For the past three years my husband, Clyde, and I have lived in Portugal, enjoying the gracious people, stunning scenery, and affordable, safe living. We lived among rural farmland on the Silver Coast near the city of Caldas da Rainha and now live in the tourist hub of Vilamoura, in the southern region of the Algarve.
We have traveled through much of Portugal, visiting castles in medieval villages, exploring the bustling city of Lisbon on foot, and strolling along the Atlantic coastline’s golden beaches. Never have we felt unsafe in any way. But everyone knows that there is no perfect place to live so let’s take a realistic look at Portugal with regards to safety.
The Global Peace Index rates 163 countries worldwide for safety and Portugal came in at number three behind Iceland and New Zealand. The U.S. sadly was ranked 121.
The U.S. State Department rates Portugal as a Level One which means that normal safety precautions should be taken. Common practices like not leaving valuables in a parked car, keeping track of your wallet, purse, backpack, and luggage in crowded areas, and exercising caution in larger metropolitan areas like Lisbon should be observed.
Pickpocketing, purse snatching, and luggage theft can happen in Portugal, especially in tourist hubs like Lisbon, the Algarve, and Porto. Thieves know that tourists have money and will be there to grab some, given the opportunity.
Cell phones are commonly left on tables at outdoor restaurants and cafes and can easily be grabbed. Last summer we heard about groups of young men targeting summer tourists in the Algarve. They would approach patrons at outdoor restaurants waving brochures in their faces pretending to sell something. Thieves would casually cover unattended cell phones on tables with the brochures and slide both the phone and the paper off the table unnoticed. Local police also received calls of passports being slipped out of purses in the same vicinity.
Beachgoers tend to leave belongings such as wallets, keys, and phones unattended while they cool off in the water. Nearby, thieves could be watching for an easy target and quickly can grab your stuff and take off with it, never to be seen again. It’s always best to leave personal items tucked away safely in hotel safes and bring as little as possible to the beach.
Portugal has some of the lowest crime rates in all of Europe and violent crime is rare. As a general rule, the Portuguese do not own guns except for those used for hunting which requires police permits to obtain.
Areas to Avoid
All big cities have areas to avoid, and Portugal is no exception. While Lisbon is safe during the day, some of the popular tourist areas should be avoided at night, especially in the early hours of the morning. Neighborhoods like Bairro Alto, Alfama, Castle of São Jorge, and Belem along with train and bus stations.
The Portuguese eat dinner late, usually starting around 9 p.m. or later before heading out for a night on the town. Clubs open around midnight and partying can go all night, into the early morning hours. So, while it’s generally safe to go clubbing or bar hopping in Lisbon or other cities in Portugal, it’s best to exercise some caution too. Almost anywhere in the world, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to bad decisions or letting one’s guard down and being taken advantage of or robbed.
Scam artists target tourists at night in large cities offering to sell them drugs, which may be nothing more than ground up bay leaves, flour, and acetaminophen. Since these “fake drugs” are not really drugs at all, criminals are not legally doing anything wrong other than taking advantage of tourists.
Enjoying a night out with friends can be a fun part of visiting Portugal, as long as you remain aware of your surroundings and don’t get taken advantage of.
Long distance buses and trains in Portugal offer comfortable seats at affordable prices. But since luggage is typically stowed underneath buses, it’s wise to lock suitcases or look out the window when luggage is being removed, making sure that it’s not your luggage being taken by mistake. Although not common, there have been reports of luggage being stolen during brief stops. Express buses, that go from one location to another with no stops in between are an option to consider.
Packed subway cars or buses are always a target for would-be thieves to pick pockets, snatch purses, or phones that are left unattended. Stowing money, credit cards, and passports in money belts that are worn underneath clothing is a safer option when using public transport. This way if criminals do reach into your pocket there is nothing for them to grab.
Sexual assaults against women are rare but there have been reports of drinks being spiked in clubs at night in the Bairro Alto area of Lisbon. Never take a drink from someone you don’t know and use common sense just like you would anywhere else.
In 2010, Portugal legalized same-sex marriage, the sixth country in Europe to do so. Throughout Portugal, the attitude toward alternative lifestyles is accepted, especially in larger cities like Lisbon and Porto. Both cities hold major gay pride marches and offer the best gay scenes and nightlife in the country. Forbes rated Portugal as No.4 in the world for LGBTQ+ safety, behind Sweden, Canada, and Norway.
General Safety Tips
In general, Portugal is a very safe country to visit or live in. As a tourist, keep a hand on your luggage at all times, secure purses with a cross-body strap, keep money, credit cards, and passports securely tucked away in a money belt worn under your clothes and if you need to be out late at night, be aware of your surroundings and travel in groups if possible.
For those of us that live here, we take precautions in busy tourist areas, and use common sense in our daily lives, just as we did back in our home countries.
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