Taking a “Scouting Trip” to Portugal

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Originally published in Aug 2020 & last updated on July 24, 2023
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Many people who are thinking about moving to Portugal take a “scouting trip” to see if Portugal is the right country for them. A scouting trip is a chance to visit a few different towns and cities to see which one you might want to live in. It’s also a good opportunity to see if you like Portuguese culture and the way of life in Portugal and if you could really see yourself living here. Everyone’s scouting trip is different. Some come for a few days while some come for many months. Some visit multiple locations, and many tourists attractions, while others simply rent an apartment and take things easy. Whatever you decide to do, the following are a few tips to make your location scouting a little more successful. 

If you’re applying for a residency visa like the D7, you may also be using the trip to rent an apartment and to open a bank account, as both of these are usually criteria for the visa now. You’ll need a NIF number for both of these tasks, if you don’t already have one, and if you’re currently resident outside of the EU/EEA it normally makes sense just to pay a company to get one of these for you before you go on your scouting trip. Bordr is one of several companies that offers this service.

The Longer You Can Stay, The Better

Visa requirements, such as the 90-day Schengen Visa, and other practicalities will decide how long you can stay in Portugal, but, the longer you can stay, the more you’ll get a sense of what it’s like to live here rather than just be a tourist here.

And, the more you can avoid being a tourist on your scouting trip, the better. While you should definitely eat out at restaurants, stay in nice hotels, and go and see some of the top “things to do” in a place, try to do some things that’ll give you a sense of what it’s like to live there.

Avoid hotels

While hotels are okay for an overnight, they’re typically located in touristy parts of the city and never give you an authentic experience of what it might be like to live there. 

Instead, rent an apartment through Airbnb in a not-too-touristy neighbourhood (somewhere you might consider living). You’ll get to experience a Portuguese house or apartment, which may be different to what you’re used to, and you’ll get to go to the local markets and supermarkets as anyone living here does. 

If you’re able to stay medium or long-term, many Airbnb hosts automatically offer discounted rates for stays of 28 days or more, and this gives you a good opportunity to actually live somewhere in Portugal.

Find a short or longer-term rental on Airbnb.  

Consider the expat hotspots

Although there are expats in every corner of Portugal, the majority live in places like the Algarve, Lisbon, Cascais (near Lisbon), Porto, and Madeira. 

Other locations that are becoming popular (but don’t have a huge number of expats) include Coimbra, The Silver Coast, Castelo Branco, and Ericeira. 

Even if you don’t think you’ll want to live in somewhere that has a lot of expats, it’s a good idea to visit one or two of them anyway as you might find that the remote locations are just too remote for you. 

Winter is a good time to visit

Winter can be a good time to visit. It’s cheaper, particularly when it comes to accommodation, and much less crowded. It’s also a good opportunity to see if a Portuguese winter is for you. 

Portugal has mild winters, by most people’s standards, but winters can also be quite cold and damp here. That’s more the case inside the houses for most of the South of Portugal, but the North of Portugal actually gets quite grey and cold winters as well. 

Many towns, particularly those on the Algarve that normally cater to tourism, can also be extremely quiet. Some people will love that quietness while others will find it’s just not for them. 

Rent a car

While you don’t need a car in Lisbon or Porto, if you’re planning on checking out the rest of the country (including the Algarve) a car is definitely a good idea. 

Portugal has good public transport, but a scouting trip really requires flexibility. You want to be able to hop in your car and check out the nearest town, but that isn’t always a quick and easy process when you’re relying on trains and buses. 

Also, it gives you a chance to experience driving in Portugal. 

While it does make sense to work North to South or South to North, Portugal isn’t a very big country and you can drive from top to bottom in around 5 and a half hours. 

Rentalcars.com and Skyscanner.net are two good sites for comparing car rental, and there are often good deals if you rent for a month or so (renting for more than 30 days at a time isn’t possible). 

Do the boring stuff

Many people who visit Portugal come to:

  • Get a NIF if you’re resident in the EU/EEA (if you’re not, it probably makes sense to get one in advance so you can open a bank account/rent an apartment)
  • Open a bank account (if you already have a NIF)
  • Check out potential schools
  • Rent an apartment, if you’re going to need one in advance (e.g. if your applying for the D7 visa)
  • Make contacts with rental companies or estate agents
  • Visit a few properties they might want to buy
  • Check out the shops to see what prices are like

You don’t necessarily have to do any or all of these things, but it can cut down on the amount of things that you need to do later on.  

Line up a few properties

Part of your trip may involve looking at a few properties that you’re interested in buying.

Even though you might have your heart set on one, it’s a good idea to line a few up as you may find the property you had your heart set on isn’t as good in real life.

You may also want to enlist the help of a buyer’s agent: someone who works on your behalf to find you the right properties and to inspect them to make sure they really are a good deal.

Do some non-boring stuff 

Don’t spend all your time visiting lawyers, estate agents (realtors), or trying to open a bank account. Be sure to take some time to visit some historical attractions, go to the beach, or visit the Portuguese countryside. 

Meet some other expats

Being in Portugal is a great opportunity to really talk with other expats, rather than just the odd conversation on a Facebook group or forum.

If you’re visiting somewhere like Lisbon, Porto, or the Algarve, you may even find that there’s a meetup happening that you can attend, which will give you a chance to meet multiple expats in one go.

Try to speak a little Portuguese

One of the main challenges of moving to Portugal is learning to speak Portuguese and, if you’re serious about moving here, it’s a good idea to try and learn it. Yes, you can get by in English, particularly in the Algarve and Lisbon, but life will be a lot more enjoyable if you make an effort to learn it. 

You’ll probably make lots of mistakes, but the Portuguese are very accommodating and will help you out in English. It’s good to get used to making these mistakes, though, as it might become a regular part of your life very soon. 

Pimsleur is a good, basic course for tourist-level Portuguese, and there are also some good quality free resources as well. If you’re serious about learning Portuguese, though, you might want to start with Michel Thomas or one of the other beginner courses.

Written by

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.

You can contact James by emailing james@portugalist.com or via the site's contact form.

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There are 10 comments on this article. Join the conversation and add your own thoughts, reviews, and stories of life in Portugal. However, please remember to be civil.


  1. Hello James,

    First of all I would like to thank you for your dedicated website and your responses to peoples comments.

    Your idea of linking a personal assistant to assist people ona scouting trip or others whom have decided to move is ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT and needed.
    I am a global citizen that has lived in 3 continents and understand several cultures and speak several languages. I would love to discuss this opportunity with you and set up the Portugalist “Concierge Service” Have a lovely day.

  2. Some great advice on here.. We will be taking our scouting trip next year with the intention of moving on a permanent basis 2024. Can’t wait…….

  3. Some great advice on here.. We will be taking our scouting trip next year with the intention of moving on a permanent basis 2024. Can’t wait…….

  4. It seems to me that “someone” could indeed create a successful business by offering to be a “personal assistant” for those wanting to relocate to Portugal…I have seen them listed in other countries we have considered retiring to. Its worth $$$ to be “generally” advised about health care, banking, setting up with computer and phone, neighborhoods, general tax info, etc
    Ideally, for us, it would be an older English-speaking expat who retired to Portugal
    and has “been there/done that”…people would pay money for this kind of guidance.

    • Agreed! For the newbie, all this is like drinking from a fire hose. Once you have “been there and done that” it is a shame to have the knowledge and experience never be used again. Maybe all of those people who have successfully made the move are just having too much fun to bother.

    • I was thinking of doing a concierge service like this. I’m an American and just went through the process of buying an apartment in Lisbon. I had to navigate getting a bank account, NIF and loan. I was also surprised how difficult it was to set up utilities – I have been trying for 4 months to get Vodafone to transfer the service into my name.

      I’m sure my experience could be helpful to others.


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