Charting a couple's move from London to Portugal, tales, adventures and moving advice


Portugal’s 2013 Budget 17

Posted on October 16, 2012 by Ben Algarve

I love it in Portugal, and often say that moving abroad is the best thing we ever did. However, I’ve always been determined to ensure that my blog tells it like it is. On that basis, right now I’m pissed off, disillusioned and demotivated.

The reason? Portugal’s 2013 state budget.

Portuguese news doesn’t always make it beyond our shores, but the 2013 budget is so hardcore that high-profile news reports have appeared everywhere, from the New York Times to Al-Jazeera. Typical words used include “suffocating,” “harsh,” and “controversial.” The opposition socialists describe the budget as a “fiscal atomic bomb.”

And let’s not forget that even before this budget, Portugal had already, over the past two years, been hit with the second-largest overall tax rises of any country in the world. (For those interested, the only country with larger increases was Argentina).

Portugal -Money's too tight to mention

Portugal -Money's too tight to mention

So, what does it mean to us?

Well, for a start, we’re still smarting from the additional 3.5% extraordinary tax that we paid a couple of months ago on our income from 2011. When this was imposed, it was supposed to be a one-off. Well, that’s not how it turned out, because we now have to pay an extra 4% on everything we earn next year as well.

They’ve also increased the overall income tax rates and reduced the number of bandings in such a way as to push us into a higher bracket. Now, I’m not nearly clever enough to do the sums without a simulation from my accountant, but from a quick glace it looks like the rate we pay on most of our income could be going up by about 7.5%.

Add that on to the extra 4%, and we could be handing the government up to an additional 11.5% of what we earn in 2013.

Just imagine that for a moment. Think about what you earn and imagine getting a bill for 11.5% of it, ON TOP of the tax you already pay.

If you really want to wind me up you can tell me that “things are tough in the UK too.” But they’re not really are they? Without the UK’s generous tax-free allowance on the first £7000 of each person’s earnings, we were already paying more income tax in Portugal before any of these austerity measures.

Let’s put our personal situation in perspective. I can’t deny we are fortunate enough to be relatively high earners by Portuguese standards. It’s tasteless to go into detail, but suffice to say that between the two of us we bring in the same as several people on the Portuguese average wage. However, and this is the important bit, no more than a couple of thousand Euros annually comes from Portugal. My wife is paid by a UK based company, and I have clients everywhere from the US to Australia. But, as fiscal residents, we pay all of our tax to the Portuguese government.

They keep on taking our money!

They keep on taking our money!

If I (or indeed anyone), thought that the tax increases were going to make a blind bit of difference to the economic situation in Portugal (or the world), then I would adopt a more stoical attitude. But these increases are only estimated to bring in €3 billion.

Last year, Portugal borrowed €78 billion from the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank at an interest rate of around 5%. Well, I’m no economist but the €3 billion that comes at the cost of crippling the middle classes (and stopping them spending) isn’t really going to be much help.

Meanwhile, anyone who lives in Portugal is constantly aware of the country’s black economy, estimated to equate to 24.8% of GDP in figures going back as far as 2010. All of this “how much for cash?” business adds up to rather a lot, and in Portugal this culture is endemic.

That all seems rather unfair to a couple like my wife and I who have always felt civically and morally bound to declare and pay. Sadly, when the government has to pick a demographic of people to screw money from, those they know are honest enough to already pay tax are the easiest target. I see the government equally culpable for not doing anything about this as those who haven’t completed an honest tax return in years.

Last night, protesters surrounded parliament in Lisbon. Although the demonstration calmed before they managed to storm the building, the atmosphere was tenser than in previous austerity protests.

Protests are becoming less friendly

Protests are becoming less friendly

Protesting’s not in my nature. I see little point unless you have a better idea of what the government should do. Sadly, the lack of such an idea is what makes this situation so very depressing.

I do have a strategy, however, which alone acts as proof that the government’s plans are misguided. For a start, I’ve stopped spending, as everyone does once a siege mentality kicks in.

Once the new tax bandings are formalized, I will be asking my accountant to do some simulations – comparing our tax liability in Portugal with what it would be in other countries, and also looking at whether it would actually be worth us earning a little less to push us down the tax bandings. Given that there is social security to pay as well, we arrive at a point where we are left with so little of every extra €100 we earn, we’d be better off not doing the work and spending the time picking fruit and making jam and chutney.

I’m not the only “well off,” taxpaying expat considering this strategy either.

So, hats off to Portugal’s finance minister for creating a budget that will either cause us to deliberately earn less and adjust our standard of living, or frighten us off to another country, taking all of our tax revenue with us. Well done, indeed.

After moaning so much, it’s probably not the best time to draw your attention to my book about moving abroad to Portugal, but it’s worth a try – the royalties might help us pay our next tax bill – see below!

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

Image credits: Geograph, Photopedia

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Portugal Cost of Living Update 26

Posted on May 29, 2012 by Ben Algarve

Back in 2010, I produced a Portugal cost of living post, which has turned out to be one of the most widely read posts on the blog.

While much of the article is still relevant, some costs have changed. As cost of living questions are still very popular amongst newcomers to the expat forums, I have decided to revisit this topic – both to dispel some myths and to help those considering a move to this wonderful country.

Cost of living is about far more than the simple cost of individual items and services. One mistake many new immigrants make is to focus too much on comparing “like for like.” If you plan to move to Portugal only to eat English food, drink English drink and watch English TV, then things will get far more expensive than they need to.

Living like the locals enriches the experience of moving abroad, so you will notice that I have added some tips on where savings can be made.


An excess of empty property has pushed down accommodation costs in Portugal. As before, I won’t try to provide sample costs of property for purchase, as estate agent’s websites will give you a far better idea than I ever could.

Despite some bargain prices, unless you have a hefty deposit, the economic climate may preclude you from getting a mortgage. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing right now.

Continuing instability in the Eurozone and the chance that prices may get lower still means that renting for a while can be a good plan. For new expats, this should always be the strategy anyway – why not give yourself a chance to check that Portugal is definitely right for you before committing, and get a feel for the exact area you wish to live in?

Portugal Rental Property can be Very Affordable

Portugal Rental Property can be Very Affordable

Rents have come down a little since I produced my cost of living in Portugal article back in 2010. In our area of the East Algarve, a good two-bedroom apartment with shared pool can be found for around 400 euros per month. In more rural / less touristy Portugal, you will find options for less than this, while more urban areas will be more expensive.

1000 euros per month still puts you into “villa with a private pool” territory. Given that you can pay more than this for a poky flat in a nasty area of London, this is one of the areas where Portugal can still be considered cheap.

TIP: You REALLY need to be in Portugal to find the full selection of available rental options. In our area, almost everyone you meet knows someone who is renting apartments, and few of these ever find their way onto English language websites.


While rental property has gone down a little, our utilities are up.

Obviously, I can only guide you based on our experiences – everyone’s utility usage differs. Our costs are based on two people, year round, in an apartment with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. We work from home so are in all day, and we don’t hold back in terms of using air-conditioning or heating. We run various computers, a fridge freezer, cooker, washing machine and dishwasher. Our gas is purely for water heating and the hob. For around eight weeks of the year, there are four or more people here due to guests staying.

Utility bills in Portugal can be high

Utility bills in Portugal can be high

Our costs currently average out at:

Electricity – 80 euros per month (includes TV license).
Gas – 35 euros per month.
Water – 35 euros per month.


As part of Portugal’s austerity measures, taxes are up significantly since I last discussed the cost of living in Portugal.

In our own experience, with earnings that are mid-range for the UK but very high for Portugal, we pay significantly more income tax than we would in the UK. Across our entire income, we pay around 36%.

It’s impossible to go into much detail on taxation, as everyone’s situation is different. Some professions can take advantage of the non-habitual resident scheme and pay a flat rate of 20%. Married couples with only one worker can combine their allowances and perhaps end up better off than in their former country. The only thing I will say is that everyone needs good accountancy advice. It took us a long time to find an accountant we could rely on – so contact me if you need the details.

Social security should be mentioned here too. If you are self-employed and working on green receipts (reciebos verdes), the minimum monthly social security payment in most circumstances is around 185 euros. The size of this bill shocks some people – it doesn’t, however, kick in until you have been self-employed here for around 13 months.


It shocks our friends when we tell them that petrol in Portugal is as expensive, if not more so, than it is in the UK.

Driving in general is expensive here. Road tolls are widespread and the free roads that can be used as an alternative are no fun at all. To give you an idea of toll costs, a one-way journey from the Algarve to Lisbon costs around 19 euros in tolls, and a trip from one end of the Algarve to the other on the A22 is around 9 euros.

All this, of course, is if you have a car, and there comes the biggest shock of all.

Cars are Expensive in Portugal

Cars are Expensive in Portugal

Cars are terrifyingly expensive, and this is particularly relevant at the lower end of the market. The kind of cars that go for £500 in the back of the Autotrader will set you back up to 4000 euros here. This is offset a little by the fact that the climate means cars don’t really rust, but the concept of finding a “cheap little runner” doesn’t exist here.

Even when talking about nearly new, costs differ massively with northern Europe. Our car cost around 11500 euros – and we could probably have found the same for around £7000 in the UK – the exchange rate does NOT cancel that out!

Car tax is dependent on emissions – we only pay about 70 euros per year. However, relatives with a gas guzzling sports car almost have to place an extra zero on the end of that figure!


Portugal’s public transport system is cheap and reliable. Just like London, Lisbon is a place where car-free life is possible and arguably easier. Daily travel cards for the Lisbon area only work out at around 4 euros a day – a pleasant surprise to someone used to paying well over £10 in London.

Of course, public transport is only of use in areas it covers. Even here in the Algarve, there are places with only a very infrequent bus service. Some bus routes don’t run at all at the weekend. The Algarve’s single train route is better, but very slow from end-to-end, taking at least double the time of a road journey. In addition, many of the Algarve’s stations are nowhere near the towns they serve, landing foot passengers with a bus or cab journey at the end.

Public Transport is Inexpensive in Portugal

Public Transport is Inexpensive in Portugal

So, while Portugal has good public transport, a car is a necessary evil in many areas – making it doubly important to take notice of the motoring costs.


In terms of food and drink, there have only been small changes since I last discussed the cost of living in Portugal.

It’s still possible to live cheaply, IF you are prepared to eat “Portuguese style.” This means concentrating on pork and chicken, basic fresh salad ingredients and vegetables, in-season fish and lots of beans and rice.

Once you get into imported items, things get more expensive, though perhaps not as much so as a couple of years ago.

Supermarkets seem to be wising up to the items that expats want and things like curry pastes, Mexican ingredients and Heinz baked beans have got a little (if not much) cheaper. Of course, British expats in the Algarve also now have Iceland in Albufeira!

Some Food is Good Value in Portugal

Some Food is Good Value in Portugal

The longer you live in Portugal, the more you learn to spend less on food and drink. First off, many people here have families with land. Once you get to know people, you may find you have more free oranges, apricots and figs than you know what to do with!

You also get a feel for what to buy where. It’s possible for us to spend either 1 euro or 4 euros on the same jar of pesto within 5 miles of our front door, depending on the supermarket we choose.

It’s all about visiting the markets and getting friendly with stallholders. Finding out who to go to for clams and when the ladies come round with the huge, cheap boxes of strawberries. Portugal is a perfect place for those who can visualize that huge box of strawberries as a cake, a sorbet and a few jars of jam.

However, those who want convenience food and UK-style supermarket shopping are likely to pay heavily for the privilege and miss out on what Portugal really has to offer.

Onto drink; yes, wine is still cheap (we are currently working our way through a very drinkable red Capataz that came in a 5 litre box for just 5 euros!) Beer is cheap too, if you stick to local brews, but if you start picking up Corona and Carlsberg, it can be more expensive than in the UK. If you’re struggling to find the GOOD cheap wines, take a look at Food and Wine Portugal’s wine section.

Food and Wine Portugal

Food and Wine Portugal

A final tip: much of Portugal is very close to Spain. It’s worth getting used to the things that are cheaper or better there. We go every couple of months and come back with Mexican ingredients, Iberico ham, asparagus and good cider. International shopping can be fun.


If entertainment means eating out, then Portugal can still be a bargain, with many places still offering bargain 3 course meals and “pratos do dia.”

Of course, in the cities and the touristy parts of the Algarve, the sky’s the limit. We have Michelin-starred restaurants and beachfront bars that aren’t scared to charge €8 for a mojito, but it’s possible to have cheaper fun almost everywhere, if, of course, you have the self-discipline to stick to the cheaper restaurants and bars.

For expats, entertainment often means spending time with friends from back home, either in Portugal or in another country. Here things get expensive.

Flight costs are on the up. When we first moved to Portugal in 2009, it wasn’t unusual for my wife and I to manage to both get to London and back for under £100 off-season. Bargains like this just don’t seem to exist any more. Baggage charges and other fees have started to get daft too.

Even worse can be trips back for work or weddings, when travel dates are non-negotiable – £400 each to London and back is not unheard of.

When friends and family come to Portugal, things get expensive too. Essentially, you have to get used to being with people who are ON HOLIDAY several times per year. Wonderful though this is, people on holiday want to go to beachfront bars, eat in good restaurants and drive to see the sights.

Beach Views Sometimes come at a Price

Beach Views Sometimes come at a Price

Although people invariably pay their way, it’s impossible to avoid the fact that being “on holiday” is expensive, even if you live in the country. All expats should be aware of this.

As before, I’m going to finish off with the costs of a selection of random items:

1 Bottle of Super Bock in a supermarket – 60cents
1 Bottle of Corona in a supermarket – €1.30
Pack of 6 thin (bifana) pork steaks – €1.50
2 x fillet steaks from an English butcher – €15
1 bottle of mouthwash – €6
Paracetomol (16 pack) – €2.50
Cough Syrup – €15
6 fresh sardines from market – €1.50
Bottle of drinkable red wine (Real Lavrador) – €1.50
Bottle of rather good red wine (Monte Velho) – €3.80

Want to find out more about moving to Portugal – buy our book!

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

US Readers can find it here


If you are moving to (or from!) Portugal, you will be well advised to find an efficient way to transfer money from the UK. Like in Britain, Portuguese banks very in the exchange rates and charges applied to international payments. The difference in rates between different banks and brokers when sending money to Portugal can be up to 4%, which makes a huge difference if you are transferring a large amount across to buy a property for example.

Usually you will be best off using a currency broker for any transactions over a couple of thousand Euros. Not only will this give you access to preferential exchange rates, which can save a small fortune, but you will receive a personal service along with low (or zero) charges for your transfers. If you have a large transaction to undertake, a reputable company will also keep you informed of rate movements and help you decide when to secure your exchange rate.

You should only use UK currency companies if they are classed as “Authorised Payment Institutions” under the FSA, which ensures your funds are held in safeguarded client accounts. One such company is Currency Index, who offer some of the best exchange rates around, and are well versed in the Portuguese banking system as well as that in the UK. You can get in touch for a free consultation and quote on your own transactions, at

If you have any questions about the cost of living in Portugal, please feel free to leave a comment below, and I will get back to you.

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Cost of Living in Portugal 14

Posted on October 06, 2010 by Ben Algarve

This is the first in a series of two articles exploring the real cost of living in Portugal.

A couple of weeks ago, a reader of the blog asked me to write a post going into detail about the living costs in Portugal.

Given that the questions most frequently asked on the expat forums tend to be around the whole issue of living costs and the chances of employment and likely remuneration, I thought this was a great idea – so I have decided to write a pair of articles detailing our experiences so far. Next time, I am going to explore the employment situation.

I’m sure there will be some differences of opinion so I would emphasise that the costs of living are specific to US and WHERE we live. We are in the Algarve where prices are at their highest and things are very different in Central Portugal and the north of the country. I’m sure any readers living in what they are sure to describe as “real” Portugal will be happy to comment about any differences in costs up there, and I will be grateful for their contributions.


We rent our apartment at the moment and I would recommend this strategy to anyone moving to a new country. If we had purchased the mouldy damp disaster that was our first home in Portugal, we would still be regretting it now!

Down here in the Algarve you can get a good, modern 2-3 bedroom apartment for around 500-600 euros per month – go back ten miles or so into the hills and you could potentially

Portugal - small villa with pool

Portugal – small villa with pool

find something “rustic” to live in for 350 euros. “Rustic” could well mean too cold in winter and too hot in summer!

1000 euros plus and you start getting into detached villas with private pools – the further you go from the main tourist areas and the front-line of the beaches, the more you get for your money.

I’m not going to get into the purchase prices of property in this post – a quick internet search will tell you far more than I could.


From what I have read on forums, utility bills in Portugal can vary wildly, but here are our experiences, based on two of us in a two bedroom apartment, with guests staying around 25% of the time.

Electricity can range from 30 euros on a quiet month with just the two of us at home, to 95 euros in August with 3 guests and 3 air conditioning units running rather a lot! In Portugal the TV licence is incorporated into the electricity bill.

Mains gas is quite rare in older properties – if you have a gas stove or oven in these properties then your cost is for the bottles, which cost about 18 euros to fill each time. We have mains gas and it costs about 25 euros per month for the hob and water heating.

Water and drainage, for us, is about 35 euros per month.

My wife reliably informs me that our utilities are a fair bit less than they were in London.


Taxation in Portugal is a minefield, as it is in any country – but I can tell you what I have learned so far!

First off, if you are renting a property then there is NO council tax to pay. Having come from London’s second most expensive borough, this is a BIG saving for us. Property owners do pay an equivalent tax – my understanding is that is substantially less than the UK’s council tax – perhaps a reader can clarify.

Income tax is high here but it is balanced by the fact that married couples combine and share their allowances, and more things (such as your rent and mortgage interest) are tax deductible.

Social security is also high – if you are employed by a Portuguese company this isn’t so much of a concern but the self-employed are clobbered significantly – arguably without getting that much for their money – especially compared with the welfare free-for-all that Great Britain “benefits” from 😉


This one gets terribly contentious on the forums so I will tread carefully!

Sardines - live like the locals

Sardines – live like the locals

If you are prepared to live like a local, you REALLY CAN enjoy far smaller grocery bills living in Portugal. Fresh fish and fruit and vegetables from markets can be had for wonderfully low prices. If you stick to chicken and pork, meat is cheap too and of excellent quality.

As for wine, well, suffice to say we have a choice of red, white and pink that we love for €1.50 per bottle or less. We consider it as truly “pushing the boat out,” if we buy a €4 bottle!

When the costs can rapidly escalate is when you start to reintroduce the things you miss from home or convenience foods. Heinz Baked Beans can be €1.60 per tin. An Old El Paso Taco Dinner Kit, for when you have a craving for something Mexican, can set you back 7 EUROS…..and that ISN’T a typo!

Another thing to be aware of in Portugal is the huge price disparity between some of the supermarkets. It has taken us nearly a year to have a good idea of what to buy where, to get the best value. Of course this takes effort, and you see many expats filling their trollies with things they could get for half the price if they went to the markets or even just a different supermarket.

It all depends on the effort you want to put in and whether you are genuinely intending to live and eat like a local. A lot of people end up not doing so – which is why some people on the forums argue that food and drink is more expensive in Portugal.

We spend around €300-400 per month on groceries in Portugal, and for that we can eat like kings!


Cars themselves are SHOCKINGLY expensive, and a significant factor when you consider the costs of living in Portugal. €4000 euros here will get you the equivalent old banger that £1000 will get you at home. It is hard to give an average insurance cost, but we found this didn’t differ dramatically from the UK prices.

A couple of key differences though—here you insure the car, rather than the person driving, leaving you a lot more free to allow others to drive your vehicle. Secondly, it is near impossible to get anything other than third party insurance for any vehicle over 10 years old. Another factor to consider if you do buy that €4000 banger!

Petrol, at the time of writing around €1.40 per litre, is some of the most expensive in the world. On the bright side, car tax is much lower.

Public transport, after coming from London, is almost laughably cheap. A train trip from Tavira to Faro is a couple of euros, and an intercity journey up to Lisbon around €25.


We, along with other expats, have private health insurance. It is not an essential, but it gives peace of mind. This can cost anything from €100-€400 per month for a couple, and from what I have heard, age makes a significant difference to the cost.

One thing we love about Portugal is that the climate and setting means the things we love doing – walking on the beach, swimming etc. cost us nothing.

Those seeking the kind of entertainments that are popular in the UK – cinema, bowling etc. will find pretty low prices – around €5 for a cinema ticket.

Much the same as the shopping, entertainment all depends on the leg-work you are prepared to put in. There was recently an offer in our local shopping centre which gave you a full meal with wine at a choice of eateries and a cinema ticket for just 8 euros each.

Similarly, if you shop around, rustic local restaurants, often offering far better food than their expensive, touristy counterparts, offer fixed price meals at laughably low prices. A place near to us does a three course meal including coffee and a jug of wine for 7 euros per person!

None of this means you don’t frequently end up in touristy areas, especially when friends are visiting, being rinsed for 6 euros at a time for poor quality cocktails! Living in Portugal on the cheap is very much dependant on common sense and self-discipline – and I’m still a sucker for an overpriced caipirinha somewhere with a sea view!

That brings me onto another important expense – those frequent friend and family visits. Although visitors almost always pay their way, the fact is the endless weeks of sharing peoples

Visits home are expensive

Visits home are expensive

holidays DO cost a LOT more than being at home on your own. Rounds of drinks, filling up the wine rack, airport runs, boat trips…..I could go on. Having visitors is wonderful, but it’s not cheap.

Just the same: trips back to the UK….flights, hotels, trains, all of those restaurant meals you have in order to catch up with people you haven’t seen for ages, trips to the supermarket to stock up on products you can’t get in Portugal. I have yet to go back to England for a few days without spending twice what I planned. It’s just the way it is.

I’m going to finish off with the actual costs of a few random items – some of which may surprise those who don’t live here, just to give a bit more of a taster of the cost of living in Portugal.

If you wish to ask any more details, or find the costs differ a lot in your part of Portugal, please leave a comment.

A bottle of beer in a local bar – €0.80
A bottle of beer in a tourist beachfront bar – €2
6 x fresh sardines from the market – €1.50
A kilo of frozen raw jumbo prawns – €8
A bottle of mouthwash – €6
A bottle of brand name shower gel – €4
A plate of clams – €10

Part two of this short series of articles can be found here at Finding work in Portugal

If you are serious about a move to Portugal, you really should invest in our essential book, and not just because my wife and I wrote it!

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

Find it here if you are in the US or Canada.

Also, check out my own Portugal Web Directory for a host of useful web links.

Image credits: Joaoa WexDub

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