The Downsides of Living in Portugal: Here’s What You Can Expect When Moving

Graffiti in Portugal - The Downsides of Living in Portugal by Expat Empire

The Downsides of Living in Portugal: Portugal is increasingly known around the world as the quieter, yet equally enticing cousin of its larger neighbors in Europe like Spain, Italy, and France. Many expats have made their home including Expat Empire’s founder, David McNeill. The many attractive qualities of expat life in Portugal include an open visa program, favorable tax opportunities, small business encouragement, incredible food, a low cost of living, and great weather. Make sure to check out our thoughts on what makes Portugal wonderful to live in. However, not everything about Portugal makes it the perfect place to settle down.

Run-Down Buildings in Portugal - The Downsides of Living in Portugal by Expat Empire

A Slow Recovery from Recession: Low Wages for Europe

Portugal is part of the European Union as well as the Eurozone, which has proven to significantly improve the state of the economy in recent years through using the Euro as a currency. However, Portugal lags behind other countries nearby with regards to its minimum wage, which was €665 per month as of 2021. Meanwhile, Portugal’s neighbor Spain has a minimum wage of €1,108 per month at the same point. The next closest European country, France, was reporting €1,554 per month, more than double that of Portugal. This low safety net means that Portugal’s wages as a whole are less than that of its closest comparisons. This means that while Portugal’s overall cost of living is lower than its neighbors, it still isn’t low enough to be considered affordable for people living on minimum wage.

Empty Train Station in Portugal

Behind the Times: Slow and Unreliable Public Transportation

Portugal’s transportation systems aren’t known for being the most efficient or even very regular. While the two largest cities of Lisbon and Porto and their respective metropolitan areas have their own metro systems, the rest of the country isn’t as well-connected. The national rail system is expanding slowly and doesn’t have the same reach as other European countries. High-speed rail has been planned and cancelled throughout the years due to economic downturns, so intercity trains are still comparatively slow as the Portuguese people wait for high-speed links between major cities. Buses do not follow their published timetables and generally show up whenever they like, and some routes only get one or two buses per hour, so long waits at bus stops are exceedingly common. While it’s not a necessity, many Portuguese people will tell you that you absolutely must own a car if you want to live there due to the unreliability of the public transportation system, so take that into account when considering your cost of living and location within the country.

EU Bureaucracy in Portugal

Frustrating Waits: Bureaucratic Processes in Government and Banking

While Portugal has many government programs that encourage small business and expats to live in the country, it’s well-known among expat circles just how frustrating the bureaucracy can be sometimes. Expat Empire is a business registered in Portugal and we have experienced long waits in both government processes and banking due to arcane rules and unmotivated government and banking officials. The rules are not always laid out in detail online, so it may be difficult to understand exactly what to do at times and a hired translator may become an essential component of your early expat experience. Just be advised that each step may take frustratingly long to complete, so it’s best to be as mentally prepared as possible for some inevitable slowdowns in the process before beginning.

Cultural Isolation in Portugal

Everywhere But Here: The Cultural Impact of Geographical Isolation

Portugal’s location on the southwestern edge of Europe is part of why the country ruled over a large empire from the 1400s to the 1900s. The international influences brought by trade have shaped Portuguese culture, though it has stayed relatively isolated as part of Europe. As it is situated on the Western edge of Europe, Portugal is often left off the list of countries covered by bands and cultural events touring around the continent. It’s not uncommon to see a big international music act hit both Barcelona and Madrid in Spain but bypass dates in Porto or Lisbon. Outside of those two metropolitan areas, residents in cities in the rest of Portugal are even less likely to get the opportunity to experience these events in their towns. 

For some expats, this may be a serious drawback, especially on the even-more isolated island territories of Madeira and the Azores. However, for others it may be exactly what’s needed to achieve the peaceful quality of life they’re looking for. If expats move to Portugal, they will likely fall in love with Portuguese culture but will probably be surprised with just how culturally isolated it can feel at times.

High Real Estate Prices

The Secret is Out: Portugal’s Increasingly Competitive Housing Market

For the last decade, many expats have turned their attention to Portugal and its many attractive qualities to make it their new home base. This has caused a rapid boom in housing and rent prices throughout the country, but especially in Lisbon, Porto, and the coastal areas. The increases in rent year after year have been an encouraging sign that the economy is recovering from recession. However, the living wages haven’t kept up the pace with the rest of the EU and many long-time residents are being forced out of their homes. 

The driving force of this trend is the adaptation to short-term rental services such as Airbnb, which focuses on encouraging tourism instead of long-term residences, as well as property purchases for foreigners to qualify for the Golden Visa. An unintended consequence of Portugal’s relaxed permanent residence and citizenship laws is that many foreign investors have supplanted Portuguese nationals and gentrified many areas of the country. To remedy the property pricing issue that the Golden Visa has contributed to over the last decade, the government has declared that properties in many of the most popular areas of Portugal will no longer qualify the owners for residence through the Golden Visa starting in January 2022. Despite that change, the secret is out about Portugal, so you can expect this housing price trend to continue. 

Beautiful Sunset

Focusing on the Positives While Being Aware of the Negatives

No country is perfect. The Expat Empire team has lived in many countries around the world, experiencing both the wonderful and the frustrating aspects of each place. Our founder, David, has seen both positive and negative extremes of living in Singapore, China, Japan, Germany, and currently Portugal. I have spent time in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czech Republic, and currently Turkey. I can say that there is no perfect place to live as every country has its positives and negatives. It’s always important to focus on the positives of a country while being aware and prepared to deal with the negatives. 

We don’t wait to dissuade anyone from considering living in a country as wonderful as Portugal. It is, however, quite important to know about the issues that may affect your daily life in the country. Then, you can accurately weigh the pros and cons of moving to the country and make the right decision for you.

Beautiful Beach

Start Your Expat Journey to Living in Portugal

Many expats have found that a wonderful life has been waiting for them in Portugal, and we want to help you do the same. Check out how we can help you Move to Portugal with our detailed information and firsthand experience with relocating to this beautiful country. Even if you’re not sure about living in Portugal, Expat Empire is here to assist you with all the big questions about moving abroad. Take a look at our consulting services and Expat Tools to see which of them will take you to the next step in your journey abroad!