Dear International Living Reader,
Imagine living in the most relaxed, affordable country in Western Europe…a diverse landscape where local markets thrive next to ultra-modern shopping complexes…where ancient palace fortresses cast shadows across bustling cosmopolitan art centers…and where you can sample some of the best surf in the Atlantic one day and sip cool, pure water from a trickling mountain stream the next.
Here you'll find the best of ALL worlds…
…where terms like 'world-class' and 'ultra-affordable' apply to just about everything: ski resorts, golf courses, wineries, fine dining and infrastructure…
…and where some of the world's most sophisticated cities are just a stone's throw from long, empty stretches of beach, quiet country retreats and spectacular national parks—so it's always easy to find your own private slice of peace…
Just ask Jamie Lung, who left her home in Santa Monica to make a new life in Europe. She hadn't planned on settling in Portugal when she first arrived, but was soon seduced by the mouth-watering food and wine, palatial architecture and meandering streets of Porto, Portugal's second-largest city…
"There is just something about this place that hooks you and makes it almost impossible not to stay.
Living here, I can afford to enjoy a coffee and a long talk with a friend in the afternoon sunlight at one of Porto's many outdoor cafes. I can walk through old streets without a destination, knowing I will discover a new set of favorite little corners. Life in Porto is full of these kinds of moments."
Jamie was also amazed at how little she was spending to live here:
"If you want a quick breakfast, you can buy a tosta mista (ham-and-cheese melt) and a galao (latte) for less than $3.25. Or, if you want to enjoy a drink with a friend, a glass of Super Bock—the most popular beer—costs a little over a dollar.
For about $5.50, I can walk away from a family-owned produce shop with a bag full of bananas, grapes, pears, apples, kiwis, plums, garlic, spinach, onions, carrots and cabbage. No matter how many times I buy fresh produce from this place, I am still pleasantly shocked every time I get the bill."
Portugal's cost of housing is another bonus that's hard to resist: Jamie lives in a charming Portuguese house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large foyer, living room, kitchen, dining room, studio and balcony. The rent, including expenses, comes to around $780 a month. And if you only need a single room, Jamie says it's common to be able to find a place for less than $350 a month.
"For someone who was paying $1,500 per month for a room in a 2-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, California, this dramatic decrease in living expenses has allowed me to spend less time working just to pay the rent…and more time actually living and experiencing life."
But here's the thing…you may want to stay just where you are, since as soon as you step outside Portugal's borders, you'll be spending more money…because this under-the-radar retirement destination is definitely the lowest-cost spot in Western Europe.
Kevin Casey, a globe-trotting writer who regularly travels to Europe for lengthy stays, was pleasantly surprised at the low costs when he first visited Portugal:
"As a digital nomad, I spend months at a time in different parts of Europe and all around the world, but when I made my first trip to Portugal, I was blown away. I'd been to Spain, and found Portugal cheaper—especially in day-to-day things like groceries, getting around, entertainment, meals out and places to stay.
I'd heard that Spain was the most economical place to go in Western Europe, but Portugal beats it hands down, especially when compared to cities like Madrid. There may be parts of Spain that are cheaper than Portugal, but overall, it's no contest: Portugal was definitely more affordable for me—and the Wi-Fi was totally reliable everywhere I went, which is important for a writer. On the Continent, you'd have to travel across to Slovakia, Romania, Poland or other parts of Eastern Europe to find a cost of living that rivals Portugal."
According to long-term Portugal resident and IL correspondent, Tricia Pimental, Portugal's cost of living—as of April 2018—was calculated at more than a third lower (and up to 50% cheaper to rent in certain areas) than the US.
Stacked up against the rest of Western Europe, this expat haven also comes out on top for affordability with a first-world lifestyle…
In France, for instance, you'll expect to pay nearly 50% more for groceries and restaurant meals than in Portugal…
A meal for two in a mid-range restaurant in Portugal will set you back only €30 compared to €50 in France. Or, if you want to enjoy a local beer in Portugal, you'll pay only €1.50.
Even Spain—long considered the ultimate bargain destination by European travelers and expats—has a cost of living index and rental prices around 12% higher than those in Portugal. In January 2018, Numbeo figures showed the following rental property price differences between Portugal and Spain:
…and if you're after a beach hideaway and are comparing Portugal's Algarve region in the south of the country with Spain's Costa del Sol, the news is just as good: based on a recent study of nearly 9,000 houses on a popular Spanish real estate website, average property prices along the Costa del Sol run at $421,600, while another real estate company lists average prices in the Algarve at $265,800—with over half of the available house listings coming in at under $216,000.
Imagine enjoying a leisurely two-course dinner with a glass of wine and dessert for only $13 per person…at these kinds of prices, it's easy to see why Portugal should be one of the first countries on your retirement radar, especially if you're on a fixed income.
Of course, some parts of Portugal will cost more than others. A meal in Lisbon or Porto will cost you more than one in the quieter Alentejo region, for example…that's to be expected…but even in Portugal's main cosmopolitan areas, you'll still pay less than other cities such as London, Paris or even Madrid:
And here's the clincher—you don't even need to be based in a large Portuguese city to immerse yourself in enchanting old-world culture, fresh, wholesome food and stunning scenery…because it's absolutely EVERYWHERE.
Tricia says, "After moving to Portugal, we found we could live on approximately one-third of what it cost us in a small town in north-central Utah. An expat with a source of income from a private enterprise, retirement account or savings will discover that the cost of living is remarkably low. In the palace town of Mafra, a half-hour drive from the capital of Lisbon, a one-bedroom apartment can be had for a few hundred dollars per month.
Need more room, or prefer privacy? A three-level, four-bedroom, four-bath detached home with a churrascaria (a separate structure containing a built-in barbecue) and a garden with fruit trees costs approximately $1,100 per month. A house fitting this description would probably sell for less than $250,000. Expect to pay about $165 per month for water, gas, and electricity combined."
Tricia recommends renting in or near a Portuguese beach city if you're looking to 'test the waters' (literally and figuratively!) before committing to a longer stay. For her, rock-bottom prices were only part of Portugal's appeal:
"Fresh seafood is everywhere, and there are organic sections in many supermarkets if you can't make it to the local farmer's market. Wonderful wines abound. A bottle that elsewhere might run $25 in a store and $40 to $50 in a restaurant runs about $8 on a Portuguese store shelf, with a good table wine under $5. As—or more- important—as the affordability factor, though, is the overall quality of life offered by this gem of a nation. Its people are patient yet proud. They understand the meaning of family, tradition and hard work. They love music. They love language."
What makes Portugal such a desirable destination for investors, travelers, digital nomads, expats and retirees? It's the fact that even though you're paying much less than you may be used to, you're not sacrificing your quality of life. You still have some of the most efficient infrastructure and modern living in Europe…coupled with a slower pace that lets you truly appreciate each day.
What does 'quality of life' really mean in Portugal? It means you can:
Living in Portugal gives you an abundance of choices: you can base yourself in a sleepy fishing village, a thriving beach resort, a mountain retreat or in the heart of vibrant Lisbon—where the restaurants, museums and attractions rival anything else in Europe. Whatever private hideaway you choose, you're sure to make new friends quickly…because Portuguese people are some of the most relaxed, family-oriented, helpful and courteous folks you'll meet anywhere.
Whether you're just exploring the possibilities or thinking seriously about moving to Portugal, you'll find no shortage of spectacular locations, lifestyles and options to choose from. Although you can expect to pay more in major cities in general, a couple can live quite comfortably on about $2,034 (€1,645) per month.
Low-key beach and riverside living…
If you like to be away from the hustle and bustle of city life and slow your pace right down, Esposende is well worth a look.
Or sample life in Vila Nova de Famalicão, a pleasant inland town of 133,000 people just a half-hour drive northeast of Porto…where you'll have access to two international airports, over a hundred cafes and restaurants and a weekly farmer's market. Slip into Tentacaões Gourmet shop for a chat with Elsa (she speaks excellent English) and grab a homemade pastry, a cup of strong, fresh coffee, a glass of wine or some chocolate fettuccine.
For a 3-bedroom apartment in this part of the country, monthly rent is around $490-$590, with purchase prices around $172,000. Life is good…and good value…in this quiet town 15 miles from the beach.
Life in this chic, historic city has everything you could ask for: a vibrant seaside ambience, friendly locals, mild weather and delicious food and wine at appealing prices.
Wind through the maze of medieval alleys in the Ribeira district in your search for a new restaurant…visit a wine bar along the Douro River to sample world-renowned port and then stroll across the famous Dom Luis I bridge. Lose yourself in leafy parks, beautiful churches and elegant public buildings…
Portugal's second-largest city is popular with expats and known for its year-round livability and pleasing blend of cosmopolitan sophistication and old-word ambience.
When International Living's European Correspondent Glynna Prentice recently visited, she discovered an exciting range of affordable housing options:
"In an upscale residential neighborhood just north of Boavista, an elegant, modern 3-bedroom, 2-bath apartment with lots of light, a huge living room with balcony, hardwood floors throughout and 1,722 feet of space is currently for sale for $198,000.
Prefer to live in central Porto? If you're after a well-located one-bedroom/one bathroom apartment, one was recently on offer in the upscale Aliados region. With wooden floors and a small balcony, this apartment puts you right in the action in Porto. Its asking price: just $64,000.
Central Porto is home to only about 250,000 people, giving it a small-city, manageable feel (the greater Porto area is home to 1.5 million). You can stroll from the outskirts of the old city down to the waterfront—the Cais da Ribeira—in as little as twenty minutes."
Your own secret mountain hideaway…
Want to start your new life surrounded by mountains, farms and parks? Then take a look at Guarda—the highest city in Portugal at 3,320 feet. Here in the country's interior, you're only a couple of hours from Porto but you'll feel a world away, with 20 frontier castles to explore and all the fresh air you can handle…
There is currently a finely renovated home available there for $127,100 with three bedrooms, two balconies and handy access to river beaches and the Guarda center.
A rich life at low cost in Portugal's capital…
Portugal's largest city, Lisbon, is one of Western Europe's jewels…where every neighborhood seems to offer stunning views and you can choose between the culture and history of Belem, the sizzling nightlife of Bica and Barrio Alto or the bedroom communities of Oerras or Loures—where daily life is less frenetic but you're still close to everything. In Lisbon you may have to pay a bit more…but you get more convenience, entertainment, infrastructure and nightlife for your money.
Some typical Lisbon real estate options:
A one-bedroom apartment in the center of Lisbon in good condition and it’s located in a quiet neighborhood, close to transport (metro, train, and bus). There’s nice sun exposure and a garden view. This was on offer for $1,230 a month.
In the prime, desirable residential area of Campo de Ourique a 1-bedroom apartment with wood floors and fully equipped kitchen…rents for $1,054 a month.
One of the best things about Lisbon is how easy it is to get around…whether you own a car or not. If you like, you can forget about driving, live like a local and hop on the trams instead!
Affordable luxury on 'the Portuguese Riviera'….
20 miles west of Lisbon, the popular tourist and expat hub of Cascais has all the grandeur and elegance of the French Riviera…but at much lower prices. Being close to the palaces and castles of historical Sintra, the capital of Lisbon and the wild beauty of Guincho beach, this seaside oasis is ideally located and welcoming, as Colleen Marlotti discovered when she visited with her family…
"Our typical spring day in Cascais consisted of rich coffee and delicious homemade Portuguese tarts at Bijou de Cascais. For under $10, our family of five could enjoy coffee on the patio in the golden morning sun. After an afternoon beach walk, we might find ourselves dining al fresco at Cafe Galeria's raw foods bar.
Our children would wrap themselves in the blankets provided, get comfy in the handmade furniture and sip fresh fruit smoothies as the stars became visible over the darkening Atlantic Ocean."
Colleen says that finding an apartment here is much easier than on the French or Italian Riviera, and the friendly locals and chilled-out atmosphere create a warm, authentic feel.
"A two-bedroom apartment a two minute walk from the beach can be rented for about $1,105 a month, with all the amenities like a private sunny garden , and a patio included. A comparable apartment in Nice, France would easily set you back $3,000 a month."
Other real estate examples from this area include a 3-bedroom, semi-detached house with three floors and two balconies for sale at $485,100.
If an average winter temperature of 77°F sounds like your style, then set yourself up in the Algarve. Once just a collection of sleepy fishing villages perched on low cliffs, this region is now a legendary destination for global sun-seekers, golfers and active expats… a place where every beach town is as attractive as the next and bright sunshine is the norm.
Dine with friends on the cliff tops…
Along the numerous sand coves lining the Portimao coastline, you can spend your days beach-hopping and then your nights relaxing at Praia da Rocha's cliff-top promenade, where the restaurants and nightclubs buzz and the views are divine.
Typical rentals in the area run about $477 a month for a studio apartment and twice that for a one-bedroom. A cozy property, five minutes from the beach with two beds and a bunk bed is for sale for just $106,600.
Albufeira is the largest of the Algarve resort towns, but relaxing here is easy too. Rental property prices vary considerably, but recent offerings include two-bedrooms between $991 and $1,239.
In Faro, you have access to an international airport but are still smack dab in the middle of some the loveliest beaches on the coast. Faro exudes a less touristy, more local vibe and is worth checking out for real estate bargains. A recent offering, on the popular Avenida 5 de Outobro, boasting a four-bedroom home in excellent condition was selling at $295,300.
For a quieter, more low-key lifestyle, try the charming little town of Tavira, just 16 miles west of the Spanish border; it's the perfect base for exploring the eastern Algarve. Here, a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in a gated community just listed for $353,189 to buy—this could be your own private oasis, away from the bustle of the central Algarve.
If you've ever thought about making a major, positive change in your life and living in a sun-soaked place that lets you stretch your dollars…while enjoying sophisticated living in the midst of medieval history, natural splendor, a laid-back beach lifestyle and first-world infrastructure…well, that place is Portugal…and the time is now.
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When Tricia Pimental and her husband decided to move overseas in 2012, they looked at a number of options: Ecuador, Colombia, Spain, France…even Malta. They'd vacationed in Portugal and remembered how exciting and different their experiences were.
They sat in rapt attention as a fadista in a rural village near Porto bared her soul, singing of the glory of Portugal. They puzzled at youngsters joining a festival parade at midnight…on a school night! They watched fishermen bringing ashore their catch of sardinhas and carapau.
And they quickly realized something…in the midst all this country's cultural richness, they found that for lodging and meals, they were only spending a slim percentage of what they'd experienced in other European countries…or back home in Utah.
So they decided to return.
"That's when life changed from relishing a few weeks of vacation to living a casual lifestyle in a place more budget-friendly and accommodating than we'd ever imagined", Tricia says.
After moving to Portugal, Tricia discovered they could live on approximately a third of what it had cost them in the US. And she believes the situation is even better for aspiring expats now, with the decline of the Euro against the dollar.
When Tricia graduated from Brooklyn College of the City University in New York with a B.A. in French, she began to travel…to France, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, Turkey, Israel, Russia, the Baltic states and most of Europe. She's the author of three award-winning books, including A Movable Marriage: A Memoir.
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Publisher, International Living
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