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Country Facts about Portugal

What You Should Know About Living Costs and More in Portugal

Discover some interesting and practical country facts about Portugal—from the average cost of living in the country, to the Portuguese culture, diet, social etiquette when dining, conversing, and more.

Need to move abroad? Organizing an international relocation is not something you should do on your own. As expats ourselves, we understand what you need, and offer the essential services to help you move and live abroad easily. Contact us to jump start your move abroad!

What is the cost of living in Portugal? What salary should you expect? How much will it cost to rent an apartment and buy groceries? We cover some practicalities of living in the country, whether that is the Portuguese communication style, the national holidays, and more.

Read on to know what driving and public transportation is like, so you can decide for yourself what is your best option. If you plan on living in a big city, the metro is your cheapest and safest choice if you want to avoid traffic jams during rush hour. If you plan on living in a small town instead, driving could be your only option.

Practical Information

Country name: Portugal (officially República Portuguesa)

Government type: unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic

Climate: temperate maritime

Capital: Lisbon (Lisboa)

Official languages: Portuguese (Mirandese is an officially recognized regional language)

Currency: Euro (EUR, €)

Time zone: UTC (UTC+1 in Azores)

Country calling code: +351

Driving: right side

Emergency number: 112

Portugal is divided into 18 districts, each with its own municipalities (municípios), also called concelhos. Municipalities are then split into several freguesias (the equivalent of a neighborhood or a local parish), which are the smallest administrative divisions in the country.

You should know that in Portugal, it is mandatory to carry your ID with you at all times and to present it to the authorities whenever requested.

Main Embassies

The main embassies in Portugal are located in Lisbon. You will find a few consulates in Porto, Faro, and Portimão, and on the islands of Madeira and Azores.

Main Airports

The three main airports of Portugal are Lisbon, Porto, and Faro. Beja’s airport is often listed as one of the main airports of the country, but this only offers seasonal chartered flights.

Public Holidays in Portugal

There are 14 public holidays in Portugal. Of these, 13 are mandatory. Carnaval is an optional holiday, and it is at each company’s discretion whether or not to give their employees a day or half-day off.

  • Ano Novo (New Year): 1 January
  • Carnaval or Entrudo: a Tuesday between 3 February and 9 March following the Holy Week.
  • Sexta-feira Santa (Good Friday): between 20 March and 23 April
  • Páscoa (Easter): a Sunday between 22 March and 25 April
  • Dia da Liberdade (Freedom Day): 25 April
  • Dia do Trabalhador (Labor Day): 1 May
  • Corpo de Deus (Corpus Christi): a Thursday between 21 May and 24 June
  • Dia de Portugal (Day of Portugal, Camões, and the Portuguese Communities): 10 June
  • Assunção de Nossa Senhora (Assumption of Mary): 15 August
  • Implantação da República (Republic Day): 5 October
  • Dia de Todos os Santos (All Saints’ Day): 1 November
  • Restauração da Independência (Restoration of Independence): 1 December
  • Imaculada Conceição (Immaculate Conception): 8 December
  • Natal (Christmas Day): 25 December

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Cost of Living

The average cost of living in Portugal will hugely depend on the part of the country you choose to live in. Lisbon and Cascais top the list of most expensive cities in Portugal. Porto follows closely, especially in regard to rent prices.

Is it expensive to live in Portugal? While Portugal is still among the cheapest countries in Western Europe, low salaries and comparatively high rent prices make it difficult to live here. In this section, we cover all living expenses in Portugal.

Cost of Living in Portugal by District and City

When it comes to the cost of living in Portugal, the country can be broken down into two areas—the appealing yet expensive west and south coasts, and the cheap (but less enticing) center and east side close to the border with Spain. Many of the regions and cities in this latter part of the country are deserted, and offer few employment opportunities, especially for expats.

Hence, for the list of cheapest and most expensive cities in the country, we considered only the most dynamic ones where you are more likely to find an active city life and considerable job offers and services.

By far the most expensive district and city in the country is the capital, Lisbon. Despite Portugal’s overall low cost of living, Lisbon featured in the list of the 100 most expensive cities in the world. Cascais follows closely as one of the most expensive cities, which is still in the district of Lisbon. As the second most populated city in the country, Porto is also one of the most expensive places to live in the country.

As for the most affordable cities and districts, you will find places like Braga, Viseu, and Coimbra to be the easiest on your wallet. Rent in these cities is typically around 300 and 500 EUR (330–550 USD) a month, and you will not spend much on groceries, eating out, and leisure activities either.

Rent Prices in Main Cities in Portugal

The average rental prices listed below are for one-bedroom apartments:

City Monthly Rent (EUR) Monthly Rent (USD)
Lisbon 1,100 1,200
Cascais 1,000 1,100
Porto 700 770
Faro 600 660
Coimbra 500 550
Braga 450 500
Viseu 400 440

 

As for utility costs you would have in the country, for a one-bedroom apartment:

Utility Monthly Cost (EUR) Monthly Cost (USD)
Electricity 50 55
Gas 20 22
Water 30 33
Internet 30 33

 

This adds up to an average of 130 EUR (140 USD) a month, but it will, of course, depend on your lifestyle, the size of your household, etc. For example, in some city centers you may not have gas supply, in which case costs with cooking and heating add to the electricity bill.

Food and Alcohol Prices in Portugal

Below is a table with average grocery and alcohol prices, along with costs of eating out at restaurants.

Groceries Prices EUR Prices USD
Apple (one kg) 1.50 1.60
Banana (one kg) 1.10 1.20
Chicken (one kg) 5.20 5.70
A dozen eggs 1.70 1.80
Loaf of bread (500 g) 1.10 1.20
Local Cheese (one kg) 7.10 7.80
Milk (one liter) 0.60 0.70
Onions (one kg) 0.95 1
Potatoes (one kg) 0.85 0.90
Rice (one kg) 0.95 1
Water bottle (1.5 liters) 0.50 0.55

 

Alcohol Prices EUR Prices USD
Wine bottle (medium range) 4 4.40
National beer (half a liter) 0.90 1
Imported beer (0.33 liters) 1.80 2

 

Restaurant Costs Prices EUR Prices USD
Meal at an inexpensive restaurant 8 8.80
Meal for two at a mid-range restaurant 30 33
Meal at a fast food chain 6 6.60
Beer 1.50 1.60
Water bottle 1 1.10

 

Education Costs

Portugal offers free education to its residents for the mandatory school levels. There will be some education expenses if you opt for private institutions.

Here is the average monthly cost of education in Portugal:

Education Prices EUR Prices USD
Private preschool 300 330
Basic education, private school 400 440
International school 800 880

Do account for enrollment fees. These are typically around 300 EUR (330 USD) annually.

 

Higher Education, annual fee Prices EUR Prices USD
Public university 800 880
Private university 3,000 3,300

 

Healthcare Costs

Keep in mind that healthcare is mostly free in the public system. Any costs with seeing a public doctor, including exams, should be between 5 and 40 EUR (5.50–44 USD).

Healthcare Price EUR Price USD
Seeing a private doctor 70 77
Seeing a dentist 50 55
Cold medicine 5 5.50

 

Travel and Transportation Costs

Mode of Transportation Price EUR Price USD
Bus or metro ticket 1.50 1.60
Monthly pass 30 33
Taxi start 3 3.30
Taxi fare (one km) 0.50 0.55
Gas (per liter) 1.40 1.50
New Car (Volkswagen Golf) 25,000 27,500

 

Culture and Social Etiquette

Greeting

Women in Portugal greet people with two kisses, one on each cheek, starting on the right. However, there is not a standardized behavior when it comes to meeting someone for the first time. Some women prefer a handshake, while others may be fine with two kisses. When in doubt, wait for them to make the first move.

Men greet each other with a handshake. This may turn into an embrace or a pat on the back between close friends. In some families, it is common for men to kiss other men with two kisses on the cheeks.

If you are greeted by a stranger, this may not mean they wish to strike up a conversation with you. It is common for people to greet others with a bom dia (good morning/day) or boa tarde (good afternoon)  in small waiting rooms, queues, or shared spaces.

Portuguese Values, Family, and Religion

The Portuguese have very strong ties to family. This is especially evident in young people, who tend to live with their parents until their late twenties and sometimes into their thirties. This may be for financial reasons, but it is often blatantly stated that the mother’s cooking and clean laundry are very much appreciated. In fact, Portuguese households are still very traditional. Women tend to do most of the chores around the house, including cooking and cleaning at parties and gatherings.

However, you should know there is a significant generational gap in Portugal when it comes to values and behaviors. While the majority of Portuguese tend to be traditional, conservative, and support catholic values, younger generations are more conscious of current social issues and even advocate for more inclusion and awareness.

Religion plays a big part in the upbringing of most Portuguese. It is common throughout the country for people to be baptized and to have celebrated first communion. Up to 80% of the population is thought to be Catholic, although a recent study shows almost half of young people claim to be nonbelievers.

Portuguese Language and Socialization

The Portuguese are very friendly in nature, and the country is often named as one of the most welcoming for expats.

Most people in Portugal speak English, so language barrier should not be too much of a problem. The Portuguese are accommodating towards expats and will often go out of their way to make themselves be understood, in whatever language or gestures necessary. However, when it comes to their social circle, the Portuguese tend to stick to their regular group of friends, and often shy away from inviting expats into their social circle.

Learning Portuguese might be one way to guarantee you fully assimilate into the Portuguese ways and culture. If you are concerned about not knowing the language, InterNations GO! can help you find language schools suited to your budget, availability, and skills. Request information today.

Learning some basic words in Portuguese is highly appreciated and is sure to please your Portuguese neighbors. Start with por favor (please), bom dia (good morning), boa tarde”(good afternoon), and boa noite (good evening / good night). When thanking someone, men say obrigado, and women say obrigada.

The Portuguese are quiet in most situations in public. Listening to music or speaking loudly is usually frowned upon. However, going out to dinner or drinks is a different story. Portuguese people tend to me more outgoing, relaxed, and a bit louder when out with friends.

Dining Etiquette

  • The Portuguese follow the continental table manners—fork on the left hand and knife on the right. Fabric napkins are placed on the lap.
  • The host usually dictates the start of the meal, so wait for them to wish you bom apetite, or to simply start eating.
  • Bring a small gift with you when invited to dine at someone’s house. This could be a bottle of wine, flowers, or chocolate.
  • The Portuguese are fairly relaxed when it comes to time. Arriving 15 minutes late to dinner is generally accepted, but do not keep others waiting for you. If it is a social gathering or a party, it is acceptable to arrive half an hour to an hour late.

Portuguese Cuisine

The country’s typical Mediterranean diet is both savory and healthy. Olive oil, potatoes, rice, meat, and fish are staples in the Portuguese diet. Bread finds its way into most meals from breakfast to dinner, as an entrée, on the side, or as the main source of carbohydrates.

The Portuguese typically eat four meals a day—breakfast, lunch, lanche (a light meal equivalent to afternoon tea), and dinner. Dinner tends to be quite late in the day compared to other European countries—on a typical weekday it can start anywhere between 20:00 and 22:00. When going out, it is not uncommon to have dinner as late as 22:00 or 23:00, especially when restaurants are fully booked before then.

Driving in Portugal

Driving in Portugal is fairly easy. You will find a good number of highways connecting most cities. This means you can cross the country from one of the most northern cities to the Algarve in around six hours. However, keep in mind you will find many tolls and these can be quite expensive.

In smaller towns, you will find many narrow and winding roads. Often two-way streets have only room for one car.

How to Get a Portuguese Driving License

All driving licenses from Member-States of the European Union and the European Economic Area (EEA) are valid in Portugal. Exchanging these for a Portuguese driver’s license is optional.

However, all foreign residents in Portugal should report to the IMT (Instituto da Mobilidade e dos Transportes), even if their license does not need to be exchanged. You will need to go to one of their offices with the following documents:

  • Modelo 13 IMT form
  • original and a copy of the original driver’s license
  • ID
  • proof of residence, if applicable.

Exchanging your Driver’s License

Portugal has an agreement with some countries that allow their licenses to simply be exchanged for a Portuguese one. These are Brazil, Switzerland, Morocco, Andorra, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, United Arab Emirates, and Angola, and all countries that have joined the International Convention on Road Traffic. This includes a UK driver’s license but does not include a driver’s license from the US.

You can exchange your license without having to take any exams, but you must do so within 185 days of obtaining your residence permit or starting to live in the country.

To exchange your license, you will need to go to one of IMT’s offices with:

  • original driver’s license;
  • ID and proof of residence;
  • tax number (NIF);
  • electronic medical certificate.

For some types of licenses, you also need to present a psychological evaluation, which should be obtained from a licensed doctor or psychologist.

Exchanging your license is subject to a fee of 30 EUR (33 USD). You should receive your driver’s license soon after in the mail.

Exchanging a US Driving License

Holders of a US driver’s license can exchange it for a Portuguese license; however, the process is a bit more complicated.

These drivers must present the IMT with an Abstract of Driving Record from their state of residence in the US, to prove their license is authentic and valid. This document must be legalized with an Apostille certificate, usually at the Secretary of State’s office in your state.

Driving Rules in Portugal

  • The minimum age for driving in Portugal is 18, but some motorcycles can be driven at 16.
  • You drive on the right side and overtake on the left side.
  • The use of seatbelts is compulsory for every driver and passenger.
  • It is mandatory to use a helmet on motorcycles.
  • Children younger than twelve are not allowed to drive in the front seat, unless taller than one and a half meters.
  • It is illegal to use your mobile phone while driving.
  • The speed limit can be as low as 30 km/h (18 mph) in some urban areas. On highways, the limit is 120 km/h (72 mph).
  • You must have your driver’s license at all times when driving.
  • Your car must have the following compulsory documents: road tax certificate, registration documents, and the IPO test.
  • All vehicles must have a reflective vest and a warning triangle at all times.
  • Having insurance for your car is mandatory. If you don’t have insurance or your current one has expired, you risk being fined. You should also know that all expenses resulting from an accident fall on the person with no insurance, regardless of who made the infraction.
  • Highway tolls have a special “green” lane reserved for those subscribed to the electronic toll system, called Via Verde. Using these without the proper subscription and device in your car will incur a fee.

If you plan on driving around the country, consider using the Via Verde. In exchange for a monthly fee, you can cross tolls around the country without stopping, and be charged for each trip at the end of the month.

Renting a Car in Portugal

There are many rental car companies in Portugal. You can do an online search for aluguer de carro to have a look at your options.

If you are planning on driving a rental car out of the country to Spain or France, you will typically be charged extra.

You will need your driver’s license and ID on you at all times when driving.

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Public Transportation in Portugal

Public transportation in Portugal is extensive in the main cities, not so much outside of those. Opting for public transportation in bigger cities is a good idea to avoid the usual traffic jams during rush hour. In this section, learn about how public transportation in Portugal works, your various options, and how much public transportation costs.

Buses

Buses are the most widely available mode of transportation in the country. In bigger cities, public and private companies provide an extensive network of buses, both within the city and from the center to its surrounding areas. Bus tickets tend to cost from 1 up to 5 EUR (1.10–5.50 USD). Bus times are not very reliable, which is why most people opt for the metro when possible. However, in many parts of the country, buses are the only option for those who do not drive, and these may not even cover all freguesias.

You can also find several intercity buses in Portugal if you search for autocarros de/para (buses to/from).

Metros

You can find metro services in the districts of Porto and Lisbon, connecting the city centers to surrounding neighborhoods and municipalities. Both cities also have a tram line, which is used in the most part by tourists. Sul do Tejo also has a metro network, although considerably smaller.

The metro in Portugal tends to have reliable schedules. However, you will find the metro packed during rush hour and you may not always be able to get on. Most tickets will cost between 1.20 and 5 EUR (1.30–5.5 USD), depending on the length of the ride. Monthly passes can start at 20 EUR (22 USD) and go up to 40 EUR (44 USD).

Trains

Trains in Portugal are run by public company CP, Comboios de Portugal. There are urban lines in Lisbon, Porto, and Coimbra, and many regional trains connecting nearby cities. You can find the entire map of railways on CP’s official website, and buy tickets online as well.

The Alfa Pendular is the most extensive line, connecting some of the country’s main cities from north to south—Braga, Porto, Coimbra, Lisbon, and Faro.

Taxis

Taxis in Portugal are typically beige or black—you can spot them by the sign on their roof. Waving at a taxi usually does the trick, unless the driver has already picked up other passengers. The safest way to secure a cab is to find a taxi center or call a company to have a car pick you up.

Taxi fares usually start at around 3 EUR (3.3 USD).

Alternatively, you can use apps like Uber, Bolt, or Kapten in bigger cities, which will be cheaper.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: November 19, 2019
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