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How to Plan a “Scouting Trip” to Portugal

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Last updated on May 9, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 7 minutes

So, you’re thinking about making the big move to Portugal? That’s fantastic! Before you start packing your bags, it’s a smart idea to plan a scouting trip to see if this beautiful country is the right fit for you.

Why?

  • It’s a good idea to see if Portugal is a good fit (it might not be).
  • If you’re serious about moving here, you can get some of the essentials sorted, like opening a bank account, renting, or even buying a house. 
  • You can visit schools (if you have kids), talk with other expats, and get a better feel for each of the areas. 
  • Basically, it’s a chance to see if Portugal is right for you and, more importantly, where in Portugal is right for you.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to create the perfect Portugal reconnaissance mission. We’ll cover everything from the best time to visit and must-see destinations to practical tips for making the most of your trip. By the end of this journey, you’ll have a clear idea of whether Portugal is the place you want to call home.

So, let’s dive in and start planning your perfect scouting trip to Portugal. 

Narrow Down Your Locations 

While it’s tempting to see all of Portugal, it’s best to focus on a few key areas where you might want to live. Aim to spend at least 1-2 days (or more) in each place to get a feel for the lifestyle, but the longer, the better.

Some popular spots for expats include:

  • The Algarve: Known as the “California of Europe” for its sunny beaches and large international community.
  • Lisbon: The vibrant capital city with a thriving expat and digital nomad scene.
  • Cascais: An upscale seaside town near Lisbon, perfect for those seeking a more relaxed pace while also being close to Lisbon.
  • The Silver Coast: A more affordable and authentic region between Lisbon and Porto. Popular towns include Coimbra, Caldas da Rainha, Aveiro, and Nazaré.
  • Madeira: A Portuguese island off the coast of Africa, ideal for those craving island life.
  • Porto: Portugal’s charming second city, with great access to the north of the country. It’s wetter in the winter, but less hectic and more affordable.
  • Ericeira: A former fishing village turned surfer and digital nomad haven, just an hour from Lisbon.

When choosing your destinations, think about your budget for buying or renting property. Also, consider other important factors like schools, weather preferences, and proximity to international airports (Lisbon, Porto, and Faro). Property prices will obviously be one of the biggest determining factors.

Search Properties for Sale in Portugal

Determine Your Trip Length 

The longer you can stay, the better sense you’ll get of what it’s like to actually live in Portugal. Try to avoid being just a tourist by doing some everyday activities alongside the typical sightseeing.

Allow Time for a Few “Boring” Things

If you’re a non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizen applying for a visa like the D7 or D8, it can make sense to do some of the things required for your visa application.

Prior to visiting you should get a NIF number, which is Portugal’s personal financial number. Doing this will allow you to open a bank account and rent an apartment, which are both worth trying to do on this try.

Online services like Anchorless allow you to do this online. Unfortunately, if you aren’t resident in the EU/EEA, it will be difficult and costly to do this in-person as you’ll need a fiscal representative.

Once you have this you can then open a bank account. This is something you can also do online with companies like Anchorless, but you will save a few hundred euros by doing it in person.

However, it’s worth noting that it may be better to actually pay if you’re short on time and if you’re coming from outside Europe. This is because many banks won’t open accounts for non-EU/EEA/Swiss residents, and so you’ll have to spend a lot of time finding one that will.

If you’re applying for a visa like the D7 or D8, the thing you really want to spend your time on is getting an address in Portugal. This could mean renting or buying a property.

If you have children, you may also want to spend time looking at school options.

Decide on Transportation 

Renting a car is the easiest and most efficient way to explore Portugal, especially if you’re visiting smaller towns or natural attractions. However, if you’re sticking to major cities like Porto, Coimbra, and Lisbon, you can rely on public transportation, both the train and bus service (see cp.pt for train tickets and timetables and Rede Expressos for buses). Getting around the Algarve without a car is, unfortunately, much harder.

Some good sites for comparing car rentals are:

  • Discovercars.com
  • RentalCars.com
  • Skyscanner.net

Remember, Portugal is a relatively small country, and you can drive from top to bottom in about 5.5 hours. Also, if you rent a car in one part of the country, be aware that you will need to bring it back to the same location unless you’re willing to pay a one-way fee.

Find Flights 

This is a good time to think about whether you’ll go north to south or vice versa. Usually the determining factor is price: 

  • if flights are cheapest to Porto, start there. 
  • If they’re cheapest to Faro, start there. 
  • If they’re cheapest to Lisbon (which may be the case if you’re arriving from outside Europe), you can go either direction. 

There are a few useful flight search engines like Skyscanner.net and Google Flights. Skyscanner is great for trying to work out the cheapest times to fly as you can use their ‘month view’ or ‘flexible dates’ to see when is cheapest to fly that month. However, they also show a lot of third-party travel agencies, and it’s often cheapest to book direct.

flexible dates Skyscanner

So play around with Skyscanner but also use Google flights. 

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. 

Book Accommodation

The next step is to book accommodation. If you can, avoid staying in 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 or Flatio 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. 

Get a Portuguese Course

Start as you mean to go on.

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. 

Courses like Practice Portuguese have modules that cover useful everyday Portuguese that’s ideal for a short trip around Portugal.

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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.