Living Like a Local in Portugal

Michael J. Day zeroed in on Portugal as his overseas destination of choice because it offered him a lifestyle he loved. “It has hiking, mountain biking, surfing and sunny weather,” he says. Portugal also offered him a new language to learn, a calmer lifestyle and a lower cost of living.

In fact, Portugal’s cost of living is lower than that of any other country Michael has lived in—and he’s been around. He began travelling extensively in Europe in the late 1980s, with his trips getting ever longer… until they could hardly be called holidays anymore. “By 2004 I had lived in Norway, Sweden, Germany and Spain. My friends dubbed me a Europhile,” he explains.

He and his wife, Jayma Lyn, whom he met in Portugal, live in Linda-a-Velha, 20 minutes from downtown Lisbon. It’s a Portuguese working-class neighbourhood, an eclectic mix of mid-20th-century apartment buildings with a few Portuguese-style homes sprinkled in. “I’m in a six-storey apartment, in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit,” says Michael. Rent is $875 a month and, with utilities, their outlay is less than $1,500 a month.

Cafes, bars and restaurants are all within walking distance of the couple’s home and the beach and the impressive Belem Tower—an iconic symbol of Lisbon—are just a 10-minute drive.

Not everything is cheaper in Portugal, but Michael finds easy ways around this. “I order most of my electronics from Germany and have them shipped here.” That’s not a problem in Portugal—there’s no import duty on goods purchased from other member states of the EU. “Health supplements often cost more but you don’t need those so much when a grocery bill is about two-thirds of what I paid back home and I’m dining like a king on organic vegetables, fresh fish and lobster.”

Eating out can also be inexpensive. Outside of Starbucks, espresso costs about $1. Lunch—soup, main course, dessert and a drink—in the Lisbon area runs between $11 and $16.50. Dinner in an upscale restaurant is $40 to $60 per person, though you can pay more. For example, at the Grill Four Seasons in the Hotel Palacio Estoril, foie gras, crab soup and a main dish of scallops and shrimp risotto will set you back $100. But then, it’s one of the most exclusive establishments in Estoril, a resort town famous for being home to exiled European royalty and for Formula One motor racing. “Nevertheless,” Michael says, “it’s always nice to have high-end options.”

Portugal is fast emerging from the shadows to become one of Europe’s hottest destinations. Most expats come to Portugal because they want a slower lifestyle and the sophistication of a destination country moving rapidly into the 21st century, while maintaining its tranquil approach to the southern European lifestyle…

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