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Moving anywhere requires planning and money. Moving abroad brings a whole new set of expenses.
How Much Money Will You Need?
The Baseline Income
If you want to immigrate to Portugal (and just about every other first world country), you need to meet certain income requirements. Portugal has one of the lower barriers to entry in Europe: You need to show a minimum income of about €705 ($750) per month which is equivalent to the Portuguese minimum wage. For a second adult and any additional adults, they will need income of 50% of that amount. Add an additional 30% for each child. So, a family of four, two adults and two children, would need a provable minimum income of €705 + €352.50 + €211.50 + €211.50 for a total of €1,480.50.
One way to do this is by showing your Social Security payment and/or any pensions. Some people have enough investment income to take a consistent payment from those accounts that meets that requirement. You want to have a track record of those payouts.
For those who aren’t yet of retirement age and don’t have a trust fund (blame your parents; I do), you need to show earned income. If you’ve been in business for yourself, you can use your tax documents. If you’re working remotely for a company, you need to get a letter from the company stating that they will be keeping you on as an employee or independent contractor, and again, you’ll need to prove that income.
When you submit your visa application, you need to include three months of bank statements and/or proof of your pension. (Social Security sends out a benefits letter every year to recipients and you can probably go online to get one if you trashed yours.)
You will also need to show that you have the funds to sustain yourself for approximately one year—figure about $8,500. Portugal would like to see those funds in a Portuguese bank. Right now, like much of the D7 visa process, getting a Portuguese bank account is in a Catch-22 situation. Some banks now require that you have a Portuguese residency visa before they will open an account for you. This is something that is in flux and it could change again in a week or a month. It may be just a matter of checking the expat Facebook groups to see which banks will open an account for non-residents.
When I first applied for my long-term stay visa, I did not need to have my Portuguese bank account set up or my NIF (Fiscal Number, which is different from a social security number). It wasn’t required at the time. Once I was here I set that up. You can’t do very much in Portugal without a NIF: You need it to open a bank account, rent an apartment, buy a house or car, get a phone or cable/internet. On the plus side, when you give your NIF for any purchases, you get some sort of (small) tax break. The requirements have changed and now you need to have your NIF, a funded Portuguese bank account, and a 12 month rental contract in place before you apply for the visa. That’s a big leap of faith and it requires that you either make a visit to Portugal before you apply for your visa or use lawyers/assistance companies to set this up. It also means that you may end up paying rent on a place for a month or more before you can actually use it.
If you’re self-employed and your income is on the feast or famine rollercoaster, you may want to set up a company and pay yourself a steady, documentable wage for the months not just leading up to applying for the visa, but for all the months you are in Portugal.
Once in country, you need to meet with immigration, aka SEF. This normally takes place within three months (the visa is a four month stay), but with COVID, things have gotten extended and I finally had my immigration appointment eight months after I arrived. Immigration used all the paperwork I had given when I applied, with the addition of my Portuguese bank statements and a copy of my long term lease. However, requirements vary office to office and person to person: There’s no guaranty that you won’t be asked for current bank statements.
The bottom line reasoning behind this for Portugal (and other countries) is that they want you to be able to support yourself. Do not come to Portugal in hopes of getting a job. Yes, you may be hired by a Portuguese company (or university) and move here, but for the most part, jobs are for Portuguese natives. You need to be self-funded.
You will need money for three, possibly four separate events:
- Applying and Qualifying for the Visa
- The Actual Move
- Ongoing (Living) Expenses
- Scouting Trip (Optional but recommended)
1. Applying and Qualifying for the Visa
$700 per person plus four months’ rent plus approximately $8,500 in reserves
I documented some of my visa expenses in The Moving Parts of Moving Abroad.
The fees for gathering all the paperwork needed for my visa, including VFS Global (they process your visa package), Fed Ex fees, health insurance, fingerprinting, notaries, etc. ran about $700. Figure that amount for each person in your party. Even the kids.
A major additional expense was having six months accommodations lined up. You now need to have a one year rental agreement in place. What you pay for that can vary, but landlords here usually collect at least three months’ rent up front, sometimes four. If you’re in a major city like Lisbon, I’m seeing rents for a two bedroom apartment starting at €1,300 and going up well over €3,000 per month. In the Algarve, you can still find a two bedroom apartment for under €1,000 and plenty of long term rentals between €1,200 and €1,800. If you want a fancier location with more luxurious accommodations, they are available. Do plan on putting down the equivalent of four months’ rent. If you want to get a feel for the market, you can check out properties for rent and for sale on Idealista.
If you are moving abroad with a partner and/or kids, know that everyone needs a passport, everyone needs a visa, everyone needs to be fingerprinted. No “kids eat free” in the process.
2. The Actual Move
$600 +/- for airfare and any shipping charges (Minimum: $2,000)
Getting there is half the fun?
I moved with two suitcases, my computer bag and a Nantucket bag. Most people bring a LOT more than that. You’re going to have the cost of your airline ticket plus any baggage fees, which can add up quickly. I packed a lot into my suitcase using vacuum bags and packing cubes. The result was that it was overweight and I ended up paying an extra $75 or $100. I have seen pictures of couples arriving in Portugal with up to 20 suitcases, bicycles, golf clubs, and a dog in a crate. At $100 a suitcase, that adds up pretty fast.
Airline ticket prices vary by season—they go up in the summer, down in the winter. My one-way ticket from Florida to Faro in January was just under $500. Do look at nearby airports for your departure. I got a flight from Tampa, but I also checked Orlando, Miami, and Jacksonville. In my case, there wasn’t a significant price difference. You might find a better deal if you drive a little farther to another airport.
Eventually, I will want to bring the bulk of my possessions over. Many people put their things in storage for a year until they’re sure they can make the transition, then have the rest of their stuff shipped over. Unless you’re an experienced expat, I recommend doing that.
International shipping is not cheap. Depending on how much you are bringing, you can spend a little or a lot. One of the most recommended companies I see in the expat groups is UPakWeShip. They deliver a crate or shipping container to your US location. You pack it, then they pick up the container and ship it over to your new location. The smallest size crate is 50 cubic feet which provides 40 cubic feet of packing space. That runs about $2,000. The large crate (80 cubic feet) is about $2,300. You can send two large crates for around $3,500 and three for just over $5,000. They also have 20 and 40 foot container options which require a custom quote. There are additional fees for insurance and there may be customs inspection fees. These numbers should give you a starting point.
There are certain things you have no need of here. Most kitchen appliances, DVD players, and TVs won’t work here. The plugs are different. You can get an adapter, of course, but you can easily pick up new appliances for less than the price of carrying everything over. I have an adapter for my laptop. Two actually: one for the living room, one for my bedroom. All my other appliances were bought here.
Your US DVD player will only play US DVDs. I bought a “universal” DVD player from Amazon Spain. It plays my US DVDs as well as the newer ones I bought while here. Beds are sized differently. Unless you are bringing over your bed, you won’t need your linens. I bought sheets, towels, kitchen paraphernalia, etc. once I was here.
Unless your car is a cool vintage automobile, has incredible sentimental value, or is super-expensive and unique, don’t bring your car. Not only is it expensive to ship, you have to make changes to the car itself in order to drive it here. Some people ship their motorcycles and/or electric bikes over. You need to weigh the cost of shipping against the cost of replacing. If you’re using a huge shipping container and you have room, go for it. If not, sell and replace the items once you get here.
3. Ongoing Living Expenses
Modest Living: €1,300 – €1,800 for a single person; €2,500 for a couple
Your ongoing living expenses here will most likely include the same items you pay in the States.
Here are my monthly expenses in Euro:
Rent or Mortgage: €750
Health Insurance (including Dental) €150
Utilities (Electricity/Gas/Water) €90 – €100
Car or transportation expenses (Avg. Bus/Uber/Taxi) €80
Groceries (I am single and not a foodie.) €200
US Storage Costs ($60) €57
I don’t go out much—a few lunches here and there and the occasional dinner out. If you are more social, figure that into your budget. I do spend about €40 (or more) at the bakery next door. I feel no guilt.
Car insurance and registration is very inexpensive here. I’ve seen annual insurance rates for new cars running about €400. Fuel is expensive here (about $8/gallon at the time of this writing) which is why you’ll find a lot of electric or hybrid vehicles and very few automatic transmissions.
Those are pretty baseline expenses. It’s slightly less expensive than when I was living in Florida. If you’re coming from an area like Boston, California, New York City, then yes, living is very inexpensive here. If you’re coming from a small town in the Midwest, it may be more expensive. Living in Lisbon is a lot more expensive than living in a small town outside a city. Can you live more cheaply? Probably, particularly if you are a single person who shares a house or just rents a room. But most expats like to maintain or better our US standard of living. Some things will be less expensive, some more.
4. Scouting Trips
Totally depends on length of stay, type of accommodations, etc. Minimum for two people: $4,000
If you choose to make a scouting trip (and you should), you will need to budget for that. Airline tickets to and from Portugal go up in price in the summer, down in the winter. I love the shoulder seasons—spring and fall. The weather is usually nice, prices come down, and the touristy areas aren’t as crowded. I suggest checking out a minimum of three areas for at least a week each.
Don’t stay in a resort behind closed gates. You won’t get a feel for actually living here. I recommend staying at an Airbnb with a kitchen (and washing machine). Go to the local grocery stores and get an idea of prices and start redefining the way you expect products to look. (Yes, I’m talking about hot dogs in glass jars.) Go to the local restaurants. Get fresh bread from the padaria. Walk on cobblestones for a few hours.
If you apply for and receive your NIF (tax number) online before your scouting trip, you can open a bank account while you’re here. It is MUCH easier to do this in person than to try to do it online. You can also start scouting for apartments if you narrow down where you want to live. Many people make a second trip to get their apartment lined up. In the summer, particularly, finding a long term rental can be tough, but it doesn’t hurt to start looking at apartments. Most places, unless they are fairly new, are smaller than what we’re used to, the kitchens in particular. Yes, you can find “American-sized” refrigerators, but most apartments have a slightly smaller, more “apartment-sized” fridge. Some places will have central heat; many won’t. Seeing what’s out there in your budget range will help you manage expectations and possibly encourage you to bring less stuff.
How much you spend on your scouting trip depends on your length of stay, the cost of your accommodations, whether or not you rent a car, and how many side trips you take. If you aren’t planning to have a car here, then see if you can get by with public transportation. If you’re going to be on a budget, then try to live on that budget while you are here. Also look around at how people dress. In my area, people are very casual. I spend 80% to 90% of my time in shorts, a t-shirt, and running shoes. One friend remarked that she had brought several evening gowns. She was making plans to give them to a charity shop. Are there dressier occasions? Of course. They just don’t happen all that often.
You can start planning your scouting trip budget by checking air fares and Airbnb rates. Budget in car rental or transportation costs as well as meals and a few fun things to do while you’re here.
Financing Your Move Abroad
As you can see, this is not an inexpensive process. The visas and move itself (before bringing your household goods over) will cost at minimum $4,000 and you will also need to have another $8,500 in reserves that can be moved to a Portugal bank before your in-person SEF appointment.
Once here, however, your ongoing expenses may be similar or even less than what you are paying in the States. Even though my costs are not much lower than what I paid in Florida, I now have health insurance, something I passed on in the States when the premiums and deductible were in the neighborhood of $15,000 a year. Health insurance is my biggest savings here and probably brings me the best return in terms of peace of mind. If you have Medicare, you can’t use it here. Many expats keep their Medicare part B in place (around $170 a month) and don’t bother with gap insurance. I will probably not buy Part B when I qualify for Medicare. If I ever go back to the States and want to add that back in, I will pay a higher price than if I had it from the very beginning. I’m okay with that.
So how much should you budget for your move? If you’re not bringing everything over until you’re settled, figure about $13,000 for a single person, $23,000 for a couple. Most of that will be sitting in a bank account in Portugal to show for your SEF appointment. It’s good to have those reserves anyway, of course. If you’re moving an entire household over, plan on spending another $10,000 minimum. But you don’t need to bring everything with you. You can buy beds and other furniture or rent a furnished place. (Yes, you can buy furnished, too.) You can add possessions as you go, but you may find that once you’ve shed the majority of your possessions, you don’t want to clutter up your life again.
Knowing the projected costs of moving abroad can help make the transition smoother. No one likes unexpected expenses popping up at the last minute. Careful planning and budgeting will see you through.