These Californians relocated to Portugal. They share their stories (2023)

These Californians relocated to Portugal. They share their stories (1)

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.

These Californians relocated to Portugal. They share their stories (2)

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.

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

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.

These Californians relocated to Portugal. They share their stories (3)

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.

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.

These Californians relocated to Portugal. They share their stories (4)

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.

These Californians relocated to Portugal. They share their stories (5)

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).

These Californians relocated to Portugal. They share their stories (6)

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

Location: Lisbon

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.

These Californians relocated to Portugal. They share their stories (7)

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.

These Californians relocated to Portugal. They share their stories (8)

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.

These Californians relocated to Portugal. They share their stories (9)

Danver Chandler

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.

Michael Deane

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


Location: Ericeira

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.

These Californians relocated to Portugal. They share their stories (10)

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.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


Why are people from California moving to Portugal? ›

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 Americans relocating to Portugal? ›

Why do Americans move to Portugal? An excellent year-round climate, fantastic beaches a short distance from the capital, great food, high quality of life, and low living costs are some reasons Americans move to Portugal. There are also some successful tax incentives that US citizens can benefit from in Portugal.

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.

Is it easy for Americans to live in Portugal? ›

According to Expat-Insider, 83 percent of expats find moving to Portugal and settling there to be very easy and straightforward, where the worldwide average is 59 percent. Besides, the Portuguese culture is so welcoming that 82 percent of expats living in Portugal say that they feel largely at home.

Is Portugal friendly to US citizens? ›

In general, the people in Portugal are warm, welcoming, and helpful. This is very important to new expats trying to figure out the Portuguese language, the bureaucracy, or even where to find a grocery store. A little friendliness on your side will always be greeted with the same.

Is Portugal immigrant friendly? ›

Portugal is ranked the world's fourth best country to live in the Internations Expat Insider 2022 report.

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.

Is it cheaper to live in Portugal or 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.

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.

Does Portugal tax U.S. Social Security benefits? ›

Portugal typically taxes all income. This includes pension income and income from international sources.

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.

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Portugal? ›

A couple with a mid-range income can get by with €1,700 a month in the smaller cities of Portugal. If a couple is starting out in Lisbon, their monthly expense will be €2,000 onwards a month. If you are single, you can get by comfortably with €1,200 a month in Porto or Lisbon, and even less in Portugal's smaller towns.

Is Portugal cheap for Americans? ›

Cost of living in Portugal for Americans. The cost of living in Portugal is generally considered 46% cheaper than in the United States. Famed for its affordable living costs and excellent living standards, the good news for Americans looking to move to Portugal is that the cost of living in Portugal is very affordable.

Why is crime so low in Portugal? ›

One of the key reasons is down to the political climate in the country, which has been stable for years. In addition to this, Portugal has some of the lowest crime rates in Europe.

Can you own guns in Portugal? ›

Gun ownership is legal here, but it comes with widely accepted restrictions. According to the national police, Portuguese citizens own about 1.5 million weapons. Most are rifles and shotguns for hunting. Handguns are legal as long as the owner has a license and registers it in a police database.

Is Portugal a clean country? ›

Portugal is in a good place with respect to its Air Quality (15th) and Fisheries (12th) but needs to work on improving its Biodiversity (52nd), Ecosystem Services (174th), Pollution Emissions (30th), and Climate Change (44th).

How much is a house in Portugal? ›

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.

What is it like to live in Portugal as an American? ›

Living in Portugal is a dream for many these days due to the country's sunny climate, relatively low cost of living, low crime rate and rich culture. Some expats choose to live in cities like Lisbon and Porto while others choose to live in smaller cities, rural areas or in beach towns.

What is the average monthly salary in Portugal? ›

The average salary in Portugal is around €1,269 per month.

How much does it cost to rent a house in Portugal? ›

But the cost of renting varies greatly from one part of the country to another. In the town of Cinfães (Viseu), for example, renting a house costs only 2.21 euros per square metre, i.e. a tenant in a 100m2 property would pay the landlord just 221 euros per month.
MunicipalityMedian value per m2
14 more rows
Oct 1, 2020

What is the number 1 place to retire in the world? ›

The Top 25 Best Countries to Retire in
6 more rows
Nov 21, 2022

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.

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.

Is Health Care Free 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.

Are taxes high in Portugal? ›

Residents in Portugal for tax purposes are taxed on their worldwide income at progressive rates varying from 14.5% to 48% for 2023.

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.

Can you be a dual citizen of the US and Portugal? ›

Both the US and Portugal allow their citizens to have dual citizenship.

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.

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.

Can a US citizen buy a house in Portugal? ›

The short answer is YES! One of the most encouraging qualities of Portugal is that there are no restrictions for foreigners who want to buy a home in the country.

Where is the best place in Portugal for an American to live? ›

Home to approximately 87 different nationalities, Lisbon is the most popular place for expats to live in Portugal. The diversity of the city makes it a very dynamic and exciting place to live. You can also escape from the city and enjoy some of the Portuguese beaches that are in close proximity to the city.

What is the average rent in Portugal? ›

Sample Budgets
ExpenseU.S. $
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
6 more rows

Will my US pension be taxed 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 is the cheapest place to live in Portugal? ›

The Cheapest Cities To Live in Portugal – Updated in February...
  • Aveiro.
  • Bragança.
  • Caldas Da Rainha.
  • Castelo Branco.
  • Évora.
  • Portimão.
  • Santarém.
  • Viana Do Castelo.
Feb 21, 2023

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.

Why are so many people going to Portugal? ›

This country has delicious food, great vineyards, gorgeous beaches, and the fascinating history travelers crave. This 2022, according to My Dolce Casa's study, Portugal got first place as the favorite destination to move or retire for Americans.

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.

Why Millennials are moving to Portugal? ›

The thriving digital nomad community in the country has started a buzz among millennials who are looking for more freedom along with many opportunities. Portugal, especially Lisbon, offers many coworking spaces where they can meet fellow nomads.

Why are people migrating from California? ›

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

Are Americans welcomed in Portugal? ›

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.

Does Portugal tax US Social Security benefits? ›

Portugal typically taxes all income. This includes pension income and income from international sources.

Is Portugal cheap or expensive? ›

Portugal has a very low cost of living, and this includes restaurants and bars. To put this in perspective, even in the most expensive bars of Lisbon, you will not pay more than two euros for a glass of beer.

How much does it cost to live in Portugal? ›

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.

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.

Where are the people leaving California going to? ›

Texas is currently the number one destination state for those leaving California.

Why are more people leaving California? ›

Well, there are a few reasons. 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.

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.


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