Portugal VS Mexico: Which is Better for Expats?

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Last updated on June 14, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 7 minutes

It might seem unusual to compare life in Mexico and Portugal, but it’s a common comparison for many Americans considering moving abroad, particularly for retirement. In the past, Mexico and other Latin American countries like Panama, Costa Rica, and Ecuador were where most Americans set their sights. Recently, however, more and more Americans have been looking for ways to move to Europe and Portugal has come into the limelight as a place Americans can easily move to.

Both offering a laid-back way of life with beautiful beaches and a fascinating culture, but Mexico offers proximity to the rest of North America and Portugal offers access to the EU. Which is better? Let’s find out.

Residency Visas

Most people will require a residency visa to move to either Portugal or Mexico.

Mexico: Mexico offers a relatively straightforward process for obtaining a temporary resident visa, which is valid for one year and can be renewed for three additional years. After four years, you can apply for permanent residency. The main requirement is to demonstrate financial self-sufficiency, either through a steady income or significant savings.

Portugal: Portugal offers a number of attainable residency visas such as the D7, which requires you to have a regular, passive income (such as a pension) that’s greater than the minimum wage which, as of 2024, is €820 per month. There’s also the digital nomad visa, which is aimed at remote workers and freelancers, and the golden visa, which is aimed at those with cash to invest. A longer list of residency visas can be found here.

All of these visas offer the chance to apply for both permanent residency and Portuguese citizenship after just 5 years, one of the shortest timeframes in Europe.

Citizenship Possibilities

Mexico: After 2 years of permanent residency, you can apply for Mexican citizenship, provided you have a basic understanding of Spanish and Mexican history.

Portugal: Portugal allows for dual citizenship and you can apply after 5 years of legal residency. The process involves demonstrating ties to the country and basic proficiency in Portuguese (A2 level).

Although you can apply for Mexican citizenship faster, Portuguese citizenship is considered to be more valuable as a Portuguese passport allows you to live, work, and study in all of the other countries within the EU.

The Language

Mexico: Spanish is the official language of Mexico. While English is spoken in tourist areas and among some educated Mexicans, a basic understanding of Spanish is essential for day-to-day life.

Portugal: Portuguese is the official language, but English is widely spoken, especially in places like the Algarve, Lisbon, and Porto. It usually isn’t too difficult to find English-speaking professionals, such as accountants or lawyers, but it isn’t unusual for doctors, nurses, or those working in government departments like Finanças or AIMA (previously known as SEF) not to speak much English.

There is a lot of debate as to whether Portuguese or Spanish is easier to learn, but many people, particularly Americans, will have had a lot more exposure to Spanish and may even speak a little bit of Spanish already.

Safety

Mexico: Safety in Mexico can vary significantly by region. Overall, however, Mexico scores very badly on the Global Peace Index, ranking at 136th in 2023. While many expats live safely in Mexico, the country does have high rates of violent crime in certain areas. It’s crucial to research and choose your location carefully.

Portugal: Portugal is consistently ranked as one of the safest countries in the world. The 2023 Global Peace Index ranks Portugal as the third safest country globally.

The Weather

Mexico: Mexico offers a diverse climate, from hot and humid coastal regions to cooler, temperate highlands. The weather is generally warm year-round, with a rainy season from May to October.

Portugal: Portugal enjoys a warm, southern European climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters. The southern region, the Algarve, boasts one of the most stable climates in the world, with approximately 300 sunny days per year. The northern region, in comparison, can be quite damp and grey during winter.

Most expats choose to locate to regions that are milder in winter, particularly the Algarve, but also the Alentejo, Lisbon and surrounding areas, the Silver Coast, and Madeira.

Cost of Living

Mexico: The cost of living in Mexico is generally lower than in the U.S. According to Numbeo, as of 2023, you would need around $1,200 in Mexico City to maintain the same standard of living that you can have with $4,700 in New York City.

Portugal: Portugal is one of the most affordable countries in Western Europe. However, it’s more expensive than Mexico. As per Numbeo, you would need around $1,700 in Lisbon to maintain the same lifestyle as in New York City with $4,700.

Of course, Lisbon is more expensive than the rest of Portugal, however the cost of living has been increasing in other areas, like Porto and the Algarve. It’s still a lot more affordable than large parts of the US, but not quite as affordable as Mexico.

Food

Mexico: Mexican cuisine, a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, is renowned for its variety and flavor. From tacos to tamales, the food is a significant draw for many expats.

Portugal: Portuguese cuisine is diverse and delicious, with a focus on fresh seafood, hearty stews, and grilled meats. The country is also famous for its wines, particularly Port and Vinho Verde. While many expats enjoy Portuguese food, particularly the world-famous pastéis de nata, it hasn’t reached the same status that Mexican food has. In fact, many US expats living in Portugal often complain that they can’t find good-quality Mexican food in Portugal.

Culture

Mexico: Mexican culture is a vibrant blend of indigenous and Spanish influences, with a rich history, colorful festivals, and a strong sense of community.

Portugal: Portugal offers a mix of traditional and modern culture, with historic cities, music festivals, and a laid-back lifestyle. The Portuguese are known for their friendliness and tolerance towards foreigners.

Size

Mexico: Mexico is the 14th largest country in the world, offering diverse landscapes from beaches to mountains and bustling cities.

Portugal: Portugal is much smaller, about the size of the state of Indiana. However, it offers a variety of landscapes, including beautiful coastlines, mountain ranges, and historic cities, as well as the island regions of Azores and Madeira, which both have their own unique climates and cultures.

Conclusion

Choosing between Mexico and Portugal ultimately depends on your personal preferences and circumstances. Mexico offers a lower cost of living, a more familiar language, and, for those from the US or Canada, proximity to home. However, safety can be a big concern in certain areas and Spanish language proficiency is necessary in many areas.

On the other hand, Portugal, while slightly more expensive, is one of the safest countries globally, with a pleasant climate, a good standard of living, and a welcoming culture. English is widely spoken, public healthcare is available, and the rest of Europe is constantly on your doorstep. Obtaining Portuguese citizenship comes with the benefit of being able to move to other countries within the EU, such as Spain, France, or Italy.

In the end, both Mexico and Portugal offer unique advantages and opportunities for a fulfilling expat life. It’s recommended to visit each country before making a decision, as there’s no substitute for personal experience in assessing which country feels like the right fit for you.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out our other comparisons, like living in Portugal vs Spain or Italy vs Spain.

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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.

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    • Hi Douglas,

      I think that really depends on your income, and so varies from one person to another, which makes it difficult to give an overall answer to. Yes, the NHR regime has gone for certain groups of people. However, it’ll affect people in different ways.

      I’d recommend speaking to an accountant to get an idea of how much tax you’d be likely to pay. Happy to suggest one if needed.

      Reply

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