Jamie Dixon landed in this hilly seaside town nine months ago, ditching her luxury trailer in Malibu for a two-floor rooftop apartment that's twice the size for a fraction of the rent.
Her escape from her native California came amid growing costs of living, encroaching wildfires and a waning sense of safety after the burglary of a neighbor's home. The fitness-trainer-turned-startup-worker decided it was time to reinvent herself in a foreign land, but like many American expats she didn't want to feel too far from home.
In this wealthy enclave about 15 miles from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, she found her slice of California on the west coast of Europe: ocean breezes, mountain views, hot spring days on palm-tree-lined promenades, and the glow of sunsets that seep into the night.
"Things were just becoming too much back home, but I didn't want to leave everything about L.A. behind," said Dixon, 37. Dressed in yoga pants and cross-trainers, she sipped white wine at an organic cafe that overlooked waves crashing into Big Sur-like cliffs a short walk from the rental she shares with her actor husband and 7-year-old daughter.
"With Portugal," she said, "we could keep the parts we liked and leave the rest."
Dixon has plenty of company in a country that has become an international destination for tourism and residency alike.
This once seafaring empire known for Port wine and Fado music can feel a lot like California. Except it's much more affordable on a U.S. budget. That's one reason the slender nation on the Atlantic has attracted — and even advertised to — Americans who are packing up.
In the last decade, the overall population in Portugal has declined even as the number of foreigners has grown by 40%. The ranks of American citizens living in this land of 10 million shot up by 45% last year. Within the mix of retirees, digital nomads and young families fed up with issues including the costs of housing and healthcare, Trumpian politics and pandemic policies, Californians are making themselves known in a country once considered the forgotten sibling of Spain.
"I'd say 95% of my clients are now Americans," said André Fernandes, a 38-year-old Porto-based real estate broker who, upon seeing the surge in interest in his homeland, moved back from New Jersey three years ago and switched from installing fire sprinklers to selling housing. "In the last week, I've calledor emailed with people from California, Arizona and New Mexico." One recent client, he said, was a Netflix writer.
Portugal emerged from the financial crisis of the mid-2000s as one of the European Union's poorest nations.With the economy in shambles, Lisbon lawmakers drafted immigration laws to aggressively court foreign professionals, from the wealthy, who could essentially buy residency by purchasing land, to remote workers, who could secure a path to citizenship by earning money abroad but spending it here. More recently, the nation, which for the last seven years has hosted the Web Summit tech conference, has fashioned itself as a tax haven for cryptocurrency investors.
The government estimates that foreigners have invested more than $6 billion in Portugal since 2012 through property purchases alone. The closely related tourist and rental industries brought in more than $10 billion last year and, before the pandemic, represented 15% of the nation's GDP. (During the same time in the U.S., tourism accounted for less than 3% of the economy.)
For Dixon, a fourth-generation Californian, the visa process was textbook. She and her husband, Joey Dixon, had to open a Portuguese bank account with savings equal to about $21,000 — about twice the minimum wage — and lock into a yearlong lease.
Joey Dixon, who has appeared in "Yellowstone" and "S.W.A.T.," is starting an acting school for other Hollywood transplants. His wife, who at first went through bouts of loneliness, now comes home to plastic containers of homemade soup at her door from the neighbor below, an older Portuguese woman, and has befriended a nearby couple and their child who moved from New York and started a relocation company.
A few blocks down the street, the Dixons have met a California couple — one of them works for Adobe — who recently made the move. A family from Seattle is expected to arrive this month and will occupy the first floor of the Dixons' three-story gated apartment building. Seeing an influx of Americans, their daughter's school recently hired an English teacher and now has bilingual instruction.
"My Portuguese is still bad," said Jamie Dixon, who has taken classes but uses her favorite phrase to describe her attitude toward the slow journey of integration: não faz mal ("no big deal"). She hopes to speak enough in five years to pass the citizenship test, which would gain the family European Union passports. With them comes the freedom to move and work throughout much of the continent.
"You just don't know where America is headed these days. Are we going to be fighting with each other forever? Are we in the Cold War again with Russia?" Dixon said. "Getting that second passport would be a relief."
But resentment of newcomers is growing. Angelenos can't always escape — and sometimes are at the root of — questions over gentrification, income disparities and immigration. The phrase "expat" itself has become loaded in Lisbon, a city that attracts tens of thousands of working-class immigrants from Brazil, Ukraine, Romania and India. In Facebook groups and cafe meetups, well-to-do Westerners debate over how to define themselves. On the streets, Portuguese activists have protested against evictions and skyrocketing rents caused in part by foreigners with banks that count in dollars and pounds.
"There's no doubt that the foreign investment has greatly helped Portugal's economy and made the cities more beautiful," said Isabel da Bandeira, an activist who co-founded the Lisbon housing rights group Aqui Mora Gente (People Live Here). "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."
Across Lisbon, the country's largest urban center with 550,000 people, it's hard to miss the Californians. The city, where tourism has boomed over the years to the point that entire streets in its historic core are made up exclusively of hotels and Airbnbs, has attracted monied newcomers from across the world, including the United Kingdom, Cape Verde, South Africa and Russia. But more Americans are buying expensive property than any other foreigners, surpassing the Chinese.
An article last year in the Lisbon-based newspaper Diário de Notícias extolled the ties between California and Portugal. "It's fundamental to put Portugal on the map for Californians," Pedro Pinto, the Portuguese consul general in San Francisco, said in the piece, as he suggested a direct flight from Los Angeles to Lisbon "would have high demand" (there's already one from San Francisco).
California has long drawn the Portuguese. Spain and Portugal claim 16th century colonial explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, who was the first European to land on California's shores, as one of their own. In the mid-19th century, droves of farmers from the Azores made their way to Central California. In San Jose, the Little Portugal neighborhood pays homage to the region's immigrant history. But today, the transplants go the other way and are of a different variety: upper middle class or wealthier with online jobs or well-managed retirement accounts.
After years of divisive politics, failed wars, worsening wealth gaps and fights over national identity, Americans are perhaps more flexible in their patriotism and willing to make a home beyond their borders. For residents of California, where the best and worst of America appear to constantly collide, the shores of Portugal have offered a respite.
From the retiree villages of Mexico and Central America to the red-white-and-blue enclaves scattered throughout Asia and Europe, Americans have long had a curious and at times contentious relationship with the world and its cultures. They are often viewed as wanting to cast other nations in their image, a criticism cleverly distilled in Graham Greene's novel "The Quiet American." They want the exotic so long as there's a scent of the familiar.
In Portugal, some recent California expats have taken it upon themselves to make the pitch for how to conjure a bit of their home state while living abroad.
Jen Wittman, who moved with her husband and 13-year-old son to Lisbon in March last year, runs a Facebook group called Californians Moving To/Living In Portugal. In a community of migrants where dozens of Facebook pages function as a how-to library on moving, Wittman said she created hers a year ago after seeing Californians "getting mocked in other groups for very California questions, like where to get good avocados and Mexican food."
The avocados have been easy to come by. The Mexican food, not so much, though there is a San Diego couple who have a homemade tamale and Mexican import business.
"I feel like we as Californians have more particular things we want. We want the sun, the water, the amenities, the fresh and organic food," said Wittman, 47, a former chef who runs an online consulting company for small businesses with her husband. "We also tend to have higher incomes than other Americans so people get annoyed when we ask our budgeting questions in other expat groups."
A resident of Playa del Rey for 20 years, she left for Lisbon after a stint in Sonoma County. For Wittman, it was her mother's death and a desire to rethink the future that spurred the move. She also wanted her son to have free college tuition in EU nations once the family gains citizenship. In Portugal, she said, she feels safer, has more affordable healthcare, and has gained distance from the political division of America.
The rent on the family's furnished three-bedroom apartment, tucked away on a cobblestone street next to a 13th century stone cathedral in the Alfama district, is 2,100 euros — less than $2,200. With its elevator access, renovated kitchen and a view of cruise ships on the Tagus River, it's a steal on their budget. Wittman, accustomed to quick workday meals back home, now has leisurely hours-long lunches at her favorite Portuguese restaurant, where a plate of salad, chicken legs and potatoes is served with wine, espresso and mango custard for 10 euros, or about $11.
Her neighborhood, one of Lisbon's oldest where every other apartment is now housing for internationals,has been the center of protests over evictions and gentrification. Wittman, who mostly mingles with foreigners, said she's received no hostility from locals. Instead, she too has felt the crunch of Portugal's growing popularity.
"We were able to get a deal because of COVID and few people visiting the city," said Wittman, who still maintains bits of her Midwestern accent from her Indiana upbringing. That was before a lease extension offer came in at 3,650 euros. "Now that our time is coming up, we can't even find anything affordable in the city."
This month, the family is moving to the suburbs across the river, 40 minutes away.
Luis Mendes, a geographer at the University of Lisbon, said the effect of Americans and foreigners in Portugal is mixed.
"You cannot deny that places like Lisbon have become much more appealing for young, creative people with money to spend. The effect on the economy and the way the buildings look — no longer empty — is astronomical," said Mendes. "But the average Portuguese person can no longer afford to live in the center of Lisbon. Rents have gone up five times over a few years. Even the basic things, such as buying groceries, take longer trips outside the city center than they used to."
The trend has hit not "only lifelong, lower-class residents but also gentrifiers who see a 1,000-euros-per-month rented flat transformed into a 120-euro-per-night Airbnb," said Jordi Mateo, a professor at NOVA University of Lisbon.
The government has recognized the crisis. As of this year, the nation's popular "golden visa" program, which offers residency to foreigners who buy homes priced at 500,000 euros or more — Americans dominate the program — is no longer taking applications in the biggest cities. That includes Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve, the southern coastal region long popular with retirees and lovers of surf culture.
In just a few years, evictions have more than doubled in Lisbon. The city's former mayor, Fernando Medina, had launched an initiative to rent out hundreds of Airbnbs to use as housing for local workers only to see his ambitions fizzle because owners could make more on the private market. "Lisbon, don't be French," said a recent comment on the Facebook page of the activist group Stop Despejos (Stop Evictions), a reference to the exorbitant costs of expat-heavy destinations in France.
While the nation's popularity has grown fast during the pandemic with prices for locals and newcomers alike doing the same, those who arrived earlier have in some ways fared better.
Therese Mascardo, a 39-year-old therapist from Santa Monica, flew to Lisbon in 2019 after experimenting with online sessions to cut down on her four-hour daily round-trip commute to Orange County. Frustrated with the Trump presidency, mass shootings and a car-bound lifestyle, she said she sought out "the antiquity and charm" of an old European city that was walkable. Mascardo was attracted to the fact that right-wing parties have not made the same inroads in the nation as they have elsewhere in Europe.
Today, she can afford to work just two days a week — on a California schedule — while building out an online social media therapy content brand in her free time. She has money to spare after paying her monthly 1,000-euro rent. One Sunday a month, she leads a rotating museum tour for digital nomads on stopovers in the city.
From the streets outside her three-bedroom apartment that straddles the Estrela and Lapa neighborhoods, Mascardo, who grew up in Orange and studied at UC Berkeley, can look downhill and spot the the 25th of April Bridge. Modeled after the Bay Bridge, it is painted in the same red as the Golden Gate and reminds her of home.
But despite twice-yearly trips to Los Angeles, where she lugs in cheap Vinho Verde and stocks up on Anthropologie candles and Trader Joe's pea chips for the return, she has no plans to leave.
"I love my weekly stroll to the farmers market and being within a 15-minute walk of most of my friends," Mascardo said. "I love the kindness and hospitality of the Portuguese people, especially when they graciously endure my nascent Portuguese language skills and gently offer corrections and tips. I love that people eat bread here and aren’t always talking about the restrictive diet they are on. I love that dressing down is the standard way of existence here. I feel happier and not just trying hard to be happy."
Jamie Dixon feels the same way.
Walking recently along the Avenida da República, the cliffside road near her new home that's lined with cafes overlooking the ocean, she was for moments convinced she was back in Malibu at a sort of Point Dume on the Atlantic. But as she crossed the road and glimpsed the Portuguese street signs, she was reminded that it takes time and patience to build a new life in a distant land.
"I miss knowing people when I go out to a restaurant or bar. I miss frolicking in the desert. I miss Palm Springs. I miss how easy it is to pay bills or renew my license. I miss being fluent," Dixon said. "It's taken months to just feel like we are barely settling in. But I feel safer here going out alone. I'm excited my daughter will speak other languages."
She was on her way home to pack for a family trip to Mallorca, something that would have required a week of time off and thousands of dollars when she was back in the U.S. From here, it would be a quick weekend jaunt on the cheap.
"I thought L.A. was the end-all, be-all and the only place out there," she said. "But, sometimes, you have to take a leap and realize America isn't home forever."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Why are so many Californians 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.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.How hard is it for a US citizen to move to Portugal? ›
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.What do expats say about Portugal? ›
Portugal is one of the most amazing destinations for expats in Western Europe. It has a warm climate, excellent ecology, rich culture, a stable economy, and high-quality medicine and education. Learn about all benefits of life in Portugal and costs of living in the country.Where do most Americans move to in Portugal? ›
Most expats in Portugal live in Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve.Does Portugal tax US Social Security benefits? ›
Portugal typically taxes all income. This includes pension income and income from international sources.Are American retirees welcome in 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 much money do you need to live comfortably in Portugal? ›
How much it costs to live in Portugal depends on your budget. Generally, one person can live comfortably with an income or allowance of $2,000 per month. A family of three can live on $3,000 per month with ease.Can you be a dual citizen of the US and Portugal? ›
Both the US and Portugal allow their citizens to have dual citizenship.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 long can a US citizen live in Portugal? ›
US citizens can stay in Portugal for up to 90 days in every 180 days as tourists, without needing any visa. After that, you'll need to leave the Schengen area for another 90 days, before you can re-enter.How much tax do US retirees pay in Portugal? ›
Taxes on retired expats in Portugal
You are considered a tax resident if you live in Portugal for at least 183 days during a tax year or if you have permanent residence there on 31 December. NHR status offers favorable tax conditions, including for earnings that would otherwise be subject to retirement tax.
Lisbon is one of the cities where expats are happiest with their life abroad, according to the Internations Expat City Ranking 2022, where the Portuguese capital comes in fourth.What city in Portugal has the most expats? ›
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.How much is a gallon of gas in Portugal? ›
Portugal Gasoline prices, 27-Feb-2023.
|Portugal Gasoline prices||Litre||Gallon|
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.Is Portugal stressful? ›
Portugal places as the third most stressed country in Europe. The Iberian nation has the second-highest divorce rate in Europe, with 58.7 divorces per 100 marriages, in addition to one of the lower employment rates in Europe, with 56.1% of the population employed.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.Do expats pay taxes in Portugal? ›
Non-residents are taxed at a flat rate of 25% on their taxable remuneration in 2023.Where is the least humid place in Portugal? ›
The Algarve has the best climate in Europe, meaning the most days of sun, and it also gains from prevailing winds. Between the water and the wind, this region is never unbearably hot and rarely humid. Temperatures range between about 60°F and 90°F with humidity hovering around 80%.
Is my US pension taxable in Portugal? ›
Regarding possible withholdings in the source country for Non-Resident Income Tax, according to the Agreement to avoid double taxation between Portugal and most of the OECD countries, pensions will be taxed only in the country of residence, i.e. in Portugal.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? ›
Visitors on a short-term visit to Portugal will require purchasing private health insurance to cover themselves during their stay. This will help them access health services and other emergency treatment services as and when required.What are the cons of retiring in Portugal? ›
- Bureaucracy can be slow.
- Understanding double taxation can be tricky.
- Winters can be cold.
- Learning Portuguese is difficult.
- Cultural shock.
- Slow pace of life.
- Lots of tourists.
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.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|
|Municipality||Median value per m2|
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.Does Portugal tax dual citizenship with USA? ›
If Portugal has a double tax treaty with your current country of citizenship, then your income won't be taxed twice. U.S. citizens and green card holders have to file tax returns in the United States, no matter where they live in the world.
What are disadvantages of dual citizenship? ›
Drawbacks of being a dual citizen include the potential for double taxation, the long and expensive process for obtaining dual citizenship, and the fact that you become bound by the laws of two nations.How long can a U.S. citizen stay out of the country? ›
Absences of more than 365 consecutive days
You must apply for a re-entry permit (Form I-131) before you leave the United States, or your permanent residence status will be considered abandoned. A re-entry permit enables you to be abroad for up to two years. Apply for a re-entry permit.
Mexico is the top destination for Americans moving abroad, followed by the U.K., Canada and Australia. So far in 2022, ~75% more Americans have moved to Mexico than Canada. Portugal has seen the biggest percentage increase in Americans moving in (+122% from 2019-2021)Where are most Americans moving to? ›
Florida (318,855), Texas (230,961), and the Carolinas – North Carolina (99,796) and South Carolina (84,030) – were the states with the most net domestic migration gains in 2022. Positive net domestic migration and positive net international migration significantly boosted population growth in these areas.Where do most US expats live? ›
So, where do American expats go? The majority of U.S. citizens living abroad can be found in our neighboring countries of Canada and Mexico. That being said, hundreds of thousands of Americans have successfully ventured to faraway countries such as the Phillipines, Italy, and South Korea.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.Why are so many Americans moving to Portugal? ›
Among all the reasons, one stands out: most Americans want to make better use of their retirement income in places with a lower cost of living, mild climate, along with access to quality public services- particularly, places where it is easy to feel healthier, happier, and also less stressed than in the United States.Do you need health insurance in Portugal? ›
It's important to take out appropriate travel insurance for your needs. A GHIC or EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance and you should have both before you travel. It does not cover all health-related costs, for example, medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment and non-urgent treatment.Does IRS tax foreign pension? ›
Absent application of a particular treaty provision, foreign social security pensions are generally taxed as if they were foreign pensions or foreign annuities. They are not eligible for exclusion from taxable income the way a U.S. social security pension might be unless a tax treaty provides for an exclusion.Do you pay tax on US pension if you live abroad? ›
Distributions from your 401(k) and pensions are still taxed as income, albeit they're treated as unearned income—meaning you won't be able to claim them under the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.
Why are Californians 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 flocking 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.Can an American just move to Portugal? ›
Can American citizens move to Portugal? Technically you're allowed to enter the country visa-free and stay there for up to 90 days. If you wish to live there long-term, then you need to get a residence permit.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.
Portugal is an increasingly popular retirement destination in large part because of its low cost of living. On average, the cost of living excluding rent is almost 29% lower than in the U.S., according to numbeo.com.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 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.Can I collect Social Security if I move to Portugal? ›
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.Why do Americans want to move to Portugal? ›
Why are so many Americans moving to Portugal? Common reasons for many Americans to move to Portugal include more affordable cost of living compared to the US, access to state healthcare, lack of gun crime, better overall safety, and an excellent climate.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.
What nationalities visit Portugal the most? ›
Similar weather and geography
This is one factor that Portugal and California have in common. While Portugal is in Europe and California in North America, these two destinations have a cool Mediterranean climate that is appealing to most people.
Spain, in the Mediterranean Basin, is California's climate cousin. On every continent except Antarctica, the west coasts share a similar climate, called the Mediterranean climate.What celebrities moved to Portugal? ›
But the number of famous people finding a home in Portugal over the past few years has been notable. Madonna is now a semi-permanent resident, with her son playing in Benfica's academy. Other converts include Ricky Martin, Michael Fassbender, Monica Bellucci, Christian Louboutin and Eric Cantona.How much does a house cost in Portugal in US dollars? ›
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.Do American debit cards work in Portugal? ›
Will my credit or debit card work in Portugal? Yes. Many Portuguese shops, restaurants, and museums will accept international cards, especially in more touristy areas. American cards like Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are accepted in a majority of locations.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.