In 2018 you could rent a studio apartment or one-bedroom in central Lisbon for around 600 – 800 euros. You’ll easily pay double that now, and you’ll compete like hell to get one. The reasons are plenty. In this post, I address expat living and how it’s changed in Lisbon over recent years. An increase in digital nomads and tourists plays a role in these changes too, which I’ll mention briefly.
Some Origins of the Lisbon Hype:
- Covid is over, and people are on the move again
- More people are able to work remotely now, and why not work from sunny Lisbon?
- Portugal’s D7 Visa and new Digital Nomad Visa make it pretty darn easy to relocate if you’re outside of the Schengen zone
- A huge influx of high-end home buyers from China, France, America, and other countries came in on Golden Visas until they were recently banned.
- The word is out: All the buzz from early adapters about how great Lisbon is has now reached the masses
Lisbon is a great city. From sun and surf and foodie culture to coworking spaces and sustainable startups, there’s something for everyone. The temperature is wildly agreeable. There’s art and culture, history and architecture to be admired. Portuguese people are warm and friendly. Some of them even want us here!
But alas, walk around the Time Out Market next to Cais do Sodre station and you’ll wonder if you’re in Portugal or at Disney World. Try to grab an authentic Portuguese meal in Sao Bento and you’ll find nothing but bougie brunch cafes.
Lately, when I walk around the city I feel like I’m back in San Francisco in 2010, when the tech crowd took over, pushing the Latino community out of the Mission, all the while posting incessantly about their love of tacos.
That hipster taco crowd has made its way to Lisbon, and the Chads have come with it.
My Observations of Lisbon in 2023:
- Lisbon is still great if you’re affluent or if you’re middle class (by American standards) and don’t mind working full-time remotely, still earning an American-size wage (or comparable: British, Australian, etc.).
- Target a neighborhood a little north or west of the center if you want to avoid tourist traps in your daily routine as an expat.
- Speaking from the perspective of an American, I think you need to make 50k USD annually or more to live comfortably here. I also get the general impression that the incoming remote workers to Lisbon in the last few years make much more than that.
- When I first came to Lisbon (2018), I met more of an artsy / “Let’s just get by and enjoy life” crowd (which I believe I fall into!). That seems to be shifting in favor of a more New York or LA vibe.
Things to Know if You Want to Rent an Apartment / House
- Racial discrimination is rampant – The landlord will ask for your work contract and paystubs and say their decision is based on income, but this serves as a way to weed out minorities.
- People with no children are more likely to be offered a rental (some landlords even say this directly).
- There are many, many scams to be on the lookout for. Over Facebook groups and other rental apps such as idealista.com. Be leery of anyone showing only videos (no viewings available) and asking for your payment in full upfront. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- People are overbidding. If an apartment is listed for 1,000 euros a month and dozens of people have shown interest, you’ll need to offer around 1,200 to get it.
Note: Idealista will let you see on each listing how many people have inquired. For apartments in the 1k range, it’s typically around 200. Landlords can be as choosy as they want, and will even cancel on their offer to rent to you at the last minute.
It’s not only the cost of renting that’s gone up, it’s the cost of living in general.
Expect to Pay More in Lisbon on Coworking and Eating Out
- An Aperol Spritz is costing me an average of 8 euros around the city center when it use to be a consistent 5.
- Coworking spaces fees have gone up. (Expect to pay a few hundred a month for a rotating seat and around 300 / month for a desk. Day pass – about 15 euros.
- A growing number of hipster sweet and coffee shops have replaced traditional ones in areas like Santos, Sao Bento, and Campo d’Ourique… expect to find it harder to grab a quick, cheap bite in these areas.
- Average cost of a high-quality hamburger and fries = 10 to 12 euros.
Thankfully, regular beer and wine are still pretty cheap!
Should you still move to Lisbon?
Despite the critiques in this post, Lisbon is a truly wonderful city. I’d say whether or not you chose to move here depends on what you are looking for and your budget. You won’t be able to maintain a bohemian/ backpacker life here like you could before.
For a point of comparison, you can have an array of similar amenities in Chiang Mai, Thailand, or on an island like Koh Phangan for ½ of what you pay in Lisbon at the moment. But it’s not Europe. So if Europe is what you want, over creature comforts, it’s irrelevant.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you want to live in a beautiful, sunny city in Europe?
- Do you enjoy public parks with people lounging, small concerts, and great sunset views with quality wine?
- Do you want to meet lots of interesting people from all over the world?
- Do you want to dance all night and escape to beautiful (but crowded) beaches in the summer?
- Do you want to learn Portuguese and enjoy the vibrant culture that exists not only in Lisbon but all over the country within a reasonable progression?
- Do you have a comfortable/ consistent income?
If yes, then Lisbon is still bloody swell. Hell, making that list made me remember why I went through the brutal visa process to begin with!
The downside of Lisbon for me at the moment is I just don’t want to work 30 – 40 hours per week. I think it’s too many hours for anyone to spend in front of a computer. So my personal choice is to seek an alternative with a bit lower cost of living. This enables me the privilege to work part-time on an American wage, which is why I become a digital nomad in 2013.
I’m looking at apartments and examining the cost of living in Porto now and will write more about that in my next post.
Here is the side note I promised in my intro that no longer fits neatly into my post…
Tourists, Expats, and Nomads, Oh my!
There really are these 3 distinct groups or foreigners in Lisbon, but it’s hard to pick them apart, especially if you’re Portuguese! Expats are living in Portugal permanently (even if they just arrived on a fresh visa). Digital nomads on the other hand are typically younger and spend a few months at a time in Lisbon, usually in the popular nightlife areas. Tourism is at a peak, too. These 3 forces combine to create a lot of chaos.
On the weekends, trains and metros are crammed, as are the sidewalks that lead through Bairro Alto, Baixa Chiado, and other hot spots around the city. It’s bumper-to-bumper pedestrians at times!
While these increases are great for local businesses, they are less great for Portugal people on normal Portuguese salaries who what to stay in the city or move to the city. Landlords more and more often what to rent to foreigners at inflated prices or AirBnB their homes if they are eligible. In some cases I’ve observed, they don’t claim the truth of this income on their taxes.
Don’t rush into moving to Portugal if you’re thinking about a D7 or nomad visa. Do your research first and watch/read some blogs from other expats who’ve done their homework and laid it out for you. (Here is one of my favorites.) The process alone is very expensive and time-consuming.
Questions? Please leave them in the comments.
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Thanks for the info me and a friend are talking about visiting your area.
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