Let’s face it: nowhere is perfect. There are lots of pros to living in Portugal but there are, unsurprisingly, one or two cons as well. Some of these downsides include bureaucracy, low-quality housing, a lack of a customer service culture, the challenge of integrating into Portuguese culture, low wages, and the rising cost of property.
Most articles (and especially YouTube videos) focus on the upsides rather than the downsides but it’s important to get the full picture before you move somewhere new. Portugalist absolutely recommends that you consider moving to Portugal, but it wouldn’t be doing its job if it didn’t give you realistic expectations.
The problem starts with the YouTube vloggers who promote a false picture of what it’s like to live in Portugal. This is why so many are sucked into the dream of becoming an expat in Portugal. None of what the vloggers promote is a reality for day-to-day living. – Donna
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 some Portuguese people agree with some 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 – no matter how sensible that change might seem to you. Portugal is Portugal, and you shouldn’t come here hoping for change or expecting change. Instead, weigh up the pros against the cons and then, being honest with yourself, decide if Portugal is right for you.
As one commenter points out, although there are some downsides to living in Portugal, there isn’t enough space on the internet to list all of the upsides.
Bottom line is, you found 23 things that suck about this place. But there isn’t enough space in the internet to list all the good ones. Pastries, food, wine, olive oil, roasted chestnuts outside of the metro station, crime stats, one of the lowest gun violence in the world, drug policy, beaches, water sports, the country side, Fado, fish and vegetable markets, the cheeses, chouricos, vineyards along the Douro River, the amazing amounts of different fruit and seafood (best in Europe), the people, the art, history, architecture, health care, actual freedom. – Danny
Similarly, despite pointing out a few downsides, Aaron lists a lot of upsides:
Amazing fruits and vegetables, amazing raw materials for good cooks (only partially taken advantage of in culinary traditions) lots of egg-creme pastries, cheap quality tipple, cheap quality meats, compassion for other humans (very important) and great emergency medical care (the SNS is great. consultations can take some time to get bookings for, and generally Concelhos will vary in terms of the competency and friendliness of the local health center and getting assigned a family doctor, etc.)
It’s a great place to raise children and generally very safe and family-oriented, which is probably the cause of some of the boredom I’ve complained about above. I get the sense that family and village life basically overshadow any independent decisions people make, and they are concerned about social judgement at every turn. – Aaron
With that in mind, here are a list of some of the different downsides to life in Portugal.
Pro: Attainable Residency Visas
If you don’t have an “EU Passport” and need a visa to move to a European country, Portugal can be very appealing for a number of reasons. Firstly, the visas are considered more attainable than other European countries: the D7, for example, requires you to have a regular income that’s at least more than €705 per month – an achievable amount for many people while the D2, or entrepreneurship visa, doesn’t specify a minimum investment amount.
For those that have cash to spend, the golden visa can be particularly appealing because it only requires you to spend an average of 7 days per year in Portugal in order to meet your residency requirements.
For many people, these attainable visas make Portugal a very attractive country as Portugal offers an easy route into Europe.
Con: Paperwork, Bureaucracy, & Inefficiency
Try to get anything done in Portugal, whether it’s starting a business or applying for planning permission, and you’ll run into hurdles. Often it’s paperwork related. Sometimes it’s just down to the fact things move slowly.
When it comes to paperwork, it isn’t so much that there’s a lot of paperwork. That in itself would be manageable. It’s that:
- Yes, there’s a lot of paperwork and lots of hoops to jump through
- Every government department seems to have a different opinion on which pieces of paper are required
- Departments are understaffed so getting an appointment, if you need one, can often takes months
It’s messy and frustrating, and it’s also just something you’ll have to get used to if you live in Portugal.
You can avoid a lot of the headaches if you use a lawyer or accountant rather than trying to tackle these challenges yourself. You’ll still have the challenge, and it’ll probably take a while for it to get resolved, but at least you’ll avoid the majority of headaches. Having a lawyer double check a rental contract, for example, might feel like an unnecessary cost but could save you money and a lot of headaches in the long run.
In all the countries I’ve lived in, I never needed a lawyer to sort my usually regular stuff like taxes, properties, banks. In Portugal, even if I can’t really afford it, I had to hire them. – KC
Being rich helps definitely to soften the high level of personal and state dysfunctions, your lawyer “knows” people at the city hall etc. Paying some “extra fee” here and there doesn’t really matter, its the price for a second villa in a sunny place. And they don’t have to rely on the Portuguese services, infrastructure or government. Being physically in Portugal is actually quite nice, it is just not so nice to be reliant on anything there. – Martin
It took me 1½ (if I remember correctly) years to get the tax-free import of my car sorted out.Kurt
As well as lawyers and accountants, there are also companies that will:
- Get you a NIF number or open a Portuguese bank account remotely for you
- Help you obtain your NISS or social security number
- Check what internet providers are available at your home
- Work alongside you when buying a property
- Help you pick the right insurance policies
It’s one thing saying paperwork but sef deserves its own category for a downside. We have been waiting for an appointment for more than 8 months and all the time get told there are no appointments available. This means that our id is now out of date. It’s sort of accepted in Portugal as people know about the delays but it means we are nervous to fly anywhere or leave Portugal unless it’s by land. A similar thing with the driving licence. It can take more than a year for your driving licence to be exchanged. They give you a piece of paper while you’re waiting but this means you are without a driving licence for a long time. It’s not suitable for visiting another country. If the only problem was obtaining pieces of paper it would be fine. The problem is the delay in getting appointments or documents returned. – Rowena
Portuguese bureaucracy and lack of customer service is another bad point. True that people don’t help you and you have to figure out everything by yourself. So frustrating. – Julia
I said I knew this wasn’t SF or NYC. Nonetheless, there is a difference between a slow way of life and some crucial things being less efficient than a 3rd world country. For example, the IMT (for foreigners: driver license government office) is basically completely broken at this point. Their driver license exchange process can take up to 2 years. Nobody answers the phone or emails. Tens of thousands of people like me are stuck either with a temporary license that only works in Portugal (so you can’t rent cars anywhere else if you travel), or with an expired foreign license (my case now). It’s pretty much the same for the SEF (immigration office). – Taurus1
Bureaucracy isn’t unique to Portugal, and it’s something you’ll come across in many European countries like Spain, Italy, and Germany, but many would argue that Portugal takes bureaucracy to new levels. Not everyone agrees, however.
Bureaucracy, well as I mentioned previously I am international I think Belgium, France and others have no less nor more bureaucracy than Portugal, and the corruption is probably about the same. – Frank
All that talk of bureaucracy and corruption in Portugal is way exaggerated! – Kurt
Pro: The Kindness of People
This one is quite subjective as everyone’s experience of the Portuguese is different. However, a number of people who have commented on Portugalist remarked at the kindness of Portuguese people.
Sometimes the kindness i receive from total strangers brings me close to tears. once i was leaving a metro station in the pouring rain trying to use a newspaper for cover when someone appeared beside me and offered me an umbrella and insisted i take it. another time i was trying to hail a cab with bags of shopping when an older gent told me they wouldn’t stop there and then proceeded to lift my bags and take me to a place where i could catch a cab and patted me on the back when i thanked him profusely…these are the best people i have encountered in Europe – unassuming, polite, warm and helpful to strangers and often showing such tenderness as you are unlikely to find elsewhere. There are many things to like in portugal but the best thing about portugal is the portuguese.Gloria
And she’s not the only one.
I have lived in Central Portugal for a while and I have been shown nothing but kindness, eggs, vegetables and even a lovely casserole left on my doorstep.Christine
I’m a Canadian native, but born to a Portuguese mother and a Japanese father. I have many stories from my visits to Portugal, but I’ll keep it to this: the unwavering, friendly “Good morning”s from strangers and passersby. That warmth and humanity that so many places on this great, wide earth are deprived of. It’s one of the many things that makes Portugal special.AA
Con: Housing issues
Portuguese houses can be cold in the winter – fridge levels of cold. However, it varies considerably from property to property. Some simply require you to put on a sweater while others demand a jacket, gloves, and three or four pairs of socks.
My electricity bill for the first winter month in Portugal was 3 times more than what I paid in Switzerland’s winter even though I already tried to accept/cope with lower indoor temperature! It was a nasty surprise. I’ve found ways to adapt by now so it doesn’t stop me from enjoying life in Portugal. – WL
The most disappointing part for me is that I am constantly freezing in their apartments due to the lack of heater and I am spending a fortune paying trying to stay a little warm. True that we have to stay fully dressed at home and it’s becoming unbearable those cheap constructions and energy drainers houses. – Julia
Two identical properties next door to each other could be different due to the ability of one to catch the sun during the day. Some properties also have central heating or another heating system while others have better energy ratings. Finding the right lottery is part knowing what to look for and part lottery.
However, just because you’ve purchased 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 worth it.
The cold and the noise, both due at least partly to poor insulation, are the main issues with Portuguese properties but at least one commenter has found an issue with the pipes in older houses as well.
These are all good but youre missing the biggest downside of them all…the flushes in the toilets. Some have been unbelievably weak!! If I’m going to be stuffing my face full of bacalhau and cream I want a crapper that can take a bit of a beating, not something I have to flush twenty times to get it to work!!! Is there bureaucracy in the pipes as well???! – John
This isn’t unique to Portugal, and it’s quite common across Southern Europe. Houses here are more designed for summer rather than winter. Thankfully, there are one or two things you can do to stay warm inside.
Pro: Ease of Obtaining Portuguese Citizenship
After living in Portugal for 5 years, you’ll be able to apply for Portuguese citizenship. This is much faster than in many other European countries. You need to have lived for 10 years in Spain, for example, before you’re able to apply for Spanish citizenship.
And, unlike many other European countries, you only need to show an A2 level of Portuguese. In comparison, Germany and Italy require a B1 level.
In Portugal, the Portuguese and non-Portuguese typically 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.
Making friends- easy for me as my work entails meeting people. But if your work is by yourself and alone and do not involve other people, it can be hard and lonely. People stay with their close tight knit families and it can make you sad and lonely if you have that sort of constitution.
…the Portuguese are to me generally helpful, warm and friendly. Just don’t expect them to show up or call you after you feel like you’ve found a good friend. Most of the ones I met seem to strangely ghost, vanish, flake then they come up the surface again and your like super close again. Okay this might not be helpful but it does affect quality of life.-KC
It takes two to tango though. While the Portuguese can be a little closed, even to each other sometimes, very few expats make the required effort to integrate – at least after a few months of trying. Integrating is a marathon rather than a sprint, and one that requires you to learn Portuguese to a very good level. And it’s much harder if you don’t work in an office, attend university, or do something else that puts you in close contact with people for many hours every week. Putting in the effort is worth it, though. While it can take a long time to make Portuguese friends, particularly when compared to other countries, once you have a Portuguese friend, you have a friend for life.
If you make friends with a Portuguese, they will be your friend forever, and will be there when you needed it. In 2016 I came back to visit with my wife and two kids after living in the US for almost 20 years. My childhood friend that I haven’t seen in over 25 years, immediately invited myself and my entire family to stay with him and his girlfriend in his apartment in Lisbon. And this wasn’t even the only invitation extended, many other friends from my pass reached out wanting us to stay with them. – Danny
I really enjoy living in Portugal, for me its one of the best countries in the world, I find the people friendly and pretty much easy going, making friends is difficult for Portuguese are very family oriented, but I don’t see this is a bad thing. – Frank
…it’s been years and years since I dated anyone and I’m not ugly nor poor nor lazy, etc. I’m foreign. I will always be foreign. I will never enter their world, and that basically is clear to me, that underneath all the liberal-minded rhetoric, that one is welcome to be a foreigner spending money here, but that one is probably best off staying in ones own enclave. – Aaron
Because integration can be so challenging, that means you’ll have to mainly make friends with other expats. While most are wonderful people, and many will become lifelong friends, there are definitely a few you will find yourself trying to avoid.
I came to Portugal to be happy and I am happy to be here. Yes there are some things I wish were different but overall it’s a great quality of life. But unfortunately I don’t speak Portuguese so I am surrounded by these people [other expats]! – Carl
But just because it’s challenging to make friends, that doesn’t mean that the Portuguese aren’t friendly.
First of all, the people have been most welcoming. From immigration to getting paper work done, only USA immigration officials have been inappropriate and arrogant. Here, you’re treated like a human and not whatever label society has given you. I do notice that the Portuguese are friendly, but keep to themselves. I haven’t entirely been able to integrate with them although I am learning the language and can say a few things here and there. – EM
The challenges of making friends fast 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 challenges in integrating.
Pro: Large Expat Community
Integrating might be hard sometimes, but at least there’s a large, welcoming expat community.
Having a large expat community has its downsides – as it means people tend to integrate more into expat communities than local communities – but it’s definitely a pro when you first move. You’ll instantly be able to get to know other people, people in the same boat as you, and it’ll be easy to get answers to questions you have about settling in Portugal.
Con: The Language
Portuguese is nowhere near as difficult as Chinese, Arabic, or maybe even German, but many consider it harder than other romance languages and less appealing. That said, it doesn’t take too long to learn enough Portuguese to get by in daily life, and even in more difficult bureaucratic situations. However, it does take a long time to learn enough Portuguese to really integrate – but that’s true of all languages.
Learning European Portuguese is becoming a little easier thanks to all the new apps, websites, and YouTube channels that teach it (in the past there were only dry, boring textbooks). There are lots of great courses, particularly for beginner’s level Portuguese, that’ll teach you the essentials and help you pass those exams, should you decide to apply for citizenship or permanent residency.
I don’t mean to be contrary but I have to say I disagree with you about Portuguese being a difficult language, or it being any harder than other Romance languages. I would say Portuguese is the easiest Romance language for an English-speaker to acquire; the hardest is Romanian. – Fraser
And the rewards are there for those that put in the effort.
Culture is also one of the very best points about Portugal, from fine arts to poetry, prose, music, performance, theatre, but again, you’ll have to be embedded in the culture to enjoy these. – Emanuel Sousa
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.
Pro: English is Widely Spoken
English is widely spoken in Portugal, particularly in the Algarve, Lisbon, Porto, and other Portuguese cities. In other parts of Portugal, English is less widely spoken but it still won’t take long to find someone that speaks English.
Although your intention might be to learn Portuguese, and to learn it to a fluent level, knowing that other people are likely to speak English is very reassuring – particularly when you’re speaking to a doctor, for example.
However, if you want to integrate even a little, you should definitely make an effort to learn Portuguese.
Con: 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. Rent, particularly in somewhere like Lisbon, can be as expensive as a major Northern European city. Then there are cars, furniture, electronic appliances, books, branded international foods, cosmetics, and toiletries, all of which are typically more expensive than elsewhere.
It can be frustrating paying double or triple what you’re used to paying for something, but it’s often offset by the lower prices for other things (eating out, for example) and the fact that you get to live in Portugal.
Pro: The Food
At any Portuguese market, you’ll find a great variety of fish and seafood and excellent fruit and vegetables. Most large supermarkets, similarly, will also have a large fish counter. Price-wise fruit and veg is much cheaper than the US, and the quality is better. By European standards, it isn’t particularly cheaper but the quality is better than in many Northern European countries.
Eating out in traditional Portuguese restaurants is also extremely affordable, particularly at lunchtime. Here €10-15 can get you a 3-course meal complete with coffee and wine. International restaurants are more expensive and often non-existent in more rural parts of Portugal, but with access to good-quality, affordable ingredients, you’ll be able to make up some great dishes yourself at home.
Con: Standard Taxes
Portugal doesn’t have the highest taxes in Europe, but it definitely doesn’t have the lowest taxes either. Portuguese taxes, particularly when combined with social security, are high – at least in their simplest form. They can also be a little complicated, and requiring an accountant does add a cost that you might not have if you lived elsewhere.
We pay taxes like Germany but and have an income like Lithuania or so. – João Pedro
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 some cases, allows you to be taxed elsewhere. Despite its apparent simplicity, it can still be complicated and it’s recommended that you speak to an accountant to get an accurate overview of what your tax obligations are likely to be.
Pro: Compelling Tax Regimes
While Portugal’s standard taxes aren’t typically appealing, there are one or two ‘tax regimes’ where you could end up paying less, depending on your income. The most common is if you stand to benefit from Portugal’s NHR tax regime, which is a special tax regime aimed at newcomers and those returning to Portugal. It is particularly beneficial if you’re a high earner or have a particularly large pension but to be certain that you would benefit from it, you should speak to an accountant.
Another reason Portugal is considered attractive is its lack of a wealth tax, something which neighbouring Spain has and which can deter high net worth individuals from moving there.
Con: Feeling Like You’re Part of the Problem
It seems like everywhere in the world has a housing and cost of living crisis, so it’s easy to feel a little guilty if you can afford to buy or aren’t as affected as others by the rising cost of living.
In Portugal, that’s particularly the case. Property purchase and rental prices, in particular, have increased, and that’s definitely in part to the number of more affluent foreigners coming into Portugal.
It’s not that anyone moving here is doing anything malicious, or without caring about the problems they might create: it’s simply a consequence of Portugal’s very open immigration policy. And it’s an open immigration policy because Portugal wants foreigners to come and benefits from the money that’s brought into the country.
Some people will point out that the problem is really the government not building more affordable housing or the low wages despite many companies bringing very health profits. That may be true, but it’s still easy to feel like you’re part of the problem. Then again, there are a lot of other parts of the world, including where you’re moved from, where you could feel exactly the same thing.
Pro: Affordable Healthcare
Particularly for Americans and those outside of Europe, Portugal’s tax-funded healthcare system is a big attraction. There’s no need to worry about having the right insurance when you go to the hospital: access to public healthcare is considered a right.
For Europeans, Portugal’s healthcare system is less of a novelty and in reality it suffers from many of the same problems as other European countries: emergency healthcare is good, but waiting lists for non-urgent treatment can be long – sometimes more than a year or two.
However, one area in which Portugal trumps many other European countries is in the cost of private healthcare. Health insurance and the cost of paying out of pocket are much lower than in many other European countries, and many expats are able to use the private system for the majority of their needs, which often allows them to access better quality healthcare than they would elsewhere.
Besides being cold, another problem caused by a lack of insulation is the way noise travels. This is more a problem in apartments rather than houses, but even houses aren’t immune from noise problems – the sound of barking dogs, which can sometimes go through the night, is a problem in rural areas.
The dog bark is absolutely unbearable, I have a woman living 100m away from me , in another house and she lets the little bastard on the balcony all day, today at 10 pm the beast is still barking, but apparently everybody of my so much appreciated Portuguese neighbours has no problem with this.! – Tom Baum
Generally speaking, however, most noise problems are with apartments. The most noise seems to come from the apartment above, but depending on the way the property is built, may come from the apartment below or to the side as well. As with the cold, noise problems can vary considerably from property to property, depending on when it was built, what floor the apartment is on, and who the neighbours are. In some apartments, you won’t hear anything. In others, you can hear the neighbour’s conversations almost word-for-word.
The dog barking I can just about deal with – it is the children that scream and run about, encouraged by the parents, as if the screaming should be shared by everyone. – Confoosed
As with the cold, these problems are somewhat fixable and can be avoided entirely if you spend enough money.
Noise problems aren’t unique to Portugal and are common in some neighbouring countries like Spain.
Pro: Inviting Beaches
Portuguese beaches, particularly those in the Algarve, have been voted as some of the best in the world. So if your dream is to spend your time soaking up the sunshine and listening to the waves, this is definitely the country for you.
As well as great beaches, Portugal also has several great surfing hubs such as Sagres, Ericeira, Nazaré, and Costa da Caparica.
If you’re planning on living inland, you don’t be disappointed either. Whether it’s the Douro, Gerês, Azores, Madeira, or Serra de Arrábida, Portugal has plenty of areas of natural beauty for you to enjoy.
Con: Treatment of Animals
Although it’s rapidly changing, the treatment of animals can be a problem in Portugal. In parts of rural and suburban Portugal, it’s not uncommon for dogs to be left chained up or on balconies all day (which is part of the reason that there are noise problems).
Dogs and the treatment of animals in general is a big problem in Portugal. – Andrew
This isn’t to say that it’s a problem everywhere in Portugal. While you will see mistreated animals from time to time, you will also see pets that are looked after to extremely high standards.
Pro: Lower Cost Of Living
This is a slightly trickier one, but for the most part, Portugal has a lower cost of living. Of course, it depends on where you’re coming from and what you’re buying. If you’re moving from New York or San Francisco to Portugal, you’ll notice a considerably lower cost of living. However, if you’re moving from the North of England or Spain, you won’t see a major difference and you might think Portugal is more expensive.
Portugal is cheap for some things and expensive for others. It’s cheap for eating out, for example, where a meal in a three-course lunch menu can cost you less than €10. However, other things like cars, utilities, and fuel are typically more expensive.
Again, it depends where you’re coming from. Americans typically find groceries and cell phone plans considerably cheaper than the US while many Europeans don’t notice a difference or find them more expensive.
Of course, it’s not just about price but the lifestyle you get for that price. There are few places where you can live close to the beach, enjoy fantastic weather, and eat out regularly for the cost of living that’s found in Portugal.
As an American living in Portugal, I can tell you that the Cost of Living is much better/cheaper here than in the USA. And the Quality of Life far better. And the people friendlier, the culture superior, etc. I couldn’t get out of the US fast enough and am much happier (and healthier) in Portugal.Dan
Con: Dog Poop
Whether it’s the blue skies or the tiled walls, there are lots of beautiful things to look at in Portugal. Don’t look up too long, however. Doing so could mean you step in something you didn’t want to. Similarly, it’s always a good idea to really inspect the grass before sitting down for a picnic.
I have seen more dog poop on the sidewalks while in Portugal than I do in the US but in our Alentejo town, there are dispensers with free poop bags. – Ms G
There are two things that drive me totally mad in my country: dog poop/trash all over and cars parked in driving lanes and on sidewalks. – Andrea E
Dog poop is one of those minor downsides that you get used to with time, and it may not even be that noticable if you’ve lived in other European countries where it’s also a problem.
Pro: A Feeling Of Safety
There’s some debate as to how accurate the oft-quoted statistic of Portugal being the third safest country in the world is, but the reality is Portugal feels incredibly safe – especially when compared to the US, Latin America, and parts of the UK. It’s somewhere where children, the elderly, and women typically feel comfortable walking alone, even late at night.
In fact, Portuguese culture is incredibly family-friendly: children are adored and the elderly are treated with respect.
Ask a Portuguese person what the biggest downside to life in Portugal is and almost all will say corruption. According to Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Portugal was ranked 32nd out of 198 countries for 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 the bureaucracy.
While corruption doesn’t affect most people’s lives on a day to day basis – you won’t have to bribe the police to get home – it does affect whether money is properly invested into the country and that can make a difference.
Con: Casual Racism
It isn’t a problem for most expats, but many people – particularly from Brazil and other former Portuguese colonies – report experiencing prejudice or being treated differently in Portugal. It’s probably not something you’re going to see on a day-to-day basis, but if you live here long enough and if you make friends with people of colour from Africa or South America, you may hear some stories.
As white American it doesn’t appear racists here as I don’t see confederate flags and other glaring examples but I know from Brazilians there is racism here. I have also heard comments from Portuguese about Brazilians that could be taken as racist. – Brian
But as one commenter points out, it’s quite a complex issue.
The best thing about portugal is its people. yes, they’ll scam you if you have to deal with them professionally and aren’t careful; yes, they won’t turn up on time; yes, i almost always experience racism especially when dealing with older people or in establishments that cater to rich people and the way they treat Africans can be jaw dropping. but they are always relentlessly humane. i know that i can always find the humanity in them; they are the most unassuming people i have ever met…
…Right in the centre of Lisbon is a square that has been colonized by Africans – i can’t imagine any other country in Europe allowing that (portugal has been cosmopolitan for hundreds of years). I have lived and travelled in many parts of Europe but nowhere have i seen Africans more completely at home than in Lisbon i have seen African women with their babies strapped to their backs and once an African woman carrying a load on her head and walking along. – Gloria
Casual racism is a problem everywhere, unfortunately, including many European countries. While Portugal fairs much better than many other Western countries, including the US, this doesn’t excuse the fact that it still occurs.
Pro & Con: 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 the slow pace of life wasn’t a thing in Portugal.
We live in rural Algarve, and our toilet seat broke 3 weeks ago. In 3 weeks, our landlord went 5 times to the local plumbing store. It was always closed for no reason, or the manager was on lunch break, and finally… they did not have the part. Our landlord thus had to drive 1 hour to a bigger store to get the part, which might or might not work… we will see soon. Maybe this week after 3 weeks, the toilet seat will be fixed. Maybe it will take a couple more weeks. In the meantime I fixed it with tape… I live in a villa for nearly $2000/month w/ utilities with a duck taped toilet seat. This is just a ridiculous example for how inefficient and slow everything is here. Our landlord is great, bless him for wasting so much time on this. But when a toilet seat takes a month to be fixed, it gives you an idea of the struggle everything else is….
…I don’t think that it’s necessarily that the locals are lazy. It’s mostly that they like it slow. They don’t see what the problem is with not answering the phone or closing the store unexpectedly. They don’t think it will bother anyone because nobody lives here to get things done. You live here when you have time. I’ve come to understand: it’s not their mistake for being slow, it’s mine for wanting to move fast in a slow place. This is not New York City or San Francisco where everybody is trying to make a gazillion dollars and everybody wants to help you get from A to B as fast as possible. This is not a place for ambition. This is a place for dolce vita, retirement and humble family life. – Taurus1
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 on 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.
Con: The “Glass Half Empty” Mentality
The Portuguese mentality can be frustrating for a lot of people, particularly for entrepreneurs and go-getters who see opportunities around every corner. In Portugal, people often look at the world in less optimistic terms. This is changing somewhat, and younger generations and those who have lived abroad tend to look at the world in more of a glass-half-full-sort-of-way but it a can’t do attitude is something you’ll come across from time to time.
Portuguese are deep thinkers and are compassionate really to the core. But if you tend to be on the anxious depress side, probably not great place as you’ll be surrounded with melancholy and sadness. It’s not obvious apparent but in years of living here, it does affect you. It’s the reason why people are flaky. Lots of anxiety and depression. – KC
Sense of humor is often lacking, but there is a lot of sincerity (often combined with unhappiness) – Gaius
I disagree with the cant do attitude being attributed to Portugal for this can’t do attitude is very much European. – Frank
This isn’t completely unique to Portugal, but it does seem to be more common in Portugal than in neighbouring European countries.
Con: Customer Service
In Portugal, it can sometimes feel like the customer is never right. Getting a problem resolved is often a battle of wills, and problems can take hours and hours of your time to get resolved. There is the complaints book (Livro de Reclamações) for when you can’t seem to get a resolution, but even that isn’t a threat to some companies (utility and communications companies particularly). Then there’s AIMA (the immigration department previously known as SEF), Finanças (tax department), and other government departments, all of which aren’t particularly popular in Portugal.
Again, this is something that is improving but it’s something you will come across from time to time.
When you do complain, there is more often than not a lengthy explanation about how it is not their fault but everyone else’s, how they are always the victim, or even insulting you. – Ava
In Portugal most services and companies will more or less spend some effort to attract your money, but after you pay you can forget about it. Once you pay, you are at their mercy and don’t expect high quality of service or goods. Forget about a refund unless it is a box store. They will respond to emails at their convenience and most emails won’t be responded if it creates inconvenience to them. – Gargantois Pantagrüell
The bigger downfall is the lousy quality of lawyers, accountants, and estate agents. Many are in each others pockets and at times, it feels like the wild west. – Jacob
Official complaints in “Livro das Reclamações” are useless. Service providers are always right and their operators rarely apologise. – Antonio
I think a lot of US people think “anything European” is romantic and the pace is slower, so you can relax more. However, once you get to the European continent, you immediately start comparing that culture to the US and then gripe because there is “no customer service, the bureaucracy, crazy drivers, etc”. – The Old Ranger
This isn’t unique to Portugal. Customer service isn’t always a big priority in Europe and government departments, particularly immigration, seem to be particularly unfriendly in most countries around the world.
Con: Workplace Culture
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.
All of what written here is true, as a Portuguese guy, life is hard for the average person here, there is no merit system in the workplace, it’s all about who you know, wages are the lowest in Western Europe, and civil society is dormant. – Portuguese guyy
Thankfully, 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.
Con: Job Opportunities
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.
I don’t think Portugal is the right country if you are seeking employment, wages are very low, good jobs are hard to find; But for retirees and people with foreign income, it is a great possibility! – David
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.
Con: It’s all about “Who You Know”
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.
Con: The Driving
They drive like (use soft language) crazy and bring themselves and others in dangerous situations just to get in front of you to the get stuck behind the same truck we where already driving. – Martin
All the downsides are true however having lived in italy and Spain they are not unique to Portugal. If you want bureaucracy and crazy driving try Italy lol. – Mike
Whether it’s people flashing their lights because they’re desperate to overtake, drink driving, or tailgating, driving in Portugal can be challenging and sometimes scary. 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. It’s just one of those things about Portuguese life that you have to get used to and, depending on where you come from, it mightn’t be that bad at all.
Aside from the dogs running out into the street I think the driving in Portugal is fine. I would take driving here any day over driving in Southern California or along the US East Coast. The gas here is ridiculously expensive though, probably double to triple what it costs in the US (about $2 per liter). – Jerry
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. And although people often drive somewhat aggressively, it’s definitely milder than the road rage most Americans will be used to.
Con: 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’s one of those small downsides, but something to consider if you’re planning on spending a lot of time in the water. If you’re a surfer, the quality of the waves may make up for the temperature of the water.
Another really disappointing point is that despite all those beautiful beaches, it’s impossible to swim due to the ocean being so cold. I wrongly assumed that the water would be as nice and warm as the Mediterranean sea, big mistake. – Julia
Take cold ocean for another example, I also kind of knew it but still hoped to find warmer ocean down the south. Once I realized that I can’t stay in the ocean comfortably for more than 30 minutes in Lagos – one of the most visited areas in Algarve in southern Portugal – even in August, I gave up the ideal of limiting myself to southern Portugal. – WL
This is unique to Portugal. Other Southern European countries like Spain, Greece, Italy, and Cyprus are all on the Mediterranean Sea so typically have warmer waters.
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, places like 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 in Porto are often full to the brim and very uncomfortable to visit.
Tourism has also led to other problems in the local housing market and has put a strain on public transport and other services. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like over tourism is going to decrease anytime soon, particularly as the Portuguese economy is so focused on tourism – and doesn’t look like it’s going to dramatically shift to anything else anytime soon.
Insane amount of tourists who are here because Anthony Bourdain raved about it or whatever. Even the smaller cities outside of Lisboa feature the ubiquitous “instagram tourist spots” so you will be sure to see all the brain dead people stumbling off of huge buses, waiting their turn to take a selfie in front of some giant letters or a fountain. – Mike
This isn’t completely unique to Portugal. Lots of other cities like Barcelona and Amsterdam are struggling with overtourism.
Con: Deliveries & Customs
Many people who move to Portugal come from countries where online shopping is extremely developed, to the point where they can get their orders on the same day. That’s not the case in Portugal, especially as most online shopping is done with companies outside of Portugal. In fact, a huge percentage is likely with Amazon Spain.
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.
The Postal Service (CTT). It is ASTONISHINGLY inefficient and bureaucratic. Many times things simply do not get delivered. The employees are exceptionally unhelpful. – Gaius
It’s all okay except the fact that when we order something from a foreign country it takes like 1 to 3 weeks to arrive to Lisbon, but from Lisbon to the Azores we almost always wait for 1 month to 2 months!!! – Alberto
While we’re on the subject of shopping, it’s worth mentioning Portuguese customs. Just about every country has a customs system which charges 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.
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. Basically, try to avoid shipping anything from outside the EU (excluding your belongings if you have a certificado de bagagem as these will be treated differently).
Con: The Smoking
While smoking is on the way out in many countries, smoking is still reasonably common in Portugal. While one commenter like
Second hand smoke is present everywhere here, public transportation, parks, outdoor cafes and restaurants, beaches, where you work and live and so on. – Carlos
Portugal has been slower to phase out smoking in bars and restaurants than many other European countries—while most restaurants and bars are non-smoking, you will stumble across places that still allow it in sections—but new laws coming into place in 2023 are likely to make smoking even less common inside [source].
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.