We’ve traveled to and enjoyed many places around the world, but no place has stolen our hearts as much as Portugal. Every time we visited, we found another reason to fall in love. As many of us get older, we start to think about where we would like to live out our golden years. Although everyone’s “retirement” will look different, we all typically want to be somewhere we love with access to things we love to do — even if that’s just taking a walk in nature or strolling safely down a village street.
We love Portugal so much that we decided to move there and make this beautiful country our home.
If you’re in retirement planning mode or simply considering your options, we’d like to introduce you to a place we think is ideal in just about every way. Although there are many more, here are our top nine reasons Portugal is perfect for expat retirees.
1. The Weather
If you live in a place with cold and snowy winters, you may be ready for a change. The good news about Portugal is that there are several different climates to choose from, but most are pretty agreeable. The average temperature in the north is about 55 degrees, while it’s around 64 degrees in the south.
If you prefer it even warmer, you may want to look at the Algarve region, the southernmost part of Portugal. Many British expats and others have already made the Algarve and towns like Tavira, Loulé, Faro, and Lagos their home. The center of Portugal is known to be on the warmer side, too.
For more moderate weather, you may want to consider Lisbon, Cascais, or the Silver Coast, with its many beach communities.
If you want four seasons, you can find that in the Serra da Estrela (Star Mountain Range). Here you’ll find snow and a ski resort for downhill skiing, snowboarding, and all the winter activities you’d expect. Summer offers great hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
2. The Cost Of Living
We all want the money we’ve saved to stretch as far as possible. Portugal helps with a cost of living about 26 percent lower than it is in the United States. This amount can vary depending on what city you are considering and what type of housing is ideal for you. As you would suspect, a waterfront luxury home is going to be much more expensive than an apartment on the outskirts of town.
The cost of groceries and dining out can also be considerably less, again depending on your lifestyle and needs. Fresh seafood and local produce are very reasonably priced. Head out to a local restaurant for lunch, and you can expect to find a complete meal, including a drink, for about 8.5 euros. Portuguese wine is delicious and cheap. You can enjoy a good bottle for as little as 2 euros. The local beer is often cheaper than purchasing water, too.
Healthcare is more affordable in Portugal as well. If you become a resident, you can enroll in the public healthcare system. Many expats also purchase private insurance. Prices vary, but they are typically substantially lower than in the U.S.
3. The Friendly Locals And Safe Communities
Moving to another country can be stressful no matter how beautiful your destination is. Knowing that the people in Portugal are friendly and welcoming makes even the most aggravating situation bearable. We recently had difficulty with an orange juice machine at a grocery store. It took about 1 minute for five Portuguese people to run over to help us. We used a few words of Portuguese, and they used their English. Together we shared laughs as we got our juice after discovering a stuck orange had caused the problem.
Important to many of us is the safety of the place we’re considering retiring. Portugal ranks as the third-safest country in the world. Its happy residents aren’t interested in violence and crime, and we feel safe at all hours of the day and night. Expats who consider peace an important part of their retirement plans will find Portugal to be a great choice.
4. The Amazing Food
Access to great food at grocery stores, markets, and restaurants was high on our list when we were choosing a new home. Portugal wins on all counts. You can find huge grocery stores in the larger towns of Continente, Auchan, and Lidl with many brands and products you’ll know. They also carry local products that will soon become some of your favorites.
Farmers markets and local shops are fun places to try out your Portuguese and get to know the vendors. We have a butcher right across the street from our apartment who says we can practice our Portuguese with him while he practices his English, too. He always gives us a welcoming smile and proudly displays his best products for us.
Going out to local restaurants and trying regional dishes is a pure delight in Portugal. Meat, seafood, and fresh fruits and vegetables provide a bounty at every meal. And bakery lovers will have their fill. Breads and baked goods both savory and sweet are around every corner. Even the grocery stores have their own bakeries, making every visit a chance to try something new.
5. The Art And Culture
Portugal has a fascinating history and culture, and the museums and architecture make each city unique. Street art and sculptures may bring out the artist in you, and there are many art stores that beg you to create. Bookstores and libraries are everywhere, and the literary spirit is celebrated in places like Óbidos, a UNESCO Creative City of Literature that hosts a literary festival every year.
Music fills Portugal, too, from opera to rock and everything in between. And indigenous fado music famously captures the spirit of nostalgia or longing the Portuguese call saudade. Sipping a glass of Portuguese wine, listening to fado, and daydreaming will stir up the mood.
6. The Urban, Suburban, And Rural Options
Everyone’s idea of bliss is different. The good news is that Portugal has large, exciting cities like Lisbon and Porto as well as suburbs that offer proximity to big cities. If you’d like to retire to a rural area like a small village or a farm, know that Portugal has those, too. You can live by the beach, next to a mountain, on a golf course, in a luxury resort, on a vineyard or farm, or in a sophisticated big or midsize city. And whatever you choose, you won’t be too far from everything else. Portugal is a small country. You can drive from Lisbon in the south to Porto in the north in about 3 hours.
7. The Transportation
You might be surprised to learn that Portugal has a really well-maintained highway system. Transportation in general is very good and easy to use. On one of our scouting trips, we drove from Lisbon to Braga and found the highways in excellent condition with little traffic. If you choose to retire in a larger city, you can ditch your car entirely. The clean and easy-to-use public transportation options (trains, subways, trams, and buses) in Lisbon, Porto, Cascais, and other cities make it simple to get around and connect with other towns in Portugal as well.
Taxis and rideshares are available, and three airports located in Lisbon, Porto, and Faro make travel to and from Portugal convenient, too. There are many low-cost airlines offering fare specials that make it easy to visit places that have been on our wish list for years. Europe also has an amazing train system that can get you to other desirable destinations while you watch the landscape.
8. The Language
Moving somewhere and learning a new language can be extremely intimidating. When you decide to live in another country, you will most likely want to learn more about the culture and language so you can communicate in your day-to-day dealings like shopping, banking, and dining out.
The good news is that many people in Portugal’s larger cities speak English. When you are in more rural areas, it’s less common. However, the kindness of the Portuguese makes it easy to come to an understanding no matter what language you use. They smile and typically feel shy or awkward because they don’t know enough English. We always assure them that it’s our responsibility to learn their language, not the other way around. Learning a few basic phrases in Portuguese will go a long way — the people will delight in your effort to speak their language. You’ll get plenty of tips on how to speak like a local, too, but you won’t have to worry about doing it all before you move.
9. The Slower Pace And Quality Of Life
If slowing down to enjoy life more is your intention, Portugal will agree with you. It’s hard to rush around here. You can enjoy a meal for several hours or just sit back and read a book in the cool shade. Stroll along the beach, take a hike in the woods, try a water sport like kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding, or enjoy a coffee and pastry at a corner cafe. Choose your favorite things to do, and let them unfold as they will. No one is going to ask you to hurry, and you will likely meet someone new along the way.
Our own goal is to spend more time pursuing our creative sides in Portugal. Diana has begun writing a novel with her dad, and Sue is getting back to her painting, drawing, and photography. The inspiring beauty of the environment and the ability to relax and enjoy it are the perfect combination that drew us to Portugal.
Moving to a new country is a huge decision and obviously not for everyone. There are a lot of variables, and it requires research. But expat retirees looking for a beautiful place with great weather, delicious food, friendly people, and lots of culture to explore will find that Portugal has a lot to offer.
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