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Let’s face it, nowhere is perfect.
There are a lot of pros to life in Portugal: the weather is great, the cost of living is low, the beaches are beautiful…I could go on. This website has hundreds of articles, and almost all the articles except for this one focus on the pros of living in Portugal. But, it’s not all pros. There are a few cons too.
Many other articles don’t mention the downsides – just the upsides. But, it’s important to get the full picture before you move somewhere which is why this list exists. That way, if you read this and still decide to move to Portugal, you’ll have appropriate expectations.
It’s also important to point out that this is a list of the downsides of Portugal primarily from the point of view of an outsider (although Portuguese people often agree with many of the things on this list). It’s also not a list of things that Portuguese should change, and it’s definitely not a list of things that Portugal will change.
Portugal is Portugal, and you shouldn’t come here hoping for change or expecting change. Moving to any country and wishing it was different is just a recipe for disappointment. Instead, weigh up the pros against the cons and then, being honest with yourself, decide if Portugal is right for you.
In no particular order, here are some of the downsides to life in Portugal. A special thanks goes out to all of the Portugalist readers who submitted their grievances to this list (many comments couldn’t be approved and some of the ones published barely made it through). While they probably paint a much more negative picture of Portugal than the reality, they also show that some people really struggle with certain aspects of Portugal, and that you should do your research and decide if it’s right for you before moving.
So, So Much Paperwork!
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.
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 which form you need or which person you need to speak to. And, it’s quite rare that anyone ever tells you. You normally have to figure these things out for yourself.
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.
This isn’t unique to Portugal, but Portugal does take bureaucracy to a new level. One solution to avoiding Portuguese bureaucracy is simply to pay someone else to do it for you. Whether it’s taxes, NIFs, visas, or anything else, there are companies out there than can help.
Cold, Grey, Damp Winters (In Places)
Although most people associate Portugal with beaches and sunshine, a lot of Northern Portugal can be very damp and wet in the winter. Some even say that the North of Portugal has worse weather than Ireland in the winter, and that’s saying a lot!
Portugal is a long country and regions like the Algarve and Alentejo have different climates. Even Lisbon can be quite mild in the winter, and it’s not unusual for the South of Portugal to get temperatures in the high teens and occasionally even hit above the low twenties.
That’s outside, of course! In the house is another matter entirely.
This isn’t unique to Portugal. Most of Europe is cold in the winter – much, much colder than Portugal.
But Baby it’s cold INSIDE!
Portuguese houses can be extremely cold in the winter. Most properties don’t have central heating, or sometimes heating of any kind, and so you may find yourself wearing a jacket and gloves inside to keep warm. That’s not an exaggeration.
You can find warm properties. Some are lucky that they catch the winter sun and stay warm. Others have a fire of maybe even have a heating system of some kind. But many are just cold.
This is because Portuguese houses are designed with summer in mind: they’re designed to stay cool rather than warm up. Many properties are also build quite cheaply, particularly apartments.
And just because you’ve bought a cold house, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be cold forever. You can improve the insulation or install something like gas central heating or an effective pellet heater. All of that costs money, obviously, but it’s almost definitely be worth it.
In Portugal, the Portuguese and non-Portuguese often run in different circles. Even people who have lived in Portugal for years will usually be able to count the number of close Portuguese friends they have on one hand.
It takes two to tango, though. While the Portuguese can be quite closed, even to people from other parts of Portugal, very few expats bother to learn Portuguese which really is essential for integrating into Portugal. It’s quite likely that a lot of Portuguese assume that these expats don’t want to integrate, and so it all becomes a bit of a vicious cycle.
But, even ignoring the language aspect, many people who’ve lived in other countries prior to Portugal would say that integrating can be difficult.
This isn’t unique to Portugal. People who’ve moved to other Southern European countries like Spain and Italy, to Scandinavia, or to Eastern Europe often report the same experiences.
Some Things are Expensive
A lot of people think that just because food and wine are cheap in Portugal, everything else is. Unfortunately, that’s not true.
Electricity and petrol are two good examples of things that are really expensive in Portugal. 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 anything second hand, cars, furniture, electronic appliances, books, banking, branded international foods and household products (e.g. cereals), and cosmetics and toiletries.
Portuguese taxes, particularly when combined with social security payments, are high — at least in their simplest form. Portugal doesn’t have the highest taxes in Europe, but it definitely doesn’t have the lowest taxes either.
That said, the Portuguese government does have several tax regimes and schemes which are designed to simplify tax payments and to make Portugal more appealing to outsiders. The most famous is the NHR tax regime, which is designed to reduce the amount of tax you pay in Portugal for the first 10 years and, in many cases, allows you to pay your tax elsewhere.
Sexism, micromanaging, not being allowed to show any initiative — talk to a Portuguese person about the downsides of living in Portugal and one of the main things they’ll mention is workplace culture. It’s not every company, obviously, but it is something that gets mentioned frequently.
It’s a downside that many foreigners moving to Portugal get to avoid as many bring their own jobs here, work for a foreign company, or move to Portugal for retirement.
Learning Portuguese Language is Challenging
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 nowhere near as difficult as Chinese or Arabic, or maybe even German, but it’s one of the most difficult romance languages.
This is obviously unique to Portugal in that Portuguese is seen as harder than some other European languages, particularly Spanish. That said, it’s probably not any more difficult than German.
Depending on where you’re living in Portugal, dogs can cause problems.
Poop is the most common problem, followed by noise. In the countryside, dogs barking through the night can be an issue and, even in residential areas, it’s not unusual for people to leave their dogs on their apartment balconies during the day.
This isn’t unique to Portugal, and it common in some neighbouring countries like Spain.
Corruption is (Unfortunately) a Fact of Life
Ask a Portuguese person what the biggest downside to life in Portugal is and almost all will say corruption.
Backhanders can permeate every area of life, from your local council right up to the higher echelons of government. It’s just seen as a part of life or a tax for getting around bureaucracy.
According to Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, Portugal was ranked 30th out of 198 countries for corruption.
This isn’t unique to Portugal.
The 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.
This isn’t unique to Portugal, but common across most Southern European or Mediterranean countries.
The “Glass Half Empty” 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.
This isn’t completely unique to Portugal, but it does seem to be more common in Portugal than in neighbouring European countries.
The Lack of Customer Service
Customer service, the art of solving customers’ problems and keeping them happy, is an artform but it’s not an artform that’s particularly popular in Portugal.
You may not like the American model of customer service where everyone is overly nice, smiley, and helpful. You might think it’s fake and, being honest, it is. But, when you’re trying to get a problem solved, you’ll wish that Portugal had adopted this approach.
This isn’t unique to Portugal. Many readers living in countries like France, Germany, and Spain have said the same thing.
The Job Market
Portugal traditionally attracts much older expats, particularly retirees. There’s a reason for that, and that’s that people don’t usually come to Portugal to work: salaries are low by European standards, and there are a limited number of jobs here.
The good news is that, even though salaries are still a long way from catching up with other Western European countries, there are an increasing number of job opportunities in Portugal. Many people also bring their work with them — either starting a business here or working remotely for clients outside of Portugal.
This isn’t totally unique to Portugal: Across Southern Europe, job opportunities are fewer and salaries are lower when compared to Northern Europe. That said, Portugal does have some of the lowest salaries in Western Europe.
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.
This isn’t unique to Portugal, and is quite common across most of Europe.
Whether it’s people flashing their lights because they’re desperate to overtake, drink driving, or only leaving a gap of about an inch between your car and their’s, driving in Portugal is bad.
Indicators are rarely used, touch parking is common in the cities, and in rural parts of Portugal people often park diagonally across two or three spaces.
Unfortunately, it’s just one of those things about Portuguese life that you have to get used to.
This isn’t unique to Portugal. According to Statista, in 2018, there were more road accident fatalities in 10 other European countries like Romania, Greece, and Luxembourg. However, Portugal faired worse than neighbouring countries like Spain, France, and Italy.
The 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.
The 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 because 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.
This is unique to Portugal. Other Southern European countries like Spain, Greece, Italy, and Cyprus are all on the Mediterranean Sea so usually have warmer waters. France
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.
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!
This isn’t completely unique to Portugal. Lots of other cities like Barcelona and Amsterdam are struggling with overtourism.
Getting things delivered
Many people who move to Portugal come from countries where online shopping is extremely developed, to the point where they can get their orders the same day. That’s not the case in Portugal, especially as most online shopping is done with international companies.
The challenge of getting things delivered, whether an online shopping order or a letter from overseas, is a constant complaint amount expats. It is something you get used to, though, and, like many of the other things in this list, is a small price to pay for what you get in return.
While we’re on the subject of shopping, it’s worth mentioning Portuguese customs. Just about every country has a customs system which charge import fees on products purchased abroad. That’s annoying, but reasonable. In Portugal, however, the fees charged for anything imported from outside the EU are so high that it’s not unusual for import charges to equal the value of the product purchased (and sometimes they’re even more). Even gifts that are clearly handmade by family members are stopped, valued at much more than they could ever be worth, and slapped with big import charges.
And, even if you agree to pay these charges or they have been prepaid, it can take days, weeks, and even months to get your deliveries released from Portuguese customs.
If you live in an apartment in Portugal, it’s not unusual to hear your neighbours watching TV, talking or arguing, listening to music, or just about everything else. And, if they live above you, you’ll probably hear them walking around as well.
Noise levels in Portugal are nowhere near as high as in neighbouring Spain where everyone seems to walk around their apartments in clogs, but it will take some getting used to if you’re from a country where things are a little bit quieter.
Not all apartments have noise issues, especially the more modern ones, and you can insulate an apartment to reduce noise levels, but it is something to be aware of.
While smoking is on the way out in many countries, smoking is still quite common in Portugal. It’s something that you will get used to with time.
But, even though you’ll get used to walking into a cloud of smoke every now and then, there are definitely times when it can be a downside.
Portugal definitely isn’t the only European country where smoking is common. It’s similar in France, Spain, and Germany.
Comments Policy: This article attracts a mixture of comments: some people who believe the pros of living in Portugal outweigh the cons and others who are frustrated with life in Portugal and want to vent their anger. While comments pointing out the negative sides of Portugal are allowed, there’s a diplomatic and a constructive way of doing this and there’s a way that’s unhelpful and simply negative. Comments that are negative and without any substance will be removed.