During the pandemic, California’s population dropped for the first time in history, and is now at just above 39 million. Citing the state’s high cost-of-living, wildfires, water shortages and at times its politics, many Californians have moved elsewhere in the U.S.
Others have decided to relocate internationally.
Americans now are among the fastest-growing groups of Westerners moving to Portugal. Californians make up an increasing share of expats in the nation that has aggressively courted internationals to boost its economy since the global financial crisis.
Now home to a booming tourism industry and regularly ranked as one of the top destinations for remote workers and retirees, Portugal’s biggest cities face some of the same problems as California with increasing rents and a housing crunch. But the nation is also much cheaper for Americans, who on average earn several times more than the typical Portuguese worker.
The Times spoke to Californians who moved to Portugal to ask about their experiences. We also reached out to Portuguese natives about the growing influx of remote workers, retirees and land investors.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Therese Mascardo, 39
Moved from Santa Monica to Lisbon
Portugal is, in so many ways, all of the things I love about California: great weather, beautiful nature, amazing food, but much more affordable and much more charming. There’s a surfing community here that really feels reminiscent of Orange County, where I grew up.
Welcome to Portugal, the new expat haven. Californians, please go home
Portugal, with its warm climate, plentiful sun and cheap cost of living, has become a destination for Californians.
I save so much money living here, it feels criminal. I pay less than half of my rent in L.A. here and I have more space.
There is a strain on the economy with the way rental prices have increased. And that is absolutely related to the influx of foreigners who bring in big wallets and have more spending power than many of the locals do.
I think that there can be some tensions but, overall, Portugal has been one of the most welcoming places I’ve ever been.
Michele Abraham, 30
Founder of WebRise.io
Moved from Santa Monica to Porto
At the height of the pandemic in 2021, I quit my job and decided to plan my move to Portugal. By this time, I’d been working in tech for four years, had begun consulting and launched a start-up. There’s a lot of support for entrepreneurship here. California has such an incredible ecosystem for startups, and I wasn’t sure Portugal could compete. But it does.
As a woman and person of color, I definitely felt my gender and race came less into question as a start-up founder in Portugal than in California. The community here is so inclusive and kind and it means the world to me to have the opportunity to live and work here.
Niki Smart, 57
Moved from Los Angeles to Cascais
Relocating to a new country is exhilarating, exhausting, terrifying but also profoundly pleasing. It’s hard since I’m doing it alone and, even though I think it’s fabulous here, I get overwhelmed. It’s a challenge and I’m determined to make it work.
I’m a writer and can work from anywhere, which means I now sit in charming cafes sipping on a galão and enjoying a pastel de nata (the famous Portuguese custard tart). My Portuguese is slowly improving, the people here are kind, and I’ve met lots of lovely people which has really helped me feel less lonely and isolated.
Geographer at the University of Lisbon
In the last ten years, a lot of things have changed in Lisbon. We are talking about gentrification, real estate speculation and residential segregation.
People have been evicted from their houses, sometimes people who have lived there for 15 years, more than half a century, or even more, and they were evicted to go to the outskirts of the city.
We have two main programs that attract foreign investment. We have the “golden visa” and the non-permanent residence. They are one of the causes of real estate speculation, with rent prices and house values skyrocketing in the last 10 years.
It’s very difficult for the average middle class Portuguese person to buy or rent a house in Lisbon.
Paulina Gallardo, 33
Founder of Casa Mexicana
Moved from San Diego and London to Lisbon
We decided to move to Lisbon for better weather and to be closer to the ocean.
After the pandemic hit, we decided to start our own company called Casa Mexicana and are now one of the main importers and suppliers of Mexican products to a lot of our American friends and the expat community, as well as to restaurants and other shops. We host cooking workshops and events and have become a strong part of our community here.
Jamie Dixon, 37
Director of operations for FOMO, a tech start-up
Moved from Malibu to Cascais
I never thought I would ever leave L.A. I am fourth-generation, born and raised there. My parents and grandparents lived three minutes away from me. But for years, my husband and I dreamed about moving to another country and learning a new language.
After getting approved for our D7 visa, I cried my eyes out. I was so scared and so excited.
Here I am almost one year later and I am loving it. Life is super different here than Los Angeles but I cannot imagine moving back (for now).
Goodbye, L.A. and San Francisco. Hello, Riverside and Central Valley. California moves east
Riverside and San Bernardino counties saw population gains as California overall lost nearly 262,000 residents between July 2020 and July 2021.
Petter Barth, 66
Retired purchasing manager
Moved from Agoura Hills to Carvoeiro
As we got closer to retirement, we started toying with the thought of moving abroad to have an easier and less costly life. Reading online about the best places to retire abroad, Portugal came up very high on the list.
We looked at some 30 different properties and finally found a beautiful old farm house in the middle of a vineyard. The vineyard is not ours but it gives us a nice view. Healthcare here is very good.
Will we stay here the rest of our lives? Who knows. It all depends on grandchildren and the rest of our families. We will definitely stay as long as we can.
Isabel da Bandeira, 62
Co-founder of the activist group Aqui Mora Gente and translator
The gentrification process started around 2011, following the financial crisis, and expanded significantly in the following years.
The number of families that were pushed to leave is outstanding, and the families that stayed suffer incredibly with the noise, generated garbage and lack of services (except restaurants and bars).
There’s no doubt that the foreign investment has greatly helped Portugal’s economy and made the cities more beautiful with the renovations to old buildings in Lisbon and elsewhere. In that way the results are mixed and we don’t have anything personal at all against newcomers, especially those who stay to live permanently. But this process has also hurt the long-term residents who don’t recognize parts of their communities anymore or can’t afford to live in them.
Yvette Martinez-Vu, 33
Academic coach and founder of Grad School Femtoring
Moved from Santa Barbara and Los Angeles to Porto
A big reason we moved was due to the high cost of living in California and the exorbitant healthcare prices in the U.S. As someone with a chronic illness with a husband who has a number of military-related disabilities, having access to affordable healthcare is important.
In Portugal, we have found a city that meets our family’s need for safety, a slower pace and a family-friendly environment. As children of immigrants ourselves, we are grateful to have this opportunity to relocate and don’t take this privilege for granted.
Steven Manning, 66
Former sales manager
Moved from Claremont to Portimão
After traveling much of the world on business, I knew that I wanted to live in Europe. My wife and I did not want to lose the great weather we enjoyed in Los Angeles County, so we focused on the Algarve region.
On Tuesday nights we attend a meetup at a bar on the beach. My wife has joined a book club that meets for lunch once a month, and next weekend we will be celebrating our birthdays and arrival in Portugal with over a dozen new friends.
Shawnta Wiley, 49
Owner of an event planning business based in San Diego
Moved from San Diego to Lisbon
I visited in 2019 and fell in love with Portugal. When Congress didn’t extend the unemployment benefits in summer 2020, I realized that I needed to at least try to get a visa and start the process of relocating.
I sold most of my items and packed what I brought into four suitcases, bringing my cat along too. I love it here so much and am incredibly happy.
Nancy Whiteman, 68
Retired (previously sold computers to hospitals and physicians)
Moved from Rancho Mirage to Vila Real de Santo António
I wanted to leave the U.S. after the 2016 election but, while my interest in leaving the U.S. was directly related to politics and mental health, my wife’s interest was driven by her love for travel.
Traveling within the European Union is as easy as driving from Pennsylvania to New York or New Jersey. Portugal also makes it fairly easy to move here.
Head of Community at Synesis One
Moved from Southern California to Lisbon
At the start of the pandemic I was in a peculiar phase of my life, and it was not clear where I wanted to go next. I thought about returning to my home state of Texas. I thought about tranquil Ojai. I contemplated Colorado and Arizona.
A year or so later, I got invited to Lisbon. When I got there, I had the sensation of feeling really grounded, especially after wandering the globe the last three years.
I ended up extending my stay at the end of 2021 and started to get the documents ready for the visa process. In March 2022, I went back and secured a place to live, and in April, I completed the first step of the visa application process.
Moved from Los Angeles to Ericeira
As of this writing, we have been living together happily in Ericeira for about six weeks. We love our life here, meeting so many wonderful people from all over the world.
Life is not completely perfect. Though many things are much cheaper here (food and healthcare in particular) the real estate market is super hot. Other things like cars, gasoline and pet supplies are more expensive here than in the U.S. But, overall, we have no complaints.
Rafael Alves, 30
I think that most expats have it easy abroad. They just see our climate, our prices — which are lower than in their developed countries — and our food and decide to move with zero interest in trying to assimilate to our culture, to cast their vote in our political system or to help out economically and socially.
Judith Rosenberg, 65
Author and retired ESL instructor
Moved from San Bruno to Lisbon
I arrived in Lisbon in January 2021, five days before lockdown. Now I am only a couple of hours flight from my two adult children and grandkids who live in the United Kingdom.
Lisbon is a beautiful city and Portugal’s beaches and mountains remind me of California. The language is a challenge, though I am determined to become fluent and proficient.
As an older woman, I feel respected and safe. I just have to watch out for those slippery-when-wet white cobblestones.
Jen Wittman, 47
Owner of Mindful Mavericks
Sebastopol to Lisbon
We had long dreamed of becoming European citizens. Portugal seemed to tick all the boxes — safe, diverse, LGBTQAI+ friendly with a temperate climate, great health care system and affordable housing.
We started the immigration process and moved to Portugal sight unseen. Here we are, a year into living in Portugal, happy as can be. It was the best decision our family ever made.
Citing the state's high cost-of-living, wildfires, water shortages and at times its politics, many Californians have moved elsewhere in the U.S. Others have decided to relocate internationally. Americans now are among the fastest-growing groups of Westerners moving to Portugal.Why are people relocating to Portugal? ›
Why do Americans live in Portugal? Living in Portugal provides a wide array of advantages. The fantastic climate, great quality of life, and affordable cost of living are just some of the reasons many Americans choose to live in Portugal. Portugal has, in many ways, become the European country to move to.Where are Americans moving to in Portugal? ›
Where do most American expats live in Portugal? American expats can be found scattered all over Portugal, with the biggest expat communities located in the Algarve, Lisbon, and Porto. There are also growing numbers of US expats living in Madeira and the Azores.What state did most Californians move to? ›
Most Common Places People Migrate from California
Texas is currently the number one destination state for those leaving California.
Portugal typically taxes all income. This includes pension income and income from international sources.Why Californians love Portugal? ›
Portugal offers the Californian appeal with its laid-back attitude, sandy beaches, hidden grottos, and coves, a country sought-after for its sunny disposition, friendly locals, safety and peace of mind.Can American retirees move to Portugal? ›
You need to apply for residency in order to retire in Portugal as an American. The process is straightforward, but it may take a while. You need to provide (1) your passport, (2) proof of income, (3) proof of health insurance, (4) criminal background check, in order to apply.How long can a US citizen live in Portugal? ›
As an American, you need to get a Portuguese residence permit if you're planning to stay there for longer than three months. If you reside in Portugal with a proper residence permit for five years, you can then apply for permanent residency or Portuguese citizenship.How long can a US citizen stay in Portugal? ›
U.S. citizens may enter Portugal for up to 90 days for tourism or business without a visa. Your passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. If you plan on transiting a Schengen country, review our U.S. Travelers in Europe page.Where do most Americans retire in Portugal? ›
The Algarve proves particularly popular with English-speaking expats and you'll be surrounded by other retirees depending on where you choose to move to. Within the region itself, there is plenty to choose from in its 16 municipalities, as well as many retirement communities.
Can a US citizen move to Portugal? A US citizen can enter Portugal without a visa and stay there for 90 days. You will need to secure a visa and obtain a residence permit for a long-term stay.Why are people leaving CA? ›
The state's high cost of living (housing in particular) has been a major cause of the so-called California exodus. Renting an apartment is expensive in many parts of the state.What is the number 1 state people are leaving? ›
Rising housing costs, rising taxes and politics seem to be driving many people to look for opportunities elsewhere. Other factors that emigrants have cited are the rising threat of wildfires and the constantly increasing cost of living.
But a U.S. Census data estimate released last month found that net migration to the U.S. from abroad in 2022 reached its highest level since 2017. California is expected to be the biggest beneficiary of this uptick, with more than 125,715 new residents coming to the state last year.What happens to my Social Security if I leave the US? ›
If you are a U.S. citizen, you may receive your Social Security payments outside the U.S. as long as you are eligible for them. However, there are certain countries to which we are not allowed to send payments.What is the number 1 place to retire in the world? ›
Portugal is home to over 500,000 foreigners from the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, other European countries, Brazil, Central, and South America, Africa, and more. Everyone is accepted and welcomed here. The Portuguese people really do welcome foreigners with open arms.Is Portugal welcoming to Americans? ›
A US citizen can enter Portugal without a visa and stay there for 90 days. For a long-term stay in the country, you will need to obtain a long-term visa or residence permit.Is Portugal a cheap place to live? ›
Portugal is relatively inexpensive. In fact, the average cost of living in Portugal is around €1,500 per month, depending on what part of Portugal you're living in. Overall, Portugal is considered one of the cheapest countries in Western Europe and is, on average, 50 percent cheaper than living in the United States.How much does it cost to rent a house in Portugal? ›
|Municipality||Median value per m2|
This is what it costs to buy a home in the 30 largest Portuguese cities. The national average price of a 2,000-square-foot home in Portugal is $278,000. Buying a house in Portugal as an American is about 40% cheaper than the U.S. median home price, which is roughly $455,000.How much income do I need to retire to Portugal? ›
How much do I need to retire in Portugal in 2023? Portugal is one of the most affordable European countries, and you'll find many things are low-cost. You can retire in Portugal with an income of between €1,400 to 2,400 per month, depending on which part of the country you choose to live in.Can I live in Portugal on my Social Security? ›
If you have social security credits in both the United States and Portugal, you may be eligible for benefits from one or both countries. If you meet all the basic requirements under one country's system, you will get a regular benefit from that country.Is there free healthcare in Portugal? ›
Yes, Portugal does have state-provided healthcare, which is free for all citizens and legal residents in Portugal. Even though medical care is mainly free, you may have to pay some fees when visiting emergency rooms, your family doctor, or requesting ambulance services.What is the easiest country for a US citizen to move to? ›
Which are the easiest countries to immigrate to from the US? Portugal, Malta and Spain are some of the easiest countries to relocate to from the United States. American citizens can either gain permanent residency or apply for citizenships via each country's Citizenship by Invest programs.How much money do I need to move to Portugal? ›
The average monthly living costs in Portugal range from $1100-1300 USD a month. This includes a flat in the city centre, utilities, transportation, food, and grocery costs.Can an American get a job in Portugal? ›
No, you don't need to speak Portuguese to work in Portugal. Especially in hospitality and tourism, there are plenty of job opportunities for non-Portuguese speakers. If you speak a language other than English, there are almost always call center jobs for you, too.How to buy a house in Portugal? ›
The country has no restrictions on foreigners looking to buy a house in Portugal. You won't have to fill in any extra paperwork or meet any criteria to buy a home per say. All you need is a VAT identification number, known as a número de identificação fiscal (NIF) or número de contribuinte in Portugal.What is the average rent in Portugal? ›
|Rent (two-bedroom, furnished apartment)||$1,100|
|Utilities (Electricity, Water, Gas, Trash)||$150|
|Internet/Cell Phone/Cable TV Package||$70|
|Private Health Insurance (per couple)||$150|
According to the World Population Review in 2022, Portugal ranked 3rd among the safest countries in the world, and the 4th in the global ranking for the most peaceful countries in the whole world. The locals are very kind, friendly, and helpful. You will enjoy a peaceful life in Portugal.
Foreign pension income in Portugal is taxed at only 10% and most double taxation agreements (DTAs) grant exclusive taxation rights on pension income to the country of residence.Where do millionaires live in Portugal? ›
This is where, in the most exclusive regions of Portugal. Where do the rich live in Portugal? Where do the rich live in Portugal? Lisbon, Oeiras, Cascais, Sintra, Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia are the municipalities with the highest concentration of population with the highest income in the country.How much does an apartment cost in Portugal? ›
On average, housing in Portugal costs around 1,100 EUR (1,200 USD) in rent per month.How much does it cost to live in Portugal for retirees? ›
How much money do you need to retire in Portugal? Depending on location and lifestyle, the cost of living in Lisbon can range from $2,000–$3,500 per month. Outside of the bigger cities, you can expect to spend less.Can a US citizen have dual citizenship with Portugal? ›
Portugal allows dual citizenship, meaning that foreigners can gain Portuguese nationality without having to give up the citizenship of their home country. However, you will first need to check with your home country if it also permits dual citizenship.Why are people not moving to California? ›
The decision to leave were partly fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, including new opportunities for people to work from home. Also, the high cost of living in California also drove people out.Why are so many Californians moving out of California? ›
Rising State Taxes
High taxes are one of the main reasons why people are leaving California. California's income tax rate is 13.3%, the country's highest. If you take a look at the sales tax ranging from 7.25% to 10.75%, it's not much better.
California has been seeing a trend in population decline for the past few years, with the COVID pandemic, rising housing costs, and challenges of living in big cities pushing people to move to a simpler lifestyle.What is the most empty US state? ›
Idaho takes the number one spot for the most boring state, with a population of 1.89 million over 83,570 square miles. There are roughly 22.11 people per square mile of land, which gives Idaho the seventh-lowest population density in the country.What is the best state to leave in? ›
Washington State was found to be the best state to live in, while Hawaii ranked last. The chief benefits offered by Washington are an average median income that ranks fourth nationally and the fact that it has no state income tax.
|Top 10 States in Numeric Decline: 2021 to 2022|
|Rank||Geographic Area||April 1, 2020 (Estimates Base)|
Most Common Places People Migrate from California
Texas is currently the number one destination state for those leaving California.
If you're planning to move out of California, then Texas, Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Washington, and Oregon are some of the best states to move to. These states offer plenty of educational and employment opportunities and also have a lower cost of living in comparison to the Golden State.Why is Portugal so popular with Americans? ›
The country has become one of the most popular relocation destinations in the world. And there are many reasons. Idyllic scenery, security, generous tax breaks, and one of the lowest costs of living in Western Europe.Is it cheaper to live in Portugal than the US? ›
Overall, Portugal is considered one of the cheapest countries in Western Europe and is, on average, 50 percent cheaper than living in the United States.Why are so many Californians moving away? ›
The state's high cost of living (housing in particular) has been a major cause of the so-called California exodus. Renting an apartment is expensive in many parts of the state. The average rent price for apartments in Los Angeles is between $2,262 and $5,095 in 2022, according to Rent.com.Why are Millennials moving to Portugal? ›
Portugal is cheaper than many Western countries
“A lot of the costs of the services that you buy are labor costs. Portugal's poorer. Wages are lower.
As an American, you need to get a Portuguese residence permit if you're planning to stay there for longer than three months. If you reside in Portugal with a proper residence permit for five years, you can then apply for permanent residency or Portuguese citizenship.Are Portugal people friendly? ›
Portuguese people are known for being a very welcoming nation and receive other people with great joy. While first impressions in some cases may tell you otherwise, the majority of Portuguese people will make you feel right at home and will happily go out of their way to help, making them great hosts.How much is an average house in Portugal in US dollars? ›
The average house price in Portugal reached $248 per square foot in January 2023, averaging $496,000 for a 2,000 square foot home.
The national average price of a 2,000-square-foot home in Portugal is $278,000. Buying a house in Portugal as an American is about 40% cheaper than the U.S. median home price, which is roughly $455,000.Where are people going that are leaving California? ›
Angelenos, in particular, are flocking to places like Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Antonio and Dallas. The number of Los Angeles residents leaving the city jumped from around 33,000 in the second quarter of 2021 to nearly 41,000 in the same span of 2022, according to the report.Is it true that a lot of people are leaving California? ›
Between July 2021 and July 2022, California lost roughly 211,000 people according to data from California's Department of Finance. Half of those — 113,048, were from Los Angeles County alone. Los Angeles County — California's largest county — lost around 160,000 in the last 12 months with most leaving for other states.Can California tax me if I move out of state? ›
The AB 2088 Bill is responsible for the California wealth tax over 10 years ruling, whereby if you leave California, the State can tax you for up to 10 years.Why do so many people leave Portugal? ›
The main motive for emigration, at least in modern times, was economic. Portugal was long among the poorest countries in Europe. With the countryside able to support only a portion of farmers' offspring and few opportunities in the manufacturing sector, many Portuguese had to go abroad to find work.Are expats happy in Portugal? ›
Diversity of foreign diasporas.
In 2021, Portugal ranked among the top 5 countries for expats: 84% of those who moved to the country were satisfied with their lives. For comparison, the global average satisfaction rate is 75%. Foreigners make up 6.4% of the Portuguese population.