In the past few years, the boom of tourism in Portugal has won the country many awards, including “Europe’s Leading Destination” since 2017, and “World’s Leading Destination” from 2017 to 2019. It has also generated a buzz among expats, including entrepreneurs and digital nomads, who tend to move to the Lisbon, Porto, and Algarve region, although the majority are in Lisbon.
It’s not hard to understand why: the capital city of Portugal has consistently been winning the “World’s Leading City Break Destination” since 2017 (and a few years sporadically before that).
Here’s why Lisbon is so attractive to expats:
Surf and work
The high quality of life in Portugal for a digital nomad is a major incentive. “Surf and code” is how many tech entrepreneurs and remote developers imagine their lives upon moving here, and it’s not far from reality. Ericeira, a small coastal town about 45 minutes by car from Lisbon is considered the surfing capital of Europe, and is a hotspot for many expats and nomads who enjoy the waves.
Going surfing in the morning before work or during lunch break is normal, and even if you’re not a surfer, you feel like you’re constantly on vacation living there. Same goes for Matosinhos in Porto, Carcavelos in Lisbon, Costa da Caparica in the South of Lisbon, and really anywhere in the Algarve.
The tech scene
Lisbon has been the destination for startups and techies since Web Summit moved there from Dublin in 2016. So if you want to move to a vibrant tech ecosystem, this is it.
Almost every major tech company, automotive company and consultancy has a presence in either Lisbon or Porto. Both Volkswagen and Mercedes have design hubs in Portugal.
There is a common misconception that it’s always warm in Portugal. In reality, Portugal goes through all four seasons, and its winters are usually wet. In some parts of Portugal, mostly in the northern mountains, it even snows seasonally. Also, due to the lack of proper insulation in buildings, it actually does feel cold even inside your house.
However, Portugal does tend to be sunnier year round compared to its European friends. Portuguese summers are long, and its winters are most definitely milder, which is reason enough to move here.
The international community
Nothing brings expats together like complaining about the frustrating aspects of their host country. This especially holds true in Portugal, due to its complicated bureaucratic system. Bureaucracy in Portugal does not discriminate: everyone will feel its wrath, regardless of your background. But aside from that, the international community in Lisbon and its surrounding regions is very tight knit.
Expats feel supported by each other and are open to meeting new people and helping others in similar situations.
Lisbon and Porto are very accessible to the rest of Europe, and even to a few big cities around the world. There are direct flights to and from Lisbon to most European cities, to Montreal, Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Tel Aviv, the UK, and much more.
Within Lisbon, there is a decent public transport system: the metro and urban trains usually function well and in a timely manner, and there are plenty of buses too, although those usually run with delays due to traffic, especially during peak hours or rainy weather.
This is not often mentioned when one thinks of Portugal, but should definitely be on this list. In Portugal, you can be who you are without fear of prejudice or general unease. Portuguese people are quite open-minded. In fact, Portugal ranked No. 10 in the world in 2016 on the Legatum Prosperity Index, which measures social tolerance, freedom of speech, and religion (it moved down to the 27th spot in 2020). This includes tolerance towards minorities, immigrants, and the LGBTQ+ community.
Compared to many of its neighbouring countries’ cities, Lisbon (and other cities in Portugal) are not particularly known for its diverse cuisine. You might find the occasional South-East Asian fusion restaurant, but in general there are not many worldly restaurants to choose from, even though Chinese and Indian restaurants are plentiful. That being said, Portuguese food is tasty, and usually consists of fresh seafood year round and at affordable prices.
Wine is also cheap and delicious, and locals and expats alike both seem to really enjoy the fortified wine Port, produced in the north of Portugal.
Lisbon is located on many hills, and this means views. Even if your apartment does not overlook the ocean or the city, there are many restaurants and cafes that allow you to enjoy panoramic views. There are also many miradouros (viewpoints) where you can gather for free.
But Lisbon is not the only city offering this. Porto, Ericeira, Sesimbra, Cascais and many others also offer beautiful scenery right from your
balcony or favourite cafe. Many expats and digital nomads who move here mention their appreciation of these sights, because the alternative usually is staring at buildings and a grey sky most of the time, especially during winter.
Keep in mind that as a digital nomad or entrepreneur, you might have a different experience to other expats working and earning in Portugal. You will suffer the same bureaucratic pains, but you will most likely experience a higher quality of life.
About the author:
A graduate of Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., Liina Edun has a background in psychology and a career in writing and content management.
Having lived most of her life as an expat, she is currently located in Lisbon.
See more on Dispatches here about Portugal.
See our Lisbon archive here.