Find out the biggest challenges expats face in their first days living in Portugal. How hard is it to adjust? Check it out!

Last Updated on November 20, 2023 by Maryam Siddiqui

The first days living in Portugal, a new country, are almost always exciting. Discovering a new culture, new gastronomy, and new friends. The happiness of being a tourist and a resident, all at once.

You might be an extreme planner and have it all figured out for months. Or you might be the more relaxed type and decide to go with the flow. Regardless of how you are, challenges as a new resident exist. And Portugal is no exception.

By the end of this article, you should know the biggest challenges new expats face when they relocate here. The locals also have equally difficult experiences, but we love Portugal dearly. Let’s discuss the most repetitive issues we often hear of.

The biggest challenges in the first days living in Portugal

Here, we like to say: ”not everything is flowers” and it makes sense. Portugal can be a great host for many things, and it will be, but you might struggle at some point. Especially in the first days as a resident.

So when it comes to perfection, no country is flawless. And as a new resident, there’ll be experiences far from perfect. The trick is to be ready to face them and know what to expect.

1. Portuguese: a tough language

Almost everyone here speaks at least a little bit of English, so communication will be fine. But what about hearing Portuguese speaking their own language every day? Then it becomes challenging.

Derived from Latin, Portuguese is complex and sounds difficult to understand. Pronunciation varies much depending on the region and even from person to person. We use a lot of consonants and tend to close the vowels when speaking.

Learning Portuguese in the first days living in Portugal

Endless different words with the same meaning, and similar or even the exact same word meaning different things. Verbs and tenses that never finish, 3 distinct ways of saying ”You”.

The list is long, but the end result is one: We sound like Russian, and we have too many words with odd sounds.

So in your first days living in Portugal, you might feel overwhelmed by people speaking around you. Portuguese speak fast and tend to shorten words. And even when you think you have it figured out and that you know how to ask for a simple coffee…you’ll realize we have around 10 different words for coffee alone.

With time, it will become easier, and at times you will think about learning Portuguese. So if you do, great! But here’s some advice: accept that you’ll never understand it fully. Because even us, born and raised here, don’t.

Despite that, English is becoming a fairly common language now, especially in regions that are more popular among tourists and expats. Cities like Lisbon, Porto, and Faro have plenty of expats that converse only in English, while learning Portuguese slowly.

Take things at your own pace and keep learning new words. The people are welcoming, so you won’t face huge language barriers trying to communicate something you’d need; they’ll probably understand anyway.

2. Bureaucracy: a common pain

There’s no way around it: Portugal is a bureaucratic country. Simple daily tasks related to asking for any documentation are usually a challenge.

Whether you’re going to ask for your taxpayer number, your resident card, or even just request to open a bank account, the process is rarely smooth or fast.

Prepare to get called the first time to explain what you need and get a pile of forms. Then again, to deliver everything filled out. Later, you’ll realize that there is something missing that you never thought about or were told to bring. Then come back to provide everything requested. 

Then having to go to a different department because of detail. And then, after a full morning of this…you will finally have in your hands a paper. That will tell you to wait at least two weeks to come back and get the actual document you requested.

Bureaucracy can be tiring, demotivating, and stressful for a new resident. In this situation, it’s advisable to reach out to professionals that can help you with the whole process. You will save time, energy, and even money. Because you won’t have to constantly go back and forth to have things moving forward. And you’ll actually believe it’s easy and smooth.

Although quite the hurdle,  bureaucracy isn’t something that pushes people away from living in Portugal. Of course, there are pros and cons to everything in life, including the most amazing countries. 

People usually get used to it – in a good way. After all, it’s a small price to pay for the excellent quality of life you get here. The magic of Portugal makes locals and expats stay in love with the country despite its flaws.

3. The slow-pace lifestyle: a curse or blessing?

Among the biggest challenges in the first days of living in Portugal, is the Portuguese lifestyle

Expat challenges living in Portugal

In Portugal, it’s difficult to request a document and get it ready on the same day. It’s also difficult to apply for a job and get called the same week. And it’s even a challenge to rent a house without having to wait until all parties have agreed to everything. Which takes time.

If you check out the article 10 Portuguese Habits I Adopted After Moving to Portugal, you’ll understand that people don’t like to rush things here. Whether that’s a coffee break or a dinner plan, we like to cherish every moment. 

With the fast-paced lifestyles quickly changing everything we do, unwinding and recharging mid-day is a blessing, to say the least. 

It’s true that the slow-paced lifestyle has attracted many here so that they could live a more stress-free life. This means that the way you look at it will depend on how you are as a person. You might actually enjoy that extra time you’ll have to think about your decision and take advantage of it.

But if you have that ”to-do” attitude,  always with urgency to get things done, you might struggle with this new way of living.

With time and patience, it’s possible you’ll start looking at it with bright eyes, knowing that you won’t have to face the constant rush of the big cities.

Lisbon and Porto are where life moves faster, and still, in both places, it can be quiet and stress-free. You won’t have to worry much about being slightly delayed or needing an extra day off to take care of something. We appreciate life and the little moments in life. And we’ll want you to do that too.

4. Parking lots and traffic: test-driving your patience

Driving in Portugal can be an easy and pleasant thing at times. But not always. We have beautiful roads with the sea and the mountains as background. Driving in such places is a privilege not many have in other countries.

But when it comes to the city and the traffic, the story changes. Traffic jams happen every single day on certain roads, and having to wake up earlier to reach work on time is a reality.

Traffic jam in Portugal

You’ll then have to face the struggle of parking in the city. Parking isn’t free almost anywhere, and still, you might not be able to find a spot fast. Going around in circles is something that happens to almost everyone. 

And losing patience in traffic is a possibility that too many of us know about. Definitely one of the biggest challenges in the first days living in Portugal.

This is why planning your day to avoid traffic hours and having your monthly paid parking can save you a lot of stress.

Another challenging part might be the name of our streets. We have a lot of different denominations depending on how small or big a street is. It can be an ”Avenida”, ”Rua”, ”Praceta”, ”Largo”, ”Praça”. The list goes on. 

And the worst part is that many of them have the same name but are in two different parts of the city. Sometimes, even in a different city. So, using a GPS is a must.

The good news is that the public transport situation is developing quickly, and cities like Lisbon have the best systems in place. It usually takes 15 minutes to travel to most places via the metro, and the stations are clean and efficient. 

Many people don’t prefer having their own car if they’re living in Lisbon or Porto, for example. 

5. Taxes: a Portuguese ”Fado” (Fate)

All Portuguese have one thing in common: how much we all complain about the amount of taxes we pay. For everything.

Whether in the supermarket, the restaurant, or any service in general and even in the monthly tax deductions on our salary, we know we pay a lot of taxes. Keep reading to know where that tax money is invested.

Even if you’re used to paying taxes already, you’ll still get surprised with some of those added ones that you’ll have to pay in Portugal.

When it comes to taxes, it will be challenging not only to see the amount of them but also that they’ll have different percentages. It all depends on whether it’s related to a basic need or not.

After a while, you’ll get used to it and understand that there are a lot of free benefits as well, such as access to healthcare, education, and legal protection. But it’s something that we, the Portuguese, never stop quibbling about. So if you do start complaining, know that you actually might be becoming one of us.

However, we think it’s also important to mention that public healthcare is now free of cost and very efficient when it comes to service. The system is well-recognized, and some people don’t rely on insurance at all. 

The city is secure, our children go to school safely, and we are treated well in hospitals. At the end of the day, living in a safe country with people who care about our well-being is all that matters to us.

So is it worth living in Portugal?

With so many challenges to face as a new resident in the first days living in Portugal, should you still feel excited about this journey? The answer is: why not?

Every single country you go to will present you with challenges once you arrive there. So the question isn’t about finding the most perfect place. It is about knowing the place you chose to live in and being prepared to face the struggles.

The great part about this is that Portugal doesn’t have that many challenges when compared to all the perks it can offer you. The quality of life in Portugal makes living here worth it. So grab your bags, buy the ticket and take the step. You’ll learn the rest along the way.

So when are you moving here? If you need help in any stage of your relocation process to Portugal, you can count on Viv Europe professionals to guide you. Contact us and let us help make your Portugal plan a reality.



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