You will freeze here.
I recently moved back to my home country of Portugal after living for 3.5 years in Budapest, Hungary. Before that, I also lived in France and the UK.
Many of my foreign friends have flirted with the possibility of moving to Portugal. They imagine a life of sunny days, enjoying cheap drinks by the beach, and a surfing session at the end of each week.
Life here is not exactly like that. For most of us, at least.
I moved back because I wanted to be close to my family and friends. If not for that, I would have stayed away. It’s not that this is a terrible country, but I can think of several others where I would be happier and wealthier.
If you are planning on moving to Portugal, let me tell you about the 3 major problems I see in this country. Then, you can decide if it really is for you.
It’s Fricking Cold
Portugal is the country in Europe where more people die from cold.
I bet you think this is a bad joke. I wish it was, but it’s the harsh reality of Portuguese winters.
The temperatures here are not as low as in Central or Eastern Europe. But because of that, houses don’t have heating systems. This would be fine if we had 20ºC winter days. Sometimes we do. But most of the time, it’s around 5–10ºC.
Inside, it’s warmer: 12–15ºC.
My cousin usually sleeps with a beanie on. When I lived in Budapest and had video calls with my family in Portugal during winter, I wore a t-shirt and they wore 3 jumpers plus a coat in the living room.
It’s downright uncomfortable.
The most recent buildings are equipped with heating systems, but insulation is poor and gas/electricity prices are only for the rich. Not everyone has 250€ per month just to heat the house. Nor should they have to.
In Budapest, I had my apartment heated all winter for 30€ per month. Heated houses are a basic necessity. In Portugal, they are a luxury.
If you are planning on moving here, don’t give up just yet. There are ways to fix the problem. It’s just that usually they involve a lot of money or a lot of clothes.
Everything Is Sloooooow
In Budapest, paying for groceries at the supermarket was a strategy exercise. Cashiers are so fast that you need to carefully order the items on the belt to beat them at the game.
The cashier needs to weigh fresh fruits and vegetables, which gives you precious time to bag other items while they take care of these ones. The trick is to spread them throughout your groceries to have some buffer windows.
The other day, I went to the supermarket in Portugal. It was the middle of the day, almost nobody was shopping. I only had one old lady in front of me at the checkout, yet I stood there for 10 minutes.
The cashier was already halfway through scanning the old lady’s stuff when she realized she had forgotten something. So she went back to the store. The cashier waited. I waited. The old lady came back.
Then, she wanted to pay for the bulk of the stuff with a card, and for the thing she had forgotten with cash.
As she pulled the wallet out of her bag, she told the cashier a story about it. It belonged to her daughter, and she had lost it at another supermarket once. The daughter was very sad because she loved the wallet. She went to the supermarket and, although the wallet only had coins inside, she proved it was hers because she had a matching handbag.
The cashier made a fake laugh. I rolled my eyes, forgetting that the mask covered only the lower part of my face.
Sure, absolutely no harm in sharing this kind of story with strangers. But not when there is a queue of people behind you. Not when other people just wanted to grab some bread and leave.
This is how everything works in Portugal. People are nice. But sometimes they are too nice. They talk about random stuff with random people. They take it easy. And they live like there is always a tomorrow.
The rhythm is relaxed. Life unfolds slowly. Everything takes double the time than it should.
It Is Expen$ive
Portugal is in Western Europe. You can’t get any more West in Europe than here. But for decades, we were the poor cousin of this family.
Now, it’s not so cheap anymore. Groceries, restaurants, rent — everything went up significantly in the past decade. Everything except salaries.
If you compare Lisbon to other European capitals such as Vienna, Austria, you see the hard reality of purchasing power in Portugal. Our cost of living is almost as high as in Vienna but our salaries are half of the Austrians’.
They pay 800€ for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center. We pay exactly the same, but our minimum salary is 740€ before tax. Something is very wrong here.
I honestly don’t know how people live in Portugal on a minimum wage. Even on an average one. It’s a country for the rich, inhabited by the poor.
But there is a flip side: if you earn a foreign salary, you can have a very decent life here. Just make sure to stay away from Portuguese wages.
Having lived in 4 countries, I learned one thing: a country is never good or bad per se. Your perception of a place has a lot to do with what you value in life.
The slow pace of life in Portugal gets on my nerves every single day. But maybe your natural rhythm aligns with it, maybe you prefer it to the hustle and bustle of places like London or NYC.
A country is what you make of it. I’m sure that if you want to make Portugal your home, even if temporarily, you’ll find a way to feel good here. You will find the little daily joys that override the annoying issues. I’m working on it and, so far, I can tell you that it works.