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Golden Gate Bridge and the Ponte Vinte Cinco de Abril

Portugal Compared to California

The Portugal Golden Visa program started in 2012 and has fueled over $6 billion in investment into Portugal over that time period. When the program first began most of the applicants came from China and Brazil.

Until recently investors only really had one option to satisfy the qualifying investment option: real estate. However, in 2019 the government added the investment fund option. This created a shift in the market of not only where investment dollars were being spent but also by whom.

American Interest in Portugal Golden Visa

Over the past year, Americans have eclipsed all other nationalities in terms of Golden Visa applicants in Portugal.

It isn’t any surprise that Americans prefer the fund investment option as they are generally financially literate and are accustomed to using financial products.

Interestingly, one of the largest contingents of Americans coming to Portugal is from California.

So why are so many Californians interested in a second citizenship in Portugal? Some say it’s because Portugal is comfortably similar to California, but with just the right differences. So let’s break down the similarities and differences.

Why are Californians Moving to Portugal?

Over the past few years, we have seen immense changes in everyday life - not only in California but all over the world.

First, the pandemic had a huge impact on how we as humans gather but also on our mindset. One of the things it did was speed things up. Being locked down for months on end gave people time to think about important questions. Indeed this ended up speeding up decision-making. If you were in a bad relationship, the pandemic gave you new clarity to make that decision to end it. If you didn’t like your job, the decision to quit suddenly became much easier.

We’re seeing this more and more with what people are calling the Great Resignation. In 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs — an unprecedented mass exit from the workforce, spurred on by Covid-19.

Second, the political divide in the U.S. reached a boiling point with the election of Donald Trump.

California is the most populous state in the U.S. and always plays a big role in politics. Many people, in both parties, feel like they don’t have the same political freedoms that they used to, orr they fear things are changing and not for the better.

This has been building for decades with the rise of globalization and the changing political landscape.

Another big issue is security. The U.S. continues to be a hotbed for gun violence with mass shootings happening almost every day. According to The Mass Shooting Tracker Project, a crowd-sourced list of mass shootings in the U.S., in 2021 there were 693 mass shootings, 46 of which happened in California. Those are frightening numbers that make people consider living somewhere else.

Not all Californians interested in a Portugal Golden Visa are moving because they are unhappy with the status quo. There are many coming to Portugal because they are optimistic about the future and want to live in Europe.

Residency in Portugal gives you access to the Schengen Area, 26 European countries, which is the largest visa free zone in the world.

There are many reasons why Americans, and Californians more specifically, are interested in a Portugal Golden Visa. One reason we often hear is that Portugal can be compared with California. Despite moving across the world, people want some familiarity in their new home.

So let's take a look at the similarities and differences between Portugal and California.

Portugal vs California: How are they similar??

The Weather

There are a few obvious similarities between Portugal and California and the first one is the weather. With almost 300 days of sunshine in certain parts of California, you could say Californians are a bit spoiled when it comes to weather.

Portugal's weather is just as good. Depending on where you get your statistics, cities like Lisbon have 260+ days of sunshine per year.

Long summers and short winters are something both California and Portugal excel at and can be compared.

The Geography

The second similarity is geographic. Anyone who has driven up Pacific Coast Highway will tell you the coastal drive from Lisbon to Cascais is remarkably similar. The beaches are gorgeous in both places and the surf is world-famous in California and Portugal.

Driving from Lisbon to Porto has a similar feel to driving from LA to San Francisco. You’ll see vast fields with livestock and anonymous dusty towns in both places.

Also, the almost never-ending coastline from Lisbon to the Algarve could easily be mistaken for the California coast. Just like California, Portugal is home to beautiful mountains and other beautiful landscapes that are common in the Mediterranean climate.

Coastal Life

LA and San Francisco have a similar vibe to Lisbon and Porto. They’re only a 45-minute plane ride apart and both are vibrant coastal cities (albeit much smaller in Portugal). Surfing and beach culture are culturally significant in both places.

Seafood is excellent in both California and Portugal and both places have great wine.

These are just a few reasons people from California who are interested in a Golden Visa are coming to Portugal.

Portugal vs California: How are they Different?

So now that we’ve covered how Portugal is similar to California, let’s look at the ways in which they are different.

Portugal's size compared to California

The first and most obvious is the size and population difference. California is 4.4 times the size of Portugal in terms of land mass. Additionally, there are 39 million people living in California compared to just 10.3 million in Portugal.

Indeed, the greater Los Angeles area alone is more populous than the entire country of Portugal with 13 million people.

What this means is there is a greater variety of people, places, cultures, and ideas in California. Because the U.S. (and, indeed, California) was founded by immigrants the spectrum of cultures is broad and deep.


The second difference is safety. There is a very low crime rate in Portugal, especially when it comes to gun violence. This resonates with many Californias interested in a Portugal Golden Visa.

Depending on what organization ranking you’re looking at Portugal is always in the top 10 safest countries in the world. Additionally, according to the Geneva-based, Small Arms Survey, there are 393 million weapons in the U.S. - the only country in the world to have more weapons than the entire population.

Compare that with just 1.5 million guns in Portugal, most of which are hunting rifles. In fact, we were unable to find an instance of a mass shooting in Portugal in the modern era.

Economic Status

The third difference is economic status. California is a rich state inside a rich country. The GDP of California is $3.3 trillion, larger than most countries in the world.

The median household income in 2022 in California was over $78,000. Compare that with a total Portugal GDP of ~$250 billion or just 7.5% of California’s GDP.

Also, the average wage in Portugal in USD terms according to Trading Economics was just $1,188 per month or $14,256 per year. Indeed, Portugal has the lowest average wage in Western Europe.

Final Thoughts

Over the past few years, there’s been a significant uptick in interest for a Portugal Golden Visa from Americans and more specifically Californians.

Although there are plenty of arguments for and against, we’ve laid out just a few of the similarities and differences.

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.