CNN Travel guarantees that in Portugal there is a kind of unofficial mantra that we should "work to live" and not "live to work". And it adds that in a country with over 900 kilometres of coastline, with 300 days of sunshine a year and one of the most succulent gastronomies in the world, living like this, slowly, possibly in a villa or apartment with a sea view, is really an inevitability. And it also says that this helps explain why so many thousands of people, from China to Brazil, not forgetting the USA, are packing their bags and moving to this small country in the south of the Iberian Peninsula. It is a romantic vision, exaggerated as befits romanticism, but not exactly false. The concrete reasons are, however, broader and are also related to the enormous security, political stability, property prices, quality and access to the national health service, the hospitality and fluency in English of the Portuguese and the quality of life, among many other factors.
Related: Porto and Algarve are tax havens for foreign retirees
In this extensive list of reasons, it is not possible to ignore the tax benefits and the various visa programmes that the Portuguese government grants to foreigners who want to invest or buy a house in Portugal, which has been transforming the country into one of the most attractive destinations for citizens from outside the European Union and the European Economic Area who want to live and/or work in Europe. The most recent national offer concerns digital nomads, as you can read here.
Related: Portugal is about to launch a visa for digital nomads
But there is also the D7 Portugal Visa, which acknowledges the possibility of residency for retired people or those with their own income, and the Golden Visa, which allows residence and investment in Portugal and in the Schengen Area through the purchase of property worth more than 500,000 euros, among other investment options. In this case, after six years, it is still possible to obtain Portuguese nationality. Americans and Brazilians are some of the citizens who have most taken advantage of this opportunity, launched in 2012, to change countries. In any case, the Golden Visa only requires holders to spend between seven and 14 days a year living in Portugal. The only apparent disadvantage is the fact that, in 2022, the rules have changed regarding the places where it is possible to make property investments: in Porto and the Algarve, for example, it is no longer possible to make acquisitions. But it is still possible to invest in the stunning and exclusive Alto Douro Wine Region or in several coastal towns in the North of Portugal, such as Vila do Conde.
Related: 2022 is the year to invest in Douro real estate
CNN Travel interviewed several people to understand their motivations, as well as their level of satisfaction with the move to Portugal. And it heard almost no criticism or complaints. Quite the opposite, in fact. The absence of violence, the healthy pace of life, the mild climate, good internet connections and the ease of travelling throughout Europe are among the main qualities attributed to the country of fado. This was witnessed by Grace Veach, a teacher who used to teach at the University of Florida in the United States, but who after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, decided to move to Portugal. "I wanted to live in a place where gun violence was not a daily threat," said the 59-year-old woman, who now lives in Coimbra, along with her husband and 27-year-old son. The three family members applied for a D7 visa from Portugal, which must be converted into a residence request within four months of its issue, obliging the holder to spend 16 months of the first two years in Portugal. This visa gives free access to the National Health Service, allows to work in the country and, after five years, also allows to apply for Portuguese citizenship.
Bill Mauro, 58, and his husband, Marcus Laurence, 51, both retired from the insurance sales industry, have left Pennsylvania for Portugal in 2019. The couple say they have sold everything they had in the US, managing to carry what's left in just six suitcases. Affordable healthcare, quality of life, street safety, recognition of marriage and of LGBTQ+ rights and over 300 days of annual sunshine are Bill Mauro's stated reasons for the move. They found their dream home in a village on a mountain top in the centre of the country. "We live comfortably on about 1800 euros a month, an amount that wouldn't be enough to pay for health insurance if we had chosen to stay in the US."
Related: What does Portugal have that the Americans want?
Access to health care is precisely the reason invoked by Glen Cook, 59, a retired high school teacher who taught music and drama, for having decided to buy a house in Portugal. With him he brought his husband, Todd Doleshall, also retired, and their teenage son. "At some point, we realized that we had enough money to stop working, but not enough money to pay for healthcare in the US, which is exorbitantly priced," he explained. Before opting for Portugal, this couple still considered other possibilities, such as Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Italy and Ireland. But the Portuguese advantages outweighed those of all the other countries. And they had proof of this more quickly than they expected. We went through a catastrophic medical situation that probably would have bankrupted us in the US," Glen Cook told CNN Travel in a written interview. "Here, everything was completely covered. I'm still amazed that we were never charged a single euro for any of the services provided, which included one month's stay in intermediate care, followed by four months of rehabilitation."
According to the immigration report for the year 2021, Americans represent 6,885 people in the universe of 698,887 who moved that year. Brazilians are 204,694 and Chinese are 22,782. Many British citizens, and now also Canadians, are seeking to move to Portugal. The trend continued in 2022, with foreign citizens buying homes in Portugal. According to data recently released by the Bank of Portugal, non-resident buyers accounted for 12% of the homes transacted until November. Census data shows that the number of foreigners living in Portugal increased 37% in the last decade and was set at 542,314, which represents 5.2% of the total population. The easy adaptation to the country is another reason for these numbers. The Portuguese language is not considered the easiest in the world, but the government offers a 150-hour course to help. "We appreciate everything that Portugal has offered us as immigrants by receiving us with open arms in its beautiful country. We are now trying to learn and assimilate the language, the culture and the history," concludes Bill Mauro.