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Why are Americans Moving to Portugal?

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

“By 2022, nearly 10,000 American citizens were living in Portugal, up a stunning 239% from 2017, according to data provided by the Portuguese government.”

Blog | Part 1 | 22.03.2023

The New York Times has partly answered the question with its article published the 19.03.2023, featuring a Millennial couple “Ben and Megan Mitas photographed at the park with their children in Campo de Ourique, Lisbon.”

“The Mitas family is part of an influx of Americans moving to European countries.”

But can we stop talking about money for a second?

Chilling in the sunshine at Cafe Janis @cafejanis R. Moeda 1A, 1200-109 Lisboa

Portugal is an incredibly safe country with the blessing of sunshine 300 days a year, an extremely welcoming people fluent in English, with lately an influx of an international vibrant community attracted by its advances in technology, biotechnology and coming in from many parts of the world.

Since we are all mostly from abroad and living in Lisbon, we do witness and experience the country’s momentum firsthand. Lisbon is today one of the coolest places to be, which for some of us who have lived in Paris, New York, London, Los Angeles, Sydney, Tel Aviv or Venice, Italy, know about city momentum.

It is obvious that now, London, San Francisco and New York aren’t the best place to live in. Absurd prices in these cities do no longer match a pleasurable lifestyle for large subsets of the population. But again, there is so much more than the equation: “money”:

Portugal is safe, welcoming, politically stable, with affordable healthcare, rich in history, European romantic, innovative and speaks English. The country ticks all these boxes which is why the latest immigration in 2022, finds a fair lifestyle where they have lost it or lost hope elsewhere.

According to SEF [the Official Immigration and Border Service], the eight first countries representing the largest immigrant population in Portugal in 2022 are:

1. Brazil (233,138)

2. United Kingdom (36,639)

3. Cape Verde (35,744)

4. India (34,232)

5. Italy (33,707)

6. Angola (30,417)

7. France (27,614)

8. Ukraine (26,898)

Figures and citizenship highlight and cross-reference three main factors in choosing the country: ease of language / financial opportunities / escaping strategies. Most of the citizens of these countries either have escaped a conflict, the consequences of populist politics or paralyzed economic reforms. Others like Cape Verde and Angola, both ex-Portuguese colonies, are looking for economic growth in a country that speaks their language and is a soft point of entrance to Europe.

Why is Portugal to new Eldorado?

In Europe, the French were the first to jump on Portugal’s soft taxes for who was seeking fiscal advantages under the sun without compromising on elegant period apartments nor international schools. The British came next, massively escaping the economic disarray predictable and now officially a disaster, following the Brexit vote in 2016.

If Brazil has massively moved to Europe in the aftermaths of populist politics and increasing insecurity, it is for most parts, people who had the assets to move and might have lost hope in the country. Journalist Oliver Stuenkel wrote from Sao Paulo in August 2022 in Americas Quarterly:

“At a recent dinner party in São Paulo, a friend who is an executive at a technology company mentioned that he and his wife are planning to move to Lisbon. “The public schools in Portugal are great, it’s totally safe, and I can get almost all my work done remotely,” he said …/… Indeed, the possibility of working remotely has spurred a debate about leaving Brazil among a growing number of Brazilian executives and entrepreneurs. In 2021, a staggering 17% of Brazilians who travelled abroad did not return, a record high.”

Another factor is the incredible facility to work remotely in a country that has been often [and wrongly so] associated to California. Yes, its climate is wonderful, and its golden hours and pink skies might remind us of Los Angeles or New York’s Indian Summer, but under those similar skies everything else differs.

Lisbon and Porto are cities that do not require a car for a start.

Everything is either at walking distance through the most charming and historically preserved streets where everyone walks as well. If you need a push, you’ll be granted a variety of private and public commuting device from Lime or Uber scooters to the mythical Tram 28, trains and buses that are absolutely peanuts a ride, safe, comfortable, and silent. The only shaky and noisy wagon is the tram 28, but what a laugh and a view each time!

Lisbon and Porto are no longer cheap in rent, but we must remember that nothing compares to the absurdly high rents in the extended Silicon Valley or New York. Zumper, a rental agency targeting Millennials in San Francisco, puts an updated number to it: “As of March 2023, the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, CA is $3,000. This is a 3% increase compared to the previous year. And a bargain compared to the rents in 2016.” Source

The neighbourhood of São Bento | Principe Real in golden lights

This is why the New York Times Millennial couple Mitas has landed in Lisbon. Because that sum of money gave them access to a 100+ square meters 3-bedroom apartment in one of the chicest parts of town, Campo Ourique, where the French have landed a decade ago and even have set up their own French school.

“The Fine Arts School Pedro Serrenho, in partnership with Off Limits CrossFit, created a special program for the students at the French High School Charles Lepierre - Lisbon. Wednesdays with Fine Arts, English and Sports activities that aim to stimulate creativity and communication, promote the spirit of mutual help, respect and overcoming.” Source

Security comes first...

Now ask any Brazilians why they are here, and the first answer is always security. The second varies. Some love to travel within Europe across many cultures since Brazil is so big; others aim for the Portuguese passport [four years] with a working contract, to live anywhere in Europe later.

But safety always comes first.

Not only are you safe everywhere in Portugal, its towns and countryside, but imagine being safe day and night, strolling across town with your kids and forgetting that you’ve walk for so long despite the pavements! That will make you wonder each time why you’ve spent so much for these two cars you needed in the US.

Culture and we should say cultures are another big factor. With already a major international community in Lisbon, Cascais, the Algarve and Porto for years, international school options offer plethora of choices and are massively cheaper than in the US. The 10 best in Lisbon have been ranked by International Schools Database, here.

And there is something else...

South Europe –as in Italy, South of France, Greece and Spain, might have equivalent Southern lights and climate appeal for tourism and remote workers but somehow Portugal with its early embrace of start-up entrepreneurship, the impact of the international Web Summit hosted in Lisbon until 2028, and a clear advance in biotechnology, set the country apart and brings in the pioneers, the pathfinders, the innovators, the scientists and the start-up experts. And since the American spirit has always been about pushing borders geographically and in knowledge, an appeal in this field, will bring more brains in this year.

Take Portugal’s advance in biotechnology for instance. It hasn’t just happened over night. In fact, “72 biotechnology start-ups had been created since 1989 and, despite all the risks involved, 68 remained active by the end of 2015,” according to a study performed in 2016 by Portugal Ventures, a public venture capital company. The number of small companies in the health and biotechnology area in Portugal more than doubled between 2009 and 2014.

Aside from technology, is the growing movement of entrepreneurial Millennials embracing nature, permaculture, tiny housing complexes, surfing business strategy with consideration for the ocean, climate-change consciousness, and well-being-oriented business.

A great number of innovative lifestyle experiments everywhere where land is accessible. That certainly is true in sun-drenched rural Alentejo, a region with its white and blue distinctive houses, majestic stretches of beaches, national parks and UNESCO classified towns. Let’s listen to ‘Startup Portugal’s’ executive director António Dias Martins, who shared these words ahead of the Web Summit 2022, on:

Why is Portugal such a ‘successful global start-up hub?

“Several factors have contributed to Portugal being one of the most relevant entrepreneurship hubs in the world. One of the earliest factors was the government’s strategy to set entrepreneurship and innovation as a priority for the Portuguese economy. By doing so, alongside a concerted approach from different public and private players, we’ve created the conditions for any entrepreneur to thrive in Portugal.

The excellent quality of life has also played a part.

This is the sixth most peaceful country in the world, and we’re open to different cultures. Portugal is rated as one of the friendliest countries for expats by Expat Insider and, on the top 10 destinations for digital nomads.

Fewer countries in the world offer greater quality of life within such a mature ecosystem, with excellent infrastructure – 11th, globally, in fibre optic connectivity – and community growth. Access to mechanisms such as Startup Visa or Tech Visa make it easier to attract talent, and consequently lead to the growth of tech companies and startups in Portugal.

Portugal is geographically the closest to the USA in mainland Europe, is historically connected to China, and is in the same time zone as London. Lisbon, Porto, and Faro airports have more than 320,000 international flights every year connecting to the world’s major hubs.” Source

The fluidity of language is another evidence of the country’s appeal.

Walk around in Lisbon, people speak fluent English, either because they too have settled here with an international profile, or because Portuguese on the contrary of many European citizens –still today, have always been fluent in English and often also in French and Spanish. If Portuguese ex-colonies have a language advantage in the country – Portuguese is the fifth most-spoken language in the world with 260 million speakers, Portugal is fluent in English pretty much everywhere, on the contrary of many other European countries.

According to the EF English Proficiency Index, Portugal ranks 7th out of a total of 112 tested countries.

So, language was never really a barrier in Portuguese cities and might explain the early tech embrace even though at the time the cheap wages were mostly advanced in the reason of the tech hub.

The wind is blowing in the country and on its shores. Just yesterday, the government announced Portugal’s unemployment rate to have dropped. Who would wonder in Lisbon, where any hospitality venue is telling you about their shortage of staff. And when most hotels are at 80% occupation for April, one isn’t worried about people finding jobs. Source.

Americans come in and don’t leave. The number of Americans in the country will increase this year. Enough talking to the people in accommodation and hospitality, in Cascais’s American cluster and elsewhere to double guess the statistics.

For Americans –simultaneously pragmatic, efficient, forward thinkers and under the charm of European sun and its languor, Portugal is an irresistible gem with an affordable bill in pretty much everything.

There is only one thing to keep in mind. It’s no longer a well-kept secret.

Jardim da Estrela in São Bento | Principe Real in golden lights

Come in for a visit! There is the smooth pace of the American West Coast with crisp and dry mornings in Winter that carry some altitude, but you will never be cold. If you come in, you will physically feel a country on wheels with flair and style, welcoming its new international make up with agile transformations, renovations, and innovations.

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