Americans Moving to Portugal: The Definitive Guide

Why Move to Portugal?

Portugal is the epitome of mixing old world charm with modern commodities. This country in southwestern Europe, overlooking the Atlantic ocean, has long been a second home to many expats.

It is a great place to live as it is a highly-developed and safe country. It ranks 3rd in the world in The Global Peace index.  Additionally, an astoundingly high quality of life and very advanced medical care make this country a long sought after destination in the international market.

Life in Portugal also attracts foreign retirees. The famous Algarve region or “Golden Coast” shines like a beacon amongst places in the tourism and retirement sector. It is not only the Algarve, Lisbon also has a very strong name globally thanks to its ever-growing economy. Expats in Portugal relocate to this capital city to live, work and study in a cosmopolitan hub. New tech-companies and start-ups have started emerging in Lisbon, greatly increasing its competitiveness globally.

Citizens of the United States who are thinking of moving or retiring abroad often turn their gaze to Portugal. US citizens often choose Portugal to have a high-quality of life in a European country.

Over 60,000 people decided to move to Portugal in 2019, with 11% percent of them being American citizens. So if you’re looking for an affordable and safe European country, then Portugal may be what you’re looking for.

Excellent Weather and Welcoming Locals

It is no surprise that this country brings in a high number of tourists and expats. To start with, many people love the natural beauty and excellent warm weather all-year-round. Add to that historic city centers, pristine beaches, the calm, and breezy lifestyle the locals enjoy, and you get a slice of heaven right here on our earth.

Not only is Portugal a beautiful country, the Portuguese locals are also extremely extremely friendly towards expats. They are also known for their easy-going nature and open-minded attitude. As a matter of fact, 83% of expats report that moving to Portugal and settling there is very easy and straight forward, according to Expat Insider. The international average for this is usually 59%.

Another poll shows that 82% of expats who live in Portugal report that they feel largely at home. This shows just how welcoming of an environment this country really is.

A Great Place for Families

Let’s be honest, we all want the best for our families. Whether you are taking a new job or moving somewhere new, your family is your first priority. Well, I have fantastic news for you in that respect. This country is one of the best places to raise a family. According to the Family Life Index, Portugal ranks ninth out of 50 destinations for great family life. This includes the level of education and the availability of childcare. It also includes the opportunities children will have later for work and higher education. This means that if you are looking for a second home, you may find it right here.

A Highly Praised Balance Between Work and Life

Life in Portugal tends to be slow and relaxed. It ranks 14th globally when it comes to work-life balance, according to Expat Insider. This is because Portugal has an impressively strong economy, mainly due to its tourism and real estate sectors. Young and seasoned professional relocate to Lisbon, Porto, and The Algarve to take advantage of the job market. Moreover, 72% percent of those expats rate the work-life balance in a very positive way. This means that you would have more time for your friends and family.

I wanted to prepare this article as a guide for Americans moving to Portugal. In this guide, I aim to answer all your questions about moving to Portugal from the US. I will be discussing the bureaucratic part of the move, the visa application, education, healthcare, the job market, and much more! So let’s start this journey on your way to your second home.

Things to Know Before You Move

Moving to a new environment is never a decision taken lightly. Whenever you’re about to move abroad, you will want to do your research so you can have a smooth transition. Fortunately, the government makes moving to Portugal from the US relatively easy. However, there are a few things you should know before you make your move to this welcoming haven.

Customs

If you know and follow a few simple rules, you should have no problems during your move to Portugal.

One essential thing you need to take care of before moving to Portugal is the Luggage Certificate (Certificado de Bagagem). You can get this certificate by visiting your local Portuguese consulate or diplomatic mission. You need to provide the consulate with a complete inventory of all the possessions you want to bring into the country. After that, you should get your Luggage Certificate within a few days.

Your items must arrive in Portugal within ninety days of your arrival there.

Flying or Shipping Your Possessions

Moving possessions from the US to Portugal is quite simple and not very expensive. The country has a large variety of options because of its geographical position. These include road, air freight, or sea freight. One other thing you should know is that the sea freight tends to be more affordable, but slightly slower than air freight.

Shipping by Sea Freight

Shipping possessions by sea freight is the most common option because it can be quite pocket-friendly. Sea freight rates vary depending on the origin and destination of goods. Below is an estimate of the cost of sea freights for a single 20ft container of furniture:

Departing Destination Price Duration
New York City, USA Lisbon, Portugal $1,229.11 14 days
New York City, USA Figueira Da Foz, Portugal $1,297.98 14 days
Los Angeles, USA Lisbon, Portugal $2,993.41 27 days
Los Angeles, USA Figueira Da Foz, Portugal $3,161.21 28 days

Shipping by Air Freight

If you would like your possessions to follow you more quickly into the country, you can choose air freight. Shipping by air is a bit more expensive but could save you some time. It takes about two to four business days for express shipping and five to eight business days with standard shipping.

Shipping large quantities might be difficult to do by air. This is because sea freights can carry a much larger amount than air freights in a single go.

Here’s a table with an example of the prices for shipping a 250KG container of household items by air:

Departing Destination Price
New York, USA Lisbon, Portugal $2,705.42
Los Angeles, USA Lisbon, Portugal $3,205.42

P.S: Landing anywhere in Portugal costs about the same as landing in Lisbon. This is why it is the only parameter in the table.

Storage Spaces in Portugal

If you are planning to store goods in Portugal for some time, you will need some preparation. An online visit to storage companies should give you an idea of pricing and locations. Many storage companies in Portugal work 24/7 and are helpful to expats.

Keep in mind that you might find it hard to find exact pricing online, so you might need to contact them via phone or email.

Vaccinations

There are no official laws in Portugal for vaccinations. However, before you move anywhere, you should consult your local physician, just to be safe.

Can I Bring My Pets?

The National Pet Owners Survey in 2020 shows that over 64% of all American households have pets. In short, Americans love pets! This makes the most commonly asked questions amongst Americans moving to Portugal “Can I bring my pets?”  Fortunately for your adorable family member, the answer is yes. The Portuguese government welcomes you and your pets with open arms.

What you need to do you for your pet is get them a rabies vaccination. They also need to be older than three months. You should also know that for some breeds that can be considered “Dangerous,” you might need to sign a liability waiver and have a vet examine them to get a special permit.

Portuguese Visas for US Citizens

Americans can enter Portugal without a visa. They can stay in Portugal visa-free for up to 90 days for business or touristic purposes. However, if you want to stay in the country for more than three months, you will need a visa and a residence permit.

Portuguese Visas

Portugal has several different kinds of visas, such as residence, work, or family reunification visas. You can apply for a visa through SEF.

SEF (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras) is the Portuguese immigration and border service. SEF handles all visa processes. As of 2019, you can apply for a visa online through the SEF online portal. Recently, the Portuguese government introduced an automatic residence permit renewal feature.

Although there are different visas which you can apply for, as we mentioned above. If you are moving or retiring to Portugal, you will most probably be applying for a residence visa.

You can apply for a residence visa and then a residence permit with SEF after entering the country. Both the residence visa and permit cost around $88.

If you are looking to do business in Portugal, you might want to get an investment visa and permit. These tend to be more expensive, with the visa costing around $550 and the permit $5,000.

There are a few requirements that you need to meet to be eligible for a Portuguese Visa, namely:

  • Never having been convicted of a crime punishable by jail
  • Having no non-admission indication in the Schengen information system
  • Never having been prohibited from entering any Portuguese territory

Required Documents for the Portuguese Visa

  • A passport that will be valid for at least three months longer than the duration of your stay
  • Two photos of passport size
  • Visa application form
  • A valid travel insurance contract
  • Financial ability proving that you can fiscally support yourself during your stay, or
    • A  term of responsibility signed by a Portuguese citizen or resident on your behalf

Additional documents needed when applying for an employment visa:

  • Proof that you are qualified for the job
  • A work contract (or promise of work) signed by an employer, or a manifestation of interest
  • A competent authority must declare that you have the qualifications to work in your sector

Residence Permits in Portugal

Temporary Residence Permits

The temporary residence permits in Portugal are typically valid for one year. After that, you can renew your permit for two years, and then another two. After you are a resident there for five years, you can apply for permanent residence.

You should enter the country while your visa is still valid and ask for a temporary residence. The temporary permit costs about $79 and costs $36 to renew.

Required Documents for A Temporary Residence Permit:

  • A valid Visa
  • A valid Passport
  • Two recent colored identical photographs on a blank background
  • Proof of residence
  • Evidence of having sufficient means to support yourself financially
  • Permission from SEF to have your criminal record checked in Portugal
  • Proof of regular payments to or enrollment in social security
  • Documents with information for registration with the tax authority

Permanent Residence

After you successfully reside in Portugal for five years, you may apply for permanent residence. Luckily, one quick visit to SEF, and you should be done. The permanent residence costs $240.

Required Documents For a Permanent Residence

  • Your valid passport
  • A standard application form
  • Two recent colored identical photographs on a blank background
  • Valid temporary residence
  • Evidence of having sufficient means to support yourself financially
  • Proof of residence
  • Permission from SEF to have your criminal record checked in Portugal
  • Confirmation of a basic grasp of the Portuguese language. For this document, there are various alternatives:
    • A certificate from an officially recognized teaching establishment
    • Completing elementary Portuguese studies issued by the Institute for Employment and Professional Training(IEFP)
    • a Certificate of education of essential Portuguese(CAPLE), recognized by the Ministry of Education and Science

Can US Citizens Get Portuguese Citizenship?

If you successfully reside in Portugal for five years, you become eligible to apply for Portuguese citizenship. The great news is, both Portugal and the US allow dual citizenship. This means that you do not have to give up your US passport to get a Portuguese one.

To get citizenship, you need to prove your knowledge of Portuguese. The Portuguese passport is amongst the strongest around the world, with visa-free access to 186 countries.

A Deep Dive into Portugal

Now that we have covered the bureaucratic part of the move, let’s talk more about Portugal and what it has to offer. I will explore various aspects of living in Portugal, such as the cost of living, the job market, education, healthcare, and much more.

Cost of Living

Despite its high living standards, you will find that living in Portugal is relatively affordable. This is why many expats move or retire to Portugal.

Lisbon, for example, is a bustling metropolis full of city life. Yet, a couple could comfortably live in the capital on $2100 to $2300 monthly. That is a relatively small amount a capital in Europe. Keep in mind that this goes down to just $1700 monthly in the countryside or a smaller city, even somewhere like Porto.

Real Estate

Rents in Portugal are cheap compared to the US. For example, you can rent a one/two-bedroom apartment for around $1,000 a month in Lisbon. Additionally, in smaller cities or the countryside, you can find comfortable accommodation for as little as $400.

If you plan on living in Portugal long-term, it might be a good investment for you to acquire real estate property there. The real estate market in Portugal is ever-growing, and it has attracted many foreign investors through the Golden Visa Program. the Portuguese Golden Visa Program is a residency by investment program which grants you permanent residence in exchange for an investment.

The Portuguese government has minimal restrictions on foreigners who wish to buy property there. Actually, Portugal has many programs to encourage foreign investors, such as the Non-Habitual Resident (NHR) program.

As with anywhere else, prices of real estate can vary depending on where you buy. Here is a table showing the prices of real estate per m² in various cities and neighborhoods in Portugal:

District City Average Price per m²
Lisbon Baixa and Chiado $7785
Lapa and Santos $5937
Campo de Ourique $5201
Porto Ribeira, Miragaia, and Baixa $4541
Alfama $5937
Algarve Portimão $2557
Cascais Cascais and Estoril $4718
Carcavelos and Parede $3803

Buying Groceries

Groceries and local food in Portugal are comparatively cheap. A standard grocery list should cost you about $200 a month.

The diet in Portugal features seafood strongly because of the country’s fishing habits and its large coastline. It is also cheap to buy many items that are considered a luxury in America, such as Olive oil, wine, and almond milk. A tasty local bottle of wine in Portugal can cost as little as $4.

Cost of living Comparison Between Portugal and the United States

The United States is among the largest countries in the world. Portugal, on the other hand, is not that large. So if you make a comparison between Portuguese and US cities, they’re small. Lisbon, which is the biggest city there, only has about a half-million people. However, having fewer people could well be a great advantage.

Sometimes life in the US can get a bit fast-paced and tiring. Especially in big cities like New York, where there are over 8 million people. So if you are moving to Portugal from the US, you need to ask, “Which is cheaper, Portugal or the US?”

Well, to answer that question, I have prepared a table comparing various food, services, and items between Portugal and the US:

Item/Service Cost In Lisbon Cost In New york
Meal for 2, mid-range restaurant- three-course $41.56 $100.00
Imported Beer (0.33-liter bottle) $2.00 $5.90
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) $4.75 $15.00
Water(1.5-liter bottle) $0.68 $2.08
Transportation(monthly pass) $42.75 $127.00
Basic Utilities for 85m2apartment $129.85 $136.10
Preschool, full-day, private, monthly for one child $505.29 $2,423.17
International Primary School, Yearly for one child $9,782.13 $39,190.48
Apartment rent (1 bedroom) in City Centre $1,038.67 $3,313.13
Apartment rent (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre $756.34 $2,018.05
Apartment rent (3 bedrooms) in City Centre $1,964.55 $6,886.22
Apartment rent (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre $1,329.54 $3,730.89

The Job Market

Portugal has long been among the world’s most steadily growing economies. Because of this continual growth, Lisbon has recently become a strong international competitor for tech and start-up companies. So for professionals in the IT or online business who wish to have a career in Europe, Lisbon is the ideal place to live.

In other sectors, you might need some knowledge of Portuguese to break into the workforce. However, if you can speak various languages, then you will most probably be able to work in the hospitality industry.

Average Salaries and Minimum Wages

The minimum wage in Portugal is $752, and you do not have to pay tax on the minimum wage. However, there is an income tax. The income tax in Portugal starts if you earn more than $780 a month.

As for the average salary, that ranges between $1200 and $2000. Below you will find a table with the most common jobs in Portugal and their average salaries:

Profession Monthly Average Salary
Accountant $1,900
Architect $1,800
Doctor, General Practice $2,400
Help Desk Technician $900
Hotel Manager $7,400
Marketing Manager $2,500
Nurse $1,100
Product Manager $3,575
Receptionist $1,200
Software Engineer $2,000
Teacher $1,200
UX Designer $2,000
Web Developer $1,400

Healthcare

The good news for Americans moving to Portugal is that the healthcare system in Portugal won’t bankrupt you. Portugal has a public and a private healthcare system. The public healthcare system is available for residents or those under 18 or over 65 years of age.

The public healthcare system is not entirely free, but it is exceptionally cheap. However, when you are a temporary resident in Portugal, you won’t be able to get access to it. This means that you will need to sign up for private health insurance until you become a permanent residence.

Luckily, even private health insurance is very affordable. A basic plan will cost you about $440 a year, while a more comprehensive plan can cost up to $1,100.

Education

Portugal offers free education to its residents and citizens until 18 years of age. However, free public education tends to be done in Portuguese. It could take some time for your child to learn Portuguese at first. But, don’t fret, as Portugal offers a large collection of international schools with an American curriculum.

The cost of private education there can vary between $450 and $550 monthly, depending on the school.

As for higher education and universities, the average tuition fee for a private university is about $3,200.

Conclusion

Portugal is one of the most highly-developed and safest countries in the world. With various job and investment opportunities, a high healthcare standard at a low cost, and supreme cuisine, Portugal is an excellent place to relocate from the US.

FAQ

What Are the Pros and Cons of Moving to Portugal?

Pros

  • Friendly and really hospitable locals
  • Excellent cuisine rich in oils and seafood
  • Amazing warm weather all year-round
  • Comparatively cheap cost of living compared to the US
  • High standard of healthcare at a very low cost
  • Easy to make friends with the locals

Cons

  • You are not entitled to healthcare unless you are a permanent resident
  • some services and goods might be difficult to acquire outside of the main cities
  • The main language is Portuguese, not English
  • You might need to learn the language to join the workforce
  • The bureaucratic system is a bit complicated to grasp

Is the American Driver’s license Valid in Portugal?

Yes, you can use your US driver’s license that you got back home to drive a car in Portugal.

Can US Citizens Move to Portugal?

Technically you can enter the country without a visa and stay there for 90 days. However, if you wish to move there permanently, you should get a residence permit.