Quality of life in Portugal: how the locals live WithPortugal
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Quality of life in Portugal: how the locals live

Before choosing a suitable country to get permanent residency, we want to know about its quality of life and how the locals assess the standard of living in their homeland. We have previously told our readers about the cost of living in Portugal. In this article, we decided to discuss aspects that directly affect the quality of life of the Portuguese population, that is, their society, health care, education, safety, ecology, and much more. Many immigrants decide to move to a particular country for several of the above reasons.

Quite often, but mistakenly, Portugal is considered an emerging country that lags far behind many other European Union (EU) countries.


Portugal is a developed European country with a reasonably high Human Development Index (a composite measure of the level of human development in a country, very often also called the standard of living index or the quality of life index), namely 0.864. In other words, Portugal ranks 38th out of 189 countries analyzed by the United Nations (UN) in 2020. Contrary to what most locals and permanent immigrants think, the country has undergone significant economic development since joining the EU, accompanied by a profound economic transformation. Portugal's economy is very diversified, based on the private initiative of well-structured companies, from large multinationals to small private institutions. In 1986, when Portugal became a full member of the EU, its average per capita income (GDP per capita) was $3,861. Sixteen years later, when Portugal's monetary unit, the Portuguese escudo, was replaced by the euro in 2002, GDP per capita was $12,936. However, despite such significant economic indicators, Portugal's economy was characterized by economic stagnation and a high level of unemployment among the local population.

The global economic crisis, or the great recession that began in 2007 in the U.S. due to problems with housing loans, the consequences of which quickly reached the world market, hit Portugal significantly in the field of exports and housing loans. Portugal's national financial system was severely shaken and received its first coordinated bailout from the EU in November 2008, which helped the country survive the global economic tipping point. In 2008-2009, the GDP per capita in Portugal, in contrast to many other European countries, was still high - $24,942 in 2008 and $23,151 in 2009. In the next ten years, the country's economy embarked on a path of recovery and growth. Today, Portugal's economic growth is considered the highest among other EU countries, with a GDP per capita of $24,262.


Forecasts from the European Commission point to a 6.5% growth of the Portuguese economy in 2022. By contrast, Spain is growing at 4%, France at 2.4%, and Germany at 1.4%. If you are interested in learning more about the country's economics, see our article on The financial situation of Portugal in 2022, which clearly and in great detail helps understand the most critical aspects of the Portuguese economy. Furthermore, it will be helpful to any immigrant who still does not speak Portuguese and those who can read the local publications with financial reports and statistical data. Thus, all the above characteristics of the Portuguese economy directly impact the local population's level and quality of life.


Quality of life in Portugal

Quality of life in Portugal, as we said earlier, is defined by several factors that directly affect the life and well-being of each person. Despite the relatively high cost of living in the country, which we previously discussed on WithPortugal in the articles Cost of Living in Portugal: How much will it cost to live in Portugal in 2022 and Why is everything so expensive in Portugal?, in 2021, according to a survey conducted by InterNations - Expat Insider 2021, Portugal ranked third among countries with the best quality of life in the local population, behind only Austria (2nd place) and Taiwan (1st place). Many factors contribute to this recognition and attract foreigners of different nationalities to reside permanently in Portugal. The 3rd place was influenced not only by the recreational opportunities in the country, the sunny climate, and the Atlantic Ocean but also by the social relations among the local population, health, education level, safety, environmental quality, and much more. If you are interested in moving permanently to Portugal, below we dwell upon each point that affects the local population’s quality of life.

Social relations in Portuguese society

Before discussing exactly how relations among the Portuguese are structured, it is necessary to describe their mentality briefly. Earlier, we talked about what the Portuguese are. They are passionate, like in many other southern countries such as Spain and Italy. The locals are open to communicating with other people and never hide their emotions. They are loyal to immigrants moving to Portugal yearly, helping foreigners settle in the country. Moreover, as the Portuguese philosopher Eduardo Lourenço argued, a close-knit Portuguese society is built on mutual understanding and mutual assistance, not only to the closest people but also to strangers. That is why such relationships in the Portuguese community directly impact and consequently improve the quality of life in the country.

Healthcare in Portugal

Healthcare in Portugal is of good quality and serves most of the country's population. Despite much criticism from the locals and immigrants, the public health service works quite well, unlike in many other European countries. On our portal WithPortugal, you can find answers to all your questions. And if not, be sure to let us know, and we will try to write another helpful article on this topic. Now back to the discussion of medicine in Portugal. Health care in the country is divided into public and private. Public healthcare in Portugal is the responsibility of the Directorate General of Health (Direção-Geral da Saúde, DGS) and works through the National Health Service (Serviço Nacional de Saúde, SNS). All Portuguese citizens and foreigners holding a residence permit in Portugal have the right to use public healthcare with a patient number (número de utente).

In Portugal, the public healthcare system uses the concept of primary health care. Each patient must be assigned a family physician who prescribes treatment and provides the necessary immediate care. Only when the family physician cannot solve the problem, do they send the patient to a public hospital to see a specialist. Before discussing private medicine in Portugal, it is essential to clarify that from June 1, 2022, the vast majority of fees will no longer be charged to users of public medicine.


The private healthcare system means unimpeded access to all kinds of specialists. When choosing private medicine, patients take out an insurance policy and receive several discounts for consultations, tests, surgical interventions, childbirth, etc. If you want to enjoy the benefits of private medicine in Portugal but do not know which insurance policy suits you. The most significant advantage of the private healthcare system compared to the state system in Portugal is considered to be the absence of long queues for certain specialists.

Let us look at the funding allocated to healthcare in Portugal, affecting not only the medicine itself but also the quality of life in Portugal as a whole. According to Portugal's National Institute of Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estatística, INE), as of 2021, 11.2% of GDP is allocated to the functioning of healthcare in the country. But where is the most money spent? Thus, according to the same National Institute of Statistics, the most money in health care in Portugal goes to hospitals, providers of outpatient medical services, and pharmacies.


In addition, we decided to compare how much the state and the patients spend on medical care in Portugal. According to data from the National Institute of Statistics of Portugal, 66% of medical treatment costs are paid by the state and only 34% by the patients themselves. It can disprove the widespread opinion that Portugal does not care about the health of its citizens. According to the National Institute of Statistics, the state appropriates significant funds to ensure a decent level of residents' health.


As we know, the health of the local population is not only related to the treatment of illnesses but also their prevention. To combat the risk factors responsible for most chronic diseases, Portugal has created special programs warning citizens against smoking, alcoholism, and the use of drugs; promoting a healthy diet and physical activity; fighting diabetes, cerebrovascular disease, and cancer. Regarding infectious diseases, Portugal has drawn up action plans on viral hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and various infections. In addition, the Ministry of Health (Ministério da Saúde) has created health programs to emphasize reproductive, child, and youth health, as well as immunization, which has become a priority in responding to the health needs of the population.

Due to all of the above factors, life expectancy among the local population has recently been steadily increasing in the country's territory. According to the National Statistical Institute, life expectancy in Portugal is 81 years. The country's main regions where we observe these figures are the north and center of Portugal and the Lisbon metropolitan area. Given the country's very high life expectancy, Portugal has an aging local population, thus emphasizing the negative trend in the birth rate among the local population.

Education level

We have repeatedly written about Portugal's preschool, school, and higher education system. If you have not yet read our articles on this subject, where you can find answers to your questions. Since the end of 2015, the country has seen an increase in education. As of 2021, Portugal has managed to have Portuguese schoolchildren surpass the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average in science, reading, and mathematics. Since the OECD began administering this kind of exam in the 2000s, Portugal has struggled to improve its education every three years. Thus, the country has maintained this trajectory for at least a decade and a half. It is the only one on the continent to improve every year.


Portugal did not stop improving the country's education level even in the worst economic crisis when public funding in this area decreased significantly. But after 2012, as shown in Chart 2, public education funding increased yearly.


The consistency of the results is such that Portugal is now unofficially referred to as Europe's rising star in education. The country has achieved such tremendous results by investing not in any effective educational strategy but in the people who shape that very society, especially mothers and children between the ages of 2 and 6.

Over the last 50 years, Portugal has shown a significant evolution in education development. It is due to a broad effort to change the socio-economic and cultural status of the population, especially its low-income part. Since the late 1970s, Portugal has made education universally accessible, and all children can attend school. It means that the parents of children in school today are the first educated generation. Thus, by 2015 the number of mothers with at least a secondary education rose to 41%. As António Gomes Ferreira, director of the Department of Psychology and Pedagogy at the University of Coimbra (Universidade de Coimbra), says in his research, the indicator that most affects the performance of children in school is the education of mothers themselves.


Moreover, the Portuguese state pays due attention not only to older children but also to infants. Portugal, one of the 15 EU countries, has developed and actively applied several national strategies to support parents of infants and toddlers during their most critical development period. Among the most striking examples of such support from Portugal are the following: two years of free preschool education; a break in working hours for young mothers who practice breastfeeding for the first six months; and parental leave. From all the above information about the level of education, we can conclude that the Portuguese state takes care of all segments of the population, each year allocating more and more space in the state budget for the education of the local people, thus achieving impressive results.


We have numerously touched upon safety, such as in the articles. Today we will talk about the impact of safety on the quality of life of the country’s local population. Portugal is considered one of the safest countries in the world, ranking fourth only after Iceland (1st place), New Zealand (2nd place), and Denmark (3rd place). The country's crime rate is very low, and the Portuguese police work mainly to prevent crime, not to deal with its consequences. The Portuguese government invests an impressive amount in public safety, which is one of the reasons the local population has such a high quality of life because they have complete confidence in their executive power. Safety is felt on the street, walking in the fresh air, parking the car, going out at night, etc.


The Department of Homeland Security's annual report (Relatório Anual de Segurança Interna) for 2020 shows a significant decrease in crimes. The top five crimes reported in the country include:

  • domestic violence between spouses: 23,439 records, down 5.5% from 2019;
  • car theft: 20,958 records, 4.6% fewer than in 2019;
  • computer and communications fraud: 19,885 records, 21.7% more than the previous year;
  • violation of physical integrity: 18,389 records, down 21% from 2019;
  • driving with an alcohol level equal to or greater than 1.2: 13,693, an 18.8% decrease from the previous year.

Despite the overall positive crime trend in Portugal, unfortunately, domestic violence remains the most common crime in the country.

Environmental quality

Protecting the environment is one of the most severe problems of modern society. Therefore, it is becoming necessary for countries to commit themselves to the process of preserving and protecting the planet to ensure a sustainable future for generations to come. Since 1979, when World Environment Day was established, Portugal has been actively creating and implementing many programs to support the environment. To date, the country has worked in areas such as:

  • air quality;
  • the efficient use of water;
  • waste management.

Let's start in order, namely with a discussion of air quality in Portugal. Air quality refers to the degree of air pollution we breathe every second. It directly impacts human health, ecosystems, and climate change, so countries must take measures to reduce this impact. In the European Environment Agency (Agência Europeia do Ambiente) report, Portugal ranks 10th among the 41 countries with the best air quality in the world. But more than 6,000 Portuguese people die every year from particles PM2.5 (suspended particulate matter), NO2 (nitrogen dioxide), SO2 (sulfur dioxide), and O3 (tropospheric ozone), which in turn provoke strokes, respiratory and lung diseases, cardiovascular disease and cancer. These particles are present everywhere. The Portuguese Environmental Agency (Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente) implemented an initiative "For a country with good air", alongside with the Operational Program for sustainable and efficient use of resources by state and other organizations (Programa Operacional Sustentabilidade e Eficiência no Uso de Recursos pelo Estado e por outras entidades portuguesas, POSEUR). They aim to reduce air pollution by providing information on air quality, advice on more sustainable behavior and self-protection, including traveling by public transportation, walking or biking, and advice on switching to less polluting transport.

Regarding the efficient use of water as one of the strategies to improve the environmental quality in Portugal, the National Program for the Efficient Use of Water (Programa Nacional para o Uso Eficiente da Água, PNUEA) was developed. It aims to promote efficient and conscious use of water in the country to minimize water scarcity risks and improve the environment without endangering the health and well-being of the Portuguese population and the environment in general. The measures taken under the initiative above are distributed among the urban, agricultural, and industrial sectors, where they managed to reduce national waste from water use by 5%, 2.5%, and 7.5%, respectively for each industry in 2020. Among the measures that are being dynamically implemented in each of the sectors, it is possible to highlight the following: informing and educating citizens; reducing the use of drinking water in activities that may have the same characteristics as alternative waters; limiting the environmental impact associated with the discharge of industrial wastewater; replacement or adaptation of faucets.


And the last thing, we discussed recycling and waste management in Portugal about a year ago with our WithPortugal readers. On average, each person in Portugal produces about 1.32 kg of garbage per day. It leads to an annual production of 4.75 million tons of urban waste, which must be recycled. Otherwise, Portugal will sink completely into waste. Therefore, on February 9, 2021, the Council of Ministers of Portugal (Conselho de Ministros) approved a decree-law partially implementing the June 5, 2019 Directive (Diretiva (UE) 2019/904, do Parlamento Europeu e do Conselho Europeu), to reduce the environmental impact of plastic products. Thus, as of November 1, 2021, the manufacture and sale of single-use plastic products became prohibited in Portugal. According to the directive above, Portugal needs to reduce plastic consumption by 80% by 2026 and 90% by 2030. As it becomes evident from the presented information, Portugal cares not only about the locals' health but also about the environment, since the present and future of the country depend on the quality of nature. We remind you that our article is purely informative, and our readers' decisions depend directly on them.

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