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Is Portugal safe?

Last updated: October 2019* | 13 Comments

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.

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. Could there be a terrorist attack in Portugal as well?

Yes is the unfortunate answer, but there could be a terrorist attack anywhere. Statistically, however, Portugal is one of the least likely places where a terrorist attack might occur.

According to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the threat of terrorism in Portugal is low. In comparison, the threat in Spain, France, and the United Kingdom is high.

Many of the countries where terrorist attacks have occurred have had large Muslim populations, which increases the likelihood of there being those one or two ISIS-radicalised Muslims willing to carry out a terrorist attack.

Portugal has one of the lowest Islamic populations of any Western European country: according to 2011 estimates, there are only 40,000 Muslims living in Portugal (a country with a population of more than 10 million people). In comparison, France has nearly 5 million, the UK has nearly 3 million, and Spain has nearly 2 million.

You can never rule the possibility out, but statistically a terrorist attack in Portugal is lower than in most other Western European countries.

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13 comments on “Is Portugal safe?”

  1. hi james

    my boyfriend is currently staying in Porthugal,you see im from South Africa i ve never in my life travelled aboard but really want to..He bought us a home there and is coming to fetch us do thing i would fit in,in a place like your since i want to make a change in my life..im kinda worried about my safety aswell my sons

    • Hi Jaymeque,

      I’ve travelled in South Africa, so I understand what you mean when you say safety concerns. Don’t worry: Portugal is nothing like that.

      Obviously you need to be sensible as with anywhere, but you can easily walk around at night, you can go to the ATM easily, take public transport without any problems, etc. It’s just a lot safer.

    • Hi Faiza,

      I’ve re-read it and don’t see that it’s racist or misleading. I also didn’t blame the entire Muslim population for the terrorist attacks, so let’s not be silly here. Please stick to the facts of what’s actually written. If you want to provide some constructive criticism on how the text can be improved, I’ll happily listen as it’s quite a difficult subject to write about.

  2. I agree with others here – may I gently suggest that you tone down the ‘safest place’ stuff. We have been checking out the Algarve and discover that it has a high rate of burglaries – everyone has alarms, many have guard dogs and rapid response companies are doing good business. High gates, strong locks, etc are the order of the day and its recommended by one local community service that you lock everything up in your house and set the alarm even if you are just popping out to the shops – even if you have gates and walls. I feel very misled by the many people on the forums peddling the ‘safe’ place propaganda.

    • Hi Janey,

      You’re right. Burglaries are an issue in Portugal (not just the Algarve) but no, not everyone has alarms or high gates or anything like that. The vast majority of people don’t have alarms and gates aren’t all that common either: most people live in apartments.

      I do agree that burglaries are a problem in Portugal, particularly areas where people have second or empty homes, but I think what you’re suggesting is on the other end of the spectrum of the “safe propaganda.” The truth is somewhere in the middle.

    • Hi Paul,

      There is definitely an issue with break-ins here. I will try to find some statistics so that I can compare it to other countries or even to previous years to see if there’s an increase.

      As for the police not reporting the break-ins, I’m just wondering how you know this happens?

    • Very safe but not very rich. Wages are usually lower than other EU countries, but it’ll depend on the industry. But, even though you will probably get paid less than you would in other countries, you may find that the quality of life that you get in Portugal makes up for that.

  3. When I decided to retire in Cascais I was constantly reminded how safe the country is but a lot of this I believe is Public relation propaganda. In my first 3 months here My cell phone was almost stolen 3 times, its an angolan scam where they ask you a question and then strike your forearm with the hope that your phone will drop. All three of them got a little surprise from me as I am ex special forces, and whats more I almost got in trouble for protecting myself? My new secure condo complex has been broken in 4 times in one month looking for easy to steal items. The police come out but never make out reports, so the statistics are not valid. The whole nation is on a public relations campaign to attract outside wealth to buy homes but a lot of what people say is as the Brazilians say BS from the Melandro.