Moving to Portugal from the US: The Ultimate Guide

A Brief Introduction Of Portugal

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 neighbourhoods.

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.

Blue Skies And Warm Smiles

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

Family-Friendly Fun

If you are a US citizen thinking about moving to Portugal with a family, then you’re making the right choice. Portugal ranks 9th out of 50 destinations according to the family life index. That includes the availability of child care and the level of education in the country.

Excellent Work-Life Balance

Portugal is a prime country to work in. It boasts a very competitive economy thanks to its touristic and real estate sectors which are amongst the strongest in Europe. Over 72% percent of expats rate the Work-Life balance in a positive way.

In this guide for Americans, we are going to talk about everything you need to know when moving to Portugal. Such as the documents you’ll need, visa application, cost of living in Portugal, healthcare, education, retirement in Portugal, and more!

Moving To Portugal From The US

The Portuguese government welcomes expats from the US and your move there should be very easy. We will get to how to get a Portuguese visa in a moment, but first, 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 should be very 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 which you are planning to take with you into the country. Remember that your items should arrive within 90 days of your arrival in Portugal.

Shipping & Flying Goods

Luckily, you will 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 or road. Portugal also offers sea freight, which is more affordable but slightly slower.

Shipping your belongings by sea is a popular option because of its affordability. However, as mentioned above, it might take longer for your things to arrive. Below is a table according to World Freight Rates and  SeaRates, to give you the 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 when moving to Portugal, you can choose to ship your belongings by air which will take about 2-4 business days, if you choose express shipping, or 5-8 days with standard shipping. Keep in mind that for large quantities it’s more difficult to ship by air than by sea. In the table below you’ll find the prices for shipping a single m3 250KG container of household items. Landing anywhere in Portugal costs about the same as landing Lisbon, which is why our only parameter is Lisbon.

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


Storage in Portugal might need a little preparation. A quick online visit to storage companies near where you’re planning to move should be enough. Most storage companies work 24hours 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 phone call.


Over 64% of all US households own pets. According to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association(APPA). So, if you are a family from the United States who decided to move to Portugal with your pets, then rest assured that your four-legged family members are more than welcome in the eyes of the Portuguese customs.

All you need for your pet is a rabies vaccination, which means they must be older than three months. For some breeds that can 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 is 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 do not need to get a visa to enter Portugal. Americans can enter the country for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes. But if you decide to move to Portugal, then you will need to get one.

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. And after living there for five years, you can apply for permanent residency.

The Visa Process

The SEF, Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras, or The immigration and border service, carries out all visa processes. The Portuguese government allows online application via this platform as of 2019. An automatic renewal feature of residence permits was recently introduced, which is very helpful.

There are various ways to apply for a visa. As an American, if you’re moving or retiring to Portugal, you’ll need to apply for a residence visa. After you enter the country, you can apply for a residence permit with SEF, which will cost around $88, and the Portuguese residence Visa will cost around the same.

Yet, if you wish to obtain a visa or a permit for investment purposes, then the cost will be $550 and $5000 respectively.

You can apply for a visa by going to your local Portuguese consulate or through the online portal. There are various requirements that you need to meet to get your visa:

  • You must have no indication of non-admission in SEF’s or the Schengen information system
  • You must never have been convicted of a crime
  • You must never have been prohibited from entering any Portuguese territory
  • You must be absent from any requirement(s) that might disqualify you for a Portuguese visa

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 when applying for an employment visa:
  • Proof that you are 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

Residence Permits

There are two types of permits in the country

Temporary Residence

The temporary residence is valid for one year. After that, you can renew it for two years, and then another two. After a residence of five years, you can apply for permanent residence. When you get your visa, you should enter the country while it is valid and ask for a temporary residence. The temporary permit for employment purposes costs $79 and will cost $36 to renew.

The permit requires the following documents:

  • Valid Visa
  • Passport
  • 2 recent colored identical photographs on a blank background
  • Evidence of proper accommodation
  • Evidence of having sufficient means of subsistence
  • Permission from SEF to have your criminal record checked in Portugal
  • Proof of regular payments or enrollment in social security
  • Documents with information for registration with the tax authority

Permanent Residence

After getting your temporary residence in Portugal and renewing it for five years, you can apply for permanent residence. You’ll find that one visit to the SEF should get that done. The Permanent residence will cost $240 and 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 (which is particularly beneficial for those retiring in Portugal), and access to healthcare and education on the European standard. Also, holders of permanent residence can travel freely around the Schengen area. Also, you can 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. And as we mentioned before, if you reside in Portugal for six years, you can apply for citizenship. You will need to show some knowledge of Portuguese just like for permanent residence. The bureaucracy of applying for citizenship might be slightly complicated. Hence, we suggest that you hire professionals to help you, remember that you can always ask for a free consultation through our Portugal online portal.

What Does Portugal Have To Offer?

Cost Of Living

One of Portugal’s most desirable 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 $2100 to $2300, but in the smaller cities, it will go down to a meager $1700 a month!

We can’t discuss expenses anywhere without discussing rent and food.

Real Estate And Rent

Rents in Portugal are very affordable. For example, in Lisbon, you can find one/two-bedroom apartments for around $650 a month, while similar properties in the US will cost closer to $1050. 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 $375 a month!

If you’re planning to reside long term or moving to Portugal 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 NHR(Non-Habitual Residents) and the Portuguese Golden Visa.

The prices for real estate in Portugal can vary from $3803 per m2 in the Carcavelos and Parede neighbourhood in Cascais to $7785 per m2 in the Baixa and Chiado neighbourhoods in Lisbon.

You can find more extensive information on the Portuguese real estate market in this guide.

Food And Drink

The food and drink in Portugal is very hearty. Seafood is strongly featured thanks to the country’s long coastline. 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!

Portuguese Cities

Compared to US cities, all Portuguese cities are small. The biggest city in Portugal is Lisbon, and it is 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.

Item/Service Cost In Lisbon Cost In New york
Meal for 2, mid-range restaurant- three-course $41.56 $100.00
Imported Beer (0.33-litre bottle) $2.00 $5.90
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) $4.75 $15.00
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 you won’t fall into debt to pay any medical fees. The government funds the healthcare program generously, and for those under 18 or over 65 healthcare is entirely free.

When you are a temporary resident in Portugal, you can’t enjoy the benefits of their public healthcare system, other than cases of emergency of course. So in the first five years (Until you obtain your permanent residence), you might 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. Thanks to its strong economy, Portugal, and more specifically Lisbon, has become home to many tech and start-up companies. So if you’re a professional in the IT or online business field, you will be very welcomed!

For other more traditional sectors, you might need some knowledge of Portuguese. However, if you’re a polyglot, then you can most likely find an excellent job in the touristic or hotel management sector.

All workers are required to contribute to social security, and that is taxed at 11% 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 $1200 and $2000, 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 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.

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

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 because of its Mediterranean weather.

There is rarely any snow in Portugal, and throughout the whole year it is 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.

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.

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    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 ninety days, but if you wish to live there, you need to ask for a 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.

    Is Healthcare In Portugal Free?

    Public healthcare is free for under 18s and over 65s. 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 is safe to drive anywhere in Europe. Portugal nationals do have a reputation for going slightly faster than other countries. However, the road system has seen a drastic improvement in recent years, especially with some incredibly safe motorways.

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