We moved to Lisbon in 2019 after three years of nomadic life. Discover 10 things we love about living in Portugal as well as six things we don’t.
We previously shared why we moved to Lisbon.
After living in Portugal for more than two years, we’re now ready to share our thoughts about living in Portugal and our life-changing decision.
Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal
Moving to Portugal has become trendy.
While we were far from the first Americans to move here, we’re constantly contacted by people who want to make a similar jump. They want to know how we did it and what it’s like to live in the Iberian nation. They also want our recommendation on where to live, details about the crime rate in Portugal and how much to budget.
Our first piece of advice is that everybody is different and that the lifestyle options in Portugal are numerous. People with kids will have different priorities compared to recent retirees. Our top priority involves living in an affordable city with an international airport that offers easy connections to Europe and the world.
We initially considered living in Porto for many reasons including the city’s epic beauty and its never-ending supply of port wine. However, we ultimately decided to live in Lisbon.
While we love living in the center of Portugal’s vibrant capital, others may prefer living by the beach or on a farm. We’re city people and Lisbon is the country’s largest metropolitan region with a relatively vast selection of international cuisine and a formidable international airport. At the end of the day, Lisbon checked more of our boxes than any other Portuguese city.
→ Read more about why we moved to Lisbon.
10 Things We Love About Living in Portugal
In short, we love living in Portugal. All of the reasons that made us decide to abandon the digital nomad life and apply for D7 visas and become Portuguese residents proved valid. However, like any place we’ve lived in the world including the United States, there are a handful of things that annoy us after a couple years.
Read on to discover our favorite aspects about expat life in Portugal in general and living in Lisbon in particular:
We love eating in Portugal. We love the food at restaurants, in markets and what we cook at home. We love chowing down on traditional bacalhau (cod) dishes at tascas (taverns) as much as we love dining at fancy Michelin-starred restaurant like Belcanto. We love the omnipresent desserts that go way beyond pasteis de nata. We love it all.
Located in southern Europe, Portugal has a wealth of excellent cured meats and cheeses that have been produced for millenia, a lifestyle in which daily fresh bread is a way of life and a cooking culture filled with traditional dishes passed down through generations.
It’s also one of Europe’s great agricultural centers with an array of incredible fruits and vegetables that come and go with the seasons.
During the spring, we enjoy fresh strawberries. Then comes June with its deep red cherries followed by July’s sweet little green plums called Rainha Claudia. August brings purple and dark green figs. Excellent tomatoes are available from June all the way to November – our favorites are amazing heirloom tomato varieties sold at our local bio (i.e. organic) farmers markets.
We eat some of the world’s greatest seafood in Portugal too. From Porto and Matsinhos in the north to Lisbon and neighboring Setubal in the center and all the way down to Algarve in the south, a huge variety of fish, crustaceans and mollusks are available at both markets and restaurants.
The nation celebrates fresh sardinhas (sardines) in June and gambas al aguillo (garlic shrimp) is a national dish. It’s virtually impossible to visit or live in Portugal without enjoying seafood centered rice stews like arroz de tamboril (rice with monkfish).
Other seafood favorites like açorda (seafood bread stew) and cataplana (seafood stew with potatoes) are easily found throughout the country too.
→ Check out our recipe for arroz de pato, Portugal’s version of duck rice.
Spain is famous for Iberico jamon but did you know that a good amount of the black pork used to make those hams is raised in Eastern Portugal? In Spain it’s called pata negra but it’s called called porco preto in Portugal.
In our opinion, the country’s chouriço porco preto, when produced with care, is one of the finest pork products in the world. We enjoy it on cheese boards along with presunto (Portugal’s dried ham similar to serrano hams found in Spain) and Portuguese ‘torta cheeses’ like azeitão – an aged, raw sheep milk cheese that’s opened from the top and eaten with a spoon.
For everyday food there’s nothing better than a bifana – a simple sandwich of stewed pork on a round Portuguese roll. When we’re really hungry after a port wine tasting crawl, we love sharing a francesinha – an American diner-like amalgamation of bread, ham and steak, covered in melty cheese, smothered in tomato/beef gravy and topped with a fried egg.
→ Discover even more Portuguese food favorites.
Portugal gained world fame through its production of port wines – vintages that have been ‘fortified’ with grape spirit (think brandy.) Legendary houses like Graham’s, Kopke and Sandeman’s operate in the northern city of Porto where they produce port wine using grapes grown in the nearby Douro Valley.
If you visit Porto, you can easily cross the Rio Douro and taste some of the best port wines in Vila Nova de Gaia. You can also buy trophy-worthy bottles and barrel aged wines to enjoy later.
But great wine in Portugal isn’t all fortified and isn’t limited to the the Douro Valley. Portugal produces serious, age-worthy reds and shockingly good whites in the eastern dry, hot region of Alentejo, the northern region of Bairrada and even in the Lisbon region. These are just a few of Portugal’s 14 wine regions which include the Portuguese islands of Madeira and The Azores
And the best part? Excellent everyday table wines can be purchased for under €5 at Portuguese grocery stores. Sometimes, we’re shocked at how good these wines are considering their affordability.
Affordable Cost of Living
Portugal is highly affordable compared to most developed nations in both Europe and North America. We’d call it cheap but that would be crass. Plus, that terminology isn’t exactly the truth. Rather, instead of cheap, Portugal is a great value for those who earn income outside of the country. Portuguese salaries are notoriously low.
Frugal shoppers will find great deals on products like pottery and glassware produced in the country. Groceries tend to be less expensive, unless they’re imported, and local markets are treasure troves for those (like us) who prefer eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
Restaurant meals are great deals when you consider that prices include both tax and gratuity. Accordingly, our small tips for good service are both earned and appreciated. Lunch specials are particularly cost effective, often costing under ¢10 for multiple courses.
However, there are notable exceptions to Portugal’s affordability.
Electronics and camera gear are a good bit more expensive compared to the US and other European countries. For some reason, sun screen is also expensive unless it’s on sale. Utilities are high in price too, motivating many Portuguese people (not us) to eschew both air conditioning and heat. And, importantly, really great apartments come at a premium though they’re still a good value compared to countries like the USA, UK and France.
Our Beautiful Apartment
The third time was a charm when we looked for a great apartment in Lisbon.
We were rushed while looking for our first apartment since we needed a lease as part of our D7 visa application. Plus, we were misinformed about the low cost of real estate and what we should pay for a good apartment.
While our second apartment had amazing views, it lacked certain amenities, namely a dishwasher, full-sized refrigerator, air conditioning and heat. We were initially okay with these omissions since we traveled a lot, but then the pandemic hit and we were home on a 24/7 basis for months and months and months. Ouch!
Once we raised our budget and expanded our search, we found an apartment that we love in Lisbon’s Baixa neighborhood. It has all of those missing amenities plus some we didn’t realize we needed like a built-in ice maker, dryer and wine fridge. Plus, the views from our French balconies rarely disappoint.
While living out of a suitcase for three straight years, we discovered that the richest nations don’t necessarily have the fastest internet. We’ve surfed at lightning fast speeds in nations like Vietnam, Romania, Thailand and even Sri Lanka. The same thing can be said for Portugal.
Countries like the UK and Germany occasionally sport spotty and surprisingly slow connection speeds. Meanwhile, Portugal’s electronic superhighway is a dream with download speeds up to 1GBPS. This dependable speed is critical for our business and enjoyable when we want to watch a movie or show on Netflix.
Friends and family from the USA wonder in amazement at the clear, clean signal coming from across the ocean. Zoom calls? Games? Fast video uploads? Não tem problema!!
Travel within Portugal
The phrase ‘trains, planes and automobiles’ is incomplete when it comes to transportation within Portugal. While Portugal has all of these options, the options also include subways, trams, buses, ferries and bikes. Then there’s our personal favorite way of getting around Lisbon – walking.
Don’t get us wrong. We don’t hesitate to use every mode of public transport including the iconic 28 tram. We even purchase monthly transit passes when we’re not traveling. It’s all a matter of what makes sense.
Traveling between cities is a different matter. We typically take trains when we travel to nearby destinations like Cascais and Sintra as well as to more distant cities like Porto and Faro.
Portuguese train rides aren’t just fast and cost effective. We ride in surprising comfort, even in second class cabins, when we take trains to other cities. Portugal even offers high speed Alfa Pendular trains between Porto, Lisbon and the Algarve.
Travel within Europe
Traveling within Europe is a different matter.
Portugal’s location on the continent’s western edge makes train travel difficult if not impossible to other European countries. (We had planned on taking an overnight train to Madrid in 2020 but those plans have been temporarily shelved by the pandemic.)
We’re not complaining too emphatically though. We can easily fly on discount airlines like Ryanair and Easy Jet as well as on more mainstream TAP for relatively low prices. And, thanks to our credit cards, we enjoy the privilege of Priority Pass which allows us to use lounges at most airports around the world.
A foot of crippling snow greeted us as we exited our Philadelphia house in 2016. The snow validated our decision about leaving and abandoning brutal Philly winters forever.
Since we moved to Lisbon in 2019, our memories of snow and bitingly cold winds have faded like the sunsets that greet us every night on the Rio Tejo. Lisbon’s latitude of 38.7° places the city in the semi tropics with warm days in the summer cooled by Atlantic evening breezes.
Yes, the winter can be cold and rainy in Portugal. Although many houses and apartments lack good insulation and climate control, these issues are relatively minor compared to the monster snow storms we endured while living in the Northeastern USA.
The beaches in the Algarve are legendary. However, the dirty little secret (shhhh) is that Portugal has beautiful beaches all along its Atlantic coastline.
In other words, it’s not just possible to take visit a beach while in Lisbon or Portugal, it’s also easy. As in as easy as taking a short train ride.
Great Lisbon beach options include Carcavelos, Comporta, Setubal and Comporta. Meanwhile, visitors to Porto can chill out at Praia de São Jacinto in Aveiro.
We’re lucky. We’ve never had major medical issues that have rendered us incapacitated and/or drained our bank account. While we had great health insurance when we lived in the states, it came at a hefty cost.
Since moving to Lisbon, we’ve found that health services in Portugal rival the quality in America. Hospitals are state-of-the-art here and many health professionals speak English. However, the best part of the Portuguese medical system is its affordability.
All citizens and legal residents have access medical care. We supplement public benefits with private insurance that costs a fraction of what we would pay back home. We hope that nothing bad happens to our health but, if it does, we’ll be covered.
6 Things We Don’t Love About Living in Portugal
People who expect Portugal to be a non-stop honeymoon will be sorely disappointed. We say this after spending our honeymoon in Portugal back in 2007.
While we love living in Lisbon, there are a few things that drive us crazy. None is critical but, out of full disclosure, here they are:
Foods We Miss
We love the food in Europe – the raw milk cheeses, the fresh fruits and vegetables, the cured meats, the pizza, the pasta, the stews – we love it all. But, as we’ve traveled the world, we’ve found that, like Newton’s third law, “for every action there is a reaction.” In other words, for every great food we’ve found in Portugal, we’ve also missed certain foods that taste better in America.
When it comes to pizza, we can find incredible Neapolitan pies (which we love) but as far as New York style slices we can fugetaboutit. NY pizza is made using a unique low moisture mozzarella which does not seem to be readily available in Portugal.
American beef is totally wrong – a grain fed product that musses up the earth. But, if you’re an omnivore, try going without American beef for awhile and then tasting it again once you return home. You won’t believe how much you missed it until that first bite.
Sure we’ve found some decent burgers in Lisbon but not the kind of burger we enjoy at local Philadelphia restaurants… or at chains like Shake Shack and In-N-Out Burger. We have yet to find a bagel here that approaches the excellence of New York or even Philly.
Mexican food? Sure, it exists but not in the abundance or price we’re accustomed to finding in America. Don’t even bother looking for spicy fresh jalapeños – they’re not here either.
“Portuguese, it’s easy. It’s just like Spanish, right?” Well, even though Portugal is located on the Iberian Peninsula and despite that fact that Portugal and Spain were, at one time, the same nation, the Portuguese language contains marked differences.
Portuguese, a Romance language, is indeed a lot like Spanish, sharing thousands of words including amigo (friend), cuidado (caution) and frio (cold.) But, make no mistake, Portuguese is a unique language that’s quite different from Spanish.
Not only does the Portuguese languague contain unique vernacular and pronunciation elements that are guttural like German and Russian, it’s also as difficult to understand as French. For example, take the word rua (i.e. street). It’s pronounced rroooaah, with the beginning of the word pronounced from the bottom of the throat.
Portuguese vowel sounds differ from those in French, Spanish and Italian. Instead of the standard ahh-ay-ee-oh-oo, Portuguese vowels sound is more like uh-eh-ee-oo-ew. The differences are subtle but real.
Additionally, the Portuguese, like the French and Italian, speak at lightning speed, especially in Lisbon. On top of that, English is so widely spoken in international areas of the country that, unless you speak the language with a high level of competency, the conversation typically reverts to English.
Learn European Portuguese, not Brazilian Portuguese, if you’re planning a move to Portugal. There are marked differences between the Portuguese spoken in Portugal and the Portuguese spoken in Portugal’s more populous brother country of Brazil. We’re using Practice Portuguese to learn the European Portuguese language and highly recommend it.
Everything always seems to work out in Portugal. Things just move at a slow pace and take longer here. The key is to be patient, not an innate virtue for either of us.
We first experienced Portuguese bureaucracy while applying for D7 visas in 2018. We applied in November that year, met with the consulate in Newark, NJ in January and received our visas a few months later. We later exchanged those visas for residence permits.
Securing Long-Term Visas
Since we operate a location-independent business, obtaining D7 visas was the best option for us. Beyond proving financial security, the process involved obtaining NIF tax numbers, setting up a Portuguese bank account and finding an apartment. We’d tell you all the steps but this information is constantly changing. Instead, we recommend joining the American and Friends PT Facebook group for the latest and greatest visa information.
We’ve had plenty of chances to experience Portuguese bureaucracy since we moved to Lisbon. As an example, it took over five months to secure our public health numbers, a process that should have taken less than five days. The pandemic made those numbers critical since they’re tied to vaccinations and are necessary for securing EU digital vaccine passports. At the end of the day, we got them, and that’s what really matters.
Hills and Sidewalks
Though Lisbon, where we live, is nicknamed the City of Seven Hills, it seems to have more like 700 hills. Other cities like Porto are hilly too. While these hills have their pluses, namely striking views and enhanced calorie burning, they get annoying when we’re running late to dinner and when we’re carrying groceries.
Then there are the sidewalks called calçada in Portuguese, while aesthetically pleasing with their stone mosaic designs, that make wearing sensible shoes a must. Sometimes we think they’re even slipperier when they’re dry than when they’re wet. We’ve seen people of all ages hit the pavement, some more gracefully than others.
Distance from Friends and Family
Sometimes it’s not fun to be far away from family and life-long friends. This is likely the case for anybody who lives abroad.
However, sometimes we’re bummed to miss out on life events and want to hug our moms in real life. But then we eat a Pastel de Nata or share a bottle of €4 wine and we feel better.
Excessive Shipping Costs
Receiving boxes in Portugal is a challenge that limits our ability to collaborate with international companies. It also makes receiving gifts from family a no-no since the taxes can be as high as the value of the goods and sometimes even higher.
We learned our lesson the hard way when we ordered business cards from a British company that shipped our order from Rhode Island instead of London. While a pre-Brexit shipment from the UK wouldn’t have been an issue, we had to schlep to a government building to pick up our package and paid a fee of €40+ since the box was shipped from the US. Yikes!
Needless to say, we’re now extremely careful whenever we order anything online and we hesitate to give out our mailing address to family. Sorry mom! The same goes when we consider collaborations that involve shipped products.
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.