Living in Portugal VS France: Which is Better for Expats?

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Written by: | Last updated on February 29, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 10 minutes
This article is available in: en_US

You may be considering whether to move to France or Portugal (or even Spain or Portugal, Italy or Portugal, or Greece or Portugal) and you’re wondering which one is best? 

Well, it depends. While you may be more familiar with France, French culture, and maybe even the French language, there are lots of reasons that Portugal has become one of the main destinations for expats to move to. In fact, a lot of French people have also moved to Portugal, or at least bought properties here, and it’s not uncommon for expats living in France to decide to live in Portugal instead. 

There are four main reasons that people choose Portugal over France: taxes, the weather (if moving to somewhere like the Algarve), the fact English is so widely spoken, and the ease of obtaining a residency visa (for those that don’t have an EU/EEA/Swiss passport). 

Residency Visas

For citizens of non-EU/EEA/Swiss countries (e.g. the US or UK) considering a move to Portugal, several popular residency visa options are available:

  • Golden Visa: This program is highly sought after by those seeking Portuguese residency through investment. It requires spending an average of only 7 days per year in Portugal, offering flexibility for those not ready for immediate relocation. As of 2024, investments in funds, especially in venture capital funds, are a popular route to obtaining this visa. The standard investment amount is usually around €500,000, but there are options for lower investments in certain scenarios.
  • D7 Visa: Ideal for individuals with a stable passive income, such as from pensions or rental property earnings. The income requirement is linked to the Portuguese minimum wage and requires a monthly income of over €820 as of 2024. This visa is suitable for retirees or those with a steady income who wish to enjoy Portugal’s lifestyle without actively working there. While France has a similar visa, the minimum wage there is much higher, making this visa much more attainable. 
  • Digital Nomad Visa (D8): Designed specifically for remote workers, freelancers, and digital nomads. Applicants must demonstrate a monthly income exceeding €3,280, as of 2024. This visa is particularly suitable for professionals in fields that allow for remote work, who are attracted by Portugal’s appealing lifestyle and connectivity.
  • D2 Visa: Tailored for entrepreneurs looking to start and manage a business in Portugal. It provides an opportunity to tap into the diverse and growing Portuguese market, ideal for those with innovative business ideas or who plan to engage in independent professional activities in Portugal. This is considered one of the most attainable entrepreneur visas (on paper) as there is no minimum capital requirement or targets to hit, besides being able to support yourself. 

In addition to these options, there are other visas like student visas, which cater to a broad spectrum of needs and preferences. 

France doesn’t have as attainable residency visas. It doesn’t have a golden visa, allowing you to obtain residency in return for investing in the country. It also hasn’t introduced a digital nomad or remote worker visa, like Portugal and Spain have. 

The most popular visa option for people considering France is France’s long stay visa, which requires you to have an income that’s at least equivalent to the French minimum wage. In contrast to the D7, it is possible to use savings to demonstrate your ability to support yourself in France, at least according to some websites, however there doesn’t seem to be an exact figure. 

France also has visas aimed at students, au pairs, for those transferring within an international company, and a tech visa

Citizenship Possibilities 

In Portugal, you can apply for citizenship after legally being resident for 5 years. You will need to show at least an A2 level of Portuguese. 

In France, you can also apply for citizenship after 5 years. However, you will need to show a B1 level of French, which is the next step up from the A2 [source]. 

Both France and Portugal expect you to show that you’ve integrated and have ties to the local community. 

The Language

Most people will have exposure to French. You may also feel like you would get more value out of speaking French, as opposed to Portuguese. 

That said, with Portuguese, you are also opened up to Brazilian culture as well. While there may only be a limited number of films, tv shows, and songs produced in Portugal every year, there’s a lot more produced in Brazil. The pronunciation is different, but as a European Portuguese speaker, you shouldn’t have too many problems understanding Brazilian Portuguese. 

European Portuguese has its challenges, particularly in how it’s pronounced. However, if you’re living in rural France, you will also need to work hard on your listening skills. 

Of course, the biggest difference is that it’s much harder to get by in English in France, particularly in rural France. In Portugal, English is much more widely spoken, particularly in places like the Algarve, Lisbon, and Porto. 

The Weather

Most people choose Portugal for the weather as it’s further south than France. During the winter months, the weather in Portugal is generally mild, particularly around the Algarve but also into the Alentejo and area around Lisbon. It’s not unusual for Algarve temperatures to reach around 18°C in the winter (which is around 64°F). 

However, that’s the south of Portugal. Other parts of Portugal, particularly the north, can be quite wet and grey during the winter months. With the exception of the Serra da Estrela, Portugal rarely gets snow. 

France’s winters are generally cooler, but places like the Côte d’Azur enjoy fairly mild winters. If you enjoy skiing and winter weather, France is going to be more exciting. There’s a chance of snow in lots of parts of France whereas in Portugal the weather is usually only wet or stormy. Additionally, parts of France are on the Mediterranean so the sea will be warmer than Portugal, which is on the Atlantic. 

However, if sunshine and vitamin D is your priority, Portugal is the clear winner. According to Marseille Tourism, the city of Nice enjoys around 147 days of sunshine per year. The Algarve, in comparison, gets around 300 days of sunshine per year – double that of Nice. 

Cost of Living

Generally speaking, the cost of living is lower in Portugal, particularly when you look at groceries and eating out. However, the quality of food is often higher in France. 

Overall, if you use a website like Numbeo to compare, Portugal comes out cheaper. However, it’s not as straightforward as this. Property prices have risen considerably over the past few years and while it was cheaper to buy a rural property in Portugal, now it’s often cheaper to buy one in France. Paris is an obvious exception, but Lisbon has become very expensive too – both for renting and buying. In addition, the quality of housing can often be lower quality in Portugal, particularly in terms of insulation.

If you’re still at a working age, France’s wages are much higher than Portugal and this will likely make the slightly higher cost of living a more sensible choice. 

Food

Which has better food, France or Portugal? This is ultimately a matter of preference, but it’s obvious that French cuisine is more renowned around the world. Portuguese food is simple yet hearty. While rural French food can be like this too, there’s often that little bit more sophistication to French food. 

What about vegetarians and vegans? Neither countries are particularly vegan or vegetarian-friendly, although that does change once you get into the cities. Both Lisbon and Paris have fantastic vegan restaurants and supermarkets stock a good range of vegan ingredients. 

When it comes to wine, both countries produce fantastic wines but France, home to regions like regions like Champagne and Bordeaux, is more renowned. That’s not to say Portugal doesn’t produce some great wines. Red wines from the Douro and white wines from Pico are definitely worth trying, and that’s before we even mention Port wine – one of Portugal’s greatest contributions to the world. 

Culture

The French lifestyle is known for its emphasis on balance and quality, particularly in terms of food, fashion, and work-life balance. Cities like Paris epitomize this with their blend of modernity and tradition. The Portuguese lifestyle, especially outside of Lisbon, is often more laid-back and relaxed. The pace of life in Portugal is typically slower, with a stronger emphasis on family and community life, which can make it difficult to integrate into as an outsider. Punctuality is seen as less of an issue in Portugal when compared to France. 

Both countries have rich traditions in art and literature, but with distinct characteristics. French art and literature are known for their revolutionary ideas and aesthetic innovations, reflecting the country’s long history of intellectual and artistic movements. Portuguese art and literature, while equally rich, often reflect the country’s unique maritime history and exploration, with themes of nostalgia and discovery.

While both countries will regularly discuss their history and culture, doing so is much more common in France where debating is somewhat of a national pastime. To integrate into France, it’s often not enough to be able to speak French – you have to know about French culture as well. 

Size

Portugal is much smaller than France. If you want to live in a city or a large urban area, you really only have Lisbon and Porto. By North American standards, both of these cities would be considered very small. 

Of course, if you’re planning to live in the countryside, size may not matter as a small town in Portugal may be roughly the same size as a small town in France. If, however, you want a larger city, it’s fair to say that Paris is much larger than Lisbon. There are more career opportunities here, more things to see and do, and for those that want to jet off around the world, more flights. 

Conclusion

While France might be the country more people are familiar with, recently, there has been a surge of interest in moving to Portugal. Thanks to its attainable visas and how widely English is spoken, Portugal is often easier to move to, particularly for those from outside the EU, EEA, and Switzerland. It also has better weather, particularly during winter if you’re in the south of Portugal.

Both countries have their pros and cons. If you are limited on visa options, Portugal might be the best choice, particularly as you only need to pass the A2 exam for citizenship. If, however, you have more options, it will come down to a matter of preference.

Written by

James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.