If you are arranging to immigrate to Portugal, the first question is the choice of region to live in the new country. Even though most people focus primarily on Lisbon, there are many other cities and regions in Portugal. Very often, people do not consider the disadvantages of Lisbon, and then they are disappointed when they realize that this is not where they would like to live. That is why it is essential to analyze each region of Portugal carefully before moving and then choose several cities to compare the advantages and disadvantages in your specific situation.
Why is it important to focus on your specific case and not just what your friends or anyone else says? For example, because there are great places to live in Portugal, it is impossible to find a job there. So it may happen that your friend who is a freelancer working online for himself told you that in the Portuguese city X to live just fine and you went there on his advice and realized that there are zero vacancies in the city and you are utterly disappointed in Portugal. This can be avoided by researching specific regions and towns before your move. Of course, it would be good to come to Portugal and live in each area for at least a week or two, personally checking whether this region or city is suitable for you to live in or not. Of course, not everyone has the time or money for such a "test," that's why we decided to write this article which will help you get acquainted with the regions of mainland Portugal and draw a conclusion about which area is suitable for you.
What are the regions in Portugal?
To begin with, I would like to point out that in this article, we will analyze only the regions of mainland Portugal. As you know, Portugal also has two autonomous regions, the Azores and Madeira Island, but this is the topic of our next article.
The territory of mainland Portugal is commonly divided into the following five regions, which you can see on the map below:
- Northern region
- Central region
- Alentejo region
- Lisbon region
- Algarve region
I want to point out that in my job I often moved from one city to another and as a result I, the author of this article, managed to live in 4 regions of mainland Portugal, so in addition to official data and statistics I will be able to share my own experience. By the way, the fact that I did not live in the fifth region, Alentejo, is also not accidental, and at the end of the article, you will understand why. Let's briefly look at each part of mainland Portugal and analyze all the advantages and disadvantages.
Let us begin our analysis of the territory of mainland Portugal from North to south, namely the country's Northern region (Região do Norte).
A few statistics:
- Area: 21 278 km² (24% of the mainland).
- Population: 3 689 609 inhabitants, corresponding to 37% of mainland Portugal and making it the most populous region in the country.
- The largest cities in the region are Viana do Castelo, Braga, Porto, Vila Real and Braganza.
In economic terms, the North is the second largest region in the country (after Lisbon) in terms of GDP (hereafter, GDP - Gross Domestic Product), with many factories in the area, from wine and meat to shoe textiles, furniture, and heavy machinery. It is the North that accounts for about 40% of national exports.
It surprises me when people think you can only find a job in Lisbon because the Northern region is one of the most industrialized regions in Europe!
Yes, most economic activity is concentrated mainly in the Porto area, where most large companies' headquarters are located. Nevertheless, individual cities in the region specialize in a particular type of production. For example, Santo Tirso produces textiles, Famalicao makes sausages, and Passos de Ferreira is the "furniture capital" of Portugal; as you drive through the streets and see dozens of furniture factories by the side.
In general, there is no shortage of factories in this region and therefore no shortage of jobs. I am not only talking about jobs for factory workers but also, for example, for international trade specialists, because, as you understand, factories need office workers to sell their products worldwide. That is precisely the kind of employee I was at one time, and I can say that the highest salary I received during my immigration to Portugal was in the North, and my salary in the North was several times higher than in Lisbon. So do not underestimate this region regarding employment as a salaried employee.
Now let's talk about the weather conditions, because the Northern region often repulses people with "scares" that it always rains and is cold here, which is not the case in Lisbon or the south of the country, for example. We analyze data from the IPMA, the Portuguese Institute of the Sea, and Atmosphere.
In the first table, we can see the average annual temperature in different regions of the country. For example, in 2018, in the city of Porto in the North of the country, the average temperature was 15.6 degrees, which is about 2 degrees lower than in Lisbon and the Algarve (Faro city). The temperature difference between the northern and southern regions of the country is only about 2-3 degrees. I hope we have debunked the myth that everyone gets cold in the North.
Let's check how things are going with the precipitation.
For this, we will also use data from the IPMA meteorological institute.
In the table below, you can estimate the average amount of rainfall in different regions of Portugal. For example, in the city of Porto in the North of the country, the average rainfall is between 700 and 1,200 mm per year. On the other hand, Lisbon's rainfall is almost 1.5 to 2 times lower, and the Algarve region receives even less rain.
That said, if you look at 2010, 2011, and 2012, you'll see that Lisbon had much more rainfall than the North during those periods. So you don't see it year to year.
Well, the myth of much rain in the North is not unfounded, and there is indeed more rain in the North of the country than in the south. At times, Lisbon receives even more rainfall than the North.
And finally, let's analyze the cost of real estate in the Nordic region. To do this, we will use the tool of the portal Idealista, which allows you to compare the price per square meter in different parts of the country.
Thus, the North is the third most expensive region of the country, and the cost per square meter in this region will be 1.854 €/m2 in January 2021. At the same time, as we can see in the table below, it is almost two times cheaper than in the Lisbon region.
Let us make brief conclusions about the Northern region of Portugal.
The Northern region is suitable for Absolutely everyone, as it is the most populous region in the country. However, it is especially worth considering for those looking for work in factories or salaried office workers.
Who is not suitable for the Northern region: those who do not want to put up with much rain in winter. If weather and precipitation are your primary selection criteria, then you should consider other regions of the country where the temperature is a couple of degrees higher and the rainfall is several times less.
Let's continue down the map of mainland Portugal and now analyze the country's Central region (Região do Centro).
A bit of statistical data:
- Area: 28,405 km² (31% of the Portuguese mainland).
- Population: 2,327,580 people, equivalent to 23.2% of the mainland.
- The largest cities in the region are Coimbra, Viseu, Aveiro, Leiria, Castelo Branco.
In terms of GDP, the Central region does not lag far behind the Northern part and ranks third in the country. Many companies, factories, and plants are also in the area, especially in Aveiro, Coimbra, and Viseu. There are not as many as in the North, but in terms of availability of jobs, this region is also quite attractive for employees. I have lived and worked in this region for almost two years, and comparing the Center of the country with the North of Lisbon, chI can only say that life is slower here. Because the cities are tiny (on average, around 50,000 people), the lifestyle makes a big difference. There are far fewer crowds and rush, but there are more occasional interesting events, institutions, and people in general.
Let's turn to "Table 1" and "Table 2" to analyze the weather in the Central region, using the city of Castelo Branco as an example. Thus, we can see that the average temperature per year in the area is 16 degrees, which is 1 degree higher than in the North and 1.5-2 degrees lower than in the south. At the same time, the amount of precipitation per year in the region is lower than in the North but about the same as in Lisbon.
So it turns out that the Central region is as attractive as Lisbon regarding weather conditions.
But in the analysis of real estate prices, we can see the main advantage of the country's central region. A close look at the data in "Table 3" shows that the cost per square meter here is 1.113 €/m2. This is almost three times lower than in Lisbon and nearly 1,5 times lower than in the Northern region.
Probably the cheap cost of real estate is the main advantage of the region. At the same time, if you choose the Center for immigration, it will be straightforward for you to move throughout Portugal, which is especially important if you frequently travel throughout the country or open a business in different regions, placing the headquarters in the Center.
Let us make brief conclusions about the Central region of Portugal.
Who is suitable for the Central region: all those who want to live in smaller and less busy cities but still want to find a job as a salaried employee in an office or factory. This region is also worth considering for those who want to buy real estate at a lower price. It will be easier in this region than in the North or southern areas.
Who is not suitable for the Central region: those who want to live in vast cities with a developed infrastructure and a lot of entertainment, activities, people, etc. Of course, you can always take a car and drive a couple of hours to Porto or Lisbon, but you can get bored in the country's central region.
Of course, we could not ignore the Lisbon region (Região de Lisboa) because this is where most immigrants, foreigners, and tourists seek.
A few statistics:
- Area: 2,962.4 km² (3% of the country).
- Population: about 2,821,699 people.
- The largest cities in the region: are Lisbon, Sintra, Cascais, and Setubal.
As you can see, the Lisbon region is characterized by a high population density (28% of the total population of the mainland) even though it occupies only 3% of the Portuguese territory.
It is in Lisbon that the headquarters of the largest international and Portuguese companies are concentrated. The region is vital in light and heavy industry, as well as in services. The region's GDP in 2018 was 73.3 billion euros, accounting for 36% of Portugal's total output. This is why most immigrants from all over the world seek to come to the Lisbon region, because the job opportunities here are much higher than, for example, in the Algarve, the Alentejo, or the central part of the country.
The data in Table 1 and Table 2 show that the Lisbon region's climate is highly favorable. The average temperature per year is about 18 degrees, the same as in the Algarve. However, Lisbon receives only 1.5 to 2 times as much rainfall as the country's southernmost region.
As far as real estate prices are concerned, this region ranks first in the highest real estate prices. The price per square meter is 3,092 €/m2, which is 2-3 times higher than in other regions of the country.
I lived in Lisbon for almost a year, and I can say that the first thing I felt when I started living there was that the city was overpopulated, and it was just not ready for so many people. We can see this in the statistics above, but I was able to check it out for myself. I come from a city with the largest population in Portugal, so I was not prepared that in a town as small as Lisbon (compared to my hometown), there would also be traffic jams of 1-2 hours on the roads and crowded subway cars, when you had to pass 2, 3, 4 trains to squeeze into a train. That is why, as a "child" of a large metropolis, I immediately tried to escape from Lisbon, because the hourly traffic jams and crowded trains were so hard to manage. The hour-long traffic jams and crowded subway cars did not fit my idea of an ideal Portugal.
Well, let's sum up!
Who is suited to the Lisbon region: All those who like crowded cities, crowds of people and want to be in the Center of all events. If entertainment, infrastructure, and a good service level are essential, then this region is perfect for you. If you are a freelancer and work from home, you will also live comfortably in Lisbon without traffic jams and public transportation. The city will be ready to offer you many jobs if you are an employee. LGBT people should also pay attention to the Lisbon region.
Who is not suitable for the Lisbon region: those who do not want to live in huge cities and have to deal with traffic jams and crowds. Those who want to save money on housing (both buying and renting). Also, if you are an employee and plan to rent a house far from Lisbon and then get to work many miles by car or public transport, instead of spending 2-4 hours every day on the road, you would be better off looking at the Northern or Central regions. Of course, there are jobs too, but you won't have to spend as much time moving around as you would in Lisbon.
The Alentejo region
We continue to analyze life in Portugal's regions, and the Alentejo is next (Região do Alentejo). A small analysis of primary data:
- Area: 31,551 km².
- Population: about 759,000 people.
- The largest cities in the region are Portalegre, Évora, Sines, Santariño and Beja.
The Alentejo is the least populated region in the country, with more than a third of Portugal but only 7.1% of the country's population. However, it is also the region with the oldest population: 22.9% of people in Alentejo are 65 years or older (compared to the national average of 17.5%).
The GDP of this region is almost six times less than that of the Lisbon area and nearly four times less than that of the North of the country. This only means there is little production in the region, and large companies and factories in the area can be counted on the fingers. Is this not why the region's population is constantly shrinking, and locals (especially young people) are leaving Alentejo for other parts of the country?
Remember I said above that I have worked in every region of the country except for Alentejo? Well, this is not a coincidence, but a regularity, because there is very little work in the area, especially for office workers. The region has a robust agricultural industry, and when you travel by car, you will never forget the landscape of the country - endless fields, plantations of vineyards or corkwood, and not a soul, just nature! This is how it is in the Alentejo region because, in the main cities, the population rarely exceeds 10-20 thousand people. Only Évora has a population of about 50,000, making it the most populated city in the Alentejo.
If we analyze the data of Beja in "Table 1" and "Table 2," we see that the rainfall in Alentejo is even less than in Lisbon, and the average annual temperature is only 1 degree lower than in the southernmost region of the country, the Algarve.
Property prices in the region are kept at 1.024 €/m2, which is three times lower than in Lisbon and almost two times lower than in the North of the country. In addition to the fields and nature, the region is characterized by the cheapest real estate in continental Portugal.
Let's take stock of the Alentejo region.
Who is Alentejo suitable for? All those who want to live in seclusion, in the countryside, away from noisy cities and crowds of people. If you are a self-employed freelancer, this region might also suit you. Or for example, if you plan to work in agriculture, then Alentejo could also be an excellent place to immigrate. Finally, if you don't care where you live but want to buy a property on a modest budget, this region may interest you in terms of low-cost housing opportunities.
For whom Alentejo is unsuitable: those who want to live in big cities, with a developed infrastructure and a lot of entertainment, activities, people, etc. If you are looking for entertainment, you will be bored in Alentejo. In addition, if you are employed as an office worker or in the service sector, this region is also not suitable for you, because you will not be able to find a job here.
The final region in our review is the southernmost region of the country, the Algarve (Região do Algarve). Some statistics
- Area: 5 412 km².
- Population: 451,005 people (6.27% of the Portuguese population).
- The largest cities in the region are Albufeira, Faro, Lagos, Loulé, Portimão and Tavira.
The Algarve is probably the most famous tourist region in Portugal. Every year hundreds of thousands of tourists visit this region because it is here where the most famous beaches in Europe are located. There are no factories, large companies, and factories in the Algarve, but many hotels, restaurants, and other tourism-related organizations exist. Most of the region's inhabitants work in the tourism industry, but the work is seasonal. Therefore, if you are an office worker and are not involved in tourism, finding a job in the Algarve will not be easy.
In addition to the substantial annual influx of tourists, the Algarve is also one of the regions of Portugal with the highest number of foreign residents, mostly from other European countries. In addition, in 2020, the Algarve was the second region in the country, after Lisbon, with the highest purchasing power.
One does not even have to refer to the city of Faro in "Table 1" and "Table 2" to say that the Algarve has the most favorable climate in all of continental Portugal.
The region has a temperate Mediterranean climate characterized by mild and short winters and long, hot, and dry summers. Add to this the beautiful beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, and it is clear why this region attracts so many tourists yearly.
As for the cost of real estate in the Algarve, the price level in the region is not far behind Lisbon. For 1 square meter, you will have to pay 2.379 €/m2, twice as much as in the Central region and the Alentejo.
Let's summarize a little bit about this region of Portugal.
Who is the Algarve suitable for all who want to live in a warm climate without sudden temperature fluctuations and much rain in winter? In addition, this region would suit freelancers and people who work for themselves and are willing to pay a higher price to rent or buy real estate. Also, the Algarve,e before the coronavirus epidemic, was an excellent place for people involved in tourism. Hopefully, this status will return to the area in a short period.
Who is Algarve not suitable for: those who want to live in large cities with a developed infrastructure. Unfortunately, no vast cities like Lisbon, the North, or the Central region exist. Also, this region is unlikely to suit those looking for office or factory workers and those who want to save money on buying or renting real estate.
So which region should be chosen for those who want to immigrate to Portugal?
There is no definite answer to this question, as each region of Portugal is different, and whether you will be comfortable living in a particular area will depend on many factors. Your occupation, budget for renting or buying a house, and personal preferences regarding the weather and infrastructure are all factors that will determine your choice of region to live in Portugal. From my personal experience, I can say that there is nothing better than to come and live in an area for a while to see how it suits you. If you do not have such an opportunity and need to decide "in absentia," our article will be a good guide and helper for you!
Good luck, and whichever region you choose, be sure to get to know everyone else as a tourist. We promise you won't regret it!