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Portugal: the good, the bad and the rarely spoken about

photo by Daniela Giusti

Feed up with living in a noisy, polluted, dangerous city? Feeling even more stressed now because of the restrictions to social activities due to the pandemic? You dislike commuting but cannot afford an apartment in the city centre? You hate public transports and hate even more getting stuck in rush-hour traffic? Or do you just dream about a different way of living?

Portugal is one of the European counties most sought after by people wanting to improve their quality of life. It is a quiet but also rather cosmopolitan country, thanks to its colonial past. The Brazilian community is the largest expat community in Portugal, but there is also a large presence of people form Angola and Mozambique.

European expats communities are also well represented, the largest being the British one.

However, the past years saw an increase in the presence of Germans, French, Dutch and Italians, also thanks to the fiscal advantages for pensioners and investors.

British citizens have been fond of Portugal well before the beach life and the movida of Albufeira became notorious. It is interesting to note that the Anglo-Portuguese alliance (or Aliança Luso-Britânica) ratified in 1386 between England and Portugal, is the oldest alliance that it is still in force.

Besides, Portugal always supported England against Spain, their common enemy. All this belongs to the past but the strong ties between those two countries continue to exist, despite Brexit.

photos by Daniela Giusti

After the loss of the African colonies in the Seventies and joining the European Union in 1986,

Portugal needed to integrate also with other European neighbors and boasting 300 days of

sunshine per year, its best bet was tourism. From the second half of the Eighties, the sale of

Portuguese properties to Europeans from Scandinavia and Germany started to be big business.

Not only Real Estate, but Portugal and the Algarve offer also many areas for Campers, popular with European tourists, including those of the latest wave. Following the economic crisis of 2008, Portugal introduced a tax-free scheme for pensioners, known as NHR (non-habitual residence) tax regime.

Thanks to that measure, French pensioners started to flock south, followed by the Dutch. The

Italian presence is less massive, the latest figures giving a total of around 12.000 Italian expats, about half of which pensioners.

These basic facts may lead to a few questions.

We read on the “Portais da Finanças” (source of most reliable information about fiscal matters in Portugal) that if you apply for the non-usual residence by 3/31/2021 you can still obtain the full exemption for 10 years, provided that by that date you must have rented or bought a house.

So the question is: the introduction of the 10% tax from 2021 , together with the ongoing pandemic, will stop or at least slow down “immigration” from European countries?

It is difficult to gauge. The pandemic itself is causing worst damage elsewhere, therefore it may slow down tourism only for the ongoing year. As far as tax benefits are concerned, if that is your only motivation to move to Portugal, you may feel discouraged.

However, consider that a 10% taxation is stil better than a full taxation.

Still, many Europeans flock to Portugal for several other reasons. Imagine landing in Portugal from Scandinavia or Belgium in January and finding 15ºC or even higher temperatures… You can spend the days outside in shorts and the evenings in front of the fireplace, enjoying some extra comfort even if the temperature never drops below zero.

Then there is the low crime rate. Portugal ranked third in the 2019 statistics on the safest countries in the world, immediately after Iceland and New Zealand. In 2014 it ranked 18º.

This improvement is even more relevant, considering that in 2020 the world’s peace index is decreasing by 0,34%.

Finally, coming from a nordic country, you will definitely find life in Portugal cheaper. Perhaps not so much if you arrive from Italy.

I don’t want to mix with the expats. Is it possible to integrate with locals and live the

Portuguese life? Without any knowledge of the language, you have zero chances of integrating with the Portuguese. It does not help that outside the two major cities of Porto and Lisbon, Portugal is mainly a rural country and rural environments have never been famous for their open-mindedness.

Finally, there is a certain degree of snobbism in not wanting to mix with other expats.

Outside major cities and in the countryside, the “real” Portuguese life is very family-oriented, taking place in tiny villages where everybody knows their neighbors and which often have only one bar/restaurant as aggregation point. Cultural life is basically non-existent and the rhythm of life extremely slow. Also, traditional Portuguese houses do not have central heating. Despite mild winters, the nights can be cold and the weather quite humid. It is extremely unlikely for foreigners to settle in the countryside and live a “real” Portuguese life because of the discomfort and isolation it would bring.

Finally and as unpleasant as it may sound, as a foreigner you might be subject to some degree of envy or even open hostility, because it will be assumed that your income is larger than a local.

What do the expats communities do that the Portuguese don’t?

Expats communities and association cater for needs that the locals may not have. In the major

cities and in the Algarve you can find countless associations for any type of activity, including

sports, games, arts, charity work, etc… All sorts of events are organized, from cruises on the

Douro river to trips to the Azores and Madeira, hiking and biking; dining and drinking, volunteering, etc ...

It’s up to you and your knowledge of languages to decide how to integrate. For any type of

international club, the knowledge of the English language is a must, given the long-lasting British presence. Obviously, knowing Portuguese is also useful.

Italians tend to stick to themselves, just like the French. However, they should be warned that

despite the common romance origin of the languages, they may understand written texts but will inevitably face problems with the conversation.

So there is nothing negative or discouraging about Portugal?

It all depends on your expectations. If you like a dynamic life, social and cultural events or even just taking a stroll on upmarket shopping streets, probably you will not enjoy living in Portugal full time.

Lisbon is a relatively lively city but it has all the disadvantages of big cities, inclusive of narrow

steep streets, poor public transport, micro criminality targeting tourists and costs similar to every other European city, even if Portuguese salaries are considerably lower.

In smaller cities and in the Algarve life tends to be quiet, despite a massive presence of foreigners, especially in summer. Shopping malls are everywhere, but shops are mainly impersonal branches of international chains. Cheap shops peddling low-quality goods are omni-present. Cinemas can be found in the shopping centers but show mainly American blockbusters and local movies. Don’t expect anything artsy or cutting-edge.

Portuguese restaurants offer basic fare at low to medium prices and anything fancier is priced at European levels. Portuguese cuisine is simple and relatively basic, with fish at its heart and codfish as the national treasure. Portuguese people love desserts and eggs, which leads to many dishes being extra-rich, eggy, calorie bombs.

If you love hiking, biking, costal sailing, natural parks, peace and quiet, personal safety with a social life to build according to your needs, then you might like Portugal. Finally, consider that in summer a lot more is going on all around the country, with the exception of this year 2020.

Good luck with your decision.

Written by Daniela Giusti

Albufeira touristic port - photo by Daniela Giusti


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