How I Save Money by Living in Portugal
and you can, too!
Part of my plan for moving to Portugal was to save money and lower my expenses.
Yes, Europe in general, and Portugal, can be expensive—shall we talk about the taxes? But aside from that (and Portugal has a beneficial tax scheme to help make the rate a bit more palatable for newcomers who qualify), the cost of daily life is super affordable, depending on your lifestyle, of course.
Now on to the top five categories where I save the most:
You can spend as much as you want on fancy meals in Lisbon, or next to nothing at the corner tasca.
If you shop at the local markets and fruitarias, you can spend very little on groceries.
I've spent about 200€ per month on groceries in the past year, including my favorite fancy chocolate. I cook 95% of my meals at home, but eat out for the occasional lunch and coffee date. A few lunches out each month adds about 40€ to my total with the price of a coffee about .80 to 2€ depending upon where you go.
I can buy a kilo of strawberries from the Mercado do Livramento, considered one of the best markets in the world, for about 2.00€—that's 2.2 lbs. for my American friends!
Of course, some items are more expensive, but if you shop seasonally, you'll do yourself, your wallet, and the planet a load of good.
I don't have a car, so that means no car insurance premiums, no petrol or maintenance costs, no parking hassles or fees, or road rage (others, not mine)!
I spend 40€ per month on a transit pass (well, I did in pre-COVID times) that covers travel throughout the greater Lisbon region. That’s 18 different municipalities including Setúbal—on trains, buses, the metro, and ferries. I might spend an additional 10€ to 20€ per month on car hire (like Uber or Bolt (get a free ride) if it's late or I’m bringing lots of groceries home from the faraway store and don't feel like hiking back.
I love not driving—and not hunting for parking!
As a Portuguese resident, I'm entitled to use the services of the national health care system via the Serviço Nacional de Saúde's (SNS) Centro de Saúde (health center) neighborhood clinics. More than just clinics as we'd know them in the States, the Centro de Saúde system provides preventive care, diagnostics, and treatment. And there’s a network of public hospitals, too.
I once went to the Centro de Saúde in my old neighborhood, which set me back 4.50€ for a consult (my visit to the Centro went well; the doctor was professional and thorough); that's about $5 at this writing.
The system is a bit overloaded, so newcomers like me are required to have private insurance, and as well we should since we haven't paid into the system here.
Starting in October, I'll begin paying to Segurança Social, which partially funds the healthcare and retirement benefit system. As a freelancer, this is a requirement since I am now a tax resident of Portugal. I'll pay into the system for a few years before I stop working altogether, and I'll feel better about using the public system after I've contributed. After that, I’ll keep private insurance as long as I can or it seems necessary.
No, I will not get a financial retirement benefit as I won’t be paying in long enough to do so—and that’s fine with me.
My monthly premium for a private health insurance policy, which allows me to see a network of doctors at private hospitals and clinics, is about a third of what I was paying in California for sub-par coverage with an absurd deductible of $6,300 to satisfy before my benefits kicked in.
I've used my medical insurance several times here and am pleased with the level of care and costs (co-pay is about 15€ per visit/consult).
Cell Phone & Internet
When I was living in California, I had a cell phone plan with AT&T. I honestly don't remember the data plan limit, but I did have unlimited free calls and texting. So for one line, one phone, I paid about $90/month.
Home Wi-Fi was about $60/month, unlimited; I did not have television. That was nearly three years ago.
In Portugal, I have home Wi-Fi (fiber) bundled with my cell phone plan (with extra data, but I seldom need it—and don't remember the limit), plus a landline and television, which I rarely use, for about 50€ per month. So that's about $60 for all four services!
Roof Over my Head
And now for the biggest category: housing. This is the one that people are most curious about. And, in the interest of sharing openly with those who think they might want to move to Portugal, I'm going to give you my actual numbers.
When I lived in San Diego, I had the cutest 1920s attached cottage, in a courtyard of fourteen (I think) units. They were condos, so we had monthly HOA fees.
As cute as my one-bedroom, 440 s.f. cottage was, I had to work overtime to make the payments.
Property taxes were about $2,400/year, and the mortgage payment (which included property tax and insurance payments of about $480/month) was, as best as I recall, about $1300/month. My HOA fee was in the $230/month range.
Now, you can't even rent that place in San Diego for $1300 a month. It's pretty crazy what housing costs are in the States, especially California and the west coast. In my old neighborhood, it’s not uncommon to find studios renting for $2,000/month.
I'm glad housing is no longer a significant financial burden or worry for me. You can save money and increase your quality of life by moving out of the US.
Here in Portugal, I have a new two-bedroom, one-bath flat. It's about 800 s.f., with beautiful wood floors and new appliances, A/C (I never had A/C in the States!), and a long front balcony. In addition, I'm two minutes from a glorious city park. I purchased my apartment, which isn't what I had planned to do originally, but it turned out to be a better deal overall.
I put about 40% down on my apartment, I make a payment equivalent to about $600/month, and the building maintenance fee is 30€ a month. I'm not sure what my property taxes will be, but around 150€ for the year is likely.
Quality of Life
I've lowered my costs, have a much better apartment than I ever could have had in San Diego, and I work significantly fewer hours, which equals more quality of life for me. So, that's how I save money by living in Portugal.
I hope you find these real numbers helpful, and if you want to go deeper with your own questions and concerns about moving to Portugal, you can work with me one-to-one or join one of my small group sessions (coming soon—I promise!). Drop me a line if you want to be on the interest list for the small group sessions.
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As someone who is in the process of planning a move to Portugal, this is invaluable information from somebody "on the inside" ... I can't wait to sample the joys and struggles of living in Portugal for myself. Thanks for all the medical information ...this is something I hadn't looked into yet. Good to know they have a good (albeit) overwhelmed systems ready for you to use.
My one question is, how did you manage to get everything set up singlehandedly when you arrived? From what I've learned, it's challenging. Doing it solo sounds so stressful!