Low-Cost, Old-World Living

The following monthly budget is based on the cost of living for a couple living in Vila Nova de Famalicão in the north or Mafra toward the southern end of the country:

Expense U.S. $
 Housing (rent for a furnished two-bedroom apartment) $428
 Utilities (gas, water , electric, phone, internet) $268
 Groceries $428
 Entertainment (dining out, cultural activities) $107
 Household help (maid twice per month, three hours per day) $43
 Health insurance $86
 Transportation: car expenses including tolls for 1,500 km $187
 Incidentals $214
 Monthly total $1,761

Portugal offers arguably the lowest cost of living in Western Europe. Just about everything, from accommodation to groceries, is affordable. Including rent, a couple can live comfortably in Portugal’s interior, or in small cities, from about $1,700 a month. A couple’s budget in Lisbon starts at about $2,100 or $2,200 a month…though you can, of course, spend more. Singles should plan on a budget of about two-thirds that of a couple.

Accommodation—the single largest item on any expat’s budget—is reasonable, whether you rent or buy your property. Rents in small Portuguese cities and in the interior start as low as about $375 a month for a one- to two-bedroom apartment. Rents in Lisbon, the capital, start at about $650 a month for neighborhoods an easy half-hour walk from the central tourist neighborhoods of the Baixa, Chiado, and the like. (Rents start near $1,000 a month for a comfortable one- or two-bedroom in these neighborhoods—still a bargain for a European capital.) Rents in the Alfama neighborhood, Lisbon’s oldest, can run somewhat lower. But its hills and cobbled streets may not suit all expats.

If you’re looking to buy, you can find comfortable apartments for sale in the interior for well under $100,000. Even in Lisbon you can find small properties around the $150,000 price point in outlying neighborhoods. Closing costs on property sales in Portugal tend to run around 10% of the purchase price.

Note that the average size of apartments in Portugal, as in the rest of Europe, is considerably smaller than many North Americans are used to. A 550-square-foot apartment is considered perfectly adequate for a single person or a couple. A 1,000-square-foot apartment may have three or even four bedrooms and be considered suitable for a small family. Fortunately, Portugal’s generally mild climate means you are likely to spend lots of leisure time outside, on the beach, at outdoor cafés, or strolling Portugal’s beautiful towns and villages.

Food costs are generally low. Many cities and towns in Portugal—including Lisbon—continue to have large, thriving traditional markets, as well as supermarkets. A couple’s grocery budget can run from about $200 a month, depending on how you choose to buy. Some items that are luxuries elsewhere, such as good wine and olive oil, are locally produced and therefore inexpensive. You can get decent bottles of local wine from about $4 a bottle.

Meals out don’t have to be expensive, either. Portugal’s prato do dia (the lunch special) generally runs €8 to €11 (about $9 to $12.50) per person and is a complete, sit-down meal. Dinner for two, including wine, can run from about $29.

Utilities, including electricity, heating, water, and garbage collection, for a mid-range apartment can average around $80 a month. You may need to heat your apartment at times during Portugal’s relatively mild winter. And if you live in southern Portugal, you’ll likely want air conditioning during the hot summer months—which will increase your electricity bill.

But much of what is most enjoyable about Portugal—the friendly people, the leisurely lifestyle, mild weather, beautiful countryside, and ample beaches—is free.

Enjoy a Low Cost of Living in Portugal

by Glynna Prentice

Love Europe but think you can’t afford it? Think again. I recently spent some time in Portugal and was wowed by the low prices. In Portugal, you can enjoy a low cost of living similar to that in Latin America’s more developed countries…with all the benefits of European life thrown in.

For instance, you can get a sit-down lunch for about $15. You can grab a sandwich for less than $5 that’s big enough for two…but why bother? As in many Latin countries, lunch is generally a proper meal in Portugal, and you can get two courses, sometimes with beverage, starting from about $10. Or have dinner in a family-style restaurant for just a little more. Like wine with that meal? No problem. You can get a glass of wine in many restaurants for $4 or so…or half a bottle for about $7. Portugal is a wine-producing country, after all, and the local product is good, plentiful, and inexpensive.

Supermarket prices for groceries are low, but you can also go to traditional markets. Lisbon’s Mercado da Ribeira, right in central Lisbon (the country’s capital), is a standout. Buy your fruits, veggies, and fish here, and catch lunch at one of the gourmet food stalls while you’re at it.

Rent from $600 a Month in Lisbon

Many parts of Portugal have a mild climate, which keeps utility costs down. And even in Lisbon, you can rent an apartment long-term from about $600 a month. If you look around, you can even get a furnished place at that price.

Getting out and about in Portugal is easy and inexpensive, too. Trains, buses, and—in the cities—metro systems connect major destinations. International airports in Lisbon and Oporto connect you to the rest of Europe and beyond. And, as Portugal is a major tourist destination for other Europeans, you can even take advantage of low discount-airline fares from Lisbon, Oporto, and other destinations.

One potential downside to Portugal, of course, is the language: Relatively few foreigners speak Portuguese. Fortunately, many Portuguese do speak English, especially those in the larger cities (Lisbon and Oporto, for instance) and in the tourist areas. Even more of them speak or understand Spanish…so those high-school Spanish classes aren’t entirely wasted.

So if you’ve ever dreamed of a home in Europe, give Portugal a try.

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