Forbes magazine has chosen Portugal as one of the 10 “cheapest” places to live, particularly for US citizens who want to leave their jobs and change their lives (based on data from International Living)!

Don’t! Other than adding misery to my retirement here on my EU Irish passport, here is why



Too many Americans, Brits and other foreigners are overtaking available housing in the Lisbon area. Cascais, (pronounced ‘kesh-keysh’) on the Atlantic coast, was once a lovely small town. Its abundant green trees, grass, flowers, family-owned small stores gradually became overrun with summer tourists. Walking in the streets for errands became moving through huge tourist bus passengers who stood solidly on the street gawking and chatting with each other. Even local Portuguese were forced from their rentals unless they knew the laws and argued with their greedy landlords. My small, cold but charming antique-tiled apartment building threw us renters out after two years to transform the place into condos. I searched for a new home. None were available with my low-income. Reluctantly, I moved east of Lisbon to a town with practically no houses – only apartment buildings, unlike some of the grand old homes in Cascais. My new town has a few trees, green grass, flowers planted in a few places but it’s not lovely like Cascais and all the other small towns along the coastline there. Still prices here are also going up, trying to match the pretty small towns along the West Coast such as: Estoril, Parede, Carcavelus, Oeiras, and more. All of those towns are now over-priced with less and less locals, as listed on the Portuguese train schedule.

TO RENT OR BUY is a major decision. BEWARE: The word house here means an apartment/flat, as well as a detached house. Thus prices for houses in Portugal can be misleading. Buying involves taxes, paperwork, more taxes, and more paperwork with Portuguese civil servants who often do not speak, or are unwilling to speak English but enjoy instructing foreigners, “Speak Portuguese!” Then again, as a rich American, you can hire an expensive lawyer to assist you with all this. (I’m sorry to say, but Americans ring cashier-sparkeling eyes, maybe even a smile, ready to overcharge you for any and everything. This is true around the world, not just in Portugal.)

Most rentals are furnished. If ‘unfurnished’ that includes no refrigerator, stove, washing machine and dryer. Maybe even water heater. I was actually shown a two-bedroom flat overloaded with the owner’s possessions. Their response? Just move what you don’t want to use into the other bedroom. Additionally, renters pay for their own maintenance problems such as installing showers, faucets, overhead lighting fixtures and mold. Mold is serious. Should you discover mold growing anywhere in your home, you will soon learn its astounding ability to procreate and reach unseen areas. It is horrifyingly expensive and time-consuming to eradicate mold with professional mold removers.

Landlords may demand four to five months down payment to rent a flat (apartment in American English.)

Of course, the famous Algarve towns in the South used to be crowded with masses of Brits, only to be replaced after Brexit with Germans, French, Dutch and other foreigners, although many Brits managed to jump through multiple hoops to remain. Here too prices rose. Algarve rentals, mostly furnished, appear reasonable. Until you notice that amount is weekly. Times four, and, for former teachers like myself, is impossible.

Closets are almost non-existent. Did you ever read the C. S. Lewis’s book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Wardrobes are like closets, sometimes built into a flat. I bought one, consisting of three doors which open for hanging clothes as well as three small storage units above the main doors and three small drawers on the bottom, perfect for socks, pillow cases, and medicines. Usually such a wardrobe can only be found in the bedroom. Any other storage closets? Rare. The more expensive the rental, the more likely a second wardrobe set may be available. Sometimes, flats are rented without any lighting fixtures! Renters are responsible for the upkeep if anything goes wrong – via pipes, heating, water or mold. Yep. renters, not landlords.

Central heating, like once in the UK when I visited in 1969, is rare in Portugal. Insulation is rare in apartment buildings, unless new. Central heating is considered an exotic expense. The locals simply shrug and say they wear sweaters in the cold. A British friend helped me buy a heating machine that requires a third-world like gas canister for heating. It frightens me to store the canisters in my flat. I envision accidental fires and death, but over time, certain realities are endured.


Someone wrote they had already gotten a NIF before arriving in Portugal! That’s a miracle, but things may have changed since 2015 when I retired here. Or you may hire an expensive lawyer for this very inexpensive procedure. First you must register with your local town and I forget all the other requirements. I kept my cash attached to my money belt until I acquired a NIF to open a bank account. The National Identity Financial number is akin – but not the same – to the USA’s Social Security Number. It is required to open a bank account, pay bills, and, if you feel like letting the government know everything you buy, you can provide your NIF when shopping. This is valuable when paying for medical expenses which are tax deductions. The NIF is also demanded by some stores for large purchases and for anything over a thousand euros.

About that ten year tax-free status, even if accompanied by a local Portuguese person, the tax office explanation is convoluted and impossible to understand even for a local bilingual Portuguese friend who accompanied a friend. Even he could not understand what the government clerk explained. You can pay more than 100 euros to have your last US Income Tax form translated, but still the Portuguese Tax Office can refuse it. They then demand all sorts of paperwork (which I had thrown out when moving from one country to another) before issuing you that coveted tax-free status.

Despite the USA’s Social Security System of monthly payments that used to allow retirees to earn $10,000 (maybe more now) yearly without any reduction in monthly benefits, taxes in Portugal are different. Portugal’s tax system starts taxation at around 7,000 euros a year! Some magical paperwork with the tax office can be done, only if you are accompanied by a Portuguese-speaking person. Or, as a rich American, you can hire a lawyer to deal with the tax office. Or, like me, simply have a nervous breakdown whenever in a tax office.

VAT, valued added tax, of 23% is on everything. A bit less on food.


Cars are terribly expensive with taxes, upkeep, and parking rental. Gasoline, called ‘petro’ is extremely expensive and sold in liters not gallons. European gas prices have always been near double of American prices. Then there’s insurance too. And toll roads. Many major connecting highways demand tolls be paid by purchasing a pass. Since my limited income prevents car ownership I lack knowledge of the complexity and paperwork, taxes, and expenses involved in owing and operating a car in Portugal. I once rented a car and drove through colorful narrow streets of quaint small towns,which I finally abandoned for the safer highway. The price of petrol for the day equaled the low discount for the car. Additionally, if you drive off into the sunset to explore, you may find yourself on unpaved, dirt roads.

Water – drink the tap water? After getting a gum infection, I now always use bottled water for brushing my teeth. The tap water may be okay but then there’s the pipes it runs through. Home delivery of five gallon bottles of water, four at a time, is available. Just sit at home and wait, wait, wait and don’t play music or the television because you just might not hear the buzzer on your door from the delivery man.

Then storing those four large bottles requires ingenuity.

Customer service from restaurants, clerks, civil servants? Maybe, but not routinely with a smile. It’s like central heating – rare.

DHL Nightmare – sending packages home to the USA via DHL demands completing forms in Portuguese. Retain a copy. Then, DHL may again request the same forms, or new ones, to ‘clear customs’. Maybe DHL is okay for documents, but next time I’ll try registered government mail and hope and pray.

Liquor Stores – nope.

Walmart? As one Cascais clerk told an obnoxious new arrival, there are no Walmart’s in Portugal. Thinking but not saying, ‘Go home if you want that!’ The closest store to a Walmart, if you can find one, are the large Chinese stores. No, you won’t find a hardware store in Portugal, unless you know exactly where to look. Small Chinese store have many kinds of hardware store products. But I’ve failed at finding an old-fashioned rocking chair. I may need to import from Amazon in Spain or Germany. Then assemble with non-English instructions. (Buying from Amazon USA is an economic and nerve-wracking challenge. Shipping fees for a rocking chair are great, although the variety on the USA site is also greater than European sites. Then there’s customs. The forms are naturally in Portuguese. If you receive a Portuguese postal notice to pay customs, it will be in Portuguese, direct you to a Portuguese-only site for payment and pick up. If you fail to meet all their requirements and payments by their desired date, the product is shipped back to the USA.

Doughnuts are new to Portugal, as are pancakes – both rarely found in small grocery stores. Bagels are near-impossible to find. No IHOP restaurants. Etc.


No, American Medicare does not work in Portugal. You have to go home to the States for that.

Yes, legal foreigner residents are allowed access to government health services, including Covid shots and the booster shots at no expense. Yes, people wore masks when Covid was raging, especially on public transportation. No arguments, no mask-free demonstrations. You may purchase family health insurance for a few thousand dollars a month via a Western company. This prevents lack of communication with health receptionists who don’t speak English, long waits for medical procedures, and more.


Once free Portuguese lessons were government-sponsored, but that was before the 2008/9 financial crisis. No more. Cambridge School offers intensive Portuguese lessons for 800 euros a month for maybe forty hours. Portuguese is said to sound harsh-like Russian. And don’t bother learning Brazilian Portuguese – you won’t be understood here.

No, not everyone speaks English. Maybe more do in the Algrave but getting electricity, the internet, television and phone services connected, as well as gas and water can be daunting. I realized the reason my water bill in Cascais arrived with another person’s name for two years when I went to disconnect it: a huge disconnection fee was demanded! During our last exchange after two years, often ineffectively, trying to communicate with the the Portuguese-French speaking concierge at my building in my terribly basic broken French, did she reveal she spoke English!

Telephone calls with automated answering services DO NOT always offer, “For English, press 5”. Automated recordings simply ramble on in Portuguese with a gazillion choices to push buttons and hope one will eventually connect to a human being who may or may not (most likely not) speak English. Sometimes even ordering a taxi can cause this. Doctors’ appointments, general information, request for hours and or location of a store or other destination cannot be done with American ease.

Many locals say, “I don’t speak English.” But when I speak slowly and carefully, to my surprise, many communicate effectively in English! I wondered if their English teachers in schools were British, demanding exact, perfect English; or if their teachers were like one I had in Avignon teacher. She used humiliation as a form of encouragement. But many times you simply cannot communicate in English or French on the telephone. Most doctors speak English because they are educated in English. But their nurses and receptionists may not, so you will need help making appointments.


Portugal is not connected directly by trains to other European countries. Buses, yes. Airplanes, yes. But not trains.

Movies have commercials right in the middle!

Support groups for whatever ails or interests you, are available but in much smaller numbers than in the USA. Again, speaking Portuguese make these more accessible, but compared to the USA, finding such groups is time-consuming.

Buying bedding is bizarre because sheets are measured in centimeters; single beds are often slightly larger than American single beds. No inches and feet; centimeters and meters, kilos and grams (no cups and teaspoon measurements for recopies).


Sidewalks – Portugal, like most of Europe, lacks smooth concrete sidewalks. Cobblestones. Wearing high heels looks suicidal. Old people like me often fall. It’s important to constantly look at the cobblestones for survival. Everyone, including the locals, acknowledge the dangers of the cobblestones, especially during the winter rainy season when they are even more slippery.

This photo is from

Climate change means the summers are becoming hotter. Three, then four fans for me. I may even consider expensive air conditioning if summers heat keeps increasing as it has the last three years. My electricity bills will skyrocket.

Lastly, because you are American, people will expect you to be rich and thus charge you higher prices. You will ruin Portugal for Irish-Americans like myself who could never live on $24,000 a year in the States but can here in Portugal, not fearing someone will rob me on the street, at the ATM, rob my home, kill me while standing outside, etc. BUT, everyone will think I am like you – wealthy, entitled, able to afford central heating, cars, travel, high-rise condos with penthouses and indoor gyms. You are the enemy, stealing their country from them. And me. Just like native Hawaiians have been forced to relocate to Las Vegas because their homeland is too expensive for them.

Then again, you can always pay a consultant about $5,000+ to obtain a NIF, buy property, communicate at the tax office and with landlords, do other government paperwork (which is often actually free if done on your own). And hangout with other Americans and foreigners and not locals.

Yes, Americans with wealth can destroy Portugal just as AirBnB has destroyed cities around the world for local people.

Your money will always be welcomed

in Portugal,

but not you.

PS – I have purposely excluded anything positive about living in Portugal because

I don’t want you to come here!

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