Most people who move to Portugal end up renting for a period of time, even if their ultimate aim is to buy a place here. Others end up renting for their entire time here.
It’s always tricky to find a good rental, both in Portugal and in other countries, but, along with all of the things you probably already look out for when renting a property, there are a few extra things to look out for when renting a room or a property in Portugal.
A lot of the advice in this article applies to both rooms and entire properties, and there’s some specific advice for renting rooms at the end of the article as well.
The perfect place probably doesn’t exist
When it comes to finding a place to live, whether that’s renting a room or an entire apartment, it’s important to realise that the perfect place probably doesn’t exist. Unless you have lots of money, of course, in which case you can probably find what you’re looking for. Lesson 1: it’s best to be rich.
The perfect place would score highly on all of the following areas.
- Property: The place itself is great.
- Price: Ideally it’s cheap or, at the very least, it’s reasonably-priced.
- Location: It’s in a location that’s right for you.
- Roommates: If you’ll be living with other people, they’re clean, respectful, and easy to get along with.
- Landlord: The landlord is nice, trustworthy, and comes and fixes any issues in the property.
Unfortunately, it’s rare if not impossible to find a place that scores highly on all of these things. Understand that you’ll have to compromise in some areas, and decide what’s worth compromising on.
You probably won’t get the information you need upfront
Adverts for apartments and rooms are usually very sparse with the details. Some can be as simple as: “Room available in Lisbon. Message me for more information.” Sometimes they don’t even say where.
You’ll almost never get told what street the property is on, and often you won’t get told the price in advance either. Be prepared to have to respond to a lot of adverts, and to have to ask each person about 5-10 questions just to get the basic information you need.
It’s slightly frustrating, but just part of the process.
You can negotiate (sometimes)
It’s important to remember that prices are negotiable, although whether or not you’ll be successful depends on the market. If the landlord isn’t able to rent the property, you have the leverage. If, however, the property is in demand, it’s highly unlikely they’ll rent to you for less.
If you’re renting an apartment in a touristy part of the country (e.g. Lisbon, Porto, or the Algarve), you have more leverage in the winter than in the summer. Between the end of February and the end of October, most landlords will have their sights set on the big bucks: short-term rentals. After that, however, many will be open to a discounted winter rate or potentially a discounted long-term rate as well.
Negotiating is always tricky wherever you are, and in Portugal it can be quite difficult as it’s seemingly very easy to offend someone by offering too low a price. So, you need to know what a reasonable price is (based on the market rate) and come in a bit lower so you can negotiate, but not too low so as to offend.
Easy! Not quite.
You probably won’t get a contract
Taxes for renting non-tourism properties in Portugal are high (28%), and so many landlords just don’t declare it. And, because they’re obviously worried about the tax man finding out, most will be unwilling to give you a lease or a receipt of any kind.
If you want a contract, it’ll cost you more — 28% more usually.
There are lots of downsides to not having a contract of any kind. The first you have no protection, including protection of your deposit. You also have no protection against rent increases and, during the tourism boom years, many renters saw their rents increase double and even triple. If they didn’t like it, they had to find somewhere else to live.
It’s also a problem for those that need rental contracts for their residency permits as most permits require you to show proof of address while in Portugal.
Unfortunately, all you can do is shop around until you find someone who’ll provide you with the necessary paperwork or pay a little extra.
Properties can be freezing cold in the winter
It’s not uncommon for properties to get cold in the winter…very, very cold. There’s no insulation, no central heating, and you may even have to wear a jacket inside (or two).
This isn’t the case with every property, but it is the case with many of them. Rooms that face south and aren’t blocked by a building tend to do much better during the winter months.
Of course once you get through winter you have to deal with the possibility that your house is like a sauna during the summer (there’s usually no air con either). There’s a nice period around springtime though!
Noise can be an issue
Insulation isn’t great in Portuguese properties, and that means they’re not very well sound insulated either. It’s not uncommon to hear your neighbours arguing, watching TV, peeing, and just having a conversation. It’s not so much that they’re loud (although some are) but more that the walls are badly insulated.
Noisy things to look out for include:
- Bins nearby (these typically get collected around 5 am, and can be noisy if there’s one below you).
- Bars on your street (Friday and Saturday nights are the worst, and it’s often worthwhile swinging by at that time to see what it’s like).
- Neighbours (Usually the upstairs neighbours are the worst for noise, especially if they have young children. The best time to tell is in the evening when people are home from school and work).
- Vehicles: If the property is on a main street, it’s quite likely there’ll be noise from buses, trams, and cars, but it mightn’t be such an issue if the place has double glazing.
- Construction: This is more noticeable during the daytime, and usually it’s just a case of keeping an eye out for big construction sites. There’ll probably still be construction done in the neighbouring apartments from time to time, but that usually only lasts a few days.
- Airplanes: In Lisbon, for example, many neighbourhoods are underneath the airplane flight path.
Smelly drains are an issue in some properties
Smelly drains are a common problem in Portugal, particularly older properties, and you should get a whiff of them when you go view a property if it’s an issue. While it can be difficult to mask the smell entirely, you can get rid of it somewhat. There are definitely worse problems to have too.
A deposit often isn’t enough of a guarantee
In Portugal, often it isn’t enough to simply pay the first month’s rent and a deposit: landlords want a guarantor (fiador) as well. And, if you can’t provide one, they’ll ask for many months rent upfront – often 6-12 months.
A fiador almost always has to be a Portuguese person, or at least someone resident in Portugal, rather than someone in another country. Sometimes it’s enough simply to give the landlord the person’s name and details while other landlords may want proof of that person’s income.
This usually only applies to renting an entire house or apartment and not to renting a room.
You can often break a contract ⅓ of the way through
Weirdly, many Portuguese rental contracts (if you have one) allow you to break the rental agreement a third of the way through. You still have to give notice, but you don’t have to see the contract through for the entire period.
Some realtors just won’t reply to emails
If you want to get an answer from somebody in Portugal, email is one of the worst ways to go about it. The phone is a much better option and, even then, you’re probably better off speaking to them face to face. WhatsApp and Facebook seem to work better.
This isn’t the case with all letting agents, and is more of an issue with bricks and morter businesses rather than private landlords, but it’s something to be aware of and not to get too frustrated over.
Cheaper places sometimes lack essential appliances
If you find a cheap place, double check it has all of the essential appliances as sometimes these places are cheaper for a reason. The two most common things to be missing are an oven or a washing machine.
Another useful thing to look out for is a clothes line (usually on the outside of the building) or a balcony. You’ll need somewhere to dry your clothes, after all, and it’s worth thinking about where that might be in advance. Trying to hang them across your living room or bedroom can be a pain.
It’s possible to get by without both, but it’s always better to know in advance what your property does and doesn’t have.
Finding unfurnished places can be hard
While most people who are looking for a rental will want somewhere that’s furnished, there are quite a lot of people, particularly people who are moving to Portugal after selling a house elsewhere, that are looking for somewhere that’s unfurnished.
Finding an unfurnished place is actually quite difficult as the majority of places already have furniture and most landlords are unwilling to take the furniture out.
Utilities can be included (but expect to pay a lot more)
Electricity is expensive in Portugal and so most landlords are wary about offering rent that’s inclusive of costs, particularly if the property has air conditioning or heating of any kind.
If they are willing to offer a rental price that includes utilities, it’ll normally be more expensive than if you were to pay for the utilities yourself. This is to give them some extra leeway in case you run the air con or electricity constantly.
The cheapest thing that you can do is organise these things yourself, but this adds complications particularly when it comes to things like internet which often have 2-year contracts.
Tips for renting a room
The following are some tips that are specific to renting a room in Portugal. These pointers have a slight skew towards houseshares in Lisbon and some of these things mightn’t apply in other parts of Portugal.
House Shares can be BIG
In Portugal, particularly in Lisbon, house shares can be very large and typically have 5 or more people living in a house. There are even house shares with 2 or even 3 times that.
This is because many of the old houses in Portugal, the kind that are the norm in the city centre, are quite large and have many bedrooms. It’s also because, in some instances, landlords have split large rooms into smaller rooms or turned the living room into an extra bedroom.
Even if you find a 3-bedroom place, it’s not uncommon to have couples living in the other rooms which quickly turns it into a 5-person house share rather than a 3-person house share. Landlords have no problem doubling the amount of people in a house share to the determinant of the other tenants as long as the incoming tenants pay them a little extra rent.
All of this is quite off-putting but the upside is that many of these house shares are extremely well run. They usually have cleaners several times per week, several bathrooms, and even several kitchens complete with several fridges. Because of this, they can be cleaner than a 2 or 3-person house share.
But T2 and T3s have their problems too
If you do manage to find a smaller palace (say a 2-bedroom place), often there’ll be one person living there who’s lived there for a long time. Although these people are often lovely, often they’ll take up much more of the apartment than their share, and basically you’ll be treated a bit more like a lodger than an equal roommate.
Students & Professionals Live in Harmony (apparently)
Although you’ll find accommodation that’s specifically for students, many of the normal house shares will be a mix of students, erasmus students, and professionals. For whatever reason, landlords in Portugal don’t separate the two groups.
If you’re in your 30s and looking for somewhere quiet and clean, this can be quite off-putting. Very few of us would want to share a house with our 19-year old selves.
Meeting the other tenants beforehand is rare
When you see a room advertised, which is usually in a Facebook group or maybe on a site like Idealista or OLX, it’ll almost always be advertised by the landlord. Occasionally, the person who’s leaving the room will be the person posting the advert but, unless it’s a 2-3 bedroom house share, you’ll almost never end up speaking with one of the people that lives there.
And, you may not get to meet them before moving in either which definitely isn’t ideal as who you live with is often one of the most important aspects of renting a place.
Search for rooms, but ask as well
The majority of available rooms are advertised on Facebook groups, and often it’s a case of just applying for whatever comes up. It’s also worth posting a wanted advert as well as sometimes people will get in touch with properties you might not have seen, or even that they haven’t listed themselves.
If you’re looking for something specific e.g. a specific location, house size, or anything else, be sure to post it in the Facebook post. Some people will still get in touch with you anyway, and may not have read your listing properly, but just politely respond and say no thanks.
Glass panels are a thing, but aren’t a bit deal
Many properties in Portugal have glass panels above the bedroom doors and, sometimes, in the walls dividing the two rooms as well.
This means that if someone turns on the light in the hall, or often in the bedroom next to yours, it’ll light up your room as well.
You can block this light with thick paper, especially thick black paper, which you can usually pick up reasonably cheaply at one of the many lojas chinesas that you’ll find in Portugal. Or, if you’re happy to look like a junkie, tinfoil will block it out as well.
Walls can be paper thin
In some apartments, the landlords will have split up large rooms to make smaller bedrooms and to maximise their rent. Unfortunately, the walls used are often very thin and so it’s just another thing to look out for.
Single beds are extremely common
Sometimes it can be hard to find a room with a double bed as so many rooms, even those aimed at professionals, have single beds. All you can do is keep looking.
Some places don’t have wardrobes
It’s not uncommon for rooms not to have a wardrobe in Portugal, and this is something that many people forget to look for. Instead, what they’ll usually have is a rack to hang your clothes on.
It’s not ideal, particularly as there often isn’t space for the clothes you can’t hang, but at least every morning you get to pretend you’re in a shop looking for a new shirt.
Some rooms don’t have windows
If you thought having no wardrobe was bad, some of the rooms don’t have windows. It’s just another thing to look out for.