Portugal VS Spain: Where Should Expats Choose to Live?

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A lot of people think about moving to Spain or Portugal. Both have a similar climate, they have shared histories, and are located right next to each other, so it’s understandable why so many people lump the two together. 

Regardless of which country you choose to live in, you’ll be right next to the other one and so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to travel around both. But travel is one thing and living somewhere is very different, so it’s important to choose the country that’s best for you to live in. Both have their pros and cons for living, which this article will explore. 

Residency visas

If you aren’t the lucky owner of an EU passport, you’ll most likely need a residency visa in order to move to either Spain or Portugal. 

Both Portugal and Spain offer visas aimed at attracting retirees, but Spain requires an annual income (typically from a pension) of €33,893 for a couple[1] … Continue reading. In comparison, Portugal’s D7 visa requires the main applicant to have at least the equivalent of the Portuguese minimum wage (around €665 per month) and another 50% for the partner. In practice, this works out at €11,970 for a couple, which is much less than what Spain requires. And although the D7 is popular with retirees, it isn’t just for those in their golden years: it’s also an option for remote workers and freelancers. 

Another popular visa that Portugal offers is the D2 or entrepreneur visa, which offers residency in return for starting a business in Portugal. Entrepreneur visas are common across Europe, but the Portuguese entrepreneur visa typically only requires seed capital of around €5,000 [2]https://tom-bradford.com/portugal-d2-business-residence-permit/.

Then there’s the golden visa, which offers residency in return for investing in Portugal, including buying a property here. It’s something that both Spain and Portugal offer, but there are a few pros to the Portuguese version. Firstly, a citizenship application can be made after five in Portugal rather than 10 years in Spain. Property investment costs also start at around €280k in Portugal rather than €500k in Spain. 

Winner: Portugal

Citizenship Possibilities 

Both Spain and Portugal allow you to apply for citizenship (and that coveted “EU passport”) after a period of living there, a process known as naturalisation. In Portugal, that period is five years[3]https://www.cscadvogada.com/citizenship/legal-residence-for-5-years whereas in Spain it’s generally 10 years[4]https://www.immigrationspain.es/en/citizenship-by-residency/. Spain has a few exceptions and it’s faster if you’re a refugee (five years) or two years if you’re from Portugal, the Philippines, Andorra, Equatorial Guinea, or any Latin-American country [5]https://www.immigrationspain.es/en/citizenship-by-residency/.

Both Spain and Portugal offer citizenship via marriage. In Portugal, you have to have been married for three years or in a long-term relationship or “stable union,” but don’t have to have lived in Portugal. In Spain, you can apply for citizenship through marriage after one year of being married and living in Spain [6]https://www.immigrationspain.es/en/citizenship-by-marriage-in-spain/.

Portugal allows dual citizenship. Spain does, but only with specific countries and in limited circumstances. This fact alone could make Portugal the winner as most people will want to hold onto their other passport.

Winner: Portugal

The language

Deciding which country is better when it comes to language is a difficult question to answer, but Spanish is definitely more practical for travel as it’s spoken throughout most of Latin America. Portuguese is spoken in other countries besides Portugal, but most people are more likely to visit Mexico or Chile rather than Guinea-Bissau or Angola. The difference between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese is also much greater than the difference between European Spanish and Latin American Spanish. 

It’s debatable whether one language is harder than the other, but most people will say Spanish is easier, especially when compared to “European Portuguese” (as opposed to “Brazilian Portuguese”). Spoken Portuguese is very hard to understand and there are many more TV shows and films to learn from in Spanish. 

English tends to be more spoken in Portugal, but that’s not always a good thing and it can make it very easy to be lazy and just try to get by in English. In Spain, you can hold a conversation in broken Spanish whereas many Portuguese, frustrated at the slow speed and the way you’re butchering their language, will quickly switch to English. 

Winner: Spain

Taxes

If you’re planning to move to a country with low taxes, neither Spain nor Portugal should really be considerations. There are many places with much lower taxes. 

According to Tax Foundation, Portugal is worse than Spain when it comes to taxes[7]https://taxfoundation.org/personal-income-tax-rates-europe/. However, this chart only compares “normal” rates of income tax and doesn’t take into account the NHR tax regime, which is open to newcomers to Portugal. Although definitely not a “tax holiday” as it’s often marketed as, this can definitely soften the blow of Portuguese taxes and may even work out a better deal than what you’re currently getting. 

Winner: Portugal

The weather

Portugal and Spain both have incredibly similar weather: both have incredibly hot parts such as the Alentejo in Portugal and Andalucia in Spain and both have greener areas like the North of Portugal and Galicia in Spain. Both also have their own islands, which have their own climates which are separate to the mainland. 

Overall, however, Spain probably wins when it comes to weather as it has more areas with mild winter weather than Portugal. In Portugal, the mild winter weather is limited to anywhere south of Lisbon and especially around the Algarve. Spain, in comparison, has a much larger area of good weather that covers the South Coast and up to areas like the Costa Blanca. In this area, you’ll find several cities like Valencia, Murcia, and Malaga, whereas the only large city Portugal has that gets winter sun is Lisbon. 

The sea is also much warmer in Spain than it is in Portugal: Spain has the Mediteranean whereas Portugal has the Atlantic. However, Portugal is a better destination for surfers with several great surf spots like Nazaré, Sagres, and Ericeira. 

Island-wise, the Canaries are a better bet for weather, although Madeira has other charms. 

Unfortunately, apartments in both Spain and Portugal tend to be very cold in winter due to a lack of central heating. The lack of insulation means noise is also an issue in both, but Portugal probably does slightly better here. 

Winner: Spain

Cost of living

It’s difficult to compare the cost of living across both Spain and Portugal as Spain, in particular, is quite varied. Madrid and Barcelona both have a slightly prohibitive cost of living, even more so than Lisbon, which is now very expensive to live in. Most people will want to compare the cost of living in somewhere like the Alentejo versus Andalucia and not have the higher prices of Lisbon and Madrid taken into consideration. 

Many people look at the minimum wage and conclude that Portugal must be cheaper since it has a lower minimum wage: around €775 per month versus around €950 per month [8]https://www.thelocal.es/20210603/explained-how-spain-plans-to-raise-its-minimum-wage-by-as-much-as-e250/. Or, they look at websites like Numbeo which, while helpful, aren’t always accurate. Many blog posts are now out of date as property rental and purchase prices in Portugal have increased significantly. 

Comparing food and drink prices also isn’t particularly helpful and can be quite misleading. Despite the lower purchasing power, Portugal is actually more expensive than Spain for a lot of things including essentials like cars, electricity, and fuel. Walk through a Spanish town and you’ll see air con units on all of the apartment balconies. Not so in Portugal as it’s more expensive to run them. 

Which is cheaper? It’s hard to say. 

Winner: Undecided

Food

Which country has the better food is really a matter of preference? This website is obviously biased and so will say Portuguese food is better, but…it’s also true. 

Spain does have some fantastic dishes and the tapas culture is great. Portugal may have petiscos, which are like a Portuguese version of tapas, but they’re just not as exciting and most petiscos bars are aimed at tourists anyway. 

But Spanish food, particularly in the South of Spain, is fried and beige. Portuguese food, in comparison, is often grilled and uses a lot more fresh fish. There are good foodie regions of Spain – San Sebastian and the whole region of Galicia is fantastic – but Portugal is much better overall. 

Both Spain and Portugal produce fantastic and affordable wines, and it really will come down to a matter of preference. Portugal has port wine, vinho verde, and is very good for reds, particularly from the Douro and Alentejo, but Spain produces much better sparkling wine (cava) and some fantastic whites, particularly albarinos. The Rioja region is also as good if not better than the Douro. 

Neither, unfortunately, is great for vegetarians or vegans, but Spain actually has several tapas that are authentically vegetarian, so it’s slightly easier to get by. 

Winner: Undecided (but probably Portugal)

Culture

It would take multiple articles to discuss both Spanish and Portuguese culture. Spain and Portugal definitely have a lot in common culturally, more so than Portugal and Thailand for example, but the differences are significant as well. 

Both are laid-back, very family-focused, and quite closed to outsiders, but Spanish people are much louder and more confident whereas the Portuguese are shier and more reserved (although a few beers can change that). The Portuguese are a little more introspective, and reserved, and, through their love of saudade, can often come across as having quite a negative view of life, whereas the Spanish come across as more jovial and vibrant. 

Both are patriotic, both the Portuguese are perhaps much more so, and focus a lot more on their colonial past than the Spanish. In Spain, the country is much more divided and people tend to be more proud of their region than Spain as a whole. In fact, several regions want independence from Madrid whereas this struggle for independence isn’t an issue in Portugal. 

Winner: depends

Size

Size isn’t everything, but it does come with certain benefits. Spain is much bigger than Portugal and that means it’s home to large cities whereas Portugal really only has Lisbon and Porto. Spain, in comparison, has Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Sevilla, Zaragoza, Málaga, Murcia, Palma, and Las Palmas. If you want to live in or near a city, Spain has more options. 

Bigger also means better flights: Spain is just better for international flights, particularly from Madrid and Barcelona, and often you’ll have to fly from Portugal to Spain to get an affordable international flight. Both are quite far from the rest of Europe for driving, but Portugal much more so.

Bigger also means better online shopping – Portuguese shoppers have to shop at Amazon Spain, for example – which may not seem important now, but may become important once you move somewhere. 

Winner: Spain

Conclusion

It’s difficult to say which country is better for expats to live in, Spain or Portugal. Ultimately, it’ll come down to two things: practicalities like visas and citizenship and which one you fall in love with. 

This site is biased, but thinks that’ll be Portugal. 

Notes

Notes
1 https://www.msn.com/en-gb/money/other/expats-britons-should-look-to-portugal-instead-of-spain-for-post-brexit-relocations/ar-BB1fWmd9?ocid=spartandhp&fbclid=IwAR3cxhH9RaBRoUipT9npTi6frBcrgGROGZp_jEPH5d4zQj98kufrn-LRYYk
2 https://tom-bradford.com/portugal-d2-business-residence-permit/
3 https://www.cscadvogada.com/citizenship/legal-residence-for-5-years
4, 5 https://www.immigrationspain.es/en/citizenship-by-residency/
6 https://www.immigrationspain.es/en/citizenship-by-marriage-in-spain/
7 https://taxfoundation.org/personal-income-tax-rates-europe/
8 https://www.thelocal.es/20210603/explained-how-spain-plans-to-raise-its-minimum-wage-by-as-much-as-e250/
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Article originally published on 16 July, 2021

2 thoughts on “Portugal VS Spain: Where Should Expats Choose to Live?”

    • Thanks for this!

      According to the article, “Spain’s net wealth tax is a progressive tax ranging from 0.2 percent to 3.75 percent on wealth stocks above €700,000 ($784,000; lower in some regions), with rates varying substantially across Spain’s autonomous regions (Madrid offers a 100 percent relief).”

      This sounds like it won’t affect a lot of people deciding between Spain/Portugal, but could be the clincher for wealthier people deciding between the two countries.

      Reply

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