Moving to Portugal: full guide for Americans

Gabriela Peratello

Portugal offers a great climate, beautiful coastlines, historic cities and a vibrant culture. It’s a popular place for retirees from Northern Europe seeking sunnier climate — and an alternative growing in popularity for US citizens, too.

The option of moving to Portugal from the USA through a Golden Visa is another big draw for many as it can ultimately offer Portuguese and EU citizenship.

This guide covers all you need to know about moving from the US to Portugal, including things to think about if you’re moving to Portugal with family, or moving with a dog or other family pet.

We’ll also introduce Wise and the Wise Multi-currency Account as a smart way to cut the costs of currency conversion and international transfers when you move.

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📑Table of Contents

Portugal quick facts

There’s plenty of detail coming up to help you if you’re thinking of moving to Portugal from the USA — let’s start with an overview of some key facts.

CapitalLisbon
LanguagePortuguese
Population10 million
CurrencyEuro (EUR)
Government typeDemocratic Republic
ReligionMajority Roman Catholic
WeatherTemperate — warmer in the south compared to the north, with the Algarve region enjoying a particularly sunny microclimate

Moving to Portugal from the USA: can you do it?

You can move to Portugal from the USA. In fact, it’s one of the more popular places for people looking to move to Europe through investing there, thanks to its Golden Visa scheme.

Under this visa type, you can buy a property, or invest in a company or fund in Portugal to get a long term visa which can lead to citizenship or permanent residence.

While you hold a Golden Visa you’re only required to stay in Portugal for around a week per year, which can make this a good option for people who want to split their time between Europe and the US.

If you’re not thinking of participating in the Golden Visa scheme, it’s good to know that Portugal is in the EU and is part of the Schengen area.

This means that for short term trips, US citizens do not need a visa if they’re staying in Portugal or other Schengen countries for up to 90 days in a 180 day period¹.

For longer stays, or if you’re planning on working while you’re in Portugal, you’ll usually need a suitable visa or permit — more on Portugal visa types for US citizens coming right up¹.

Moving to Portugal with family: things to keep in mind

Portugal is a very family oriented place. Kids are generally involved in whatever their family is getting up to, from eating out to attending parties and festivals. The pace of life in Portugal tends to be a little less frenetic than in the US which makes for a perfect environment for families.

Couple this with great weather and plenty of access to outdoor facilities, beaches and places to play and it’s a great place to bring up children.

If you’re moving to Portugal with your family you’ll want to think about schooling before you choose a place to live. State schools are available and of a high quality — but the teaching language will be Portuguese which may not suit new arrivals.

If you’d rather your kids learned in English, and had access to an international or US based curriculum you’ll need to choose an international school.

Great international schools are available in the cities and in places with larger expat communities — so finding a school before you choose a home will probably make sense.

School days, including after school activities, tend to be long in Portugal, which can help kids to integrate with their classmates, and be a benefit to working parents juggling childcare.

Can you move to Portugal with a dog or cat?

You can move to Portugal with a pet, but there is paperwork to get in place and you’ll need to make sure your cat or dog is fully vaccinated.

Before moving a pet into the EU you’re required to get it microchipped, and you’ll also need both endorsed EU health certificates from your vet and a rabies certificate confirming vaccination.

Because moving abroad with a pet can be complex, and paperwork varies from place to place, you’re best to get the support of an experienced veterinarian who can provide the documents you need.

Immigration and visas: Portugal visa types

You won’t need a visa for Portugal if you intend to stay for 90 days or less. However, if you’re staying longer or want to work in Portugal you’ll need a visa or permit¹.

Temporary visas are issued for a year or less. Residence visas are issued for a short period of 4 months to allow holders to enter the country and request a residence permit.

Portugal visa types are set according to what you’ll be doing in the country. Short and long term options exist for people coming to work, study, start businesses, retire and more.

You’ll be able to check the visa options available on the website of the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and apply through your local Portuguese embassy or consulate².

Learn more about getting a Portugal work visa

Permanent residency

Permanent residency in Portugal can usually be obtained once you’ve lived in the country for 5 years or more. During this period there are strict requirements in terms of how long you remain in the country.

The notable exception is for holders of the Portugal Golden Visa. In this case you can seek permanent residency or citizenship after 5 years, but during this period you may only need to remain in the country for around a week a year. This visa type requires an investment in the country in real estate, a company or fund.

✒ Tips for moving to Portugal
  • Research in advance where to live and the costs of living in different cities — there’s a broad range
  • Get your NIF number — your taxpayer number — as soon as you can, you’ll need it for day to day purposes like opening a bank account
  • Build a network in Portugal before you move by connecting with expats who already live there on social media

move-and-manage

Cost of Living in Portugal

The cost of living in Portugal is lower on average than many other Western European countries — which makes this a popular place for people on a fixed income like retirees. Add the enviable weather and there’s no surprise many expats decide to set up home there.

Before you decide to move to Portugal you’ll be able to get up to date information about the cost of living from a site like Numbeo. This aggregates user inputted data about the price of goods, rent, utilities and more. At the time of writing, the estimated cost of living in Portugal overall is³:

  • 1,856.18 EUR/month for a family of 4 (excluding rent)
  • 529.32 EUR/month for a single person (excluding rent)

Costs of living vary between cities and regions within Portugal, so spending some time researching the best options for you before you decide where to settle is a smart move.

Cost of moving to Portugal

Once you’ve decided where in Portugal you’d like to live you’ll need to budget for the move itself. This may be as simple as buying a flight ticket if you intend to arrive with just what you can fit in a suitcase. But moving with a household of belongings will be a more complex and costly affair.

International relocation companies are available to help with shipping from the US to Portugal. Typically you’ll buy space in a shipping container — these are usually 20 feet or 40 feet long, which gives enough space for furniture and most household goods. The costs of moving can vary widely based on exactly where you’re headed to and from, so getting a few quotes before you choose a provider is a good idea.

You may also decide it isn’t worth moving bulky items which you can purchase on arrival — weigh up the costs and benefits before deciding exactly how to arrange your move.

Read further: the cost of living in Portugal

Thinking of moving to Portugal? Send money abroad with a secure Wise transfer

If you’re moving to Portugal you’ll need simple, cheap ways to pay for your shipping, cover a rental deposit, and manage your daily life using euros. Cut the costs of currency exchange and sending money to Portugal with Wise.

Wise international transfers are fast, secure, and could often save you compared to sending with your bank.

Transfers always use the mid-market exchange rate, low, transparent fees, and you can get started online or in the Wise app for convenience.

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Living in Portugal: the basics

Moving from the US to Portugal is a big decision. No matter where you choose to relocate to, you’re likely to experience some culture shock as you adjust to your new life and get used to different processes, systems and expectations.

Doing research in advance is a good way to minimize the time it takes to settle into your new home. To get you started we’ll run through some basics about life in Portugal.

Housing

As you’d expect, there’s a range of housing available whether you choose to buy or rent in Portugal. Apartments are more commonly available in urban areas, with villas and family homes in suburban and rural areas. Overall the price of renting a place is relatively cheap in Portugal, which can bring down your budget significantly.

Renting

Even if you ultimately intend to buy a place in Portugal, renting for a while when you first arrive can be a smart move. That gives you the chance to experience life and choose the area you want to settle in permanently.

You’ll be able to find rental properties online which is a great way to research and get some ideas about your budget and preferred type of home.

🎯 Check out these realtors as a place to start

Generally rental prices in Portugal are reasonable, and the range of property types and sizes on offer means you should be able to find something to suit your budget relatively easily.

Buying property in Portugal as an expat

There are no barriers to buying a property in Portugal as a foreigner. You’ll need to get to grips with the home purchase process in Portugal to make sure the transaction goes smoothly, but in general it’s not a complex system.

Prior to buying a place you’ll need to find a great local real estate agent and solicitor who will be able to guide you through. Real Estate agents should be properly licensed and registered — check the details of any professional you decide to work with to make sure they’re properly qualified.

It’s helpful to know that real estate investment is one way to get a Portuguese Golden Visa — otherwise known as getting residency through investment.

We’ll cover this scheme in more detail later — but in basic terms it allows you to purchase a property or properties in Portugal and in return get a visa which can be converted to citizenship within around 5 years.

Not all properties are eligible for this visa type, though — you’ll most likely need to be buying in a rural or underdeveloped area to qualify.

Read further: our full guide to buying property in Portugal

The health care system in Portugal

Portugal has good healthcare facilities, with comprehensive hospitals in cities and towns, and smaller clinics and medical care options in rural areas.

While public healthcare is available, expats commonly get private health coverage to ensure they can access services they need quickly and without additional fees.

If you don’t have insurance cover and choose to use a private hospital or healthcare provider you’ll need to pay in advance for any service you require¹.

Banking and taxation

To settle in Portugal you’ll probably need to open a local bank account to manage your money in euros and set up services like cell phone plans and internet.

The account types available to you may vary a little depending on whether you’re intending on being resident in Portugal or buying a place for part of the year only.

Shop around to find the perfect bank account for your needs based on your personal preferences and location.

If you’re moving to Portugal long term you’ll likely become a tax resident there and will need to pay income tax on your earnings. Income is taxed on a sliding scale based on the amount you earn, from 14.5% to 48% for top earners.

Non resident income is normally taxed at 25%⁴. As tax is complex — and even more so when you’re living abroad — you’ll probably need to take professional advice to make sure you’re keeping up with your obligations in both Portugal and the US.

Getting a mortgage in Portugal

Foreigners buying a property in Portugal can apply for a mortgage in the same way that a Portuguese citizen may.

Whether or not you’ll be approved does depend on the loan type and if you’ll be living in the property yourself.

Expat loans may require slightly higher deposits and may come with a different interest rate compared to those offered to residents.

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Education

Schooling in Portugal is compulsory to the age of 18. If you’re moving to Portugal with your family you may choose to put your children in a public or private international school.

The deciding factor may be whether or not you speak Portuguese already, and if you want your kids to follow a US curriculum and take US recognized qualifications.

Public schools are free for residents and taught in Portuguese with English taught as a second language.

Private international schools are often taught in English, and may follow an international or US curriculum. You’ll pay a hefty fee for international school, but the quality of teaching is high.

Transportation

The US State department warns people that Portuguese roads may not be as safe as those in the US¹. A combination of narrow roads, aggressive driving and speeding can mean more accidents and more fatalities compared to the US.

This is particularly a problem in rural areas. If you choose to drive in Portugal you’ll need to convert your US license to an international license within 6 months.

Public transport is generally reliable in cities, and taxis and ride sharing services like Uber are also available.

Quality of life in Portugal

Portugal regularly ranks highly on quality of life surveys and has been voted the best place in the world for expats in terms of quality of life. Great weather, low cost housing, strong infrastructure and friendly people contribute to this.

Culture and people

Portuguese people are generally considered to be family-oriented, warm, friendly and expressive. The country has a strong Catholic heritage although many people no longer regularly attend church. Portuguese culture is celebrated in the country with drama, art and poetry featuring heavily.

Getting a job in Portugal as an expat

Portugal’s relatively low cost of living makes it a popular place to retire, but it can also be a great place to build your career. Jobs for expats tend to focus around major cities and tourist areas, although foreigners are involved in many industries throughout the country.

Safety

Portugal is a safe country. The US State Department warns predominantly about crimes of opportunity in Portugal¹. These involve pickpocketing and other petty crimes, which can often take place in crowded places.

Take the same precautions in Portugal as you might anywhere else, including avoiding carrying high value items and remaining aware of your surroundings at all times.

Best cities to live in Portugal as an expat

We’ll move onto the pros and cons of moving to Portugal in a moment — first let’s take a look at some of the main places expats choose to live in Portugal.

Lisbon

lisbon

Portugal’s capital is home to a large part of the expat community. The city is on the Southwest coast of Portugal and has a great mix of modern and historic neighborhoods which means you’ll be able to find a location that suits you and your family’s needs.

Porto

porto

The largest second city in Portugal, Porto has UNESCO heritage status, and is a popular tourist draw. In the north of the country, Porto is another great place for expats with a range of housing options and types.

It’s worth knowing that properties in Porto and Lisbon can not be used as part of the eligible investment for the Portuguese Golden Visa.

Aveiro

aveiro

Aveiro is a quieter choice if you’re looking for a place to live in Portugal without so many tourists. It’s family friendly and has had a lot of investment in recent years. That means that despite being in the center of the country it has great links to the cities of Lisbon and Porto.


Summary: pros and cons of moving to Portugal

Unsure whether a move to Portugal is right for you? Here are a few of the pros and cons of moving to Portugal to help you make a final decision.

ProsCons
  • Warm friendly people and a great climate
  • Range of cities, coastal resorts and rural areas to choose from
  • Rental and housing costs on the low side
  • Overall cost of living is lower than other Western European countries
  • Moving can prove costly
  • You’ll probably need to learn Portuguese if you settle long term
  • High income tax for top earners

Portugal is a great expat destination, whether you want to study, work or retire. The cost of living is low compared to the rest of Western Europe, but strong infrastructure, education and healthcare make for an enviable quality of life.

Add to this the sunny climate and range of places to enjoy nature, and it can be a wonderful place to raise kids and enjoy life.

Use this guide to start your research into moving to Portugal from the US — and don’t forget to check out Wise and the Wise Multi-currency Account as smart ways to cut the costs of currency conversion when you live abroad.


Sources:

  1. US State Travel - Portugal
  2. Vistos - Type of visa
  3. Numbeo - Cost of living in Portugal
  4. Tax Summaries - Taxes on personal income

Sources checked on 01.19.2022


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