According to the 2017 Global Peace Index, Portugal is the world’s 3rd safest country. Only Iceland and New Zealand are considered safer, and neither has the weather, beaches, or low cost of living that Portugal has. To put it in a bit more perspective, the United Kingdom sits at position 41 and the United States at 159. Basically: Portugal is an extremely safe place to visit, and unless you’re coming from either Iceland or New Zealand, it’s safer than your home country.
It’s also considerably safer than most of the other popular holiday and retirement destinations: Spain sits at position 23, Italy at position 38, and France at position 51. Greece and Turkey are even further down the list.
As with any country, there are safe bits and there are unsafe bits. There are some parts of Lisbon that I wouldn’t recommend tourists go late at night, for example, but these aren’t places that tourists ever go to.
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Safe to travel to
The Algarve, Lisbon, and Porto (the three most popular destinations for tourists) are all extremely safe. The biggest concern for travellers, particularly those heading to cities like Lisbon, is small crime or theft.
Pickpockets are a problem in Lisbon. They’re nowhere near as big a problem as Barcelona, where it seems everyone gets their wallet or other belongings stolen. They’re not even as big a problem as they are in Rome, Madrid, Prague, or Paris, but they are still something that you need to watch out for.
Pickpockets target absent-minded tourists, usually while they’re taking a photo or getting on and off public transport. Tram 28, the touristy tram, is well-known for having pickpockets. They are also prevalent in the more touristy areas like Baixa and around Cais do Sodré.
Keep your wits about you in these areas, and you should be fine. Some people travel with anti-theft devices like a bum bag (or fanny pack as they’re known in America). There are also pouches that hang from your neck, which are often easier to use.
Theft is less of a problem in the Algarve although, as with anywhere, you should avoid leaving valuables visible in your car and use common sense when you’re out and about.
The biggest safety problem for tourists in the Algarve is probably other tourists, particularly on The Strip in Albufeira. This is stag and hen party central, and there have been a couple of incidents recently where the riot police have been called in. For families, especially, stick to Albufeira’s Old Town or one of the other coastal resort towns like Carvoreiro or even Praia da Rocha.
Safe to live in
As well as being safe to travel to, Portugal is also very safe to live in. Portugal is continually ranked as one of the top ten places in the world to retire to, with the Algarve frequently nabbing the top spot.
Portugal has a very large expat community, and most live here without coming into contact with crime. Most expats live in the Algarve, but you’ll also find expats in almost every corner of Portugal: from Porto the the Azores.
Although expats are at least partly responsible for a few negative things – rising house prices, for example – there isn’t usually any obvious animosity between locals and expats.
Natural disasters in Portugal
Portugal is prone to a few natural disasters, namely forest fires, earthquakes, and floods. Forest fires are the biggest concern here. Although Portugal did have one famous earthquake in 1755 that destroyed Lisbon, it has never been repeated. If you live in Portugal for long enough, you’ll feel an earthquake at some point but it’ll probably be so small that you won’t even notice it.
Floods do happen in Portugal from time-to-time. In 2015, the floods in the Algarve left one elderly man dead. The 2010 floods in Madeira were much bigger, causing mudslides and leaving 42 people dead.
Fires have been a big problem for Portugal in recent years, particularly around Monchique in the Algarve and in Central Portugal. Thankfully nobody died during the 2018 fires in Monchique and nearby parts of the Algarve, but the 2017 fires in Central Portugal resulted in at least 66 deaths.
Despite some of these natural disasters taking place in touristy parts of Portugal like the Algarve and Madeira, tourists are rarely affected. With both floods and fire, there’s usually sufficient time to evacuate and move onto somewhere safer.
Terrorism in Portugal
Obviously in this day and age, a big concern of travelling – particularly in Europe – is the threat of terrorism. Most of Portugal’s neighbouring countries – Spain, France, Germany, the United Kingdom – have had terrorist attacks particularly from ISIS. Could there be a terrorist attack in Portugal as well?
Yes is the unfortunate answer simply because it could happen anywhere.
ISIL (ISIS) claim attacks in Russia, France, Australia, Canada, Belgium, the United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Sweden, Germany, as well as plenty of other countries as well. Portugal seems to have been ignored, and hopefully it will stay that way.
The U.S. Department of State & Bureau of Consular Affairs rates travel advisory levels on a scale of 1-4, and Portugal is at level 1: exercise normal precautions.
The UK Foreign travel advice says “terrorist attacks in Portugal can’t be ruled out” but it doesn’t really say any more than that. France and Spain both have warnings that terrorist attacks are either “likely” (Spain) or “very likely” (France).
Unfortunately, even though the travel recommendations for Portugal are much more positive than neighbouring countries that doesn’t mean it can be ruled out completely. As the US government website says: exercise normal precautions.