Moving to Lisbon: 9 Things You Should Realistically Know

July 18, 2017

Lisbon is getting a lot of buzz lately thanks to its economic revival and its growing creative and startup scene. Understandably, there’s a lot of interest in the city, which has risen rapidly in various Quality of Life indices.

I moved to Lisbon in 2016 and living here has been a fantastic change, but I also noticed that some of the information about Lisbon can be hyped up or neglecting to tell both sides.

Since someone recently commented on my Lisbon city guide asking for tips on actually moving there, I took this as my cue to share some advice for anyone thinking of doing so…

1. It’s hard to find a place!

Lisbon has loads of houses for sale, but very few places to rent (at least for the medium or long-term). Competition is huge, so make sure you schedule ample time for researching, making calls, and going on viewings.

Some articles about Lisbon from a couple of years ago paint a picture similar to that of Berlin from a decade or two ago — when rents were super low and people took advantage of a surplus housing stock. Those days are over (in Berlin and Lisbon alike), so expect to have to hustle to find an apartment or room that you like.

Follow sites like SAPO, IMO Virtual or Bquarto. Check out the Portuguese classifieds site OLX as well.

My advice is to pick up the phone and call people! Most people can speak English and calling them will get your foot in the door, but emails will often be ignored as they just get so many.

Landlords often require a fiador (financial guarantee) which is impossible to give unless you are Portuguese. They may show some flexibility to internationals, or may ask you to pay a bigger deposit or rent upfront.

Some people just live out of a hostel or airbnb for a while until they’ve got something more permanent. The situation is really pretty dire, and you need a lot of perseverance to find a place.

A company called Uniplaces spams seemingly every classifieds site and FB group using seductively photoshopped images, but I don’t recommend them unless you’re truly desperate. Too many people (both students and non-students) have had issues with them. I rented a place with them for my first month and was mistakenly charged twice, which took endless phone calls (and harassing their CMO on LinkedIn) to get back. You can’t view a property on Uniplaces before renting it, and the contracts are very limiting.

2018 Update: it seems the housing situation has gotten even worse. Do not come to Lisbon expecting an easy time finding a place to live. It’s truly like a Hunger Games style deathmatch right now with everyone fighting for even the crappiest apartments. You can still find something if you’re determined (or have much more than the usual budget) but I’m just saying that it’s probably not going to be easy!

2. Local jobs don’t pay well

I work online while living in Lisbon, so I’m unaffected by the local salary levels. But if you’re looking for a job in Lisbon, just know that you’d be lucky to earn over 1000 EUR a month for a skilled job.

Portuguese salaries are low by Western European standards, with around 500 EUR a month being the minimum wage.

Many international residents end up working for call centers such as Teleperformance, which employ thousands of foreign language workers. There seems to be decent demand for ESL teachers as well.

There is a growing startup, remote worker, and digital nomad scene in Lisbon, with many co-working spaces and startup incubators around. If you have an income independent of Portugal, you’ll be in an ideal position.

3. Cost of living is low

Salaries may be low but cost of living is comparatively very cheap as well, especially if you’re used to northern European prices. Numbeo has a great cost of living overview.

Central Lisbon is getting pricier as it’s getting more popular with tourists, but as a local you can easily get around this. While things such as food and drinks and transportation are cheap, rents are increasing and you’ll have to properly factor this into your budget.

Also, for some weird reason, sun lotion is really expensive here. You can get 300ml in rainy UK for £4, but in Lisbon it will easily cost €12. A cruel joke given Portugal’s constant sunshine. Maybe there is a secret sun lotion cartel? Other than that, Lisbon can be quite affordable.

4. Bureaucracy isn’t that bad

I’ve found that getting your tax number (NIF) and your residency permit (as an EU citizen) is actually fairly painless. For me, it took just 10 minutes each. That’s nothing like the horror stories I’ve heard from expats in Spain, for instance.

Still, not everything in Portugal exactly operates with German efficiency.

For example, getting a gas contract for my apartment turned into a Kafkaesque nightmare from which I still bear the mental scars. Things are often needlessly complicated or uncoordinated; opening a bank account required me to sign a dozen different agreements.

You’ll also often find conflicting advice on forums about rules or paperwork, and that’s because it often depends entirely on the individual public servant who is dealing with you. Some are strict, some are more flexible.

The Portuguese healthcare system is apparently of good quality, but it can be very slow. Multiple friends of mine described spending many hours at a clinic or hospital just for a basic checkup. Getting some private medical insurance (such as from Medis) might get you faster treatment.

5. It’s worth learning some Portuguese

The Portuguese are excellent English speakers, so you’ll rarely have any trouble communicating, especially with the younger generations who learned English from an early age. Movies and TV shows are subtitled instead of dubbed.

Do try to learn some basic Portuguese as it will still help you out a ton! While the pronunciation can be challenging to foreign ears, knowing at least some basic stuff will aid in your everyday life.

6. Portuguese are reserved (but super friendly)

It is true that Portuguese are friendly, relaxed, and tolerant people. The claims made by those promoting Portugal abroad are totally correct. I love the Portuguese and their very down-to-Earth and no-nonsense attitude.

What’s not often said is that Portuguese can also be a bit quiet or stoic. The temperament may at times seem closer to Norwegians and Fins than Spaniards or Italians. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but some expats do talk about the Portuguese being a bit more reserved or private, and that connections take a bit longer to develop.

Someone once told me, “some cultures are like coconuts, and others are like peaches — either hard on the outside, or hard on the inside”. Brazilians might be the quintessential peaches, while the Portuguese are much more like coconuts. But once you are through the outer shell, they’ll be your best friends.

7. Winter is weird

Most apartments don’t bother having central heating as this would just sit unused for most of the year. But that does mean that December and January get cold AF. Bizarrely, it’s often colder inside than it is outside.

During the winter months, you may just have to keep under the blankets or stay near an electric heater.

This is, of course, a very small price to pay for the ten months of good weather you get during the rest of the year.

8. Quality of life is superb

I’m not gonna lie: living in Lisbon is pretty amazing.

The climate is possibly the best in Europe, with about 9 or 10 months of good weather, and without the summer ever getting too hot.

I’m getting a lot of mileage out of my picnic gear, and with plenty of beaches within 30 to 60 minutes of Lisbon, you can have a pretty crazy sun-and-surf lifestyle. There is always something to do in the city, with tons of little festivals and cultural events.

Lisbon is big enough to have all the big city things, but still small enough to have a great sense of community. I lived in London before which I came to really hate, but in Lisbon you can easily reach most places within 30 minutes, and can often bump into people you know by accident.

9. Groups and meetups help you settle in

There are a ton of Lisbon specific Facebook groups where you can get answers to many questions or find other internationals. Various groups focus on specific nationalities, but my favorite general one is the Lisbon International Friends group. Whatever question you have, people there will be able to answer it.

Couchsurfing has a weekly meetup on Wednesdays in Cais do Sodre that is attended by internationals, travelers, and some locals. I think the meet-up is in a poor location (the bar is a bit odd), but it’s not too shabby for getting to know a few people when you’re new to the city. A bunch of my Lisbon friends I met through CS. Events also get regularly posted on Meetup.com.

Older expats and career professionals seem to connect via platforms like Internations.

It doesn’t have to take long to build up a social circle in Lisbon!

While there are a few things to be aware of before moving to Lisbon — in particular, the difficulties with finding a place to live — the challenges can be more than worth it.

More about Lisbon & Portugal

43 comments

  1. Monica Georgieff Reply September 13, 2018 at 2:19 pm

    Thanks for your article, Marek! I’m moving to Lisbon from London as well and really interested to hear your opinion. Glad to have some tips from an insider 🙂 See you on the beach!

    • Marek Reply September 13, 2018 at 3:12 pm

      The quality of life here is so much better than London (I think so anyway). Welcome to Lisbon soon and hope you’ll love it too! 🙂

  2. Milka Reply September 4, 2018 at 8:11 pm

    Thanks a lot. Lovely tips. But do you mind to share if you know where would i search for a good International School for my 5 years old to start a new life in Lisbon?

    • Marek Reply September 4, 2018 at 8:15 pm

      Sorry, no idea.

  3. Bruno Reply August 27, 2018 at 8:35 pm

    Hi Marek,

    I’ve been considering moving to Lisbon permanently. I have a bachelor’s degree in English and Literature and have been venturing with the idea of teaching English as a Foreing Language there. Do you know if language schools can help you be granted a work visa? Any other tips/ contacts you can hook me up with?

    • Marek Reply August 29, 2018 at 8:11 pm

      Sorry, don’t really know that much about the language schools 🙁

  4. Andrew Reply July 22, 2018 at 7:27 am

    Hi,

    you said that one can reach any place in Lisbon within 30 minutes, while you hate London (for being the counterpart).
    I have the possibility now to choose whether move to London or to Lisbon, to work for the same company [payment in UK will be higher, but the difference isn’t that big after all, rent, living etc.]

    What would you suggest?!

    • Marek Reply July 23, 2018 at 10:07 am

      Hi Andrew. Well, it’s really more than just the size. I think London can be a good place to make money (at least in theory), but Lisbon offers a vastly superior quality of life. London can be quite exciting if you’re young and into the music scene, it’s very diverse, and there’s always something going on – but it’s also congested, polluted, stressful, expensive, lacking green spaces, has really drab weather most of the year, and it’s so big that it makes a sense of community very hard to find.

      One challenge with Lisbon can be the language – at least if you choose to stay long-term and wish to have more non-expat friends (if you’re not bothered then you can still do everything in English). You’ll get great weather, beaches & forests nearby, less stress, affordable food, manageable distances, a way more egalitarian and chilled out society, etc.

      I’d choose Lisbon. 😉

  5. leonard Reply July 11, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    Great article, helped me a lot to have an idea about life in Lisbon.

    Thank you very much for share it to the community.

    I am going on vacation, but also looking for information to move out of USA in the future.

    Again, thank you very much.

  6. Vitor Reply July 11, 2018 at 9:56 am

    Hi Marek, great article. Just a note about minimum wage in Portugal. Your number (500€) is way off reality. In Portugal the minimum wage as of July 2018 is 677€ per month (580€ x 14) / 12. Anyway I live in Lisbon and I really don’t know anyone who earns that, and I don’t know how someone could make a living in Lisbon with a wage like that. The average salary in Lisbon Metropolitan Area is 1388€ per month (GEP stats numbers).

    • Marek Reply July 11, 2018 at 10:36 am

      Good info, thanks for sharing. I heard the minimum wage was increased and also didn’t know about the 14 payments vs 12. And as you say, maybe it’s not a relevant statistic for Lisbon in particular. 🙂

  7. linda chapman Reply July 10, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    Thank you for so much info. After reading your site, i am now thinking Portomight be easier to rent an apt. Is that true? And do you have any knowledge of the availability, rental estimates, andany web sites frrenting in Porto? Thank you, Linda

    • Marek Reply July 10, 2018 at 5:05 pm

      Yes I believe the market in Porto might be a lot easier. Don’t know those particulars though – I recommend checking the sites mentioned in the article!

  8. Flo Reply May 18, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    Hi Marek,

    This is a really interesting post. My boyfriend and I are planning on moving to Lisbon (from London) in October. Reading the part on how hard it is to find a place to rent is a little scary though – especially since we have two cats with us! Can you tell me honestly, do you think this is going to make it nigh impossible for us??

    Thanks in advance.

    • Marek Reply May 19, 2018 at 12:32 pm

      Have no idea how pets affect things to be honest! It’s not impossible to find places so don’t let this stop you. But it is common to hear from internationals arriving here that they had to search a lot, were discouraged for a while, or had to compromise in some way (cost/location/etc).

    • guy Reply July 31, 2018 at 8:21 pm

      Hi Flo, we are in a similar situation with two cats (and 2 kids!). How are you getting on finding a place and how are the cats? My wife is really worried about her beloved felines! Thanks, Guy

  9. Robyn Reply May 2, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    Hi There!

    Thanks for the useful article! I am a dual-citizen, Canadian/Portuguese, and recently moved to Lisbon. I am facing some major difficulties obtaining my NIF as I am not yet renting, but rather staying with family friends. Do you have any further advice re: NIF? Everything is on hold for this number for me and now I am being told I need to live in the country for 6 months to obtain it (even though I have citizenship). All help and advice welcomed 🙂

    Thanks,
    Robyn

    • Marek Reply May 3, 2018 at 7:58 am

      Hi Robyn. That’s weird. When I went to get my NIF they complained I was *already* renting, because technically you can’t do so without a NIF. So I had to go back another day and pretend my street address was still my old one in the UK to get the NIF and send that to my landlord. Seems like a classic example of the rules applying differently depending on who you talk to. Wish I had better advice though!

      • Robyn Reply May 3, 2018 at 8:14 am

        Hmm….. which office did you go to for your NIF? And were you already living in Lisbon for 6 months or have a signed contract for a job? Trying to gather some information to make an argument in my case (haha). Thanks for you help!

        • Marek Reply May 4, 2018 at 10:32 am

          I think that was Serviço de Finanças Lisboa 2. I had only just arrived in Lisbon and no job contract (my only work is this blog). I actually went to another Financas to try again, and they made no fuss. I’ve heard a lot of varying stories – it seems in Portugal it’s sometimes more about the individual you speak with than strict adherence to universal rules.

          • Robyn May 4, 2018 at 10:42 am

            Thanks Marek! I think I may have solved the mystery today and spoke to the “right person at the right time”! Appreciate your help 🙂

  10. Alex Vit Reply April 23, 2018 at 8:18 pm

    Hi Marek – what a lovely blog you have, I have just stumbled upon it. I am planning to move myself, also from London – may I ask you which moving company you had used (if any). I do not have much stuff to take with, but it’s more than a few sutcases, however not enough for an (expensive) container with one of the big movers. Thanks a lot!

    • Marek Reply April 23, 2018 at 9:14 pm

      Hey Alex. Thanks! 🙂 I used http://www.algarveremovals.com. They can stop by in Lisbon. My PC monitor sadly got broken in the move, but I’d still say they did a good job at a good price.

      • Alex Reply April 24, 2018 at 3:24 pm

        Thanks a lot!

  11. Hendrik Reply March 6, 2018 at 7:44 pm

    Thank you for sharing this useful information. I appreciate that. What I wonder. What about neighborhoods just outside Lisbon, are houses and apartments also that difficult and expensive? I want to move to Lisbon with my family and do not need a house in a trendy and vibrant neighborhood. Thanks in advance!

    • guy Reply July 31, 2018 at 8:24 pm

      Hi Hendrik, we are also looking to move with our family. Have you made any progress? We like Carcavelos area but the commute is 1 hour plus on the train! Thanks

  12. Kristen Reply February 27, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    This is such a great article, thank you for posting! I am interested in moving from the US to Lisbon, although it is not super important for me to be right in the city center. Do you find that it is easier to find a place to live on the outskirts of town? Is public transport available to make a commute to the city doable on a daily basis? Thanks!

    • Marek Reply February 27, 2018 at 4:50 pm

      Hey Kirsten. It does get a bit easier to find something on the outskirts. All areas near the metro lines are in demand though. Public transport in general is very good and distances aren’t so huge in Lisbon so commuting doesn’t have to be so bad. (Most complaints are from car owners who find themselves stuck in traffic on the bridge and elsewhere. But the metros and trains are fine!)

  13. Melba Reply January 22, 2018 at 11:24 am

    Thanks so much for sharing! What are the upfront costs for renting a place? I.e. what do landlords normally ask for? Currently living in Kigali, Rwanda and here they ask for at least 3 months rent upfront plus one month deposit. Sometimes they ask for 6 months upfront plus 1 month so it can be really expensive to begin with if your rent is say $1000 per month! I plan to move to Lisbon before summer but need to budget what I will need to start of with and how long I will have before I have to start making money (self employed).

    • Marek Reply January 22, 2018 at 6:07 pm

      One place asked me for 6 months up front. The place I currently rent asked for 2 months. It depends and it might be negotiable. The biggest challenge is finding a room or apartment to rent in the first place, as this can be incredibly challenging at the moment…

      • Anai Miller Reply February 25, 2018 at 1:08 am

        I’ve always dreamed of moving to Lisbon, Portugal and I’m saving about $500 a month so that when I arrive there I can be set before finding a job. I don’t mind the low pay I’m there to explore and just be happy. My plan would be to rent a room for about 7-8 months. I’ve looked on easy quarto and bquarto and found some reasonable rooms for rent but are those actually reliable and is it hard to get in contact with them?

        • Anai Miller Reply February 25, 2018 at 1:10 am

          Also I’m learning the Portuguese language now to help me find a job. Being bilingual will that help me find a job?

          • Marek February 25, 2018 at 12:18 pm

            Yes certainly could be a useful asset

        • Marek Reply February 25, 2018 at 12:18 pm

          Hey Anai. I haven’t heard anything about bquarto specifically. But generally, these sites can give you the impression there’s more available than there actually is! Rooms get snatched up *very* quickly right now. I know many people in Lisbon who are struggling to find a place (even people who have been here a long time and have many local connections). Be prepared to hustle, make lots of calls, etc.

  14. Robin Reply January 7, 2018 at 9:29 pm

    Thanks for this article. Really helpful and insightful.

    Are there any recruitment agencies that you recommend getting in contact with over there for jobs?

    • Marek Reply January 11, 2018 at 3:20 pm

      Not aware of any, sorry! Maybe a good question to pose in a Lisbon expat Facebook group 🙂

  15. Rebecca Reply December 7, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Great blog, Marek!

    I visited Lisbon a few weeks back and totally fell in love with the city. I’ve wanted to move abroad for a couple of years, initially wanting to move to Amsterdam (from the UK) but ending up deciding against it due to the high cost of living. The only trouble is, I’ve heard it can be quite hard to find work (in Lisbon), especially for expats.

    Since you posted this blog – I was wondering if you’ve discovered any new tips in finding work? My background is marketing/social media etc. but I’m totally open to temporary/hospitality work whilst I find my feet. Do you know anything in particular within these areas?

    Sorry, I know it’s very specific! 🙂

    Thanks

    • Marek Reply January 23, 2018 at 12:43 pm

      Hey Rebecca. If you’re in marketing/social media then perhaps you could find remote work with a UK company. There’s a lot of expats at coworking offices here doing freelance work online. I’m not sure as to the best approach to find work locally, but there are many Meetups and Startup hubs (like Beta-i) where you might find leads within your specialty. The economy is picking up a bit so finding a temp job might be a bit easier than it was a year or two ago. Unfortunately, I don’t know what the best job boards are! Olx.pt might be worth a try (it’s like Gumtree in the UK).

  16. Clemens Reply November 21, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    This came just right as well. The city makes it easy to think of moving there! Although the costs of living are higher than in Porto, it’s still cheap compared to other cities in Europe.

    • Marek Reply November 22, 2017 at 12:15 am

      Porto is definitely cheaper and I love it there. I personally like living in Lisbon though as it lets you enjoy more cultural events, festivals, etc. Since it’s the capital it has a few more things going on. 🙂 Glad you loved Portugal as well!

  17. Rebecca Reply October 9, 2017 at 3:39 am

    Hi There. Really helpful article! I am moving to Lisbon for work next month and need to find an apartment as soon as I get there, any recommendations on agents or people to speak to that can help finding somewhere quickly?
    All tips greatly appreciated!
    Thanks.

    • Marek Reply October 9, 2017 at 1:03 pm

      I think a good way is to go to sites like SAPO (linked above) and see who’s posting the listings. Usually there’s a logo of an agency… googling and contacting them directly might help.

  18. April Reply July 19, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Wonderful article full of great tips – thank you! I was Lisbon earlier this year and feel head over heels in love with it. And I know what you mean, I was there in January and the outside was a perfect temperature but my accommodation was quite chilly and the plug in heater did little to aid in warmth. And it moved into my top 5 places I’d like to move to so the tips you gave are something I am certainly going to look into more.

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