Living in Lisbon: The Ultimate Expat Guide

Living in Lisbon: The Ultimate Expat Guide

Updated: January 2024

 

If you have the travel fever and are itching to move abroad, Lisbon is a very attractive city for relocation. To make sure you are prepared for such an exciting step, we have prepared the Ultimate Guide for Lisbon's Expats. Forewarned is forearmed, right?

 

Before setting out, you probably want to know more about the local job market, the working conditions, the living standards, the city’s unique culture and character, as well as its best spots and insights. That's right! All this information about the capital of Portugal can be found in this all-you-need-to-know city guide.

 

Is it your dream to live in Lisbon? If so, let's dive right in!

 

  1. Professional Life: Finding a Job in Lisbon
  2. Living in Portugal: Accommodation in Lisbon
  3. Best Ways to Get Around Lisbon
  4. Lisbon Culture and Language
  5. City Life: The Best Entertainment in Lisbon
  6. Cost of Living in Lisbon 

 

Professional Life: Finding a Job in Lisbon

 

When it comes to relocating to a new city or country, the first thought that springs to mind is usually work-related. Either you will need to turn your current position into a remote role, or you will need to search for a new job altogether.

 

So, to immerse yourself in the foreign job-hunting process before moving to Lisbon, it will be handy to have an overview of the local job market and work culture. You might be wondering how to kick off your career, what the most in-demand languages in Portugal are, which qualities are most sought after in expats by local and international companies, or how to blend seamlessly in the local business environment.

 

Let's answer these important questions... 

 

Necessary Paperwork 

 

Anyone interested in moving to Lisbon for work must provide the following documents to obtain a work permit:

 

● A valid Portuguese residence visa

● Proof of accommodation in Portugal

● A valid passport

● Two ID photos

● Tax forms

● Background checks for criminal record

● A valid employment contract

● Proof of registration with Social Security

 

 

Most Popular Jobs 

 

Speaking Portuguese is obviously advantageous when looking for a job, but it is swiftly becoming easier to find English-speaking roles as many companies are opting to cultivate more international teams. Even though English and Portuguese are most commonly required, German and Nordic language speakers are also highly valued. Since the Customer Service sector in Portugal is growing rapidly, your language skills are your biggest strength. Whatever your mother tongue may be, the chances are that you would be an asset in the international teams of many companies. 

 

If you are an IT specialist, you won't struggle to encounter opportunities, either. It is no surprise that there are so many opportunities in Lisbon's highly developed tourism sector as the city represents one of the most popular destinations in Europe. Check out Europe Language Jobs’ offers in Lisbon to get an even better insight into the city’s most in-demand jobs and offers available. Jobs in Lisbon is another reliable resource when seeking employment.

 

 

Work Culture

 

The first distinctive feature of work-life in Portugal is the lenient approach to punctuality. It is often excusable if you arrive late to the office. In fact, according to Business Culture, it is sometimes even admirable to be a tardy employee and showcase your laid-back lifestyle. You can even expect to be given a gift from your employer once in a while as it represents an incentive to keep up the good work or simply an act of appreciation. In the same way, employees can treat their mentors with a little present as a gesture of gratitude or respect. We know what you're thinking - no, don't worry, no one will construe it as an attempt at bribery.

 

If you wonder how you should dress for a Lisbon office, you should follow a rather formal dress code. Loud or revealing clothes are naturally out of the question as Portuguese people treat work as a noble social event. Even if you are very eager to show off your trendy garments in front of your colleagues, you should play it safe and dress sharp and smart.

 

 

Popular good schools 

 

If you plan on living in Portugal and are moving with your family, you might be interested in education in Lisbon for your children aside from work. Below, you can find a good schools guide listing the best international schools in the city:

 

1. British School of Lisbon

2. Carlucci American International School of Lisbon

3. International Preparatory School

4. Greene's Tutorial College

5. St. Julian's School

 

 

Living in Portugal: Accommodation in Lisbon

 

Spread across seven hills on the seaside, Lisbon’s 12 districts offer a little something for anyone. 

 

Regardless of whether you’d like to live in a fashionable & modern residential neighbourhood such as Príncipe Real, or one with a soul of its own and extensive history, like Graça, Lisbon is certainly going to immediately make you feel at home. 

 

With an average rental price for a furnished apartment starting at €1100, the cost of renting in Lisbon is considered average for a European capital. The city offers a wide choice of mid-to-long-term rental properties available throughout the neighborhoods, the vast majority of which require a one-month deposit.

 

In case students do not get into one of the university dormitories, the best option for them would be renting a room in a shared apartment or a house. With an average cost of €500, such rooms provide the opportunity to meet people from other cultures and broaden your horizons. 

 

AIRBNB and SPOTAHOME are the best options if you plan to first secure short-term housing in Lisbon while looking for a more long-term abode. Olx.pt and Idealista.pt are useful sites to find landlords and apartments to rent on a contract. Facebook groups are not to be underestimated - try joining groups for accommodation in Lisbon and scroll through the posts to spot offers that are often cheaper than elsewhere. The Imovirtual app is also increasingly popular among the locals. 

 

As with every city, rent differs based on many factors such as location, size, condition, and so on... but in Lisbon, you will definitely get more for money than across the rest of Western Europe.

 

Best Ways to Get Around Lisbon

 

The Trams

 

If you have previously visited Lisbon or simply stumbled across some travel photos of Portugal’s capital, it is certain that the cute yellow old-school trams driving around Lisbon city center will have caught your attention. These trams are not only your best way around the city but also one of the main tourist attractions. The vintage trams are emblematic of the city so you can't leave without snapping a couple of Instagram-worthy pics. 

 

There are five different routes to follow onboard the trams, the most famous being the one by the Nostalgic Tram Nº 28, the most photogenic of them all. 

 

Tram Nº 15 is the busiest carriage since it connects the city centre with the southwesternmost district - Belém - where many of the city's monuments are located. Taking a ride on this route is not so much of an authentic experience since the tram has been recently renovated and is always packed.

 

A single ride on a tram will cost you €3 if you buy the ticket on board. You can save by getting the support card and purchasing tickets in advance for €1.80. The prices for occasional journeys are to be found here. There are different options, tariffs, and discounts for frequent travellers too. Find the best fares through the public transport provider Carris

 

 

Buses

Buses are an essential part of Lisbon’s public transport system. Taking a bus is an affordable and convenient way to travel from the airport to the city or whizz off to catch a flight for the price of approximately 4 euros. Any city destination is reachable with the bus services and once you get your Lisboa Viva Viagem card, you are set to get about like a local. 

 

Metro

Four metro lines run across Lisbon. The metro is the fastest transport the city has to offer, but it is worth knowing that there are few intersections between the lines. Tourists usually use alternative means of transport as the metro does not connect with the most touristic areas but, for residents, it’s the way to get to work quickly. 

 

The Moovit app is helping the locals - and especially the newcomers - find their way around the city using the public transport or their own legs. 

 

Networking

 

In order to adapt to the pace of the Portuguese lifestyle, you might want to join some expat organizations and groups. You can check out various expat websites and mobile applications to communicate with people of the same nationality or other internationals. It is always a good idea to join some Facebook groups.

 

It’s a great way to get some opinions and recommendations from others' first-hand experience on living in Lisbon, and to keep up with events. Online communities are usually a good bet as there is a high level of engagement and people respond quickly. 

 

Here are some other local platforms to help you kick off your social life in Lisbon: 

 

●  Expats & Locals

Ideal place for both expats and locals who want to meet up and practice their languages 

●  Ladies Expats Lisbon

A convivial platform where you can ask for specific advice from other female expats in Lisbon

●  Lisbon Expats Accommodation

A useful community when looking for a flat, or getting to know local renting rates and more.

 

Other websites to meet new people:

 

Culture and Language in Lisbon

 

The Portuguese are chatty people, so let's first take a look at...

 

 

Language

 

          Difficulties and How to Approach Them

 

Portuguese is not the easiest language to learn. It undoubtedly has a resemblance to Spanish but, although the Portuguese and the Spaniards tend to understand each other well, Portuguese is definitely a language in its own right. The pronunciation might be challenging for foreign speakers at first but people appreciate you trying. The key is to practice the language actively, so that's just an excuse to socialise!

 

 

Schools or Useful Apps

 

In fact, there are plenty of tools for language enthusiasts. As Lisbon is jam-packed with foreigners from around the world, you can rest assured that you will not be the only novice in Portuguese. Luckily, there are a lot of schools waiting for you if you want to follow an intense professional course.

 

If you prefer to go at your own pace, the majority of conversation groups and apps are free of charge. The most popular chatrooms and language learning apps are Duolingo, Fluentu, SoundHound, Tandem, Italki, and Gymglish. Use your mobile phone to pick up Portuguese fast and effectively.

 

 

Useful Phrases

 

As a beginner you definitely know or, at least, have heard of Olá (Hello) or Adeus (Goodbye), but what are some other useful phrases you will need for the start? Let’s have a look: 

 

  • Tudo bem? - How are you?
  • Com licença - Excuse me
  • Obrigada (if you are a woman) / Obrigado (If you are a man) - Thank you
  • Muito prazer - Nice to meet you
  • Meu nome é … . -  My name is … .
  • Gostaria de uma cerveja - I would like a beer, please 
  • Boa tarde - Good afternoon

 

 

LGBTQ+ Community

 

Portugal is a very progressive country - same-sex marriages were legalised there in 2010. What's more, just 6 years later, the law allowing same-sex couples to adopt children was passed. In 2011, the Law of Gender Identity simplified the process of sex and name changes for transgender people.

 

It's no wonder, then, that the liberal legislation is supported by the local people. They're very open-minded and welcoming to representatives of the LGBTQ+ community. The Lisboa Pride is the biggest queer event in Portugal and attracts thousands of visitors every year. 

 

While the Portuguese may be reluctant to come out of the closet, you definitely don't have to worry about acts of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or identity. 

 

 

Social Events and Holidays

 

Many popular celebrations have their roots in European history, so in the holiday list, you should expect to see many religious events such as Corpus Christi, Saint John’s Day, Nativity of Mary, All Saints’ Day. Typical holidays like New Year’s Day, National Day, and Christmas Day are also celebrated. Mark these important dates on your calendar as many public services will not be operating or will have reduced working hours. 

 

Just like in most places, a total of 2 weeks throughout the year are listed as public holidays.

 

 

City Life: The Best Entertainment in Lisbon

 

For the most comprehensive guide of best things to do in the capital of Portugal, check out the list of 205 things to do in Lisbon by Mike from Lisbon Travel Ideas! 

 

 

Where to Eat

 

According to TheHattedTraveller, food in Lisbon stands out for both its great taste and quality. The typical Mediterranean seafood cuisine never fails to appease: it is fresh, affordable, and delicious. 

 

Food has a special place in the heart of every Portuguese person, so the dishes you will try in the numerous restaurants and street markets around Lisbon will amaze you with their flavour and portion size. Let’s make a list of the typical Portuguese dishes to hunt down on local menus:

 

  • Cataplana de marisco: a main course seafood meal cooked on a special pan with everyone's all-time favourite ingredients of onions, garlic, tomato, wine, and a selection of prawns and clams. 
  • Sardinhas assadas: a simple and yummy classic Portuguese recipe of grilled sardines. This is a common festival food in Portugal. 
  • Caldo verde: a soup made of cabbage, very typical for Portugal. The name comes from the colour of the soup - green - and is a very healthy option for the wintertime. 
  • Pastel del nata: perhaps the country's most iconic dessert, the pastry is really something to try. You will find offered almost everywhere, with everyone claiming theirs is the best. Competition for the best pastel de nata in Lisbon is fierce. 
  • Bifanas: Portuguese sandwiches. There are plenty of variations and they are a great easy snap to gobble down whilst exploring every inch of the city.
  •  

If you are a real foodie, the Time Out Market is a must-visit location with the best local dishes. Here are some other recommendations to enjoy Portuguese food at its finest: Augusto LisboaFloresta Das EscadinhasFrade dos Mares.

 

To order food, use GLOVO, Come em Casa, or Takeaway. Too Good to Go is also very popular in Portugal, and many food spots are taking part in this great initiative of saving meals for a lower price! 

 

 

 

While speaking of amazing places to eat, there are areas in Lisbon you must stop by!

 

Alfama

 

Alfama is Lisbon's oldest neighbourhood. Therefore, there you'll find incredible & traditional places to eat and drink, such as Alfama63, Parreirinha de Alfama, Tabela Moderna, and Tejo Bar. Make sure to pay a visit and taste history.

 

 

Nightlife

 

Lisbon is definitely a city awake until the early hours of the morning. The tourists blend in with the locals, and the city’s bars, pubs, and clubs are packed all year long. 

 

The three nightlife areas in Lisbon are Bairro Alto, with many underground bars and street drinking locations, Parque das Nações, with themed bars, and Santo Amaro Docks, with waterfront party locations. Other trendy places include Sabotage ClubMusicBoxIncógnito, and Lux/Frágil.

 

If you would like a more sensual experience, try wine tasting:

 

  • The "Douro Valley Small-Group Tour with Wine Tasting" is a wonderful experience to explore nature and meet the winemakers
  • "2 Hour Lisbon Sunset and Wine Sailing Tour" is a nice opportunity to watch the dusk fall with the bottle of mouth-watering wine in hand 
  • Wasted on the West Coast is a unique chance to discover epic beaches in the company of other frequent drinkers.

 

 

Outdoor Activities 

 

Near Lisbon, there are plenty of beaches to visit for a day trip or even a weekend getaway. The best part is that there is a long list of places that can be reached via Lisbon's public transport. Here are some of the best beaches nearby to enjoy a day under the sun:

 

  • Praia de Carcavelos (40 min by train)
  • Praia Sao Pedro (40 min by train)
  • Praia da Conceição, Cascais (45 min by train)
  • Praia de Santo Amaro de Oeiras (20 min by train)
  • Praia do Tamariz, Estoril (40 min by train)
  • Costa da Caparica (30 min by bus)

 

If you have a car available, a little further from Lisbon you can find stunning beaches like:

 

  • Praia do Creiro (48 km)
  • Praia do Guincho (32 km)
  • Praia da Ursa (44 km)
  • Praia das Maçãs (43 km)
  • Praia Tróia-Mar and the Tróia Peninsula (55 km + ferry ride)
  • Lagoa de Albufeira (41 km)

 

 

As Lisbon is surrounded by four different coastlines, there is definitely something for everyone's preference. Some beaches attract surfers and watersport lovers with good wind conditions; others are ideal seaside locations for families with youngsters who wish for calmer waters and charming resort towns.  


Moreover, mountaineers can enjoy plenty of hikes and walking trails just 25 km away from Lisbon where the beautiful Sintra mountains lay. 
 

 

Belém Tower

 

Apart from all of those beautiful beaches, let me tell you one place you must visit, yes or yes. This place is called Belém TowerIt is a national monument and symbol of Lisbon. This goes to say that you haven't been to Lisbon if you haven't seen Torre de Belém. 

 

 

Sports

 

Whether you prefer going for a jog or hiking trails, you will have plenty of options for outdoor activities and sports in Lisbon. 


Although Lisbon’s hills might be just enough to keep you in good shape, if you want a proper workout, there are fitness centres with good-value membership options in every area of the city. Here are some recommendations for gyms:

  • Fitness Hut - one of the most popular choices for a gym with centres in various locations throughout the city.

 

Unsurprisingly, football is big in Portugal too, so if you are also a fan, you will have no trouble finding a company to go play a match.  

 

 

Shopping

 

The next thing you will need to know when moving to Lisbon is the shopping mall chains. The most affordable and accessible shopping centres in Portugal are Pingo Doce, Leroy Merlin, and Casa. For food shopping and DIY things, you will want to browse the first two shops, whereas Casa stands out more for homeware. 

 

 

Museums, Theatres, Galleries

 

Lisbon offers a great deal of cultural gems like modern galleries, and classical or contemporary theatres and museums.

 

Museums:

  •  Museu Nacional do Azulejo
  •  Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga
  •  Museu Coleção Berardo

 

Galleries:

  • Lisboa Story Centre
  • The Calçada da Glória
  • Ciência Viva-Agência Nacional 

 

Theatres:

  • Teatro Nacional Dona Maria II
  • Teatro da Garagem
  • Teatro Nacional de São Carlos

 

An indispensable part of Portuguese culture is music, of course. A typically Portuguese genre would be Fado: a unique melancholic style of singing that will put you into a trance as you enjoy a glass of wine in a Fado bar. Take a look at where to enjoy them here.

 

 

Cost of Living in Lisbon

 

Lisbon is among the most affordable big cities in Western Europe, allowing you to live comfortably without splashing the cash. Moreover, all the best things about Lisbon will not even cost you a cent: the friendly people, laid-back lifestyle, amazing weather, and lovely beaches.

 

 

Food and Groceries

 

Just like for the rest of the expenses, food and groceries will take a smaller bit of your monthly budget than perhaps currently. 

 

You will see a lot of the following supermarket chains:

 

  • Continente - this is the largest retail store in Portugal 

  • Minipreco - a discount supermarket chain

  • Pingo Doce - great price-quality ratio supermarket

  • Lidl 

 

Here is our estimation of what weekly shopping for one will cost you: 

 

 

Taxes

 

As a resident of Portugal, you are obliged to pay a worldwide income tax, while non-residents are charged tax on what they earn only in Portugal at a flat 20% income tax rate. However, we advise you to file your taxes with a professional. You definitely don't want to mess up with the government when it comes to money, and filling something incorrectly can cost you a lot more than paying for professional services.

 

 

Medical Care

 

The good news is that the healthcare system in Portugal is free. So take care, but also don't fret about suffering huge medical costs while living in Lisbon. Although you will be asked to pay for certain appointments or visits to private clinics, in general, everything is very low-cost. The system will cover you in Portugal but you should investigate where you are not covered. A private health insurance plan will cover you for any travel outside of Portugal and even when you return "home" for a trip or to receive medical treatment.

 

As an alternative, you may also consider investing in international health insurance. It's a good option for expats, as you're additionally protected anywhere you go. 

 

All in all, Lisbon is a simply wonderful place to live: a perfect combination of sun-kissed soil, warm people, and inexpensive necessities. With its vibrant way of life and numerous opportunities for professional realisation, it is no wonder that this city is so ideal for expatriates. So, tell us, now you know the key ins and outs of this beautiful city, how do you envision your life there? Would you like to live in Lisbon? What's the best thing in your experience? 

 

 

Films and books set in Lisbon

 

What a better way to discover the city than by watching films and reading books set there? Have a look at our suggestions:

 

Movies

  • Night Train to Lisbon (2013)

The film is based on the Swiss philosophical novel by the same name. It is about a Swiss professor who, after crossing paths with an unknown young Portuguese woman and saving her life, embarks unexpectedly on a train trip to Lisbon from Switzerland to meet the writer Amadeu, the author of a text that the young woman he'd saved tells him about.

In the film, different streets of the city appear on a journey that the protagonist undertakes between the present and the past, illustrating a love story during the Salazar dictatorship.

 

  • Lisbon Story (1994)

In this film directed by Wim Wenders, the protagonist of the story receives an invitation from a film director to go to Lisbon and record different sounds of the city. However, when he arrives, the sender of the invitation is nowhere to be found.

 

  • Mysteries of Lisbon (2010)

It is a film directed by the Chilean Raul Ruiz and set in the 19th century, that tells different stories of very diverse characters (aristocrats, counts, businessmen) who are somehow connected to Pedro da Silva, an orphan in search of his identity. The story is full of duels, romances, and betrayals, and all of these plotlines take us from Portugal to France, Italy, and Brazil. 

 

  • The Boys From Brazil (1978)

Franklin J. Schaffner's thriller, based on Ira Levi's book on human cloning, nominated for three Oscars. In the plot, a man follows the clues about a group of Nazi refugees in Paraguay. He participates in one of their meetings where they talk about a plan to establish a Fourth Reich. In this plan, it is necessary to kill 94 people from various countries of the world within two and a half years.

The film was shot in different countries but in Portugal, it was recorded in a charming hotel in Avenida da Liberdade.

 

Books

 

  • The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

A book written in prose that contains different fragments of texts written by Pessoa, some published during his lifetime, and others drafts. It is a diary that he has composed throughout his life of philosophical confessions that invite any type of reader to think and reflect on different aspects of their lives.

 

  • Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi

This historical novel by the Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi is set in Lisbon in 1938 during the Salazar dictatorship. It tells the story of a journalist who is asked to take on the page of a newspaper in Lisbon and hires a collaborator who will not only help him, but will transform his life. A reflection of the past and its influence on the present and the future.

 

  • Winter in Lisbon by Antonio Muñoz Molina

The book is about the love story between a jazz pianist and a married woman. The affair is discovered by her husband who starts to persecute them. In addition to Lisbon, it is also set in Madrid and San Sebastián (Spain). The story is a tribute to film noir and jazz music.

 

  • The Maias by Eça de Queiroz

The book shows the customs of the bourgeois class in Lisbon recounted in three generations of the Maia family and focusing on the young doctor Carlos da Maia and his love story with the girlfriend of a Brazilian merchant. The characters in the book do not lack psychological depth and they illustrate the Portuguese culture of the time.

 

  • A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson

Set in the late 1990s, detective Ze Coelho investigates the brutal death of Catarina Oliveira, daughter of an important lawyer. As he investigates the sexual past of the young woman, her artist and drug addict friends, and her suicidal mother; he also encounters injustices from the old fascist regime that have left their scars on the Lisbon society.

 

Lisbon Playlist

Feeling the sunny, marine vibe yet? Cook up your preferred Portuguese dish and play the special Lisbon playlist we have created just for you!

 

Author’s Bio 

Nancy P. Howard has been working as a writing expert at Online Writers Rating for a year. She is also a professional writer on topics such as blogging, IT, and marketing. She loves travelling and photography and is always open to meeting new people.