Living in Lisbon – Ultimate Portugal Expat Guide for Moving to Portugal!

Have you ever dreamt of living in Lisbon, or moving to Portugal in general? Then read our in-depth guide on doing just that, where we share our personal story of moving to sunny Lisboa!

Although I was born and raised in South Africa, I always yearned to connect with my Portuguese heritage, given that my father was born in northern Portugal. This, coupled with a love for Europe and wanting to explore more of this historic and fascinating continent led to our decision to move halfway across the globe and settling in sunny Lisbon.

That was a number of years ago now, and I can still recall all the researching, planning and what felt like endless amongst of admin required to make the move. 

Today though, we have managed to pretty much integrate into life in Portugal and absolutely love our life as Lisbon expats, being able to fully appreciate and enjoy not only life in Lisbon but also living in Portugal!

This has inspired us to put together this Living in Lisbon guide helping you get to grips with moving to Portugal. In this guide, we not only touch on things to know beforehand but also discuss general tips on the cost of living in Lisbon and Portugal in general.

Hopefully, through our own experience, this guide will go some way towards helping you successfully navigate a move to Lisbon (or anywhere in Portugal for that matter). 

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Before you go, be sure to plan & book your Portugal Travel Essentials:

Pssst…Don’t forget to read our Portugal packing list post to ensure you’ve got all your travel essentials packed and ready for your holiday to Portugal!

Moving to Portugal – Know Before You Go 

Before you plan your big move to Portugal, there are a few things you may want to consider. While the country is a popular holiday destination for its many famous landmarks, hidden gems and tasty cuisines – living in Portugal can be quite different. 

If you truly want an authentic feel of Portugal and its capital, it is best to visit and experience Lisbon first-hand. We understand, however, that not everyone has the means or time to do so. To help you gain a fuller picture of this incredible city, I’ve put together a few things you should know about living in Lisbon. 

Also make sure to investigate all avenues open to you when considering a move to Portugal. Do you need a visa? And, what type of visa. Many visitors who want to move to Portugal are very familiar with the famous Golden Visa, but this avenue requires a huge financial investment. Instead, you may want to research and look into Portugal’s D7-visa, a much cheaper alternative!

What is Life in Portugal Like?

Enjoying a drink as a Lisbon Expat at a Kiosk in Avenida Liberdade - Photo by ©Travel-Boo
Enjoying a drink at a Kiosk in Avenida Liberdade – Photo by ©Travel-Boo

If there is one thing to be said about the people who live in Portugal, particularly in Lisbon, it is that they value family and friends. As a result, the lively capital is a rather social place to be. Here you will find an array of cafés, bars and restaurants which you are likely to frequent. At these spots, you are sure to find locals and Portugal expats willing to converse with you – so making friends is not too challenging. 

Beyond its friendly people, Lisbon boasts a number of special charms. Endless sunshine and mild, pleasant winters, a rich culture, deep history and delicious food are among the many benefits of staying in this lively city. Not to mention, Lisbon offers a lovely blend of nature and city life. In and around the city you will find some of the most beautiful beaches – perfect for all those sunny days. 

Regarding the cost of living, Lisbon is cheaper than most European capitals, although pricier compared to most other parts of Portugal. Around the city, you will find affordable accommodation available for rent or purchase depending on the area you are searching through. 

Moreover, jobs are relatively easy to come by as the country is reported to have a shortage of skilled workers. This is mostly true for the following industries: marketing, communications, IT, healthcare, tourism and hospitality, and agriculture. Portugal also has a growing start-up scene. 

It is worth noting that many Lisbon expats may work remotely as salaries in Portugal are fairly low and whilst you can find entry-level English language jobs in customer service call centres, more specialised jobs may require that you be fluent in both English and Portuguese and may be harder to crack into!

For a unique look at the city, check out this Lisbon segway tour

Expats in Lisbon – Where to Stay

When moving to Lisbon, where you stay will depend largely on your preferences. Whether you wish to be near the city’s major attractions or in a more quiet neighbourhood in Lisbon to stay in, there are plenty of options available. 

If you’re looking to stay near the city centre, the best places include Baixa and Chiado. Baixa is located in the heart of Lisbon and is the city’s most renowned neighbourhood. This lovely spot is home to many shops, eateries and magnificent plazas. Trendy Chiado is right nextdoor to Baixa and considered one of the more chic areas in Lisbon and definitely much pricier. Chiado is also located right on the doorstep of many major sights in the city but can become crowded with tourists, especially during the peak summer months.

For those looking for a more quiet area, there are a number of more residential neighbourhoods found throughout Lisbon. These spots are popular among families, students and expats as they offer an abundance of amenities, easy access to public transport, restaurants, shops, gyms and parks. Among these neighbourhoods are Saldanha (where we currently live and an area we absolutely love!), Campolide, Arroios, Areeiro, Alameda, Avenidas Novas and Alvalade. 

These are all great neighbourhoods worth considering and although they are situated slightly out of downtown Lisbon, can you easily get to the city centre in 10 mins by using Lisbon’s cheap and convenient public transport

Note that these are a select few spots in Lisbon. There are many other lovely places to stay. From bustling shopping districts and lively nightlife hubs to scenic coastal towns and cosy local neighbourhoods, there is a place to suit every lifestyle. 

Lisbon Expat Scene

If you’re planning a move to Lisbon, or Portugal and want to connect with fellow expats, then I’ve got great news. There is a myriad of great social events and resources available to you for connecting with other like-minded expats in Lisbon!

You can join a ton of different Portugal expat groups on Facebook, these include:

Alternatively, you can also download the Meetup app and join local hikes, social, and other events that comprise both locals and expats. 

The professional networking platform Internations is another great place to see regular meetups and events that allow you to network and socialize with Lisbon expats and locals alike.

Cost of Living in Lisbon, Portugal

The cost of living in Lisbon can be fairly high if you do not budget correctly (although it is still low compared to other European cities and especially if you are earning a foreign income). 

To help you make informed purchasing decisions, here is what you can expect to pay for most of your everyday needs as far as Lisbon living costs go.

Accommodation 

Chiado Architecture - Cost of Living in Lisbon - Photo by ©Travel-Boo
Chiado Architecture – Photo by ©Travel-Boo

Depending on the district or neighbourhood you decide to stay in, prices for accommodation (rent and purchase) can vary quite a bit. The average prices for a place in Lisbon are broken down below.

The average price to rent an apartment in Lisbon is reported as follows:

  • 1 bedroom apartment near the city centre – €850 ($1050 USD) 
  • 1 bedroom apartment outside the city centre – €650 ($800 USD)
  • 2-3 bedroom apartment near the city centre –  €1500 ($1850 USD)
  • 2-3 bedroom apartment outside the city centre – €1050 ($1300 USD)

For those looking to purchase accommodation, the prices for an apartment in Lisbon is reported as follows:

  • Price per square meter for an apartment in the city centre – €4500 ($5500 USD)
  • Price per square meter for an apartment outside the city centre – €2600 ($3200 USD)

Additional accommodation costs which you can expect include your utilities and landline internet connection. Utilities (water, electricity, etc.) are reported to cost on average, €115 ($140 USD) for an 85-metre-square apartment. For internet connection, the average cost is €20-30 ($25-35 USD), depending on speed. 

It is also worth mentioning that we’ve found Portugal’s internet speed fairly fast and reliable. You’ll also find free public Wi-Fi at many bars, restaurants, and other public spaces. Major providers include MEO (which we are on), NOS, and Vodafone to name but a few. 

Groceries

Raw, french produce and ingredients in Lisbon are excellent and very cost-effective. If you like to cook your own meals at home, you can definitely save quite a bit. Head to a local grocery store or traditional farmers’ market where you will find fruit, vegetables, fish and other fresh produce, all at great prices. For a rough idea of what your grocery spend may look like, here are the average prices for some staple food items in Lisbon: 

  • Milk – €0.67 ($0.82 USD)
  • Bread – €1.16 ($1.42 USD)
  • Rice – €0.93 ($1.13 USD)
  • Eggs – dozen – €2.00 ($2.44 USD)
  • Chicken per kg – €4.99 ($6.09 USD)
  • Beef – €10.26 ($12.52 USD)
  • Potatoes – €0.96 ($1.17 USD)

Some of the major supermarkets found in Portugal include Continente, Mini Preco, Pingo Doce, Lidl, and also for an upmarket version the El Corte Ingles supermarket in the El Corte Ingles mall located in Avenidas Novas.

Top Tip: We often shop at Continente as it’s located just around the corner from our apartment. We’ve signed up for the Continent loyalty card, which is also available as an app on your phone, and often receive weekly coupons whereby we’ll receive either €5.00 back if we spend over €20.00 or receive 10% back on our total purchase. This is an amazing saving!

Also, don’t be afraid to head to the butcher or the fish counter to buy fresh produce. This often works out far more cost-effective. For example, if we had to buy a small cut of salmon that is already pre-packaged this could cost around €5. Yet, if we head to the fish counter and ask for a cut there, we usually pay almost half that, between €2.50 – €3.00!

Leisure and Entertainment 

Given the lovely weather, Lisbon is a great place to spend time outdoors. For little to no cost, you can hit up some incredible beaches, explore all of Lisbon’s hidden gems, as well as some of the best hikes in Portugal

For those who prefer the indoors, Lisbon has plenty. For exercise, there are a number of health and fitness clubs throughout the city such as FitnessHut, Lemon Fit, XXI CrossFit and Holmes Place gym. The average monthly cost for a gym membership is around €32 ($39 USD). 

Moreover, cinemas can be found throughout the city with the average ticket costing around €7 ($8.54 USD). We’ve often enjoyed movies at the El Corte Ingles cinema, signing up for their loyalty card also affords discounts. I also often see many expats asking whether movies are dubbed into Portuguese. The great news is that most cinemas screen movies in the original language (English), unless it’s an animation or movie for young kids, which is then usually dubbed into Portuguese. 

Sports is also big here, with soccer being the most popular. Soccer matches in Lisbon attract huge crowds supporting either Sporting or Benfica, Lisbon’s two major soccer clubs, whether it be to a stadium for a live game or the local pub. Regardless, the atmosphere is always great. 

Eating Out

TimeOut Food Market in Lisbon - Photo by ©Travel-Boo
TimeOut Food Market in Lisbon – Photo by ©Travel-Boo

Eating out in Lisbon can be quite expensive if you do not know where to go. Mid-range restaurants can charge quite a bit. The average price for a 3-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant could set you back €30 ($37 USD). 

Check out some of the best seafood restaurants in Lisbon here. For those wanting to know about Lisbon Vegan or Vegetarian scene, you’ll be happy to know that it is bustling with a fabulous array of excellent vegetarian and vegan restaurants scattered throughout Lisbon!

Luckily, there is plenty of Tascas located in and around the city. A Tasca is a small, traditional Portuguese restaurant and some of the best of these are located right in Lisbon. Here you will find hearty, home-style Portuguese foods served in large portions and at affordable prices. For a meal here, you can expect to pay as little as €8 ($9.76 USD). 

For breakfast, a lovely option is to grab a coffee, accompanied by good bread or pastry. Be sure to try the pastel de nata, a delicious egg-yolk custard tartlet and one of the most famous things to eat in Lisbon and Portugal!

Tip: You can also download The Fork app. This app is brilliant and one that we use often as you can get up to 30 – 40% off your meals at select restaurants. 

Another great way to save is to make use of the TooGoodToGo. Restaurants, markets, cafes, and even supermarkets will offer a ‘surprise’ meal at rock bottom prices and will usually have a set time for you to collect the meal. It works on the premise that you are buying a meal to prevent food wastage at restaurants. We’ve ordered some incredible meals on this app for under €5. It’s well worth trying it out!

Healthcare

Healthcare in Lisbon is free for individuals who are registered in Portugal as residents and have registered with a local health centre and obtained their SNS card and number. 

If you are not a resident, it is best to invest in private insurance. Cigna Global has a number of great International Medical Plans to meet your health insurance needs. You could also consider other options such as Medis, or Saude Prime (the insurance we are currently on).

Whilst private health insurance is prefered by many expats moving to Portugal, it is worth pointing out that if you are a resident and gain access to public healthcare, that this is just as good as private. The levels of care throughout the Portuguese hospital and medical network is excellent and surprise many expats moving to Portugal! 

Transport

Transport in Lisbon - Photo by ©Travel-Boo
Transport in Lisbon – Photo by ©Travel-Boo

Public transport in Lisbon is relatively cheap in comparison to many other European cities. For cost-effective travelling, getting a Viva Viagem card is highly recommended. This is a travel card which can be used for the bus, metro, tram, ferry and train. If you’re based in Lisbon’s city centre and do not intend to travel further out, you can get the monthly Navegente Municipal pass for only €30.00 per month. 

Do note that to get the Viva Viagem card you need to apply at one of the major stations (such as Marques de Pombal) together with a photo and pay a small fee. But it’s worth it in the end, especially if you intend to use public transport a lot. 

If you do not wish to purchase a travel card, the average price for transportation in Lisbon is as follows:

  • One-way bus ticket – €1.50 ($2 USD)
  • Taxi or Uber – €7 or less ($8.54 USD)

You can get a reusable card that you can pre-load with set values, for example €3, €5, €10 etc. This is referred to as ‘Zapping’, with a one-way ticket on the metro then costing only €1.34.

If you prefer travelling on your own by car, car rentals and gasoline are relatively cheap and are a great option if you intend to explore beyond Lisbon and embark on a Portuguese road trip to the golden beaches of the Algarve, to the countryside of Alentejo or even to the Douro Valley wine region

Living in Portugal – A Checklist for Moving to Portugal

When you move to Portugal there are a few key things you’d need to tick off your checklist first and foremost in order to transition into life in Portugal. Here are some of the most important items to get crossed off first. (Note that this is not a complete list but a suggestion of some of the pertinent tasks you’d want to focus on).

Obtain Your NIF (tax) Number

When you first move to Portugal, the most important thing you absolutely have to get done first to apply for your NIF number. This is essentially your tax number and will be required for opening bank accounts, obtaining a lease on an apartment, signing an internet contract and many more. 

It’s important to note that there are certain requirements for applying. You need to present proof of residence (note they DO NOT accept Airbnb or Hotel reservations). This must either a rental contract or you can get an ‘Attestado’ from the local municipality (Junta de Freguesia) and this will require you to have two Portuguese citizens that reside in your municipality to sign and vouch that you live in the area. 

You will also need bank statements too. If you present your foreign bank statements and if you are not yet fully registered then you can get a Portuguese to co-sign as your guarantor in order to obtain your NIF number. 

Banking in Portugal

Next, you’ll probably want to open your bank account in Portugal. There are various banks to choose from, including Santander Totta (whom we bank with), Millennium, BIC, Novo Banco, and Caixa Geral Depositos to name a few.

Banks in Portugal do charge a monthly fee. But many opt to open an account with Activo Bank which is a subsidiary of Millenium and offers awesome low-cost options. There is a minimum deposit amount though in order to get your account opened. 

Finding an Apartment to Rent

Chiado Building - Living in Portugal - A Checklist for Moving to Portugal - Photo by ©Travel-Boo
Chiado Building – Photo by ©Travel-Boo

This next one is a bit more tricky, I’m not going to lie! Many expats try to source apartments from abroad before moving over, but this is honestly very difficult to do. The rental market moves very fast and you’ll need to be in Portugal in order to set up viewings for apartments. You’ll probably not hear back from rental agents if you try to contact them from abroad.

Usually, to sign up for an apartment you could be expected to sign a 2 or even 3-year auto-renewed lease. You will usually need to give your NIF, identification, and in some cases even financials. 

You are also usually required to pay two month’s deposit plus one-month rent upfront. Unfortunately, as bureaucracy goes in Portugal, some landlords may require a guarantor, although some don’t. This means that someone has to sign as your guarantor and vouch for your financial ability to pay your rent. If for whatever reason you fail to pay, the guarantor becomes liable. This is of course very tricky to navigate and an uncomfortable situation to ask friends or family to do for you. 

Sadly, the alternative is that you may be asked to pay up to 6 months rent upfront if you cannot produce a guarantor. With an influx of foreigners moving to Lisbon and Portugal, this has become more commonplace as many don’t have any to act as guarantor. I’ve even heard of some who have paid an entire year in advance. It is very important to double-check your facts before you do this because as I understand it, paying a year in advance could nullify your contract!  

Whilst this seems daunting, you can still get a decent apartment with a good landlord that won’t require all of this, if you are persistent and keep looking till you find your dream home!

Look on websites such as Idealista or Imovirtual if you’re on the hunt for a rental or to buy a property. Many estate agents also post their listings on these sights. So it’s a great one-stop spot to go house hunting.

Convert Your Drivers Licence

Another checkbox you’ll need to tick fairly soon is to convert your driver’s license to a Portuguese one if you intend on staying long term in Portugal. There is a set timeframe in which you need to get this done. This is usually within 6 months or less! 

You can consult this comprehensive guide on the process to exchange your license at the IMT (the department responsible for this). 

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