AMA About Life in Portugal

you asked, I answered

life: examined is a compendium of thoughts, ideas, and questions about how to live with curiosity and creativity—on purpose—along with regular musings on my life in Portugal. Thank you for your support.

Last week I celebrated my 3rd year in Portugal and wrote about my reflections on this milestone here

As I did the previous year for my 2nd anniversary, I opened up my inbox to questions from readers. So, this week, here we are with the Ask Me Anything (AMA) questions and my responses. 

(I’ve lightly edited the questions for brevity and clarity, as needed)

Marci asks:

So my question is this: for a first-time visitor and possible expat-to-be, where would you suggest we go? (I’m sure this would be helpful to other readers as well). We love the ocean, interesting small towns, history, art, culture, good food & drink, and physical activity (biking, walking, swimming, hiking). I assume we’ll have 6 -10 days there. Thank you!

I answer: 

Thanks for your question, Marci. The interests you listed would match several places in Portugal. The entire west coast of the country is on the Atlantic ocean, so you’re never too far from the sea. On the opposite boundary with Spain, you have mountains and typically more rugged terrain, but you are land-locked. 

Most people will point you to Lisbon or Porto for arts and culture and the food/dining/bar scenes, but maybe (relatively) big city life is not what you’re after.

Honestly, it sounds like you are describing my city of Setúbal!

Setúbal is bordered by the river Sado. Travel a few kilometers north and you’ll meet the Atlantic and the stunning Parque Natural da Arrábida, a protected natural area of lush vegetation, dramatic chalk cliffs, and the eye-watering blue-green of the sea. Lots of activities like hiking and cultural events introduce people to the Parque and its rich resources. 

I tell clients and others looking to make a move to Portugal to think about climate/weather, first. You might find Porto enchanting as a visitor, but if you don’t want a long wet winter, then it’s probably not your place. Maybe you like the sunshine of the Algarve, but find the extreme temperatures in summer to be unbearable.

I’d suggest, without know more (will you have a car or use public transit? city or rural? budget?), that you check out Lisbon, of course, and Ericeira, Cascais, and Tavira in the Algarve. Boa sorte!

David asks:

We are dog & cat lovers. However, we hear that dogs roam the streets and bark all night long. What has been your experience? We like to walk/hike all over with our little dog.

I answer:

Well, David—here's the deal: in some places, yes, you will find loose/stray dogs and barking dogs, too. Sometimes even loose and barking—all in the same dog! :)

This can occur in towns or specific neighborhoods, but in general, it's more common in rural areas. Although I have heard people who live in the chichi town of Cascais complain about barking dogs, too, so no area is immune to this nuisance. I had them, the barkers and the free roamers, when I lived in Almada. 

Where I am in Setúbal, not so much. Yes, of course, the occasional and random barking, but not the non-stop cacophony. Because I live adjacent to a large urban park, there are many dogs—some off-leash, some without their owners.

My dog, Milo, is a nervous sort—I wouldn't go hiking in the backcountry, especially alone, with him. But that's more due to my lack of familiarity with rural areas. 

Are the barkers and the roamers a problem everywhere? No. Choose your town/neighborhood/street/apartment building with care, though, as the Portuguese tend to have a higher tolerance for these things than Americans do.  

Kate asks:

How did you land on Portugal? Were there other countries you were considering, and/or are there consistently a handful of countries your clients consider landing at (and in!) besides Portugal? I'm thinking of countries with relatively similar costs and climate (like Spain and Croatia). Just curious what puts Portugal squarely at the top for so many!

I answer: 

Hi Kate. Thanks for your question. Many years ago I thought I'd move to France, then I thought maybe Spain due to my semi-comfort with the Spanish language. But Portugal won out over those options.

France, Italy, Spain—sometimes Croatia—are the alternative to Portugal countries many people (my clients) consider. For most it comes down to cost, a welcoming populace, and a low(er) barrier to entry for residency and eventually citizenship if one wants that (I do). 

Buy Me a Coffee

With the Portuguese D7 visa, you can get residency initially for two years (renewal is for three years) and you can work. However, in Spain, the closest equivalent is called the Non-Lucrative visa, which means just that—you are not authorized to work anywhere in the EU (and where your butt is, is where you work). 

Portugal requires self-sustaining support of about 700 euros/month x 12 to qualify, whereas Spain requires roughly 2,100 euros/month. I'm not sure about Italy or Croatia. 

Critical for me, and a major reason France, Spain, and Italy are big NOs is the creeping right-wing activity and low tolerance for immigrants.

And although Portugal has its fair share of Byzantine bureaucracy, Italy is reported to be a nightmare in that arena, and not easy to get residency, from what I understand. 

Croatia is beautiful but not as accommodating or welcoming as Portugal. 

I've met folks who lived there and found it was too hard to do everyday things, including acquiring property for rent or purchase, as many parts of the country are geared toward tourism.

And if you think Portuguese is hard, try Croatian!

Although many Croatians speak German or English, so it’s likely not too much of a problem except in remote areas. Also, winters are cold and icy in Croatia, and that's not for me or most of my clients and friends.  

The path to citizenship by naturalization in Portugal is 5 years.

It's 10 years in Spain and Italy. In Croatia, if you can show that you are a benefit to Croatia, have been living there as a resident, and are willing to give up your foreign nationality you can acquiring citizenship by naturalization. There is a language requirement for all countries mentioned here. 

On Another Note

Acclimating to Portugal tends to be reasonably easy for those without unreasonable exceptions. Portugal is consistently the 3rd or 4th safest country in the world, and holds 7th place (very high proficiency) according to the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI). Spain is #34, France is #28, and Croatia is #13.


I'm not a migration specialist, and I only know what I know when I know it—all these details could have changed and will likely change at any time, but this information is to the best of my knowledge.

Hit up your BFF Google for more information or book a Move to Portugal session with me if you want to chat Portugal-specific details.

Readers submitted more questions than the ones I answered, above, but I'll save them for another time as this newsletter/essay is already long enough! 

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Muito obrigada, generous readers: Dana, Teresa, Joanna, Susan, Bill, Kris, sweetmixinz, honeymoonalways, Denny, river9rat, Ron, Denise, Karen, Fl, lisbonretreats and anonymous someones for supporting me and my writing through Buy Me a Coffee. It’s not necessary, but I always appreciate it!

Until next time—be well, stay curious, and share life: examined!