Retiring in Portugal: myths and reality

A rainbow lands on a home in rural central Portugal. Sometimes moving to a different country is like chasing a rainbow.

Portugal has gained a lot of attention in recent years as a desirable spot to retire. It’s popular image is of a sunny land with lots of beaches, a laid-back lifestyle, low cost of living and friendly people. Portugal is all of those things. One popular misconception though, is that it is a Mediterranean country. Sorry to disappoint, but a look at a world map will quickly show you that Portugal’s western and southern coastlines are all on the Atlantic Ocean. The Mediterranean Sea essentially ends at the Straits of Gibraltar.

If you’re planning to retire in Portugal, it’s important to know that it can be chilly and damp in the winter. It’s not as cold as the UK or many parts of the US, but the dampness can sure leave you shivering. I’ve lived in central Portugal since July 2019 and each year the seasons have been slightly different. My first autumn and winter it rained almost every day from the beginning of November until just before Christmas, and most of the early spring. This year was quite the opposite. We had a relatively dry fall and no rain at all in January and February. The summer was hotter than the previous three summers. By August the country was in a severe drought situation and wildfires were breaking out everywhere.

A wildfire erupts in mid-August near the town of Tomar, central Portugal. There were numerous fires all over the country in July and August 2022 because of exceptionally dry weather.

Home prices

Along with Portugal’s rising popularity, some parts of the country have seen a steep increase in home prices. The Portugal News, an English language paper in Portugal, recently reported that Lisbon is the second most expensive city in southern Europe in which to buy a home. The article said Lisbon prices had overtaken those in Milan, Madrid and Barcelona.

However, housing prices in most of the country are substantially lower than the US and other western European countries as well as the UK and Ireland. A word of caution here; many homes in rural areas are in poor condition and need substantial investment to make them comfortable. Also, you need to be very careful when you buy that there are no additions to the home or outbuildings constructed without the proper planning permission. Illegal additions or outbuildings can cause costly paperwork headaches and delays when you sell the property.

Heating

Many houses in Portugal are built of stone, are poorly insulated and have no central heating system. A lot of people use a “Salamandra” for heating. This refers to a steel or iron wood burning stove, rather than a small reptile. Pellet burning stoves are also popular. In my experience, iron stoves are more expensive to buy, but provide much better warmth. Pellet burners are easier to use – no carrying logs, gathering kindling or messy cleanup. But the price of pellets has more than DOUBLED in recent months, from about 3.50 euros to about 8 euros for a 15 kg. bag (33 lb.)

Electric heaters are widely available, but electricity is relatively expensive in Portugal. Many people use heaters powered by butane which can be rolled from room to room. They are a quick source of heat but should not be left on overnight.

Dampness can mean mould and mildew. It’s important to ensure a flow of air. If it becomes too chilly to leave a window open, buy a dehumidifier. Your clothing will thank you. Putting on a shirt that smells of mildew is awful!

After all these comments, I have to say, I love living in Portugal. It is sunny, the cost of living is low and the people are SO nice!

Follow my blog to learn more about daily life in Portugal. And check out my novel, “The Power of Rain”, available in paperback and Kindle format on Amazon.

The yellow and red lines follow Portugal’s coastline, all of it on the Atlantic Ocean, not the Mediterranean Sea.
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2 thoughts on “Retiring in Portugal: myths and reality

  1. Thanks for all the valuable information about living in Portugal. I’m doing some due diligence about moving to Portugal, and your blog paints a picture of the landscape that I need to have before making a decision and taking an initial trip to explore the possibilities. Keep posting and cheers, DeWitt

    Liked by 1 person

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