Moving to Portugal from the US: The Ultimate Guide

Updated: 2 September 2021

When you mix the flaming spirit of the Mediterranean and the astounding development of western Europe, you get Portugal. Lisbon’s ever-growing economy draws many foreign investors, and new tech companies and start-ups have flooded Lisbon’s historic neighborhoods.

When US citizens think to move or retire, Portugal is usually on the top of the list. Americans choose to move to Portugal from the United States to have a high-quality life in a European country. Recent studies show that over 60,000 expats have decided to live in Portugal, with 11 percent of them being US citizens.

In this guide for Americans, you’ll find everything you need to know before moving to Portugal. We’ll cover the documents you’ll need, visa application, cost of living in Portugal, healthcare, education, retirement, and more. Enjoy the read!

Moving to Portugal from the US

The Portuguese government welcomes expats from the US and the move is generally straightforward. Before getting into details on a visa, there are a few things you need to know about Portuguese law when it comes to foreigners entering the country.


Getting through customs in Portugal is easy if you follow a few simple rules. Before you move to Portugal, you need to go to your local Portuguese consulate, or diplomatic mission, and ask for a Certificado de Bagagem (Luggage Certificate). You can obtain this by giving a complete inventory of your possessions and household goods, which you’re planning to take with you to Portugal.

Remember that your items on your Certificado de Bagagem will arrive within 90 days of your arrival in the country.

Shipping and Flying Goods

Luckily, you’ll find that shipping your belongings to Portugal is easy. Because the country has a very advantageous geographical position, you have a wide variety of options, such as air freight and sea freight. Road freight is not an option from the US, but sea freight is an affordable alternative to air freight, although slightly slower.

Below is a table according to World Freight Rates and  SeaRates, to give you the average cost of sea freight for a 20ft container of furniture.

Departing Destination Price Duration
New York City, USA Lisbon, Portugal $1,229.11 14 days
New York City, USA Figueira Da Foz, Portugal $1,297.98 14 days
Los Angeles, USA Lisbon, Portugal $2,993.41 27 days
Los Angeles, USA Figueira Da Foz, Portugal $3,161.21 28 days

If you’re in a hurry, you can choose to ship your belongings by air freight. It typically takes about two-four business days with express shipping and five-eight days with standard shipping. Keep in mind that for large quantities, sea freight is easier.

In the table below, you’ll find the average prices for shipping a single m3 250KG container of household items. Landing anywhere in Portugal costs about the same as landing in Lisbon.

Departing Destination Price
New York, USA Lisbon, Portugal $2,705.42
Los Angeles, USA Lisbon, Portugal $3,205.42


Storage in Portugal requires some preparation in advance. A quick online visit to storage companies near where you’re planning to move will be enough. Most storage companies work 24 hours a day and are very helpful to expats. Keep in mind that exact pricing is hard to find online and you might need to do that via email or a phone call.


Over 64 percent of all US households own pets. If you have pets, then rest assured that your four-legged family members are more than welcome in the eyes of Portuguese customs.

All you need for your pet is a rabies vaccination, which also means they must be older than three months. For some breeds that may be considered “dangerous”, you might need to sign a liability term and have a local vet examine them to get a special permit.


There are no official Portuguese laws for vaccinations, though it’s always recommended to make an appointment with your local doctor before visiting anywhere new. Better safe than sorry.

Do Americans Need A Visa to Move to Portugal?

Technically, Americans don’t need to get a visa to enter Portugal. Anyone with an American passport can enter the country for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes. Nevertheless, if you decide to move to Portugal, then you’ll need to get an appropriate residence permit.

The Portuguese government offers different kinds of visas, such as a residence visa, a work visa, and a family reunification visa.

As an American, you need to get a Portuguese residence permit if you’re planning to stay there for longer than three months. If you reside in Portugal with a proper residence permit for five years, you can then apply for permanent residency or Portuguese citizenship.

The Visa Process

As an American, you have a couple of options to acquire the necessary visa or residence permit moving to Portugal for the long term.

The most common two options to acquire your initial temporary residence permit are the Portugal Golden Visa and the D7 Visa.

The immigration and border service, referred to as Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) in Portugal, carries out the visa application process. The Portuguese government allows online applications via this platform. As of 2020, residence permits can be automatically renewed, which is very convenient.

Portugal Golden Visa

The Golden Visa program in Portugal allows applicants to invest in the country and obtain Portuguese resident cards.  The Golden Visa residence permit allows you to live, work, and study in Portugal and travel freely across the Schengen Area.

In order to learn more about the process and its requirements, check out our article on Portugal’s Golden Visa program.

Portugal Golden Visa:
The Definitive Guide 2021 Read More >

Portugal’s D7 Visa

The D7 Visa in Portugal is also commonly referred to as the retirement visa. It’s a residence visa for retirees and income holders, who wish to be moving to Portugal.

If you’re planning to apply for D7 Visa, you’ll be required to submit documents that show your income. For more details, check out our article on the Portugal D7 Visa.

European Citizenship Through Heritage

Any European Union citizen has the right to live and work in Portugal. So, research your heritage. In your genealogy, you may have some Europeans. If so, you can apply for citizenship in the corresponding country and get the chance to live anywhere across Europe.

Mind you, if you served in the US military, it may void your chances of taking citizenship in another country through heritage.  Though even in that case, your spouse may be eligible and you use them to get a visa and relocate as a dependent.

Required Documents

The documents you need to get for the Portuguese visa are:

  • A passport that will be valid for at least three months longer than the duration of your stay,
  • Two photos of passport size,
  • Visa application form,
  • A valid travel insurance contract,
  • Financial ability proving that you can fiscally support yourself during your stay,
    • or a Portuguese citizen or resident can sign a term of responsibility on your behalf.

Additional documents are needed if you’re applying for an employment visa:

  • Proof that you’re qualified for the job,
  • A work contract (or promise of work) signed by an employer, or a manifestation of interest,
  • A competent authority must declare that you have the qualifications to work in your sector.

SEF will require these documents to be no less than 3 months old and translated to Portuguese.

Becoming a Permanent Resident or a Citizen in Portugal

After getting your temporary residence in Portugal and renewing it within a duration of five years, you can apply for permanent residence or Portuguese citizenship.

The Portuguese permanent residence will cost $240 and SEF will require the following documents:

  • Passport
  • A standard application form
  • 2 recent colored identical photographs on a blank background
  • Valid temporary residence
  • Evidence of having sufficient means of subsistence
  • Evidence of proper accommodation
  • Permission from SEF to have your criminal record checked in Portugal
  • Confirmation of a basic grasp of the Portuguese language. For this document, there are various alternatives:
    • A certificate from an officially recognized teaching establishment
    • Completing language studies issued by a teaching establishment
    • Completing elementary Portuguese studies issued by the Institute for Employment and Professional Training(IEFP)
    • a Certificate of education of essential Portuguese such as Teaching Portuguese as a Foreign Language (CAPLE), recognized by the Ministry of Education and Science

Benefits of Permanent Residence in Portugal

Permanent residents in Portugal gain many benefits such as access to social security, healthcare, and education in European standards. Social security is particularly important for American retirees in Portugal. Permanent residents can travel freely around the Schengen area. As a permanent resident, you can also apply for family reunification and bring your family to Portugal.

Can Americans Obtain Portuguese Citizenship?

In short, yes! Both Portugal and the United States of America allow for dual citizenship. If you reside in Portugal for five years, you can apply for citizenship. You’ll need to prove you speak some Portuguese, just like you do for permanent residence.

Becoming a citizen in Portugal means that you’re also a European citizen.  You can then live, work, study, and make use of the healthcare system in any European country.

The application process to become a Portuguese citizen can be slightly complicated. We suggest that you work with qualified professionals to assist you along the way. That’s where our experts come in.

Accommodation for Americans in Portugal

Should You Rent or Should You Buy?

You first need to decide whether you want to rent or buy a home when you move to Portugal.  Each has pros and cons.

Renting will give you flexibility and it’ll let you adjust to the country, the neighborhoods, and life in general. You can also rely on your landlord for maintenance fees, repairs, and upgrades. Unlike the United States, landlords are responsible to pay the maintenance and condo fees of their units, not the tenants.

Buying the property can save and even earn you money in the long turn. However, you’ll be responsible to deal with all the maintenance issues, fees, and taxes related to the property.

Nevertheless, you’re allowed to take a mortgage with competitive terms in Portugal. For more information check out our article on Mortgages for foreigners in Portugal.

How Can Get Golden Visa Help You?

Get Golden Visa is a full-service investment and immigration agency. We have local offices in Lisbon and Porto, Portugal. We have legal professionals, as well as chartered real estate professionals within our team.

Your lifestyle choices may vary. That is why we take the time to learn about your individual case and requirements. We can simplify your property investment process, be your local proxy on the ground, help with the legal process, tax planning, and more while ensuring personalized and confidential service.

Remember that you can always ask for a free consultation about immigration matters and investment methods in Portugal from us.

What Does Portugal Have To Offer?

Cost Of Living

One of Portugal’s most attractive qualities is its affordability. Lisbon wears a proud badge of being one of the cheapest European capitals in the world. The average monthly cost of living for a couple in Lisbon is about $2,500. In smaller cities, it’ll drop to $2,000 a month!

Real Estate and Rent

Rents in Portugal are very affordable. For example, in Lisbon, you can find a one/two-bedroom apartment for around $750-$1,500 a month, while similar properties in the US will cost around $2,000. But that’s not all, remember that in a city like Porto or even smaller cities, you can find such property for the competitive price of $500 a month.

If you’re planning to relocate to Portugal for the long term or for retirement, then it’s a great value option for you to buy real estate. Portugal has minimal restrictions for foreigners buying properties, and the government encourages non-Portuguese residents to invest in real estate through programs like the Portuguese Golden Visa.

You can find more extensive information on our guide to Buying Property in Portugal.

Food And Drink

The food and drink scene lies at the heart of the Portuguese culture. The country’s long coastline provides a rich seafood cuisine. There is also an abundance of cheeses and smoked meats. A regular grocery list should run you about $200 a month.

Keep in mind that many items Americans consider luxuries, such as almond milk, olive oil, and wine, are produced locally in Portugal. You can find a tasty local bottle of wine for about $4!

For more information, check out our article on the Cost of Living in Portugal.

Portuguese Cities

Compared to US cities, all Portuguese cities are small. The biggest city in Portugal is the capital, Lisbon. It’s home to only about half a million people. But don’t for a second think that you’ll give up the bustling city lifestyle in Lisbon.

However, you might want to move away from the noise and enjoy an idyllic lifestyle somewhere along the coast of the Algarve. Wherever you decide to move, you’ll find that most cities in Portugal are quite affordable. Below is a table comparing various items and services between Lisbon, and New York According to Numbeo as of August 2020.

 Cost in LisbonCost in New York
Meal for 2, mid-range restaurant- three-course$41.56$100.00
Imported Beer (0.33-litre bottle)$2$5.90
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range)$4.75$15
Water(1.5-litre bottle)$0.68$2.08
Transportation(monthly pass)$42.75$127.00
Basic Utilities for 85m2apartment$129.85$136.10
Preschool, full-day, private, monthly for 1 child$505.29$2,423.17
International Primary School, Yearly for 1 child$9,782.13$39,190.48
Apartment rent (1 bedroom) in City Centre$1,038.67$3,313.13
Apartment rent (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre$756.34$2,018.05
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre$1,964.55$6,886.22
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre$1,329.54$3,730.89

Health Care

Portugal’s healthcare system is not entirely free, but unlike the US, you won’t fall into debt to pay your medical fees. The government funds healthcare generously; those under the age of 18 and over the age of 65 get completely free healthcare.

You can’t enjoy the benefits of public healthcare as a temporary resident, except for emergency cases of course. Until you obtain your permanent residence, you’ll need to sign up for private health insurance. Luckily, private health insurance is cheap and will cost you about $440 for a basic yearly plan and about $1,100 for more extensive coverage.

The Job Market

The job market in Portugal is competitive and growing, much like the country itself. Portugal, and more specifically Lisbon, has become home to many tech companies and start-ups. So if you’re a professional in the IT sector or the online business field, Portugal will welcome you with arms wide open.

For more traditional sectors, you may need some knowledge of Portuguese. However, if you’re a polyglot, then you can most likely find an excellent job in the tourism sector.

All workers are required to contribute to social security, and that is taxed at 11 percent of your income, which in return offers the following benefits:

  • Unemployment Benefits
  • Maternity And Paternity Benefits
  • Old Age Pension
  • Disease and Sickness Benefits
  • Death Benefits
  • Invalidity Benefits
  • Work Injuries and Other Health Conditions Benefits

Minimum Wage and Average Salary

The average salary in Portugal falls between $1,200 and $2,000, depending on the qualifications and experience of the worker. The minimum wage is $752 a month, yet keep in mind that the minimum wage is not taxed. You only start paying taxes if you earn more than $780 a month.


The education system in Portugal is both excellent and affordable. The country offers free education for its residents and citizens up to the age of 18. If you live in or around Lisbon, you can easily find an international school with a global, American, or British curriculum.

Annual private school fees in Portugal vary between $ 9,700 to $16,600, depending on the school and curriculum. Check out our comprehensive guide for more information on Portugal’s International Schools.

Climate In Portugal

The warm sun and cool ocean breezes are what you have to look for when moving to Portugal. Portugal is probably on your list thanks to its Mediterranean weather.

There is rarely any snow in Portugal. Throughout the whole year, the weather is rather warm. Even the winter is usually more chilly than really cold. Of course, if you venture further north, you might find some slightly colder winters.

Opening a Bank Account in Portugal as a US Citizen

Opening a bank account in Portugal is generally quite easy.  As an American intending to move to Portugal, you first need to get a NIF in Portugal. NIF is basically a tax number. Here is our guide on how to obtain a NIF.

You then need to choose one of the banks that allow Americans to open a bank account in Portugal.  Due to the high regulations enforced by IRS in compliance with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), some banks will refrain from accepting US citizens as a client.

For more information on how to open a bank account in Portugal, check out this article.

Taxes for American Expats in Portugal

Essentially, you need to pay taxes on your American earnings in America and taxes on your Portuguese earnings in Portugal. American expats that live in Portugal are obliged to file tax returns in both countries.

The US requires all US citizens, regardless of where they live to disclose their worldwide income to the IRS. However, we suggest you research the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion; you may qualify for an exclusion that saves you a hefty amount.

It’s also worth discovering the Non-Habitual Resident (NHR) program in Portugal. If you sign up for the NHR program, you’ll be exempt from certain taxes and will only pay a flat rate of 20 percent on some other taxes, for a duration of ten years. You can read more about it in our article on the NHR Program.

What Do Expats Think of Portugal?

Blue Skies And Warm Smiles

The Portuguese are world-renowned for their hospitable attitude towards foreigners. According to Expat-Insider, 83 percent of expats find moving to Portugal and settling there to be very easy and straightforward, where the worldwide average is 59 percent. Besides, the Portuguese culture is so welcoming that 82 percent of expats living in Portugal say that they feel largely at home.

Family-Friendly Fun

If you’re a US citizen thinking about moving to Portugal with your family, you’re making the right choice. Portugal ranks ninth out of 50 destinations according to the family life index. The index takes into account the availability of child care and the level of education in the country.

Excellent Work-Life Balance

Portugal boasts a competitive economy thanks to its tourism and real estate sectors, which are amongst the strongest in Europe. Over 72 percent of expats rate the Work-Life balance to be very good.

How Can I Move To Portugal?

It’s always a good idea to speak with a professional and ask all the questions you have before you begin your journey. Depending on your personal situation and specific needs, a trusted advisor can help guide you in the right direction, saving you time and money.

If you need advice on finding a property or obtaining residency status in Portugal, we would be glad to help. You can get in touch with us to schedule a call.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can American Citizens Move to Portugal?

Technically you’re allowed to enter the country visa-free and stay there for up to 90 days. If you wish to live there long-term, then you need to get a residence permit.

How Much Money Do You Need to Immigrate to Portugal?

The government usually makes it easy for Americans to obtain residency. Usually, you’ll start by getting a visa for residence purposes which is valid for 120 days. For that visa, you need paperwork proving that you have at least $1,070 per month.

Can Americans apply for Portugal Golden Visa?

Americans can and do apply for Portugal’s Golden Visa. The Golden Visa program is a residency by investment program available for any non-EU citizen. A growing number of US citizens find Portugal to be an interesting country to invest in and obtain a residency or second citizenship in.  Check out our guide on Portugal Golden Visa for Americans.

Is Healthcare in Portugal Free?

Public healthcare is free for those under the age of 18 and over the age of 65. For other ages, it’s not entirely free, but it’s relatively cheap.

Is an American Driver’s License Valid in Portugal?

Yes, you can use a car in Portugal with your American driver’s license.

Is it Safe To Drive In Portugal?

Commonly it’s safe to drive anywhere in Europe. Portugal nationals do have a reputation for going slightly faster than other countries. The road system has seen a drastic improvement in recent years, especially with some incredibly safe motorways.  Lisbon is the only city with relatively dense traffic, while most other cities in the country offer a smooth ride.

How Does the Cost of Living in Portugal Compare to the US?

The average salary in Portugal ranges between €800-1,000 per month. You can live comfortably for between €2,000 and €2,500 per month. Make sure you are on top of the currency conversion rate between Euro and USD, it ranges quite a bit these days.

A two-bedroom apartment will cost you about €650-1,400 per month in Lisbon, depending on the neighborhood. It’s also relatively affordable to purchase real estate in Portugal.

Compared to the US, it’s very cheap to eat and drink in Portugal. Beers are €1-2, wine €2-3 Euro, and most meals are €10-12.

Household goods are also cheaper in Portugal in comparison to the United States.  Although Lisbon is the most expensive city in Portugal, compared to New York City, life is so much cheaper for local people.

What are the Cons of Moving to Portugal from the USA?

Like anywhere else, there are setbacks of moving to Portugal from the comfort of living in the US. In Portugal, you’ll face a fair amount of bureaucracy.  The bureaucratic red tape around activities like purchasing homes and immigration processes may be unpleasant.

Our experts at Get Golden Visa will help you navigate through the bureaucratic process with local know-how. Particularly, if you don’t speak the language, you can use our team of experts to get more information. Let us understand your needs and help you.

How long can a US citizen live in Portugal?

US citizens may enter Portugal for up to 90 days for business or for tourism without the need for a Portuguese visa. If you would like to move to Portugal and spend more than three months there, then you’ll need to get an appropriate visa or a residence permit. The process of moving to Portugal for American expats is straightforward.  The best way to get more information about the visa application process is to visit the nearest Portuguese consulate where you live.

How many American expats live in Portugal?

Data shows that the number of registered American expats in Portugal is roughly 6,600. It looks like the number will be growing in the coming years with more and more people looking for a way to work remotely.

Can I retire to Portugal from USA?

Yes, you can. Data show that many senior people choose to retire in Portugal.  The Mediterranean country experience has much to offer to retirees. For more information, check out our extensive article on Retiring in Portugal.

Do American expats need insurance in Portugal?

Yes. If you’re only traveling to Portugal and spending less than 90 days in Portugal, we advise that you get travel insurance. If you’re looking to move to Portugal, on the other hand, you should get a Portuguese visa. Though a temporary Portuguese visa won’t provide you with health care in the country.  So, you need to get private health insurance in order to make use of the Portuguese healthcare system.  The social security and healthcare in Portugal typically offer high quality and a smooth experience for expats living in the country.

Where do most American expats live in Portugal?

The largest American expat communities in the country are located in Lisbon, the Algarve, and Porto, in descending order.  Our older clients typically prefer the Algarve, while younger clients with school-aged children find Lisbon and Porto to offer a more enticing experience for their families.

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