Living In Lisbon: An Expat's Guide
Lisbon is one of the most popular cities among expats. Whether you're looking for a better climate, a better quality of life, or simply a change of scenery, living in Lisbon might be for you. Here’s our guide to everything you need to know about living in the Portuguese capital.
Lisbon is a beautiful city with a rich history and culture. While it’s a vibrant place offering plenty of things to do, it offers a more relaxed, affordable lifestyle and slower pace of life than other capital cities in the world. It’s also on the waterfront and close to a variety of stunning white sandy beaches and plenty of green space to get your nature fix. What’s more, it boasts a very agreeable climate with warm summers and mild winters. The city and its people are very welcoming and English is widely spoken, making Lisbon a very attractive place for expats to live in.
Where is Lisbon?
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and the westernmost capital city in Europe. It’s located on the Atlantic Ocean in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula. With a population of over 500,000, it is Portugal's largest city. It’s also one of the oldest cities in the world, and its history can be traced back to the 4th century BC.
Living In Lisbon: Pros and Cons
If you are considering moving to Lisbon, Portugal, you are likely wondering about the pros and cons of living in this vibrant city.
- The weather in Lisbon is great! The city is one of the sunniest cities in Europe, and it has a mild climate year-round.
- The food scene is amazing. From fresh seafood to traditional Portuguese dishes and a variety of international dining options, there's something for everyone.
- The city is beautiful. Lisbon is filled with charming cobbled streets, quaint neighborhoods, colorful tiles and buildings, and stunning views.
- There are always things to do in Lisbon. Is a lively city with vibrant nightlife, great shopping and dining, and plenty of museums, galleries, and other historical and cultural sites.
- Lisbon is situated on the water and close to some beautiful stretches of white sandy beaches and some great surfing spots.
- Lisbon is one of the safest cities to live in across the world, boasting very low crime rates. The city is also quite liberal.
- The city is built across seven hills, and the frequent ascents and descents take a bit of getting used to
- Lisbon is a small city and some neighborhoods get crowded in high season
- Portuguese is the native language in Lisbon and the pronunciation and sounds make it a difficult language to learn. (Although, the natives usually speak very good English)
- Driving can be unnerving due to narrow streets and wayward drivers
- The bureaucracy is slow and requires a plenty of paperwork
Living in Lisbon: House Hunting
If you're looking for a place to live in Lisbon, there are a number of options depending on your budget and preferences on location and size of the property. You’ll mostly find apartments in and around the city center but if you’re looking for a house and more space, you’ll have to opt for the suburbs. The Marginal between Lisbon and Cascais has become a hot spot for expat families as has the Setúbal region south of the river.
Lisbon is made up of a variety of neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character and charm. Whether you're looking for a lively nightlife scene, a quiet residential area to raise a family or an up and coming corner of the city to open a new business, you'll find it living in Lisbon. The best way to get to know the city and its different neighborhoods is to explore on foot. Walk the streets, check out the local shops, cafes and hidden gems and strike up conversations with the locals. You'll soon get a feel for which neighborhood is right for you.
For living in Lisbon, here are a few of our favorites neighborhoods:
- Baixa: Lisbon’s historic center and a great place to live if you want to be in the heart of the action. There are plenty of things to do and see in Baixa and it’s also well-connected to the rest of the city.
- Chiado: A hip and happening commercial neighborhood with a wide offering of cafes, bars and restaurants on your doorstep. It’s also a great place for shopping, with some of Lisbon’s best boutiques and shops.
- Bairro Alto: Its charming narrow streets and multitude of bars and restaurants make it a popular nightlife haunt. It’s also a great place to people watch and soak up the atmosphere of Lisbon.
- Alfama: This is Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood, with winding picturesque streets and quaint houses that lead up to the castle and stunning views from the many viewing points. It’s a great place to catch a glimpse of the Lisbon of yesteryear.
- Alcantara: Lisbon’s Alcantara neighborhood is a great place to live if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown while still living close enough to enjoy all the action.
- Lapa/Estrela: Found at the top of a very large hill, this neighborhood is filled with embassies, cafes and your typical Portuguese architecture. Just next to Lapa is the Estrela neighborhood that has one of the best parks in the city as well as the iconic Estrela Basilica church
- Saldanha: This neighborhood is known for being one of the most prime real estate areas in the city, and it’s also home to some of the best shopping in Lisbon. You’ll find high-end stores as well as more affordable shops, and there are plenty of restaurants and cafes to keep you busy. This is a great neighborhood for young professionals or families who want to be in the heart of the action.
- Graça: Sitting just above Alfama, this once traditional, quiet neighborhood has gentrified over the last couple of years and is a mix of old and new, with lots of hipster bars, galleries and cafes.
- Principe Real: is a trendy, upscale area, filled with chic boutiques, art galleries, bars and restaurants and stunning renovated facades.
Buying a Home
Buying a property as a foreigner living in Portugal might sound like a daunting prospect with the language barrier and unfamiliar red tape, but the country’s policies are flexible and welcoming to foreign buyers. The process is relatively straightforward but just requires some patience and a lot of paperwork.
Renting an Apartment
It’ll come as no surprise that rent prices in Lisbon are higher than in the rest of Portugal but they’re still relatively affordable compared with other major cities. However, with the recent influx of foreigners moving to the city, there is a higher demand than supply and so finding a suitable place to rent, particularly for the long term, can take some time. Some landlords are unwilling to offer long-term rental agreements, particularly during the spring and summer, as they can make more money renting to tourists on a short-term basis. Don’t be afraid to use your powers of negotiation and enlist the help of a bunch of different estate agents.
Cost of Living in Lisbon
Lisbon is an affordable city to live in, with a cost of living that is lower than many other European capitals. The cost to rent or buy a place is still relatively low and eating out and getting around the city by public transport or Uber is very affordable.
If you’re planning to rent, here are some average rental prices to give you an idea:
- Studio apartment: €750
- 1-bedroom apartment (approx. size 50 m²): €1,000
- 2-bedroom apartment (approx. size 83 m²): €1,200
- 3-bedroom apartment (approx. size 120 m²): €1,400+
Food shopping overall is relatively cheap in Lisbon and you’ll find excellent fresh meat and fish in the local markets and supermarkets at very affordable prices. Some of the imported food products carry a higher price tag.
Lisbon Restaurants / Eating Out
Lisbon has restaurants to cover all budgets, from cheap, local Portuguese tascas where you can eat a hearty meal for two for €20 to €30 to trendy mid-range bistros where a meal for two with wine will be €60 to €70 euros. At the top of the range, there are 10 Michelin-starred restaurants in the city offering exquisite fine dining experiences.
Lisbon Public Transportation
Public transportation is very cheap in Lisbon. A one-way ticket for the bus, metro, or tram is €1.50. You can buy a transport card in one of the ticket machines for €0.50 that you can top up as you go. Taxis and Ubers are also relatively cheap compared to other European cities.
Schools in Lisbon
There’s a large network of international schools in and around Lisbon to consider. After you decide that living in Lisbon is right for you, be sure to enquire in advance as some may have long waiting lists. Some of the most popular are:
- Redbridge School
- British School of Lisbon
- PaRK International School
- Astoria International School
- Oeiras International School
- Carlucci American International School of Lisbon
There’s also the option to enroll your children in public school or a private Portuguese school but some prior knowledge of the Portuguese language would be a plus and waiting lists can also be long.
Lisbon has a temperate climate, with average temperatures ranging from 18 to 25 degrees Celsius. While you’re unlikely to experience a day of rain during the summer months, Lisbon does get quite a lot of rain in the autumn and spring and it can get quite humid.
Shopping in Lisbon
Lisbon may not be a fashion capital like Milan, Paris or London, but it has a good shopping scene offering a variety of international and local brands. You’ll find all the high-end names in fashion on Avenida Liberdade while most of the mid-range commercial brands can be found around the Baixa / Chiado area and in one of the city’s numerous shopping malls (Colombo being one of the biggest and the best). The city also has a burgeoning local design scene and there are numerous independent boutiques, particularly around Principe Real, offering fashion, artisan goods and homewares.
According to the Global Peace Index, Portugal is the third safest country in Europe and the fourth in the world. While Lisbon has slightly higher crime rates than the rest of the country, living in Lisbon it is still very safe.
Lisbon is a great option for any Expat looking for a new place to live. One popular method of acquiring a visa is through the Golden Visa Program. For more information check out our Insider’s Guide to the Portugal Golden Visa. Or check out our continuing coverage of the space on our blog.