂

      I don’t know if there’s any part of Portugal that isn’t warm in the summer, but the North of Portugal is quite cold and damp in the winter. It is similar to an Irish or Northern European climate and may be close to what you’re looking for. As mentioned, this isn’t what a lot of expats are looking for so the number of expats living there is going to be smaller but there are definitely more and more people moving to places like Porto, Coimbra, and Castelo Branco as well – including an increasing number of people from the US.

      With the exception of Porto, those places will be quite affordable. Castelo Branco is especially affordable.

      The South of Portugal e.g. Lisbon, the Alentejo, and the Algarve are all be very hot in the summer so you can probably rule there out – especially the Alentejo.

      Another place to consider would be the island of Madeira as it never gets too hot. It also doesn’t get too cold, though, so take a look at the month-to-month temperatures and see if it’s cold enough for you. There are lots of expats living there.

      As for the realtor, it may be better renting through Airbnb or something like that (anything over 28 days is considered long-term on Airbnb). Realtors tend to focus on rentals of six months or more. Not to say you won’t find one that’ll do a 1-month rental, but 1-month is usually too short for them.

      Here’s a guide to renting long-term with Airbnb: https://www.portugalist.com/airbnb-long-term-rentals/

        • Too true, I was at the reservoir campsite at Idanha a Nova this August for 2 weeks. It was 38c mostly and dropped to 36c for a few days. We only survived by swimming in the reservoir and the campsite pool. So hot, but what an absolutely stunning place.

  15. Tom and I are in our early 70’s and hope to retire to Porto in October of this year. Our situation is that we will have to sell everything, our home, cars, furniture, etc to make this possible with our limited retirement. So basically bringing our cloths and hopefully renting an apartment from new friends who are English and bought an apartment in a renovated building in Porto. Do not plan to buy a car but use public transportation.
    I guess my question would be, would it be possible to travel around Portugal and other areas of Europe by just relying on trains, buses, etc and be able to afford to do so. We are adventurous, can travel with backpacks, share our meals and want to see what life has to offer. Any experiences would be welcomed.

    • Hi Diane,

      Yes, you can definitely get around by public transport and it’s very affordable as well. I bought a bus ticket from Lisbon to Porto recently, and I think it was €9. That was a special offer but, given that you’re over 65, you should be entitled to a discounted rate on trains and most buses anyway (50% on trains) so your transportation costs will be low.

      Food is also affordable here. The markets especially are very good value if you want to keep costs low and cook at home and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of restaurants that are affordable as well. You might have to look harder in a city like Porto, but they’re there.

      The biggest expense is going to be accommodation, again especially in a city like Porto. If you already have arranged your accommodation through friends of yours then you’re off to a great start. Otherwise, cities like Lisbon and Porto are expensive to rent in at the moment and may not be the best option for rent. That’s not to say it’s impossible, especially if you’re willing to live a little further out of the city centre, but there are definitely more affordable parts of the country.

      Keep me posted on the big move, and feel free to ask anymore questions.

  16. PAULO I have been reading all the comments… everyone is entitled
    to their opinions…but by far yours was the most ignorant and stupid of all….(all issues in Latin America come from the heritage of Portugal and Spain…) REALLY????? 🤔🤣🤣🤣

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