Essential looks into the growing interest in Portu...

Essential looks into the growing interest in Portugal as the new European destination for those looking for a change of pace

By: James Mayor 

A country to really live in

With the exception of a few golfing enthusiasts and intrepid travellers, up until a few decades ago most foreigners had never heard of Portugal. The country was poor, relatively remote, and appeared to have been overlooked by progress. It was some­times mistakenly supposed Portugal must be a province of its larger neighbour Spain.

With the country particularly hard hit by the financial crisis of 2010-2014, the Portuguese government realised it needed to act decisively to stem high levels of unemployment and reduce Portugal’s burgeoning debt to avoid marginalisation on the fringe of Europe and ensure a dynamic future.

Portugal embarked on an imaginative process of rebranding. Major cities spruced themselves up and invested in improved public transport, inner city neighbourhoods swung in only a few years from dilapidation to gentrification, and creative advertising campaigns promoted Portugal as the new European tourism destination that offered not only sun, endless sandy beaches and magnificent seafood, but equally every kind of sporting and cultural activity.

The tourists came, and they have not stopped since, except of course during the pandemic when Portugal, like much of the rest of the world, held its breath wondering what was going to happen next. The word got around that Portugal might be a good place to live in.

It is arguable the pandemic tilted the balance. What had begun as a trickle of mainly retirees prior to the pandemic, was now joined by a stream of actives wishing to start over. Since the pandemic, Portugal has confirmed its position as the new place to live… really live, to enjoy improved work-life balance.

Lisbon’s “25 Abril” Bridge

With its tolerant, laid-back family-based culture, Portugal, it was said, was the California of Europe, only much more affordable, safer and welcoming of minorities. Post-pandemic, after the unsettling experience of social isolation and the growth in remote working, increasing numbers of younger professional people are asking themselves whether shoebox apartments in cities such as Los Angeles, London or Paris, coupled with the invasive demands of corporate life, are indeed the lifestyle they are seeking.

The number of foreigners living in Portugal has risen by 40% over the last decade, with an increase of 45% in 2021 for United States citizens moving to the country, following on earlier waves of British, Germans and French.

National Palace of Pena, Lisbon

With direct flights to Portugal from cities such as San Francisco, the Americans are coming for a variety of reasons: some wish to escape an uncertain and divisive US political climate, or are attracted by a country that has yet to experience the most extreme manifestations of climate change whilst showcasing progressive renewable energy policies; others are tempted by gentler living costs, generous public healthcare and low crime rates.

There is also the lure of international schools, 300 annual days of sunshine and the welcoming, tolerant Portuguese attitude towards foreigners.

More Americans are currently buying premium property in Portugal than any other nationality and many have had their transition to living in Portugal enriched by expat groups on social media.

Celebrities have also played a part in the successful branding of Portugal as fun and fashionable: Sir Cliff Richard, Madonna, French designer and architect Philippe Starck and, most recently, Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei.


In 2012, the Portuguese government put honey on the table in the form of a Golden Visa programme, providing residency by investment and citizenship after five years. But in February this year, the decision was taken to terminate the programme, a reaction by the government intended in part to incentivise more affordable housing for local Portuguese people, in a market where in 2022 rentals in Lisbon rose by 37%.

In the years since the first decade of this century, Lisbon has put on new clothes. Without losing any of its quirky character, the city has transformed into an exciting cosmopolitan hub, walkable and friendly. Home to the Web Summit tech conference, Lisbon is attracting hundreds of IT folk and a visa has been created specifically for digital nomads.

Creative types are also being drawn to Portugal’s capital: musicians and artists seeking more affordable studios and rents, just as they did a generation ago in Berlin. A strong art community has developed with new public exhibition spaces and adventurous private galleries.

In the evenings, people of many nationalities mingle with locals in dozens of restaurants and bars that are giving a new take on Portuguese traditions and flavours.

Many Portuguese speak good English, comforting for foreigners who may need a little time to adjust their ear to the music of a new language. Portugal has also provided temporary welcome for nearly 60,000 Ukrainian refugees, and Essential Algarve has met several young professional Russian couples who have turned their backs on the belligerent Putin regime.


The city of Porto, home to Port fortified wine, is following close on Lisbon’s heels as a creative territory to generate new forms of lifestyle. Meanwhile, the Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region, with its world-class golf courses and surfing, today fields a notable gastronomy and quality wine-production scene.

Active retirees, remote workers, digital nomads, start-up entrepreneurs, cultural denizensPortugal is saying bem-vindo (welcome) to citizens from all over the world.


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