Last Updated on August 5, 2022 by Laila Oliveira
Portugal is a relatively small nation but packs a bunch of beauty in such a small space. One place with a lot to show for itself is the north of Portugal. While regions like the Algarve and Lisbon are popular among travel communities, the north of Portugal is one region that’s just starting to be discovered.
If you’re wondering what it’s like living in the north of Portugal, this post will give you a detailed rundown of all you need to know about the northern side of Portugal. We attempt to answer questions about everyday living and advise on the best cities for expats in this region of Portugal.
Stick around to find out more!
Living in the north of Portugal: what is it like?
The north of Portugal is home to about 3.6 million people, accounting to nearly 39% of the country’s population. Similar to other parts of Portugal, the northern region has beautiful cities like Porto and Braga that expats call home.
Here are other things you should know about what living in this region of Portugal is like for an expat.
Who lives in the north of Portugal?
The north of Portugal is loved by locals and expats who love the rich Portuguese culture. Porto is the second biggest city in the northern region of Portugal. The majority of expats who choose to live in the north find themselves in Porto for all the right reasons.
It’s a cosmopolitan hub giving expats access to many appealing resources. Data from Pordata indicates that about 8% of the city’s population is foreign. This percentage is way above the national average of 6.4% showing how popular the north is among the expat community.
Why are expats moving to this region?
It’s no news that living in Portugal has many advantages, such as a better quality of life and a significantly lower cost of living, just to mention a few. So it doesn’t come as a surprise why expats flock to the north of Portugal. Nonetheless, some of the major reasons why expats choose this region in Portugal include the following:
- This region is quite safe, just like most Portuguese cities
- The cost of living is low
- The promise of a quality of life for common folks
- There are plenty of beautiful sceneries waiting to be explored
Cost of living in the north of Portugal
Right off the bat, you should know that the cost of living in Portugal is inarguably the lowest in western Europe. This is no different for the north of Portugal either. This region of Portugal has several cities and towns; therefore, there’s no particular value that applies to all.
However, it’s important to mention that the cost of living largely depends on your spending habits and where you choose to live in northern Portugal.
To put this in perspective, the cost of living in the largest city in this region, Porto, is relatively higher than in Guimarães, a smaller town in the northern region. Numbeo mentions that the average consumer cost in Guimarães is 8.14% lower than in Porto.
You’ll need approximately €2,900 in Porto to maintain the same lifestyle that €2,412 will give you in Guimaraes, assuming you rent in both cities. Also, living among the local population is often cheaper than living in a predominantly expat community. The higher purchasing power often drives up the cost of goods and services among the expat communities.
The best cities to live in northern Portugal?
Now that we have established that the north of Portugal is an expat and tourist magnet, let’s take a look at some of the best places to live in this region. It’s not enough to give a general overview of this vast region without mentioning some of the popular cities for expats.
The north of Portugal is a vast geographical location with plenty of cities and other small villages.
Porto is the second biggest city in Portugal and is popular among expats, thanks to its famous wine industry, historical architecture, and beautiful bridges. It’s a good destination for anyone looking to anchor down and develop their professional life.
- The cost of property is about €2,341 per square meter in the city center.
- Has one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.
- Quite popular among expats.
- The historical center in Porto is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Good public transport system.
Vila Nova de Gaia
Vila Nova de Gaia is a municipality in the Porto district in the north of Portugal. This city is the hub of wine-making. It’s popular for the plenty of wine cellars that offer tasting opportunities.
You’ll need approximately €575 for monthly expenses without factoring in rent. Vila Nova de Gaia is ideal for anyone looking for a place to learn more about the rich history of Portugal.
- The cost of a property is about €1,993 per square meter in the city center.
- Offers rich gastronomy.
- It’s a popular tourist and expat hub because of the famous wine cellars.
- Good public transport network.
- Vila Nova de Gaia is the most populous municipality in the northern region of Portugal, with a population of 302,295.
Braga is known as the religious city of Portugal thanks to the old historical churches like the Archdiocese of Braga built in the 12th century. With a population of about 193,333, it’s the seventh largest municipality in the whole of Portugal. On average, a single person will need €522 per month (without rent) on expenses.
- The average cost of property per square meter in the city center is €1,382.
- Has rich religious history.
- It’s a pleasant city with an economy that revolves around the industries of construction, metallurgy, and a significant computer industry.
- Good access to the public transport system (bus and trains).
Often referred to as the birthplace of Portugal, Guimarães is a historical city with well-preserved medieval buildings. The rich history is manifested in plenty of sites around the city, like the magnificent gothic Monastery. This historical city is also listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
- The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment right in the city center is €550 per month.
- The average cost of property per square meter is €1,260.
- The city is one of the most industrial municipalities in Portugal, with the primary industries being textiles, shoe industry, and metalomechanics.
- It’s ideal for anyone who loves history and enjoys living in a smaller city.
Vila Nova de Famalicão
Another popular historic town in the Braga district is Vila Nova de Famalicão. This particular town is strategically located right at the center bordering other cities like Braga and Guimaraes.
- This city enjoys good road networks.
- Close to other major cities in the north of Portugal, like Porto.
- The average cost of property per square meter is €1,245.
- The rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center is approximately €600 per month.
Viana do Castelo
This is by far one of the most beautiful cities in the northern part of Portugal. Viana do Castelo is characterized by beautiful beaches, historical sites, and a rich Portuguese culture that expats find fascinating. It’s a rather smaller city with a population of just about 90,000 people.
- It’s an industrial city with shipbuilding and a sizable fleet of fishing.
- It’s a tourist hub with plenty of beautiful sceneries to explore.
- The average cost of property per square meter is €1,152.
- The rent for a one-bedroom apartment is around €480.
Barcelos is a small town in the northern region of Portugal that still hold on to ancient Portuguese traditions. Traditional artisan practices like pottery are still a major activity in this city. This city is home to several medieval historical sites; the solemn ruins of a palace are just a few of the things waiting to be explored.
- Hosts a weekly market selling fresh organic produce.
- It’s a small traditional city perfect for learning more about Portuguese culture.
- The city enjoys a good transport network.
The labor market in the northern region
The northern region of Portugal is the country’s most populated region, with around 3,577,300 inhabitants accounting for around 35% of the entire population.
The general unemployment in this region has slowly declined since 2013, currently standing at 5.6%, which is at par with the national levels. The main economic driver in the north of Portugal is agriculture which has employed about 5.8% of the population.
What’s more, the north of Portugal is an important industrial zone in the country. A bulk of the employment in this industry is in manufacturing. Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that over 60% of employment in the northern region of Portugal is in the service industry.
So if you are considering moving to this region of Portugal, it’s wise to focus your search for employment in this particular niche (via European Commission).
Public and private healthcare
It goes without saying that the quality of health in Europe is good, and Portugal is not slacking behind either. Portugal has nearly 200 public and private hospitals open to the local population, expats, and tourists on short-term visits.
Public hospitals are run by the Portuguese National Health Service (Serviço Nacional de Saúde, or SNS), while private healthcare organizations manage private hospitals. Public healthcare in the north and other regions of Portugal is free to the local population and expats with legal resident status in Portugal.
However, just like any other place in the world, public hospitals are plagued by issues involving insufficient staffing and long queues that can be quite annoying sometimes.
Private healthcare, on the other hand, fills such inefficiencies but at a higher cost. You’d need private healthcare insurance to help you with the bills, especially if you choose the private healthcare route.
Studying in the north of Portugal
Portugal is one of the cheapest places to study in Europe. The north of Portugal often flies under the radar when it comes to education in Portugal.
Nonetheless, a city like Porto is home to the University of Porto (pictured below), which is popular for its quality of education. This institution is inclined toward the creative fields of engineering, sports sciences, and agriculture.
Besides the education available in schools, studying in the north of Portugal also gives you the unique opportunity to learn about the rich history of the Portuguese people. The northern region is a popular cultural and historical site that is ideal for expats who want to learn a thing or two about traditional Portugal.
To explore more about enrolling your children in a school in the north of Portugal, you can check out our article on the best International Schools in Porto.
Leisure and nightlife
It’s never a dull time while in the north. This part of the country has many things you can do for leisure. Depending on the particular city, you can go for hikes, enjoy the nightlife, or visit plenty of historical sites, just to mention a few.
What is particularly interesting about the north of Portugal is the rich gastronomy. Get to try out new cuisines and give your taste buds a burst of flavor from the plenty of local restaurants available. You can also visit local hip bars and get to interact with the local population.
Pros and cons of living in the north of Portugal
Living in the north of Portugal is exciting; however, just like any other place in the world, it has its fair share of advantages and disadvantages.
The most important thing is to acknowledge that moving to a new country will require you to deal with the challenges of integration into the community.
Having a community of expats who have been through the same struggles will help you settle in. Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of living in the north of Portugal.
- Low cost of living
- Very low crime rate compared to other places
- Good quality education
- The local population is very welcoming and friendly
- Huge expat community
- Winter in the north is harsher than in other parts of Portugal
- Smoking in public areas
- Language can be a barrier in some regions
Is it worth living in the northern region of Portugal?
Living in the north of Portugal is amazing; there are plenty of destinations to pick from, each ideal for different activities. A city like Porto offers a diversity of cultures and has the most employment opportunities in the corporate industry.
On the other hand, if you don’t fancy the busy life of a city, Braga is quite slow-paced with a lot of rich religious history.
We cannot mention this enough: living in Portugal is cheaper and offers a better quality of life than most other European countries. So is it worth living in this region of Portugal? Absolutely! There’s no better time to do so than now!
However, if you want to hear it from expats who have gone through the process before, be sure to join our Facebook Group – All About Portugal For Expats. Let’s be honest, the thought of moving to a new country is exciting; however, the relocation process can be quite overwhelming if it’s your first time.
Get in touch with our immigration professionals at Viv Europe and allow us to help you make your dream come true. Reach out today, and let our team worry about the legal and financial jargon as you focus on getting yourself ready for this major step in your life.