Yet another article has come out saying that Americans are flocking to Portugal in droves and the expat groups are all in a dither. That’s because the vast majority of people in the Facebook expat groups have not yet moved to Portugal—they are in the planning stages or perhaps just in the dreaming stage. That’s okay, but these articles come out saying Americans are driving up housing prices, putting Portuguese people out of their homes and they are afraid that the Portuguese people will resent Americans and stop letting us in. (Please read that in one breath with your voice becoming progressively higher and more anxious.)
Let’s unpack that, shall we?
There are probably all sorts of reasons to resent US citizens, starting with our last 50 or more years of foreign policy. Reality TV is a good reason, too. The “We’re #1” mentality is seen as sadly naïve. Fortunately, Portuguese people mostly find the things we do odd, more than something that needs to be resented.
First of all, most of the Portuguese I have met here ask if I’m British because there are so few Americans (Canadian or US). The vast majority of US immigrants are in the Lisbon area. Overall, we make up less than 1% of the immigrant population. Statistically, we don’t move the needle. I heard more US voices in Florence one morning than I had in months of living in Portugal.
Housing prices are going up everywhere, it seems. So, are those crazy, rich Americans driving up the prices?
Well, Americans are more willing to pay higher prices for housing because their frame of reference is US housing prices. But there aren’t enough US citizens in Portugal to be the sole driver (or really any kind of driver) of higher housing prices.
Part of the problem is that wages are low here. Portuguese minimum wage is €822.50 per month or about $870. (The dollar to Euro is high right now.) The average rent for a one bedroom starts at €600 to €700. One thousand Euro seems closer to average. So yes, just like in the US, people making minimum wage or a little more cannot afford housing in areas where their families have lived for generations. And that is bad and wrong, no matter what country you’re in. Jobs are in the cities; affordable housing is outside the cities. Americans coming in with remote jobs or retirement income are better able to afford these places, but even some of them are looking outside the cities due to high rents.
Will this housing problem be resolved? There are no quick and easy solutions, but the Portuguese government is making moves to help keep costs down.
Some of the housing upheaval has been caused by corporations buying up large numbers of apartments in major cities and tourist areas for Airbnb-type rentals. A new law has been put in place that bans short term rentals (read: Airbnb) in residential buildings where people live permanently. An Airbnb host can make a lot more money with overpriced short term rentals than they can make on an annual rental agreement. This law should limit the number of Airbnbs and create more permanent housing for residents, which will hopefully stabilize rents and perhaps cut the ROI for overpriced units, making them a bad investment. While I don’t expect prices to go down (that would be too much to ask), hopefully it will stall some of the huge price jumps and settle the market’s little ass down.
The Portuguese Golden Visa program has changed their requirements to encourage investment outside of the popular cities where Portuguese are being priced out of housing. They have raised the minimum investment for a Golden Visa to €500,000 and if you are investing in residential real estate, you are restricted to buying in the interior of Portugal (not the popular coastal areas like Lisbon, Porto, and The Algarve) or Madeira and the Azores. Most of the Americans flocking here are not using the program anyway. The “record numbers” of US citizens receiving Golden Visas in 2021 was 102. One hundred and two. So no, droves of Crazy, Rich Americans are not arriving waving wads of cash and screwing the housing market.
US Citizens Tend to Stay Put
When I first arrived, the COVID lockdowns prevented people from meeting up (though a few events were held outside) and I was fine with that. I was afraid I would end up in a group of “ugly Americans” who were rude to the wait staff and generally insensitive. As an introvert, I wasn’t all that motivated to meet people anyway, especially in large groups. I knew that my new circle of friends would grow slowly and organically, and it has.
I was out and about, however. I was in grocery stores and malls, out searching for an apartment, exploring the area. For the record, I didn’t come across another US citizen for months.
The truth is most US citizens are not world travelers. Only one-third of them have a valid passport. Having a passport directly correlates with higher education and higher income. It makes sense: You have a better education, you are more likely to get a better job with better pay and more disposable income which allows you to travel. The vast majority of US citizens went to Mexico and Canada on their vacations in 2019. EU countries took five of the next six top vacation spots. Portugal was not among them. While Portugal is hitting the radar for Americans, we are still asked questions like, “Can you drink the water?” (To which I answer, “No. We only drink port here. It’s the law.”)
For the most part, the Americans who do move here try to be respectful and sensitive. We do not want to be loud, ugly Americans. We don’t want to change Portugal. Someone who moves anywhere and starts a sentence with “Well, back home we did it like this…” is not going to be happy and will most likely leave. Don’t let the porta hit you on the way out.
I am happy to extend an invitation to just about everyone I know to come visit me in Portugal… because I know full well that they won’t. Hell, when I moved 100 miles south of Tampa, only a few of my best friends made the effort to see me. Some I would meet halfway. Others were more than happy to meet with me when I drove UP, but somehow, most of them never figured out that I-75 also had southbound lanes. So there’s no way in hell these people are going to get their shit together to actually fly across an ocean. And definitely not to see me. (Yes, I just told on myself.)
According to a New York Times analysis by Quoctrung Bui, the average US citizen lives about 18 miles from their mother. Seventy-two percent of Americans (US) still live in the same town they grew up in. To be fair, some left and came back. Over half of those surveyed by Pew Research have never lived outside their home state. We don’t even move within the US, much less move to another country.
The United Nations estimates that approximately 3.2 million US citizens have migrated to another country. The vast majority go to Mexico, Canada, India, and the Philippines. There are ten million people in Portugal; there are fewer than 7,000 US citizens residing in Portugal.
Are more US citizens moving to Portugal? Yes. In 2019, there were about 4,100 US citizens residing in Portugal. Now the count is around of 6,900. A net gain of about 2,800 people in two years. Last week I went to a show with 500 people in the audience. My high school had just over 2,000 students back in the day. Is 1,400 people a year “droves” of people? Technically, yes.
So, Flocking in Droves to Portugal?
A small number of people in the US are moving to Portugal for a variety of reasons, including the fact that their retirement income goes further and there’s a nice tax break for the first ten years. But prices are rising in Portugal the same as everywhere else. While glossy magazines still pretend you can get a three course lunch with a bottle of wine for about €7 per person, good luck finding it. Can you rent a two bedroom house for €500? If you hunt and get very lucky. But you won’t be in a major city with the amenities that US citizens have come to expect. (Hell, some of us had a hard time adjusting to not having a clothes dryer.)
A drove is a total count of 99 heads and feet. So, a drove of sheep or goats (four feet and one head each) is 20 (assuming not more than one is hobbling on three legs). A drove of chickens is 33. People, with their one head and two feet, have the same drove count as chickens. So, technically, only 66 US citizens emigrating to Portugal could constitute “droves.” I have yet to see a drove of Americans in Portugal. Maybe half a drove when a tour bus came through and unloaded people for the day. But they weren’t staying.
The fact is that most US citizens are not going to leave the country, no matter how much they complain about whatever it is they want to complain about this week. If they do leave, Portugal is way down on the list of places they end up. Portugal is a beautiful country, forward thinking, with people who genuinely care for each other. They do not resent Americans as a group. Like anyone else, they probably don’t care for rude people, no matter what nationality they are. But there just aren’t enough Americans here to generate resentment on any level. Polite, courteous people are welcomed just about everywhere. Manners matter more than nationality. I like that.